If you just bought a tent, you might be wondering whether or not you also need a tent footprint. But what is a tent footprint?
What Is a Tent Footprint?
A tent footprint is a lightweight, waterproof groundsheet that sits underneath the floor of your tent, protecting it from premature wear and tear. It’s the first thing that you should set up when you arrive at your campsite.
Tent footprints come in a variety of sizes. When buying a tent footprint, you need to make sure that it’s slightly smaller than the tent floor. If the footprint sticks out from underneath your tent, it’ll trap rainwater, which will then roll under the tent and cause dampness.
Most tent footprints are made from polyethylene, a material that is durable and easy to clean. However, oxford and denier polyester footprints are just as common and are usually a little lighter.
Why Use a Tent Footprint?
Now that you’re familiar with the answer to “what is a tent footprint?”, you’re probably wondering whether or not you actually need one for your camping trip.
So, why would you bother using a tent footprint?
SAVE MONEY IN THE LONG RUN
Most tents today come with a sewn-in groundsheet. While this enables you to go camping in all weather conditions, it also makes the tent more delicate.
Sewn-in groundsheets are easy to ruin because nothing is protecting them from abrasion.
When you move around in your tent, your bodyweight grinds the fabric into the ground. Over time, this can damage the waterproof coating underneath the sewn-in groundsheet.
If you’re really unlucky, you might even get a puncture from a root or a rock and end up with a hole in your tent floor. A small tear or hole can be repaired, but if there’s more extensive damage, the whole tent becomes useless.
On the other hand, a footprint creates an extra barrier between you and the ground. It takes the abuse instead, extending the life of your tent.
Since a tent is likely to be the most expensive piece of camping equipment that you own, it pays to invest in a tent footprint. Besides, footprints are cheaper than tents, so you’ll save money in the long run.
Keep dry in heavy rain
During heavy rainfall, the ground acts like a sponge. It absorbs the water that doesn’t run off its surface, soaking your tent when you set up camp.
When you use a tent footprint, you double the layers of your tent floor, improving the protection that your tent has against moisture, running water, and even ice.
Many campers underestimate the amount of body heat they lose when sleeping on the ground.
By adding a footprint underneath your tent, you raise it off the ground slightly. That helps insulate the tent and prevents heat from transferring from your body to the ground.
Simplify the tent setup process
Footprints are made to conform to the outline of your tent. Because of that, a footprint acts as a handy guide when pitching up your tent. Drape it on the ground to see if there’s enough room for your tent.
You can also use a footprint to assess whether the ground is flat or not. If there are any noticeable bulges on the footprint’s surface, you’ll need to do a better job at clearing the area before you put up your tent.
Make packing a breeze
If it rains throughout your camping trip, when it comes to packing your tent away, you’ll probably find that the sewn-in groundsheet of your tent is wet and muddy.
Luckily, the mess can be avoided (or, at the very least, minimized) with a footprint. A footprint will keep the groundsheet relatively dry and clean, so there’s less cleaning to do at the end of your stay.
Your Guide to Buying a Footprint
While we’ve answered “what is a tent footprint?” we haven’t yet discussed how to go about choosing one that suits your tent (and your wallet) best.
If you want to go the easy route, opt for a custom footprint.
Outdoor gear companies sell their own branded footprints. These footprints not only match the overall color scheme but also fit the designated tent perfectly, regardless of whether it’s an a-frame tent or a canopy tent. That is very important because, as we mentioned already, if a footprint sticks out from underneath your tent, you risk sleeping in a cold pool of water.
Because tent-specific footprints come with metal grommets in the corners, you don’t have to worry about the footprint blowing away when camping in high winds.
Also, manufacturer-provided footprints are generally more durable than DIY options. Therefore, they should last you longer.
However, there are some drawbacks to purchasing a custom tent footprint.
Depending on the size and the material of your tent, a matching footprint can be pretty heavy, which isn’t exactly ideal if you pride yourself on being able
to pack lightly. Matching footprints are also quite expensive.
If you want to save money, consider purchasing a generic footprint instead. While a generic footprint is unlikely to match your tent perfectly, you can easily modify it by cutting it down to match the size of your tent.
Or Why Not DIY It Instead?
If you’re an ultralight backpacker or if you simply don’t want to spend any more money on camping gear, you should avoid ready-made footprints.
Instead, you should make your own. Making your own tent footprint is easier than it sounds. The most difficult thing is finding a suitable material (and even that is more or less effortless).
Many campers swear by painter’s tarp sheet or Polycryo, which comes in multiple thicknesses. The two-millimeter thick sheet is inexpensive, doesn’t weigh much, and fits inside your pocket. However, bear in mind that Polycryo can be somewhat slippery on snow. Also, it won’t last forever.
Another option is to use a synthetic material known as Tyvek. Tyvek is a brand of flash spun high-density polyethylene fibers and is most commonly used to protect buildings during construction. It’s heavier than Polycryo, but also more durable.
Finally, you can also buy “shrink” plastics that are useful for sealing doors and windows in colder winter months.
Step-by-step instructions on making your own footprint
To make a tent footprint, you’ll need footprint material, scissors, and a sharpie marker.
First, choose your material. Make sure that it’s slightly larger than the measurements of your tent floor.
Next, lay the material flat on the floor. Then, set up your tent on top of it. With a sharpie, trace the floor of your tent. If your tent has a rounded floor, you might find it challenging to get an accurate border. Keeping it flush with the ground should help.
Be very careful not to get any sharpie on the outside of your tent!
Cut around two inches inside the border of the traced line. You want to make sure that your footprint is a little bit smaller than the floor of your tent. Otherwise, it will capture rain runoff and potentially ruin your camping trip.
You don’t have to worry about attachments if you don’t want to. In most cases, the weight of your body should keep the footprint in place.
That being said, it isn’t difficult to add attachments. Watch the video below on how to do it:
How to Clean a Tent Footprint
Knowing the answer to “what is a tent footprint?” isn’t quite enough, especially if you decide to buy one. You should also understand how to take good care of it.
Cleaning a tent footprint is simple. All you need is a cloth and a mild detergent. Dip the cloth in the detergent and wipe down the footprint.
If there are any stubborn stains, use water and a brush to scrub them away. You can also use a scouring pad, but make sure that you don’t scratch the footprint by accident.
What Is a Tent Footprint: Answered!
The answer to “what is a tent footprint” is relatively straightforward. Figuring out whether you need one might not be.
If you don’t go on many trips (and stay at cleared campsites when you do), then buying a tent footprint might not make much sense. But if you’re an avid camper who isn’t put off by wet terrains, purchasing a footprint is probably the smartest thing that you can do.
While you can buy a custom footprint, they’re quite costly and bulky. As such, we recommend that you buy a generic footprint or make your own instead.
Now that you know the answer to “what is a tent footprint?” are you more likely to buy it? Or are you still thinking of going off on a trip without one? We’d love to hear your opinion in the comment section below!
Jonathan O’Ryan is what you might call a seasonal digital nomad. When he is not thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or finetuning his custom UL camping gear in the middle of nowhere, he comfortably sits at his home desk – yes, he still has a physical address, we don’t know for how long though – sharing his insights on all things outdoors with Wilderness Today’s audience. We know life is an adventure, Jon, but we’d still like to have that urgent work email answered by noon.