Do I Need a Tarp Under My Tent? – 1 Great Question Every Tent Camper Needs to Know the Answer to

Do I Need a Tarp Under My Tent?
Do I Need a Tarp Under My Tent?

Tent walls are protected by a sturdy rainfly, but not all tents have something that protects the bottom of the tent, too.

Because of that, you might be wondering how to increase durability and protection against moisture. This may lead you to ask yourself, “Do I need a tarp under my tent?

While you do not need a tarp under your tent, placing one is highly beneficial for your tent’s warmth, dryness, and durability. However, be careful with how you place your tarp. A tarp that’s too large will lead to pooling, and that will render your tarp’s moisture-blocking abilities useless.


4 Benefits of Putting a Tarp Under Your Tent – Do I Need a Tarp Under My Tent?

You need a tarp under your tent if you want your tent to last as long as possible. However, using a tarp isn’t 100% necessary.

Even though it’s not entirely necessary, placing a tarp under your tent has numerous benefits. Tarps keep you warmer, and drier, and they save you money, too.

Let’s go over them in greater detail now.

#1. Protection From Punctures – 4 Benefits of Putting a Tarp Under Your Tent

Using a tarp will always make your tent last longer. It’s a barrier between the tent and the rough ground. It stops the rough debris underfoot from touching your tent.

As I said above, you’ll save money from this in the long run. You’ll be less likely to replace your tent since the bottom will wear away slower. And buying a new tarp at $20 a piece is much cheaper than buying a new tent and less time-consuming than trying to patch a slit. 

Using a tarp also ensures that your tent’s bottom won’t suddenly develop a puncture halfway through a camping trip, exposing you to the elements. If anything gets damaged, it will be your tarp, and you’ll still have the bottom of your tent to keep you safe.

This camper always uses a tent tarp under the tent to protect the floor, so it’s not uncommon.

Do I Need a Tarp Under My Tent?
Protection From Punctures – 4 Benefits of Putting a Tarp Under Your Tent

#2. Helps Keep Moisture Out – 4 Benefits of Putting a Tarp Under Your Tent

Many people use a tarp on top of their tent to help keep moisture out, but others use a tarp under their tent to do the same job. In fact, this is a common inquiry on camping forum boards.

Do I Need a Tarp Under My Tent?
Helps Keep Moisture Out – 4 Benefits of Putting a Tarp Under Your Tent

Having a tarp under your tent stops moisture from the ground from soaking through the floor of your tent. Although tent groundsheets are waterproof, aging and budget tents aren’t always as effective at moisture blocking as newer, more expensive ones.

The tarp also ensures that the bottom of your tent will be dry when you disassemble your tent. This will keep your storage bag free of the damp, dark environment where mold and mildew growth.

However, if you ever end up with a mold or mildew problem one day, we have a comprehensive article on how to clean a tent with mold and mildew for you.

#3. Helps Keep You Warm – 4 Benefits of Putting a Tarp Under Your Tent

Placing a tarp under your tent creates an additional barrier between you and the freezing-cold ground. It also stops heat from escaping through the floor of your tent. You lose more body heat to the ground than the air around you, too, so the extra barrier helps prevent that.

Tarps under your tent are particularly useful when camping in cold weather.

You shouldn’t expect a drastic increase in the heat inside your tent, but every little helps when it’s bitterly cold outside.

#4. Ensures the Bottom of Your Tent Stays Clean – 4 Benefits of Putting a Tarp Under Your Tent

The bottom of your tent can easily get muddy when it’s raining. You’ll get your entire tent covered in mud when taking the tent down and packing it away. You’ll need to wash your tent after every camping trip.

You’ll also have to spend a lot of money on tent cleaning products if you need to clean your tent that often.

It’s much better to get a tarp muddy. Tarps are easier to clean; hose them down, scrub off the mud, and they’re fine.

Remember that you still need to clean your tent at least once per season, and we have a full guide on how to clean a tent.

Times When You Don’t Need a Tarp Under Your Tent – Do I Need a Tarp Under My Tent?

Although a tarp is highly recommended for regular camping, you don’t need a tarp in all situations. Here are a few situations:

  • At the beach: Sand absorbs moisture by itself, so you won’t need a tarp to keep moisture away from your tent
  • While backpacking: Tent footprints are lighter and easier to carry, so they’re a better alternative than tarps 
  • Soft ground: If you know the ground is soft and will have no sharp objects, then you don’t need the additional protection that a tarp brings
  • Condensation isn’t a problem in your climate: If your ground isn’t going to be wet with condensation or rain, then you don’t need the additional moisture barrier

What Size Tarp Should I Use Under My Tent? – Do I Need a Tarp Under My Tent?

Tarp sizes vary, so you need to find one that’s in line with the size of your tent. The table below has tarp-size recommendations based on the sizes of basic dome tents.

However, brands and types of tents differ, so always check your tent size before you purchase a tarp.

Tent SizeTarp Size in Feet
2-Person7 x 5
3-Person7 x 7
4 to 5-Person6 x 8
6-Person10 x 10

If you can’t find a tarp that fits your tent’s size, purchase the next largest tarp and fold it down to size.

Try to fold each side of your tarp the same amount. If different sizes are folded into different amounts, you’ll end up with an uneven surface under your tent.

Always ensure your tent is folded down to size, as you never want to have a tarp that extends beyond the edges of your tent. Although it seems to offer more protection, it can pose one major danger: pooling.

What Is Pooling? – What Size Tarp Should I Use Under My Tent?

If you use a too big tarp for your tent, the rain will run off your rain fly and land on the tarp. The moisture has nothing to soak into and drain away, so it builds up and forms a pool around your tent.

This pool can work its way under your tent and end up coming through any poorly sealed seams, too. 

This can saturate your tent and make camping an incredibly uncomfortable experience. Plus, it will make getting out of your tent after the rainstorm a complete nightmare.

Choosing the right top size from the table above will help you avoid this issue. Setting your tent up correctly is also essential.

How to Set Up Your Tarp Under Your Tent – Do I Need a Tarp Under My Tent?

Setting up your tent on top of your tarp isn’t difficult, but you want to ensure that your tarp is set up as efficiently as possible.

Size It Correctly – How to Set Up Your Tarp Under Your Tent

#1. Size It Correctly – How to Set Up Your Tarp Under Your Tent

As I said above, ensure your tent’s tarp is the right size. Try laying your tent flat on top of it and measuring them up to size. Then you can fold each edge of your tarp until the edges are tucked away neatly under your tent.

You can cut your tarp down to size to avoid having to fold it if you wish. Make sure you seal your tarp’s edge so it doesn’t fray.

#2. Clean The Area – How to Set Up Your Tarp Under Your Tent

Remove large debris and rocks from your camping spot, and pull any lumpy weeds that might create a raised section under the tarp.

#3. Lay Your Tarp and Assemble Your Tent – How to Set Up Your Tarp Under Your Tent

Once your tarp is laid out, then you can start assembling your tent on top of it. Ensure its edges are lined up with the tent’s edges as closely as possible.

Secure Your Tarp – How to Set Up Your Tarp Under Your Tent

#4. Secure Your Tarp – How to Set Up Your Tarp Under Your Tent

You need to find a way to secure the corners of your tarp to your tent to ensure the tarp doesn’t flap around or move around by itself.

However, you should be aware that securing your tarp might be difficult, and premanufactured tent footprints are much easier to attach to your tent. They come with grommets, perfect for making your tent secure.

You can purchase a grommet kit to alter your tarp, so it’s easier to secure your tent. Feed some straps through the grommets and attach them to your tent poles.

Alternatives to Tarps – Do I Need a Tarp Under My Tent?

Tarps aren’t the only item you can place under your tent for the same benefits listed above. There are a few alternatives that you could use, and some are better than others.

#1. Tent Footprint – Alternatives to Tarps

Tent footprints are great for backpackers, as they’re light. But they’re pricier than tarps, so that’s something to remember.

As mentioned above, footprints are easier to secure your tent, and they’re made specifically for use with tents. Frequent campers may wish to use a tent footprint instead of a tarp.

#2. Plastic Sheet/Painter’s Drop Cloth – Alternatives to Tarps

Plastic sheets and painters’ drop cloths work just as well as tarps. They may be difficult to secure in your tent, like tarps, but it’s not impossible.

If you already have an appropriately sized plastic sheet or painter’s drop cloth, feel free to use it instead of buying yourself a tarp or tent footprint.

#3. Spare Rainfly – Alternatives to Tarps

Do you own more than one tent, or do you have an extra rain fly for your current one? That can work as a tarp.  Rain flies usually have components that can be attached to your tent poles, too, so securing them is easy.

#4. Tyvek – Alternatives to Tarps

Tyveks are used in construction. They’re placed as a moisture barrier when building houses instead of siding that hasn’t been built yet. If you have easy access to Tyveks, you could use one instead of a tarp.

However, be aware that you’ll need to do some DIY to get this to fit. Tyveks don’t come in ready-made rectangles that match the shape of your tent.

Do I Need a Tarp Under My Tent?
Do I Need a Tarp Under My Tent?

Conclusion – Do I Need a Tarp Under My Tent?

Tarps are highly beneficial for most camping scenarios. However, you should always use your best judgment on whether or not you need a tarp for your camping trip

As you gain experience while camping on different grounds and climates, you’ll learn when you can go without a tarp. You’ll also find whether you prefer tarps or one of the alternatives.

A tent footprint is the best alternative to a tarp, and it’s the most convenient. But you really can’t go wrong with a good old-fashioned tarpaulin.

Frequently Asked Questions – Do I Need a Tarp Under My Tent?

1. Is it Necessary to Use a Tarp Underneath a Tent? – FAQs

It is not absolutely necessary, but using a tarp underneath your tent can provide many benefits, such as enhanced comfort and protection against moisture, dirt and bugs.

2. What Kind of Tarp Should I Use Underneath My Tent? – FAQs

Look for tarps made from waterproof material, such as nylon or polyester, with reinforced corners and edges – these will help ensure that your tarp stays in place while providing additional insulation benefits during colder weather conditions.

3. Are There Any Potential Risks of Not Using a Tarp Underneath a Tent? – FAQs

Not using a tarp may increase exposure to cold temperatures, mud or other debris that may seep into the bottom of the tent, insect infestations, bacteria or disease-carrying bugs, and damage from rocks or sticks when setting up the tent on top of them.

4. How Do I Correctly Set Up a Tarp Before Putting a Tent on Top? – FAQs

First, start by laying out the tarp across your desired camping site, then secure each corner with stakes or rocks – if windy, be sure to tie down any loose edges securely so cannot flap about in the breeze when weight is added… Once done, spread the sleeping bag/air mattress over this, then set up your poles/guide ropes before finally laying down the tent. Remember to stake down each corner every time move on to the next step!

5. After Setting Up the Tarp and Tent, What Else Must I Be Aware Of? – FAQs

Ensure that all your tent’s entry points (zips etc) have been closed properly; otherwise, water might make its way inside… Also, inspect the surrounding area beforehand to ensure no sticks/rocks poking up through the ground, which could cause undue pressure when lying down afterward… Finally, double-check sides ensuring they’re tightly secured around the outside perimeter, so there’s maximum insulation benefit while preventing rain from coming inside during bad weather bouts!

6. Does the Environment or Weather Play an Important Role In Selecting a Suitable Tarp for Camping? – FAQs

Yes – depending on where you are camping, pay attention to climate forecasts beforehand to decide whether the waterproof style needed warmth provided plus, remember, thicker, heavier materials provide better insulation against colder temperatures, whilst lighter varieties tend to need replacing more regularly due to limited durability… In general, pick up a few spares in case something goes wrong!

7. Why is it Important to Secure the Tarp’s Edges Well When I Pitch My Tent on Top? – FAQs

Securing each edge firmly prevents them from flapping around too much in wind – if a gust picks momentum, it could rip open seams, meaning tiny leaks develop wherever seem to become unstuck… Plus, additional stress is put on seams without structure, so be sure to tie off edges/corners well, ensuring no weak spots present longer, stronger material lasts throughout the entire trip!

Ben Wann- Tent Camping Expert

My name is Ben Wann, and I’m a lifelong tent camper and backpacker who jumps on every opportunity to get out and enjoy nature! I created this site to inspire others to get outside and to make the process easier for you.