Ground Cover and Your Tent

Wet camping
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If you are planning a first-time camping trip, or have not been camping in a while, there may be some things you are wondering about as you plan your next tent adventure. What should I put under my tent? Do I need a tent ground cover or a tarp under the tent? 

Setting up camp is an essential part of the camping experience, and the camping tent is your shelter for your wilderness getaway so staking your tent properly is key for your comfort. Every tent is a little different and your set-up has a lot to do with your camping gear and the weather or location of your campsite. 

Tips for Properly Setting Up Your Ground Cover

Putting some sort of ground cover or tarp under your tent is essential for the durability of your tent and to keep it warm and dry. With that said, different terrains require different solutions for your camping tent and type of tarp or group cover that you will want to use. A few things to keep in mind when you pitch your tent and what kind of ground cover you should use. 

In woodlands and fields, put a tarp under your tent but be sure to fold it under so it doesn't extend beyond the edge of the tent. If the tarp extends too far, even dew will run down the tent walls and collect under your tent, ready to seep into any threads that are not waterproofed. When camping at the beach, don't put a tarp under, but rather inside the tent.

Sand camping is very different and water will seep into, if not float, your tent in a heavy rain if you put a tarp under the tent. If you are not in a low spot at a sandy campground, a tarp under the tent is not necessary since water absorbs quickly into the sand.

A third choice is to put a tarp over the tent, and possibly in conjunction with one inside and/or under. Keep wind in mind too, because wind adds a degree of difficulty to keeping a tarp over a tent and also blows rain sideways/possibly through the side seams of your tent.

Tent walls were meant to breathe and are not waterproof, merely water resistant. The fly over the tent, as well as the floor, should be coated with waterproof protection when bought new. Be sure to use seam sealer on all seams of new tents, and once again each year or so before that first camping trip of the season.

Some tents offer the option of buying a footprint. However these footprints can be expensive, they are designed for the tent and offer the best fitting option for your tent. If you can afford this addition it is the best option. Then your tarp can be used as extra protection over the tent or around camp should you experience adverse weather. 

Whatever option you choose, always use a ground cover under your tent. This will help keep moisture from seeping through your tent and will protect the life of your tent. Abrasive ground will wear out the floor of any tent no matter how durable it is. The tarp may be the least expensive option. 

No matter which ground cover you choose to use, make sure to pitch your tent on high ground. Scan the campsite and pick the area that sits up from the rest. You don't want to wake up, even in a dry tent, and step out into a lake.

- Updated and Edited by Camping Expert Monica Prelle