You’ve recently spent a good amount of money on a camping tent, and now you’re wondering if you need a footprint to pair with it as well. While you want your tent to last as long as possible, will this piece of fabric make a difference in protecting it?
While the short answer to that question is yes, the truth is that whether you should buy a tent footprint or not depends on several different factors. In this article, our team of experts will explain to you exactly what a tent footprint does, and when you should consider buying one or making your own.
What Exactly is a Tent Footprint?
A tent footprint is a piece of material that you place on the ground under your tent while camping. It acts as a protective barrier between your tent and the ground, protecting it from wear and tear as well as dirt. They are usually matched to be slightly smaller than your tent floor and are made out of a waterproof fabric like polyester or nylon.
What Do Tent Footprints Do?
Tent footprints can serve a variety of different purposes for your tent. While many campers think that the only reason to get a footprint is for extra waterproofing, that isn’t the case.
While some tents might need additional help if the rating is low enough, most will survive without a footprint even in wet conditions. Below are the real reasons to have a tent footprint.
Protect Your Tent Floor
Even small sticks and rocks can eventually create holes in your tent floor with enough wear and tear. A tent footprint adds an additional layer of protection from these items, which will help extend the lifespan of your tent.
Beyond using a footprint, it’s also a good idea to clear any debris you see before pitching your tent, as even the footprint is not invincible.
Keep Your Tent Clean
While it’s impossible to keep your tent perfectly clean during an outdoor camping trip, the floor is often the spot that takes the most punishment. Between dirt, mud, tree sap, and other sticky stuff, it can be a pain to clean off your tent at the end of your trip.
Laying down a tent footprint will keep your tent bottom looking much cleaner for a long time.
Help You Pick a Good Camping Location
There are many instances where a camping spot looks perfect, only for you to pitch your tent and find out that there’s a root in the way or the ground isn’t level. Laying down a tent footprint first will help you discover this much faster and avoid the hassle of moving your tent.
This will let you easily choose a good location to set up so you can get started with the more fun parts of camping.
Act As a Multipurpose Gear Item
A tent footprint can easily double as a tarp if you want it to. You could use it to sit on while eating or drinking, as a spot to put gear, or as a makeshift rain jacket.
If you want to build a bare-bones DIY camping tent or simply camp under the stars with a small protective barrier, a tent footprint will make a great base.
Things to Think About When Considering a Tent Footprint
While tent footprints can be very useful as we showed above, they’re not necessary for every situation. Here are some factors to consider when deciding if you need a tent footprint.
Your Tent Denier Count and Waterproofing
Denier measures the thickness of the fabric used to create your tent floor. As a general recommendation, if your floor is made of 30 denier fabric or higher, then you’ll probably be safe without a footprint.
Tent floors that are 20 or lower denier should almost always use a tent footprint. If your tent is in between then it’s up to you, but we’d suggest getting a footprint to be safe.
Certain terrains will be harsher on your tent floor than others. For example, camping in a forest with lots of sharp sticks will likely require a footprint, as will going in mountains on rocky ground.
On the other hand, you probably won’t need a footprint if you’re camping on grassy land like your backyard, or on the beach.
Size and Weight
While a tent footprint typically isn’t very large or heavy compared to a camping tent, it can be something to think about if you’re going on a backpacking trip. A footprint could weigh up to half a pound and take up a few liters of space, so it might not be worth carrying if you’ve already got a full bag.
In this case, it might be better to make your own footprint, which is something we show you how to do below. If you’re going car camping, then this factor isn’t something you should worry about.
The average tent footprint can cost anywhere between 30 and 80 dollars. While this is cheaper than the cost of a tent, it can be annoying to drop extra money on it.
If you plan to go tent camping frequently and can afford to drop the extra money, it’s worth it. However, there are cheaper alternatives and homemade options you can consider.
How to Make a DIY Footprint
Given that it’s just a simple piece of fabric, it’s pretty easy to make your own tent footprint. They usually cost much less than the ones sold by tent manufacturers and are lighter in weight too. Depending on your needs, there are 3 popular tent footprint materials that we’d recommend choosing from.
PU Coated Nylon
If you want something as close as possible to the real thing, this is the material that most tent footprints are made out of. It usually weighs about 1.9 ounces per square yard, making it the heaviest out of the 3 options, although it likely offers the best protection as well.
You can purchase the nylon by the yard for about half as much as your standard tent footprint, so you’re at about a $25 price tag.
Tyvek is designed to be used as a house wrap to protect walls during construction but has grown popular with campers over the years. Tyvek weighs 1.85 ounces per square yard, so slightly lighter than typical tent footprint material.
Another benefit is that it is basically indestructible and will last you forever, so it’s perfect for tough terrain. You can buy enough Tyvek to make a footprint for about $10-15, although you’ll probably have to pick it up at your local hardware store rather than ordering online.
Polycryo is the lightest and cheapest option available, making it an excellent choice for backpackers wanting to optimize for weight. At 0.55 ounces per square yard, it will feel virtually weightless in your bag.
While not as durable as the above options, it will still protect your tent well for multiple camping trips. Even better, it can be found for under $10.
Making Your Own Footprint
After choosing one of the materials above, it’s super easy to make your own footprint. Here are the exact steps you’ll need to follow.
Pitch your tent and measure the dimensions. This can be done inside your house before going camping.
Subtract 1-2 inches from each side. You want your tent footprint to be slightly smaller than your tent. This will ensure water doesn’t pool underneath your tent, getting the floor wet.
Draw out the dimensions you need with a marker and cut your chosen material to size.
Congratulations, you now have a perfectly functional tent footprint that is ready for camping!
While tent footprints aren’t necessary in all cases, we think that the benefits to the health of your tent outweigh the costs. If price is an issue, it’s also very easy to make a DIY footprint as we showed right above.
If you have any tips or recommendations related to tent footprints, please leave them in the comments below. Happy camping!
Carl is a content writer for The Camping Buddy, specializing in informational camping articles and product reviews. Carl has been a freelance writer for outdoor news sites while spending his time backpacking across the world. His favorite camping spot is Malaekahana Beach in Hawaii.