Being someone that’s always seeking the next adventure can be a tad intimidating. It requires a certain DIY attitude that not many people are comfortable with. But here’s the key to being successful at DIY projects: it much easier than it looks, and as long as you have some common sense, you can also be a DIY genius. There’s no better example of this then building your own DIY tent footprint.
Being a frequent camper requires a certain amount of DIY dexterity and a sense of frugality. If you have both of those skills in your pocket, you’ll be a happy camper.
What’s a Tent Footprint?
A tent footprint is a sheet of fabric that will protect the base of your tent from any wear and tear it might encounter.
It’s a good idea to use your tent footprint every time you’re camping, but it’s ideal for campers who stay at rugged and sandy terrain or places prone to harsh weather.
A tent footprint is traditionally made of the same material that the base of your tent is made of.
What’s the Cost of a Tent Footprint?
If you’re buying a high-end, expensive tent, it might already come with a tent footprint to protect your expensive investment. However, most of the time you’ll have to buy your own tent footprint, which can be pretty expensive.
There are basically two buying options for a tent footprint. The first option is buying a tent footprint that’s specifically customized to your tent, the second is buying a generic tent footprint.
Buying a tent footprint that’s customized to your tent is definitely going to be more expensive, but it’s beneficial in the sense that you’ll never have to worry about your tent footprint not fitting properly.
However, if you know the dimensions of your tent and you’re willing to take the risk, a generic tent footprint might be the better buying option for you.
The prices vary, but you’re looking at spending anywhere from $30 to $70 on a brand new tent footprint, and sometimes even more. You’d be right to think that paying that much for a protection sheet is a little steep. It’s important to have a footprint for your tent, but it’s still not technically considered as “essential gear” for campers.
It’s not essential in the sense that you’ll survive without it, but it’s essential for people who want to keep their tents in great condition for years to come. Purchasing a tent can be one of your biggest expenses for camping, so it’s important to do whatever you can to keep that investment in top condition.
But here’s the big dilemma for most campers: You don’t want your tent’s base to tear, but you don’t want to pay a lot of money for a tent footprint. Luckily for you, there is an alternative to a tent footprint, and it requires a little bit of work in order for you to save a lot of money.
If you want to save anywhere from $20 or more on a tent footprint, then you might want to build your own groundsheet. Making your own groundsheet is as simple as buying a box cutter, a hammer, grommets and the fabric of your choice. For easy instructions on how to make your DIY tent footprint, check out our earlier piece on this topic.
Out of all the materials you need, the most important is choosing the right material you want for your groundsheet.
Most Popular Groundsheet Fabrics
There’s not many other tools in an outdoorsman collection that are as versatile and useful as a tarp. A tarp is one of the most popular choices for a homemade groundsheet because it’s relatively light, waterproof and durable enough to withstand virtually everything the great outdoors can throw at it. It’s also cheap, especially if you’re using a tarp as a groundsheet for a smaller tent.
Depending on the tent’s size, your tarp can cost you anywhere from $10 to $20.
However, tarps also have a tendency to be a little bulkier than other materials, even after you’ve properly folded it.
Window insulator is made from polyolefin, and it’s definitely your lightest groundsheet option, which is important for campers who hike into their camp sites. If you’re looking a groundsheet that can withstand terrain only while you’re sleeping, then this might be the best choice for you.
But window insulator isn’t the best option for those who are planning on spending time in their tent during the day. It’s durable, but not enough to keep using it after a couple of trips.
If you’re hoping to use your window insulator groundsheet during a hot summer weekend, you might want to reconsider. The material has a tendency to shrink a few inches when it’s exposed to heat.
Painter’s Drop Cloth
Painter’s drop cloth is incredibly durable, but that strength comes with a price. Drop cloths vary in thickness, but our recommendation would be to get a cloth that’s no more than 3 millimeters thick.
Anything more than that will be more durable, but it’ll also be a lot heavier and more difficult to fold. Drop cloths are relatively cheap, but they have a tendency to be sold in larger sizes.
This might be a plus, though, because just like a tarp, a drop cloth can be versatile and a helpful tool for some of your other camping needs. Because drop cloths are so thick, they don’t breathe, which means that a lot condensation will build up underneath your tent during your trip.
House wrap is what’s used to wrap a home with during construction in order to protect it from getting damaged from weather and other factors. It’s also become an incredibly popular material to use for a homemade groundsheet. The most common type of house wrap that’s used for camping is Tyvek.
Using a house wrap as a tent groundsheet has become so popular because it’s hit the sweet spot of being fairly durable, light and cheap enough to buy.
House wraps and tarps are the two best choices for a groundsheet, but we have a tendency to lean more towards a tarp just because it’s more readily available. If you’re able to get your hand on some house wrap, it might be a good idea to buy that instead.
Don’t Buy a Used Groundsheet
Some camping gear you can buy second hand, but we strongly suggest not buying a used groundsheet. Even if the groundsheet looks fine and has no tears, the groundsheet has still been used, and you don’t know its history.
For all you know, you could be buying a used groundsheet that looks perfectly new, until you get to your campsite and realize there’s a small tear that’s about to grow into a large hole. Or maybe your second hand groundsheet fabric is starting to fray, and after a couple more trips, the groundsheet will be in terrible shape.
A second hand groundsheet is cheap, but the cost of how much risk you run into buying a used tent footprint is too high to pay.
Build Your Tent Footprint
After you’ve picked what groundsheet fabric you want to use, it’s now finally time to start building your own tent footprint. Nervous? Don’t be! Like we’ve mentioned before, the process is way easier than it seems.
Step 1: Buy Your Tools/Materials
You’ve bought your preferred groundsheet fabric, but that’s not the only thing you’ll need. You’ll also need to buy a grommet kit. A grommet kit is a package that comes with circular metal or rubber pieces that are used to help reinforce the holes you’ll be making in your fabric.
Step 2: Measure it All Out
Even if you think you know how wide and long your tent is, it’s still important to measure your tent out, just to be safe. Make sure your measurements are precise, and don’t hesitate to measure out your tent multiple times.
Once you know how long and wide your tent is, cut out your material of choice so that it’s 3 inches wider and longer than your tent. Example: if you measure your tent and it’s 13X13, then you’ll want to cut your fabric so that it’s 16X16.
Step 3: Cut the Holes In Your Groundsheet
Once you’ve cut your fabric to its appropriate size, it’s then time to cut the holes into your material. You need to put holes into your groundsheet because you need to stake in your footprint when you’re using it. If you don’t stake in your groundsheet, you run the risk of having it get shifted around during the night which means it won’t be doing it’s job of protecting the base of your tent.
The holes you cut into your fabric need to be the same size as your grommet, so make sure you trace the size of the grommet’s hole. The holes also need to be evenly placed on every corner within the three extra inches of your material.
Step 4: Put in your Grommets
Once you’ve cut holes in all four corners of your groundsheet, put in your grommets. Some grommets have different instructions from others, so make sure to follow the instructions that came specifically with your kit.
And just like that, you now have your own DIY shelter footprint. Congratulations!
How Long Will my DIY Footprint Last?
If you treat it right, then possibly decades. It all really depends on what fabric you’re using to make your DIY groundsheet. The lifespan of your painter’s drop cloth, tarp or house wrap tent footprint could last you for years to come, but a window insulator groundsheet might only last you a season.
But then again, maybe you only need your groundsheet for just one or two camping trips. If that’s the case, then making a window insulator groundsheet is your cheapest and best option. What’s great about building your own tent footprint is that you really get to take advantage of customizing your tent footprint to your specific needs.
For example, you can make an attachment on the front of your tent footprint that allows you to put your gear or shoes right outside of your tent. This is helpful for campers who have a small tent, but still don’t want their gear to be resting on the dirty or muddy ground.
How to Keep Your DIY Footprint in Great Shape
There’s more to keeping your tent footprint in good condition outside of properly storing it. If you wanted to build your own groundsheet so that you could save money, then you’ll want to make sure you take care of it, too.
If you don’t, then your DIY groundsheet won’t last long and you’ll probably decide that DIY projects aren’t for you, which means you’ll spend an unnecessary amount of money on an elaborate tent footprint.
Putting in a little extra work goes a long way, especially when it comes to saving money.
Dry out Your Groundsheet
Whether it’s through condensation or a rainstorm, it’s more than likely that your DIY shelter footprint is going to get wet after you go camping. Don’t just fold up your sheet and store it while it’s wet. Avoid the potential of mildew by hanging up your groundsheet and letting it dry out. Be sure to dry it out inside so that your sheet isn’t prone to outdoor conditions.
Clean off the Debris
Your DIY footprint isn’t probably going to get damaged if you leave some dirt on it in between camping trips, but cleaning it after every trip is still good practice. All it takes is just one twig, stick or sharp pebble for your sheet to slightly tear. Once that happens, it’s only a matter of time before that tear turns into a irreparable hole.
To avoid any risk, be sure to brush off any debris that might’ve collected onto your groundsheet while you were camping.
How to Properly Store Your Groundsheet
If you choose to build a groundsheet with a house wrap or window insulator, you’ll probably be able to get away with rolling your groundsheet in with your tent. However, if you’re choosing a more durable material like a tarp or a painter’s drop cloth, you’ll be dealing with hickness issues, which means it won’t be as compact as other options.
But that doesn’t mean those groundsheets aren’t impossible to fold, it just all depends on how you fold it.
How to Properly Fold a Thick Groundsheet
Step 1: Lay Your Groundsheet out Flat
Keep the sheet flat, and wipe off any dirt, debris or water you might see on your sheet.
Step 2: Fold the Edges Inward
Do you see the two sides of your sheet that are shorter than the other two? Grab those short edges and fold them in until they meet the center of your sheet. Your sheet should look half its size.
Step 3: Fold Those Same Edges Again
Basically, repeat step 2. This time your sheet should look a quarter of its original size.
Step 4: Fold Half of Your Sheet Over the Other Half
Take this time to make sure your sheet is neatly folded. If at this point it looks like the corners of the sheet are popping out, then repeat steps 1-4 until it’s nice and neat.
Step 5: Fold Your Sheet Vertically
Grab the two short edges of your sheet and fold them in vertically.
Step 6: Fold Your Sheet Vertically Again
Repeat step 5.
Step 7: Fold One Half of the Sheet Over The Other
Once you’ve done this, your sheet should look small, compact and ready to pack!
The sheet might still look slightly bulky, and the weight of the sheet hasn’t changed. Nevertheless, your sheet is now compacted, and it’ll be easier to pack in your backpack or store in your garage.
Final Verdict: Is a Tent Footprint Right For You?
Until the prices of a customized, manufactured tent footprint are lowered, then your best bet is to make your own tent footprint. If you’re a beginner camper, a self-made tent footprint is the right choice.
The last thing you’d want to do as a beginner camper is invest in a lot of expensive equipment you might not use after a few months. A DIY footprint helps keep your cost low, while also ensuring that you have the equipment you need to make your camping trip a fun, comfortable experience.
For the experienced camper, a DIY footprint is also the ideal option. The more often you camp, the more fancy tools or equipment a seasoned outdoorsman seems to buy. By saving your money and building your very own tent footprint, you’ll be able to spend your cash on other tools or gear you want to make your next camping trip even more memorable.
But whether you want to buy a tent footprint or make your own is completely up to you. Whichever option you choose, we still suggest you have something protecting your tent’s base. Don’t let your tent get ruined by not putting in the extra time or care.
See our piece on how to start tarp camping for more information on this topic.
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