What Is a Tent Footprint (And Do You Need One)?
What is a tent footprint? In short, a tent footprint is a groundcloth that goes under your tent’s bathtub floor to protect it and keep it clean and dry. And yes, you do need one.
Why Do I Need a Footprint?
The ground and your tent bottom are mortal enemies—do not let them meet! The ground poses many dangers to your tent. Namely:
- Sharp sticks, vegetation, and rocks can tear your tent bottom.
- Over time, normal dirt and grit can wear away at your tent bottom.
- Water can seep into your tent and drench your things. This can be truly dangerous if you use down insulation.
- The ground can be quite cold, and an extra layer under your tent can keep you slightly warmer. You can also burrito yourself inside the footprint for extra warmth in a truly desperate situation.
Your footprint also works well as a clean surface to sit, reorganize gear, or cowboy camp. You should also use a footprint whenever you cowboy camp, especially if you use an inflatable sleeping pad. This will keep your things clean and help keep your pad from puncturing.
The official footprint that comes with a tent can be expensive and/or heavy. A Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL 2 footprint costs $70 and weighs six ounces. Many backpackers prefer to use Tyvek (the waterproof material used to cover houses under construction) or Polycro (the plastic used to seal drafty windows) instead.
An 8×10 sheet of Tyvek costs $15 and may be even cheaper if you go to the hardware store and have them cut you a sheet to your desired dimensions. It could be even cheaper if you stroll by a local construction site and grab some Tyvek scraps for free. An 8×10 sheet of Polycro costs $11. Both are tried and true options in ultralight DIY communities. Tyvek is more durable than Polycro, but it’s a smidge heavier. You can also get a premade DCF (Dyneema Composite Fabric) ground cloth. This DCF footprint is a bit heavier and about 12-20 times the price of Polycro, but less vulnerable to tearing.
READ NEXT – The Thru-Hiker’s Complete Guide to Tyvek
For both materials, you could just lay your tent on top and cut the material slightly smaller than the size of your tent bottom. If you cut it too big, tuck the edges in whenever you set up camp—otherwise, rain can pool on your footprint and eventually seep into your tent.
Granted, some hikers do choose to forego the footprint in the interest of saving weight and/or money. And some tents are marketed as not needing a tent because their bathtub floors are made with durable materials.
Even so, we still recommend that you use one: with so many ultralight and affordable options at your fingertips, why wouldn’t you? It’s an easy way to protect your much more expensive tent and sleeping pad. Plus, it pulls double duty as a clean place to organize your gear and an extra layer of warmth in dire situations.
Any footprint advice that we missed? Let us know below!
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