Tent Footprint vs Tarp: Which Is Better?

CampingJerry Lee

As any seasoned camper knows, investing in a reliable tent is crucial for a comfortable and enjoyable camping experience. However, the ground on which we pitch our tents can be rough, filled with rocks, thorns, and moisture that can damage the tent's floor over time. To protect our tents and extend their lifespan, two popular options come into play: tent footprints and tarps. In this article, we will explore the features, advantages, and differences between footprint tent vs tarp to help you make an informed decision about which option is best suited for your camping needs.


What Is a Tent Footprint? 


A tent footprint is a specialized groundsheet designed to fit the exact dimensions and shape of a specific tent's floor. It acts as a protective layer between the tent and the ground, shielding it from abrasive surfaces and preventing wear and tear. Tent footprints are usually made from lightweight and water-resistant materials like polyester, nylon, rubber, or even Tyvek. Their primary purpose is to safeguard the tent floor from potential damage and extend its longevity. Some advantages of using a tent footprint include:

  • Perfect Fit: Tent footprints are tailored to match the floorplan of specific tent models, ensuring a snug and secure fit. This prevents rainwater from collecting between the footprint and the tent floor, keeping the interior dry.
  • Water Resistance: Made from waterproof materials, tent footprints provide an extra layer of protection against ground moisture, keeping campers dry and comfortable.
  • Easy Attachment: Tent footprints come with grommets or attachment points, allowing easy and quick setup by simply aligning the footprint with the tent and securing it in place with stakes.
  • Improved Insulation: Footprints reduce heat loss to the ground, helping to keep the interior of the tent warmer during chilly nights.
  • Lightweight Option: Some campers choose to use just the tent footprint and rainfly for an ultra-light camping setup, perfect for backpacking trips.

What Is a Tarp?


A tarp, short for tarpaulin, is a versatile piece of camping gear made from waterproof and durable materials like polyethylene, nylon, or canvas. While its primary function is often to provide shelter and protection from the elements, tarps can also be used as a groundsheet under tents. Unlike tent footprints, tarps are not designed for specific tent models and come in various sizes and shapes. They offer excellent protection against rough terrain, rocks, and moisture, making them suitable for various camping needs. Some advantages of using a tarp as a groundsheet include:

  • Versatility: Tarps are incredibly versatile and can serve multiple purposes beyond protecting the tent floor. They can be used to create shelters, provide shade, and offer an emergency cover in unforeseen situations.
  • Cost-Effective: Tarps are generally more budget-friendly than tent footprints, making them an attractive option for campers looking to save money.
  • Durable and Waterproof: Tarps are known for their durability and ability to withstand various weather conditions. They offer reliable protection against moisture and abrasive surfaces.
  • Adjustable Size: While tarps may not be perfectly tailored to a specific tent, they can be adjusted by cutting or folding to fit the desired dimensions.
  • Multi-Functional Gear: Bringing a tarp along provides campers with a valuable tool for multiple uses, allowing them to get creative with their camping setup.

What's the Difference Between Tent Footprint and Trap?


When choosing between a tent footprint and a tarp as a groundsheet, several key differences need to be considered. Let's delve into these differences to help you make an informed decision:

Design and Fit:

  • Tent Footprint: Designed to match the floorplan of specific tent models, ensuring a perfect fit and preventing water from collecting between the footprint and the tent floor.
  • Tarp: Comes in various sizes and shapes, requiring adjustments to fit the tent's dimensions. Excess tarp extending beyond the tent may lead to water pooling if not properly managed.


  • Tent Footprint: Generally lighter and more compact, making it suitable for backpacking and lightweight camping setups.
  • Tarp: Can be bulkier and heavier, affecting overall pack weight for backpackers.

Material and Protection:

  • Tent Footprint: Made from lightweight and water-resistant materials, providing protection against ground moisture and rough terrain.
  • Tarp: Usually made from durable and waterproof materials, offering reliable protection against moisture and harsh surfaces.


  • Tent Footprint: Primarily serves as a groundsheet and lacks versatility beyond this specific function.
  • Tarp: Highly versatile, can be used for various camping needs, including shelter, shade, and emergency cover.


  • Tent Footprint: Tailored to cover the exact floor area of a specific tent, providing precise protection without excess material.
  • Tarp: May require cutting or folding to achieve the right size, potentially leading to fraying and the need to reattach grommets for secure setup.

Conclusion: Which to Choose

Both tent footprints and tarps can effectively protect your camping tent and extend its lifespan. The choice between the two largely depends on individual camping needs and preferences. Consider the tent footprint vs tarp size when choosing between these options to ensure the best coverage and protection for your tent during camping trips. Campers looking for a perfect fit, ease of use, and lightweight option may find tent footprints more appealing, especially for specific tent models. On the other hand, tarps offer versatility, cost-effectiveness, and reliable protection, making them a preferred choice for campers seeking multi-functional gear and budget-friendly solutions. It's worth considering having both options available in your camping arsenal to cater to various camping scenarios and terrain.