Do I Need a Tarp Under My Tent?

The first time you go tent camping, you may have a lot of questions. How do you build a fire? How do you put up a tent? And, perhaps just as importantly, do you need to put a tarp or footprint under your tent?

The answer to that last question is: you don’t have to, but it’s generally recommended. Water, bugs, sharp sticks, and even mud can all damage your tent. Putting a tarp under your tent is one of the best ways to protect it from the elements.

In this guide, we’ll cover several aspects of putting a tarp under your tent, such as:

  • The benefits of putting a tarp under your tent
  • How to properly set up your tarp
  • Adjusting your tarp for the terrain
  • When you may not need to use a tarp

Why Should You Put a Tarp Under Your Tent?

As anyone who has ever been to a camping gear store knows, good equipment is expensive. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to make your gear last as long as possible. This is where your tarp comes into play.
Let’s cover some of the benefits of adding a tarp to your camping bag.

1. Protection Against Ground Damage

Tarps mainly help keep your tent in good condition by protecting it from sharp objects. The thicker the tarp, the less likely a rock or stick will tear through the tent’s bottom.

Furthermore, some areas have bugs or animals that may damage your tent. Putting a tarp down also makes it harder for bugs to wiggle beneath your tent while sleeping.

Additionally, in many places, campers may be required to set up tents on designated sleeping grounds. These areas may be bare patches of dirt, stone, or concrete. As a result, any tossing and turning during the night will also rub your tent against the ground, which may cause tears. Setting up a tarp first will minimize friction and reduce the risk of ripping your tent.

2. Protection from Moisture and Rain

In addition to keeping your tent safe from sharp objects, a tarp can also protect you from water.

For instance, when it rains, water can seep under your tent. This makes the ground muddy and more likely that mildew and mold will grow beneath your tent.

Moreover, if your tent has previous damage on the bottom such as a hole, moisture on the ground can leak into your tent. This can cause an unpleasant night if you wake up in a puddle. If enough water gets inside, you’ll have a hard time draining your tent when it’s time to pack up!

It’s always a good idea to check the weather forecast before you go camping. However, even if there is no rain predicted, it’s always a good idea to be prepared. Tarps are lightweight and easy to carry, and it’s better to be safe than sorry (and wet!).

3. Keeping Clean

Camping can be messy. When you spend days in the woods surrounded by bugs and dirt, you’re likely to come back covered in nature. However, that doesn’t mean your tent has to, too.

Putting a tarp beneath your tent can help keep you – and your tent – clean by protecting your tent from mud, dirt, and even pine needles. While there are no awards for having the cleanest tent, it’s always nice to minimize the dirt you drag into your vehicle when it’s time to drive home.

How to Set Up a Tarp Beneath Your Tent

The first step is to select a tarp that’s the right size. Buying a tarp that’s too big can be worse than not having a tarp at all. For instance, if it rains, a large tarp can pool water beneath your tent rather than keep the water away.

Therefore, it’s best to choose a tarp or footprint 2-3 inches shorter than your tent’s bottom.
It’s also a good idea to select a tarp with grommets or grommet your tarp yourself. This will make it easier to secure your tarp to the ground when you go camping.

When it comes time to set up your tarp, the first thing you’ll want to do is clear the area of sharp and sticky objects. Branches, rocks, and tree sap should be removed from the desired area.

Next, lay down your tarp on the ground and set up your tent according to the directions. When you stake your tent into the ground, push the tent poles into the grommets on the tarp as well.

If your tarp doesn’t have grommets, you can bunch the corners of the tarp and tie them off with rope or twine.

Adjusting Your Tarp for the Terrain

If you decide to use your tarp on your next camping trip, it’s important to adjust your tarp properly for the terrain. Depending on the ground and surrounding area, you may not want to set up your tarp the same way every time. Failure to adapt may mean your tarp can’t protect your tent correctly.

For instance, if you’re camping on sandy ground, using a tarp may not be necessary. Because sand absorbs water so well, when it rains, the water will seep into the ground. However, if you put a tarp under your tent on sandy ground, you run the risk of the tarp collecting water and floating your tent.

Instead, you may want to line the inside floor of your tent with the tarp. This will help protect your tent from the sand you track in while still minimizing moisture inside your tent.

On the other hand, in fields and wooded areas, you may still want to put your tarp beneath the tent. However, instead of pinning the corners down with your tent stakes, you may want to tuck the edges of the tarp beneath your tent.

Doing this ensures that any rainwater or dew running down the sides of your tent won’t pool on the tarp. In turn, this helps prevent mold, mildew, and water damage on the underside of your tent.

When Do You Not Need a Tarp Under Your Tent?

While a tarp is almost always a good idea, it’s not always a necessity. If you’re looking to save space while packing, there are a few situations in which you may be able to leave a tarp off your list.

  1. If you know that the weather or the climate of the area will be warm and dry during your stay. This is most likely in desert environments, as well as some mountain campsites.
  2. When your campsite has soft ground with little in the way of sticks, bugs, and rocks.
  3. If you’re camping on the beach and aren’t worried about lining the inside of your tent with a tarp.

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