Last Updated: March 5, 2021

Tent Footprint Vs Tarp – Which Should You Get?

Millions of people buy tents and go camping every year. Now you’d expect to get quite a lot of use out of your backpacking tent but quite often, you find that after just a few trips, your tent may have some small holes in the floor, which is the most likely place for wear and tear. 

Tents these days are made to be light and portable, thus using thinner materials and when camping on rocky, tough ground, the floor of a tent takes the most punishment. In order to ensure your tent lasts longer, it’s recommended to add an extra layer between your tent and the ground, either a camping tarp or a tent footprint. This not only protects the tent floor but adds extra benefits like additional warmth and moisture protection. 

In this article, we are going to discuss what tarps and footprints are plus their pros and cons, so you can decide which one is best for your next camping trip. 

tarp vs tent

Do You Need an Extra Layer On The Floor?

If you want to ensure your tent lasts a long time and get the other added benefits of an extra layer between your tent and the floor is highly recommend. 

Here are the benefits of having an extra layer; 

  • Protects the tent floor from damage and ensures it lasts longer 
  • Acts as a moisture barrier to make sure you stay dry 
  • Adds an extra layer of warmth when camping on the cold ground 
  • Increases comfort so you don’t feel any uneven ground as much

What Is a Tent Footprint?

A tent footprint is a piece of waterproof material usually made of some sort of polyethylene or polyester. The tent footprint is to protect the floor of your tent and stop anything sharp from penetrating it and also to reduce wear and tear. 

The footprint is placed on the ground first and then the tent is pitched on top of it. It should be the same size as the floor of the tent (or larger) to ensure the whole floor is protected.

There are loads of types of footprints out there, but the key is that they are made to be waterproof and fit the size of your tent. The footprint should either be the size of your tent or slightly smaller to stop any water from collecting between it and your tent.

What Is a Tarp?

A tarpaulin or tarp is a big sheet of durable and waterproof material. They are usually made of polyester or canvas with a polyurethane coating or come made of plastic, like polyethylene. They feature grommets along the perimeter that can be used as attachment points. This allows you to suspend or peg down the tarp for multiple uses. 

A tarp can be cut or folded to fit under your tent, be suspended to provide shade, used as a mat to sit on, or put over your tent to add a layer of protection during adverse weather conditions, like rain, snow, and heavy winds. 

You can also use a tarp to make a shelter and some people use them in combination with a hammock or footprint instead of a tent. This is a great makeshift shelter for emergencies or camping in hot places but it will not offer you any protection from rain blown inside the shelter, wind, or animals.

tarp vs tent

Footprint: Pros and Cons 


  • Made specifically to be used under your tent
  • Comes ready-sized for your tent 
  • Reduces wear and tear of the base of your tent 
  • Stops your tent floor from getting dirty 
  • Stops moisture build-up under you tent 
  • Lightweight 
  • Keeps you slightly warmer at night 


  • They aren’t very versatile 
  • Any extra weight to your backpack is annoying 

Tarp: Pros and Cons 


  • Loads of different uses from making shade, use as a footprint, picnic mat, making a shelter. 
  • You can protect your entire tent from the elements 
  • Very durable


  • You have to ensure you can size it to your tent to avoid water getting in 
  • Heavier than a footprint to carry in your backpack 

Which Should You Choose?

So we have worked out that an extra layer between your tent and the ground is a good idea, but one should you choose, a tarp or a tent? 

If comfort is your main concern, then it’s worth picking up a thick tent footprint. This will allow you to add an extra layer of protection to make your tent last longer. After all, you have probably invested a lot of money in your tent, so anything to make prolong that is worth it. 

If you know you’ll be camping on rough ground, then a high-quality footprint is your best option. Tent footprints are made with the sole purpose of protecting your tent floor from the jagged world beneath it. They are durable and made to fit your tent, saving you a lot of work of sizing it yourself. Using a tarp in this situation may damage it and you’ll have to spend some time ensuring it fits. Check out this great tent and footprint combo. 

If your main aim is moisture protection, either a tarp or footprint will be sufficient and keep you dry, warm, and toasty. But, this will only be the case if they fit your tent exactly. If your base layer is too large, water will build up between the two layers and you’ll end up having a soggy night’s sleep. The advantage of a footprint is that its dimensions will be made to fit your tent exactly, whereas you may have to resize your tarp to fit. Here’s another awesome tent and footprint combo. 

If you want something that is versatile and can be used as a picnic mat, suspended to create shade, used to build a shelter, added on top of your tent for an extra layer of protection, and used as a ground layer to pitch on, then a tarp is the way to go. 

All in all, it’s best to own one of each. They are not that expensive and this way you’ll be ready for anything, but if you have to pick one, a footprint is the best choice for protecting your tent. 

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In this article, we discuss what tarps and footprints are plus their pros and cons, so you can decide which one is best for your next camping trip.

About the Author Roger Timbrook

Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!

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