How to make a custom tent footprint…

For our first camping trip, I found an extra-roomy nine person Coleman tent at Wal-Mart.  It is a 9×14 behemoth you could literally drive a Nissan Versa into.    Happily, with the entire family of three in this bad boy, we had enough room for our bags, a full size air mattress, Joe’s sleeping pad, and plenty of room to move around.  It was a great luxury to have enough space to stretch out after a day on the trails.  Clark would have surely approved of this spacious structure.

Still, I realize that setting up this tent is not really feasible or even practical, every time out.  Especially when it is just a quick getaway for the night, and we don’t want to have as much “stuff” with us.  If our first outing was a test to see how much we could cram into the Explorer, our next one will be a test to see how little we can get by with.  Going to the park for the weekend shouldn’t always necessitate a full-on experiment in Griswold style camping.

With this in mind, I began a search for a two or three man tent that wouldn’t break the bank, and allow for many years of practical use.  Enter the big CL

I am not a habitual Craigslist user mind you, but I have used it with great success each and every time I’ve bought or sold something on there.  I have always paid, or been paid, a fair price for a fair product.  My latest foray into the totally unknown has yielded my best score yet, and may go down as this camping dad’s best CL bargain ever.

I happened upon a brand new North Face Morraine 33 tent, which a kind gentleman was looking to unload.  He had purchased this three person/three season tent about four years ago for his own kids to use, but it had never made it farther than the living room, literally.   He had a fair asking price for a tent of this quality, and I made him an offer that I could reasonably afford.  Much to my surprise, the gentleman accepted my offer.  A ride to Collierville and four Jacksons later, I had myself one heck of a tent!   Not bad for a tent that has glowing reviews and would retail today for $300 or more.

Without wasting time, I went in search of a footprint for the new digs, but since North Face doesn’t make the tent anymore, footprint supplies have dried up.  Why a footprint in the first place?  Tent camping on top of rocks, roots, and who-knows-what-else, can wreak havoc on your tent floor.   Small nicks and snags eventually lead to bigger tears and holes in your tent.  An extra layer between you and the bare dirt is a good thing, and with a pricier tent such as a North Face, a footprint is a must to protect your investment.

Having no luck finding a footprint online, and being what my dad calls a “maker”, I decided to roll my own.  I went in search of a decent tarp, and found one at the local home center.   I bought the thickest version they had, a  “10 Mil” silver and brown edition, drove home, erected (shut up Beavis) the tent in the driveway, and dove right in.  Joe and Nitro supervised the operation, of course.

My silly guy, modeling the tarp

My silly guy, modeling the tarp…

Here’s what you’ll need to make your own customized tent footprint:

-          Your tent
-          (1) tarp bigger than the dimensions of your tent (I got by with an 8×10)
-          (1) good pair of scissors
-          (1) roll of duct tape
-          (1) sharpie
-          (1) straight edge/ruler/ level

How to make the footprint

1)      Lay your tarp out on the driveway, in the garage, or other flat area.  I went brown side up.

2)      Set your tent up on top of your tarp, and align the back edge of the tent with the back edge of the tarp.

a)  If your tarp has grommet holes (it will), you can be extra cool and try to fit the tent poles into the grommet holes.  This was an afterthought for me, and it would have worked out nicely, so be forewarned!

b)  Also, it is important for the tent and tarp to stay stationary during the process, so keep the kids out of it while you are tracing.

3)      With the back of the tent aligned to the tarp, start tracing along one side, work your way around to the front, and then along the other side.  Use your straight edge as a guide, and trace just beyond the actual edge of the tent itself.

4)      After you’ve traced the tent outline (Joe did help trace, by the way), move the tent to the side, and following your trace line, cut out the shape of the tent.  You can discard the tarp scraps or use them as mummy wrap, as Joe did.

5)      Place your tent back on the tarp, make any final cuts, and viola, you have yourself a footprint.

I opted to add a little porch/lip extension to my footprint.  This is what’s known as a “mod”, to us makers.  Our tent has a generous vestibule with the rain fly on it, and the lip will remain covered by the vestibule, keeping the bottom of our gear dry.  I’ll take some action shots for you soon.

I also sealed the edges of the footprint with duct tape.  Any self-respecting maker couldn’t have their edges fraying, so I thought I’d use some DT to give a little protection against wear and tear, and give a nice custom look.

There you have it folks, a nice custom fit footprint for your Craigslist tent, for about the cost of a 12 pack of Shiner.  As always, here are some pics for you to enjoy ;)

Joe and his snakes, protecting the Morraine 33

Joe and his snakes, protecting the Morraine 33

Backside of the tent

The tent is a weird shaped polygon, but the back edge aligned nicely…

Nitro, enjoying the warmth of the tarp on a 90* day

Nitro, enjoying the warmth of the tarp on a 90* day. Never one for letting a dull moment pass by, he puked about 5 minutes later. Presumably from the boiling contents of his tummy. Nice!


  1. Dave says:

    Came across this article and it’s very informative. However, shouldn’t the footprint be a few inches smaller than the tent itself? Otherwise, water can get trapped between the tarp and tent.

    • Joe's Dad says:

      Hi Dave! Thanks for your comment, you bring up a good point. If the footprint is too big, water will pool and then seep under the tent. For my purposes, I was mainly concerned about protecting the floor from rocks and such.

      With my son we have tried to camp when there is no predictions for rain, so this has not been a big concern yet. Obviously this may not always work out so I may go back and measure an inch or two in and cut it down a bit.

      Thanks for the heads up!


  1. [...] He drew a picture of our tent. Look close enough, and you’ll see the little mat from our custom footprint, complete with a pair of shoes sitting on it. I love you too, [...]

  2. [...] evening, we had a decent rain storm come through.  Thankfully our new semi-used tent held up great, and we were bone dry in the morning.  After cleaning up the water logged gear [...]

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