I have a lot of people ask me about footprints. The most common question isn’t which to buy or what to make one out of, it’s why do I not carry one. The simple reason? They’re non-sense.
Let’s think about this for a bit. Why buy a footprint in the first place? Well, the idea, innocently and logically enough is that an expensive ultra-light tent deserves and needs to be protected so that it lasts for as long as possible. After all, tents are soft and feathery while the earth is hard and sharp. The last thing anyone wants is to have holes punched into their brand new tent floor. But, there are several reasons why going with a footprint isn’t the best option.
Let’s start with a mathematical reason. Those of you who like number will appreciate their steadiness. Consider the popular Sierra Designs Lightning 2 FL tent. This is a feather weight shelter with very thin floors and walls. The tent weighs 3 lbs, 4 oz and costs $400. The manufacturer recommended foot print weighs in at 8 oz retailing for $40. That’s $440 and 3 lbs 12 oz when combined. You end up with two thin floors stacked up for protection from the earth (30 denier nylon rip-stop for the floor and an unusually tough 70 denier nylon taffeta on the footprint) and an inflated pack weight from the extra material.
Conversely, let’s consider another option. Instead of protecting a thinner bodied tent, you could opt to invest in the Lightning 2 (non-FL model) for $230. This weighs in at 4 lbs 9 oz and is built with a beefier and very durable 70d tafetta floor instead of the thin nylon floors of the former. Now, sure that’s a 13 ounce difference when added up. But consider the fact that you’ll be saving over 200 of your hard-earned bucks by going with a more durable version of the same tent (many companies offer heavier versions of their products). Not only will you be saving money, but you’ll be gaining a tougher overall shelter around thanks to the use of more substantial materials on the fly, thicker guy lines, and often sturdier poles, not just the tougher floor. Bonus? you can an apply the money you saved by purchasing a tougher tent towards other pieces of gear, like a UL sleeping bag, effectively cancelling out the weight difference while gaining durability and warmth. Another example is the Copper Spur ul2 and a footprint vs the Rattlesnake 2 without(both MtnGlo versions here) . $550 bucks at 3 lbs 9 oz or $350 at 4 lbs 2 oz. Just think about it. Does it really make sense to buy the lightest tent you can afford, then spend even more money on a footprint to just make it heavier again? Instead, you can choose the cheaper tent that’s already more durable and spend the money saved elsewhere.
Here is the other problem with footprints. Tent floors rarely actually wear out within the usable life of the shelter. Other components usually fail first. This is especially true with UL tents. The first thing to go on tents is usually the rain fly, but not from tearing or stretching. The walls of these ultra-light tents are usually built from a thin rip-stop nylon coated with two layers, one is silicone, and the other is polyurethane. The silicone is primarily for tear strength, and the polyurethane serves to provide some flame resistance. Both aid in weather resistance. The issue here is the polyurethane. As required by most state laws, it’s applied to the outside of the tent to avoid turning your shelter into a ribbed inferno when pitched too near the campfire. This same coating breaks down when exposed to the sun. UV rays deteriorate it at a chemical level. This rapid deterioration results in a fly that sags and starts to lose it’s water repelancy, eventually soaking up water and leaking. This normally happens much faster than most earth will erode a tent floor under normal conditions. The simple fact is that people are protecting a floor that will already outlive the rest of the tent. Have you ever wore through a footprint? Me neither, and thus logic dictates that you will probably never wear through a tent floor of (usually) the same material. If you do get a hole? Just patch it. It’s simple, cheaper than a foot print, and saves weight and pack space. The materials used are carefully chosen to be repairable, and it’s a mistake to not take advantage of that. Most reputable companies will even offer to repair it for you for free or at a very low cost.
Furthermore, footprints don’t really offer much protection. If you camp on a stick or sharp rocks and it’s damaging enough to damage the tent floor, it’s going to work it’s way through a footprint too. A sharp object will pierce through nylon, and it doesn’t matter how many layers of fabric you have. If you’re sleeping in your tent and grinding the tent floor into the object, it’s going to work it’s way through both eventually. I’ve tested this myself, and what damaged one layer always damaged the second.
My particular take, FL and UL tents are just fine without a footprint. This is especially true if your’e going with a solid brand like Big Agnes or Sierra Designs. I’ve carried mine for years and used them on every surface imaginable, and very rarely have I had any issues. When I had, it was not something that a footprint could solve. In many cases, footprints have actually causes more trouble via heavier pack weight, pooling water, and simply being of no real benefit.
So, that’s my logic and my thinking. At the end of the day it’s really up to the end user. Many can argue for having a footprint, and their arguments are usually quite valid. Whatever you choose to do, consider your options.
What are you thoughts on the subject? I’d love to hear them. Post below!