The topic of using (or not using) a ground cloth (aka, footprint) is an interesting discussion. So, I figured I would throw that topic out here for discussion.
And the fun here is that this could even apply to someone that is using a tarp.
I know that many folks say that a ground cloth or footprint should only be the size of the tent and not got to the rain fly. Also, manufacturers usually make the ground cloth or footprint to those same dimensions. I am aware of at least one manufacturer that makes their foot print the size of their “outer tent” (yes, this could be a vague and subtle hint about which manufacturer).
The idea of a ground cloth or footprint is to give some extra protection. Most of which would be to protect what is sitting on top of it whether that is a tent (or a sleeping pad/sleeping bag).
So, let us get to the ground cloth/footprint questions.
It really depends on thee ground on which your tent/tarp sits. I often do not use one.
Yes, I always use a ground "cloth", tent or tarp. It's actually a little sheet of window film. Very lightweight, very thin, and almost puncture proof. I have a couple; one is trimmed to fit my tent, the other was left rectangular and larger for use under a tarp. I can fold either one up small enough to fit into a pocket!
The purpose of a footprint is to...
I think al of these qualify as "good ideas."
The cons are:
1. Factory footprints are often optional extras and can seem quite expensive. But...you can make your own both cheaply and effectively from Tyvek or Polycro/window film.
2. A footprint adds a few oz of weight over having a more robust floor material built in.
3. An extra component adds complexity to tent packing, setup and tear down. There is an increased chance or forgetting or losing something etc.
People can have different views on how much these matter to them.
Some tent designs are really intended to use with a footprint in anything but ideal campsites because they use a thin floor material. Often they are sold as option extras but it is still recommended that you use something.
I have always used a footprint and have purchased the factory foot print for every tent that had one available..mostly REI and Big Agnes. These are typically made of the same or similar cloth to the tent floor though some some use a thicker fabric. The edges are finished and there are stake loops or straps generally corresponding the to the tenet pole feet to which they typically attach in some way. There is generally a top side and a ground side. On a very large family tent I used a suitably sized "blue" tarp. On a 6 Moons Lunar Solo trekking pole tent I made one from Tyvek. I find them useful for general campsite and wilderness backpacking. I would consider not using one for a long distance hike where carried weight and simplicity become more important factors but it would depend on the tent I chose to use.
If you choose to make a footprint for your tent it should be the shape your tent covers but 3-6inches smaller all around. It should not stick out of from under the tent where it will catch rain runoff. If it does it will tend to pool water under the floor of your tent which is a good way to find any holes you do have in it.
As always, a very informative and comprehensive post.....
I typically do use a groundcloth. The floor of any tent usually takes the most abuse, so I prefer to to protect my investment: not only to prevent holes in the tent floor, but also from objects that might damage gear inside the tent (mainly inflatable sleeping pads). For my car camping tent, it's a big generic tarp. For backpacking, I have one manufacturers footprint for one of my tents, and a piece of tyvek for the other. I prefer to accept the few extra ounces & hassle for some modest protection of my gear.