Everything to Know about Tent Footprints for Caving

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Beware: You should never explore wild caves alone or without proper gear. Consider getting in touch with a Grotto of the National Speleological Society at www.caves.org or a qualified cave club. These groups are skilled and will train you. Without sufficient knowledge, preparation, and equipment, cave exploring can lead to serious injury or death.

If you love camping and staying in tents, you might have already heard about tent footprints. If not, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’re going to go over just about everything you should know about tent footprints.

What do they do? Do you need one? Where do you get one? Don’t worry, all these questions and more are quite common, and I’ve answered them below.

What are tent footprints?

You can imagine tent footprints as a shield; they are the protective layer between your tent floor and the ground. You might already know that it’s important to set up your tent in a good location. It’s perhaps just as important as the quality of the tent itself. The earth below can be abrasive, uncomfortable, or moist, and there could be sharp objects that can cause serious damage to your tent or the people inside it.

Tent footprints play a vital role in ensuring a comfortable camping experience. This specially designed groundsheet not only makes your night more comfortable, but it protects your tent from wear and tear as well.

If you’re like me, you don’t like having to replace things all the time. When you go caving, backpacking, camping, or wherever, it’s nice to feel certain that your gear will last a long time. Tent footprints help ensure that you won’t be needing to replace your tent because the ground was unforgiving on one trip.

Is a tent footprint necessary? Why use one?

Tent footprints are not necessary for camping. I’ve been on trips where we got by with a tarp, but it’s not ideal. I would certainly not advise going without either, but it’s recommended to have a tent footprint for a few reasons.

The protection provided to you and your tent is the main point of tent footprints. Tent footprints do a good job of serving as the barrier against the earth where you set up camp. They provide insulation and comfort, which can be quite noticeable if you have a lower quality tent. During colder nights and hotter days, this insulation is even more appreciated, helping to enhance your overall comfort during the entire trip.

The moisture resistance can be reason enough in some environments. I haven’t had to deal with a lot of mud, but it’s a real problem if you get caught in rainy weather. You won’t be sleeping very well if the ground beneath you is muddy or sandy. Plus, it’s easy to clean a tent footprint, which can be done separately to keep the tent interior clean.

An underrated advantage of tent footprints is the way they attach to the tent itself. When using an alternative, like a tarp, you can’t secure it in place or adapt it to a specific configuration like a footprint.

The floor of your tent sees a lot of abuse. Even in a sleeping bag, you can imagine the effect of body weight grinding against the floor during the night, people’s footsteps and shuffling around the tent, and the damage done just setting up the whole campsite. All of this can wear down and damage your tent’s fabric, and that’s not always an easy fix. If you do end up damaging your tent, it will also cost a lot more than replacing your footprint.

What are tent footprints made of?

Tent footprints are made from a variety of materials. These include nylon, polyester, polyethylene, and multiple forms of ripstop fabric. Different manufacturers will provide models and materials of varying quality, so it’s a good idea to consult them if you have specific needs.

Nylon is a popular choice due to its lightweight nature, durability, and water-resistance. Nylon tent footprints are often coated with a waterproof or water-resistant treatment to make them even stronger in rainy weather. Easy to pack, sturdy, and cheap, polyurethane-coated nylon is the most common material you’ll find.

Polyester provides strength, durability, and resistance to UV rays. These might have a polyurethane (PU) or silicone coating for better water resistance. Polyester are often slightly heavier than nylon ones but still a good choice.

Polyethylene is a lightweight and waterproof plastic material. They’re extra resistant to tears and punctures, but thicker and more robust than nylon or polyester. Since they’re plastic, they are heavier, but affordable.

Ripstop is a durable style of fabric, light in weight and smooth to the touch. It’s ideal for tactical use, but can be found in some tent footprints as well. Many models, regardless of the specific material, feature a ripstop construction. This means that the fabric is woven with reinforcement threads in a crosshatch pattern.

It’s this pattern that makes them so resistant to tearing, and if there is a tear, it will stay confined to that location, rather than ruining the entire footprint. All of this goes a long way in extending the lifetime of the tent footprint, which also results in a longer lasting tent.

Polycyro is a material sometimes confused with polyethylene. This is a clear plastic, ultra light and extremely sturdy for its weight. It’s thinner, and often more expensive than other options.

REDCAMP Ultralight Tent Footprint, 87

This REDCAMP waterproof tent footprint is made of ripstop 210T polyester fabric and weighs only 1 lb (453 grams).

Installation and Maintenance

Installing a tent footprint isn’t difficult, but it’s a good habit to be complete. You should start by clearing away any loose debris, rocks, branches, or trash. Watch for any sharp objects. Once you feel the ground is clear enough, lay your footprint down. Make sure it’s laying flat, and align it with where your tent will be, or is already set up.

If the footprint came with grommets or some form of attachment, secure it to your tent’s corners or pole connections. To prevent water from pooling around or on your tent, keep the footprint taut and secured properly to the tent.

It’s a good idea to keep your tent footprint clean, so perform some light maintenance depending on how much you’ve used it. You can clean it using ordinary soap and water after each of your trips, and allow it to airdry in the backyard or somewhere in the open. Store it once it’s dry, to prevent mold or mildew.

What are some alternatives to tent footprints?

There’s a few alternatives when it comes to tent footprints. Sometimes, people opt to go with a tarp instead of a tent footprint. Tyvek sheets are another choice for some, and others even go the DIY route and make their own. Are these good options? The truth is, it depends.

Tarps are bigger, and bulkier. They’ll add a lot of weight and sometimes unnecessary volume, if you aren’t making use of the extra coverage that most tarps provide.

Tyvek sheets, shown on the left, are a versatile and cost-effective alternative. They’re lightweight, convenient for backpacking and faster transportation on foot. Despite the water resistance as we’d expect with any of these choices, tyvek is breathable, which allows moisture to escape from beneath the tent. This is something a tarp typically will not provide, and can be a game changer in wetter environments.

Another advantage is that tyvek sheets are versatile, and can serve as a makeshift tarp, rainfly, or emergency shelter if things go south. You’d hope not to have to, but it’s possible to cut them if you ever need to customize the shape for your tent or situation.

RELK Ultralight Tyvek Ground Cloth - Tyvek Tarp - Tent Footprint with Grommeted Corners - Backpacking or Camping - 4.5 Ft x 8 Ft

RELK Ultralight Tyvek Ground Cloth (4.5 x 8 ft)

This RELK Tarp uses Dupont Tyvek fabric, which is lightweight and made to perform in harsh, rugged and extreme conditions. Dupont Tyvek fabric is often used for HomeWrap envelopes and medical packaging applications as well.

Can you use a tent footprint as a tarp?

The short answer is no, you wouldn’t expect a tent footprint to serve as a tarp. A tent footprint is typically smaller in size, designed to closely match the dimensions of the tent. They aren’t made to provide space for other purposes. If you do need extra space around or near the tent, a tarp might be a better option.

On the other hand, tent footprints provide a better fit due to the way they can attach securely to a tent. They’re less versatile than tarps, but they weren’t designed for every situation.

Made by AmazonBasics
Amazon Basics Waterproof Camping Tarp

Amazon Basics Waterproof Camping Tarp (8x10 feet)

This is a standard black waterproof camping tarp, made by Amazon. It features a rip-stop fabric with polyethylene lamination on both sides.

What size tent footprint do I need?

To determine the size of tent footprint to get, you will first need to consult your tent’s documentation. Find the dimensions of the tent’s floor area, which is usually just a length and width in feet or meters.

Next, decide what kind of coverage you’d like. Do you want a tent footprint that matches the tent exactly? Or would you like a slight extension beyond your tent, to serve as a bit of a protection area around it? If you’re carrying a lot of gear, chances are it won’t all be inside the tent with you. You might opt for some extra storage space nearby, where you can keep things handy but outside your sleeping area.

Some tent footprints are designed to be cut to more closely fit the custom requirements of different campers. If your tent has an unorthodox shape or size, you’ll likely need to trim or modify your tent footprint slightly.

Most will choose the closely fitting tent footprint. But it doesn’t hurt to contact the manufacturer of your tent, and ask for recommendations. It’s generally better to go with something a little bigger. Don’t get something far too big, because it can cause water to pool around your tent. But above all, don’t make the mistake of getting a tent footprint that’s too small.

Which tent footprint should I get?

If you’ve done the above and figured out what kind of measurements are needed, the next step is to figure out what kind of tent footprint you want. As mentioned earlier, there are different materials you’ll encounter. Do you want something lighter, or extra durable? This will depend on the locations you will be traveling to, but plan ahead based on weather, size of the group, and more.

Some tent footprints come with additional features like grommets to attach them to your tent. You might not need them, but they do make things neater. If you’re prioritizing weight, you’ll want something made of nylon or polyester.

Footprint product specifications will mention something called “denier”. Denier determines the weight of the thread. If you want a stronger, thicker fabric, you want a higher denier. This will come in handy in the mountains or more uneven grounds, like forests and less consistent environments. In such environments, you’ll want a very high denier.

How much does a tent footprint cost?

Sometimes your budget is the most determining factor. If so, nylon will probably be your first bet. You can see some tent footprints of different models and materials and compare the prices below.

Ripstop Polyester
REDCAMP Ultralight Tent Footprint

Material: 210T PU3000 Ripstop Polyester

Size: 87 x 55 inches (221 x 140 cm)

Weight: 10.6 oz (0.30 kg)

Ultraviolet Protection: Yes


What customers say:

?Light enough that I don't notice the weight compared to other footprints.

?Love the design. Function of the product was great.

?It is very thin and I’m worried about it getting damaged. If you’re looking for a good, cheap tent footprint, you’re probably better off spending a little extra on something with a little more quality.

MSR Universal 2-Person Tent Footprint

Material: Nylon

Size: 85 x 51 inches (213 x 152 cm)

Weight: 7.04 oz (0.20 kg)

Ultraviolet Protection: No


What customers say:

?This is perfect, but learn how to tie your knots

?The only drawback of this particular footprint is that you can't insert poles into it and it's hard to pack it back the same as it was packed by manufacturer.


⚠️This tent foot print is made for MSR's larger 2-person tents. Make sure your tent is a similar size or simply go with an MSR tent to ensure compatibility.

Ripstop Oxford
Alytree Camping Ultralight Tent Footprint

Material: 210T PU3000 Waterproof Polyester

Size: 86 x 59 inches (218 x 150 cm)

Weight: 8.8 oz (0.25 kg)

Ultraviolet Protection: Yes


What customers say:

?The corner grommets seem quality and durable…and are double-stitched.

?Got this as a backpacking footprint/tarp. It's lightweight, compact and a good quality. I have high hopes this will extend the life of my tent.

Where to buy a tent with a tent footprint included?

There are several online stores that can help you find the right tent and footprint as a single package. For example, MSR makes high quality tents and tent footprints designed to go with them.

If you have your tent measured and figured out what material you want, most are available to ship immediately with Amazon Prime. Click here to shop for tent footprints on Amazon.

If you’re looking for the entire package, you can also find a full tent with tent footprint like the one below:

Top Rated Product
Naturehike Cloud-Up 2 Person Tent with Footprint

This NatureHike lightweight backpacking tent is designed for 2, and comes with a tent footprint at an affordable price. This tent is made from 210T Polyester and 7001 Aluminum Alloy.

More questions?

Do you have more questions about tent footprints? Feel free to leave them in the comments or reach out, and we will do our best to assist.

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