Sleep In The Dirt

3 Reasons You Need a Tent Footprint

Dirtbag Dan

When shopping for a tent, you may come across messages like this:  

Why you need a tent footprint

Most modern tents don’t come with a footprint by default. Why? To save ounces and keep weights lower. You don’t need a footprint to use a tent properly, but trust us, you’ll want one. Even the crustiest ultralight gram-counters will tell you there are plenty of reasons to bring a footprint along.  

Tent footprint recommended
Footprint recommended for all Big Agnes tents. Photo: Chris Brinlee Jr

1. Protect the floor of your tent 

In the pursuit of lighter and stronger, Big Agnes uses techniques that push the limit of fabric tensile strength.     

High tensile strength makes fabrics excellent for dealing with the unique needs of tent design, but it does have one vulnerability – punctures. This ultra-strong, ultra-thin material can stand up to high winds and rain with ease, but sharp edges can be a tent’s kryptonite. You want to be sure that you pick a relatively rock-free campsite, take care when setting up and packing it, and use a footprint! 

Footprints help protect against punctures. Photo: Devon Balet

Tent footprints are made of similar materials to the floor of the tent, and effectively double your protection from sharp objects – while adding minimal extra weight. Experienced campers know that you can spend an hour clearing out the ideal tent site, only to find more stuff under there when your tent is all set up. A footprint acts as the first line of protection from those small rocks and branches that can cause tiny holes in the floor of your tent. Using a footprint will help your tent live a long happy life.  

2. Add Extra Waterproofing 

Staying dry while out on the trail is a top priority for comfort and safety. The fly of your tent does a great job of keeping rain out initially, but to make sure you stay fully dry through especially rainy nights, you’ll want to consider some other factors.  

Stay fully dry through rainy nights by adding a footprint. Photo: Noah Wetzel

Site selection is very important! To keep your tent dry, you want to make sure you pick a nice, level spot on relatively high ground to avoid water pooling under your tent. The ideal spot will have plenty of room for you to stake out your tent (Don’t forget to use your guy lines!), and be relatively debris free.  When the rain just won’t quit, even the highest ground will start to become saturated and cause puddles to form, and this is where the footprint shines once again. A properly fitted footprint will add a second layer of waterproofing to keep your butt dry even in the most stubborn rainstorms.  

3. Perfectly Match Your Tent 

You may be thinking “Well, your standard hardware store tarp can do all that”, and to some extent, you’re right. A tarp will effectively protect the bottom of your tent from damage and won’t allow water to pass through.  

However a heavy, thick tarp can stick out from under the sides of your rainfly. In this situation, the tarp can work against you, collecting rain that spills off your rainfly, and drawing it underneath your tent where it ends up saturating your gear. That’s exactly why most tent-specific footprints are made to be about 2” smaller than the fly coverage of the tent. This design keeps water flowing away from your tent and keeps any residual ground water out! 

Fast Fly Setup
Setting up your tent in Fast Fly requires the fly, footprint, and poles. Photo: Noah Wetzel

As an added bonus, using a perfectly matched footprint for your Big Agnes tent allows you to set up in Fast Fly Mode. When you’re on less buggy adventures and looking to save as much weight as possible, leave the body of your tent at home and set up your shelter with the fly, poles, and footprint.

Tent manufacturers are constantly tweaking and improving their designs to stay on the cutting edge. That’s why it’s always a good idea to buy your footprint at the same time as your tent, to make sure you get a perfect fit! 

Which Footprint is Right for Me? 

There may be more than one footprint that matches your tent! Big Agnes tents with a bikepacking variant – such as the Copper Spur, Tiger Wall, Fly Creek, and Blacktail Hotel – are compatible with both the standard and bikepacking footprint models, and vice versa. Why choose a bikepacking footprint for a non bikepacking tent? 

Bikepack tent footprint extended area
Extended bikepacking footprint for extra room when prepping food or gear storage. Photo: Devon Balet

While the bikepack footprints are made of the same materials and carry the same waterproof ratings as the standard footprints, there is one key difference – coverage area. Bikepack footprints offer coverage not just for the floor of the tent but extending out under the vestibule area as well. For a few extra ounces, you get a clean, dry area for storing dirty shoes and backpacks, or prepping food when you don’t want to leave shelter on a rainy night.  

Just like you wouldn’t want to brave the rain without a coat, use your phone without a case, or go skiing without goggles, the savvy camper always takes the steps to protect their gear. Next time you’re shopping for a new tent, be sure to pick up the matching footprint! 

Follow along the Dirtbag Dan series with a new camp tent every month.

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