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Do I Need a Tarp Under My Tent?

Do I Need a Tarp Under My Tent?

If you are an outdoorsy person who enjoys camping, you might have an idea why you need to have a tarp under your tent. Camping is not much fun if your gear gets wet and you are left to sleep in wet clothes. Thus, you always need to try as much as possible to keep both you and your gear dry.

You need a tarp under your tent. It is the best way to protect your tent because it prevents the bottom from getting holes and tears. Also, it helps keep the tent bottom dry by providing a protective barrier between your tent and rainwater seepage.   

This article takes a detailed look into the reasons why you need a tarp under your tent. You will also learn the difference between a tarp and a tent footprint, how to place it underneath your tent, and where you can purchase one.

What Is the Purpose of a Tarp Under a Tent?

While having a tarp underneath your tent is not an absolute necessity; it has its benefits, as we shall see below.

Helps Keep You Dry

The thing is, when you are out camping, a sudden downpour or hailstorm can turn your campsite into a wet mess. This wetness could seep through your tent bottom, causing you a miserable night. 

A tarp or groundsheet thus provides your tent bottom with extra protection by preventing moisture from soaking through. Well, you could stake out your tent well enough to protect the bottom, but why risk getting your sleeping bag and other essential gear wet? In any case, a tarp is ultralight, so you can always carry it alongside your other gear with ease.

It not only keeps you safe from the soggy, muddy ground caused by an earlier downpour but also prevents pelting rain from permeating the tent bottom. The tarp edges help direct water towards the tent’s perimeter and prevent stagnant water from soaking through the bottom of your tent. 

Nevertheless, it’s good to bear in mind that using a tarp does not guarantee your tent’s bottom will remain dry. That’s why it’s crucial to select your campsite with great care regardless of how waterproof your tent is or how effective your tarpaulin is. 

Therefore, when selecting a camping site, always: 

  • Look for an elevated location such that rainwater flows away from your tent without seeping into the tent bottom.
  • Clear out objects such as sharp sticks, stones, or debris before pitching your tent to avoid them puncturing your tent bottom. 

Protects Your Tent Bottom

A tarp keeps the bottom of your tent safe from abrasions. If you are camping on a hard surface, a sandy, or rocky location, you may want to protect your tent from potential tears or punctures. Besides, the tarp offers extra protection from sticks, stones, or any other sharp objects.  

Therefore, the best way to maintain your tent over time is to always place a tarp under it. This will help ensure that your tent serves you for a long time. 

Helps Keep Your Tent Clean

The bottom of your tent will be much cleaner if you place a tarp underneath. This is because the tarp will prevent mud or dirt from coming into contact with your tent. It also means that you will spend less time cleaning the tent.

Other benefits of placing a tarp under your tent include:

  • It allows your tent to retain heat and adds an extra insulating layer between your body and the cold floor.
  • It can help you avoid catching a cold or ruining sensitive electronic items.
  • It adds some level of comfort when you are sleeping on the tent floor.
  • It could make the difference between a cold, damp camping trip and a fantastic one.

Tent Footprint vs. Tarp – What’s the Difference?

Both the tent footprint and tarp offer your tent protection from the elements.  

A tent footprint is a polyethylene sheet that you place under your tent to protect the tent floor against friction. Over time, ground friction could cause wear and tear and eventually ruin your tent. As such, you lay down the tent footprint before pitching the tent.

Tent footprints vary in size depending on your tent size. Ideally, you should pick one that’s a bit smaller than your tent or the exact size. This will help prevent water pooling in the extra space between the footprint and the tent (if the footprint is bigger) as it might seep into the tent.

On its part, a tarp – short for tarpaulin – is a large sheet of strong and flexible waterproof material made from canvas or plastic. It usually comes with grommets that allow a rope to pass through and keep the tarp firmly fixed, thus protecting your tent. When buying, go for a tarp that’s slightly smaller than your tent.

You can use the tarp to shelter from rain, snow, and wind. You can also place the tarp over your tent for extra protection of the entire tent against the elements – including sunshine.

A tarp is slightly heavier and bulkier than the footprint. Again, while you can use a tarp as a footprint, you cannot use a footprint as a tarp. This is because:

  • You cannot set up a footprint like a tarp since it doesn’t feature any grommets
  • A footprint is designed to be the exact size as the tent; hence it’s ill-fitted to cover the tent top 

If you are wondering which of the two options to go for, go for the tarp since it can play double duty. Besides, a footprint is pricey since it’s customized for a specific tent. 

How Do You Put a Tarp Under a Tent?

A tarp is quite easy to set up. As mentioned earlier, the tarp comes with reinforced grommets through which you can pass a rope. All you need to do is stick the tent poles inside the grommets, then pull at the cord and attach it where you need it to help secure the corners. 

Alternatively, you can use tent pegs to secure the four corners of your tarp to the ground. Next, follow your tent’s instructions and line it up above the tarp. 

Ensure to tuck the tarp well all around the tent edges. It’s also advisable to fold the tarp under to prevent it from extending beyond the tent edge. If this happens, dew and rain will stream down the tent walls and pool underneath your tent. Water could also collect around your tent.

Remember to:

  • Choose a tarp that’s 2-3 inches (5-7.6 cm) smaller than your tent’s outer dimensions to prevent pooling.
  • Sweep the area clean of sharp objects before setting up the tent. 


How Thick Should a Tarp Be Under a Tent? 

If your camping gear is new, pricey, or sensitive, you will want to buy the toughest, most waterproof tarp you can get your hands on. Still, the ideal tarp is one that is breathable, light in weight, and made from moderately thin tarpaulin. 

The best way to layout your tarp is to fold it in half. Doubling up your tarp adds extra protection (from stones and sticks) to your tarp and your tent bottom.  

Where to Buy Your Tent Tarp

You can get a wide selection of tent tarps from online stores such as Amazon (check out this best seller: REDCAMP Waterproof Camping Tarp) or specialized outdoor retailers like Backcountry and Moosejaw. You can also buy from shopping malls like Walmart.

Closing Thoughts

A tarp is one handy piece of camping equipment that you don’t want to leave behind on your camping trip. It not only protects the tent bottom but also extends your tent’s lifespan. Again, most tarps are ultralight and take little time to set up. Besides, their benefits far outweigh the risk of not using a ground cover, especially when the weather decides to take a turn for the worse.


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