Should Tent Footprints Be Smaller Than The Tent?


Look at all the tents you see the next time you go to a public campground. You’ll see a bunch of different tents with footprints and tarps hanging over the edge of the tent. The footprint that came with my tent is smaller than the tent itself. So why do so many people use tarps that hang over the edge of their tents?

Should Tarp Footprints Be Smaller Than The Tent? A tent footprint should be 2″-3″ smaller than the floor of your tent. Footprints that are bigger than the tent will cause flooding problems in the rain. Since the water can’t drain, it will pool up around the edges of your tent causing more harm than good.

Most people don’t realize their tent footprint is a problem until it’s too late. There’s not much that you can do once water starts to pool up around the base. It doesn’t matter how much it rains, even a light sprinkle will cause pooling problems. In the rest of this article I’ll explain how to size your footprint and make one to fit your tent out of any old tarp.

What Size Should a Tent Footprint Be?

As I mentioned above, your tents footprint should be slightly smaller than your tents floor. You should not be able to see the footprint after setting up your tent. A little bit small will always be better than a footprint that’s too big. Center a footprint that’s too small so that it will protect the major traffic areas.

Never go with a footprint that’s bigger than your tents floor. You’re better off not using a footprint at all than using one that’s too big. You might be able to get away with it for a while, but it will eventually come back to bite you in the butt. Don’t wait until your entire tent is flooded to get the right sized footprint.

I recommend buying the footprint that’s actually designed for your tent, before looking at aftermarket solutions. It will be the perfect size and you won’t have to mess around. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to find a footprint for older tents since most models only stick around for a year or 2. You will have to measure your tents floor if you can’t find the footprint that goes with it.

Footprints Should Be 2-3 Inches Smaller Than The Tent Floor

So you need to figure out the size of your tent before picking up a footprint or ground cloth. The easiest way to do this is to check the packaging on your tent to figure out the product name. Check out the specs on your to figure out the exact dimensions of your floor.

Don’t worry, if you can’t figure out the name/specs on your tent. You can always figure it out the old fashioned way by setting up the tent and measuring. Set up the tent in your yard and get to measuring. Order a tent that’s a few inches smaller than the outside diameter of the floor.

I’ve ordered quite a few footprints over the years from multiple companies. Amazon has a few cheap options that come in the standard tent sizes. I own the budget Terra Hiker Footprint and REDCAMP Footprints. They’re really nice if your tent happens to be one of the most common sizes.

I haven’t used them in a while since making my custom footprints out of tarps and tyvek sheets. The tarp comes with me in areas with rocky terrain or lots of downed trees/branches. The Tyvek Sheet is my ultralight option when I’m packing light.

Why are Footprints Smaller Than The Tent Floor?

Tent footprints have a few major benefits. They protect the bottom of your tents floor, keep everything clean, add extra warmth and they add extra waterproofing to your floor. The waterproofing aspect is the main concern when dealing with oversized footprints.

You don’t want to have too big of a footprint in rainy weather. All the water will start to pool up around the edges of your tent and work its way underneath. The water won’t be able to drain and will continue to accumulate causing major problems. This might not seem like a huge issue with a waterproof tent floor, but once the sun sets condensation will start to form inside.

A footprint that’s a few inches smaller than the tent will allow adequate drainage around the outside edges of your tent while still protecting the floor.

How Thick Should Your Tent Footprint Be?

Backpacking tent specs usually include a denier count that refers to the thickness of the threads that makeup the tents floor. A higher denier count means the floor should be more durable than a lower denier count. In general you’ll find tents with lower deniers will be lighter and may need a footprint.

Unfortunately, most footprints don’t include thickness ratings on their packaging. Realistically, it isn’t that big of a deal. It doesn’t really matter how thick the footprint is as long as it takes most of the beating from sticks and stones under the tent.

Do You Really Need a Tent Footprint?

No the vast majority of people don’t actually need a tent footprint. I actually ditched mine a few years ago when switching to my ultralight setup. The following chart should help you decide if you need a footprint. You might want to check out my post explaining when and why you need a tent footprint.

When It’s Worth ItIt’s Not Worth It
You plan on camping on rough with a high potential for sharp edges. Areas with lots of debris from downed trees/branches and rocky areas with sharp jagged edges. You own a cheap tent that you’re not worried about damaging.
Go on lots of camping trips with expensive gear. Definitely buy a footprint if you plan on camping more than a week per year. A footprint will extend the life of your tent making sure it lasts years.Don’t want to carry additional weight. Ditching the footprint will reduce your pack weight by half a pound. That’s a big deal for ultralight backpackers.
The weather looks bad and you’re expecting a lot of rain. A footprint will protect the bottom of your tent from mud making it much easier to clean.Camping in manicured grass and your not expecting bad weather.
Not worried about a little extra weight. A footprint weighs 5-10 oz so it’s the first thing that gets ditched buy ultralight backpackers. Car campers on the other hand would be stupid not to include one.

Making A Footprint Out of Tarps and Plastic Sheets

You will probably need to make your own custom footprint unless you can find one that perfectly fits your tent. There are 3 main options when going with custom custom made footprints. Buy a tarp that’s slightly bigger than the tent and cut it down, cut a tyvek sheet to fit, or use window wrap (stuff you blow dry over windows in the winter).

The Tyvek Sheet and window wrap will be lightweight/compact, but the tarp will be way more durable. It doesn’t matter which option you choose. You’re going to follow the same basic method to cut it to size.

  1. Lay down your tarp or plastic sheet in the yard
  2. Setup the tent on top of the tarp/plastic making sure the edges hang over each size.
  3. Cut off the edges so the tarp/plastic is even with the outside edge of your tent.
  4. Move the tent so that it’s off to the side. You will want to check and see how it fits after you’re done.
  5. You have 2 options at this point. Either cut 2 inches off each side of the footprint or fold over the edges and use a grommet tool to secure it in place. I personally like to have grommets on the corners of my footprint to secure it in place, but it’s up to you. I would never have believed how many projects I’ve used that grommet tool on since buying it for my tent footprint.
  6. Optional: Add short straps to the corners of your ground cloth to make setting up the tent poles easier.

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