Tent Footprints in Backpacking: Yes or No?

Tent Footprints: Ultralight backpacker laying down a tent footprint in a mountain range on a cloudy day

In this post, we'll take a look at:

As daylight fades into dusk and the wilderness whispers its secrets, our shelter – the tent – becomes our haven. But amidst this narrative of outdoor exploration, a less-discussed companion emerges – the tent footprint.

The pivotal question arises: should they be an essential addition or an optional extra?

Tent Footprints Explained

Tent footprints are like shields for your tent’s floor. They’re made from materials, such as thick nylon or polyester, and they sit between the ground and your tent.

Their job? To keep your tent safe from all things that might try to harm it.

Imagine the ground is a bit rough with rocks, sticks, or even damp earth. If your tent’s floor directly touches these, it can get scratched, torn, or damp. That’s where the tent footprint steps in. It takes the hits, so your tent doesn’t have to.

Benefits of Using Tent Footprints

Now, let’s uncover why tent footprints are more than just fabric. They offer real advantages for your camping experience:

  • Protection from Wear: Footprints shield your tent from rubbing against rough ground, making it last longer.
  • Moisture Isolation: A footprint prevents moisture from seeping into the tent from the ground, especially in wet or damp conditions, minimizing condensation inside the tent.
  • Cleaner Camping: Mud, wet leaves, and dirt have a way of finding their way into your tent. However, with a footprint, these intruders are stopped at the door.
  • Easier Setup: Fly-first tents require a footprint so you can attach the poles before securing the fly, keeping the inside of the tent dry.

Why Not Use a Footprint

Tent Footprints: An ultralight backpacker sitting beside his tent, contemplating his gear choices

For those of us who enjoy exploring the wilderness with a lightweight backpack, every ounce becomes significant. This leads us to a dilemma: Should you concern yourself with a tent footprint?

  • Weight: Tent footprints can add around 5-9oz (140-255g) to your backpack. When you factor in that a loaded ultralight backpack typically weighs around 10 lb (4.5 kg), that’s approximately 3-6% of your pack weight.

So, what should you do in this case?

Think about your hiking and camping environment. If you frequently camp on soft sand or grassy meadows, footprints may not be essential. However, in rocky or rugged areas, they can be a tent-saver. A single sharp rock could cause serious damage to your tent’s floor.

Ask yourself these questions; if you answer “NO” to any of them, bring a footprint:

  1. Will I be able to find a soft piece of land to camp on every night?
  2. Do I trust my tent and its waterproofing capabilities?
  3. Am I willing to make any repairs to my fancy tent if the worst happens?

Final Thoughts

When it comes to ultralight backpacking, people face a tough choice between carrying less weight and keeping their gear safe.

Some backpackers decide to skip using footprints to make their backpacks lighter, while others think it’s important to protect their equipment.

In the end, the choice you make depends on how you like to camp and the kinds of places you go to. Happy backpacking!

Interested in an ultralight tent that might already have a footprint? Check out our TOP 5 guides that cover the lightest tents on the planet.

If you want to make your own DIY footprint, check this nifty guide here.


What can I use instead of a footprint for a tent?

Apart from a traditional tent footprint, you can consider using materials like Polycryo or Tyvek, as well as a tarp as alternatives. These options offer protection for your tent’s floor while being lightweight and convenient for carrying.

Should footprint be bigger than tent?

It’s generally recommended that a tent footprint should be slightly smaller than the tent’s dimensions. This prevents water from collecting between the footprint and the tent’s floor, helping to maintain a dry and comfortable interior.

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