Does your tent really need a footprint or is it just something stores try to sell you in order to earn more money? Well, the answer to that question isn’t that easy to answer. We’re gonna dive deep into the question and try to answer this, once and for all. Let’s pitch our tents and figure this out!
When the typical camper visits a store to buy a tent they might be met by a seller that talks them into buying a footprint, despite not knowing if they even need it or will use it. This is something I’ve personally witnessed in stores like Decathlon (which is a store I like for other reasons). And now during the pandemic, when people have been buying outdoor equipment like never before, there’s been a footprint shortage in Stockholm Sweden. Super frustrating for us who actually need them!
But when and why do you need a footprint? There are multiple reasons why you might need one, but also why might now. We’ll start off by looking at some of the pros and cons of adding a footprint to your outdoor equipment. And after that, help you make a decision.
Pros Of A Tent Footprint
Protects Your Tent's Ground Sheet
A strong groundsheet (not ultralight ones) can add extra protection to your tent’s groundsheet. This can be very useful if the tent groundsheet is of especially thin material, or if you camping on rough terrain. Waking up a morning with a hole in the groundsheet isn’t worth it!
This is without question the best part of adding a footprint! It adds extra water resistance. Some tents have a surprisingly low groundsheet waterhead rating (a.k.a. water column), in which cases adding a footprint might be essential to stay dry. It’s hard to know exactly how high a water column your tent needs, but a waterhead rating of 10 000mm is a good rule for camping on snow.
The extra layer on the ground can add extra warmth due to two reasons. It can create isolation air pockets and create more distance between you can the moist ground. The cold from the ground is something a lot of people tend to forget about, and also why some might buy any sleeping bad they might find.
Might Add Floor In The Porch
A bit of extra floor in the tent can sometimes be appreciated. During rainy seasons when you might spend extra time in the tent it can be nice to not have pale ground on your porch. It can make the tent feel more like a home and help keep equipment stored in the porch dry. However, this might make it tricky to use your outdoor stove inside the porch.
Cons Of A Tent Footprint
Footprints come in all materials and sizes. From ultralight plastic versions to extra-strong made for heavy-duty tasks. For instance, the homemade footprint I created this summer for a trip that would otherwise have torn the groundsheet apart the first night. This groundsheet weighs around 350g, and there are of course lighter ones, like the groundsheet for my Nordisk Svalbard SI 1 that only weighs 250g with a water column of 10 000mm on its own.
This is something I’ve already mentioned. It costs extra, but it absolutely worth it if you plan on hiking during wet seasons or in harsh terrain that might damage your tent. It’s cheaper to replace a footprint than an inner tent!
Adds Pitching Time
This ones’ debatable. Some claim it helps them pitch their tents faster, while others claim the opposite. This is likely due to the many different formats and tent solutions. But don’t be afraid to skip pitching without your footprint, cause it’s not always required.
But Do You Need A Tent Footprint?
The first thing you should ask yourself is, do you plan on camping in really wet conditions, during winter or in brought terrain? If your answer is no on all of those reasons, you can likely live without one.
The next question is what your tent’s own groundsheet can handle on its own. There are tents out there with really tough ground sheets with water columns high enough to handle winter on their own. But there is also a tent with groundsheets so thin that pines cones might puncture them.
As you’ve likely notices, it is highly individual if you need a footprint for your tent or not. I personally love bringing mine with me for my lighter tent, even though I might not always need it. But I know that if I bring it, I can safely pitch my tent in more locations without having to worry.
If you ever feel like getting a footprint but can’t find a suitable one, just make your own! There are tons of tutorials there o how to make your own. It can be a simple as a piece of plastic or a tarp trimmed down to fit your precise tent model.