Does a Tent Footprint Go Inside or Outside

Tent with an outside footprint

Most tents come with a waterproof floor, but using a ground cloth should be a part of every experienced camper’s tent-pitching routine. It can be a tarp or a simple old blanket packed into the top of your tent bag that will block moisture, prevent wear and tear on your tent floor and keep it in great shape.

Whereas the point of using a footprint beneath the tent is obvious in terms of water blockage and having a buffer against punctures and abrasion, there is an issue of whether you should footprint the inside of your tent, outside, or both.

Even though most people put footprints outside of their tents, some experienced campers argue that even tents with tent flies should be footprinted inside, as well. This additional liner could be very useful as a second footprint. 

To make it work, the cloth needs to be slightly smaller than the outside perimeter of your tent. The fact is that not all tent flies extend all the way to the ground with their lower lip occasionally ending several inches above the lower edge of the tent walls. With water running down the fly, onto the tent wall, and down to the ground, it may hit the ground cloth and end up under the tent.

What is a Footprint Groundsheet?

Generally speaking, a footprint groundsheet is a piece of waterproof tarpaulin exactly matching the bottom of your tent.

While most tents already come fully complete with a ‘built-in’ groundsheet – either a zipped-in or sewn-in groundsheet or even extra bathtub style groundsheets, casual campers may find themselves in need of extra lining. 

The Pros of Having a Footprint Groundsheet

Your tent may already be waterproof, but an extra footprint groundsheet does not only give you extra waterproofing but provides you with some far more critical advantages that can make you consider investing in a footprint groundsheet:

  • The comfort of perfect pitch – Knowing precisely where to put the corners of your tent can eliminate many pitching problems. If you have one of those larger or modular-style tents, you already know how difficult it may be to figure out where to put the corner pegs before getting the frame up – not to mention having to move them again. Much of your time can be saved with a footprint groundsheet that shows exactly where you should peg your corners.
  • The blessing of dry ground – Having a piece of dry ground with you can make pitching your tent far more enjoyable. It keeps the bottom of your tent dry and clean and makes packing away less frustrating. If your tent has a sewn-in groundsheet, having a footprint groundsheet can make the process less annoying and save you from airing and drying the tent when you get home after camping in high humidity and bad weather.
  • Doubles waterproofing – Even though most tent groundsheets have a string 10,000mm hydrostatic, meaning there is a small chance you will get wet, this barrier may not suffice. A footprint groundsheet provides a second waterproofing layer that keeps you protected, even on longer trips. This is particularly important if you are using expedition and trekking tents with 5,000mm hydrostatic head groundsheets.
  • Extra warmth – Campers know that most heat is lost to the ground. You should think of a footprint groundsheet as an additional layer of insulation that can prevent heat loss and trap the warm air inside the tent.
  • Investment security – You’ve just spent several hundred dollars (or even more) on a fancy new tent and you want to use it for as long as possible. A footprint groundsheet keeps your investment safe from damage, rips and tears, as you cannot possibly be prepared for every stick and stone on your campsite. A good old blue tarp will do the trick. 

Ultimately, even if a footprint groundsheet gets damaged, it’s far easier and cheaper to replace or repair than your tent’s integral groundsheet.

Footprints Inside or Outside? Or Both?

Many people go camping without footprint groundsheets or any additional layer of protection and have no problems. Or, at least, it’s how it used to be. The market race forcing brands to come up with innovative materials, more spangly and more expensive tents, has made people think about protecting their investment.

It may seem that an old blanket or tablecloth can work for your good, old, low-budget tent. This may be true, but you actually need to ask yourself where you are going to pitch before considering having a new tent or an extra layer of protection. If you’re camping on grass, which acts as a natural protection, you may not need it. 

On the other hand, if you chose abrasive, sandy terrains, you will need some kind of shielding to protect your tent from damage. 

While it is obvious why you need an underneath groundsheet, it should also be explained why you should also consider having one inside, as well. Depending on the quality of your tent floor, the inside will more likely wear out quicker because of all the stuff with sharp edges you’re rubbing against the floor. Having an inside groundsheet also means you don’t have to wash the whole tent. This is also a reason why some use a tarp with bivvy sacks.

Basically, it all comes to this – the more footprints you stuff into your camp pack, the more likely you are to avoid any unpleasant surprise that may come along. True, if you have a waterproof floor on your tent, you may as well get along without a footprint. However, your tent floor is subjected to sticks, sea-shells, rocks, brambles, and other stuff that cause micro-tears and perforations.

More Protection for Your Tent

Having a footprint means having cheaper, replaceable protection for your tent floor. Therefore, you will need an outside footprint groundsheet to protect your tent floor, which should already be (or is) waterproof. You will also need another footprint inside that would (providing it is structurally sound) protect your tent floor from internal damages, provide additional waterproofing and keep the heat in. 

Many campers have never put a footprint (i.e., a tarp) inside a tent, but they have also never had an issue with tent-flooding, especially if they know how to tarp outside and tuck under. Nevertheless, you will quickly see the benefits of doing both – the outside liner to protect your tent from sticks, rocks, and other sharp objects that can damage the floor and the inside one to protect your tent floor from getting dirty.

You can easily get rid of dirt and crumbs by folding the footprint and dumping it outside the tent. 

What Do You Need to Be Double-Protected When Camping?

While on a shorter camping trip, a tarp under the tent is usually all you need. But there may be nights when adding an extra liner to the inside to keep your sleeping bags dry may be a great quick fix. It may look like you are on dry ground, but often, during the night, rainwater or condensation build-up under the tent, leaving the terrain muddy.

Man sitting in a tent with inside and outside footprint

Whereas the initial purpose of an outside footprint groundsheet is to protect the tent floor from abrasion, having an inside one will increase the waterproof value, which is a reasonable concern given that the tent floor loses its water resistance with the pressure you apply to it.

Things to Consider Before You Buy a Footprint

  • Terrain – If your campsite choice is grassy terrain or soft sand, you probably don’t need a footprint. On the other hand, if you prefer dense forests and mountainous areas, you’re likely to stumble upon sticks, pebbles, rocks, and roots which can make micro-tears and perforations on your tent. That said, you’ll probably need an extra layer of protection (or, at least, Tenacious tape).
  • Fabric Denier – Denier refers to the weight of the thread used to make a fabric weave; the higher the denier, the thicker the fabric, and the more durable the floor. If you have a low denier fabric tent, you’ll need a footprint to extend the durability of your tent floor. Experienced campers generally skip using the footprint for tents with a 30-denier or higher fabric floor. It is up to you to decide.
  • Weight – Being of a higher denier fabric than the tent floor, footprints can add considerable weight to your camping system. If you prefer ultralight backpacking, carrying a manufacturer’s footprint may be something you are not keen on. However, you may consider making your own lightweight groundsheet.
  • Price – A solid lightweight tent can cost hundreds of dollars, without footprints. Solid footprints, on the other hand, typically run between $40 and $80 and may significantly increase the cost of your camping scheme. Again, a DIY version may be a money-saver (it will be lighter, too), but it won’t last as long as the manufacturer’s footprint.

DIY Footprints

If the cost and weight of a manufacturer’s footprint are too much for your budget, you can try making your own! Options include Tyvek (the house wrap) you can cut as a groundsheet. It is cheap, waterproof, and durable. There is also Polycryo, another widely available and cost-saving DIY groundsheet option, light and durable (but not nearly as Tyvek) and PU Coated Nylon (commonly used for manufacturer footprints). 

Still, cutting Tyvek or Ploycryo to fit your tent size may be ineffective, especially if at one point, you decide to change the tent. In that case, you can try out a simple solution, like cheap blue polypropylene. It’s the best universal tent footprint that will make you camp effortlessly. 

Alternatively, you can place it inside your tent to add a protective barrier between you and the tent floor. It will keep you dry, even if the floor leaks and water enters the tent.

To be effective inside your tent, you should have the groundsheet slightly bigger than your tent floor. These additional inches along the edges form a sort of a rim up along each wall – sort of a “bathtub” floor incorporated into most tents. This layer beneath you will stay dry, even if the floor leaks.

Final Thoughts

Footprint groundsheets are not necessary, but they can help extend the durability of your tent, especially if you have an ultralight one. In deciding whether to use it on the outside or inside, you should know that both options have merit. If caught up in light, occasional rain, you’ll probably be perfectly OK with the exterior liner.

On the other hand, the prospect of being caught up in heavy rainstorms and extended showers makes you value the addition of the interior footprint that will make everything dry. It’s your own safety and comfort that’s at stake here.

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