Making your own footprint 101

5:50 a.m. on September 30, 2011 (EDT)
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Ok.  So ya need a footprint for your tent and ya really don't want to spend the big bucks.  Well neither do I.  I love when I get a foot print with a tent but they cost way to much for what they are to by at retail prices.  Foot prints for single wall tents will not keep the moisture out from getting in between the tent body and the footprint.  Foot prints for double wall tents can be designed to keep the moisture from getting in between the foot print and the tent body if made properly.  We will deal with double wall tents at another time.

Today we will be dealing with a foot print for a single wall tent.  In fact we will be making a floorprint for the tent.  Making a floor print for a tent is exactly the same as making a footprint.  We will also be making footprints (or floors) for the tent vestibules.

The sample tent will be the Bibler Bombshelter.

First,we will take a look at what we need to get started.  I will be using some old tarp siding from a portable garage.  You can use many different kinds of materials,  be it water proof already or just water proof it later.

This is not rocket science.  This is tent science.  Pretty darn easy.

Ideally you could take an original footprint and use it as a pattern.  I know.........if ya had a footprint you would not need to make one.  Ok, well then try to borrow one.  Bet REI would loan you one, just a thought.  If you can't find one you will have to skip the copy of the foot print part and go straight to making your footprint from scratch.

Here we have all the tools and materials to get started.  Sissors, black marker, tape measure, straight edge, and material.  I'm using a 1 X 4 as a straight edge.  Your straight edge does not need to be perfectly straight, just grap a 1 x 4 or similar straight edge.



A picture of the tent, from the rear, and the material we will be using.  This material is basicly a light weigh weather poof tarp like material and is rather heavy.  You can use as lite a material or as heavy a material as you like.  this material has seen duty as a garage siding for a year and then as a cover for a wood pile for 5 years.  It will now will make a good tent floor, and vestibule(s) floor.


Starting out we set the material right next to the tent.  Taking the straight edge we then draw a line down the material.  We will then cut down the line.  Set something on the cut edge to hold it down we then do the same thing on the other end of the tent body.  Remember that we are only making a floorprint/footprint for the tent itself and not the vestubials, yet.  Now cut down the line you just made with the straight edge and marker.


Here we have the piece that we just got done cutting out at the side of the tent.  Nomally at this point we would then place the material under the tent and use the straight edge and marker to mark the length of the tent as we just did the width of the tent.  Since the tent here is about 81 inches wide and the material we are using is 71 inches wide we will not need to do this.  I bet your asking, Won't that leave me 10 inches short along one side of the tent.  Yes, yes it will.  If you can get material that will cover the entire bottom that's just perfect, if not you can still continue.   As most of us spend most of our time in the middle of the tent rather than the eges of the tent everything will be fine if you split the difference and put your gear along the edge of the tent.  We work with what we have.

Remember that we are doing a footprint for a frestanding tent.  After you make your cuts to get your single floor piece the piece may be to wide depending upon the width of the material your.  Lets pretend that the material is 90 in wide and you have already made your two cuts for the width of the tent.  Now you would want to lift the tent up (which you can do because it's a free standing tent).  We will deal with a non-free standing tents at another time.  Place the tent on the material.  Stake the vestibules back down so that your tent does not lift off and fly away.  Now pull the material to one side or the other so that one side is just at the edge of the body of the tent.  Take your straight edge and mark where you want to cut on the opposite side drawing your line again along the body of the tent.  Pull the material out and cut.  The final decision on where you make your cuts will be determined upon how you will attach your footprint to the tent.  We will not be worring about that today.  So mark your cuts to the edge of the tent body or a few inches past.  Do not worry if you make a cut that makes your foot print a little short length wise or width wise.  All is well.  Stick on gromet tabs or regular brass gromets and some bungee will fix all of that.  We will deal with the gromet/bungee thing at another time. 


Now we will measure for the front vestubile.  Open the door and stick your tape meausre under the tent about 6+ inches.  Leaving the tape measure under the tent, pull the tape measue out the door.  Close the door of the vestibule. Now measure out 6 inches from the front of the vestibule.  Take this measurment and go cut another piece of material.

Now, I would guess that you've been gone just long enough to have your loved ones wondering.........golly gee, I wonder what he/she is doing.  Remember if any of your loved one's or someone your know comes out and tells you that this is not good enough becasue it doesen't look good or that's not very pretty or says "I'm not sleeping on that".   Ask them as kindly as possible if there is any sewing that needs to be taken care of or if any vichicals needs an oil change. Then continue on with the project.  ;-}>


After marking and cutting the second piece for the front vestibule sick it under the tent six inches and make sure it fits as this one does.  There are number of reasons to leave it this long.  Since you have 6 inches under the tent you can bend all the edges up into the inside of the vestibule giving you a water proof floor.  There are ways to attach the edges of the floor to the walls of the vestibule, but we will not be dealing with that today. Or you can leave it set up like this and put some self stick velcro on tent foot print and the vestibule footprint and they will be one (kinda special, huh) piece, at least movement wise.  Oh no, dang it, you messed up and cut it to short.  No worries,  take this piece to the back of the tent where low and behold you have a smaller vestibule that needs a piece of material.  Go back to the front and and remeasure for your second attempt and re-cut making sure you get it right this time.  This is how it should look with 6+ inches under the tent allowing 6+ inches to be out in fornt of the vestubile door as well.

At this point you can cut the corners of to match the six inches in front of the vestibule  door if you want.   I chose to leave them on as I can set cut them later.  This also gives you some extra material if you need to make repairs in the field.  Now, let's go to the abck of the tent.


At rear of the tent we will do the same thing for this smaller vestibule that did for the front vestibule.  Place the tape measue under the tent body 6+ inches.


Shut the door and measure out 6+ inches past the vestibule door. 
Not a great picture but I'm sure you've got the idea.


Now go measure out your piece of material, unless of cource you already have a piece from the mistake taht you may have made in the front.  If you did not write your measurement down then make sure your measurments are correct as you now are on the last piece of material if you bought your material.  Now that you have the right measurments go and cut it.


Bring the piece to the back of the tent and sick it 6+ inches uner the body of the tent.  Close the door and make sure you are 6+ inches past the front of the vestibule door.

Here is the reason I'm making a heavy duty floor for my tent.  Mogh the wonder dog.   Some dogs tread lightly.  The mastiff does not, he is heavy of foot and has very powerful nails.  Ya can't tear up my tent when ya sleep in it. 

I think well cut down the excess material on the back side of the tent.  Take the streight edge and draw a line 6+ inches out from the door as I did on the on both sides of the door.  Cut of the excess material.


His is how it should look.  I thought I had a better picture but I believe this get the point across.


Here are all the pieces you have cut.  Though there is not yet away to attach your footprints to the tent you can still use them as needed. Once your foot print is under the tent it will not move with the tent staked down and all your gear in it.


Not bad.  If you notice in the last picture the middle piece, the tent footprint has gromets already running up the sides along the length of the tent body.  There are also gromets actually on the end as well.  Your material will most likely not have any gromets in it.  Some tents will require that you cut the footprint a few inces under the tent.  In my case I'm 10 inches short on the width of the tent.  If I did not have gromets in the material already I would put on some stick on tabs with gromets and or put some gromets directly into the foot print.  You can then attach the foot print to the tent using bungee cord.    There are some gromets on some of the left over material that I will be using where I need more gormets.  When I do this I will post how it's done. These can now be used for either a tent floor cover or a tent foot print.  I can now just copy the piece and I will have both.

These footprints come a warrenty:

My warrenty to myself is I will make this work.  I can cut, slash, mark, and adapt as necessary.  I warrenty this foot print/floor cover for the rest of my life or the rest of the tent life which ever comes first.  There are no conditions under which this warrenty can be void.

Best warranty in the industry.

If you have any great ideas then use them in addition to what I just showed you.  This is just a starting point and should be used as such.  The way I do things is often dependent on getting stuff for free.  I love my expensive tents but not a chance I'm going to pay retail for a piece of cloth to stick under it.  Hope this helps someone.



8:22 a.m. on September 30, 2011 (EDT)
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For all my back packing tents I use the same footprint.

I picked up an ALP mountains tent at a second hand store, $5. The inner tent was cut up pretty bad. But the floor was in new shape. So I cut it out. Most of my backpacking tents are two person. So was this Alps. The shape of the tents are all a little differant, but who cares. I never stake out the footprnt. If its alittle big tuck it under, to small thats ok too. The footprint for the most part is to save the floor of the tent. That means the area right under you. Heck, how often do we use the very corners of the tent? Your footprint needs to be only as big as the area that you sleep on. So save on weight and make your footprint much smaller than the tent itself.

5:01 p.m. on September 30, 2011 (EDT)
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mikemorrow said:
"The footprint for the most part is to save the floor of the tent. That means the area right under you. Heck, how often do we use the very corners of the tent? Your footprint needs to be only as big as the area that you sleep on. So save on weight and make your footprint much smaller than the tent itself."

Because manufactures are in fact in business to make money not save you money it is excluded form the instructions with the tent that almost any kind of material can be used as a footprint.  They mearly suggest that one buys a footprint, their footprint, for their tent.  I see so many tent's that get thrown away cause the poles broke and or there is a rip in the fabric some where.  As most of the new tents are seam taped they would make a great footprints with very little effort.  Your footprint need not attach to the tent, that is mearly a convenience.  You can always stake your footprint down if nescessay if its a windy day.  If you don't want to drive stakes thru your footprint, use some rocks or some gear that your carrying to hold it down.  The prices that they charge for footprints border on the ridiculous and even obscene.  What is truly more ridiculous and even obscene is that people are willing to pay the prices that they command.  Footprints are mearly a piece of really lite material with a few loops or gormets in them, nothing more.  There is nothing special about them, nothing.   I once found a blanket in the woods when we were camping and shook it off and used it as a padded foot print.  It "grossed out" those who I was with, but it was mighty comfy.  But, in the end, I guess if you make it someone will buy it.  I like to make my own and save some big bucks for equiptment that I can't make.  When I came down to OR on my micro-brewery tour and vistited Rita and you (mikemorrow) and we got together on the beach I used a old Vietnam era poncho in the manner you are speaking for my four man tent.  As it was not big enough for the entire tent I used it as a front porch in front of the tent and it covered just the area under the tent which I would be moving around in and sleeping in the tent.  Save money, make your own.

6:32 p.m. on September 30, 2011 (EDT)
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I use my blue tarp for a footpring beneath my Mtn Hardwear tent. I use a 10x8 foot tarp folded in half.

6:54 p.m. on September 30, 2011 (EDT)
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Here is a neat little video that I have mentioned here a few times.

1:14 p.m. on October 1, 2011 (EDT)
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I made a footprint for my tent from a piece of Tyvek I bought on EBay. If you know anyone in the construction trades, you can probably get a scrap piece for free. It may be called "house wrap" or something similar. Run it through a washer to soften it up a bit, as it is very stiff when you get it.

I cut mine so that it is slightly smaller than the tent floor, otherwise, water will pool on it.  My piece was big enough for a two person tent, so all I did was lay out the tent, draw an outline with a magic marker and cut it with a pair of scissors, essentially the same process as Apeman.

1:40 p.m. on October 1, 2011 (EDT)
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I just wanted to throw out there for anyone viewing this thread that if you use Tyvek(or anything else for that matter) and have the thought that you want to paint/treat it think twice befoe you pull out the aerosol can.

Some paints/treatments have chemicals that will break down the structural integretity of your tent floor.

I had this conversation awhile back and just wanted to throw that info out there so noone finds out the hard way.

Happy hiking.

5:09 p.m. on October 1, 2011 (EDT)
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I have used a thin 2 mill painting draping plastic.  When it got holes in it bigger than the floor, I replace it with another one.

I currently use sylnylon - a bit heavier but will last longer and it is a bright color I can use to find the tent again in the dark (w/ reflective patches) or hang it out for SAR if my wife calls in before I get home.

2:24 p.m. on October 2, 2011 (EDT)
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As posted here on Trailspace countless times (and shown in the Backpacker video above, the cheapest easiest lightest weight way to do a footprint is to go to your neighborhood hardware store and buy a 3 mil 6'x9' "drop cloth" for about $5. Cut it to fit under the floor of your tent (doesn't matter if it is "free-standing" or has to be staked). You can get 2 footprints for most 2-person tents, while the 6x9 works for most 3-person tents (measure your tent to get the right size if you have a larger tent). When cutting the footprint, make sure that it does not extend beyond the edges of the tent - if you get rain, any extension beyond the tent boundary just collects the runoff and directs it under your tent floor. Some people making one for the first time extend the footprint into the unfloored vestibule. After the first serious rainstorm, they no longer make that mistake - keep the footprint to match the main tent's floor (preferably 1-2 inches inside the edges).

You should get 20-30 nights out of a 3-mil drop cloth. I have never found Tyvek to be satisfactory, though ultralighters seem to love it (Tyvek bleeds water when pressure is on it). A 3-mil plastic sheet is just as light and lasts longer.

2:46 p.m. on October 2, 2011 (EDT)
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Tent footprints are tricky little items.  On the one hand, I mainly want to protect my inflatable thermarest from punctures when inside the tent.  On the other, I want to protect an inferior floor from thorn or rock punctures.  So, for me the ideal footprint is one that is permeable and let's water pass thru but is stout enough to stop thorns. Nuts, right?


This pic shows the best use of a tent footprint in my mind---inside the tent.  As everyone knows, a hard deluge will cause ground sheeting and ground pooling, and I want no water between my tent floor and another external piece of material, hence the use of the inside footprint. All tentsites pool with a heavy enough rain, and this pool drains faster w/o an outside footprint.

In a ground soaking, a good tent floor will keep it out with no leaks, and if there are any leaks, or winter condensation, the above green tarp will keep it between the tarp and the floor.  Plus, and here's my biggest reason---I want to keep my thermarest pad puncture free---the added layer stops all thorns, etc.

This system works good for me but seems to work only on Hilleberg tents as they have stout 100 denier floors which never get pinholed---even after years of heavy use---but then again I do not backpack and camp on the PCT or in the deserts of California.

And if I do make a external footprint for a tent, it is much narrower than the width of the tent to prevent sandwiched pooling---maybe 40 inches wide max.  A footprint does not have to hang over the edge of the tent to get this pooling, it can collect water if the rain is hard enough to produce the "lake effect".  Hence the need for a permeable footprint.

A good tent floor is watertight, even when you sit up on the floor and put all your weight atop a spot that is saturated and like a sponge in the ground below you.  A poor or worn out tent floor, and this is common, will by pressure suck up thru the floor with enough weight.  This is called hydrostatic pressure, I think.  Put your tent on bare soaked ground and squat inside with all your weight on your butt and see if the ground water comes up thru your tent.  If so, it is either poorly made or worn out.

Many modern tents nowadays are made with superlight materials and this includes their floors---a bad sign.  I do not think tent makers should use the same material for their floors that they use for their tent flys.  Some do.

11:44 a.m. on October 3, 2011 (EDT)
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The use of shade cloth might address puddling issues as it would allow water to drain away while still providing robust protection for the tent floor. Seems to me the material for a two-person tent woulsdbe quite light as well. Anyone tried this?   

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