Tarp Under Tent – What’s The Point Of It?

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When out on a camping trip you may have noticed other campers laying down tarpaulin under tent surfaces before setting up their tent. Naturally, this may have confused you somewhat and made you wonder “should I put a tarp under my tent?” If so don’t worry, we’ll clear things up for you below.  

Why Do I Need A Tarp Under My Tent?

Have you ever been on a camping trip where the weather turned and only your allegedly waterproof tent walls were protecting you from heavy rain? If so you may have noticed that eventually, your tent floor started getting wetter and wetter. This is because as the ground under the bottom of your tent gets wetter, more water will inevitably get trapped in your tent floor.

Obviously, this is a less than ideal situation as you’ll end up damp and miserable, even in your once cosy sleeping bag. Meanwhile, your belongings, including any expensive camping gear may end up getting ruined. 

Fortunately, the way to prevent the ruination of your camping trip by the weather is actually incredibly simple. The simple solution? Put a waterproof tarp or ground cloth, also known as tent footprints under your tent before assembly. The reason for using a tent footprint or tarp underneath your tent is that it provides that layer of extra protection and separation between you and the ground the bottom of your tent is resting upon.

As such when used in conjunction with rain flys, the extra layer even a cheap tarp provides will work wonders in keeping you and your camping equipment dry. As a result, your memories of even the wettest camping trip will be happy ones.

Advantages of Having A Tarp Under Your Tent

Aside from the extra protection from the elements though, tent footprints, ground cloths or tarp will provide even more benefits. Even a moderately thin tarpaulin sheet can help your tent be extra water-resistant. However, for the best outcome something more specialised, like a tent footprint or ground cloth will produce the best results.

Tarp Under Tent - What’s The Point Of It?

It Keeps Your Tent Clean

This may not seem like much of a big deal to some. However, the extra layer of protection offered to your tent floors also helps keep them clean. 

There are a few reasons why this is so important. The most mundane and most commonly seen is that it cuts down on the amount of cleaning you have to do. This is because instead of having to carefully wash the underside of your tent you can instead clean the tarp with a decently powerful hose.

Additionally, if you have to leave your campsite in a hurry the tarp will make it less likely to spread dirt to other areas. There’s nothing worse than when you’ve had to shove all your camping gear into the car without cleaning it. Inevitably this will lead to you finding dirt all over the place and ultimately having a bigger job on your hands than you otherwise would have.

The benefit of a tarp in this second context is twofold. If you’re hurrying but still have a little time, a quick spray or soaking in water will clean off the tarp quite easily. Therefore removing most of, if not all the dirt. Alternatively, you may need to leave immediately due to something like dangerously heavy rain. If so, folding up the tarp and throwing it in a bag will create far less mess than just throwing your dirty tent in the boot of your car.

Protect Your Tent Bottom From Damage

Perhaps the most important benefit alongside keeping you dry is how a tent footprint, ground cloth or tarp underneath your tent will protect it from damage. Naturally, the reason for this is because over time the bottom of your tent is prone to wear and tear. This is because of rocks or sticks potentially piercing the tent bottom or potentially your tent may fall prone to water damage.

Even a new tent isn’t necessarily safe from damage, however. Whether by, unfortunate placement, a missed stone or stick or a potential accident inside the tent, damage can easily occur. 

As such, you’ll want something to keep your old or new tent safe. Fortunately, a tarp under your tent will protect your tent from any external damage. Meanwhile, a tarp inside the tent will protect your tent from damage caused by human error such as accidentally piercing the tent with the tent poles.

Tarps Have Multiple Uses

The above is related to the benefits tarps will provide once your tent is actually set up. However, there are other uses for the tarp than using one as a makeshift tent footprint. As such, instead of just bringing the one tarp on a trip, you may find a couple to be quite useful.

Slip And Slide

If camping in the summertime, then a fun use for a tarp would be to make your own slip and slide. This is a favourite in Australia but English and American campers will have likely heard of it at the very least. 

The basic premise is quite simple. Line up some tarps on a grassy field or hill and then cover the topside in soapy water. Following which you and everyone on the trip can get involved and slide across them.

You could make a game out of it by trying to stay on your feet as long as possible. Alternatively, though, you could just mess about and belly slide.

Tarp Under Tent - What’s The Point Of It?

Outdoor Flooring

When camping you’ll likely be sitting outside your tent for decent lengths of time. You may also plan on a bit of stargazing or even on sleeping outdoors, under the stars, without a tent.

For each of these contexts, some form of outdoor flooring will be desired. Ground cloths or a large blanket will be able to perform this role just as well, if not slightly better. However, the boon of a tarp over these is that tarps are cheap. More importantly, though, they’re versatile, meaning that packing a tarp or two instead of a bunch of specialised items can help you travel light.

Getting Creative

The true boon of a tarp in this regard is that if you can think of it, a tarp may be able to help in some manner. Aside from as a slip and slide or outdoor flooring, some creative tarp uses can include:

  • A Makeshift Picnic Blanket: Particularly good if you’re camped in a muddy festival field or sat around playing drinking games. This is because the waterproof tarp will stop mud and water from soaking through and ruining your clothes, food and camping gear. 
  • A Hammock: With a bit of tarp, rope and knot tying knowledge, a tarp can very easily make the basis for a hammock.

Ground Tarp Under Tent Floor Versus Inside The Tent

When using a tarp to protect the inside of your tent from the ground there are two methods. These both act on similar principles in that each technique is intended to help protect yourself and the belongings inside the tent from the elements.

Laying Tent Footprints Under The Bottom Of Your Tent

The more popular method, particularly with newer tents is to put your tarp under the tent. Doing this creates a layer of separation between the ground of your campsite and the floor of your tent.

This layer of separation will protect the tent floor from damage. This damage can come from sticks, stones or water along with many other things in nature. Additionally, this will provide an extra layer of waterproofing. 

Combined, these benefits of having a tarp under your tent will provide an extra layer of security and help you relax. Even if there is heavy rain outside.

Putting Tarp Or A Ground Cloth Over The Tent’s Inside Floor

Particularly in the case of older tents, there is likely to be some inevitable wear and tear. In such a situation, you may think the horse has already bolted as the bottom of the tent is already damaged. 

However, whilst a tarp under the bottom of your tent won’t help too much, one inside your tent may be the solution. This is because whilst the tarp may not be able to protect the already damaged tent bottom, it will protect anything in the tent from getting wet.

In addition to protecting your tent from the elements and external damage, an internal tarp will perform another role. This is to simply protect your tent floor from any accidental damage by human error. This is because it will provide an extra layer of protection from anything that may damage your tent floor inside the tent.

When using an inside tarp whilst tent camping, you’ll want the tarp to be slightly larger than the tent size. When doing so, the excess should then be folded upwards. This will create something like a bath basin for the inside of your tent. As a result, everything within this tarp basin will be protected from water damage.

Tarp Under Tent - What’s The Point Of It?

Is One Method Better Than the Other?

Ultimately neither method is superior to the other as they both perform best under different contexts. For a newer or undamaged tent, having the tarp underneath will stop water from coming in and protect your tent from external damage. 

However, if your tent is a bit older, then the inside tarp method will be best. This will keep away the water that will inevitably get in through damaged areas along with protection from accidental damage.

To ensure that your bases are fully covered, it may be prudent to employ both techniques in tandem. For most situations, this will be overkill though. However, if you’re expecting some particularly turbulent weather during the camping trip then doing both may be wise.

What Size Tarp Do I Need?

When deciding on what size tarp you’ll need, there are two factors to consider. The first is the size of the tent the tarp will be going under or inside. Whilst the second is whether you will be putting the tarp inside or under the tent.

The second point is probably more important to consider since you’ll need different size tarps for inside and outside. Even for the same tent.  However, knowing the dimensions of your tent will be crucial.

Tarp For The Underneath Tent Method

Simply put for a tarp that will go under the tent, you’ll want it to be slightly smaller than the tent bottom dimensions. This may seem somewhat counterintuitive but there is a reason for this.

Like how rainwater pools in the centre of a swimming pool cover, the same can be true with an oversized tarp. This is because the overhanging edges of the tarp may catch water which will then run to the centre underneath the tent. As a result, using an oversized tarp will defeat the purpose of using one in the first place.

Tarp For The Inside Tent Method

With the inside tent method, however, the opposite rule is very much true. Instead of needing a tarp that is slightly smaller than the bottom of your tent, you’ll want one that’s bigger. Again, this might run counter to what you’d expect, but like with the underneath tarp, there is a reason.

The reason the tarp used inside the tent should be larger than the tent bottom is simple. This is because you’ll want to fold up the sides to form a shape similar to that of a bath basin. Doing this will protect you and your belongings from any water that will leak in through holes in the tent bottom. Additionally, it will also protect the tent bottom itself from any accidental damage from within.

Tarp Under Tent - What’s The Point Of It?

Are Tarps Worth It?

When camping, as much as choosing a specific tent or rain fly may help protect you from the elements, you’ll want some more security. Fortunately, tarps, tent footprints or a groundsheet will provide you with that. As such, whichever option you choose and whether you choose to use them inside or under the tent will depend on your own needs. Either way though, they’ll help you rest comfortably in the knowledge that you’re as protected as you possibly can be.


What Size Tarp Should I Get For Under My Tent?

When deciding on what size tarp you’ll need, there are two factors to consider. The first is the size of the tent the tarp will be going under or inside. Whilst the second is whether you will be putting the tarp inside or under the tent.

The second point is probably more important to consider since you’ll need different size tarps for inside and outside. Even for the same tent.  However, knowing the dimensions of your tent will be crucial.

Simply put, for under the tent you’ll want a tarp slightly smaller than your tent to avoid water pooling underneath the tent, Meanwhile for tarps inside you’ll want one slightly larger than your tent bottom to create a bath basin-like shape that will repel the water.

What Can I Put Under My Tent To Dry?

In order to keep dry whilst tent camping, it is important to use some form of ground cover under your tent. A tent footprint, ground cloth or even some tarps protect from the elements. For a layer of extra protection using a tarp both inside and outside that you, your sleeping bags and camping equipment won’t get wet.