Do You Need a Tent Footprint for Backpacking?

Sleeping in the great outdoors is a key part of the backpacking experience. However, that means you have to pack all of your sleeping gear on the trail with you, and it can be hard to tell what to take and what to leave behind. One piece of camping gear that may be up for debate is the tent footprint. Do you really need one, or is it just a nice accessory?

Tent footprints serve a variety of purposes, including providing a waterproof layer, insulating the bottom of the tent, and protecting the tent from damage. They are not absolute necessities, but they’re useful nonetheless. Most backpackers find that the benefits are worth the extra weight.

Tent footprints can go a long way to improving your camping setup, plus they can protect your tent from long-term damage. If you’re still on the fence about it, check out our breakdown of pros and cons below, as well as some alternatives that are easy, cheap, and effective.

What is a Tent Footprint (Pros and Cons)

Tent footprints go by many names, so if you haven’t heard this term before, you’re not alone! This same piece of equipment can also be called a ground cloth or tarp. Basically, this is a piece of material that is designed to sit underneath a tent and provide a buffer between the tent and the ground. It’s often custom-fitted to match the size and shape of the tent, and some tents may come with a footprint included.

If you don’t have one though, you might want to consider buying or making one. These footprints come with a variety of benefits and they can greatly improve your next backpacking trip! Let’s look into some pros and cons so you know what to expect.


First of all, a tent footprint can help you with your campsite setup! You’re a rare person if you’ve never miscalculated the size of your tent and tried to set it up in an incompatible area. A tent footprint should be about the same size as your tent base, so you can lay it out to help determine where you should place your tent. You’ll know immediately if the area isn’t the right size or shape to accommodate your tent and you can adjust accordingly.

Next, a footprint can help protect the base of your tent from damage. Most tents are built to be pretty sturdy, but they’re still flexible material at the end of the day. They’re susceptible to rips, tears, and general wear-down. If you follow the backpacking mantra of “leave no trace” you’ll often find yourself camping on surfaces that are rough and solid. These surfaces can wear down your tent pretty quickly, so an extra protective layer helps a lot. Plus, it might make the ground just a bit more comfortable to sleep on.

Tent footprints also tend to help with waterproofing and insulation! An extra layer between you and the ground means that there’s more material that can hold heat in. Many tents are also waterproof (or water-resistant) but they can still get chilly and damp. A tent footprint will keep you warmer and drier.


There aren’t many downsides to using a tent footprint, but some backpackers still elect not to use them because of small flaws. First of all, footprints can cost a bit of extra money. A good-quality tent is essential for backpacking, and these can be quite pricey. Once you’ve already spent money on the tent, sleeping bags, pads, and any other items, you might not have the money or energy to go shopping for a footprint as well.

Tent footprints can also be a bit heavy at times. This depends on the model you use as well as the material it’s made of. If you use a large tarp instead of a lightweight footprint, you could add several extra pounds to your load. This all depends on the type of footprint you use, but the extra weight is worth keeping in mind.

Footprint Alternatives and DIY Solutions

There are a variety of footprints that you can buy from outdoor stores and online retailers. As mentioned above, a footprint may also be included in your tent purchase, but you’ll need to check on that beforehand. Store-bought footprints are often very high-quality and durable, plus they match your tent size perfectly. However, these are the options that can end up being more expensive as well.

Luckily, if you’re looking for a homemade solution that will get the job done, you have a lot of choices! Some potential items to use for a tent footprint include:

  • Tarp
  • Shower curtain
  • Painter’s drop cloth
  • Window/ house wrap

These each come with their own list of pros and cons, but they will perform the same function as a store-bought footprint in a pinch. If you’re interested in making your own, you’ll just need to pick your base material and set up your tent on top of it.

Trace/ measure the dimensions of the base and cut the footprint accordingly. Leave a bit of extra room on the edges to account for any fraying that may happen. After that, you can just install grommets at appropriate places for your stakes, and you’ll have a functioning footprint in no time!

Final Thoughts

You can certainly survive without a tent footprint, but I think you’ll find that backpacking is much easier when you use one! You’ll be able to protect your tent from wear and tear, enjoy the benefits of extra waterproofing/insulation, and be able to plan out your tent placement before it’s set up. A footprint can help protect your money that was spent on the tent and make sleeping on the trail more comfortable overall.

Related Content

When it comes to your sleeping setup on the backpacking trail, there are a lot of potential items to bring. Some of these will be essential, while others will just take up space. One common item that people ask about is a sleeping pad. See if you really need one by checking out our article on whether or not sleeping pads are necessary for backpacking trips.

A proper tent setup will help you be more comfortable and stay warm on the trail. Heat loss is one of the biggest challenges that backpackers face, but luckily there are ways to fight back against the cold. See how you can stay warm on your next backpacking trip!

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