Last Updated On December 7, 2020
Why Put a Tarp Under a Tent
Camping appeals to many because of its simplicity. You buy a tent, a sleeping bag, maybe a backpack and your good to go. But the more you go camping, the more you start to realize nuances you can implement that greatly improves the comfort of your camping experience.
A simple camping hack you can apply today is to place a tarp under or inside your tent, or both.
You’re probably asking, why someone would even attempt this and I know for certain that some people are definitely thinking ‘how is this meant to make my camping experience even slightly bearable’?
Well if you think about it, a tent floor is only a thin piece of plastic that separates you from the cold hard earth.
And even if modern tent technology is vastly superior to say, 10 years ago, there will still only be a handful of ways a tent floor will fail. Its not a matter of if, but when, your tent floor will get pierced, busted open or melted.
Pitching your tent on top of a tarp will bolster your floor’s penetration and temperature resistance. It can deflect moisture and dirt and thereby extending the life of your tent.
Also, Tarps under tents can improve overall comfort by retaining heat or creating shade. And when not in use, a tarp can come in handy for other extra curricula camping activities.
Make sure to keep reading because in this article, you will find out why you should be placing tarps under tents or a groundsheet between the earth and your tent.
You will learn how to fold and size the tarp to suit your floor correctly. Finally, I will provide a few alternatives to the simple tarp and extra setup tips you should know.
Tarp under tent and keeping you dry.
Unless your camping in the Sahara Desert, it’s likely that the ground you pitch your tent on is wet or will be in 24 hours. Moisture on the ground can occur from rain, humidity, and morning mildew.
The addition of a tarp between your tent and the earth can often double its moisture resistance.
Keeping your camping gear safe from tears.
I remember the first and last time I tripped over a camera tripod inside my tent. I particularly remember the 10cm hole it left on the floor of my Coleman Instant Up tent.
Luckily it was a summer camping trip, so the chances of rain were minimal. But there was the issue of the presence of morning mildew and condensation that would work its way into the tent.
But being prepared, I laid a tarp underneath the tent, and with a bit of duct tape, it was like the hole was never there and i was able to stay dry.
Tarpaulin under tent provides protection.
As mentioned, a tarp can protect your tent and extend its longevity. When placed underneath your tent, it adds an extra layer of protection that a rock or object has to get through.
If you get a chance, try sticking a twig through the side of a tent and then a tarp, I guarantee you the tarp wins.
I strongly suggest you buy a few tarps as soon as you purchase a new tent. Like when a Mac user buys a protective case straight after they buy the laptop.
You want to protect your investment. Especially after spending a few hundred dollars on a tent. Ironically, the best and cheapest way to protect your tent and extend its lifespan is with a $5 tarp.
Cleanliness and packability.
A tarp can protect your tent flooring from rocks and objects. It also minimizes the undercarriage of your tent from getting dirty. On one occasion, this was before I started using tarps, I found myself in a race to pack up my tent before a storm hit.
I quickly stuffed my tent into its sleeve, forgoing my usual cleaning routine. Months later, I was still discovering the dirt transfer that the tent tracked into my car, garage, and kitchen.
By having a tarp underneath your tent, to begin with, all you have to do is deal with the dirty $5 tarp. It’s then up to you if you want to roll the tarp up, hose it off or store it into a garbage bag to be dealt with later.
Tarpaulin under tent gives peace of mind.
Having a tarp or ground cloth underneath your tent can give you the confidence that your floor can hold up during a storm if you’ve ever experienced sleeping overnight in a tent that was letting water in like the titanic. I’m guessing that the chances of a good night’s sleep were slim to none.
You most likely would have spent the night worrying about your camping gear and the threat of bugs getting inside.
Also, while its best practice to pitch your tent in an area that directs water away from your tent, sometimes this just isn’t possible as you may need to get your tent down as fast as possible.
Laying a tarp down first can often speed up the pitching process even if the landscape isn’t ideal.
More than one usage.
If the weather permits it, and you feel like sleeping under the stars, then a simple tarp can be used as your flooring. Maybe you want some shade; a tarp can be strung up to be used as a shade sail.
Some more creative uses I’ve seen for tarps include a tarp hammock, a tarp picnic rug, a rolled-up wine cooler.
And an Australian summer favorite. Line a few tarps up with some soapy water, and you have yourself a slippery slide. If you don’t need to use a tarp under your tent, then it’s a great accessory to have just in case.
Tarp under tent vs. on tent’s bottom.
So now you know some positive aspects of having a camping tarp under tent. But should you have the tarp laid down on the inside floor of your tent or outside and under your tent?
There is no doubt a tarp on the outside of a tent will extend its longevity. On the outside, it will protect your tent against dirt and damage.
Some argue that by having the tarp lined inside your tent and over the floor, you’re negating all these benefits.
But the advocates for the tarp inside favor this method for when the floor is already damaged. What differs in the tarp inside method is that the tarp should be more massive in size than the floor.
Also, unlike the tarp on the outside, a tarp inside should be folded upwards.
This new layer imitates a bathtub. But instead of holding water, it serves to keep dry anything within its basin. This makes it useful if your original tent floor has taken on damage and is seeping in water.
If you find yourself in an extreme situation and if you have the inventory, why not use both methods. Not only do you get the protective layer of the floor tarp. But if it so happens that the tent rips in its corner, then the internal tarp can deflect that damage so you can stay dry.
How to set up tarps under tents.
Most mistakes occur when the tarp or ground cloth is larger than the tent floor. In the lucky event that your tarp is smaller than your floor than the process is straight forward.
Lay your tarp down and then pitch your tent over the top, it’s that easy.
A smaller tarp under your tent is better.
So why does the tarp need to be smaller than the tent floor you might ask well, think of a pool cover. If you have ever seen a pool cover after it has been raining, then you would have noticed the water that has settled in the middle of the pool cover.
The weight of the collected rain has likely caused the cover to slope inwards—this downslope inviting even more rain to settle in the middle.
A tarp that is larger than the floor acts in the same manner. Rain is caught from the outer edges of the tarp and pooled into the center of the tarp. The pooling will occur between the layers of the tarp and underneath your flooring and you.
Having a rainfly may not negate pooling as most rain flys fail to extend to the tent ground cover. Thus your best bet is to fold your tarp so that it’s a few inches smaller than your floor dimensions.
When folding your tarp, always make sure to fold the tarp down and inwards and not upwards. Folding downwards mitigates the folds from capturing water like a bucket.
Also, a downfold reduces catchment and directs water away like a downhill driveway.
Unfortunately, tarps tend to unravel and unfold. If this is the case, you can always try the tarp inside the tent method. However, most tarps offer strategically placed eyelets that allow folded sections to be pegged down in place.
Types of tarps
With so many tarp options out on the market, I suggest sticking to options that feature durability and are lightweight.
Although contradictory, there are reliable and robust options that are packable and lightweight for hiking, albeit at a higher premium. With that in mind, let’s explore a few tarp options and alternatives.
I’ve listed products that are quite common and a few others that you may not be aware of, which would still make great alternatives.
Medium duty tarps are very accessible and can be found in most camping and hardware stores. A 1.1m x 1.7m signature blue polyethylene tent ground cover will set you back $1-2.
The iconic blue tarp will often feature rustproof eyelets and reinforced hems. What’s great about the eyelets is that they are usually positioned in convenient ratcheting and peg locations.
Blue tarps are woven for tear and UV resistance and are made with one character in mind, and that is durability.
Footprint and ground cloths.
Tent footprints are usually the second or third purchase one should make after purchasing a new tent. The reason being is that most tent brands offer their version of a footprint or ground cloth.
These branded footprints are made to fit a specific tent. Footprints often feature durable, modern lightweight materials that maximize drainage and resistance.
Middle of the line footprints features end loops that are constructed into each corner to allow for ripstop pegging down and secure. A branded Tyvek or Big Anges 2m x 1.5m footprint will set you back about $50-100.
Alternative camping rain shelter.
Okay, so we have now gone to the extreme, but wooden platforms are more common than you would care to think. Platforms are prevalent in Glamping reserves and bespoke camping experiences.
You will need a whole day to set aside If you want to construct a tent platform.
Most likely, these wooden platforms are not going to be brought in via a backpack and will need a team effort to procure and build.
Alternatively, if you have a few timber palettes lying around, you pretty much have all you need to create your raised platform camping experience.
Cots and stretcher tents.
There is usually a clearance between the ground and the tent of half a foot to a foot.
The downside of camping with your tent completely off-ground is the movement from wind, your movement, and temperature control.
The upside is that you won’t have to deal with that nest of fire ants down there, and your spine will thank you for eliminating the hard surface of backcountry earth. Cots and stretcher tents are, on average, a lot more expensive than regular ground tents and can set you back about $400-800.
It’s a good idea you take the time and practice the setting up of a Cot or stretcher tent the first time in your backyard before you hit the wilderness. It can take up to three times as long to set up its base and legs, which can become a bit of a challenge in a snowstorm.
- Do not use a tarp under your tent that is noticeably larger than the floor size of your tent. This will ensure that the tarp does not catch extra rainwater and store it under the tent.
- If the tarp is larger than the tent floor dimensions, make sure to roll or fold the tarp downwards towards the earth and not upwards. Having the tarp folded upwards will promote water catchment.
- Bear in mind that if you do decide to lay a tarp inside your tent, you will have to make regular adjustments to the tarp. As the tarp will be slightly bigger and will be directly in contact with you, it will start to bunch up and move around inside the tent.
- If you’re looking to buy a tent, look for tents that have a feature called a ‘footprint.’ A footprint is a tarp that is tailor-made with an exact fit for the bottom of the tent.
- If you cannot buy a tent rain tarp consider purchasing tent decking, removable tent platform, or an off ground tent setup.
- Make sure to avoid excessive wear and tear from the inside of your tent. Tents wear from the inside out, and the first line of defense is a hole-free interior.