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Do You Need A Ground Sheet For Camping?

Blue and yellow tent with a ground sheet pitched on grass with mountains in the background

Camping is one of the most popular recreational activities, and there are countless products available to make camping as easy, stress-free, and comfortable as possible. Of all the camping equipment available, the least on your mind is probably the ground sheet, but it is arguably still one of the most essential pieces of camping equipment because it is the base on which your tent sits.

Do you need a ground sheet for camping? While a ground sheet is not required, a ground sheet under your tent, whether it is built-in or external, will provide extra comfort, protection, and warmth from the elements while extending the life of your tent.

While there are lots of different kinds of ground sheets on the market right now, there are also lots of factors that determine what type of ground sheet you may need. Picking the right one can make or break your camping experience.

In this post, you will find out why you need a ground sheet when camping, what you should look for in one, what factors will determine what you need, and some other activities you can use your ground sheet for, so continue reading to learn more.

Why You Should Use a Ground Sheet While Camping

It may just seem like an extra item to bring, but ground sheets can make or break your evening under the stars. The benefits include:

  • Extra bodily support from rocks, twigs, nettles, and hard earth while you rest. Camping is less than relaxing if you wake up with a sore back or stiff joints.
  • A barrier from bugs. There are plenty enough bugs outside as it is. You don’t need anymore in your tent.
  • It gives you protection from water leaks and rainfall. Nothing will put a literal damper on your camping trip than a leaky or flooded tent.
  • Tent insulation. It can be near impossible to get warm when all of your body heat is escaping into the cold ground.
  • It extends the life of your tent. The more you use your tent, the more likely it will wear out. A ground sheet can help protect the most vulnerable parts of your tent from wear and tear.

What Kind of Ground Sheet Do I Need?

What kind of ground cover you need depends on a few different variables. The most critical variable is the type of camping you’ll be doing.

Tent Camping

The most simple and basic kind of camping is usually done in a predetermined area, like at a public or commercial campground, for one or multiple nights. The ground of these campsites tends to be flat with soft soil and minimal rocks, twigs, or nettles. Because you’ll only be setting up one campsite, gear doesn’t necessarily need to be lightweight or limited by size or bulkiness.

Camping While Backpacking

These camping trips consist of walking during the day and setting up a campsite at night. Because you will be carrying gear from campsite to campsite in a backpack, camping gear for these types of camping trips needs to be lightweight or multi-use for a more comfortable hiking experience.

These trips don’t always have predetermined spots for overnight camping, and you may need to set up your camp in less than ideal circumstances, like rocky or muddy terrain.

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Other Factors That Influence Your Ground Sheet Needs

When choosing a ground sheet, it is essential to consider what type of camping you’ll be doing and the equipment you already have. Let’s walk through a few different things to consider.


The type of terrain you’ll be camping on is the number one deciding factor in determining if you need a ground sheet or not. If you’re camping on soft, dry earth, like grass or moss, you can probably get away with not needing a ground sheet. But if you’re camping on uncomfortable surfaces like rocks, tree roots, sand, or sharp nettles, it’s probably a good idea to bring a sturdy ground sheet.

Some ground sheets are explicitly made of densely woven materials that allow dirt, sand, and dust particles to fall through the tarp without coming back up. While these may be a bit pricier, they are an excellent choice if camping near the beach or in other sandy areas.


People choose to camp in all seasons and weather conditions. While camping in the summer when it is warm and dry is undoubtedly the ideal time of year for many, people still enjoy camping in the fall, winter, and spring seasons. Investing in a waterproof ground sheet can help ensure a dry camping experience regardless of any inclement weather.

In addition to investing in a ground sheet, you might also want to purchase a sleeping pad. Sleeping pads are very beneficial while camping, and this post will provide you with more information.

Tent Size

Before purchasing a ground sheet, measure your tent. Your ground sheet should be, at the very least, the same dimensions as your tent, although it should be a bit smaller so that water does not pool on the sheet sticking out from under your tent.

Be sure to read our post here for more information about using a tarp as a tent footprint.


Just because you don’t have a ton of extra money to spend on a ground sheet doesn’t mean you have to go without one. Ground sheets come in many sizes, materials, and thicknesses, with many varieties made specifically for camping, but these are not the end-all of ground sheets.

Other items like tarps, painters drop cloths, or polyethylene sheets work just as well as a ground cover for under the outside of your tent.

If you don’t have a tarp or painters drop cloth, you can also use blankets to provide extra padding, but unless it is waterproof, use them only on the inside of your tent.

The Problem With Built-In Ground Sheets

Also known as a camping tarp, ground cover, or tent footprint, a ground sheet is a material that protects the bottom of your tent from outside elements like bugs, rocks, twigs, and water. Before the advent of built-in ground sheets, people had to supply their ground cover for their tents.

Most modern tents already come with a ground sheet built it. Although some of the higher quality tents will have a ground sheet that is tougher and more durable than some of their lower cost counterparts, these ground covers rarely work as well as a separate ground sheet.

Typically, sewn-in ground sheets are not made of durable material, and because of that, they are prone to easy ripping and tearing. If your tent gets a hole in the bottom, you have to take the entire tent out of commission, rather than just replacing a single ground sheet.

How To Pick The Best Spot To Set Up Your Camp

Here is what to look for in a spot to camp, regardless of how tough your ground sheet is:

  • Flat & cushy. Choose a place that is not only comfortable but free from debris, rocks, and branches.
  • Check what’s above you. Steer clear of areas that have tree limbs overhead. Additionally, steer clear of areas that look like they could be in the way of avalanches or rockslides.
  • Check what’s around you. If you’re close to a body of water, it may draw wild animals, or if there is a stream, it could flood overnight. If you’re too close to an outdoor restroom, it may be too stinky. If you’re too close to a trail, it may be crowded and loud. Additionally, most places you will camp have regulations about when and where you can camp. Make sure to abide by the rules.
  • Give yourself space. The point of camping is to disconnect from the world, even if it is just for one night. Pick a spot that is quiet and not within too close a proximity to other campsites or walking trails.

Are There Other Uses for Ground Sheets?

Yes, there are many other uses for ground sheets. Not only do they come in handy for a tent footprint, but they are also handy for putting under your sleeping bags to keep your bag out of the dirt.

Ground sheets are useful when you are spending the afternoon at the lake as you are relaxing at the beach to keep you and your gear out of the sand. You can use ground sheets for a picnic blanket while at your local park or out hiking for the day.

In a pinch, you can use them for shade to give you protection from the sun, as a covering for over your tent and as a windbreak when you are in an area with more wind.

Before Camping

Do your research and decide if you really need a ground sheet, and if so, what kind would work best for you. Keep all tags and wrapping in the event you need to return the ground sheet.

Don’t forget to examine your sheet, even brand new ones, for rips or holes. Check the weather for the days you’ll be away and determine if you’re adequately prepared. Read about the campsite, its reviews, and talk to others that have stayed there before.

Lastly, set up your tent and ground sheet, then take it apart before going out. A dry run will give you the confidence to do it correctly when you are at your campsite.

Wrapping it Up

As you can see, ground sheets aren’t actually an item you need for camping, but they do provide many benefits when setting up camp for the night. They don’t cost an arm and a leg so you won’t have to worry about the expense.

Ground sheets make good tent footprints. And when sleeping on the ground or staying in a shelter, they keep you out of the dirt. They are an excellent item to have for camping because they are compact, portable, and have multiple uses.

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Ever since I was little I have been a traveler at heart. It all started when I was six years old and my family took a road trip to Alaska. I enjoy visiting new places and revisiting some of the great locations that I have been to already.