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What is a Backpacking Tent Footprint Used For When Hiking?

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases made on our website. If you make a purchase through links from this website, we may get a small share of the sale from Amazon and other similar affiliate programs. One of the things people will either decide to carry or not is a footprint for […]
Written By: Josh Koop
December 9, 2019
As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases made on our website. If you make a purchase through links from this website, we may get a small share of the sale from Amazon and other similar affiliate programs.

One of the things people will either decide to carry or not is a footprint for their tent. Many times people will decide not to bring one as they don't see a purpose as the bottom of the tent is already made of solid material. What is a backpacking tent footprint then?

A tent footprint is designed by the tent manufacturer to protect the bottom of their tent from consistent wear and tear from the environment. Things like rocks, sticks, gravel, and sand can slowly cause micro-tearing lowering the life of your tent.

Lets dig into the tent footprint and why manufacturers prefer to sell them along with what options exist to provide similar protection for your investment.

Why Is It Called A Tent Footprint?

This is pretty easy as the bottom of the tent is the foot, the part which comes in contact with the ground, this means a footprint is like you stepping with you foot and you leave a footprint in the shape of your foot. A tent footprint is almost like the bottom of a shoe to cover the ground area that the foot of the tent comes in contact with.

If you are willing to shell out the money for the footprint it will serve you well as it will be a perfect match to your specific tent. You will obviously pay a premium when you purchase from the manufacturer as it was designed specifically for a tent and purpose.

Extends Your Tents Lifespan

Having the footprint will drastically increase your tents lifespan allowing you to use it for a much longer time. The little micro tears from the ground add up over time slowly causing tears and then rips, instead with a footprint on the ground it is taking this base level of abuse and once it gets close to failure you can replace it with ease.

What is a Backpacking Tent Footprint with tent on the grass by a awesome rock formation at night.

Additional Options For Tent Footprints

While the manufacturers create footprints for tents they aren't the only option available to you as the purchaser. If you are willing to work on making your own you can purchase many other types of fabric or plastics which can fill the role and in many times be much lighter and easier to carry.

The benefits to building your own sheet is that it is typically much more inexpensive, along with far more able to be customized to your unique need. This also makes it simple to replace on the trail should it be damaged and replacing it is as simple as finding a hardware shop.

Tyvek Sheet

Tyvek is used in construction which makes it very easy to find and purchase, this also means it is very durable and able to stand up to the damage from being used outside.

Tyvek is typically not as see through as other types of plastics since it is a fabric, so you will want to pay special attention to the ground before setting up the tent on top. You want to make sure you remove the odd jagged objects from under the footprint prior to setting up your tent and sleep system.

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Polycro Plastic

Polycro is an ultralight plastic which can be used as a groundcloth or footprint to protect the floor of your tent. All it requires is taking a sheet and cutting it to the size required to fit your tent floor space.

The reason that Polycro is a favorite of ultralight backpackers is that it is incredibly light in weight and in space to carry. It is also incredibly tough and durable and puncture resistant (in backpacking, when could that happen?).

Polycro is also typically clear which means when you lay it down on the ground you can clearly see what is underneath in case you have missed some rocks or other pointy objects. This helps to remove those objects before laying out your tent and setting up your inflatable pad right over a pine cone or other object which could pop the plastic!

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Creating your own footprint like this helps keep it interchangeable between tents of different sizes and is easily replaceable if you destroy it.

How much do I need to use my tent before the tent floor breaks down due to ground friction?

This can vary between the tent and the types of places it is used in and the care used when placing it. What happens to most tents without a footprint the tent is in constant contact with the ground which can be covered in little sharper objects.

This also doesn't take into account your movements while inside the tent as every time you move around inside the tent you cause a slight rub of the floor against the ground. This slight rubbing is what causes the most damage other than direct contact with the ground and foreign objects which could cause puncture or slash issues.

Won’t a Footprint or Ground Cloth Keep Me Drier if it Rains?

This is not the purpose of the footprint when used with the tent, obviously you want it to not collect water between your tent and the footprint. This end objective should protect you better from potential water coming through the bottom of the tent. Your footprint should always be smaller than the tent to help ensure the water doesn't cross into the mid section between the tent floor and the footprint.

Why Are Tent Footprints Smaller than the Tent Floor?

The reason that the tent footprints is made slightly smaller than the accompanying tent’s main floor is to prevent any collection of water between the tent floor and the footprint. If this water accumulation was to happen it could cause dampness, condensation, and heat loss within the tent compartment which are all bad things for the occupants.

How do I Clean a Tent Footprint?

The simplest and most straight forward way to clean a tent footprint is to use a clean cloth with a mild detergent and wipe over the footprint. When you have more stubborn stains, you can add on water and a brush and scrub lightly until the dirt is washed off.

You can use the same process if your footprint has a substantial mud and muck issue. You can use a scourer but then you must remain very cautious and careful and scrub lightly so as not to scratch your footprint.

Bottom Line

If you are a serious backpacker you should protect your investments, like a tent at hundreds of dollars, with a footprint as this is minimal cost compared to your tent. If cost and weight are important factors to you and your trips you need to look at how to use Tyvek or Polycro and create a ultralight footprint to carry.

Taking the time to make and clear a proper campsite will help extend the life of your tent and the footprint. Sometimes this can be difficult barring weather and time of day but that is the exception versus the rule and this will help keep you having an enjoyable trip and enjoyable nights for weeks to come!

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