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You just bought a new tent and are ready to hit the wilderness, right? You did your research. You read the reviews. You talked to your friends. You got the absolute best option available for your price point. So, it is waterproof, right?

That is a very good question. Every tent claims some level of waterproofing or water resistance on the floor. This really means little until you break down the actual construction of the floor. It is always suggested that you add a tent footprint to your standard tent construction to preserve the life of your tent floor.  Every tent has a waterproof rating and a specific thickness. This determines how durable it will be. It’s not like you can just replace the floor and leave the rest of the tent intact. If the floor is ruined, the tent is ruined.

Last spring, I took my son out to do some wilderness camping and get away from the chaos that was all around us. We found a rough spot to set up camp and put up a brand new tent I picked up for a deal online. We built our fire, cooked dinner, made smores, and tucked in for the night. It started raining at about midnight, but I was confident our tent would hold up. At about 3am I woke up in a small pond in our tent and we hand to spend the night in our car. Never assume that your tent does not need a footprint.

Fact of the matter is that there is lots of nasty terrain where we will set up our tents. It is easy for the debris on the ground to poke through a tent if you are not careful. This is why it is important to be selective on your campsite. The site you choose can do lots of damage to your setup. If you do not have access to a sized footprint, there are other makeshift options you can consider. In this article we will discuss the purpose of a tent footprint and the best way for you to protect your tent.

What is a Tent Footprint?

As mentioned above, tent floors need to be protected. A tent footprint is a piece of fabric sized to fit the bottom of your tent and protect its floor. It protects from both moisture and from the rocks and twigs that can poke holes in your tent. While some of this potential damage happens instantly with a hole created, you will also see a general wearing of the fabric from debris. The tent footprint protects the tent floor from all of this.

Rule Number One

No matter what material is used, you must be sure that the edges of your tent footprint do not extend past the walls of the tent. There could be lots of rain running off of the walls of your tent, and you want that water to run to the side and seep into the soil. If the edges of your tent footprint hang out past the walls of your tent, the tent footprint will collect water. This water will pool and eventually seep inside the tent. Obviously, this is not the result for which we are working. If you are stuck with a tent footprint that is too big, tuck the edges underneath so that they line up with the walls of the tent.

Denier Count

To understand the importance of a tent footprint, you must first understand the variable durability of tent. The primary term used to compare durability of tent fabric is the Denier. The higher the Denier count, the thicker and more durable the fabric will be. For example, a tent with a Denier count of 75 would be much more durable than a tent with a Denier count of 20. If you buy a tent with a higher Denier count and pair it with a tent footprint, it will last even longer.

Waterproofing Ratings

Tent materials also have a waterproof rating listed in millimeters. This figure describes how much pressure is required to create a fabric leak due to pores in the fabric expanding. A tent with a floor rating of 3000 mm would be more waterproof than a floor with a rating of 1000 mm. This will clearly tell you how important a tent footprint can be.

Pick Your Campsite

No matter what quality of tent or tent footprint you have, you should be careful about picking your campsite. You want to be sure that it is clear of rocks, twigs, pinecones, and any other debris. The more debris you have against your tent floor or footprint, the more wear and tear it will face. It also makes lying down fairly uncomfortable. If you are selective about where you camp, you can be sure your gear will last longer.

Footprint Options

You can always buy a sized tent footprint for roughly $50. You can also come up with creative ways to make your own. Since you need the footprint to match the walls of the tent, you will typically be starting with a large sheet of plastic or tarp and cutting it to shape. You can use lots of different thicknesses of plastic for your tent footprint as long as the shape is perfect. If you prefer to use something fibrous that is more durable, a tarp can work. 

In the end, the goal is just to stay dry. Sure, you can set up your tent without a footprint and hope that you have no leaks. Even if you have no water in your tent today, you might down the road because of wear and tear on the floor of the tent. Whether you buy a tent footprint or make your own, it is a good investment to be sure you tent lasts. 

A good tent could last a lifetime if it is protected and cared for. I still have camping equipment that was passed down from my grandfather. Not only will a tent footprint save you money on gear, but it will give your gear a history and lots of stories to pass on to your kids and grandkids.

By John Londergan

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