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Tent Footprints: Why You Want One and How to Make It

Tent Footprints: Why You Want One and How to Make It

Tent camping is a popular way to enjoy staying overnight in the outdoors without making a major investment in an RV. Modern tents use durable fabrics and carbon fiber poles to endure harsh elements and all kinds of weather. This makes them much more expensive than the canvas tents of days gone by. In most cases, this equipment is not a complete setup, either. Most campers quickly realize a rain fly should be an essential part of tent camping, and a tent footprint is necessary to protect your investment, as well.

However, some campers may not be familiar with the benefits of using a tent footprint. So, we put together a guide, breaking down the pros and cons of including one in your camping setup. Let’s get started!

What Is a Tent Footprint?

A tent footprint, also known as a groundsheet, is a mirror shape of the tent itself, cut just a little larger than the shelter’s floor. It is constructed of protective material, usually heavy-duty plastic, to safeguard the tent floor from abrasions, punctures, and ground debris. The footprint also provides a moisture barrier, keeping rainwater away from the tent’s floor.

How To Use a Tarp or Footprint Properly for Camping

Why Do You Need a Tent Footprint?

A tent footprint can protect the floor of your expensive tent by putting a barrier layer between it and sharp rocks, sticky debris, and rugged terrain. Because most tent footprints consist of heavy tarp-like material, they repel dirt and rocks. Additionally, their thickness makes it difficult for ragged stones or sticks to penetrate them.

Just think about all of the traffic the inside of your tent floor receives during a regular camping trip as you walk back and forth or scoot a sleeping bag across it. Now picture the outside of the bottom of your tent being drug back and forth across rocks. They might work like sandpaper, rubbing the tent’s bottom and quickly wearing it thin. A tent footprint will give your camping tent extra protection and will essentially prolong its life.

Also, trying to keep a tent floor from getting wet is sometimes a constant challenge. But with a tent footprint, water is repelled away from the underside of the tent, keeping it dry. The plastic material will also deter dew or moisture in the ground under the tent from seeping into the tent floor.

Tent set up behind house with tent footprint below.
Protect the floor of your tent by using a tent footprint.

How Big Should a Tent Footprint Be?

Think of a tent footprint like a shoe. It’s the same shape as your foot but just a little bigger to hold your foot. A tent footprint should be cut in the same shape as your tent, with an additional two to three inches around the edges. This way, a footprint should stick out from under the tent all the way around. The extra width will help keep moisture from the ground from soaking into the tent at its base.

Pro Tip: Don’t know what tent is right for you? We uncovered just How Many Types of Tents Are There & How to Choose.

What Makes a Good Tent Footprint?

Most tent footprints that work well are made like tarps. They have a heavy-duty plastic or polyester material because they’re waterproof and thicker than the tent material itself. The thickness is important in protecting the tent floor from rips and tears of sharp rocks or sticks.

Four tents set up at campsite
If your tent is set up on sharp rocks or sticks, a tent footprint can protect it from tears.

Also, when coupled with a trench dug around the exterior boundary, the waterproof material should encourage rain to flow away from the tent base, keeping the floor dry. All these features will lengthen the life of your tent. If and when the groundsheet wears out, it will be an inexpensive replacement to make, compared to repairing or replacing a tent.

How to Make Your Own 

Creating your own tent footprint is an easy way to protect your investment and provide more comfort during your camping trip. Follow these steps to DIY a custom-made groundsheet.

Tent set up on tent footprint in campsite
Consider what type of land you will set up your tent on when DIYing your own tent footprint.

Consider Your Needs

Will you be tent camping as a backpacker, car camper, or a weekend hiker? The first two categories will really benefit from having a tent footprint. In the third instance, it might not matter.

Do you picture yourself setting up camp on hillsides, over rugged terrain, or on a tent pad at a campground? These considerations may make a difference in the type of material you decide to use, as heavier fabric is useful on sharp rocks and in primitive camping areas.

Find the Material

The best material for a tent footprint is a tarp. It should be a heavy-duty one that’s waterproof. Other fabrics you can use are polyester and nylon, although nylon is not waterproof. Plastic sheeting works well, too.

Pro Tip: Sleep under the stars in one of these 6 Best Two Room Tents for Camping With Family and Friends.

Woman cutting black fabric
DIY your own tent footprint by simply picking a waterproof material and cutting it to size.

Get the Right Size and Tools

For most materials, you’ll just need a pair of scissors. The easiest way to measure before you cut the sheeting is to set up your tent and place it on the groundsheet material. Then, draw a line along each side of the tent 2″ to 3″ outside of the tent’s base. This will give you a tent footprint that’s wider all the way around your tent.

Cut the shape out of your footprint material. Then place it where you would like to pitch the tent, placing your tent right in the middle of the tent footprint. Secure the tent with tent stakes, and you have a fully viable tent footprint.

If you’d like to be one step ahead of any rainstorms that might come, dig a small trench at the edge of your groundsheet around the tent. Then, be sure to put a rainfly on your tent. You should be well ready for a rain shower!

Woman and dog camping
Ensure your tent will survive many years of exciting adventures with a tent footprint.

How Much Does a Tent Footprint Cost?

If you decide to purchase an existing tent footprint or cut a footprint out of polyester or plastic and make your own, be prepared to shell out $40 to $50. Still, that’s not a lot of money when you consider your tent might have a value of $300 to $500. It’s a small investment to protect your expensive tent.

A Useful Resource for Many Purposes

A tent footprint is a useful piece of equipment for your tent. It keeps water away, protecting a highly trafficked floor from rough rocks and debris and giving your tent a long and healthy life. But a groundsheet can also provide benefits like keeping your tent a little warmer. They’re great for getting your gear ready. Just spring one out and use it to keep all your gear in one place and clean. 

Does a TENT really need a FOOTPRINT?

A tent footprint, when not in use under your tent, can be an impromptu awning, too. In fact, there’s really no reason not to carry it. It’s one piece of equipment you may not think you need, but it will be very apparent when you do!

Do you use a tent footprint? Tell us in the comments!

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for Hwy.co and an Arizona travel guide.

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John Heneghan

Thursday 9th of June 2022

Good article. Most tents that come with a ground cloth, the ground cloth is the same size as the tent floor. Having a ground cloth larger than the tent floor encourages water to pool under the tent floor. Though expensive, a good material used by many backpackers is tyvek, commonly used as house wrap. Lighter and more resistant to tears than plastic.

Mortons on the Move

Wednesday 22nd of June 2022

Thanks for the tip!

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