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3 Popular Ground Cloths for Your Thru-Hike

A ground cloth or footprint is used to protect your tent or shelter floor from sharp objects such as rocks, sticks, pine cones, etc. that can easily puncture the bottom of your tent. A ground cloth reduces the chances of this occurring by providing a barrier between the ground and the shelter floor, and also helps keep dirt and moisture out.

Paul Bodnar       Educational       8/16/2021
Paul Bodnar
Educational
8/16/2021
a thin sheet of transparent plastic

Polycryo Ground Cloth

Polycryo is made from cross-linked polyolefin which is an extremely tough and puncture resistant plastic. Because of the high strength of Polycryo it can be made super thin and still be a useful ground cloth. The Polycryo we tested was measured to be about 0.3 mm thick and weighed only 1.4 grams per square foot.  Polycryo can be cut with scissors and modified to fit your exact needs shaving off even more grams from your pack.

Pros

  • Lightweight (about 1.4 grams per square foot at 0.3mm thickness)
  • Affordable (about $0.41 a square foot)
  • About 5 times lighter than Tyvek®

Cons

  • Slippery plastic feel
a thin sheet of paper

Tyvek® Ground Cloth

Tyvek® is a synthetic material made from high-density polyethylene fibers. It is durable, lightweight, breathable, and water resistant. It is primarily used to protect the sides of buildings and houses from the elements.  Because of these great qualities Tyvek® also makes a great ground cloth. It is also easy to cut into the desired shape. The Tyvek® we tested measured about 1.4 mm thick and weighed about 7.1 grams a square foot.

Pros

  • Lightweight (about 7.1 grams per square foot at 1.4 mm thickness)
  • Affordable (about $0.57 a square foot)
  • Thicker than Polycryo

Cons

  • Heavier than Polycryo
a tent tarp

Manufacturer Tent Footprint

A footprint that is designed for the tent is typically made from silicone-coated ripstop nylon. This type of ground cloth is designed for the specific tent so there are attachment points that make it easy to setup. The weight of these silicone-coated ripstop nylon (about 6 grams per square foot) ground clothes are heavier than Polycryo but are usually little lighter than Tyvek®.

Pros

  • No need to cut the ground cloth
  • Thicker than Polycryo
  • Lighter than Tyvek®
  • Easy to setup

Cons

  • Heavier than Polycryo
  • A lot more expensive than Tyvek® and Polycryo
a graph of how many grams different tents weigh

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Photo courtesy of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association

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About the Author
A man wearing an Arizona Trail baseball cap stands in a field in front of a mountain.

Paul Bodnar

Paul has always liked hiking and thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 1997 after college. After years of working in chemistry, he wanted to create a career involving the outdoors, so he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail again in 2010 to do research for his guide book Pocket PCT. He realized that creating a smartphone app for navigating the outdoors would make it easier to keep the data current and provide a better way to navigate. While hiking with Ryan (aka Guthook) in 2010, they decided to work together to create the first comprehensive smartphone guide for the Pacific Crest Trail. Now with the help of a team of great people they have created over 50 guides for trails around the world.