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Should I Put a Tarp Under My Tent?

Taking care of camping gear while you’re on your trip is crucial. Camping gears are like winter wear – It’s not something you buy every year and every occasion. This is why it’s important to make all the necessary arrangements you can to protect your mini travel home and accessories.

The concept behind putting a tarp under a tent is very similar to putting your expensive dresses inside a dress cover. It’s not necessary but it protects your expensive dress from dust and abrasion. So, should I put a tarp under my tent? Let’s find out.

Putting a tarp under your tent is RECOMMENDED because it keeps your tent dry, reduces abrasion due to ground-tent friction, and provides an insulating layer between the ground and sleeping pad or mattress. During a rainy night, the tarp also saves you from damp or wet ground.

Should I Put a Tarp Under My Tent

Although the correct term for the piece of fabric you put under a tent is “tent footprint” or “groundsheet”, some people refer to it as a tarp. The reason is, people often use their tent tarps (the fabric that you put above your tent or shelter) as groundsheets.

Why should I put a tarp under my tent?

As discussed above, it’s a good idea to put a tarp or groundsheet under your tent. Here are a few reasons that you might find convincing.

#1 Ground Tarp keeps you dry

It is a known fact that the weather in the wilderness is unpredictable. One morning your forecast will be sunny or cloudy and the other day it will be rainy or stormy.

When it rains, rainwater first seeps into the ground and then starts accumulating on the surface. In this scenario, you will end up in puddles of water if you choose not to keep a groundsheet underneath.

You obviously wouldn’t want to wake up with all your accessories drenched in water. Rights?

#2 Tarp Protect tents from being punctured or torn

Campsite grounds are unforgiving. Especially if you have a delicate nylon or polyester tent.

These grounds have everything, from damp soil to pointy rock, from stinging nettles to thorns & twigs to creepy bugs like scorpions and spiders, and whatnot. When all these spikey little objects come in contact with your poor tent, it usually ends uptorn, abraded, and with holes.

 This will not be the case if you add one harmless layer in between the ground and your tent. Not to mention that one sheet makes your tent go a long way.

#3 Tarp Provides Insulation

Campers need as much insulation as they can get during winters.

So, no matter how much you insulate the walls and windows of your tent, forgetting the ground will make you suffer. When Your sleeping gear is placed onto the ground, it loses a great amount of heat to the chilled ground.  Making your sleeping gear lose heat, the cold ground gradually affects your body.

Adding a groundsheet, tarp, or footprint to the ground can increase your tent’s insulation.

#4 Increases the life of your tent

You may have seen terrible pictures of tents covered in mold, mildew, and damp soil with rusty poles. Washing your tent is not an easy job and often people end up ruining their tents. But why does it get so dirty in the first place?

One of the reasons is that you fail to keep your tent dry enough, not only from the top but from the bottom as well. Because moisture can decrease the life of your tent especially when comes to canvas tent which can rapture along the seams.

Not only that, letting your tent be exposed to the ground makes it get dirtier as it gets in contact with soil, ground trash, dead leaves, and grass algae.

Putting a layer of tarp in between is wiser because it acts as a layer of protection

#5 Keeps the bugs away

Last but not the least, a ground tarp keeps the bugs and creepy crawlies like spiders away from your tent.

Although most bugs like mosquitoes get into your tent via openings in the tent walls, the ground crawlers can get into the tent from below. They can make their way into your tent through the holes in your tent’s bottom. So, adding a groundsheet protects you from that as well.

How to put a tarp under the tent?

There are several methods to put a tarp under the tent which mostly depends on the use.

For Rain Storm

If you suspect a storm, the best way to put your tarp is to,

  • Take a 2-3 inches’ smaller tarp than your tents floor. Because when you use a tarp with a larger area than the tent flooring, you place sides directly under the rain. Being waterproof, this top of the tarp accumulates water which slowly puddles up onto the middle of the tarp.
  • Make sure your stick or fold the sides of the tarp downward. Because when you fold it upward, you provide the rainwater with bath-tub like space to accumulate. Whereas when you stick it downward, you create a barrier between the flowing ran water and the tent.

For insulation

If you want maximum insulation because it’s cold outside or you’ve seen holes in your tent floor, then these methods can help you.

  • To use a tarp as an insulating groundsheet, all you need to do is to choose a tarp with gourmets and secure the edges with pes as close to tent corners as possible, reducing the wind flow.
  • Another way is to put the tarp inside the tent with the edge curled upwards. This method not only helps with insulation but also with rains.
  • You can also use a tarp inside and underneath the tent to trap heat inside the tent.

For abrasion resistance

This is probably the easiest to do, as it just requires you to place a tarp underneath the tent (In case it’s not rainy outside)

You just need to place the tarp and put the tent over it so, it doesn’t touch the ground. The weight of the tent will keep the tarp in its place. It’s better to tuck it inwards in case of sudden rains.

The better groundsheet – Foot print or tarp?

Both ground tarp and footprint have the same function – to protect the tent from wear and tear. The option I would recommend would be TARP. Here is why?

  • Tarps are less expensive if compared to footprints. Footprints are designed and customized according to the tent model which adds up the cost, whereas tarps come in all sorts of sizes.
  • They are versatile. A tarp can be used for multiple purposes, like shelter, or can be used to create picnic & cooking space or for porch. Whereas foot prints can only be used for ground sheets due to their customized sizes.
  • Tarps are more durable than foot prints. Foot prints are usually made of polyethylene or polyester plastic which are light weighted but less durable. But, tarps come in all sorts materials like waterproof canvas, Tyvek, Nylon, PU coated polyester and blends.  

But, there are a few downsides to the tarp groundsheet;

  • Tarps requires way more effort in setting up than a foot print because they are not custom-sized for the tent.
  • Footprints are more light weighted than tarps which makes them easier to pack and travel.

Type of tarp to use for ground– Fabric, Size and thickness

There is no thumb rule to find the best groundsheet tarp. Any tarp that you already have (if waterproof and heavy-duty) can work well as a footprint.

#1 Material

Just like tent material, tarps also come in a variety of fabric types. The tarp materials that are popular for their robustness are Tyvek and Dyneema. These two materials are the most durable, resilient, affordable, and water-resistant.

However, Nylon and polyester tarps are also good for groundsheets as they are made of hydrophobic fibers.

Canvas tarps are the least recommended for ground cloths as cotton itself is an absorbent material and the weight of these tarps are quite a lot to carry.

So, other than canvas, you can use any waterproof tarp as a groundsheet that has a hydrostatic rating of 1000-1500 or more.

#2 Size

The size of your tarp depends upon the size of your tent. The ideal size of the tarp should be 2-3 inches less than the tent’s bottom.

But, you do not need to buy a new one just because it’s not the right size.

If the tarp you own is too big for your tent, it’s better to fold it in half or tuck the sides in until it becomes the desired size. This not only saves money but also adds up to the protection of the tent. I have written a blog about how to calculate correct tent tarp size if you are curious to know more.

 #3 Thickness

Thickness has a lot to do with durability. The thicker the fabric, the sturdier it would be.

The appropriate thickness depends upon the terrain you are camping on. If the site is rough, rocky, or has extreme weather conditions, then the appropriate thickness of the groundsheet should be 8-10 mils. Whereas in relatively safer and smooth camping sites, 3-6 mil is good.


No matter what you use under your tent, you probably till now have understood the importance of adding a protective layer under your tent.

Tarps not only protect your tent but helps you deal with extreme temperature and weather conditions. So if you want a less expensive and more advantageous layer then don’t forget to take your tarp with you on your next trip.

Recommended Camping Gears: I have compiled a list of my favourite camping gear in one place. The selection is based on my own personal experience using them for many years camping as well as feedback from fellow campers. Check them out on my Recommended Camping Gears page