Having the correct equipment when you’re camping is critical to keeping you dry and warm.
Keeping your gear protected is also crucial to making sure that your gear performs at its best throughout the entire duration of the trip.
So why do you need a footprint for your tent?
There are three reasons that you need a footprint for your tent. The reason you need a footprint is to stop moisture from the ground penetrating the floor of your tent. The second reason you need a tent footprint is to protect the floor of your tent from getting damage from debris on the ground. The third reason you need a tent footprint is to provide an extra layer of insulation between the floor of your tent and the ground.
Keep on reading to get the full details and know everything you need to about a tent footprint.
Here’s what we will cover so that you are in the know.
What is a Footprint?
A footprint is very similar to a tarp, but usually lighter weight, and made to fit the exact size of your tent. These are traditionally manufacturer-specific and made for one particular model of tent.
Footprints can serve several purposes, but the primary goal is to protect the bottom of your tent. When you lay in your tent, your body puts extra pressure on the bottom, which can make gravel, rocks, and roots puncture the tent much more easily. This can also cause the waterproof coating to rub off.
The footprint will add an additional layer to the bottom of the tent that can prevent these punctures and extend the life of your tent. It’s very similar to the reason you’d buy a phone case; you always want to protect things in which you’ve invested money.
Another purpose that a footprint serves is additional insulation. Although it’s not a significant amount, the footprint is another layer between you and the cold ground. If the ground is already wet when you set up your tent, the footprint will add an additional layer of waterproofing, as well as keeping your tent dry for when it’s time to pack up.
What are Footprints Made of?
Footprints are usually made out of a synthetic material such as ripstop nylon or polyester, and the bottom pan is made from silnylon. These materials are both waterproof and durable.
In addition to waterproofing and durability, footprints are lightweight and packable. Most footprints for a 2-3 person tent weigh around a half of a pound and compress small enough to fit in your pocket. Of course, larger tent footprints will be slightly heavier, but are still significantly lighter than a standard tarp.
In case you’re using your footprint in the rain, make sure that it doesn’t stick out passed the rainfly. If your footprint is sticking out, it can collect rainwater. When this happens, it will channel the water under the tent. Water under the tent can cause lack of insulation, as well as the inside of the tent, possibly getting wet if there are any pinholes in the tent floor.
If at all possible, be sure that your rainfly is the exact size as the floor of the tent. This will make setup easy and eliminate any unneeded weight off your pack.
Are There Any Alternatives to Footprints?
There are many different things that can be used as an alternative to a tent footprint. Although they will usually weigh much more, or they will not be nearly as durable. If possible, the best option is a footprint that is made specifically for your tent. If that’s not available, or you need one at the last minute, these are some of the alternatives that you can use.
- Lawn Tarps. These make excellent footprints, especially if you’re camping close to your car. The main disadvantage of these is that they are heavy and don’t pack down well at all. When backpacking, the best way to carry them is to roll up the tarp and strap it outside of your backpack.
- Plastic Tablecloth. Although this is not a very durable option, it’s very inexpensive and lightweight. These make great footprints if you’re on a budget or need a footprint at the last minute. They are light and packable, but durability is definitely not the best. Plastic tablecloths can be found at most department stores, grocery stores, and even some gas stations.
- Plastic or Silnylon Sheets. You can find plastic sheets at most hardware stores around the paint section. These make excellent footprints if you’re looking for an inexpensive alternative. Although they usually aren’t very durable, they pack down smaller than most other alternative footprint options. These, as well as tablecloths, can be cut to size to fit under your tent perfectly.
- You can also use a hammock rainfly or even a rainfly made for a tent. Although these will work very well, they’re typically more expensive than a footprint. As far as cost is concerned, a rainfly doesn’t make much sense.
- Window Wrap. This plastic film that coats windows to add insulation. These wraps can be used for up to one full season of camping. They’re also one of the cheapest alternative options to footprints, as some options are available for under five dollars.
The Polycryo Ground Cloth and the Tyvek Ground Cloth are two excellent alternatives to footprints. Although they are advertised as footprints, they aren’t manufactured for a specific tent, but they are much more cost-effective. These ground cloths can be cut to size, making them a great choice as a footprint.
Always make sure to measure the dimensions of the tent floor. A tarp or footprint that is too big can cause issues with staking the tent or water running under, and one that is too small can cause your tent not to be adequately protected.
Other Benefits of Footprints
Footprints are designed to put under your tent for added durability, protection of the tent, and even added insulation. There are other uses for a footprint that make them somewhat of a multi-use piece of gear. The following situations are just a few examples in which you can use your footprint.
- Footprints are excellent to use as a tarp/blanket for picnics in the park. This eliminates using a cloth blanket that can stain and absorb moisture. They’re also great for picnics if the ground is already wet. This will keep you dry even when sitting on damp ground.
- Plastic or Nylon Tablecloth. Thankfully, footprints are made of a synthetic material that can usually be wiped clean, which makes them very useful as a tablecloth. This is very resourceful if you’re car or RV camping at a campground that has picnic tables.
- Footprints are usually waterproof. Because of this, you can use them as a rainfly if you’re in a bind and don’t have a rainfly. Keep in mind; footprints aren’t made for this purpose, so you may have to get a little bit creative when you tie them up as a rainfly.
- If you’re hammock camping, you can place the footprint under the hammock to use as a clean spot to take off your shoes before you get in. You can also put your gear on top, keeping it out of the dirt.
You can also use it to cover a pile of firewood if you don’t need it for your tent at the time. This is especially useful in rainy weather when you need to keep your firewood pile dry.
Do I Absolutely Have to Have a Footprint?
In short, no, you don’t have to have a footprint. Most tents, at least the higher-quality ones, are built to be pretty durable. Typically, you would have to use your tent many times in a year for several years before the floor of your tent will start to break down.
Most people don’t use their tents enough to have to worry about it. Although, if you spent a significant amount of money on your tent, it wouldn’t hurt to have the added protection. If you’re hiking a long way, it’s up to you and your preferences to decide whether it’s worth carrying the extra weight.
Today’s tents are usually made with a pan-style floor, made from a fabric called silnylon, that is both durable and waterproof. This fabric usually wraps up the tent several inches above the floor. The only way that water will get in is if the tent becomes submerged or if there’s a hole in it.
In case you get a hole in your tent, you can purchase tent repair kits (which include patches and glue) or even use duct tape. You can repair holes anywhere on your tent with this method. There are even some spray-on sealants that you can purchase for this.
If you’re camping in the snow, a footprint maybe a little more necessary. It will help keep they outside of the tent dry, making the tent easier to pack up when you leave the campsite. Although you can let it air out, a wet tent can cause other things in your pack to get wet.
It is recommended to use a footprint, but if you don’t have one, you can still use your tent.
In the end, it mostly up to your preference as to whether you need a footprint for your tent. A footprint will aid in preventing damages, slightly better insulation, and added waterproofing. If you choose not to use a footprint, it won’t be the end of your tent, and it won’t be a deal-breaker if you don’t have one.
How Do You Waterproof a Tent? Click here
Tent Camping with Kids Checklist and Activities. Click here
How to keep a tent warm when camping. Click here