When it comes to protecting your tent from wear and tear (and let's be honest, keeping your tent clean), there are two main schools of thought: those who swear by camping tarps, and those who use tent footprints. While for most laymen, these two terms are often synonymous but that is not the actual scenario.
But what's the difference between these two options, and which one is the best for you? Here's a look at the pros and cons of each so you can make an informed decision on your next camping trip.
Tent footprints are a piece of fabric that you place under your tent before setting it up. They're typically made from polyester or nylon, and they provide a barrier between the ground and your tent floor.
This helps to protect against things like rocks and sticks puncturing your tent, and it also keeps the bottom of your tent clean. Many footprints also come with grommets or stakes so you can secure them to the ground, preventing them from blowing away in strong winds.
One of the main advantages of using a tent footprint is that they're very lightweight, making them easy to pack and carry. They're also relatively inexpensive, so they won't break the bank if you need to replace one.
However, footprints only cover the bottom of your tent, so they don't do anything to protect the walls or roof from UV damage or abrasion.
In addition, if it rains hard enough, water can collect on top of your footprint and seep through into your tent (although this is less likely to happen if you secure your footprint with grommets or stakes).
Camping tarps are larger pieces of fabric that can be used for a variety of purposes, from providing shade to acting as an extra layer of protection for your tent. When used as a groundsheet, camping tarps are placed over the top of your footprint (if you're using one) and under your tent.
This provides comprehensive protection against things like rocks, sticks, and mud, as well as abrasion. Tarps can also be put on top of your tent to give extra protection from UV damage and rain.
Tarps are also great for creating makeshift shelters. If you need some extra protection from the sun or rain but don't want to set up your full-size tent, simply throw a tarp over some poles or trees to create a makeshift shelter in seconds.
Tarps are much more versatile, they are great as a rain fly for hammock camping and can simply be used in conjunction with sleeping bags to create what's known as a tarp tight. This is a tarp-covered sleeping bag that will protect you from the elements while allowing you to sleep under the stars.
The main disadvantage of using a camping tarp is that they're heavy and bulky when compared to footprints. This makes them more difficult to pack and transport. In addition, they're usually more expensive than footprints (although not always).
However, their versatility more than makes up for these drawbacks; after all, one tarp can serve multiple purposes while taking up less space in your backpack than two separate footprints would.
The above picture shows both footprints, laid below, and a tarp used as a rain fly.
Check out this video about setting up your tent with a footprint and tarp :
So which one should you use on your next camping trip?
It really depends on what you need. If weight and space are major concerns—for example, if you're backpacking—then a footprint is probably the way to go since they're small and light enough that you can easily carry them in your pack.
On the other hand, if you want comprehensive protection for your tent or simply want something versatile that can serve multiple purposes, then a camping tarp is probably a better option.
No matter what route you choose, just make sure you have fun on your next adventure! And, for your easy reference, take a look at our top picks for camping tarps.
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