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Ground cloths: Inside or under the tent?

Besides being a hiker and backpacker, I'm a canoe tripper.  I've not only done trips down rivers in the West, I've done several trips in the Boundary Waters.  There is a well known Boundary Waters canoe camping guru named Cliff Jacobson.  He says that the ground cloth should go inside the tent for two reasons.

1-most of the wear occurs on the inside, not the outside.

2-any water from a leaking floor or condensation will stay under the plastic, keeping your sleeping bag dryer (Drier?). 

Someone asked Backpacker magazine about this and the guy that responded seemed to think it was just about the dumbest thing he'd ever heard.  There were two basic points to his argument.

1-he's worried about punctures coming from the outside, not inside.

2-if there is water in your tent, the tent is either defective or damaged.

Welcome to the real world.  I've woken to water in my tent.  Hard to say where it came from.  I've been on group canoe and backpacking trips where other campers had problems with water in their tents.  It does happen, and if it does, you will stay dryer (Drier?) if you have a sheet of plastic inside your tent.

I agree about punctures coming from the outside, but the waterproofing is on the inside of the tent and easily worn through.  If you have a lot of mosquito netting, condensation probably isn't a problem, so I'd take a look at the design of your tent.

If you are going camping and anticipate some serious rain or cold temperatures with high humidity, the safest thing to do, in my view, is use a footprint and also put a plastic sheet, cut slightly smaller that the floor, inside the tent.

For me I carry a ground cloth only to protect the bottom of my tent from things on the outside, especially today's light weight tents. If I have water in the tent I either need a new one or pitched it in a poor spot, and I do that rarely due to extreme pickiness...often spending an hour or more at the end of the day finding a good site. I have hiked in many consecutive days of rain, and in fact prefer that type of weather to heat and sun, and the amount of water getting in during deluges is usually minimal...a bit pooling in the corner near the door etc that can be dabbed up with a pack towel or old sock. Condensation alone never seems to produce enough to do more than the occasional drip. 

I much prefer a tarp to fend off the dew, roll out my foam pad, and enjoy.  Tents are fine in bad weather, or when there are privacy concerns.  I rarely use, if ever,  a footprint ,and I don't see what an extra plastic sheet will accomplish, other than burden you with extra weight

I don't disagree with that -  but don't you use a ground sheet under the foam pad?  I take my Tyvek sheet along when I don't carry the inner for my Tarptent just to keep the dirt and moisture off the sleeping pad.  I guess it depends on climate when you are camping.  I am in the rain more often than not.

If I am using a tent, there is a ground cloth under it.  

Punctures and sharps come from below, not above.

Vastly more condensation originates from the soil, versus the interface of the tent floor and sleep system.

A ground cloth protects from soiling the tent bottom.  I can contain what gets dirty by folding the ground cloth clean side out, whereas a tent floor in direct contact with the ground will spread that dirt to the entire tent, and compound mildew management issues. 

The WP coating wears out primarily due to chemical degradation, having nothing to do with user activities.  In fact most people put tents up in storage with intact tent floors, only to find the seam tape and coating peeled while stored away.  If you are wearing out the coating by physical contact with the occupants and equipment, the entire shelter is likely also worn out from wind stress, UV damage, and should be retired. 

Carrying two ground cloths seems redundant - like using two condoms.  More protection?  Yes, in theory.  But if you need that level of protection, perhaps you should reevaluate your technique.  FWIW, I don't know anyone who ascribes to either of these practices.

Ed

  

Lots of discussion on this topic.  I clean the ground before using a tent and never use a ground cloth. .  I use a ground cloth on the bare ground under a tarp. 

I have seen plenty of people get soaked when the ground cloth peeks out from under the tent. 

I use a tarp under my tent. I like to protect it from sharp things. If there is water on my tent floor on the inside, I spilled something. My tent is 12 years old and still does not leak thru the floor, whether rain gets under it or I am camped on snow or moist Alaskan tundra.

Ground sheet under the tent. 

It's purpose is literally in it's name - to be between the ground and the tent. Otherwise we'd call it a floor liner (which is a real thing, but more in car camping tents in my experience). 

Well for what it's worth, my friend Tipi Walter (who essentially lives in a tent), subscribes to the "inside the tent" ground cloth method. He chooses tarps for this purpose by pressure testing them; I think his default test is sitting on them in a puddle or tub and watching for hydro-static penetration.

I only use a ground cloth with my super thin tents and I go under the tent. 

:) I can vouch for Phil's stringent site selection proclivity: our first trip together we walked an extra mile or so looking for that perfect spot (we backtracked to the best one). 




Speaking of site selection, one of the hardest places to find a good spot I've seen was at the base of Downs Mtn last year in the Winds:


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I challenge this statement a bit:

most of the wear occurs on the inside, not the outside.

I suppose it depends on the size of your tent floor and how you use it. For me, there isn't really any space inside for me to be doing anything that would be causing wear from the inside -- I'll squat in butt-first, sit on my quilt and pad, then get under the quilt. I'm actually now with a tarp + groundcloth setup so don't have a floor to worry about. But even when I did, I didn't have room to walk around inside, but I suppose if there had been then I could be wearing on the floor. I still think that if the floor gets sandwiched between my foot from above and a rock from beneath that the bottom of the floor would receive more wear.

Patman said:

Speaking of site selection, one of the hardest places to find a good spot I've seen was at the base of Downs Mtn last year in the Winds:


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DSCN4986-M.jpg

OUCH!

 

 

So, personally speaking..............I buy my tents to last a lifetime. I've had tent floors wear out from the outside as well as the inside. It usually depends on the application/specific use of the tent. It's hard to wear out the inside floor of a bivy when the only thing that fits into it is a pad and a sleeping bag. On the other hand it's really easy to wear out the inside floor of a base camp tent.

I try and use a outside footprint as well as and interior footprint as it does not make sense to me to save the outside of the floor only to wear out the inside and visa-versa.

I usually use the original brand name footprint for the outside of my tents and either Tyvek or the floor of old cheap broken cabin tents for the inside of my tent as it does not need to fit exact or have and loops or fasteners sewn in for the interior.

Patman is being kind about my camp site OCD...causes a lot of extra wandering with sometimes little gain! That is an awesome view and a tough pitch if the tent. Hope the sleeping rock was comfy and flat!

Apeman...that is interesting. I have worn out several tents but it's the fly or mesh that go first for me. Usually overexposure to UV degrading the fly and seams getting beyond repair status on the doors from years of use. I've got to stop lolly gagging around in camp and take the tent down earlier. 

I'm with Phil, the sun does by far the most damage to my tent.  The wind is probably second.  The bottom coatings on my tents usually just deteriorate with age.  In fact I'd be just fine if the OEMs stopped coating the floors, because it just ends up being extra, useless weight after a few years. 

As for tent floors wearing out: I do not like hanging out in my tent.  I am in the tent only in bad weather, and almost exclusively for sleeping.  If I need shelter while awake, I hang out under a dining fly, or a natural overhang. Tents are too claustrophobic for me to be hanging out in.

I am also with you, Phil, about camp site selection.  It drives me nuts when my companions drop their packs at the first piece of ground when we arrive at our destination.  They are just too tired to make the effort to find anything better.  These sites often are not level, and lack good placement for everyone's shelters and a place to cook.  I tell them to just kick back, I'll find us a good spot.  But many times I come back to discover they couldn't be bothered waiting, and made camp at that spot, anyway.  We end up not only have an inferior camp, but they have taken all the decent tent sites, leaving me to camp on an uneven slope, studded with rocks or roots.  Gee, thanks for thinking of me guys...

Ed 

FlipNC said:

Patman is being kind about my camp site OCD...causes a lot of extra wandering with sometimes little gain! That is an awesome view and a tough pitch if the tent. Hope the sleeping rock was comfy and flat!

Apeman...that is interesting. I have worn out several tents but it's the fly or mesh that go first for me. Usually overexposure to UV degrading the fly and seams getting beyond repair status on the doors from years of use. I've got to stop lolly gagging around in camp and take the tent down earlier. 

I agree, usually the fly get's sun damaged long before floor goes out.  The worst case of this occurred on the first tent I ever bought......... a TNF Ring OI.


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20ish years after buying this tent in 1979 the fly finally succumbed to UV degradation.  After and attempt to repair it, being unsuccessful, I had this heavy duty fly made that is Silicone impregnated as well as UV resistant.........the word Silnylon was invented after this fly was made.   It is was a super heavy duty experimental material that was actually made for the rafting industry.  The guy who made it using my old fly as a pattern said he would never make a fly ever again.

10 years after the fly was made the floor on this tent became so thread bare that it is now not waterproof.  I'm thinking of having it replace and will start with TNF warranty.  I've had very good luck with TNF warranty.........I'll see if they will fix this for me.  TNF has replaced all the zippers on this tent twice and all the mesh, the door and both windows once. 

I've since found a unused original blue fly like my original blue fly on Ebay for $110.  Note to self, never buy a tent with a blue or dark color fly if one might have to stay in it for long periods of time.  I often search Ebay for extra flys and footprints for tents that I like.  Once I find a tent I like I tent stick with if for decades.

I once had to spend 9 full days/nights in this this tent on a motorcycle trip when I got stuck in the snow in Lake Tahoe.  That's a lot of time in a tent.

This tent is my good friend.

whomeworry said:

I'm with Phil, the sun does by far the most damage to my tent.  The wind is probably second.  The bottom coatings on my tents usually just deteriorate with age.  In fact I'd be just fine if the OEMs stopped coating the floors, because it just ends up being extra, useless weight after a few years. 

 

I've only lost one tent to wind............and then it was found a week later.  While I was making the last attempt to fix the UV damaged fly I walked away from the above Ring OI and when I came back the wind had taken it away.  After canvasing the neighborhood I found that one neighbor saw it blowing away but did nothing to stop it.  It took me a week to canvas the entire neighborhood and finally found that it blew over a guys 6 ft. fence into his back yard, a block and a half from my house.  By that time the fly was destroyed but the tent body only suffered on hole in the floor.  It was fixed by the guy who made the new fly for me.  When set up properly I've never had an problem with wind, but have been in camps where many of the tents we destroyed by winds/rain/hail.

It was not the coating that went bad on the floor of this tent but it's just plain worn out after 40 years worth of use.  Kinda, like those blue jeans that are so worn out that one just cant wear them anymore.

I remember a lot of discussion about fixing tents and have a lot of respect for you guys that undertake it...I use it as an excuse to shop and maybe shave a few ounces or try something different. Now canoes I'll repair but thats a hobby I enjoy. 

FlipNC said:

I remember a lot of discussion about fixing tents and have a lot of respect for you guys that undertake it...I use it as an excuse to shop and maybe shave a few ounces or try something different. Now canoes I'll repair but thats a hobby I enjoy. 

I cannot think of a tent for sale today, at least one I would buy that I would bother fixing if it needed a major repair or part replaced that was not covered under warranty.  Todays tents for the most part are throw away tents, much like most of todays consumer items sold in the USA.  Couple that with the fact that most tents are so mass produced that one can just go on Ebay a year after the tent comes out and by it for 25%+ of list price and a slightly used one for 50%-70% off.  I must say though that tents with silicone waterproofing are much easier to recoat than urethane based waterproofing.

 

As far as the above tent in my post, the TNF Ring OI, goes.  As I bought that tent for $179 in 1979...........put $200 into the heavy duty fly, $110 on the unused replacement original fly, I think that's a reasonable investment over 45+ years.  If TNF will replace the floor for free all the better.  If not I'd expect that it would cost $200 for a new floor.  With a new floor the tent will be near mint, again........not bad for 45+years of use.  I regularly see the TNF Ring OI's in mint condition go for $1200+ on Ebay.  I still have the original instructions that came with the tent that I carried with me when using the tent for the first 35 years.  It is an iconic tent that was revolutionary when it came out in 1979 and set the standard for all dome tents that came after it, even if those standards have now been exceeded.

 I have never lost a tent to wind, but know someone who did.  They and a companion were in a NF V24(?) that blew away with the occupants inside.  Do not know the extent of damage; they escaped but lost the tent and a bunch of gear to the night. 

stormwalls.jpg
Above:  Cooking dinner in a ground effect blizzard: Mt Langley @ 13,500’ late January, air temp: -6°F (day time) wind speed: ~45mph.  The aforementioned VE24 weathered this event just fine.  It was only a few hours of sundown winds.  The two blurs in the center of the image are my companion and moi.  This blizzard was on a trip prior to the one where the VE24 was blown away.     

I also know of a few instances where the wind caused a seam failure, or ripped where a guy line lash point was attached.  But none of these instances are what I was alluding to, regarding wind aging a tent. 

Much more often the wind will just rag doll the tent.  I had some tents that held together fine through such abuse.  But over time such exposure will tug on the seams to the point you can see daylight through the needle points where the seam threads pass through the tent walls.  That is the damage I allude to.  IMO that warrants retiring the tent, or semi retirement to car camping and bluebird weather outings.  I avoid having erect tents when the winds starts folding the tent (>40 mph), unless I have a revetment to hide behind.  Most of my high wind experience was in the snow - I prefer a snow shelter to a tent in those conditions.

Ed

I love that pic Ed. I would have been afraid to walk far enough away from that camp to take that photo (at least without a tether) :)

A couple of years ago I was camping in a high gap of Shining Rock wilderness and awoke to find my head being pinned to the ground with a lot of pressure. My mind raced in the first few nano-seconds to determine what was happening (bear? tree? big-foot?). I soon realized it was the poles of my tent ( A Big Agnes Copper Spur 3). The wind was so strong it was flattening the tent on top of me. I had to get my stuff together and find somewhere else to be. Luckily it wasn't raining, and it was pretty comical to see me out there like some crazy giant star-fish, all spread out trying to take down that tent without losing it. Those poles are permanently bent but still work OK so I didn't get them repaired. 

UNDER

Patman said:

I love that pic Ed. I would have been afraid to walk far enough away from that camp to take that photo (at least without a tether) :)

A couple of years ago I was camping in a high gap of Shining Rock wilderness and awoke to find my head being pinned to the ground with a lot of pressure. My mind raced in the first few nano-seconds to determine what was happening (bear? tree? big-foot?). I soon realized it was the poles of my tent ( A Big Agnes Copper Spur 3). The wind was so strong it was flattening the tent on top of me. I had to get my stuff together and find somewhere else to be. Luckily it wasn't raining, and it was pretty comical to see me out there like some crazy giant star-fish, all spread out trying to take down that tent without losing it. Those poles are permanently bent but still work OK so I didn't get them repaired. 

I like the pic a lot more than being there in person.  Based on other pics from the dame camera  appears the shooter was about 10' from the tent.  Yep, you don't dare go more than 10 - 15 yards from camp without a tether in this instance.  The wind only lasted about two hours; high winds are common at sunset, in mountains and deserts.  They're called Sundowners.  By last light it had blown itself out.

I've had to relocate a few times, due to high wind.  I've also resorted to just removing the poles and wrapping the tent and fly around us in an improvised 2P bivi, en situ.  Glad I carry ear plugs and like my tent mates.    

But admit it, Patman, you like to use the bent poles because they are a trophy and souvenir of sorts, like body scars, an unspoken endorsement that you've been there; you got moxie.  Now why you insist on bringing moxie instead of beer on the trail is a topic for around the fire...

Ed

I use a polycryo heat shrink window film sheet under the tent and that after a good inspection of the area for offending rocks and sticks. I camp a lot in the Pacific Northwest where mud and rain runoff are always a possibility. I cut the sheet a little bigger than the tent bottom and roll the edges under, creating just a whisper of a berm to help direct water under the ground sheet vs between that and the tent floor. You never want it to extend out beyond floor and make a cold bathtub. It is nice to have all the wet evergreen needles and mud stuck to the plastic sheet than my tent bottom. Inside would be insanely slippery too. 

If I had a big rowdy dog, a Tyvek sheet inside would be nice. I never had a problem with my mutts, but I saw a tent floor trashed by a very energetic Lab trying to dig his way out (BAD DOG!).

Good points.  Folks from the PNW are among the most rain savvy outdoors people I've met.

I have used the berm technique, too, creating it with lose sand or duff under the edge of my ground cloth.  But mostly I rely on picking a spot that is local "high ground", and stay dry because the tent is not located in the path of drainage from above.

Ed

Picking a spot is a hypothetical. Most campsites are well used (abused) and the ground is compacted and otherwise not ideal. Puddles happen. Mud is. If there is duff on the ground, I trace out a shallow channel to direct any water away from the tent and scatter it all when I leave. 

 

I use a tarp as a ground cloth under my tent as needed.

Throw away tents?  I have a Sierra Designs tent that has been everywhere and is 30 years old.  I have a canvas wall tent that is 40 years old. 

When it gets really windy as in over 50mph, I have taken the poles out of my SD tent and sleep in it flat.  The dog and I could breathe okay and the sand went right over the top of us.  I never use a ground cloth. 

Throw away tents?  I have a Sierra Designs tent that has been everywhere and is 30 years old.  I have a canvas wall tent that is 40 years old. 

When it gets really windy as in over 50mph, I have taken the poles out of my SD tent and sleep in it flat.  The dog and I could breathe okay and the sand went right over the top of us.  I never use a ground cloth except under a tarp with no floor. 

Throw away tents?  I have a Sierra Designs tent that has been everywhere and is 30 years old.  I have a canvas wall tent that is 40 years old. 

When it gets really windy as in over 50 mph, I have taken the poles out of my SD tent and sleep in it flat.  The dog and I could breathe okay and the sand went right over the top of us.  I never use a ground cloth except under a tarp with no floor. 

Picking a spot is a hypothetical. Most campsites are well used (abused) and the ground is compacted and otherwise not ideal. Puddles happen. Mud is. If there is duff on the ground, I trace out a shallow channel to direct any water away from the tent and scatter it all when I leave. 

I would say hypothetical on overused areas along trails, but there are many areas (even here in the crowded eastern us) where you can wander off trail and find pristine camps where picking the right spot is real and needs to consider both the ideal and the practical, including what if any footprint you might leave behind. Part of my site selection routine is a last photo of the campsite to look back on and see if I can tell I was there.

good words Phil.

ppine, how come your post is up three times in a row?

GaryPalmer said:

ppine, how come your post is up three times in a row?

 He probably was having trouble posting it and hit submit 3x and they all posted.

Whenever I go Backpacking, snow camping, etc., I also air out all items that were used.  I start with the sleeping bags at the local laudramat, I place them in the largest dryer available.  Turn the drier at the loest setting for about seven minutes along with a couple of tennis balls!  I also place my tent in a drier also, especially after snow camping.  Then laid them items away stored properly.

As for the ground cloth, I always place mine underneath the tent for when summer camping for I can not remember a camp area that I woun not use some sort of protection for my ten floor.  Even "the" time I camped on the beach, I used a ground cloth.  The smooth soft sand can be similar to sandpaper once weight significant weight in the tent.

Boulder Strider said:

Ground cloths: Inside or under the tent?

 If it's on the inside of the tent, can it still be called a ground cloth?

The groundsheet goes on the outside.

It'll be the first to go in terms of abrasion, saving the tent, but as-importantly (here in a wet and muddy climate) it saves the tent from getting dirty (not completely, but significantly) and the ground sheet is MUCH easier to clean than the tent - be it at home or on the trail in a stream.

If you want something on the inside, fine. I do. My recommendation is a silver foil foam mat. One too thin to use as a sleeping mat but deep enough to give some cushioning and reflective means the floor remains very warm.

https://smile.amazon.com/Aluminum-Waterproof-Sleeping-Insulated-Footprint/dp/B06XYLMS4Q/

A few more uses of a good ground cloth...

the old Tyvek sheet comes out at lunch to give me a nice spot to spread out, take a nap, or this weekend to relax in a shaded grassy spot without worries about ticks.

At night the ground cloth comes out immediately and I lay on it to test the slope of manth camps to get the right lie and orientation of my tent.

And finally on a clear night I shift it a bit to give me a "porch" under my vestibule where the white background helps me find things, especially in the moonlight so I don't have to ruin my night vision with a headlamp.

BTW, something that gets people confused, a lot of groundsheets have a shiny side and a dull side. Which side goes up? Shiny side up, dull side down.

I agree Pixiepoo under and coated side up.

We use our footprint as a sunshade too. It is a dual usage piece of gear. 


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Under 

Always. If the ground is damp it will make the bottom of your tent damp. 
Increasing the chance for mould or deterioration of the bottom of your tent. 
Also easier to dry out 

I use a lumber tarp for a groundsheet. They're free and light. 

WAY better than wearing holes in your $$$ tent floor.

In the age of ultra light weight backpacking a ground cloth is the first thing to leave at home. 

I have had tents wear out from UV deterioration but it takes a long time.  I have never lost a tent to a worn out floor. 

Several of my tents have no floor. 

Flat out, a footprint will extend the floor of your tent for many, many years to come.  After wearing out and having the floors of tents replaced, I would not leave home without a footprint.

I equally believe in cutting a piece of Tyvek for the inside of my tents as damage does occur from abrasives getting into the tent and wearing out the floor from the inside of the tent.  I speak from experience, at least my experience. ;)

I happen to know Cliff Jacobson and I've followed his advice for years.  I put the plastic sheet inside my tent.  Recently back from a boundary waters canoe trip complete with three days of rain but we stayed dry inside my MSR Phatom (Moss Little Dipper).

October 17, 2021
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