What Is a Tent Footprint & Do You Need It?

Don't know what a tent footprint is and whether it's necessary to get one? Let's take a closer look at some of the things to consider.

orange tent with tent footprint underneath

If you’re a proper camping freak, you’re very well aware of how expensive all the camping equipment can get. The pile can get pretty big if you aren’t totally into Robinson style but want to be comfy during your nature trips.

So, yes, tents are expensive. And you want to keep them as long as possible. However, is spending like 40 to 80 dollars on a tent footprint necessary? Keep reading, and find out what is a tent footprint and if you really need one.

What is a tent footprint?

A tent footprint or a tent ground cover is basically a large sheet of impermeable fabric to put underneath your tent. Its main job is to be a barrier between your tent floor and the cold, moist, and abrasive ground.

Here’s an example of a tent footprint from Redcamp:

It’s their Redcamp Ultralight tent footprint which comes in 8 different sizes and a 100% money back guarantee for you to try it out on your own.

Anyways, a tent footprint will keep your forest home safe from wounds made by rough and rocky terrain. It looks a lot like a plan tarp and is usually made of a very durable and waterproof material.

Tent ground covers are typically made with lightweight fabrics such as polyethylene, oxford nylon, or polyester. There are many sites and shapes to choose from, depending on your tent type and terrain.

Is a tent footprint necessary?

To be honest, tent footprints are a bit of a controversial topic between campers of the world. Is this groundsheet really necessary? Especially since it’s a pretty costly camping accessory? Does its usefulness justify the price and the extra weight?

If you’re into camping, you know how quickly the weight adds on with every little thing you need to take with you.

Some say they are for boy scouts only, and others say that it’s an incredibly overlooked asset you should consider buying. As for me, I did the research and gathered all the answers to these questions for you.

So keep reading, and you will find out if you really need one. Additionally, I’ll share a guide to help you decide whether to buy one in a camping store or simply make your own using a regular tarp.

Why should you buy a tent footprint?

There’s a fair amount of confusion when it comes to the use of a tent footprint. Is it good for keeping water out or for insulation? So, let’s clear it up.

A tent footprint’s main job is to protect the floor of your tent from abrasion. Once you pitch your tent and tuck in, there’s no way you’ll avoid your tent fabric grinding on the ground during your tossing and turning.

Moreover, the waterproof coating will wear off with time, and you’ll have a damaged tent. But, if you put a footprint down, it’ll take the harsh blows of nature instead of your precious tent.

However, the necessity of a tent footprint is still an open question. Let’s face it. We used to pitch tents without ground covers forever, and we all lived to tell the tale. So, even though tents can be fragile, you will get more damage from UV exposure and wind but from ground tear. However, if you’re planning to camp on very rough and gritty ground, getting a solid tent footprint might just be worth it.

The truth is, tent manufacturers will do anything to sell you camping accessories you can actually live without. Is a tent footprint one of those things? It depends on your needs and camping style. Let me share some camping wisdom with you and debunk some of the tent footprint myths you might have heard.

What does a tent footprint do?

One of the biggest myths surrounding the concept of a tent footprint is that it helps to waterproof your tent floor.

First of all, almost every tent nowadays has a bottom made from waterproof materials.

Secondly, the primary purpose of a tent footprint is to protect the bottom of your tent from rocks, sticks, and roots that could damage your tent.

Additionally, a footprint will help keep your tent clean of mud and tree sap. Also, it gets easier to find a nice spot to pitch your tent. All you need to do is measure the place with the footprint. It’s certainly more logical than to get your whole tent out and see you lack room.

Here are some of the benefits of using a tent footprint:

  • Your tent will be protected from abrasive things like twigs and pebbles
  • You’ll extend the life of your tent
  • The tent footprint will protect you from mud and sticky tree sap
  • It’ll also take the guesswork out of spatial planning

Is it worth the money?

If you plan to camp on rocky, abrasive terrain, a tent footprint is a good idea since it’ll protect your tent from sharp objects. It all depends on your needs.

If you’re spending dozens of nights out in the wild and want to keep your tent sound for years, you should consider getting a tent footprint.

However, if you’re concerned about the extra weight, it’s definitely a downside of adding a tent footprint to your camping gear. So yeah, it’s not all about the money.

Reasons to buy

As you can see, it’s not a black or white kind of situation. Whether you should buy a tent footprint depends on your needs and the comfort level you expect for your wilderness adventures.

However, there are several excellent reasons to invest in a tent footprint. It’ll:

  • Add a layer of protection between your tent and the ground
  • Double down on waterproofing
  • Make it easier for you to pick an ideal spot to pitch your tent
  • Boost insulation
  • Help keep your tent clean

So, basically, a tent footprint will save you the hassle and act as a great defense system to keep you warm, dry, and clean on your adventure. The higher the denier, the thicker the fabric.

Reasons NOT to buy

If you don’t want to ramble around carrying any additional weight, you should definitely ditch the whole footprint idea. On the other hand, tent ground covers can add substantial weight to your pack, so if you want to keep it light, make sure to carry some tape for potential tears or punctures to your tent.

Tent footprint vs tarp: What do you need for camping?

Tarp (tarpaulin) is a large sheet of waterproof, very durable material usually made of polyester. It can also be a plain canvas with a polyurethane coating or completely plastic. Typically, a tarp can have multiple uses and can be cut to fit under your tent. If you suspend it, you will get a layer of shade or protection from the elements. If you combine it with a hammock or footprint, you can easily make a makeshift emergency shelter.

Since most tents nowadays offer reinforced, waterproof, insulated floors, you might just be very well off using a simple tarp for added insulation. For those who like ultralight traveling, getting a tent footprint might deem unjustifiable.

Final thoughts

So, we’ve worked out that adding an extra layer between your tent floor and the ground is an excellent, if not necessary, idea. Should you choose, a footprint or a simple tarp depends on your camping needs and wants, as well as the terrain you’re planning to explore and sleep on. Since you’re probably invested a nice amount of money in your tent, you want to prolong its life.

Basically, if you’re camping on gritty ground, I strongly advise getting an excellent quality tent footprint. It will save you a ton of work and trouble. If moisture is your main concern, you can quickly solve that problem by using a tarp. It will be totally sufficient and keep you feeling dry, warm, and cozy. If you ask me, the wisest thing to do is to have one of each, so you’re ready for every occasion and able to combine to get the ultimate protection.

If you’re a light sleeper, then you might want to take a look at my other blog post covering the best blackout tents. They keep out 99,9% of sunlight and improve sleep.