Tent footprint vs tarp: Which is better and why?

Tent footprint versus tarp
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Every year, all kinds of people step into the wild in search of a wonderful camping experience. Nothing beats having a quiet time under the moonlight and stars, especially when you’re with a loved one.

However, it is common knowledge that camping won’t be so enjoyable without camping tents. If you set up your tent the right way, it will protect you from both the elements of the weather and critters.

This is why you need to protect your tent as best you can. In other words, your tent has to be set up in the right way.

The right tent setup always consists of either a tent footprint or tarp. Both items will protect the tent floor and also keep you safe and comfortable.

But which one is the best? Tarp or tent footprint? To help you make the right choice, we will be comparing tent footprints and tarps.

This is your best tent footprint vs tarp guide!

The Importance of Tent Flooring Protector

Blond girl viewed from inside a tent

Before telling you about the two types of tent flooring protectors, you should understand the importance of protecting your tent flooring. Camping tents are strongly built to withstand unfavorable conditions in the wild.

But since they also have to be lightweight, the materials used by manufacturers are usually lightweight yet durable. So, tents always have their vulnerable parts.

These areas will experience wear and tear depending on how you use your tent. Tears and rips will be almost unavoidable if you go camping frequently or camp on rough terrains.

A tent floor is considered to be the most vulnerable part of a tent. Though efforts have been made to make tent flooring more durable, damages continue to occur.

This is why tent footprints and tarps have become essential camping gear. Without them, moisture will find a way into your tent through the rips and tears on the tent floor. The result of this will be a messy and highly uncomfortable tent.

Using a tarp or footprint to protect your tent floor will bring several advantages.

Some of them are:

Tent floor Protection

When you have a tent footprint or tarp, the bottom of the tent will be protected from damages caused by rocky and uneven ground. This will help avoid tears or rips not only on the fabric but also on delicate mesh screens and zippers as well!

Moisture Barrier

When it comes to locking out moisture, a tent footprint or tarp will be an excellent addition to your tent floor. Both of these items come with waterproof material. It doesn’t matter what type of terrain you camp near (mountainous vs flat) because these protectors can handle anything.

Level Ground

Whether you want to sleep or sit and read in your tent, you will have a better time on a smooth turf. A tent footprint or tarp will help you level any uneven ground.

Comfortability

While tarps aren’t designed to provide campers with extra comfort, tent footprints are good comfort providers. Tent footprints are manufactured with delicate materials that help campers sleep on the tent floor comfortably.

Tent Footprint Vs Tarp – What are they?

Tent Footprint

Tent Tarp

Now, let’s take a close look at each of these tent protectors.

What Is a Tent Footprint?

A tent footprint is a waterproof material used to cover the ground before a tent is set up. This camping gear can be made from different materials, but the most popular material is durable polyethylene. Also, lighter footprints are made from either oxford or lower denier polyester fabric.

Tent footprints protect the bottom of tents by reducing the friction between the floor and the ground. Additionally, a tent footprint should have the same or slightly smaller size compared to your tent floor. This will prevent ground precipitation and rain from forming a pool beneath your tent.

As a result, each footprint is made for a specific tent model. So, you shouldn’t think that one footprint can work for all the tents you buy.

A tent footprint will be particularly important if the ground you’re pitching your tent on has broken twigs, rocks, or gravel. It will ensure that your tent doesn’t experience any form of damage.

In case you are interested in purchasing a tent footprint, then you should know that they come in different types:

Mesh Tent Footprint

A mesh tent footprint is a type of footprint that is manufactured from a porous material. It will provide your tent floor with an extra layer of protection while retaining the overall experience.

However, a mesh tent footprint isn’t designed to be water-resistant. So, it won’t be a good idea to take this type of footprint to a wet location.

Solid Tent Footprint

Solid footprints are quite similar to tarps, thanks to their high water resistance and solid build. Despite their durability, this type of tent floor protector comes at a very affordable price.

Additionally, solid footprints are very easy to clean. This makes them a good choice for campers who prioritize ease of use.

DIY Tent Footprints

This type of tent footprint is the best bet for campers looking to save money on their camping trip. If you can’t afford a tent footprint, you can make one yourself.

You may follow any of these steps:

  • An Old Tarpaulin: If you have an old tarpaulin lying somewhere, you may convert it to a tent footprint. All you need to do is to ensure that the area you cut is of the same size as your tent.
  • A Window Wrap: You may also convert a window wrap to a tent footprint. The best option will be a window wrap built for winter.
  • A Duvet: This is the final material you can use as a footprint. However, it is not suitable for storms and wet conditions.

What Is a Tarp?

A tarp is a highly durable and waterproof material that can be placed over or below a tent. The materials used in making tarps include canvas, vinyl, plastic, and polyurethane.

When you use a tarp over your tent, it will offer an extra layer of protection against sun rays, rain, snow, and wind. A tarp will also be very beneficial when placed at the bottom of your tent. It will serve as waterproofing and protector between your tent floor and the turf.

Additionally, tarps come with durable grommets on their edges and seams. This makes them very easy to use.

Similar to footprints, tarps can be cut to the same size as your tent floor. However, tarps are usually not as thick as tent footprints. So, they provide less comfort.

Still, you can always rely on a tarp to prevent moisture from getting into your tent.

Below are the different types of tarps:

Poly Tarps

These are very popular types of tarp, and they are manufactured from polyethylene. Campers particularly love poly tarps for their durability.

They come in a variety of colors, with the blue-colored tarps being the most widely used option. The blue tarps offer moderate durability.

If you want a highly durable poly tarp, you may choose between white, silver, green, or yellow options. The brown and orange-colored poly tarps have the lowest durability.

For maximum protection, you should go for a two-ply tarp as it offers two layers of protection. You should note that poly tarps are not easy to carry around due to their weight.

Canvas Tarps

This is a type of tarp that is manufactured from cotton. Canvas tarps come with strong grommets that are good for hemmed edges and attachments.

Though these tarps are not designed to be waterproof, you can treat yours with water repellents if you desire. You should also find a canvas tarp to be easier to carry than a poly tarp.

Canvas tarps are available in various colors and weights. Some products are fire retardant too.

Mesh Tarps

A mesh tarp is a lightweight tarp that is primarily used for keeping out dirt. The airy design of this type of tarp means that it can’t keep out rain or wind.

Since only a little amount of polymer is used during the production of mesh traps, they tend to be very portable. They also come with strong grommets and corners.

Nylon Tarps

A nylon tarp is the most portable type of tarp available. Hence, it is loved by campers who desire to move around freely.

Despite lacking the durability of other tarps, a nylon tarp offers good protection from the elements of the weather. Nylon tarps are usually 100% waterproof.

The ones covered in silicone tend to be heavier than others. But they also offer more protection from wind, sun rays, and rain.

Tent Footprint Vs Tarp – Application

In this section, you will learn about the different ways of using a tarp or tent footprint. This will give you a good idea of the right option for your camping trip.

Tarp Application

The primary function of a tarp is to protect you and your tent from unfavorable weather conditions. Asides from offering a much-needed layer of protection, you will find a tarp to be very versatile. Tarps are also lightweight and easy to carry around.

Now, let’s look at the various ways by which you can use a tarp.

  • Due to the thickness of its fabric, a tarp will be very effective in shutting out the sun’s ultraviolet rays. This will keep your tent cool during the day and also ensure that your camping equipment lasts longer. For best results, ensure that your tarp is large enough to cover the whole tent.
  • You can shield your tent by hanging a tarp over it. An ultralight tarp will offer protection from snow, rain, and even twigs. The reinforced fabric will greatly reduce the amount of abuse your tent goes through.
  • When you use a tarp as a tent floor protector, it will reduce the effect of friction. The tarp will also lower the impact of sharp and uneven turf.
  • A tarp can be used as an insulator. This will be very beneficial if you camp during winter.
  • When camping in windy conditions, you may use a tarp as a windbreak. In addition to securing your tent, the tarp will protect you from all kinds of flying objects.
  • When boondocking, you may create a roof using a high-end tarp. It will provide a cover from the sun and rain, however, you will still be exposed to the wind.
  • If you have a tarp, you can construct temporary structures such as lean-tos, teepees, and A-frames.

You may watch this video to learn how to use a tarp with your tent:

https://youtu.be/VHVBuzFoRQk

Tent Footprint Application

Tent footprints are the most suitable option for anyone camping in wet conditions. It will ensure that your tent floor doesn’t experience any form of damage.

Below are other ways by which you can use a tent footprint:

  • Tent footprints are much better options compared to groundsheets. A footprint is designed to withstand lots of use and abuse.
  • If the turf on your campsite is uneven, you can create a level ground using a tent footprint.
  • Ten footprints are excellent for waterproofing. When you use a tent footprint, you don’t have to worry about moisture and run-off water. This also means that your tent stands little or no risk of mold growth.
  • A mesh tent footprint will improve the airflow in your tent. So, your tent will always remain fresh.

Watch this video to learn how to make the best DIY tent footprints:

Tent Footprint Vs Tarp – Benefits

To have a pleasant time in the great outdoors, you will need either a tent footprint or a tarp. Both materials offer various benefits that will enhance your camping experience.

Benefits of Using a Tarp

When suspended over a tent, a tarp offers protection just like a roof. It will create a safe space in which you can enjoy the outdoors comfortably.

Here are the main advantages of making use of a tarp:

  • In muddy or wet conditions, you can lay down your tarp before setting up your tent. It will keep your groundsheet nice and dry. However, you should ensure that it is completely tucked beneath your tent.
  • Tarps are highly versatile. It will provide you with a safe space where you can prepare your meals, eat, and hide from the rain. This is a big plus when you consider that you can’t cook in your tent.
  • If it suddenly begins to rain and you don’t have enough time to set up a tent, a tarp will come in handy. You may quickly set up a tarp so that you and your camping gear remain dry.
  • You may covert a tarp into a mini tent for your kids during family trips.

Check out this extensive guide on Tarp Shelter Tips for Rain and Wind While Camping.

Benefits of Using a Tent Footprint

If you have never had to deal with water seeping through your tent floor, you may not value footprints. Tent footprints are essential camping equipment for campers looking to keep their tents dry.

Here are some of the benefits offered by tent footprints:

  • When you have a tent footprint, you don’t ever have to worry about finding dry ground for your tent. This will save you a good amount of time.
  • Packing up your tent will also be much easier when the bottom of your tent is nice and dry. You won’t have to deal with a muddy groundsheet.
  • When you use a tent in muddy conditions, it will be very difficult to clean. This is especially true for tents that come with sewn-in groundsheets. Fortunately, the problem can be eliminated with tent footprints. Shorter drying and airing are an extra advantage.
  • Pitching your tent will be much simpler when you have a tent footprint. This is because you won’t have to waste time trying to figure out the right location for the corner pegs. A footprint will show you exactly where they are meant to be.
  • Cold nights are very common during camping trips. Tent footprints are excellent insulators as they prevent the ground from absorbing heat from tents.
  • Since a tent costs a good amount of money, you will have to do your best to keep it in good condition. A tent footprint will go a long way in protecting your tent stones, sticks, and any other object that may damage it. Also, it costs much less to maintain a footprint than an original groundsheet.

Tent Footprint Vs Tarp – Differences

Though tent footprints tarps are quite similar, there are some differences between the two tent protectors. Their differences are listed below:

  • A tarp is usually placed over a tent while a tent footprint is usually placed at the bottom of the tent.
  • Tarps are more affordable than tent footprints.
  • It is easier to set up a tarp than to set up a footprint. This doesn’t mean a footprint is difficult to pitch though. The webbings and grommets make the process quite easy.
  • Footprints are designed according to the dimensions of specific tents. On the other hand, a tarp has to be larger than its tent.
  • Tarps can be used for more purposes than footprints during camping trips.

Tent Footprint Vs Tarp – Which is the Right Choice?

Camping tent and accessories in wilderness on summer day

In the previous sections, we have provided sufficient information on footprint vs tarp. Now, let’s figure out the right option for you.

If your priority is comfort, then the right choice for you will be a rubber tent footprint. It will also ensure that no damage comes to the tent floor and keep out moisture.

Another factor that can help you make the right decision is your camp’s location. A top-quality tent footprint is the most suitable option for rough and uneven grounds. Since tarps aren’t so durable, they are more likely to become damaged in such an environment.

Both tent protectors have excellent waterproofing properties. So, you should be okay with one of the two when it rains.

However, a tarp has to be a perfect fit for your tent if it’s going to be effective. You will have to go through the trouble of cutting your tarp to size if you don’t want it to create a mess.

On the other hand, footprints are usually a perfect fit for their specific tents. So, they offer better protection.

In the end, dedicated tent footprints are a better choice than tarps. But if you are on a tight budget, a tarp will be good enough. It is more versatile too.

Key insights & Takeaways

Tent overlay with 2 people having dinner

We have done our very best to answer all questions on the tent footprint vs tarp debate. Now, you should be able to pick the right one for your next camping trip.

Remember to make your decision based on your unique needs and check the features of each option carefully. Your tent floor is something that you can’t afford to leave unprotected. 

A tent footprint will protect your tent from all kinds of damage that could occur from the ground. It will make your tent floor much more comfortable too.

Although tarps are less durable tent protectors, they are designed to protect your entire tent from the elements. For example, a tarp will allow you to sit outside your tent when it rains. 

Enjoy the best of both worlds by combining a tent footprint and a tarp. Investing in both accessories will cost you more money, but it’s worth the comfort and protection you will receive. 

Read our recent posts on tents and camping: How to waterproof a tent & How to choose the best tent for your next adventure

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use a tarp instead of a footprint?


Yes, a tarp can be used for protecting your tent floor. It will prevent moisture from seeping through the ground and also ensure that bottom of the tent doesn’t get damaged.

What is the best material for footprints?


The best material for footprints is Tyvek. It offers all a camper could need including affordability, durability, and portability. It is also waterproof.

Should footprints be smaller than tents?


The right footprint for your tent should be smaller in size. This way, you can prevent water from pooling between your tent and footprint.

What type of tarp is good for tents?


The ideal tarp for tent camping is a poly tarp. Poly tarps are durable, weather-resistant, and waterproof.

Ally Mash
Ally Mash
Ally is an avid outdoor enthusiast who has spent most of his free time backpacking through South America, Iceland, Vietnam, and Europe. He loves sharing his experience through blogging. His mission is to get more people in the mindset of protecting our planet by sharing its beauty.

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