Camping is a popular outdoor recreational activity enjoyed by millions of people around the world. One of the key pieces of gear for camping is a tent, which provides shelter and a place to sleep while spending time in nature. An important but often overlooked accessory for tents is a tent footprint. A tent footprint goes under the tent and serves several important functions. In this article, we will provide a comprehensive overview of tent footprints, including what they are, the different types, their benefits, how to choose the right one, tips for using them properly, and recommendations for some of the best tent footprint options currently available.
What is a Tent Footprint?
A tent footprint is a separate groundsheet that goes underneath the bottom of the tent. It is usually made of durable, waterproof materials such as polyethylene, nylon, or polyester. A tent footprint is detachable and not sewn into the floor of the tent itself.
The purpose of a tent footprint is to protect the tent floor from getting punctured, abraded, or damp from moisture on the ground. It acts as a barrier between the ground and the tent. It can also serve to keep dirt, rocks, sticks and other debris from pressing into the tent floor. Tent footprints add an extra layer of waterproofing in case moisture seeps up from wet ground into the tent. They provide insulation from cold ground and help keep the inside of the tent warmer. Additionally, a tent footprint can help extend the life of the tent by protecting the floor fabric and seams from premature wear and tear.
Types of Tent Footprints
There are a few different types of tent footprints:
- Custom footprints are made by the same manufacturer as the tent and they are designed specifically to fit that tent model. Custom footprints match the tent floor dimensions precisely.
- Universal or generic footprints come in standard sizes (such as 5′ x 7′ or 7′ x 9′) and can be used with any tent that has a floor size that matches. Universal tent footprints are usually adjustable to fit different size tents.
- Custom-cut footprints are footprints you cut to size yourself out of a larger sheet material. These can be trimmed to create a custom-fit footprint for any unique tent floor space.
- Taped floor tents have a footprint that is permanently integrated into the tent floor. This type does not have a detachable footprint.
Benefits of Using a Tent Footprint
There are a number of benefits to using a tent footprint:
- Protect the tent floor – This is the primary function. The footprint takes the brunt of abrasion from rough ground, preventing wear and damage to the tent floor. This helps waterproof tent floors last much longer.
- Add thermal insulation – Footprints create an air buffer between the cold ground and the tent, helping the inside of the tent stay warmer.
- Keep interior cleaner – By blocking dirt and debris, tent footprints help keep the interior tent space cleaner. Shake them off outside instead of tracking dirt into the tent.
- Prevent bottom wetting – Extra moisture protection keeps bottom of tent drier in wet conditions.
- Increase weatherproofness – Tent footprints add an additional barrier against moisture from rain, dew or groundwater.
- Allow the tent to be pitched faster – Tent can be erected on top of the already laid out footprint quickly.
- Facilitate tent cleaning – Much easier to clean a detachable footprint separately from the tent.
- Lighten load – Carrying a single footprint is lighter than bringing a heavier second tent groundsheet to serve the same protective purposes.
Choosing the Right Tent Footprint
If purchasing a separate tent footprint, there are a few key factors to consider when selecting the right one:
- Material – Nylon and polyester are waterproof, lightweight and durable. Polyethylene is waterproof but heavier. Go for a material that matches the tent floor.
- Custom vs. universal – Custom footprints provide the best fit. Universal ones work for many tents but may not be a perfect match.
- Size – Match the footprint size to the size of the tent floor it will go under, or go slightly bigger.
- Weight – Ultralight backpackers will want the lightest footprint material possible, while car campers can choose heavier materials for maximum durability.
- Packed size – Make sure the footprint packs down small enough to fit in your pack if backpacking.
- Waterproof rating – Select a footprint with a high waterproof rating, especially for wet environments.
- Seam quality – Taped seams are best to prevent moisture leakage.
- Cost – Prices range widely from $20 to $80 or more depending on material, size and brand.
- Manufacturer reputability – Select footprints from established outdoor gear companies known for quality.
Tips for Using a Tent Footprint Properly
To get the most out of a tent footprint, follow these tips:
- Lay it out smoothly and stake it down firmly under where the tent will be placed. Make sure corners lay flat.
- Extend the footprint perimeter 2-3 inches beyond the tent sides to prevent water running underneath.
- Face the coated side down against the ground for waterproofness. The raw edge side faces up toward the tent.
- Avoid stepping on the footprint where possible when erecting the tent. Kneel beside it.
- Give the footprint a little slope if on uneven ground so puddles don’t pool under the tent.
- Carry folded, not wadded up to avoid creasing which can cause leakage along fold lines.
- Unfold and air out after trips to prevent mildew if storing damp.
- Shake off outside well before packing up to keep interior of car/home clean.
- Bring a small towel to wipe off shoes before entering tent when using a footprint.
- Use a separate ground cloth under sleeping area if needed for added cushion and insulation.
Recommended Tent Footprint Products
Here are some top-rated tent footprint options to consider:
- Chinook Summit Footprint – Lightweight custom-fit footprints sized for Chinook tents. Polyethylene, taped seams.
- REI Co-op Custom Footprint – Polyester footprints sized specifically for REI brand tents. Durable and waterproof.
- MSR Tent Footprint – Universal lightweight nylon footprint available in sizes for 1-4 person tents. Adjustable webbing corners.
- Granite Gear Uberlight Footprint – Ultra-thin, ultra-light silnylon footprints with taped seams and stuff sack.
- Big Agnes Tent Footprint – Polyester fabric custom-sized for Big Agnes tents. Features webbing loops for staking.
- Nemo Tent Footprint – Matching custom-fit footprint sized for Nemo tent models. Durable polyethylene material.
- Mountain Hardwear Triangletown Footprint – Proprietary OutDry material provides optimal waterproofing. Custom tent fit.
- Kelty Tent Footprint – Affordable lightweight nylon universal footprints in a range of sizes to fit different Kelty tents.
- ALPS Mountaineering Pinecliffe Footprint – Polyethylene material, fully taped seams. Fits Pinecliffe tent models or use as generic.
Adding a tent footprint provides substantial benefits for keeping the inside of a tent cleaner and protecting its floor from premature deterioration. Footprints come in custom or universal sizes, a variety of materials and a wide range of prices. Match the footprint dimensions properly to the tent size and consider weight, waterproofness and packed size based on intended camping style. Use proper footprint laying and maintenance techniques. Investing in a quality tent footprint pays off by extending the usable life of a tent, allowing campers to enjoy the outdoors for many seasons.