How to Set Up a Tarp Under a Tent

How To Set Up A Tarp Under A Tent

Sleeping and waking up in a soaking wet tent can make camping a miserable adventure. That is why many campers make sure that they bring a tarp with them to prevent the tent floor from getting wet and keep their gear dry. Although a tarp isn’t the best solution for all situations, it is still sufficient for most campers.

Putting a tarp under your tent will protect its floor from wear and tear and can also add extra insulation and prevent water from getting in by being a moisture barrier. Although it may seem easy to just put a tarp under your tent, in some situations, you will rethink whether it is truly a good idea. If you do not have the budget to buy a very expensive waterproof tent, then a tarp can be a lifesaver.

In this article, we’ve listed reasons why you need a tarp under your tent, what to consider when choosing a tarp, as well as the steps to set it up.


The heart of your campsite is your tent. No matter how comfortable your camp may be, if you do not have a good camping tent, your camping experience will not be as satisfactory as you want it to be. If you want to invest in a good tent, check out our article on the best tents for camping where we listed and reviewed the top tents available in the market today. 


What is the tarp under a tent called?

A tarp placed under a tent is called a groundsheet, ground cloth, or tent footprint. It is a waterproof sheet made of plastic that is used to cover the ground to protect your tent’s floor from wear and tear, improve overall comfort, and prevent water from getting in.


Why You Need a Tarp

1. Protection

Sometimes, developed campgrounds will provide you the best and easiest camping experience, but if you are more into primitive camping areas, you will need extra gear, like a groundsheet or tarp, to protect your tent’s floor from gravel, dirt, roots, and rocks, keep your tent clean, and make it easier to pack up after the trip.

Most times, you don’t have the option to choose the perfect camping area, and because you move around your tent while you are sleeping, changing, or just lounging inside, the friction from the ground may tear your tent. Thus, putting a tarp underneath will provide an extra layer of protection to extend its lifespan.

2. Waterproofing

Unless you are camping at a very dry location, the area where you will pitch your tent will likely be wet or get wet after a day or so. The moisture on the ground can be obtained from morning mildew, humidity, and rain, and putting a tarp under your tent will keep it from touching the wet ground. A tarp can also prevent condensation and water from getting in by acting as a barrier and will add extra resistance to moisture.

3. To keep your other gear safe

A tarp serves as an extra layer of protection for your camping gear. Sometimes, the ground can be so rough that it punches through the tent’s material, leaving tears that may be unrepairable. Having a tarp under your tent can prevent this from happening. It can also serve as a remedy if you have damaged your tent’s floor minutes before the trip.

4. Multi-purpose

Tarps do not only serve as protection for your tent but can also be used for any other purpose. For instance, they can be used as flooring for stargazing or picnics, shade, a tarp hammock, and even a wine cooler if rolled up. You can also use them as a slippery slide for the whole family to enjoy.

5. Gives you peace of mind

Packing a tarp for your camping trip will provide peace of mind, especially if you know how to use it. You will not have to worry about the tent’s floor getting damaged and dirty, nor about not having shade to protect you from the sun. Plus, you will not have to worry about sleeping in a wet tent ever again.


Setting up a tent in dry weather is preferable, but sometimes, you may be forced to set one up in the rain. This will make pitching your tent a little bit more challenging than usual. Follow our guide to setting up your tent in the rain to make sure that the inside of your tent stays dry.


Types of Tarps

  • Tarpaulin

    These inexpensive types of tarpaulins are very accessible and can be found in most hardware stores. A 43 x 67-inch blue polyethylene tarp costs $1 to $2 and often features reinforced hems and quality eyelets that are positioned in peg and ratcheting locations. These blue tarps are made with durability in mind.

  • Footprint and ground cloths

    These are tarps specifically made for tents. Most tent brands already have their own version of groundsheets, which often feature modern lightweight materials that are durable and can maximize resistance and drainage. Some quality footprints offer end loops on each corner to allow for a more secure ripstop pegging.


Things to Consider when Choosing Tarps

  • Size

    Your tarp should be a little bigger than your tent. However, going a bit too big can add extra weight and bulk to your pack, and a tarp that is too small will not protect your tent. That is why it is better to get a bigger tarp as you can always fold it if necessary.

    You could also buy a footprint tarp that matches the shape and size of your tent. It may cost more, but it will save you time in sizing out a tarp.

  • Material

    Plastic is waterproof as it doesn’t have any pores through which water can seep. However, this material can be noisy and annoying.

    Cheaper tarps are mostly waterproof, but not 100%, and can also get torn easily. Thus, a regular replacement is needed if you use yours often.

    High-quality tarps feature breathability and are lightweight. So if you have the budget for it, you can definitely consider this option.


Aside from using tarps, another way of staying dry during your camping trip is by using waterproof spray on your tent to reinforce its water repellent barrier. But, does waterproof spray really work on tents?


Steps for Setting Up a Tarp Under Your Tent

Step 1: Clean

Before anything else, you need to clean your camping area. Get rid of anything that can puncture your tarp, such as pine needles, pine cones, sticks, and anything pointy or edgy.

Step 2: Setting Up

Open your tarp on the clean ground. If it is windy, put your bags on the opposite corners to prevent the tarp from getting blown away.

Step 3: Position

Position your tent where you want it to be and fold the corners if it is too big for your tent.

Step 4: Peg It Down

Once your tarp is in your preferred spot, start pushing the pegs in the corners. If the ground is a little hard, you may need to use a mallet or something similar to push them in without damaging them.

Step 5: Unpack the Tent

Once you are comfortable with the tarp’s placement, you can unpack the tent while making sure its edges are in line with the tarp. The closer, the better. However, this does not need to be exact. You can push in the tent’s pegs and make sure the tent is stable.

Step 6: Double-check

Make sure that none of the edges are seen from beneath your tent as this can cause the tarp to pool in the water underneath. If your tarp is bigger, you can fold it underneath the tent. Make sure to roll the edges outward, so that water can drain away, thus preventing creating a puddle underneath the tent.

Once you are comfortable with your tent and tarp, you are done!



Using a tent tarp is an extra step that can greatly impact your whole camping experience. Some campers often skip this equipment thinking that using it won’t really make any difference, but they are wrong. A tent tarp not only protects your tent, it protects you as well.

It’s amazing how a simple sheet of tarpaulin can greatly improve your camping experience. The next time you’re packing for a trip, do yourself a favor and pack your tent tarp along with the rest of your camping equipment.

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