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  CyclingSite > CO Collected Wisdom > What to Take > Camping Equipment > Ground Covers
    Do I really need a ground cover?  
    Yes, you need a ground sheet.

All that nasty grass, dirt, cattle droppings and mud will get on the cheap plastic, waterproof sheet not on your more valuable tent.

The sheet also protects your tent against rocks and other sharp objects that might puncture the tent floor.

And finally it will keep your tent bottom dry just in case it rains and your campsite becomes a wetlands.

Carry the plastic sheet in large plastic garbage bag to keep the dirt etc... from spreading in your duffle bag.


Consider this: we may camp in a field that was a pasture just a few days earlier. Or we may be camping in a recently harvested hay/wheat/oat/etc. field now filled with stubble. The ground cloth can be folded "dirty side" in (in case of meadow muffins), or it may blunt the occasionally quite sharp stubble stabbers that might otherwise poke holes in the floor of your nice new tent.


Others have answered this one very well. Mostly it is to protect your tent floor from what is under it.

However there is one other reason - most tent floors are made out of fabric covered with plastic. As you tightly fold that fabric (roll up the tent) it will develop very small holes at the intersections of the threads. You can make this take longer on some tents by varying the direction you fold it prior to rolling. Eventually all tent floors will leak. The floors made out of the stuff all these blue tarps are made of (usually in tents it is gray or tan) start leaking fairly quickly.

Rox Heath

All of the advice that this has triggered is good.

Among all of these replies, wear mitigation is one of the more important consideration.

The fastest way to wear a tent out is to avoid using a ground cover. It is much easier and cheaper to replace a ground cover than to replace a tent.

Be sure to bring a plastic garbage bag to put the ground cover in when you break camp. Invariably, the ground cover will be coated with dew and what ever else clings.

When you set up your ground cover in the afternoon, use a whisk broom to clean it off for the night.

Curt Coleman

The typical blue plastic tarp that you find covering pickup truck loads and other piles of stuff is ok until it gets a little worn. It does not take much. My solution, derived from 13 years of camping with my three Boy Scout sons is a piece of 6 mil plastic sheeting cut to about 6 inches less than your tent floor shape, with an extra "flap" in front of each door of your tent to act as a "front porch" - a place to bang off the dust and other stuff (!) you might pick up in a CO camping pasture. When you go to sleep fold it back under the tent in case it rains during the night. You do not want your ground cover to act as a trough for the rain which rolls off your tent and rain fly. When you fold up the plastic sheet, pick it up with the wet/dirty side down and shake it off, folding it once to keep the wet/dirty side inside, and roll it up into a compact bundle. Fasten with a stout rubber band or small rope. When you get to the next campsite, open it up in the typical afternoon sun and it will dry off quickly. Shake the rest off, and place the dirtier side down. Get a whisk broom for your tent and sweep it out each morning prior to breaking camp. It will pay big dividends all around.

Curt Coleman

Polyethylene sheeting works better, and packs better. Do not let it extend beyond the outline of your tent, or when it rains your floor will be a swimming pool. Bring another small 3' by 4' piece and some clothes pins to keep the dew off your bike as well.

Dana C. Ham

This may not be very intuitive, but it is REALLY IMPORTANT to cut your ground sheet to the exact size of you tent, or smaller, but NOT larger.

The reason that you don't want it larger is that when it rains, you do not want rain landing on the groundsheet and then pooling up under then tent. Those who have done this the wrong way won't need to be told a second time, but I thought that it was worth pointing out for the newbies.

For what it's worth, I use one of the reusable (fabric reinforced) space blankets as a ground sheet. Tough enough to last several trips, cheap enough to throw away, and one side is red so you know which way is "up".

Andrew Black

How right you are, I made that same mistake early on, but only ONCE. Let me tell you, having a river form underneath your tent is no fun, particularly when sleeping. I cut mine down to 1 inch smaller than the "footprint" of the tent.


When pitched, some tents tend to "curl" up along the edges, thus exposing more of the ground under them. Just make the ground sheet smaller or tuck it in so it doesn't show.

Actually, unless you have a fancy ground sheet that fastens to pegs your tent will often ooze a little sideways as you move around in it setting things up. Re-check the ground sheet and tuck accordingly after set-up - and maybe once more at bedtime.

Rox Heath

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  Page Last Updated: Jan. 20, 2003  
    CyclingSite > CO Collected Wisdom > What to Take > Camping Equipment > Ground Covers  

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