Tent Footprint Vs. Tarp: Finding The Better Camping Choice

For an outdoorsman, picking the right camping gear can cause some confusion. There are lots of options available, but each serves a particular purpose. You also have so many features and limitations to explore before deciding.

Choosing the wrong one for your expedition could spell doom during a trip. This tent footprint vs. tarp comparison will highlight the features they possess and other important factors to note.

Essential Factors to Consider Before Choosing your Camping Gear

The features of tent footprints and tarp have been highlighted above and their advantages discussed as well. As you attempt to narrow down all the possibilities, ensure that you consider any of the following things:

  • Weight: As with all camping gears, one important factor to consider is the weight of the gear. You should ensure that the gear is as light as possible. As an outdoorsman, portability should always be your top priority. After all, not everyone is strong enough or patient enough to haul a heavy groundsheet. This will only become an unnecessary burden on your backpacking gear. Opt for a lightweight tent footprint, preferably one that you can move around with conveniently.
  • Online Reviews: If you’re not sure about which one to buy, you can check online reviews of people who have used the products. These people have used the product and can help you weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each. In some cases, they may suggest better alternatives. Such reviews may prove helpful.
  • Material: The materials used in a tarp or tent footprint is also an important consideration because it indicates how functional and durable the product will be. The fabric also needs to be thick enough to last long and prevent any seepage of water. Thicker fabrics are better when you consider the insulation they provide. However, they may be heavier than usual.
  • Size: The proper size of a tent footprint or tarp depends on the tent’s size. The main goal is to ensure that your ground sheet will cover every inch of the tent’s flooring.

Tent Footprints

A tent footprint is camping gear that is attached to the tent to prevent damage. The fabric of the tent footprint can vary, but you’ll discover that a majority of them are made from easy to clean and durable polyethylene. You can get some lighter groundsheets that are made from a lower denier polyester or oxford material.

Tent footprints are placed beneath camping tents to add to the tent’s resistance against friction with the ground. For instance, if you go camping on a sandy beach or desert sand, the bottom part of your tent will scratch against the ground and will probably experience some wear and tear. Without a tent footprint, your tent will get damaged after a short while.

Types of Tent Footprints

Tent footprints are made with different fabrics and also come in different types, including:

  • Solid Tent Footprint: A solid tent footprint is a cost-effective option which also provides an extra level of waterproofing during a trip. This type of tent footprint is easier to clean and provides warmth during a winter camping trip.
    If you buy a solid tent footprint that’s a lot larger than your tent, it may collect rainwater and can encourage condensation as well.
  • Mesh Tent Footprint: This footprint is an ideal choice because it prevents water build up near the bottom of the tent. Its screen allows rainwater to pass through instead of being stuck on the top part of the sheet. However, this tent footprint is a more expensive option. It is also not resistant to poking from small sharp objects.
  • DIY tent footprint: for hikers who are on a budget, there’s an alternative to the solid and mesh tent footprint. You can make your own tent footprint. There are so many ways to do this. Here are some ideas you can consider if you have the resources:
    • An old tarpaulin can serve as a tent footprint. However, you should make sure it is cut according to the tent size. When the tarpaulin is cut larger than the tent, it may suffice for the purpose. But when it’s smaller, it wouldn’t protect the tent floor during a stormy weather.
    • A window wrap may also come in handy. You can use one that is traditionally used to cover the window for extra insulation during the winter season. ​
    • A duvet or an old blanket can be used as well. However, it shouldn’t be used during a storm or when there’s water on the ground.

Advantages of A Tent Footprint

If you are an experienced camper who hasn’t used a tent footprint, then you may not know how important it is. However, if you have ever had to struggle with rainwater seeping through a tear under your tent, or you dislike packing a muddy tent, a tent footprint can be valuable. Here are other advantages of a tent footprint:

  • Using a tent footprint will give you a patch of dry ground to set up your tent. The footprint keeps the tent’s bottom clean and dry. By doing so, packing away after camping becomes a lot easier. For camping tents that were designed with sewn in groundsheets, a tent footprint means much less cleaning and also means it’s less likely that the tent will need drying or airing when you get home.
  • If the campgrounds are relatively wet all through your stay, you’ll discover that the tent’s sewn in groundsheet will be wet and muddy when you’re packing up. This isn’t a pleasant sight and would take more time to clean. The tent footprint is something that can prevent something like this from happening.
  • Get rid of pitching problems when you know exactly where to place the corners of the tent. It can be excruciatingly difficult to figure out where to place the corner pegs of the groundsheet before setting the frame up. A tent footprint shows you exactly where to peg your corners, so your tent will be pitched much more quickly.
  • During a camping trip, nights could become extremely cold. The ground usually absorbs the heat, but with your tent footprint, you’ll have an extra layer of insulation which traps in the warmer air to prevent heat loss.
  • A tent is an investment, and if you have spent a lot of money on a brand new tent, you would want to ensure that it’s in the best condition. The footprint groundsheet helps prevent any rips, damage, and tears to the base of your tent from unseen stones and sticks on your chosen campground. It is a lot easier to fix or replace the damaged tent footprint than the original groundsheet of the tent.
  • You will find that a lot of footprints are built specifically to different tent models (or fit more than one tent model) and may be somewhat smaller than the floor of the tent to prevent water collection between the footprint and the sewn in groundsheet. The ‘made-to-measure’ style makes it easy to select the right tent footprint.

Cost of Tent Footprints

The cost of tent footprints depends on where and what you buy. However, as stated above, it is possible to build your own tent footprint without paying a lot of money for a tent footprint.

Tent footprints are often more expensive, especially when you buy them directly from the manufacturer. One popular material that is used to make a tent footprint is Tyvek. This material is inexpensive, durable and lightweight as well. Most importantly, it’s a waterproof material.


The tarp or tarpaulin, as it is also called, is a large sheet of flexible, strong, waterproof, and water-resistant material used for camping. It is often made with polyester and a urethane coating. Tarps are quite useful for hikers while camping.

Tarps are ideal for car campers who will be outdoors for a longer period. A skillful tarp user can carry less weight in their backpack and still have a comfortable and flexible shelter. They also help create a dry hangout space for a group during a cold and wet trip. For more tips on how to choose the best tarp for you camping needs, check out our earlier article.

Lots of backpackers carry their tarps with bug bivy, bivy sacks, or net tents. All these extras add mosquito and weather protection. Many tarp makers build net tents that are made specifically to fit their own tarps. Selecting a tarp along with a net tent can increase the shelter’s flexibility while providing bug and rain protection.

Tarps are made with UVTex and Ultrarig fabrics. The UVTex fabrics are a lot lighter and have a factory seam seal and reinforced eyelets. It provides a great cover despite its weight and small size.

The Ultrarig is a heavy duty tarp, and it has a higher UV resistance and superior strength. It is made with a 1000 Denier high-density Polyethylene, and it is also coated with a triple layer polyethylene on the bottom and top surfaces. This fabric also features a UVtex technology to deliver maximum shade, maximum block out, maximum insulation as well as maximum strength.

Types of Tarp

Tarp, like the tent footprint, comes in a wide variety for different purposes. They include;

  • Poly tarps: Poly tarps are quite common, and they are made of polyethylene as the name implies. It has a thick and durable polymer which is waterproof and also similar to plastic. These tarps are considered as one of the best and most durable kinds of tarps. They are available in so many colors, which include camouflage and clear. The blue poly tarps are among the most commonly used and are usually of medium durability. The heavy duty poly tarps come in white, red, yellow, green or silver, while the regular tarp comes in brown or orange color. You can go heavier by buying a two-ply tarp with double layers of protection. Because of their strength and durability, poly tarps are relatively heavy to carry around.
  • Canvas tarps: The canvas tarps are usually made from cotton. They feature heavy duty eyelets which are used for attachments and hemmed edges. Unfortunately, the canvas isn’t waterproof. However, it does offer enough protection against the wind. These tarps are a lot easier to pack and move around than poly tarps. This doesn’t make them any lighter to carry. They also come in so many different weights and colors. Some canvases are flame retardant, and they can also be treated using a water repellent.
  • Mesh tarps: Mesh tarps are airy and lightweight and are mainly used for blocking or shading debris. Since they are loosely woven, they’ll let both rain and the wind through the material. The mesh tarps are made from a small quantity of polymer. This makes it incredibly easy to move around, and it features reinforced corners and grommets.
  • Nylon tarps: Nylon tarps are extremely lightweight and also very easy to move around, irrespective of their size. This tarp can be folded, huddled or rolled into small spaces for easy travel. Even though it isn’t as durable as canvas or poly, nylon does offer wind, sun, and water protection. Most nylon camping tarps are fully waterproof. Some of them are covered with silicone, and this makes them a lot heavier. On the other hand, they are more equipped to protect you from the elements. These tarps come in various colors and sizes.

Advantages of tarps

When it comes to versatility, tarps are clearly unmatched among other camping gears. As groundsheets, they have a number of advantages. Some include;

  • When the ground is muddy or wet, you can easily pitch your camping tent on the tarp as an additional ground sheet. You must be careful, though, to make sure that all the tarp is safely tucked under your tent. When you are ready to take down your tent, the tent bottom would be nice and dry.
  • A tarp plays multiple roles, and some include giving you somewhere to eat, cook, and providing shelter from the rain. Also, remember that you should only cook outside, and not inside your tent.  With a tarp, you can eat outside or cook even when it’s raining.
  • A tarp can be an impromptu shelter before you pitch your tent in case it rains. It’ll help keep your gear and other items dry until the tent is ready.
  • Lastly, tarps can also serve as a play tent for the little ones during the family trip.

Making your decision

Tarps and tent footprints are both useful camping gears. However, seasoned campers recommend using a tarp for car camping in the woods or anywhere else, and tent footprints for backpacking. The reason is that tarps can be a lot heavier and bulkier than footprints. So what’s the real difference between the two?

  • Footprints are made to measure and fit into tents perfectly. Tarps, on the other hand, may need some extra measurements to fit. When they are too big, thy may allow water to seep through the bottom of the tent. The same thing happens when it is too small. This gives tent footprints an advantage in this aspect.
  • During a camping trip, especially during the rainy season, a tent footprint could accumulate water on the surface and then soak it into the tent seams. This will probably increase your chances of sleeping on a wet tent floor on a wet night.
    A tarp has an advantage over a tent footprint because it is fully waterproof, and it can keep the tent floor dry if it is set up properly. Silnylon floors are leak proof, and unless they are scratched or poked, they will not leak. On the bright side, they can be fixed easily using duct tape.
  • Tent footprints have webbings and grommets to ease the pitching process. You won’t have to waste time figuring out what goes where. Tarps do not have this feature. If you want it, you’ll have to customize it all by yourself.
  • When it comes to pricing, footprints are more expensive than tarps. But if the price isn’t an issue, it may be a good choice.
  • Lastly, tarps are more versatile than tent footprints. They have several other uses during a trip to the wild. This is why lots of hikers carry them on all trips.

See also our article on how to choose the best backpacking tent for more options.


With a tarp, campers have an option of staying outside when it rains. The tarp keeps the tent and everything in it dry. Its waterproofing ability has also been proven and tested. While on an expedition, you may also decide to have both tarp and tent footprint in your tent if you want it.

See also: Best Tarp: A Versatile Necessity for any Lightweight Camping Trip

Remember that if you choose a tent footprint, you’ll need to study the space you plan to use to set up camp before pitching your tent. Check for bumps, lumps, rocks, and sticks that may pose a problem later if it rains. For more affordable versions, see our instructions on easy DIY tent footprint for  more choices.

Which is your preferred choice? What do you think about the tent footprint vs. tarp comparison? Feel free to comment below; we would love to hear your thoughts.

4 thoughts on “Tent Footprint Vs. Tarp: Finding The Better Camping Choice”

  1. I think both are pretty useful though I prefer footprints because just like what you have said, they fit perfectly into tents. And I think it is too much of a hassle if there will be accumulation of water at the bottom of the tent in case the tarp is too big.

  2. I prefer nylon tarps because they are really lightweight, which I think is really great when you are out camping. It is very easy to fold too and you can easily pack it for your travel. I have one, which is waterproof and durable so I think you just have to find a great brand.


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