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  1. #1

    Default Ground cloth debate

    Until today, I never new there was debate on this topic...

    In another location, a poster strongly suggested that the prevailing wisdom of using a ground cloth below the tent floor was incorrect. This was their argument:
    if your “barrier” is between the ground and your tent and there’s water in your tent you’re screwed. If there’s water on your tent floor and there’s a barrier between you and the floor, you’re obviously less likely to get wet.


    Someone else posted this link:
    https://www.cliffcanoe.com/post/2018...rd-really-hard

    I'm not sold (at all) on this theory, but I'd be very curious to hear others perspectives on the topic.

    To be totally transparent, I don't regularly use a ground cloth. When I do, it's purely to protect the bottom of the tent floor so it lasts longer, and I've always put it between the tent and the ground.


  2. #2
    Registered User Majortrauma's Avatar
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    Only reason I use a footprint "ground tarp" is to protect the bottom of my very expensive Hilleberg Nallo 3GT.

  3. #3
    Registered User ldsailor's Avatar
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    I have a Tyvek cover sheet from Six Moon Design. I place it under my tent. It was purchased and used for my thru-hike on the Arizona Trail. The reason it goes under the tent is to prevent sharp things from penetrating the bottom of my tent and possibly my inflatable sleep pad. I have had it under my tent in torrential downpours, snow and cold ground and it has provided excellent protection. I have never had rain penetrate my tent.

    In a previous tent (Tarptent Rainbow) there has been condensation that created a very small pool of water even on non-rainy nights, but it never created a problem. My current tent does not have this problem.

    I read the article. I have never had the "pressure wick" problem where water will get into the tent. The floor of my tent is waterproof, so I don't even see how that would be possible.

    I currently use a Durston X-Mid.
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  4. #4

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    If you are camped in a location where excess rainwater could pool, having the ground sheet between the ground and the tent will do nothing to stop water from entering a tent with a poor/fair hydrostatic-head floor. A ground sheet in this location would merely be a tent floor protector from debris, etc..

  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by martinb View Post
    If you are camped in a location where excess rainwater could pool, having the ground sheet between the ground and the tent will do nothing to stop water from entering a tent with a poor/fair hydrostatic-head floor. A ground sheet in this location would merely be a tent floor protector from debris, etc..
    Sure, agreed on that. But do you think it would actually help in any meaningful way if it were above the tent floor either? I've always come at this from a perspective of using it as a 'tent floor protector' like you said. Never really considered either implementation scenario in terms of preventing water intrusion.

  6. #6

    Default

    Use to protect bottom of tent. A few ounces penalty to protect a key and expensive piece of gear. Hate to damage tent floor at the beginning of a long distance hike.

  7. #7

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by CalebJ View Post
    Sure, agreed on that. But do you think it would actually help in any meaningful way if it were above the tent floor either? I've always come at this from a perspective of using it as a 'tent floor protector' like you said. Never really considered either implementation scenario in terms of preventing water intrusion.
    Yes. If you are using tyvek, or a cut-to-size walmart tarp, it will impede water from entering the tent due to the higher hydrostatic pressure of these items versus the tent. Best way to know for sure is to create a little pool of water in your yard and test it out. It's also good to know what your tent can handle when it comes to monsoon-levels of rain.

  8. #8
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    I’m in the “ground sheet is to protect the floor of the tent” camp; the bathtub-style floor prevents water intrusion well enough that I’ve never thought of a ground sheet as a factor in that regard. To be upfront I’ve never used one myself but I recently got a new tent and decided the floor was worth protecting so I picked up some window film.

  9. #9
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    I actually do both, sorta.

    I'm OCD enough to want to use something underneath my tent in order to keep it a little dirt and mud-free when packing up, so I have a custom cut piece of Tyvek for that.

    Since I always carry one of those SOL emergency blankets anyway, I put that down as a "floor sheet" whenever conditions warrant. I tend to do 98% of my tenting in the colder months, and this helps as a barrier between me, my stuff, and the cold damp floor. The silver also helps reflect/refract light from my headlamp, and makes the interior seem brighter (which is nice when the days are short and the nights are longer.)

    I've never had any water up-springing, even though I have been sitting there waiting to float away plenty of times. (Although I can't say the same for the Coleman and Eureka tents of my youth....)
    fortis fortuna adjuvat

  10. #10
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    Never needed anything but the cuben groundsheet in my Hexamid … over hundreds of nights of use, never had a hole.

    But I did buy the footprint for my copper spur UL1 which I just received. Two reasons: the floor is much more fragile than cuben fiber. Also, the footprint is needed to set up the tent in “fast fly” mode without the inner tent. I want that ability both to save weight on trips where bugs are not likely and to be able to set up the rain fly first and the inner second if it is raining. I tested doing that and it works.

    so I think the answer is “it depends”. Like much of everything.

  11. #11

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    Put the ground cloth under your tent. Far more hidden puncture threats from outside than inside.

    Don't wear boots and be careful with hard/sharp objects inside the tent.

    Not buying the follow-up rationale from this statement. Sounds all science-y but IMVHO it doesn't reflect reality...

    Contrary to popular belief, a layer of plastic under your tent will not discourage tears or holes in the tent floor.
    UL, because nobody ever asks "How can I make my pack heavier?"

  12. #12
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    The ground cloth was one of the lessons I had to learn for myself, a method that worked for me, the gear I carry, and how I use it. We all obviously have had different experiences. I'm certainly not going to tell an experienced hiker or camper that they're doing something wrong.

    I don't use one any more. I carried one for my first thru on the PCT, then stopped. Part of the journey for me was carrying a floorless tarp for a while, then a tarptent with a light silnylon floor that did have wicking issues. I learned how to select well-drained campsites, and how to deal with a wet tent floor if that's not possible. A big part of my decision was not wanting to pack up one more wet and/or dirty thing in the morning. I had a great conversation once with Henry Shires about it, and he told me they never get a tent returned for floor repair. I hiked the CDT and AZT, with lots of nights in rocky tundra and cactus forests. I eventually retired my 7000-mile-plus tent with failing canopy guy points and zipper, but the floor was fine.

  13. #13
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    If the groundsheet is a bit larger than the floor and or somehow gets water over itself , you could then , with your weight, cause some moisture to come through the floor. So the trick here is to make sure the grounsheet is a bit smaller than the tent floor and it is positioned so that it does not stick out.
    To better understand how water can penetrate, keep in mind that a tent fly with a 1500mm waterhead will keep the rain out most of the time, a rain jacket needs to be in the 5000/10000mm range to do the same. Old timers will remember canvas fabric to be waterproof but you could brake that surface tension simply by touching it and then water would drip in.

  14. #14
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    I agree with the premise for keeping you dry, the best place for the ground cloth is INSIDE the tent. Especially as your tent ages and if you are in the slop like wet snow. If you want to protect your floor there is an argument on sharp objects to place it under the tent but on a long trip and/or over time, I'm not sure you are really meaningfully making a difference. Abrasion occurs and an extra 20 denier layer of nylon isn't exactly iron-proof protection from poking micro-holes in the floor. About 99% of the time I use no ground cloth and I focus on picking a good site with drainage. People have delusions about tents just like they do rain gear. There is nothing that is going to keep you 100% dry in really wet conditions and you have to learn to manage moisture using your head, not a thin layer of nylon.

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    And just to continue beating this poor dead horse, I thought I'd mention something I forgot in my earlier post --

    As I said, I do put a cut piece of Tyvek under my tent, primarily to keep as much mud & wet off the bottom as possible. But it is true that in a crappy tent site that is low-lying & scalloped, water is almost certainly going to find its way between the groundsheet and the floor of the tent...and in some super-duper ultra-light tents with a very low hydrostatic head, water will probably start springing through the floor (DCF being the exception, of course.)

    I don't have a super ultra-light tent, but as a hedge against water getting in between my tent and groundsheet, I will find some small branches or sticks that I put underneath the very outer edge of my groundsheet -- this lifts the edge up and allows water to go where it belongs.

    I've only actually done this a couple of times when knew I was going to have a downpour, but it worked out well.
    fortis fortuna adjuvat

  16. #16
    Registered User scope's Avatar
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    I think this is relative to campground camping. Most of those tents have relatively stout floors, and usually only minimal flys to keep rain out. With likely going in and out regularly in those, I could see putting down a floor on the inside for tracked in moisture and dirt to collect underneath. The only other way I'd see the inside floor as a viable use is when your tent has some worn areas in the floor and its not worth the protection of the floor as much as keeping a better floor put your stuff on inside.

    Otherwise, the putting the floor inside is total BS. But I hammock so what do I know, lol. (used to tent)
    "I wonder if anyone else has an ear so tuned and sharpened as I have, to detect the music, not of the spheres, but of earth, subtleties of major and minor chord that the wind strikes upon the tree branches. Have you ever heard the earth breathe... ?"
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  17. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by Franco View Post
    If the groundsheet is a bit larger than the floor and or somehow gets water over itself , you could then , with your weight, cause some moisture to come through the floor. So the trick here is to make sure the grounsheet is a bit smaller than the tent floor and it is positioned so that it does not stick out.
    This is the main problem with a groundsheet, having to be careful to make sure it doesn't protrude from under the floor.

  18. #18

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    Many years ago the Boy Scout Handbook showed how to dig a trench on the uphill side of a tent to divert rain runoff. A serious LNT no-no nowadays.

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    There's a few tricks with the ground sheet and one is to definitely have it a little smaller the the tent to prevent water coming in-between. Next if rain is expected I try to camp somewhere where water will not be pooling, at least some drainage away from the tent. Next, and very important, if rain is expected I always make sure the edge of my groundsheet (a roofing material similar to tyvek but much more waterproof and durable, and not much heavier) is propped up all the way around. I put little sticks under the edge of my groundsheet to make sure of this. This way when water comes flowing it flows under the groundsheet and never in-between.

    I've had streams flowing under my tent while my floor stayed good. It is inevitable to eventually get a little water in-between, especially near the edges with heavy splashing rain. I was usually able to dry it out decently with my camp towel from the inside of my tent just opening the door and reaching under.
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  20. #20
    Registered User NY HIKER 50's Avatar
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    no one mentions this: It keeps the bottom of the tent clean as well so there's less to clean up later, besides protecting the floor.

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