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.

  • Do you think a ground cloth/footprint is a good idea?
  • Do you think a ground cloth or footprint is necessary?
  • Do you use a ground cloth or footprint?
  • Do you use the ground cloth or footprint provided by the tent manufacturer?
    • What material does your tent manufacturer use for their provided ground cloth or footprint?
  • Do you use an alternative ground cloth or footprint?
  • Do you use some kind of ground cloth (footprint) when you are tart camping (if use a tarp for camping)?
  • What are your thoughts about ground clothes or footprints?



It really depends on thee ground on which your tent/tarp sits.  I often do not use one.

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

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! 

Retired medical technologist and engineer
REI member since 1978
Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

I would also say depends on where the tent is going to be place. On top of grass or sand no problem. But if there's a chance of damage to the tent floor use one. 


The purpose of a footprint is to...

  1. Protect the bathtub floor of your "expensive" tent from abrading and getting holes particularly in rocky or sandy terrain. Having two membranes that can slide across each other is almost certainly a better system to avoid abrasion and holes caused by the ground than a single cloth,
  2. Keep your tent cleaner in muddier areas allowing some isolation of dirt when you set up and tear down. 
  3. For some double walled freestanding and semi- freestanding tents a footprint provides extra functions where you can set the tent up with just the fly and either use it like that or put up and take down the body keeping it dryer in wet weather.

I think al of these qualify as "good ideas."

The cons are:

1. Factory footprints are often optional extras and can seem quite expensive. 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.....

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

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.