Should You Put a Tarp Under a Tent?

Last Updated on 07/12/2021

Should You Put a Tarp Under a Tent

Should You Put a Tarp Under a Tent?

Should you put a tarp under a tent? Modern hiking tents often have thin groundsheets, but the addition of a tarp under your tent can significantly improve your protection. In addition, fitting a tarp under your tent can give you extra dry space in your porch and help you to stay a little warmer, too.

If you camp out in a lightweight hiking tent, you can spend a long time agonizing over the perfect spot to pitch your tent. Your micro-site selection needs to be free of water, rocks, sticks, and anything spiky that can puncture your tent. The addition of a camping tarp underneath your tent can give you a little peace of mind.

There’s a lot of different ways you can fit your tarp, though. There are also some situations where you may choose not to take the tarp with you. So we’ve put together this guide to help you decide whether the tarp under tent setup is right for you.

Benefits of Using a Groundsheet

There are lots of benefits to using a tarp or groundsheet underneath your tent, here they are:

Improve waterproofing

Improving waterproof protection is the most common reason you choose to put a tarp under your tent. However, even the best quality tent floors have their hydrostatic limit. Adding a waterproof layer underneath your tent will limit how much moisture can get through your tent floor.

Even if you search, sometimes it’s not possible to find a site for your tent that isn’t wet. For example, long grass or areas subjected to prolonged rainfall can quickly saturate the groundsheet of your tent. In this case, the moisture can slowly seep through if you don’t add extra protection underneath your tent.

When pitching your tent for several nights, the addition of a groundsheet underneath your tent means that you won’t need to move location even if it rains heavily. A site that looks perfect in the dry may take on a very different appearance after heavy rain. Adding a tarp can limit your chances of waking up wet.

Increase warmth

Anything that insulates you from the ground is going to be a bonus. For example, a tarp under your tent gives you one more barrier between you and the frozen ground in winter. You’re less likely to freeze up, too, because the moisture will find it more challenging to get to your groundsheet.

Protect the underside of the tent

It’s not always easy to spot something that might puncture through your tent. For example, sharp stones, sticks, or thorns can easily tear holes in your tent floor and cause damage to your sleeping gear. But, of course, any holes are also obviously an issue for keeping dry.

It would be best to start by making sure your area is as clear as possible. Fitting a footprint under your tent will protect you from anything you miss. Tarps are only one layer, though, and it isn’t an answer to drop one down onto any old ground. Damage to your tarp can be as problematic as damage to your tent.

Create dry ground in the porch area

It’s not just you and your sleeping equipment you want to keep dry inside your tent. Gear storage is vitally essential, and sitting your pack on the ground to soak up water can lead to uncomfortable days on the hill.

If you position your tarp to fill the porch area or some of the porch area, you can create space to stow your gear correctly. Having a dry porch area also stops you from having to take your bag into the tent with you, so you get more space to stretch out.

Keep the inside tent dry

So we’ve mentioned waterproofing. But it’s not just moisture from below that having a tarp under the tent can prevent. You can use your groundsheet to flatten down long grass or plants, which would otherwise brush against the inner of your tent and drip water on you.

The ability to create a dry porch area, too, stops you from bringing in additional moisture with you. In addition, it gives you somewhere to stow your gear, so you don’t have to try to dry wet clothes and boots internally.

Drawbacks of Putting a Camping Tarp Under Your Tent

If you are willing to carry the extra weight of a groundsheet, then there aren’t many downsides to using a tarp under your tent, but here they are anyway:

Extra weight

A tarp may not weigh much, but everything adds up. Even the most lightweight option will weigh something. If you’re looking for something durable, lightweight groundsheets may not be appropriate either.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do to protect the underside of your tent is to select a different spot altogether. A tarp is excellent, but you may get away without one if you are picky about where to pitch up.

Can funnel water under your tent if not set up properly

Collecting rain under your tent is the main issue and stems from improper use rather than a fault with the actual tarp. If you set your tarp up wrong under your tent, it works like a giant bucket. Your tarp can gather water which can slowly soak through the floor of your tent.

We will look at how to set up your tarp correctly, but as you can see, it is always a good idea to put a tarp under a tent.

What Size Tarp for Under Tent?

The size of tarp you need is going to depend on how big your tent is. It would help if you had a tarp that covers the underside of the inner of your tent.

As a rough guide, the following table will tell you what size you should need, but we explain how to measure precisely in the next section.

  • 1 Person Tent: 1 x 2 m / 3.3 x 6.6 ft Tarp
  • 2 – 4 Person Tent: 3 x 3 m / 9.9 x 9.9 ft Tarp
  • 4+ Person Tent: Combination of Multiple Tarps

Check out our review of the DD Hammocks 3 x 3 m tarp HERE.

How to Figure out What Size Tarp Under Tent You Need

Many tents have custom footprints available for them. If you are using a tarp, you can save on carrying weight by cutting it to fit the precise dimensions of your tent.

Measure your tent internally and externally and take note of the dimensions. Check to see whether there is a specific groundsheet available for your tent online. If not, pick a suitable sized tarp and consider altering it to fit the specific dimensions of your tent.

Decide whether you want a tarp to fit under the inner of your tent, or whether you need it to fill the porch space, too. Porches are often odd shapes and folding your tarp to fit these precisely can be difficult. A tent-specific footprint, or tarp that you have altered, can make this process easier.

How to Put a Tarp Under A Tent

Here is a simple guide to putting a tarp under your tent in 5 steps:

Step 1

Your groundsheet, or tarp, should be the first step in pitching your tent. Often, you will see people pitch their tent and then add the groundsheet afterward. Unfortunately, adding your groundsheet after pitching your tent usually ends with your tarp getting bunched up and often pooling water.

Step 2

Start by checking the ground in your selected spot. Just because you’re putting down a tarp doesn’t mean you don’t need to move things like sharp rocks or sticks. Next, check that you don’t have water flowing through your site, or the risk of flooding from overflowing streams around you.

Step 3

Shape your tarp by folding it into the right shape for your tent if you need to. Remember to lay your tarp out how you want your tent to face. For example, if you wish to have the door facing in a particular direction, position your tarp to sit correctly.

Step 4

Peg your tarp down to stop it from blowing away. Most tarps or groundsheets come with attachment points where you can peg them without damaging them. If you are going to create your own, consider adding grommets or something similar so you can peg your sheet down.

Step 5

Once you have your tent placed over your tarp, check that it sits as it should. You should also check that you have no overlap, where the tarp is beyond the outer of the tent. Any overlap is going to collect water as it drips from the exterior of your tent, and you’ll be sleeping in a giant puddle.

Do You need a groundsheet under a tent

7 Things to Consider When Using a Tarp Under Tent

Here’s our quick rundown of factors to consider when using your groundsheet under tent setup.

Size of the tarp

It would be best to carry a tarp that fits your tent but isn’t so large that you have to fold it over several times to get the shape right. If your tarp is too small, you don’t get the full benefit, but a too big tarp is bulky and unnecessary to carry with you.

Measure the shape and size of your tent before you get your footprint tarp.


As with all outdoor equipment, tarps come in a variety of materials. These range from heavy-duty polypropylene to more lightweight polyester designs. When you pick your tarp, try to find the suitable material for your needs.

You will want a material that is waterproof, but durable enough to withstand being on the ground for multiple nights. It can be tempting to go for the heaviest-duty option available, but remember that you have to carry your tarp in with you.


We’ve said this before, but we’ll repeat it. You have to carry your tarp with you. A heavy-duty tarp might be the most waterproof and durable, but it’s probably unnecessary for what you need.

Find a balance of weight and durability that suits you. If you’re camping for longer, your decision to carry a heavy-duty tarp may be justified. On the other hand, if you plan to move on regularly, a lightweight footprint is more likely to fit easily into your pack.

Eyelets and attachment points

Your tarp needs to be pegged down to stop it from moving or blowing away. If there are no points to peg your tarp down, you will end up making holes in it, which can tear. Buy a tarp with eyelets or points for attaching it to pegs, or create your own if you have the skills and need to.

Extra pegs

Chances are, your tent will come with just enough tent stakes to secure it. If you use some of these pegs to secure your tarp, you won’t have enough left to peg out your tent.

We hope this article answered the question of whether you should put a tarp under your tent, but feel free to get in touch with any questions.

Gear Assistant
Gear Assistant

This article has been written and/or edited by Andrew N. 20+ years of hiking, mountaineering, and camping experience, with access to all the latest outdoor gear.

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