If you think the advice in this infographic is nutty, heretical, or (to be charitable) merely inadvisable; so did I until I tried it. I first read about this in Cliff Jacobson’s book Camping’s Top Secrets. Jacobson is an author, wilderness guide, Distinguished Eagle Scout, and a regular contributor to Scouting Magazine.
When I interviewed Cliff on Scoutmaster Podcast 54 he mentioned that many people react negatively to this particular advice, they insist he’s wrong. He writes about this in this blog post for Piragis Northwoods Company:
Old ideas die hard, and when it comes to camping, the hardest to die is that you should place a plastic groundcloth UNDER the floor of your tent. This is dead wrong, and akin to pitching the tent on a slab of concrete. Rainwater will flow between the impervious groundsheet and floor, pool there, and be pressure wicked by body weight into the sleeping compartment. Then, you’ll really have a sponge party!
My five Cannondale Aroostook tents (no longer manufactured) have been used in commercial outfitting on rugged Canadian canoe trips for 35 years. Trips have lasted from one to four weeks. That’s more than two years of continuous service for each tent. We have always used an interior groundcloth in these tents. Damage? Only one tent got a hole in the floor. I might add that the interior waterproof coatings on these tents was long gone when I sold them at a garage sale a few years ago. After 35 years of heavy use only one tent had a hole in the floor!
The idea that the groundcloth goes under the tent got started in the 1950’s when few tents had floors. You set a poncho or separate tarp inside the tent then placed your sleeping bag on top. …
If you’ve ever pitched a floor-less tent you know it isn’t easy. Since there’s no floor to establish the shape, the tent usually goes up cockeyed. Getting it straight means pulling stakes, moving them around, looking at the tent then setting the stakes again. When I was a Boy Scout in the 1950’s, we took great pride in “getting it right” the first time around. But we were Boy Scouts and it was no big deal. But casual campers didn’t have the patience for this sort of thing. And that’s why manufacturers first put floors in tents—to make them easier to pitch, not to keep out water. Any water that gets inside a floored tent stays inside, and that’s why you need an interior groundcloth to keep that water away from you.
With this, I rest my case!
I sent the infographic to Cliff for his approval and he replied; “You did a terrific job explaining the concept in an easy to understand visual form. This is the best explanation I’ve seen. My hat is off to you. I love it!”
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Sam Dunkin says
I ‘m seeing below there are 111 Replies, yet I can only see 28. How do I find the rest?
Clarke Green says
7 comments,+ 5 tweets, + 100 facebook likes =112
Larry Green says
There was a big deal about this (and might still be) as one question in a recent, little outdoor skills test in Scouting magazine. I’ve long been a proponent of inside the tent for groundcloths, but those opposed to the idea often communicated how incensed they were about this “absurd” notion and expressed themselves vehemently. I repeatedly got a kick out of how adamant they were.
Donald Morris says
We have always used the plastic sheet under the tent. In heavy rains some water always found it’s way between the tent and the sheet resulting in wet gear. I started using the plastic sheet inside my large SM tent when I used a cot. This was so the cot feet would not damage the bottom of my tent. Interestingly enough I have never had the wet gear problem since doing this, no matter how hard it rained. I will suggest to the SPL for the next troop campout.
Sam Dunkin says
I read this in one of Cliff’s books about 20 years ago, and tried it. Gave it up because the inner sheet would slide around, with me on it. Our troop practice was groundsheet underneath, folded if necessary to prevent any of it from sticking out. I have found this successful (it helps to have the sheet 2″ short in width and length to avoid necessity of folding). I had two no-bottom tents when I was a Scout–a surplus pup tent and a BSA 49er one-pole pyramid.
I have a new tent and have been through 3 torrential downpours that resulted in the tent having water flowing under it and I had a ground cloth under it. I did not get water in the tent at all. I am wondering if I am living on borrowed time. I searched high and low for a tent that was tough enough to withstand Alabama Rains, I will try this on my next outing though.
How do you keep the sides up?
Clarke Green says
Usually not a problem, they will lay against the walls of the tent.