Matt Johnson

What is a Footprint for a Tent?

Author: Matt JohnsonPhotos/Graphics: Mike HawthornePublished: Dec 28, 2022Updated: Dec 13, 2023

If you’ve been around the camping lifestyle for a while, you’ve likely heard the term “footprint” thrown around. Perhaps you’re a novice to camping and have no idea what a footprint for a tent is.

  • Tent Footprint: A tent footprint is a protective groundsheet designed to go underneath a tent, providing an extra layer of insulation, waterproofing, and protection against wear and tear.

That’s okay. We’re going to deep dive into these so you can make sure you’re choosing the right one for your needs.

We’re not talking about RVs or car camping; we’re talking about roughing it. Whether your camping setup consists of a backpacking tent or a luxurious 6 person tent, you’ll want to make sure you have a footprint to go along with it.

Definition of a tent footprint.

So what are tent footprints? They’re essentially a ground cloth or ground sheet designed to protect the bottom of your tent from rocks, moisture, and any other elements that can cause damage.

Demonstration of a Tent Footprint Under a Dome Tent
This photo shows where the tent footprint goes. The tent is placed on the material then anchored to the ground with guy lines.

A footprint for a tent is usually made from a waterproof material such as polyethylene or nylon taffeta, which helps keep water out of your shelter. They’re more durable than tent floors and a footprint acts as a moisture barrier from the forest floor.

They’re often one of the more overlooked aspects of camping gear, but having a footprint for your tent can be incredibly beneficial. Your tent footprint protects sleeping bags and can make a huge difference in keeping you off the cold ground.

If you’ve ever went without a tent footprint, you’ll appreciate the extra insulation and extra waterproofing. The overall extra protection most tent footprints provide is worth every penny.

Benefits of using tent footprints as to opposed to not using one.

There are a few reasons why it’s beneficial to use a tent footprint, even if you don’t think it’s necessary.

Protection from the elements.

First and foremost, footprints help protect your tent from water and moisture penetration and also keep the bottom of your tent free from sharp objects like stones or sticks that can tear through fabric.

Insulation from the ground.

They add an extra layer of insulation between your sleeping bag and the cold, hard ground. Sure, you can use a sleeping pad or bedroll but that won’t protect the bottom of your tent from potential damage.

Serve as a barrier from the bugs.

Footprints can even act as a barrier to keep pesky critters from entering your tent. Whether it’s ants, grasshoppers, or other creepy crawlies, a footprint can help keep them out.

Preserving your tent.

They are much easier to clean than the base of your tent and can be replaced if necessary without having to purchase an entirely new tent or tent floor. If you end up using your footprint too often, you can replace it instead of replacing the entire tent or having to repair the tent floor.

Different types of tent footprints.

Camoflage Tent Footprint on Sand and Rocks

There are really three different types of tent footprints.

Model-Specific FootprintA tent footprint that is specifically designed to fit a particular model of tent, ensuring a perfect fit and maximum protection.
Generic FootprintA versatile tent footprint that is designed to fit most tents, providing adequate coverage and protection for various tent models.
DIY FootprintA homemade tent footprint created by experienced individuals who are skilled in sewing, offering a customized and cost-effective option, but not recommended for beginners.
This table shows the 3 different types of tent footprints.

You can choose to buy one that’s specifically designed for your particular model of tent, or you can purchase a generic footprint that will fit most tents. You can also decide to make your own tent footprint (DIY footprints), though this is not recommended unless you are experienced with sewing.

Regardless of which type you choose, it’s essential to ensure that the footprint covers the entire floor area of your tent and overlaps the sides by at least a few inches so that water won’t seep in.

How to measure your tent floor for the right size footprint.

If you’re going for a generic or DIY footprint, make sure to get your measurements right. First, set up your tent and then measure the length and width of the floor area from tip-to-tip on the tent edge. Make sure to include any taper at the sides or corners in your measurements.

Once you have these dimensions, you can shop for a generic footprint that matches those specs or cut out your own.

You’ll want a footprint that is roughly 1-2″ smaller than the tent floor measurements to account for the overlap, but you can always err on the side of caution and get a slightly larger one and trim it down.

This will prevent water from collecting near the tent edges and resulting in leaks.

Tips on making your own tent footprint.

If you’re the handy type and want to make your own DIY footprint, here are a few tips to get you started—

Find the right tent footprint material.

First off, it doesn’t have to be the same material as your tent material. It can be any waterproof material that’s at least 6 mil thick to withstand rugged terrain.

For a durable and lightweight footprint, consider using lightweight polyester taffeta which is also known as “pack cloth”. This material is perfect for footprints since it’s lightweight yet durable enough to withstand rocky terrain.

You can also opt for nylon taffeta or ripstop nylon if you’re looking for something a bit more durable that won’t be affected by UV rays or water. Both are fairly durable and will be great for a tent bottom as they can withstand rugged terrain.

Whenever you can, avoid using tarps as you’re going to get just about the same protection from that as a picnic blanket. To make your tent footprint worth it, you’ll want to make sure it’s durable and rugged – but comfortable at the same time.

Rain Tarp for a Tent Footprint
This is a rain tarp material, which we don’t recommend. It will work in a pinch, but it’s not a long-term solution for a tent footprint.

Sewing the edges and corners.

Once you have your material, its time to start sewing your ground cloth on to the tent floor. Start with the edges and make sure to use a wide zig-zag stitch so that there are no gaps in your seams where water can seep through.

You’ll also want to pay extra attention when sewing the corners since these are the most vulnerable areas in terms of water penetration.

For an extra secure fit, you can use grommets or eyelets at the edge and corner seams so that you can tie down your footprint securely to the tent itself or the tent stakes.

Measure twice, cut once.

As with anything DIY, it’s important to double-check your measurements on your tent footprint before you cut. Make sure that your tent footprint is slightly smaller than the tent floor so that it covers the entire area and overlaps the sides by a few inches.

This will help ensure that water won’t seep into the tent from underneath or around the edges of the footprint. If it’s the same size as the tent floor you might have water seep in from the edges.

We’ve seen a lot of footprints ruined because the user made a mistake with their measurements, so be sure to measure twice and cut once.

Care and maintenance tips for extending the life of your tent’s footprint.

Now that you’ve got the perfect tent footprint, you’ll want to make sure that it lasts for years and protects your tent from moisture and dirt. Here are some tips on taking care of your footprint—

  • Store your footprint in a cool, dry place when not in use. This will help prevent mold or mildew buildup which can weaken the fabric over time.
  • Clean your tent regularly with a mild soap and water and let it air dry after each camping trip.
  • Always make sure to fold your tent footprint neatly and store it in its original packaging when not in use. This will help prevent the fabric from becoming stretched or worn out over time.
  • If you have an expensive footprint, consider treating it with a waterproofing spray twice a year. This will help keep the fabric from becoming saturated and losing its water-resistance over time.
  • Always store your footprint on a flat surface, never in an area where heat or direct sunlight can damage the fabric.
  • If you do notice any rips or tears in your footprint, patch it up immediately or replace it to prevent any water damage.

Following these simple steps will help ensure that your tent’s footprint lasts for many camping trips and protects you from the elements. A good waterproof floor protector is essential for a good camping experience, so make sure you invest in one that fits your needs.

Tent footprint FAQs

We get a lot of interesting questions about tents and other gear. One of the most common is whether or not you need a tent footprint. We cover all of your questions – and more – in our FAQ about tent footprints. You’ll be a regular expert on tent footprints when we’re done!

Do I need a tent footprint?

While a tent footprint isn’t necessary, it’s highly recommended as it provides an extra layer of protection against the elements and keeps your tent clean and dry. It also helps extend the life of your tent by warding off moisture, dirt, and other debris from getting into the seams.

Is a tent footprint worth it?

We seem to think so. They’re not terribly expensive, and they provide an extra layer of protection against the elements. So if you’re looking to invest in a good camping experience, a tent footprint is definitely worth it. It’ll protect that expensive tent of yours as well.

What about the extra weight?

Many campers are concerned about bringing on more weight for their ultralight backpacking trips. That’s not the case when you compare these to the other gear you’re already carrying. The benefit-to-weight ratio is worth it if you’re looking for an extra layer of protection and peace of mind. So if weight is a concern, no worries—a tent footprint isn’t going to add too much heft to your pack.

What can I use instead of a tent footprint?

If you can’t find or don’t want to invest in a tent footprint, you can use plastic sheeting or a rain tarp as an alternative. They’re fairly easy to find at any hardware store.

While this may provide some protection from the elements, it won’t be as effective as a tent footprint specifically designed for your make and model of tent. It also won’t provide any added insulation so your tent may not be quite as warm in cold temperatures. So if you want the best protection for your tent, we recommend investing in a proper footprint.

Can you use a tent without a footprint?

Many tent manufacturers don’t recommend using your tent without a footprint, as it can cause wear and tear over time. But at the same time, their tent floors are typically made of ultra light plastics and will allow moisture in during heavy rain.

So yes, you can use a tent without a tent footprint, but we don’t recommend it.

Can I use a tarp instead of a footprint?

Yes you can, and it’s one of the DIY options that is a lower cost than a tent footprint, but a tarp from a hardware store may not provide the best protection against moisture or debris. It also won’t give you any added insulation, which can be important when camping in cold temperatures. If you want to get the most out of your tent, it’s worth investing in a proper footprint that is specifically designed for your make and model of tent.

If there is a small tear, can I still use the footprint?

Of course, however, we would advise patching it up or replacing it with a new one. Even the smallest of tears can cause moisture and dirt to get in your tent floor, which can potentially damage your tent over time. Additionally, even a small tear can turn into a bigger one if you set up on large rocks. So if you notice any rips or tears, make sure to take care of them right away.

Use a tent footprint during your next camping trip.

A tent footprint is a great way to protect your tent, keep it clean and dry, and extend its life. Not only that, but they’re lightweight enough so you don’t have to worry about too much extra weight on your backpacking trips.

Whether you choose a pre-made footprint or use plastic sheeting or tarp as an alternative, these are all good options for keeping the elements out of your camping gear.

Just make sure to patch up any small tears in order to get the most protection from your investment.

So if you want peace of mind when tackling the trails, you need a tent footprint. Be sure to equip yourself with one before heading out.


Matt Johnson

Senior Content Writer

Matt is an experienced camper and glamping enthusiast with a Master's degree in Wildlife Science from Texas A&M University. Authoring posts for GlamperGear, he shares his wealth of knowledge on picturesque campsites, luxurious accommodations, and the best gear for outdoor adventures. His passion for nature and knack for comfort in the wilderness make him an expert guide for your next camping endeavor.

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