Do You Need a Tent Footprint?

When you sleep under the stars, you want to be able to enjoy the experience in its entirety. But you can’t just lie back on the grass and expect to survive the starry evening, right? A sleeping bag makes sense, naturally. A bag doesn’t always provide complete protection from the outdoor elements. And what if you want to be cozy with your spouse or partner?

So you’re gonna have to get a tent. Besides the necessary features of a tent, from the capacity and height to the seasonality and materials, accessories also ensure you get the most out of your camping gear. How does a tent footprint help?

What’s a Tent Footprint?

A tent footprint is a groundsheet placed under your tent. If acts as another layer of protection from the ground, shielding you and safeguarding your tent. The ground doesn’t just expose you to dirt, sharp rocks and twigs, and wildlife. You’re also exposed to the cold and dampness of the evening, too.

The tent groundsheet matches tent shapes, which means your outdoor shelter receives the necessary coverage to provide protection. The tent accessory is designed and made for certain tent models; some of tent footprints even fit multiple models. So shopping for one isn’t going to be difficult.

But should you even get one?

Are Tent footprints Worth it?

The short answer: Yes — and no.

Considering the number of items you’re likely to bring for your camping trip, a tent footprint would add to the bulk. You’ve got your sleeping bag (or bags, if you’re camping with family), stove or barbecue, coolbox, pots and pans and plates, clothes, toiletries, first aid kit, tent repair kit, and the like. Don’t forget your tent.

Depending on how long you’ll camp and how remote the campsite is, you may be filling up the trailer or the van. Even a one-person tent could be bulky.

And if you’re hiking a ways off from the parking spot to the campsite, you don’t want to lug too much stuff — even if you have some help.

In this scenario, tent footprints seem like an unnecessary burden, don’t they?

But don’t count them out yet.

It’s worth it to buy a tent footprint when you’re using a pretty pricey tent, one that should have protection when in use and not in use. A groundsheet keeps your expensive tent from getting cut or sliced by sharp rocks and twigs. Although it’s fairly easy to repair a puncture in your tent, it’s best to avoid one.

And if the damage is extensive, tent replacement is a lot more expensive than getting a tent accessory.

The tent footprint is also a good buy when you’ve got several other items in the tent that needs protection. The tent accessory keeps the dampness out of your outdoor shelter. When water seeps into the tent, you’ll find packing your other stuff (e.g., camp chair, table, backpacks, etc.) can be a hassle. This is especially when the ground has gone muddy from last night’s rain. Footprints make it easy to pack your stuff, keeping mud and water away from the tent floor.

When camping during winter, you’ll need the extra warmth tent footprints provide. Groundsheet reduces heat loss to the ground and provides you with a cozier night’s sleep.

It’s not worth it to get tent footprints if:

  • You’re not too hot a bout carrying the additional weight
  • You’re camping on “less rougher grounds”
  • There’s not much danger of moisture or dampness creeping into the tent

If you’re leaning toward buying one, how do you tell the best product from the poor purchase?

tent in the middle of woods
Photo by Todd Trapani from Pexels

Tent Footprint Buyer’s Guide

Tent footprint purchase is similar to a tent purchase. You consider the material, size and features.

The Material

Tent footprints are made from:

  • Nylon – less water resistant, but it’s a stretchy material
  • Oxford fabric – as durable and lightweight as nylon and polyester
  • Polyester – less stretchy, but it’s more water resistant than nylon

Most campers may go with poly, which you’ll find is the material of choice for some tents that come with footprints. Take for example the REI Co-Op Passage 2 tent. Its footprint is made from polyester. Others may opt for Oxford fabric, especially if it’s made with sufficient thickness. This brings us to your next consideration: denier, which is a measure of thread thickness.

The Thickness

The higher the denier, the better protection you’ll have because the footprint will be tougher. You’ll want a durable tent footprint if you’re camping on rocky surfaces. Of course, it’ll also be an added load. The denier will depend on the material; sometimes a higher denier is lighter in another material.

The Features

Look for tent footprints with waterproofing. These typically come in silicone or polyurethane. Silicone tends to be more expensive than polyurethane-proofed footprints. The treatment boosts the damage resistance of the groundsheet since it repels water. You may be paying more, but you’re likely to get more usage out of it if you camp out frequently.

Polyurethane is usually applied to nylon or polyester footprints. It’s affordable and allows breathability, but it breaks down easily. So the treatment doesn’t contribute to the durability of the groundsheet.

Can a Tarp Replace a Tent Footprint?

Is it a good idea to use a tarp instead of a tent footprint?

A tarp’s sturdy enough, and it’s usually made from canvas, plastic, polyurethane and vinyl. It functions as protection against the sun and water damage.

If you’re strapped for cash, a tarp could act as a tent footprint. But choose one that’s thicker than the average cover. These things are less thicker than footprints and they may not provide the same protection.

The whole point of the tent footprint is to boost protection against the elements. So your tarp replacement should be made in a material that offers similar protection.

It could work when you’ve taken on a DIY tent making project.

Tent footprints may sound like an unnecessary expense and addition to your camping gear. But if you spend more time outdoors, set up camp in rougher sites and like the challenge of extreme weather, this tent accessory is a necessary add on.

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