Tent footprints or ground cloths are applied underneath the camping tents to protect the floor against rips, wear, and tears when the ground is not that smooth. Some terrains can do some severe damage to the tent’s floor if it’s not protected, with sand being the biggest enemy. Rough sand will act like sandpaper once you get inside the canvas and there’s some weight on it.
Are tent footprints necessary?
People have been camping without them for years and never had problems, but it seems that lately, with the arrival of more expensive tents, they feel the need to protect their investment. Would I buy one? Probably not, because I don’t own a $1000 canvas. For me, an old tablecloth will do the trick.
For you, it might be a different story, and the truth is that you need to ask yourself where you are going to pitch before consider buying one. As an example, if there is grass on the ground, that would act as natural protection, and you don’t need anything else. Beach camping, on the other hand, will require some sort of shielding, as sand is an abrasive material that is known to cause some damage.
Depending on the quality of your tent’s floor, you might want to consider getting two ground cloths; one underneath and one inside. Many times, the inside will wear out quicker than the outside as all that gear with sharp edges will rub against the floor.
Another benefit of using one is that you don’t need to wash the whole tent if it gets dirty. You might be thinking that you are on dry ground, but many times, during the night, rainwater or condensation will build up under the tent, making the terrain muddy.
How big should the tent footprint be?
It’s ideal to buy one that’s around 2 inches smaller than the bottom part of the tent. This way, you don’t need to worry about water going underneath the shelter, damping all the ground beneath you.
To make life easier for you, you should check with the tent’s manufacturer to see if they sell footprints for that specific model. The chances are that most of them will, but you need to be prepared to pay a premium for them. In simple words, it’s just another way for them to make money off of you. But at least you don’t need to worry about the sizes as you know for sure that they will fit perfectly.
The setting up process
The installation process is straightforward, and it shouldn’t be too much of a struggle.
- First, you need to place the groundsheet on the future tent’s position. Find out from the product label which side is waterproof. Usually, the shiny side (coated) will go up (facing the tent), and the dull side (the uncoated) should face the ground.
- Start setting up the tent on top of it, inserting the poles in the footprints grommets. Some may have straps attached, to achieve a better fixing; check if yours have them.
- Make sure the sheet isn’t sticking out and if it doesn’t, you’re all done.
If you have one that you built yourself, you can just lay it underneath, and you’ll be fine. Just make sure you pitch on a flat terrain otherwise you may slip off.
How to wash them?
You need to wash them with cold water and a sponge. If the dirt does not come off with water alone, you need to buy a tent-specific wash that will not degrade the coating. Never use a washing machine as it can shred the groundsheet. Resist the urge of using conventional soaps and detergents, as they will ruin the waterproof coating.
If you don’t have a specific cleaning product, leave the footprint in WARM water for an hour or so, then start to clean it. It will help with softening the dirt and which will come off easier.
Don’t expose to direct sunlight. Keep it in a shaded place, even though it will take longer for it to dry.
Can you use a tent footprint as a tarp?
I know what you’re thinking: they’re cheap, so why not use them as a tarp? It can work but don’t expect to have a big shelter. The majority of footprints are narrow because they were designed to be slightly smaller than the tent floor. I’m not sure if the dimensions will be perfect for a tarp.
Also, because it needs to resist tears and rips, the fabric is quite heavy, making it a bit difficult to string up.
How thick should they be?
The thickness ranges between 0.5 millimeters for the lightweight designs, to 1.8 millimeters for the heavy duty models. Depending on how abrasive the terrain is, a heavy-duty, thick fabric will work better, but you should consider the extra weight before going for it.
Are they waterproof?
To start with, you should know that most quality tents already have a waterproof floor. If you choose the one that’s recommended by the manufacturer, you’ll probably end up with a footprint that has the same Hydrostatic Head rating as the tent. Most like, one face of the sheet will be covered with a waterproof coating, and the other will have no water resistance value.
Although their initial purpose is to protect from abrasion, having one will double the waterproof value, which is not a bad idea considering that the more pressure you apply to a tent’s floor, the more it loses its water resistance.
Make one from scratch
I look around, and I see how people put so much time in a DIY groundsheet, sewing grommets and cutting sheets of Tyvek or polypropylene to fit their tent. The results look nice, but I have a problem with this; what if you change your tent? Most likely, you have to do it all over again.
So why not save yourself some time and just buy some inexpensive blue polypropylene. Don’t worry about cutting it at the right size; if it’s too big, simply fold it underneath your tent. Five minutes and 10 dollars later, you have the best universal tent footprint, and you’re ready to camp like a pro.