by Stephanie Harper – You’ve got everything you need for your family camping or backpacking excursion except the one item that might slip your mind. Tent tarps – often called tent footprints – provide an extra layer of protection between a camping tent floor and the elements.
Tent Footprint Buying Guide
Not sure what type to get? The gear team at Outdoor Families Magazine has you covered. Read our tent footprint buying guide before deciding on a footprint that fits your tent and your camping style.
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What’s the difference between a tent footprint and a tarp?
A tent footprint is made specifically as a foundation. It usually covers the entire expanse of the tent’s outside floor, and should be made of waterproof and snag-proof material. Since a footprint is made to extend the life of a tent, and protect it from sand, rocks, or gravel, it is heavier in weight.
Tarps, on the other hand, are lighter, but should also be waterproof and snag-proof. Their biggest difference comes in the form of function: Tarps can be used for multiple purposes, including a footprint, but also over the tent as additional weather-proofing, laying down gear while you set up your camp space, or as a primary shelter.
Many people choose to buy tarps solely for their multi-use capabilities, and while footprints don’t always have multi-use, they may be less expensive. Footprints tend to mirror a tent’s exact measurement and thus don’t need to be folded or jockeyed to fit. However, depending on your style of overnighting; i.e. backpacking versus car camping, you may not want to carry a footprint and a tarp simply due to space and weight.
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4 Key Considerations When Buying a Tent Footprint:
1. Tent Footprint Durability – The footprint or tarp should be made out of waterproof and snag-proof material which can extend the life of the tent.
2. Tent Footprint Weight – If backpacking, you may consider not bringing both a tarp and footprint along because of the extra weight–a simple tarp may be exactly what you need and it can double as both a footprint, additional weather protection over the tent, or ground cover for when you’re setting up your camp space.
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3. Tent Footprint Storage – The tarp or footprint should fold easily–even better if it comes with a storage pouch to keep both tent and footprint together the next time you camp.
4. Tent Footprint Size – Make sure it is large enough to use as a footprint, additional shelter, or ground cover. The footprint should be the size of your tent and some brands even sell footprints that match the measurements of the tent–too much material will result in collection of any water if it is too large.
Additional tent footprint features to consider:
- Folds easily
- Tent straps or grommet eyelets
- Carrying pouch for storage
- Different size options
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Other uses for a tent tarp or tent footprint:
- Picnic shade for sun or cover when raining
- Lean-to or shelter while backpacking
- Hammock shade
- As a hammock
- Additional tent cover
- Store outdoor gear
5 Best Family Camping Footprints
1. CGEAR Original Outdoor Camping Tarp
The CGEAR Original Outdoor Mat was originally designed for military use, with high-density weave that allows sand, dirt, and dust to fall through the fabric without coming back up. Its patented technology, maximum durability, and quick drying time, make it a must tent footprint or camping tarp for serious outdoor adventurers.
- Patented high-density weave
- Military-grade construction
- UV resistant
- Double-reinforced corner D rings
- comes in 2 colors and 4 size options
2. OUTAD Waterproof Camping Tarp
The OUTAD waterproof tent footprint and camping tarp comes in four distinct colors and three different sizes, and is great for outdoor activities, including picnics, camping, backpacking, hiking, and lounging on the beach.
- Made of waterproof material
- Comes in small, medium, large
- Comes with drawstring bag
- Can be used as tent footprint, picnic mat, or for camping
3. Terra Hiker Camping Tarp
The no-frills Terra Hiker Camping Tarp is perfect for multi-functional use, as a tent footprint when car camping, a picnic or beach mat, or a rain shelter when backcountry camping. Weighing just .83lbs and made with durable 210D Oxford cloth, it’s a must-have for all your outdoor activities.
- Waterproof and durable
- Tent stake eyelets
- Can be used as sun canopy
- Comes in different sizes
- Comes with drawstring pouch for storage
4. ALPS Mountaineering Tent Footprint
Price: $23.99 – $85.59*
The ALPS Mountaineering Tent Footprint is perfectly designed for ALPS mountaineering dome tent or similar size camping tent. Corner webbing loops make it easy to pull tight and stake down.
Made of a poly oxford fabric, this tent footprint is durable and sturdy, and works effectively to protect the floor of the tent from debris, while also minimizing condensation.
- Comes in different sizes
- Comes with drawstring bag
- Compact and lightweight
- Can be used as tarp or groundcover while camping
5. Hanjet Heavy Duty Camping Tent Footprint
Price: $14.99 – $81.99
The Hanjet waterproof tarp provides durable tent footprint protection from the harsh elements.
- Tight polyethylene weave
- All edges are heat-sealed and reinforced with polyethylene rope
- Rust-resistant grommets
Originally from the Bay Area, CA, Stephanie now resides in the mountains of Asheville, NC with her 4 children, husband, black lab Gus, and russian grey cat Marley. She is a writer and blogger at Raising Kids Wild and loves to run and hike.