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Do you need a tent footprint?

Updated July 24, 2021

When you buy a tent, you unlikely to get a footprint included. This can lead to confusion with many people right asking – do you need a tent footprint?

In this article, I’ll be covering exactly what a tent footprint is and what it is used for (hint – it’s not what many people think!). Finally – I’ll leave you with a simple decision which will help you decide what works best for your situation.

Looking for a family friendly camping experience? Check out our guide to the best cabin tents for camping.

What is a tent footprint?

A tent footprint is a lightweight sheet that you place on the ground beneath your tent. Picture a simple plastic sheet.

Footprints are made with thicker fabric (also known as a higher denier count) than a standard tent floor. This higher denier means that the footprint is more durable and can handle more scrapes from rocks, sticks or roots around your camping area. 

Many brands offer footprints that are specific to their tents. These footprints are attachable to the tent body which helps keep the footprint in place and can help you avoid tripping over it on the way back from a midnight bathroom break.

Fitted footprints can often be very slightly smaller than a tent. This ensures that they do not catch the rain and bring it back under the tent.

Attachable footprints also have a use in backpacking – allowing for a fast fly setup. A fast fly setup is when the tent is setup without the inner part of the tent, leaving only the rainfly, tent poles and footprint. This gives an ultralight setup to make the tent easier to carry for backpacking. Although it should be noted that this isn’t for beginners and you do need to purchase the correct footprint for your tent.

What Does A Footprint Do?

Despite common knowledge, a tent footprint is not an additional way to waterproof your tent. That being said, it can be a disaster to get a tear in a tent floor during a rainy night camping as the rain will start leaking in.

The purpose of a tent footprint is to mainly protect the bottom of your tent from punctures and rips. This can help extend the lifespan of your tent by a decent amount.

But a tent footprint can also keep your tent from getting dirty. It’s easy for tree sap and mud to get all over the bottom of your tent and a footprint can help keep this off. Trust me, you’ll much rather pack away a clean tent!

Despite the benefits of a tent footprint, it’s still good to follow the basics for preparing your camping area. Avoid any roots, sticks or rocks in the area and ensure the ground is flat before pitching your tent.

As someone who has once ended up getting a night’s sleep wrapped up in a tarp in an emergency situation, the most memorable part of that night was the rock sticking into my back. Choosing where to camp matters!

A tent footprint can:

  1. Extend the life of your tent
  2. Add extra warmth to your tent
  3. Make it easier to pack away your (clean!) tent
  4. Allow you to fast pitch your tent

Do I need a tent footprint?

You don’t technically need a footprint but it can help.

The major positive is that it can extend the life of your tent and replacing a footprint is much cheaper than having to replace the whole tent. And being able to pack away a clean tent is a definite plus. If you’re a backpacker, you’ll also want to invest in a footprint if you want a fast fly set up.

There isn’t much negative to say about a footprint for typical campers. They do mean an additional cost, although footprints typically range from very cheap to fairly cheap. 

For backpackers though, you’ll want to weigh up the additional weight of a footprint if you’re not wanting a fast fly setup. That being said, it can be very expensive to replace a backpacking tent.

Overall, I do recommend that you invest in a tent footprint and, when possible, one that has been designed to fit your tent.

Does a footprint make your backpacking gear heavier?

For most backpackers, a footprint is absolutely fine to carry. But for the more hardcore, ultralight backpackers, many do prefer to use DIY footprints. These can be made of lighter materials that aren’t quite as long lasting, but weight next to nothing.

Some common examples of footprint weights are in the table below. As you can see, footprints made by backpacking companies like Big Agnes are incredibly light compared to camping footprints.

FootprintTent ModelFits Tent SizeWeight
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL1 footprintCopper Spur only1 Person0.25 lbs / 4 oz / 113g
REDCAMP 55″x87″Generic1-2 Person0.56 lbs / 9 oz / 258g
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2Copper Spur only2 Person0.31 lbs / 5 oz / 142g
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL3Copper Spur only3 Person0.5 lbs / 8 oz / 227g
REDCAMP 71”x87″Generic3-4 Person0.75 lbs / 12 oz / 340g
Eureka 6P Copper Canyon FootprintEureka only6 Person2.56 lbs / 41 oz / 1162g
REDCAMP 118”x116”Generic5-8 Person1.58 lbs / 25.3 oz / 720g

What’s next? Check out our guides on 3 season vs 4 season tents and dome vs cabin tents.

Author at Wilderness Redefined camping website

James has been escaping to the outdoors for as long as he can remember. This first started in family camping trips but soon turned into adventure camps and hiking through the Scottish Hebrides. Now he has turned towards trying to make camping more comfortable and accessible.