Since I dumped on Outside Magazine’s Gear Guy last week, I may as well make up for it in response to a consumer-friendly response to a reader who wonders if there’s really any need to buy one of those special footprints REI and other outdoor retailers sell. The gist of the reply:

A tent footprint or ground cover simply helps protect the floor of the tent from abrasion. …
How necessary this is, well, that’s an open question. I mean, we used to pitch tents without footprints all the time, and I can’t recall anything bad coming from it. … Still, on rough, gritty ground, it’s a way to protect your investment (as is pitching the tent in the shade and staking it out tightly so it can’t thrash around). ..

But I don’t think you need to buy a purpose-built footprint.

I confess I’ve bought a couple of those made-to-fit footprints. They’re tough but a bit heavy for backpacking purposes. It makes just as much sense, as Gear Guy advises, to use cheap plastic from a hardware store.