What Is a Tent Footprint & How Do You Use One? (2022)
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Picture this: You arrive at your campsite, lay out your tent, and get in it for the night. You realize that you’d laid your tent atop a few sticks, and when the weight of your body is added to the floor of your tent, they puncture the bottom of your tent.
Here’s another scenario: You’re trying to sleep in your tent, but the moisture from the ground has started seeping into the fabric of your tent, making it too cold to get any rest.
That’s where a good tent footprint comes in and adds a ton of value to your gear stack. Keep reading to learn about what they are and how they’re used.
What Is a Tent Footprint?
Definition: Also known as a groundsheet, a tent footprint is a tarp specifically designed to be placed underneath your tent as a protective layer from the ground’s moistures, the earth’s cold temperatures, or unexpected sharp objects that could puncture the floor of your tent.
Whether you have a small 1–2 person tent or a larger 8 person tent, tent footprints typically fit your tent’s precise dimensions so as not to accumulate any rain along the edges beyond your tent’s rain fly.
Do You Need a Tent Footprint?
Bringing a tent footprint along can be a great idea for an extra layer of protection against one of your biggest threats to comfort while on your camping trip: the earth beneath you. However, it’s mostly up to your preference on whether or not you add one to your camping gear list.
Here are some benefits and drawbacks to owning and bringing a tent footprint on your camping trip that you should consider before purchasing one:
- Can keep your tent’s bottom lay from getting punctures or damaged fabric
- Prevents moisture from seeping through the bottom layer of your tent
- Adds another insulation layer from the colder temperatures coming up from the ground under you
- Provides a clean place to remove and place your shoes or boots before entering your tent
- Adds another layer to keep pests from attempting to invade your tent
- Is an extra item to bring along on your trip, taking up space in your storage
- Can cost an extra $30–$50 that isn’t necessary for a successful camp
- If too large, it can collect rain water during heavy rains that can soak the bottom of your tent.
When To Use a Tent Footprint
Here are a few specific instances that you might want to seriously consider bringing a tent footprint or groundsheet:
- Camping on or around rocky or rough terrains to help protect your tent’s bottom layer
- Winter or cold camping, since it adds protection from the earth’s colder temperatures
- Camping in wet areas that are known for soft, damp grounds
If you choose to bring one along on your future trips, keep reading to learn about how to set up and use your tent footprint.
Related reading: Camping 101: Complete Guide for Beginner Campers
How To Use a Tent Footprint (5 Steps)
Step 1: Find the Right Sized Tent Footprint
You should try to purchase a tent footprint that fits just slightly bigger than the exact size of your tent’s floor. You don’t want the groundsheet extended too far past where rain falls off the tent’s roof, because it could cause water to accumulate and puddle up on the footprint.
If you don’t know the size of your tent when it’s set up, you should set it up in your backyard and measure it. Common sizes include:
Step 2: Pick a Spot for Your Tent
Once you arrive at your campsite, select a good spot where you want your tent to be. Look for a dry, flat surface without roots, buried rocks, or other debris you can’t clear out of the way. Examine the ground to be sure you clear out any sticks or rocks that would be under your tent—remember, this is where you’ll be sleeping.
Step 3: Lay Out the Tent Footprint
Unfold the groundsheet and shake it into its full, stretched-out size, then lay it out flat across the spot you’ve chosen. Let it fall and rest on the ground. Shake out any air that may be trapped underneath and add a bit of tension on each side to keep it flat.
Step 4: Set Up Your Tent
Now, you can set up your tent according to its instructions on top of the tent footprint. Get out your tent stakes, but don’t place them into the ground yet.
Step 5: Adjust the Tent’s Position
Once your tent is fully set up, adjust it on top of the groundsheet to line up the sides with each other. Again, you’ll want to be sure your edges don’t extend too far away from the tent. If they do, you should fold them and tuck them under the tent.
Once it’s in place, you can begin placing your tent stakes in each corner, attached to both the tent and the tent footprint.
Before You Leave: Summary
Whether you’re a beginner camper, or you consider yourself an advanced outdoors person, you may want to try adding a tent footprint to your collection of gear. Similar to a tarp, it’s a simple groundsheet that you place under your tent before setting it up.
It can be a worthwhile investment and tool for keeping your tent from any unnecessary damages and keeping you warm and comfortable throughout the night, but it’s not an essential item, so choosing to buy one is entirely up to your preference.
Here are a few of our favorite tent footprints on the market:
Frequently Asked Questions About Tent Footprints
Are footprints worth it for tents?
Yes, you can purchase a tent footprint for pretty cheap, and they can be a worthwhile addition to your list of items you bring on your camping trip if you have the room. However, they’re not essential for a successful and comfortable camping trip.
How much do tent footprints cost?
The price of your tent footprint can depend on the size you need, but you can generally expect to pay somewhere between $15 and $30 for a durable groundsheet.
What size tent footprint do I need?
The most important factor you should consider when buying a tent footprint is the size. You should buy one that’s the exact size of your tent’s flooring or slightly larger. It shouldn’t extend beyond where rain falls off your tent.
Can I use a tarp instead of a tent footprint?
Yes, you could use a tarp instead of a tent footprint for an extra layer between the ground and your tent’s flooring, but it needs to be the right size.