do you need a tarp under your tent 4
do you need a tarp under your tent 4

Are you wondering if you should put a tarp under your tent? This age-old camping debate has left many campers uncertain about the necessity and benefits of using a tarp as a protective layer.

While some argue that a tarp can provide an additional barrier against moisture and sharp objects, others believe it may trap condensation or damage the tent floor.

In this article, we will explore the pros and cons of using a tarp under your tent, helping you make an informed decision for your next camping adventure.

Do You Need A Tarp Under Your Tent?

Review contents

What is a tarp?

A tarp, short for tarpaulin, is a versatile piece of outdoor equipment often used as a protective covering. Made from various materials such as polyethylene, canvas, or nylon/polyester, tarps are lightweight, durable, and resistant to water and tear. They come in various sizes and shapes to suit different needs and can be easily folded and stored when not in use.

Purpose of placing a tarp under a tent

When setting up a tent for an outdoor adventure, using a tarp underneath can provide several benefits and help ensure a more enjoyable camping experience.

Protection against moisture

One of the primary purposes of using a tarp under your tent is to protect the tent floor from moisture. Even if you choose a waterproof tent, the ground underneath can become damp due to rainfall, morning dew, or high humidity. Placing a tarp underneath is an additional barrier, preventing moisture from seeping through the tent floor and keeping you dry and comfortable throughout your camping trip.

Additional insulation

A tarp can also provide additional insulation from the cold ground. When camping in chilly weather or on colder terrains, the ground can sap away body heat, making you feel colder inside the tent. Placing a tarp between the tent floor and the ground creates a layer of insulation that helps retain warmth and keeps you cozy during your camping adventure.

Prevention of tent damage

Tarps can act as a protective layer, shielding the tent floor from potential damage caused by rocks, twigs, or sharp objects on the ground. They create a barrier between the tent and the ground, reducing the risk of punctures or tears on the tent floor.

This can help prolong the lifespan of your tent and save you from costly repairs or the need for a new tent altogether.

Factors to consider before deciding on using a tarp

While using a tarp under your tent offers numerous advantages, several factors must be considered before deciding.

Weather conditions

Before using a tarp, consider the weather conditions you will likely encounter during your camping trip. If you are expecting heavy rainfall or camping on wet terrain, using a tarp can be highly beneficial in keeping you dry and preventing moisture from seeping through the tent floor. However, in arid climates, a tarp may be less necessary.


The nature of the camping terrain should also be considered when deciding whether to use a tarp under your tent. If you pitch your tent on rough or rocky ground, a tarp can provide an extra layer of protection against potential damage to the tent floor.

However, a tarp may be less crucial if you are setting up your tent on a well-maintained campground or soft grassy surface.

Tent type and quality

The type and quality of your tent can also influence your decision to use a tarp. Higher-end tents often come with a built-in groundsheet or a highly durable tent floor that may not require a tarp for protection. On the other hand, if you have a budget or entry-level tent, using a tarp can help bolster its protection and longevity.

Personal preference

Lastly, personal preference plays a role in determining whether a tarp is necessary for your camping setup. Some campers prefer the added peace of mind and protection a tarp provides, while others may find it unnecessary or cumbersome. Consider your camping style, comfort level, and priorities before deciding whether to include a tarp in your camping gear.

Benefits of using a tarp under your tent

Using a tarp under your tent offers a range of benefits that can significantly enhance your camping experience.

Enhanced waterproofing

Placing a tarp under your tent creates an additional layer of waterproofing. This extra barrier helps prevent water from seeping through the tent floor, ensuring you stay dry and comfortable during rainy conditions. Investing in a quality tarp can be particularly beneficial in areas with unpredictable weather or during seasons prone to heavy rainfall.

Reduced condensation

When camping in humid environments, condensation can become a significant issue inside the tent. Placing a tarp underneath can help reduce condensation by providing a barrier between the tent floor and the moist ground. This separation helps minimize moisture transfer, keeping the tent’s interior drier and more comfortable.

Added comfort and insulation

A tarp can provide additional comfort and insulation, especially when camping in colder weather. Placing a tarp between the ground and the tent floor creates a buffer that helps retain body heat, making your camping experience more enjoyable. Additionally, the extra padding offered by a tarp can provide a softer surface to sleep on, enhancing overall comfort during your outdoor adventure.

Extended tent lifespan

Using a tarp under your tent protects the tent floor from potential damage caused by rough terrain, sharp objects, or abrasive surfaces. This added layer of protection can significantly extend the lifespan of your tent, saving you money in the long run by reducing the need for repairs or replacement. It is worth noting that a tarp cannot eliminate the risk of damage, but it can help minimize it.

Do You Need A Tarp Under Your Tent?

Disadvantages of using a tarp under your tent

While there are many advantages to using a tarp under your tent, it’s also essential to consider the potential disadvantages.

Added weight and bulk

Using a tarp under your tent means carrying additional gear, which can add to the overall weight and bulk of your camping supplies.

This can be a downside if you are trying to keep your pack light or have limited space. It’s essential to balance the benefits of using a tarp with the added weight and bulk it brings to your camping setup.

Potential additional cost

Tarps come in various price ranges, depending on the material, size, and quality. Investing in a high-quality tarp that offers adequate protection may require an additional cost. While this added expense is a one-time investment, it’s essential to consider your budget before including a tarp in your camping gear.

Increased setup time and complexity

Setting up a tarp under your tent can add an extra step to the pitching process, potentially increasing the time and complexity of your setup. If you prefer a quick and straightforward setup, using a tarp may not align with your camping style. Considering the additional time and effort required when deciding whether to use a tarp is essential.

Types of tarps suitable for use under a tent

When considering using a tarp under your tent, choosing the right type of tarp for your specific needs is essential. Here are three commonly used tarps that are suitable for use under a tent:

Polyethylene (PE) tarps

Polyethylene tarps are lightweight, versatile, and affordable. They are commonly used in camping due to their water resistance and durability. PE tarps come in various sizes and are relatively easy to clean and maintain.

Canvas tarps

Canvas tarps offer excellent durability and are ideal for long-term camping setups. They are heavier than other tarps but provide superior protection against UV rays, wind, and rain. Canvas tarps are also highly breathable, reducing the risk of condensation inside the tent.

Nylon or polyester tarps

Nylon or polyester tarps are lightweight and compact, making them popular for backpackers and hikers. They offer good water resistance and are quick-drying, making them suitable for camping in wet environments. Nylon and polyester tarps are also more resistant to mold and mildew.

When choosing a tarp, consider its durability, water resistance, weight, and portability to ensure it meets your specific camping needs.

Do You Need A Tarp Under Your Tent?

Proper tarp setup techniques

To maximize the benefits of using a tarp under your tent, it’s essential to follow proper setup techniques. Here are some critical steps to consider:

Choosing the right size

Ensure the tarp you choose is slightly larger than your tent’s footprint. This will ensure proper coverage and protection from moisture and potential damage. It’s better to have a tarp that extends beyond the tent’s edges than one that is too small and leaves areas exposed.

Laying the tarp flat

Before placing your tent on top, lay the tarp flat on the ground. Smooth out any wrinkles or folds to create a smooth and even surface. This will help prevent any discomfort or unevenness inside your tent.

Securing the edges

Once the tarp is flat, secure the edges by folding them under or using stakes or heavy objects to hold them down. This will help keep the tarp in place and prevent it from shifting or bunching underneath the tent.

Creating a slight slope for water runoff

To prevent water from pooling under your tent, create a slight slope in the tarp. This can be achieved by placing additional objects, such as rocks or sticks, underneath one corner of the tarp. This slight incline will allow water to run off, keeping the area underneath your tent dry.

Alternative methods to using a tarp under your tent

While using a tarp under your tent is common, alternative methods can achieve similar results. Here are a few alternatives worth considering:


Groundsheets are specially designed to fit the exact dimensions of your tent and are placed directly under the tent floor. They protect against moisture and potential damage without carrying and setting up a separate tarp. Groundsheets can be particularly useful when weight and bulk are a concern.

Foam or inflatable sleeping pads

Foam or inflatable sleeping pads offer additional insulation and comfort while protecting the tent floor from moisture. These pads can create a barrier between your body and the ground, reducing heat loss and providing a softer surface to sleep on. While they may not offer the same level of protection as a tarp, they can be a lightweight and convenient alternative.

Tent footprint

Many tent manufacturers now offer footprints, custom-sized ground cloths explicitly designed for their tents. These footprints are made from durable materials and fit perfectly under the tent, providing moisture protection and preventing damage to the tent floor. While tent footprints can be a bit more expensive than standard tarps, they offer the advantage of a perfect fit and ease of setup.

Consider these alternative methods when deciding on the best option for your camping needs.

Do You Need A Tarp Under Your Tent?

Tips for maintaining and caring for a tarp

Proper maintenance and care are essential to ensure your tarp’s longevity and effectiveness. Here are some helpful tips:

Cleaning and drying

After each camping trip, clean your tarp thoroughly using warm water and mild soap, if necessary. Avoid harsh chemicals or abrasive brushes that could damage the tarp’s surface. Once cleaned, allow the tarp to dry completely before folding and storing it to prevent mold or mildew growth.

Proper storage

To prevent damage, fold and store your tarp correctly when not in use. Storing it in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight or extreme temperatures is best. Avoid folding the tarp when wet, as this can lead to mold or mildew growth. Instead, allow it to dry completely before folding and storing it.

By following these simple maintenance tips, you can ensure that your tarp remains in good condition and ready for use whenever needed.


Using a tarp under your tent can provide numerous benefits, enhancing comfort, protection, and the lifespan of your camping gear. By considering weather conditions, terrain, tent type, and personal preference, you can determine whether a tarp is the right choice for your camping setup.

When using a tarp, choose the appropriate type, follow proper setup techniques, and consider alternative methods that suit your needs. With proper care and maintenance, your tarp will remain a reliable companion on outdoor adventures, ensuring a more enjoyable and comfortable camping experience.

Do You Need A Tarp Under Your Tent?

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Vihaan Case
I am Vihaan Casein, a camping expert and the first person behind the survival tips website, With years of experience in outdoor living and exploring, I have gained invaluable knowledge and insights that can help individuals navigate through various challenging situations. Being an avid camper and adventurer, I have encountered numerous survival scenarios and found effective strategies to overcome them. My passion for outdoor activities has driven me to continuously explore new techniques and gather practical knowledge that I can now share with my readers. My expertise extends beyond just camping and survival skills. I have also worked extensively in the industry and collaborated with reputable brands to bring high-quality camping equipment and tools to the market. This hands-on experience has given me a deep understanding of what it takes to thrive in outdoor environments.