31/01/2013
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Quick guide to groundsheets

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In the history of tents, sewn-in groundsheets are a relatively recent development. For thousands of years, the lack of them meant that tent sides could be rolled up for ventilation during the day. As camping became a recreation, groundsheets were sewn into the sides to form an insect-proof shelter that also kept out drafts. The benefits are obvious but there are also a couple of problems.

First, groundsheets may leak over time, depending on the material used, as well as being vulnerable to rips and tears. As manufacturers wrestle with overall tent weights so groundsheets become lighter and less durable.

Second, every time the tent is packed away, even on lovely drying days, the damp under the groundsheet (as well as, maybe, mud and dying grass) can damage the tent fabric if not aired off properly at home.

Protection of the groundsheet from the ground can be ensured by using a tent 'footprint' - a groundsheet for the groundsheet, as it were. It will extend the useful life of the tent plus makes packing up easier. A carpet for the living area of the tent is obviously kinder underfoot that a cold groundsheet and will also help to protect any waterproof coating.

It's hard to argue with the benefits offered by extra comfort and protection but you don't need to shell out for custom-fitted options. A large cheap 'plastic' tarp will serve as a footprint but it's harder to find a lightweight carpet to fit. Instead of carpet, depending on the size of tent, cheap fleece would do the job or even a picnic rug or two.

It's tempting (but silly) to follow the advice on saving money while keeping the benefits of fitted carpets published in Viz - just strap pieces of carpet to your feet.

Top tips
  • Compared to the size and weight of a large family tent, a carpet and footprint take up little space in the car but make quite a difference to comfort and durability.
  • As spreading out the footprint is the first job on site, packing it last so it's easy to hand makes sense; think about how you want to position the tent.
  • Once you're happy about which way the tent will be facing, peg out the corners of the footprint to avoid tripping over it or having it bunch up under the tent.
  • Unpacking the tent is easy when you're not worried about dragging the tent through mud and wet; try to walk about on the footprint as little as possible.
  • Spreading out the tent is relatively easy as it slides easily over the footprint; check that the doorways are where you want them before starting to erect the tent.
  • Positioning the tent so it fits neatly over the footprint before pegging makes sense; as you can see, the tent's groundsheet ensures that the sewn-in groundsheet is protected.
  • With the tent pitched, it's time to fit the carpet; a useful tip is to fit non-slip fabric to the corners/sides of the carpet if it doesn't have them.
  • As is usually the case with most aspects of camping (except cooking - too many cooks, etc), two people will make light work of positioning the carpet.
Read more camping top tips here.

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