What is a Tent Footprint?

Tent footprints are an often forgotten part of a tent, but their role is pivotal when it comes to waterproofing and protecting the tent. Some tents can now be purchased with tent footprints included, but others need to be bought separately.

How do Tent Footprints Work?

A tent footprint is an additional piece of material -often tarpaulin- which is designed to fit underneath your tent. Tent footprints are often slightly smaller than the base of the tent, to prevent water and debris from being trapped between the footprint and tent flooring. Tent footprints aren’t usually pegged to the floor and are simply placed and held down by the weight of the tent above it and its contents. 

Why Use a Tent Footprint?

Tent footprints are mostly used as an additional layer of protection for the underside of the tent. Whilst camping, people often opt to protect the visible parts of their tent, especially in the rain. However, the tent flooring is also susceptible to water damage or leakage, and that’s where the tent footprint comes in. 

Tent footprints help protect the bottom of the tent against abrasive surfaces such as rocky or forest flooring, and help keep the underside of the tent dry but offering an additional layer of protection that water can’t penetrate. 

Advantages of a Tent Footprint

The advantages of a tent footprint are rather straightforward. The use of a tent footprint ensures that the tent flooring is reinforced and less likely to suffer damage due to exposure to uneven terrain. Additionally, the tent footprint assists in keeping water out from under the tent flooring by creating a barrier. If any water finds its way under the tent, it will be under the tent footprint as opposed to the tent flooring. This can reduce water damage, foul smells, or discoloration of the tent. 

Disadvantages of a Tent Footprint

The use of a tent footprint is controversial to some avid campers, as some find that the disadvantages outweigh the pros when it comes to carrying a tent footprint along. 

Some find that a tent footprint doesn’t add a substantial amount of protection – or not enough as it’s worth. As a tent footprint isn’t attached securely to the tent, there is still the opportunity for it to move, albeit slightly, and could do more damage than good if it were to trap water between itself and the tent flooring. This water could go stagnant and lead to more issues than it would have if there were no tent footprint. In addition to this, a tent footprint is another piece of equipment to carry when camping, and those who prefer to travel as lightly as possible often debate whether it’s truly worth the additional weight. 

How to Make a Tent Footprint

A tent footprint can be made from scratch providing you have access to appropriate materials. Tarpaulin is a suitable substitute, as discussed in Do I Need a Tarp Under my Tent? And there are other durable materials discussed in Best Waterproof Tent Materials which offer a similar level of protection. Additional, even more lightweight, materials are also available such as polycro and tyvek. 

Once you’ve selected the more appropriate material, you can fairly easily make your tent footprint. 

  1. Lay the material you have chosen on a flat surface, ensuring that the material you have is larger than the base of the tent.
  2. Set up your tent or flatten the flooring on top of the material  to accurately assess the size and shape of the tent.
  3. With a permanent marker, trace the bottom of the tent around the material, to get a visible marking of the shape and size of the base of the tent. 
  4. Remove the tent from on top of the material and put it to one side.
  5. With a pair of scissors, cut around the border of the traced line. Make sure you cut several inches inside, as the tent footprint should be just smaller than the base of the tent when everything is assembled. 

How to Pick a Tent Footprint

Most tents available on the market can either be purchased with a tent footprint included or a tent footprint can be bought separately which is made specifically for the tent model. If your tent footprint doesn’t come along with your tent, you might be better off making the footprint as most branded footprints cost an extortionate amount for something that can be made using fairly easy to get ahold of materials. This is especially true for larger tents or tents which are shaped unconventionally. 

If you insist on shopping for a tent footprint, ensure that the one you are purchasing is either made specifically for the tent you own or make sure that the measurements are correct for the tent. Don’t forget that tent footprints need to be smaller than the actual base of the tent, to reduce buildup of water underneath.

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