Gear Guy

Should I really put a ground cloth inside my tent?

There is a well known canoe camping writer that advocates using a plastic ground cloth on the INSIDE of your tent. He says that not only will you be drier in a downpour, but that it will protect the tent floor just as well as if it is placed underneath the tent. What are your thoughts on this subject? Dave Cbridge, Minnesota

A: This is a religious issue, Dave—you believe one thing, or you believe another. I'm a believer in Ground Cloth Under Tent, and here's why: The main job of a ground cloth is not to keep you dry, it is to protect the coating on the tent floor so the COATING keeps you dry. By putting a sheet of plastic between the floor of the tent and nasty, sharp sticks, grinding rocks, and abrasive mud of the forest floor primeval, you accomplish that goal. Putting a ground cloth inside the tent cannot possibly do that—I mean, how could it? The very idea is absurd. It's like taping the outside of your boots to prevent blisters.

As for keeping you drier, well, I doubt that. All modern, good-quality tent floors are coated with polyurethane, forming a completely waterproof barrier. So a floor that leaks is: A) defective, B) worn out, or C) standing in a two-inch puddle of water while a couple of 200-pound campers bounce up and down on the floor. Moreover, if moisture is getting into the tent through the floor, it will find its way into your gear, either by squirting out from under that inside-the-tent ground cloth, or by evaporating and condensing on something else.

Depart in peace, my child, and put your ground cloth UNDER the tent. Or you're gonna go to camper hell.

Support Outside Online

Our mission to inspire readers to get outside has never been more critical. In recent years, Outside Online has reported on groundbreaking research linking time in nature to improved mental and physical health, and we’ve kept you informed about the unprecedented threats to America’s public lands. Our rigorous coverage helps spark important debates about wellness and travel and adventure, and it provides readers an accessible gateway to new outdoor passions. Time outside is essential—and we can help you make the most of it. Making a financial contribution to Outside Online only takes a few minutes and will ensure we can continue supplying the trailblazing, informative journalism that readers like you depend on. We hope you’ll support us. Thank you.

Contribute to Outside
More Gear