February 28, 2022

Footprint vs. Tarp: Can You Use a Tarp as a Tent Footprint?

by Brad

If you enjoy nature and have tried camping at some point, there is a chance that you’ve encountered a few challenges along the way.

While most of these problems are often fixable, some require in-depth solutions and a bit of research. Others can only be solved by getting advice from people with first-hand experience.

Can You Use a Tarp as a Footprint?

Yes, you can use a tarp as a tent footprint because of its durability. The tarp can be placed under the tent to protect the tent’s exterior from the elements and help keep you and your camping property safe.

Often, one thing that you are most concerned about when out in the outdoors is how to stay protected from the elements, and one way you could do this is by using a footprint to protect your tent, yourself, and your property from moisture, cold, and rain that can ruin them.

However, if you have a tarp (and no other alternative option), you are probably left wondering if you can use it as your tent’s footprint.

You could use it to protect the tent’s bottom from debris (i.e., stones and sticks that are naturally available in your camping area), which could rapture them and cause moisture to leak into the tent.

One benefit to using your tarp as a tent footprint is that you can always switch it back to using it as a tarp whenever you need to.

For instance, If you’ve noticed that the weather isn’t that great, you could use a tarp to cover your tent like a roof. However, if you forget your tent’s footprint while parking for your trip, then you could always use your tarp as an alternative tent footprint.


Table of Contents

How to Protect the Top of Your Tent?

While protecting the bottom of your tent is essential, most people forget that they have to protect the top of their tent.

While having fun in the great outdoors is (probably) the best experience you could ever have, nothing will turn it into the worst experience quicker than getting surprised by a torrential downpour at midnight when camping.

Having two tarps (one acting as an actual tarp while the other acts as a footprint) could be your best bet if you feel like you’ll need to protect yourself from such circumstances.

Using the two tarps, you could protect your tent’s bottom from moisture while protecting the top of your tent from rain and other additional elements.

Related Article: How to Choose a Sleeping Bag

Is a Tent Footprint the Same as a Tarp?

Tarps aren’t the same as footprints; however, they can be used to serve a similar purpose, i.e., protecting the tent’s floor from wear and tear (and external elements).

Tarps (like footprints) can be cut to mirror your tent floor’s dimensions and placed under the floor to protect the tent against tears from debris and prevent penetration of moisture into the tent.

Tarps are a versatile piece of camping equipment. As mentioned before, it can be used to protect your tent’s floor and act as a moisture barrier between the external environment and your tent’s interior.

They can also be used to make sails, stretchers, used for collecting water, or as secondary shelters.Tarps are made from various materials, including vinyl and plastic.

However, current tarps are made from more affordable materials like woven blends of polyethylene, which is fairly lightweight and highly waterproof and is one of the ways to waterproof a tent.

They are a great addition to your list of camping equipment because of their versatility. Tent footprints’ primary purpose is to protect your tent’s floor and lengthen its lifespan. Tents are fairly fragile and can wear easily, especially when they are used incorrectly.

Placing your tent with the floor in direct contact with the ground puts your tent at risk of developing tears that could cause the tent to permeate moisture and cause it to develop mildew and mold. Tent footprints are designed to form a barrier between the tent floor and the rocky outdoors.

The footprint is made with a durable and waterproof material cut to fit your tent’s dimensions, ensuring that the tent section exposed to too much wear and tear is protected. Common materials used to make tent footprints include rubber, plastic, a sheet of Tyvek, or vinyl.

Can You Use a Tarp as a Tent Footprint
Can You Use a Tarp as a Tent Footprint?

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How Do You Make a Tent Footprint Out of a Tarp?

You must learn to set your tarp correctly when using it as a tent footprint. While tent footprints are often the same size as the tent, it won’t be easy to march your tent and tarp’s size.

Therefore, it’s a good idea to ensure that you match your tarp’s size to fit your tent’s size.

However, you could purchase a tarp that’s a bit bigger than your tent so that you can have some extra material for easy adjustment.

You are better off having a bigger tarp that you can fold than having a smaller tarp that leaves your tent unprotected.

Related Article: How to Store a Sleeping Bag?

What Can I Use as a Tent Footprint?

You can use Polycro and Tyvek materials as tent footprints. Polycro is an ultra-light plastic that’s clear and looks similar to a plastic painter’s tarp.

The only difference is that it’s thinner. It has a high strength-weight ratio & is water, puncture, and abrasion-proof. However, it is more fragile and expensive than other options. (best for ultralight backpacking trips).

Tyvek is light, cheap, indestructible, and waterproof. It is the material that builders use to cover houses during construction. It is more resistant to punctures than other materials.

The only cons to using Tyvek are its weight and bulkiness. You can also use other materials like vinyl, rubber, or plastic.

Related Article: How to Wash a Sleeping Bag?

How Do You Use a Tarp Footprint?

Using a tarp as your tent’s footprint is different from using an actual tent footprint. A tarp isn’t designed or cut to fit your tent’s specifications.

Therefore, you’ll have to be extra careful during installation when you are out camping. The most crucial thing you’ll have to do is prevent water from accumulating between the tarp and tent floor.

You’ll need to fold the excess tarp beneath your tent to do this. Doing this creates a barrier that prevents water from pooling onto the tarp when it rains. It would be better to fold the tarp instead of cutting it.

Doing this leaves it intact to be used later for different tasks. It also prevents fraying and keeps your tarp well maintained for longer periods.

Next, you’ll need to select a good place that won’t allow water to pool onto the tarp. You can do this by selecting locations with a gradient that’s angled away from the tent to avoid getting wet. Place the tarp footprint on the select location before positioning and setting up your tent on top of it.

Related Article: Titanium vs. Aluminum Tent Stakes?

Tent Footprint vs. Tarp: What’s the Difference?

Deciding what to buy between tarps and tent footprints can be tough. The primary reason is that they share lots of similarities and differences, which leaves users wondering why they should buy one over the other.

The main difference between tarps and tent footprints lies in their use and protection provided by each option.

The differences include:

  • Tent footprints are designed to protect your tent in a specific section, i.e., the tent’s floor, while tarps can be used to protect the entire tent.
  • Tent tarps are generally less expensive compared to tent footprints. Tent footprints are more specific hence the increased cost.
  • Tent tarps are easier to set up than tent footprints. Tent footprints require precision during set-up.

As mentioned, tent footprints are made from light waterproof materials. As such, there are many types of tent footprints; however, the most important aspect of having a tent footprint is the ability to keep water or moisture out of the tent.

You can purchase a prefabricated tent footprint or make your own using lightweight and waterproof materials.

On the other hand, tarps can be used for the same purpose as tent footprints. However, they are more versatile and can be used to protect the entire tent from the elements.

They do not come pre-fabricated. Instead, you’ll have to purchase your tarp, cut it to size, and install it under your tent.

Related Camping Article: How Long Can You Leave Your Car in A Walmart Parking Lot?

In-Depth Look: Tent Footprints vs. Tarps

Each location has its unique attributes and characteristics requiring campers to adapt if they want a secure and comfortable experience.

Tarps and tent footprints allow users to work their tent’s set up to fit the specifications, ensuring that you have fun camping.

You’ll have to read the information provided in this article regarding tarps and tent footprints to help you adapt their use to real-life situations.

This section is an in-depth analysis of the benefits of using tarps and tent footprints to help you get a clearer picture of how they’ll benefit you when you are out camping.

Related Article: What Materials Are Backpacks Made Of

Tent Footprint Specifications

Most tents are made from a material known as a groundsheet, which isn’t durable at all. This material can easily rip or get damaged by rocks, branches, and various other variables.

Using a tent footprint reduces this impact and makes the tent more durable.

You could also use tent footprints to regulate the tent’s temperature since the footprint material acts as an insulator. There are several types of tent footprints that you can purchase. They include:

Solid Footprints

Solid tent footprints have similar characteristics to tarps due to their solid design. They have great weather-resistant capabilities and tend to be cheaper than other tent footprint options.

They also offer a formidable layer of protection, making them optimal choices for campers looking for protection and convenience.

Mesh Footprints

Mesh footprints are designed using porous materials that allow you to add extra layers of protection without affecting the overall experience.

However, you have to remember that mesh footprint aren’t water-resistant and have high moisture retention. Therefore, you’ll have to choose another option if you want to camp in areas with the wet ground or lots of rain.

Tarp Specifications

Tarps are somewhat similar to footprints; however, they are more versatile, i.e., they can be used in lots of applications.

Using the proper tarp, you can cover your tent’s roof, reflect heat, or protect the floor, which is better compared to tent footprints, whose primary function is to protect the tent’s floor.

Using a tarp to protect your tent’s floor is important since it adds an extra layer of protection that keeps your entire setup safe from debris that could tear your tent and potential floods that could destroy your property.

You can also use the tarp for temporary shelter if your tent gets damaged.

In addition, you can use the tarp to extend your tent’s roof and make more space to store your accessories or even do other activities like cooking. They are easier to construct and great at blocking UV rays that can damage your skin.

Related Article: Is the Bank Line Cord the Best Cord You’ve Never Heard Of?

Tent Footprint vs. Tarp: Which Should You Use?

After reading all the sections above, we can all agree that adding an extra layer of protection to your tent is crucial. However, the question that remains is: Which option is the best between tarps and tent footprints?

If you are mostly concerned about your comfort and aren’t looking to partake in other activities that could require extra protection from the elements, then you are better off purchasing a rubber tent footprint.

Rubber tent footprints will protect you from moisture, keep you comfortable, and protect your tent from wear and tear.

The best way to make a good decision is by considering the environment you plan on camping in. If you plan to camp on rough terrains, you are better off using a high-quality tent footprint. Using a tarp may be a bad idea. The tarp may get ruined since this isn’t its primary function.

If you plan on camping at night, the best option would be using a tarp and a tent footprint. The tent footprint will protect your tent from debris that may wear and tear it, while the tarp will keep you safe from rain, water, or moisture. 

However, you’ll have to ensure that they are cut to fit. You can also use a tarp if you are low on funds and are looking for a durable material that can protect you and your tent. Have fun camping!

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About the author 

Brad

Brad is a professional climber in the discipline of traditional climbing. He often jokes that he can get a book to read during the long climbs. Of course, it always goes well with a good cup of coffee. Drinking coffee is his safer hobby.

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