Mark III

Mark III

1-3 person

"Stuffed" MARK III

Stuff Sack

Mark V

Mark II

3-5 person

Tarp Tent

ultra light backpacking tent

1 person


Ground Cloth Ideas


Ground Cloths… a Quick Summary


There are two general ways that you can approach the ground cloth issue… full footprint or ‘just enough.”  It depends on your style of camping as well as how much weight you wish to carry as to which you choose.  On one trip you might choose “just enough”, on another you might use a full footprint, or even a partial footprint.

Many people cut a full footprint.  If dealing with Scouts or others who don’t organize well (gear all over the place), that’s recommended.  If you stay organized and keep most stuff in or on your pack, then a full footprint might not be required, but it can still be nice to have.  Philmont, by the way, requires a full footprint.

A variation of this is a partial footprint.  Typical would be a full groundcloth for the area behind the pole.  So the sleeping space is covered, but the gear space is not.   This can cut a third of your ground cloth weight.

Since there is a lot of room in the tent it is “just enough” if you have a place for your bed and your equipment.  This is especially true if you are soloing, or only have two people in a Mark V.  This can minimize the weight.


Full footprint or partial footprint…

Size…  To accommodate the Mark III you can use a 9’ wide piece at least 9’ long, or a 10’ wide piece at least 7’ 2” long.  To accommodate the Mark V you can use a 9’ wide piece at least 11’ 6” long, or a 10’ wide piece at least 10’ long.  See drawings below for details.

Plastic sheeting, typically .4 mm, is available at most hardware stores, in clear or black.  This works well, but tends to be heavy.

Tyvek or other house wrap is often available from contractors.  Tyvek itself weighs only 1.8 ounces per square yard, so has a great weight advantage over plastic sheeting (less weight than polyester, by the way).  Other house wraps we cannot comment on, but they are often used as a substitute by backpackers, and are less expensive than Tyvek.  Some have a fuzzy side, so that needs to be used with that side up or the sheet can collect twigs and leaves.  Tyvek comes in 9’ and 10’ widths, but the 10’ is considerably more expensive.  NOTE – When new, Tyvek is crinkly and noisy.  Running it thru a washing machine a few times cures this.  It becomes more pliable, too.

Tarp, typical plastic – These tend to be available in regular, medium, and heavy duty.  If you are cutting a plastic tarp for a ground cloth, you need a little extra to allow sealing the edges to keep it from unraveling.  Leaving enough to fold the edges back and contact cementing them down does the trick… about 1” extra.  Be aware that a lot of tarps are measured before hemming, so a 10′ tarp will probably be a little less than 10’.

With Tyvek sealing the edges isn’t necessary, nor is it with sheet plastic.

Polyester or nylon tarps – These are NOT acceptable as ground cloths.  Their treatment for water resistance is not effective when pressure is put on the fabric.  Even treatments for 1500 pu or 2000 pu can fail when your knee comes down on a spot with water under it. This is why all floored tents must use a groundcloth under the floor.  And it explains why they still fail if the water gets between the ground cloth and the floor.

Materials         “Just Enough”…

For a short hike of 2 or 3 nights, you can just buy a pack of painters drop cloth, which is less than $2 and gives you enough plastic to cover the entire floor for two trips. Cut a 20′ roll into two pieces. It rolls up into a fist full of plastic, and weighs practically nothing.

On a medium outing I might carry two survival blankets, one for me and one for my gear.  A second man in the tent means add another survival blanket.  They are tough and inexpensive.  And hardly weigh anything.  One per person and one for the gear.

Another source for material are kits made to insulate windows for the winter.  The plastic found in these kits is very puncture resistant, though it can still tear.

And there is still the option of sleeping on your poncho.  But you won’t be able to leave the tent easily if it’s raining.

Making your full footprint ground cloth

Decide and obtain the type of cloth that you wish to use.  Spread it out, and then pitch the tent in the middle of it. Use a magic marker to outline the tent. Remove the tent, then cut about 1 ½” inside the marks all the way around with a pair of scissors. There’s your full footprint.  Probably take 20 minutes?

Mark the pole location.  Here glue on a bottle cap to accept the pole bottom and to protect the ground cloth.  A large cap will keep the pole from sinking in soft ground, too.

If you wish you can attach a bungee cord at each corner.  Then when you lay out the groundcloth you can set the tent over it, and by putting the stakes also thru the bungee loop the groundcloth is stretched out inside the tent.  There is a diagram below showing this.  Corner supports can be duct tape or tent patching fabric.

Without the tent being set up you can use the dimensions below.


Below are drawings showing the two tent ground cloths and how they can be cut from the minimum fabric.  Dimensions are included, with the location of the pole.

The Mark V measurements below are for the original Mark V tent. If yours has a zipper then you will need to adjust the back measurement across the tent to slightly less.

Below is the corrected drawing for the Mark V with zipper







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