Tent Footprint vs Tarp: Choosing the Right Option for Your Camping Needs

Tent Footprint vs Tarp

When it comes to camping, protecting your tent and yourself from the ground is paramount.

In this guide, we’ll explore two main options for ground protection: tent footprint vs tarps. Understanding the key differences between these options will help you make an informed decision for your next outdoor adventure.

What is a Tent Footprint?

A tent footprint is a specially designed ground cloth that sits beneath your tent.

Typically made from durable materials like nylon or polyester, its primary function is to shield the tent floor from abrasions, punctures, and ground moisture.

While providing excellent protection, tent footprints are tailored to match the dimensions of specific tent models.

Pros Of Using A Tent Footprint

  • Reduces heat loss: A tent footprint can heat loss to the ground, providing an extra layer of insulation and keeping you warmer inside the tent.
  • Faster and easier setup: Footprints often come with grommets or attachment points that align with the tent poles, making it quicker to pitch your tent. This can be especially helpful when you’re setting up camp in challenging conditions or limited daylight.
  • Custom fit for your tent: Tent footprints are designed specifically for your tent’s floorplan, ensuring a perfect fit. This eliminates the need for DIY customization and saves you time and effort.
  • Enhanced protection: A tent footprint acts as a barrier against rocks, sticks, and rough terrain, offering additional protection for the bottom of your tent. It can extend the lifespan of your tent by preventing damage.
  • Moisture barrier: Footprints help keep your tent dry in damp conditions by preventing moisture from the ground seeping into the tent. This ensures a more comfortable camping experience, especially when dealing with wet or muddy terrain.
  • Lightweight and compact: Many tent footprints are lightweight, adding minimal weight to your overall gear. This is particularly advantageous for backpackers concerned about carrying heavy loads. Footprints also often pack up into a compact size, making them easy to carry and store, optimizing space in your backpack.

Cons Of Using A Tent Footprint

  1. Added cost: Tent footprints can be an additional expense to consider when purchasing camping gear. They are often sold separately from the tent and may increase the overall cost of your camping equipment.
  2. Limited versatility: prints are designed for specific tent models, so they may not be compatible with different tents. This lack of flexibility can be a disadvantage if you have multiple tents or want to switch tents in the future.
  3. Limited functionality: Unlike tarps, which can serve multiple purposes such as a tarpaulin, shelter, or ground cover, tent footprints have only one function – protecting the tent’s floor. If you’re looking for multi-purpose gear, a tent footprint may not meet your needs.
  4. Environmental impact: Some tent footprints are made from materials that have environmental concerns, such as PVC or other plastics. If environmental impact is a priority for you, it may be worth considering eco-friendly alternatives or using a tarp instead.
  5. Water resistance vs. waterproofing: While tent footprints are typically water-resistant, they may not provide the same level of waterproofing as a tarp. In heavy rain or wet conditions, water can still seep through the footprint, potentially affecting the dryness inside your tent.

What is a Tarp?

Tarps, on the other hand, are versatile pieces of camping equipment with various applications.

Made from materials like polyethylene or silnylon, tarps can be used as makeshift shelters, ground covers, or even as additional rainflys.

Their flexibility makes them a popular choice for campers seeking multi-functional gear.

Pros Of Using A Tarp Under Your Tent

  • Versatility: Tent tarps can serve multiple functions in addition to protecting the floor of your tent. They can be used as a ground cover, a rainfly, a sunshade, or a shelter, providing you with more options and flexibility in various camping scenarios.
  • Cost-effectiveness: Tent tarps are often cheaper than tent footprints, making them a more budget-friendly option. If you’re looking for an affordable camping solution without compromising on protection, a tent tarp can be a good choice.
  • Customizable size: Tarps come in various sizes, allowing you to choose one that best fits your tent and campsite. You can easily cut or adjust the tarp to suit your specific needs, providing a customized fit and maximizing protection.
  • Enhanced waterproofing: While tent tarps may not be specifically designed for the floor of your tent, they often provide superior waterproofing compared to tent footprints. They can form an effective barrier against rain and prevent water from seeping through the ground. Read our article about Waterproofing Canvas Tarps.
  • Extended coverage: Tent tarps are typically larger than tent footprints, providing extended coverage beyond the footprint of your tent. This extra coverage can help prevent debris from being tracked inside and offer additional protection against wind, rain, and other elements.
  • Emergency shelter: In urgent situations or unexpected weather events, a tent tarp can be used as an emergency shelter. Its versatility and larger size make it suitable for creating a temporary shelter for you and your camping companions.

Cons Of Placing A Tarp Under Your Tent

  • Heavier and bulkier: Tent tarps are generally larger and made from heavier materials compared to tent footprints. This extra weight and bulk can make them more cumbersome to carry, especially for backpackers or hikers concerned with minimizing their load.
  • Increased setup time: Setting up a tent tarp can be more time-consuming and require more effort than using a tent footprint. Tarps may require additional stakes, guylines, or poles to properly secure them as shelters or rainflys, which can add complexity to the setup process.
  • Lack of custom fit: Unlike tent footprints, tarps are not specifically designed for a particular tent model. This means you may need to adjust, fold, or cut the tarp to fit your tent properly, which can be time-consuming and may introduce the risk of improper coverage.
  • Potential condensation issues: Tent tarps, particularly when used as extended coverage or shelters, may limit airflow around your tent. This can result in increased condensation inside the tent, leading to a damp and less comfortable sleeping environment.
  • Environmental impact: Some tent tarps are made from materials that have environmental concerns, such as PVC or other plastics. If minimizing environmental impact is important to you, it may be worth considering eco-friendly alternatives or using a tent footprint instead.
  • Limited protection for tent bottom: While tent tarps can provide extended coverage and protect the top of your tent, they may not offer the same level of protection for the tent floor as a dedicated tent footprint. Ground moisture or sharp objects may still pose a risk to the tent’s base.

Tent Footprint vs Tarp: Comparison Table

FeatureTent FootprintTarp
FitCustomized for specific tentsLarger general-purpose tarp
PurposeProtect tent floor from abrasion, punctures, and moistureProtect from rain, sun, wind, and create shelter
ProsExact fit, lightweight, durable, waterproofVersatile, affordable, large coverage
ConsLimited versatility, can be expensiveRequires staking, excess material, may not be as durable

Alternative Options: Lightweight Tyvek, Ultralight Polycro, or Heavy-duty Canvas Tarps

Aside from tent footprints and tarps, there are other choices available:

  • Tyvek: This is a popular option among backpackers because it has several advantages. It’s lightweight, water-resistant, anti-bacterial, breathable, and soft. You can get it in sheets or rolls and even buy it as a kit with self-adhesive tie-off loops.
  • Polycro: If you want something ultralight, you can consider polycro. It’s a type of plastic sheeting that is cheap, strong, and waterproof.
  • Canvas tarps: These are heavy-duty fabrics that offer durability, waterproofing, and breathability.

With these alternative options, you have more choices depending on what matters most to you.

Choosing the Right Ground Protection for Your Needs

When deciding between a tent footprint and a tarp (or one of the alternatives), here are some things to think about:

  • Cost: How much are you willing to spend?
  • Weight: Are you concerned about the weight of your camping gear?
  • Durability: Do you want something that will last for many camping trips?
  • Protection: What level of protection do you need for your tent floor?

So which option should you choose? That’s up to you! The next section will provide our final recommendation based on your unique needs and preferences.


In conclusion, both tent footprints and tarps play crucial roles in camping comfort. Tailor your choice to your specific needs, keeping in mind factors like weight, durability, and versatility.

Backpackers should opt for a tent footprint, which is lightweight and fits perfectly under their tent, while car campers can benefit from a tarp’s versatility in creating larger shelter structures.

Your camping experience hinges on the right ground protection, so explore both options, experiment, and find what works best for you. Happy camping!

Read more:

Sleeping Pad Vs Sleeping Bag

How To Attach A Ground Sheet To Tent

How To Clean A Tent Carpet

Share it:

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *