shelter and footprint setup Tarp, bivy and tent footprint

Back when I bought my first backpacking tent at REI, I bought into the hype that by god if you put all this money into your backpacking tent, you need to protect that investment by buying a footprint to protect the tent’s floor. Well, if you camp out 300 nights a year it might be worth it, but no less a personage than Rick of Best Hikes fame once told me he never uses one, and he’s backpacked everywhere.

But a funny thing happened as my buyers’ remorse wore off: I found myself using the footprint far more often than the actual tent.

While a tent might weigh over 4 pounds, a footprint is 12 to 14 ounces of sturdy nylon you can use just about anywhere you need a layer between you and the ground. Granted it’s way heavier than Tyvek or a thin sheet of plastic, but it’s built not to wear out, so you’ll probably never need to buy another one.

When I decided my backpacking tent was too heavy and passed through my tarps-and-shelters phase, I tossed the tent’s footprint in my pack and always had a nice ground cloth. The picture above is the shelter setup I used on on my White Mountain adventure with Four Wheel Bob. It included a tarp, bivy and tent footprint, all weighing in at less than 2 pounds. Of course I could’ve had a much lighter shelter if I felt like buying more specialized gear, but I threw this kit together from stuff already in my gear closet, which strikes me as more practical/sustainable. (Standard caveat: your gear must match the conditions you expect.)

I’m still not sold on the idea of adding 30 bucks to the cost of a tent you might use three times a year, but I have no regrets about the footprint I ended up buying. If you’re spending a lot of time among desert thorns or camping out on rocky surfaces, then you might want to go ahead and shell out the extra bucks. Otherwise, though, your tent’s probably tough enough for soft dirt.

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What about the rest of you? Share your wisdom in the comments.