REI Quarter Dome SL 1 base tent

A modern, high-quality tent — especially a lightweight option suitable for backpacking — is not cheap. But here’s why you want to throw down some extra dollars on another piece of gear — a tent footprint.

Shelter is one of our primary needs as humans, and the process of picking out and purchasing the perfect tent requires an investment of both time and money — and most importantly, know-how. Namely, know-how on whether you need a footprint, how to find one best for your tent and usage, and how to keep all this equipment in tip-top shape.

Because many tents do not include footprints in the purchase price, many people wonder if they are necessary. In this article, we hope to answer all the questions you may have about tent footprints. It is much easier to decide whether you need a tent footprint once you understand what they are and what they are used for.

What Is a Tent Footprint?

A tent footprint is a lightweight sheet of material that is roughly the same shape as the floor of your tent body. Picture a tarp.

Tent footprints are usually made from the same material as your tent, but with a slightly higher denier count. A denier count is the thickness of the fabric threads.

The higher the denier count a material has, the more abrasion-resistant — and durable— it will be. Having durable material between your tent and the ground (and rocks, sticks, gravel, etc.) is crucial to keeping your tent protected and extending its life.

Tent footprints that are made specifically for a certain tent model will attach to the body of the tent to help keep the footprint in place. Tent footprints also tend to have features like grommets or corner loops and special stitching that make them specific for camping use.

What Is a Tent Footprint Used For?

tent footprint
Photo credit: Josh Larios

Tent footprints prevent the floor of your tent from making direct contact with the ground. Some high-end tents on the market today weigh less than a pound.

These tents are made from thin, fragile materials in the interest of saving weight. By using a tent footprint, rough rocks or sticks on the ground will be less likely to rip or damage your tent body.

Above all else, a tent footprint is a way for you to protect the investment you have made in your tent. While you are sleeping in a tent, any movement that you make will grind the fabric underneath you into the ground. When this occurs, the tent footprint is there to handle the abrasion so your tent doesn’t need to.

Why Should I Buy One?

Tent footprints can greatly extend the life of your tent. Backpacking tents are expensive, and replacing a tent footprint is much less expensive than replacing an entire tent.

Strictly speaking, you can get by without a tent footprint. Most tents are already made out of waterproof materials, and a tent footprint isn’t really made for waterproofing anyway. That said, if you choose not to use a tent footprint, your tent is likely to wear out more quickly — especially with frequent use.

If you’re trying to decide whether bringing a tent footprint along is worth the extra weight, consider that tent footprints can also perform several other functions as a versatile mini-tarp. Other clever applications of a tent footprint include:

  • A clean surface for organizing gear
  • A great rope tarp for climbing
  • A perfect ground tarp for open bivvies (when setting up a tent isn’t necessary)
  • A play surface or area for tiny campers
  • A protective surface for sleeping under the stars
  • A shelter to protect from rain or sun
  • And lots of other uses!
setting up tent
Photo credit: loonyhiker

Is a Tent Footprint Worth Buying?

This ultimately depends on your needs and your budget. However, we recommend buying a tent footprint. It’s an effective way to greatly extend the life of your tent.

Your best bet is to purchase a good-quality tent footprint specifically made for your tent model. If the tent you own or are going to buy doesn’t come with one, check to see if the brand sells it separately.

If you’re on a budget and a name-brand footprint is simply too expensive (footprints can run $30-80), you can DIY a tent footprint out of plastic tarp or Tyvek wrap ($3-15).

You can also buy a precut tarp square (if you can find one that matches the area of your tent). Simply cut the material of your choice to the dimensions of your tent floor, and you’ve got an affordable tent footprint!

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