Tent Camping Essentials
tent footprint

What is the Footprint of a Tent?

When you hear the term tent footprint for the first time, you might think that it’s an environmental term. After all, we hear “carbon footprint” in relation to the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere, right? And yes, it’s true that we are all responsible for protecting our natural surroundings when we go camping. We should all want to leave a small camping footprint, thereby passing on a legacy of untainted beauty for future generations of campers to enjoy. But your tent footprint has nothing to do with that. In reality, it is a piece of camping gear that protects and preserves your tent. 

If you haven’t heard the term before, or heard anyone mention ground sheet camping, there’s a good reason for that. Manufacturers rarely if ever include a tent footprint when you purchase a tent. They regard them as an optional item. However, there are several compelling reasons why you should consider a tent footprint an essential camping piece of equipment.

Let’s talk some more about what they are exactly, what they do, and why you need one, too.

The Basics of Tent Footprints

A tent footprint is a ground cloth that goes beneath your tent. It is made from a strong, waterproof material that is also fairly lightweight. This might include nylon, polyester, polyethylene, or a combination of these materials together in multiple layers. For example, many footprints use a product called Cuben Fiber, which is actually a very thin sheet of polyethylene laminated between two sheets of polyester. Nylon coated with polyurethane is another common combination that is frequently used.

Footprints come in a variety of different sizes and shapes. So, if you are wondering if there’s one out there that will work for you, the answer is yes, absolutely. It’s very easy to find one that fits your tent size. But the real question we need to address is, why is it necessary?

Why You Need a Tent Footprint

Main Purpose

The main purpose a tent footprint serves is to preserve the integrity of your tent and extend its life. It is a protective barrier positioned between the bottom of your tent and the ground. Yes, most tents these days are designed with waterproof floors, but that floor also takes a beating.

If you don’t have a footprint, your tent floor is coming into direct contact with everything on the ground. This includes rocks, soil, plants, pieces of wood, roots, and other debris. The impact of water is another consideration. A footprint helps to maintain your tent’s waterproofing, which always tends to become less effective over time. It also guards against mold and mildew. Furthermore, wet, muddy dirt can be very acidic and damaging sometimes, especially in natural environments where organic matter is always decomposing.
All of these various elements can be abrasive. They can also cause punctures, tears, or otherwise contribute to your tent’s perpetual deterioration. A tent footprint absorbs and intercepts that impact and helps to prevent it.

Other Benefits

Plus, a footprint has some other nice benefits. It’s an added layer of insulation that can help your tent stay warmer at night. It also keeps your tent cleaner and makes packing up easier because you won’t have to clean up (or bring home) a tent with a wet, dirty bottom. You can also use it as a measuring guide to help find the perfect spot to pitch your tent. You can utilize it for other things too, like as an extra tarp in an emergency situation.

And perhaps best of all, it’s a relatively inexpensive piece of gear. Indeed, ground cover tarps are far less costly than having to replace your whole tent more frequently. It’s a win-win that will always save you money! So, that leads us to our next question: Why wouldn’t you want one? Or even better yet, which one should you want?

How to Choose the Right Tent Footprint for You

Before we get into footprint choices, we should note that, although they are indeed rare (as we mentioned earlier), a tent that includes a footprint is not completely impossible to find. If that is something you are interested in, the Nemo Galaxi 2P is an excellent one for two people. We like the Nemo Aurora 2P 3-Season Tent, too. Another great choice—and our favorite of these three— is the Wandelen Apalachian 2P 3-Season Tent. However, you are going to find a much better range of choices for both tents and footprints when you purchase them separately. Plus, chances are, you already have a tent.

Tent Footprint

So, let’s talk about footprint selection criteria:

Selecting the right tent footprint for you is not complicated. First of all (and maybe surprisingly), you don’t want it to be larger than your tent. Ideally, it should be an inch or two shorter on all sides, otherwise, water can build up and pool around the edges of your tent and cause problems.

Secondly, you’ll probably want a thicker piece if you typically camp in rugged terrain. The thicker it is, the more it can hold up to that kind of challenging environment. However, there is an exception here. If you are a backpacker, a thinner piece will be a better choice because it will be smaller, easier to transport, and it will weigh less. Our other considerations are, as always, price, quality, performance, reputation, and durability. Here are 5 terrific ones we’ve found that will make a worthy addition to your gear:

5 Great Tent Footprints

Top Overall Choice: The MSR Footprint

MSR is a brand leader in universal tent tarp manufacturing, renowned for its reliability and quality. They also have a good range of sizes available, which makes it easy to find a good match for your tent. They all come with a nice-quality carrying bag as well:

83 x 28 inches

83 x 32 inches

82 x 48 inches

85 x 51 inches

117 x 97 inches

Best Ultralight Choice: The Gold Armour Tent Tarp

When weight is a consideration, you just won’t beat Gold Armour. These pieces are 5-star-rated favorites among backpackers and regular campers, too. They also have a number of convenient sizes to choose from, including 84x60in, 84x84in, 84x96in, 82x106in, 120x108in, 120x120in, 120x144in, and 96x120in.

Best Ultralight Tent Footprint

A Great Hexagonal-Shaped Option: The TRIWONDER Camping Tarp Footprint

Hey, we know there are a lot of round-shaped tents out there that need a footprint shape to accommodate them. TRIWONDER makes some excellent ones in varying sizes: 7.3×7.3ft, 7.3x10ft, 9.2×11.8ft, and 9.8×9.8ft. We love the attention to detail on this tarp, including double-stitched reinforcements and thoughtful extras such as ropes and stakes that will let you use it as a rainfly.

Best Premium Grade Option: Aqua Quest Safari Tarp

Strong, rugged, durable, and designed to be used in multiple ways… We cannot say enough good things about this exceptional piece from Aqua Quest. It is not just a footprint; it’s a rainfly and can be used as a shelter, too. It is also incredibly lightweight so it travels well. Its only downside is that fact that we wish it also had a smaller wallet footprint! But if you can afford it, you will not be disappointed with this one. Sizes include: 10x7ft, 10x10ft, 13x10ft, 15x15ft, and 20x13ft.

Best Bargain Choice: The Rottay Tent Ground Footprint

This may not be a recognizable brand name, but you’ll undoubtedly recognize the countless 5-star reviews that these great tent ground covers have racked up. These even come with a carrying bag as well as the accessories you would need to use them as a rain fly. If you are looking for a solid quality piece at a great price, look no further. Sizes include 6x7ft, 8x7ft, 10x10ft, and 10x12ft.

tent ground covers

The Final Pitch

So, in conclusion, are tent footprints a worthy investment? You bet! We truly don’t think you should pitch a tent without one, or you just might find yourself pitching a fit over a ripped-up tent floor. You just cannot go wrong with any one of our recommendations, so go on out there and make one of these fantastic camping tent footprints your very own!