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Do You Really Need a Tarp Under Your Tent?

Do you really need a tarp under your tent? This is a debate I have had with friends and family over the years. Some people don’t think twice about putting up their tent. They just set it on the ground and start setting up camp.

They may not realize that this can be a big problem if there is any moisture or sharp objects under the tent.

A tarp (tarpaulin) might not be the best fitting or most expensive option when it comes to ground cover for your tent, but it certainly is an inexpensive option to help protect the bottom of your tent.

This blog post will cover the importance of using a tarp under your tent for camping. We will discuss why you need a tarp under your tent, what kind of tarp to buy, how long it should be, and how to set it up.

Why put a tarp under your tent?

Why should you put a tarp under your tent anyway? Isn’t that just extra work? Yes, it does require some extra time and work, but it is definitely worth it in the end.

Here are four reasons why you should put a tarp under your tent.

Helps keep you dry

Using a tarp underneath your tent can help keep the bottom of your tent dry. This is especially important if you are camping in a wet or humid area.

I can’t tell you how many camping trips we have been on. We go to sleep at night, and the ground is dry, but we wake up to a wet, dewy campsite in the morning. You will be glad there is a tarp under your tent in this situation.

A tarp acts as a barrier between the bottom of your tent and the ground.  This barrier can prevent condensation from creeping in. 

A tarp under a tent, but the tarp is too big
Don’t let the tarp extend past the edge of the tent

Depending on how thick the material is on the bottom of your tent, a tarp can be a tremendous asset to keeping you and your gear dry. Especially if you are sleeping directly on the ground.

Extra insulation

Using a tarp underneath your tent adds a little bit of extra insulation for your tent. Granted, you won’t get much insulation from a tarp, but every little bit helps.

As we noted above, keeping dew and moisture away is a great helper to keeping you just a little bit warmer. This is especially true if you are sleeping directly on the floor of your tent.

Keep the bottom of your tent clean

I am kind of particular about keeping things clean when I go camping. I know, it sounds like a lot of fun to go camping with me, right?

Camping in muddy, dusty, dirty areas makes it so much fun to pack up your tent and camping gear.

When you take down your tent and the bottom is covered in gunk, it’s tough to clean it off before you pack the tent away. 

Often, you have to get home and set the tent up again to clean the bottom.

Setting your tent up on a tarp at the campsite can help keep the tent bottom clean. Sure, you still have to clean off the tarp, but that is easier to do, and the dirt and grime are limited to the tarp.

Help protect the bottom of your tent 

Maybe you only camp at campsites that are perfectly groomed with no twigs, pine needles, rocks, or dirt to be found. But for the rest of us, this is certainly not the case.

You often camp in an area and have to clear a spot for your tent. This can mean moving objects like rocks, pine cones, twigs, and other stuff that can poke through the bottom of your tent.

If you have a tarp underneath your tent, it will help to protect the bottom from these objects. It also gives you a nice clean surface to set up your tent.

A tarp can help protect the bottom of your tent and extend the tent’s life. In addition, it’s much more affordable to replace a tarp than it is to replace your entire tent because the bottom is ripped.

To help extend the life of your tent, using a groundsheet is a great way to go.

Do I need a tarp under my tent?

Ah, the great debate! Do you need a tarp under your tent?

The answer to that question really depends on the situation. Things like the type of ground cover, where you are camping, and (to some extent) how careful you are with your gear. 

In general, using a tarp can help keep you and your gear dry, provide an extra layer of insulation, and protect the bottom of your tent from dirt and other objects.

It’s definitely worth using a tarp if:

  • You are going to be camping in wet or humid conditions
  • Sleeping directly on the ground
  • Want to keep your tent bottom clean when packing up
  • Are you concerned about protecting your gear from sharp objects at campsites
  • Or you appreciate all of the benefits that come with using a tarp under your tent.

When you don’t need a tarp under your tent

There are times when it’s okay not to use a tarp under your tent. A tarp isn’t an absolute necessity for camping, but it can sure come in handy.

Here are some conditions when you may not need to use a tarp:

No moisture

If you are camping in a dry climate with little chance of moisture, a tarp is not needed. We live in a dry, warm weather climate, and a tarp is often unnecessary.

I tend to use a tarp anyway, just to keep the bottom of the tent clean so it’s easy to pack away. Then I don’t have to clean the tent when I get home.

Smooth campsite without sharp objects

If the campsite is clean and free of objects like rocks, twigs, roots, dirt, etc., you might be okay without using a tarp under your tent.

You don’t want extra gear

Tarps are lightweight, but it’s more gear you have to pack.

If you only carry the bare essentials, a tarp might be more than you want to carry. On the other hand, if your campsite is dry and free of sharp objects, maybe there’s no need for extra bulk.

However, it would probably be easier to clean off an old tarp than trying to wash the bottom of your tent.

There are definitely times when you don’t need to use a tarp under your tent. In general, though, using a tarp can provide some valuable benefits for camping.

Sand camping

A tarp isn’t necessary if you are camping at the beach since water quickly absorbs into the sand.

How do you place a tarp under a tent?

It’s pretty easy to set up your tarp and tent, so we will walk through the steps here.

  • Make sure the tarp is the right size for your tent. You don’t want the tarp to stick out beyond the base of the tent. Otherwise, dew or rain can collect and pool under your tent. Ideally, the tarp should be a few inches smaller (on all sides) than the base of your tent.
  • Choose a spot for your tent and remove branches, rocks, etc., that could puncture the bottom of your tent. You want a nice clean surface for your tarp and tent to lay on.
  • Lay the tarp out and keep in mind the direction you want the door of your tent to face. If your tent is a perfect square, you can set the tarp up however you want directionally. If your tent is a rectangle, you need to consider which direction you want the door to face before putting down your tarp.
  • Set your tent up on the tarp and secure the tent with tent stakes.
  • Proceed with your rainfly, and you should be good to go.

Groundsheet options for a tent

Protecting your tent from moisture and objects on the ground is always a good idea. Using a tarp as a groundsheet is an inexpensive option. There are other options for groundcover besides a tarp.

Footprint

Some tent manufacturers give you the option to buy a footprint with the tent. A footprint is designed to fit that specific tent, so a footprint is more expensive than a tarp.

If you can afford it, a footprint is a good investment and will help protect your tent floor. Then you can use the tarp for other things, like a rainfly, or to set up over a picnic table.

Painters drop cloth

You can pick up a drop cloth or painter’s cloth at most big box stores and certainly any home improvement store. These thin sheets of plastic can be cut to fit your tent floor.

A painter’s cloth is very light, making it easy to pack away in the off-season or on travel trips.

The downside is that a drop cloth probably won’t last as long as a tarp and can rip pretty easily. But you can also buy drop cloths by the roll, so next time you go camping, you can cut a piece the perfect size you need.

Tyvek

Tyvek is a type of house wrap, and it has excellent vapor permeability, which means that it does not allow water vapor to pass through it. Tyvek is lightweight, breathable, and tear-resistant.

This makes Tyvek the perfect material for use as a footprint under your tent because it will protect the floor of your tent against moisture and objects that can tear the floor of your tent.

Tyvek is kind of like paper but more durable. Many people use Tyvek to put on and take off boots, etc.

The downside of Tyvek is cutting it to precisely the size you need for your tent.

FAQ’s

Can I use a tarp as a tent footprint?

Yes, you can use a tarp as a tent footprint. You just have to be sure that the tarp is smaller than your tent base. A tarp is an inexpensive option to help protect the bottom of your tent.

How thick should a tarp be under a tent?

There is no set minimum thickness for a tarp. However, a 2mm thicker tarp is a good start. Remember, the thicker the tarp, the more bulk you have to pack on your camping trip.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to protect your tent from moisture or ground objects, using a tarp is an inexpensive option. In addition, using a tarp is an excellent way to extend the life of your tent.

There are other options for ground covering, like a footprint or a drop cloth, but if you’re looking for something lightweight and durable, a tarp is a great way to go.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.

Steve and Kris
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Steve and Kris are avid campers, outdoor lovers, and founders of Camp S'more Worry Less. When they are not camping, they enjoy other outdoor activities, including fishing, kayaking, and hiking with their family. Read more.

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