Do I Need to Put a Tarp Under My Tent? How to Setup

Have you ever been camping and seen someone put a tarp under their tent? Were you wondering why they were doing that and what the purpose could be? If you haven’t heard of putting a tarp under your tent, you should consider trying it out.

Should I put a tarp under my tent? While it isn’t necessary for you to have a tarp underneath your tent, you should consider doing so. When used properly, a tarp will protect your tent from punctures as well as reduce the amount of water seepage and mud that gets into your tent.

Tent with a tarp groundsheet


Should I Put a Tarp Under My Tent?

The need of a tarp under your tent depends on the kind of tent that you have. The main purpose of the tarp is to protect the bottom of the tent from being punctured. The fact that it reduces moisture is an added bonus. If there is no rain in sight and the ground is debris free, you may not need a tarp.

If you have a cheap tent, it is up to you on whether you use a tarp or not. Cheaper tents are only supposed to last you a few camping trips, but a tarp underneath might help you extend its life a little. However, a tarp will only make sense if you do not spend too much money on it.

It makes much more sense to place a tarp under more expensive tents. You will be working to protect the tent that you spent a significant amount of money on. No matter how confident you are that you have cleared all of the debris away from your campsite, it is best to use some added protection for expensive tents.

How Does the Tarp Help Keep the Tent Floor Waterproof?

Tarps help keep the tent floor waterproof because it is one extra layer between your tent and the ground. If you have a tarp that is too big for your tent, you might experience some pooling of water if you get caught in the rain. The floor of your tent will only be waterproof as long as your have the proper sized tarp underneath.

How Big Should a Tarp Under a Tent Be?

It is recommended for the best experience that your tent is 2 to 3 inches smaller than the dimenions of your tent. Having your tarp smaller than your tent will prevent any water from pooling up and seeping into your tent in the case of an unexpected down pour.

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Do Tents Leak When It Rains

Having the tent slightly smaller than your tent will also help protect the tent from mold and mildew that might build up as a result of moisture. Your tent will have a much longer life if you choose a tarp that is not larger than your tent.

How Do You Setup a Tarp Under a Tent?

Before you put the tarp down, make sure you clean the area the best you can. You want to make sure you remove all of the branches, twigs, rocks, and any other debris that looks like it could puncture your tent. Place your tarp on the ground where you want to put your tent.

Follow your tents instructions on how to put it together. Once it is set up, put it on top of the tarp and secure the tent to the ground. In some cases, tarps will have holes that your tent poles can be stuck through to be sure that the tarp stays in place.

This isn’t the case with all tarps, so you will want to find another way to secure the tarp to the tent. It isn’t always necessary but can be helpful when it comes to making sure the tarp stays where it should be during your entire camping trip.

DIY Tarps

If you don’t want to buy a tarp to put under your tent, you can easily make your own. You will need to purchase a material like painter’s tarp sheet, Tyvek, or a type of “shrink” plastic. Purchase the material of your choice in a size that is larger than the dimension of your tent.

You then need to lay the material flat on the ground and set your tent up on top of it. Take a marker or a Sharpie and trace the floor of your tent as accurately as possible. Of course, be careful not to get any of the marker on your tent.

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You will want to measure 2 inches inside the border of the outline to make the tarp smaller than your tent. After that, cut the tarp to the size you need, and you are good to go! Super simple, quick, and much cheaper than purchasing a specific tent tarp.

How Do Tarps Compare with Tent Footprints?

A tent footprint is a piece of fabric that is cut specifically to match the dimensions of your tent’s floor. In some cases, a tent footprint can even lift the tent off the ground slightly. Not only does this help with keeping moisture away, but it also prevents sleeping on the cold ground.

A tarp also has the ability to be cut to match the specific dimensions of your tent. A tarp will work to prevent moisture and debris from penetrating your tent. Tarps also provide other uses as well such as a cover while you are hiking. Tarps will not come prefabricated like tent footprints do, so they are not as efficient of a barrier between your tent and the ground.

Best Selling Tent Tarps

SaleBestseller No. 1
Amazon Basics Waterproof Camping Tarp, 7.5 x 9.5', Dark Green
  • Multi-purpose outdoor tarp is great for covering items or placement under a camping tent
Bestseller No. 2
Clostnature Tent Footprint - Waterproof Camping Tarp, Heavy Duty Tent Floor Saver, Ultralight Ground Sheet Mat for Hiking, Backpacking, Hammock, Beach - Storage Bag Included
  • A MUST FOR TENT: An extra tent tarp doesn't just give you extra waterproofing, it is used as ground cloths under tents to prevent wear and tear. There’s no question that an insulated tent footprint is a great idea to help protect your investment, definitely, the choice to extend your tent's life
Bestseller No. 3
REDCAMP Ultralight Tent Footprint, PU 2000 Waterproof Camping Tent Tarp with Drawstring Carrying Bag for Ground Camping Hiking (55"x87" UL Black)
  • DURABLE: REDCAMP waterproof tarp is made from 210T ripstop polyester fabric that is waterproof (PU2000mm)

Last update on 2024-04-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


When you are camping, it is super important to make sure you protect the bottom of your tent from moisture and debris that could cause tears or rips. If you are wondering, “should I put a tarp under my tent?”, the answer is most likely yes.

Putting a tarp under your tent can extend the life of your tent. By preventing moisture from penetrating your tent, you are also avoiding mold and mildew which can be dangerous to your health. A tarp underneath your tent can also protect it from getting ripped and needing replaced.