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Tent Footprint for Backpacking – Do You Really Need a Tent Pad?

Do You Need a Tent Footprint for Backpacking?

Let’s face it, most high-quality and modern tents these days are expensive. So, if you’re spending hundreds of dollars on a new tent, it’s obvious that you want it to last as long as possible. One of the best ways to prolong the lifespan of your tent for backpacking is to use a tent footprint. Continue reading to find out what is a tent footprint and discover why you need to be using a footprint for a tent.

Is it worth getting a ground sheet?

A tent footprint (also known as ground sheet) is basically a piece of material that you put between the ground and the floor of your tent. They’re usually made of durable and waterproof materials like nylon fabric or silicon coated polyester and they’re lightweight. Most tent footprints have dimensions that match specific tent’s floors, so if you want to purchase one, make sure that it’s not larger than your tent floor. If the footprint is larger than your tent floor, rain will accumulate and puddle along the edges and then it will soak through the tent floor fabric or leak in.

A tent footprint will protect the bottom of your tent from moisture or abrasion, extending the lifespan of your tent, which makes it an essential piece of backpacking gear especially if you’re camping on stony or rocky ground. Let’s take a look at the most important reasons why you need to use a tent footprint:

Protects your tent from abrasion

A ground sheet will add an extra layer of protection between your tent floor and the ground and will slow the wear of your tent floor. The footprint will protect your tent from abrasion or cuts, prolonging its lifespan. Also, replacing a worn-out footprint is much cheaper and easier than repairing a hole in your tent floor or buying an entirely new tent.

Adds extra warmth

Adding a footprint to your tent floor will slightly raise you off the floor and decrease the amount of heat loss to the ground, keeping you warm. A tent footprint and a good sleeping mat will provide a great basis for a warm, comfortable, and cozy night’s sleep in the great outdoors.

Keeps your tent floor dry and clean

A footprint will protect your tent floor from getting wet and dirty while camping. Having sticky tree sap, mud, or insects all over the floor of your tent can be a nightmare to clean. A footprint will keep your tent looking relatively dry and clean for a long time and it will make packing easier.

Helps you pick the perfect campsite

Have you ever found the perfect spot to pitch your tent, climbed in, and noticed a root that doesn’t allow you to fit in the space or a rock sticking into your back. Setting a tent footprint first, can help you test your campsite before pitching the tent. Just lay it out on the area you’ve chosen and lay down to test the place. This will save you a lot of time and effort when it comes to actually setting up your tent.

Doubles as a poncho or a small tarp

A tent footprint is an awesome piece of gear that has multiple uses. You can use it like a poncho or a tarp to protect you from rain and bugs. You can also lay it down and sit on it, or lay your gear out to dry on it, if the ground is wet. Investing in a light and waterproof tent footprint is an amazing way to save space in your backpack.

Tent footprints are certainly not necessary, but buying a tent footprint is a good idea, especially if you want to extend the lifespan of your tent. A tent footprint is well worth the investment, so make sure to carry one on all your backpacking trips, especially if you’re camping in rugged or sandy areas or places prone to harsh weather.

What can I use instead of a tent footprint?

You want your tent to last you for years, but you’re not willing to spend money on a real tent footprint? There are various alternatives to tent footprints and here are some of the most popular materials you can use to make your own footprint.


You can definitely use a tarp as a ground sheet – it’s durable, waterproof, and lightweight so it will be able to withstand everything the great outdoors throws at it. Tarps are also inexpensive, but if you want to purchase a tarp or use the one you already have, make sure that the size matches your tent size. The tarp can be a little larger than your tent size, so you will have to adjust it by folding the excess underneath.

House Wrap

Another option is to use a house wrap, a material that is commonly used to wrap and protect homes from getting damaged from the weather. The most common type of house wrap that’s used for making DIY tent footprint is Tyvek. This is the perfect material for making your own footprint, because it is lightweight, water-resistant, inexpensive, and durable.

Window Wrap

You can also use a window wrap, made from polyolefin and especially created to add insulation to your windows during the winter period. However, this material is also very popular in the backpacking community, because it’s the lightest groundsheet option available. A window wrap is also waterproof, but it’s not very strong and durable, so if you use one as a tent footprint, it will probably last you only a few backpacking trips.

Dyneema (Cuben Fiber)

You can make your own tent footprint with Dyneema (Cuben Fiber) – it’s an ultralight but extremely strong material made from polyethylene. This material is very durable and water-resistant, so it has been used in a lot of industries including aviation, medical, military, mining, and outdoor gear. There’s one disadvantage however, Dyneema is much more expensive than the other options we mentioned above.

Final Thoughts

So, if you don’t own a tent with a footprint, you’re probably wondering “Can I use any footprint for the tent?” or ”Do I really need one for backpacking?”. The answer to both questions is yes. You definitely need a ground sheet if you want to extend the life of your tent and make your backpacking trip easier and more comfortable. A tent footprint will protect your tent from abrasion and will keep it dry and clean. You can always buy a manufactured tent footprint, but you can also make your own with the alternatives we mentioned above. In fact, making your own tent footprint is really simple and easy. All you need is to know the right dimensions of your tent floors and then take any durable, light, and thin fabric of your choice and cut it to the size your tent requires. You can use the versatile tarp or any waterproof material such as polyester, nylon, or cuben fiber. Whatever material you choose, just make sure that the size of your ground sheet is smaller than the bottom of your tent, so that you won’t have to worry about rain collecting on the ground sheet. All things considered, using a tent footprint for backpacking is an amazing idea because it will increase your tent’s life, so that you can have adventures together for many years to come.