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Groundsheet protectors are something that very few people I know carry, mainly due to the extra weight. I recently started thinking about whether or not there was a real need to carry a tent groundsheet protector or whether it was just unnecessary bulk.

What do Groundsheet Protectors Do?

So is it worth carrying the extra weight and what does it actually do?
Well the main purpose of a ground sheet protector, also known as a footprint, is to protect groundsheets! With tents becoming lighter all the time groundsheets are thinner than they used to be. This is fine if you are camping on grass and can clear the site before pitching. However this isn’t normally the case with tents needing to be pitched in a hurry and sometimes your only choice is rocky ground. In these cases a groundsheet protector is well worth the extra weight to prevent against punctures from twigs, thorns or stones.

Another benefit of using a groundsheet protector is that it keeps your tent clean. It prevents dirt from building up on the bottom of the tent and means that you only have to clean the groundsheet protector as opposed to the actual groundsheet. Which again helps prolong the life of your tent and also makes packing things up in the morning much easier.

The final, though maybe not so common reason for using a groundsheet protector is protection from wildlife. I found these images by Jon & Frank Houseago on cycletourer.co.uk which shows the damage done to their groundsheet protector on a trip to West Papua. To briefly summarise the story, they had been camped for 2 nights and when packing and rolling up the inner tent they noticed that the groundsheet protector was filled with holes which ranged from 1mm – 6mm in diameter. They checked the ground and vegetation that they had camped on to see if there was anything that could have caused the holes but found nothing.

Groundsheet Protector Damage Ants

Ground Sheet Protector Holes, Source cycletourer.co.uk

I got in touch with them to find out some more, this is what Jon had to say on the cause of the damage.

We went through the ground with a fine tooth comb but couldn’t find anything that might have caused it. My theory is that it was an acid type burn and may have been caused by ants being crushed and producing formic acid and the reason we didn’t find any remains is due to the fact that ants are known to carry their dead away to the nest, but as I say it is only my theory.

I have to say I agree with Jon as after a bit more research of my own I noticed that some models of Vaude tents have a laminated tent floor which is resistant to formic acid from ants. However this isn’t the only creature that is hazardous for ground sheets as I’ve discovered from various people that termites seem to be partial to making their way through the odd groundsheet as well.

Should I Use a Ground Sheet Protector?

The benefits are obvious but still many people choose not to use groundsheet protectors due to the extra weight. However one good way of justifying carrying the weight of extra gear to yourself is to find another purpose for it. In the case of a groundsheet protector you could use it when you stop off at lunchtime as a picnic blanket of sorts.

So there you have it, its up to you whether you decide to use one or not but a good compromise would be to use the groundsheet protector on hikes and walks where weight isn’t critical and leaving it at home when you’re looking to go ultralight and clock up the miles. This compromise should definitely help expand the life of your tent.

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