Tyvek vs. Polycro: Which Ultralight Tent Footprint is Best for You?

Trail TalkKatie Kommer
Tyvek vs Polycro Polycryo Tent Shelter Footprint Best Ultralight Ground Cloth


Religiously using a ground sheet or, in backpacking lingo, a ‘footprint’ is one of the simplest ways to ensure the longevity of your tent or shelter, because it takes the brunt of the wear and tear on your floor. Rolling around at night and moving in your shelter causes friction with the ground. This can lead to abrasion and microtears, reducing weather-proofness over time. 

As a bonus, the extra material of a ground sheet can add the tiniest smidgeon of insulation against the ground. In cold temperatures, every little bit counts. 

So, how do you select a footprint? Many lightweight tents don’t come with an included footprint, so us ultralighters have to get creative — because, ironically enough, ultralight shelters need to be treated especially gingerly since they’re made out of delicate materials (and sometimes come floor-less). 

Backpackers and long-distance hikers have long made their own DIY ground sheets from Tyvek and/or Polycro. While definitely more cost effective than purchasing a standalone tent footprint, Tyvek and Polycro are most often sold in rolls and/or kits, meaning a single hiker has to purchase more than they need. 

Tyvek vs Polycro Polycryo Tent Shelter Footprint Best Ultralight Ground Cloth


Six Moon Designs has removed the headache of pooling friends and searching hardware stores with the release of its pre-cut Tyvek and Polycro shelter floors. The question now becomes: which material is best for you?


Tyvek at a Glance 

  • 4 - 7 oz 
  • 0.5 millimeters / 0.02 inches thick 
  • GGG Price: $14 - $16 (small and large)

Tyvek vs Polycro Polycryo Tent Shelter Footprint Best Ultralight Ground Cloth


Most often used for home insulation, Tyvek is popular with backpackers because it’s very lightweight yet strong, puncture-resistant and waterproof. In addition to ground sheets, MYOG-ers (Make Your Own Gear-ers) have also adopted the material for DIY tarps. 

While it isn’t as light as polycro, it’s still lighter than many brand name footprints.

One thing to note about Tyvek is that it is a bit crinkly, and can be hard to fold, as well as loud when rolling around at night. One way to compensate for this is to wash it before use, as it softens the material up. Packing ear plugs is never a bad idea either.


Polycro at a Glance 

    • 1 - 2 oz
    • 0.7 millimeters / 0.03 inches 
    • GGG Price: $11 - $13 (small and large)

Tyvek vs Polycro Polycryo Tent Shelter Footprint Best Ultralight Ground Cloth


Polycryo (or Polycro) is a thin insulating film often used for covering windows. Backpackers have been using this ultralight material for years. 

While it’s extremely lightweight and still protects your tent, it’s not nearly as durable as Tyvek. Polycro requires extra care; you’ll want to make sure you’re not setting up on or near any sharp rocks that could cause a puncture. 

Another benefit of Polycro is that it packs down incredibly small, and can easily be folded into your tent bag or a very small stuff sack. 



I Tried Both, Here’s What I Thought 

Tyvek vs Polycro Polycryo Tent Shelter Footprint Best Ultralight Ground Cloth


After a few trips to compare the two footprint options, I now prefer Tyvek. I will happily carry a couple of extra ounces in exchange for ease of use. 

The real difference I noticed is that it’s much easier to set up a Tyvek footprint. Because Polycro is so light, it’s difficult to lay it down flat. When I was by myself, I had to carefully place rocks on each corner to hold it down before setting my tent up. On the other hand, Tyvek easily unfolds and stays in place while you pitch your shelter. 

However, if I’m planning on cowboy camping, I’ll choose the polycro. Without having to worry about the polycro bunching up and shifting under my tent, it’s a great material for sleeping right under the stars. 



A Few Tent Footprint Pro TipsTyvek vs Polycro Polycryo Tent Shelter Footprint Best Ultralight Ground Cloth

  • Size it properly. You want your footprint to be slightly smaller than the bottom of your tent or shelter. If it’s bigger or the same size, in the rain it could potentially collect water and flood the bottom of your tent. If you’re bringing a smaller tent than usual, just be sure to tuck the excess footprint material under your tent if there’s a chance of rain. 

  • Bring a separate dry bag / stuff sack for it. There are few things more unpleasant than stuffing a muddy ground sheet into your pack. A separate storage area keeps mud and moisture off your other gear until the footprint can be properly dried in the sun.
     
  • Let it breathe after a trip. When I get back from a backpacking trip, I drape my tent and groundsheet across a couple of chairs in my basement. This keeps any moisture residue from turning into mold, and ensures my gear is ready to use on my next trip. 


  • Where to Find Tyvek and Polycro 

    Both of these materials can be bought in bulk from hardware stores like Home Depot. However, this means you’ll have to cut it yourself and will end up with plenty of extra material. Though it’s a bit more expensive, I highly recommend buying the pre-cut footprint sizes available here on Garage Grown Gear. They’re both still less than half the cost of a typical brand-name footprint, and come in a few different size options.  

     

     

    Tyvek vs Polycro Tent Shelter Footprint Best Ultralight Ground Cloth
    Tyvek Footprint by Six Moon Designs

     

     

    Katie is a freelance writer based in Salt Lake City, Utah. When she's not behind her laptop, you can find her guzzling instant coffee in the backcountry or developing a new and expensive outdoor hobby. To see her adventures and occasional long rambles, follow her on Instagram @katelyn_ali

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    11 comments

    Mr Phelps

    Mr Phelps

    Hint: It’s polycryo not polycro.
    https://www.gossamergear.com/products/polycryo-tent-footprint-ground-cloths

    BERNARD HALPIN

    BERNARD HALPIN

    I USE TYVEC AFTER I LAY MY FOOT PRINT ON IT FOR SIZING REQUIREMENTS; A FEW INCHES SMALLER ALL THE WAY AROUND. I’VE ADDED A SMALLER PIECE FOR THE FOYER AREA TO CATCH BOOT DIRT, ETC. ALSO ADDED GROMMETS ON THE CORNERS AFTER I REINFORCED THE CORNERS WITH FIBERGLASS SHIPPING TAPE. WORKS VERY WELL FOR ME AND MY BIKEPACKING FRIENDS. NO COMPLAINTS SO FAR…

    HillSlug98239

    HillSlug98239

    I’m curious about the environmental impact of both. I assume polycro is made from oil, meaning it’ll degrade into microplastic. Is Tyvek any better?

    I bought a 100’ roll of Tyvek at Lowes a few years ago, and it’s definitely a lifetime supply. I have this idea I’m going to experiment with it, make things like overmitts & gaiters, but alas: that’s not going to happen until we create a space in our home for setting up my sewing machine, and that’s not going to happen until we get the garage cleaned out, and that’s not going to happen until The Hubs is ready to let go of his grandfathers’ tools…

    Danimal

    Danimal

    Using polyacro in the wind is a pain. I tied the corners of a sheet, cut slightly smaller than the tent floor, to the corners of the tent with 1/16" elastic cord. Works great and won’t blow away from the tent. Elastic allows a little give so things don’t tear when pulled tight.

    Karl

    Karl

    The other big benefit of a groundcloth, either Tyvek or Polycro, is cleanliness: the groundcloth has all the dirt on it, rather than the tent. This makes drying gear out easier and keeping gear clean easier.

    Ben

    Ben

    Polycro works great unless it’s windy. I had to chase mine through the Grand Canyon when the wind kicked up and pulled it out from under the rocks I had on its corners. Will be switching to Tyvek this season.

    Karel

    Karel

    It depends on then polycro that you use. I use the Duck MAX Strength Heavy Duty Insulating Film Patio Door kit. I put a piece of Tuck Tape on each corner. Is holding up well.

    John

    John

    I hiked the CDT in 2021 and started with polycro, it lasted two weeks. Tyvek saw me through to the Canadian border nearly fives months later. Also very useful for messaging when hitching a ride for resupply. I highly recommend Tyvek!

    Tim

    Tim

    Nice article and nice photos. I am a Tyvek man because I use a hyper light mattress. Tyvek seems to protect it better.

    Paul Kelly

    Paul Kelly

    I use construction Tyvek, extremely durable and cheap. But Tyvek is water repellent, not waterproof. I never use it on very wet ground. But it protects the tent floor very well.

    Henry Romer

    Henry Romer

    I use both in slightly different applications. I don’t use construction Tyvek, rather 1443R Tyvek, which I get from kite material suppliers. The 1443R is lighter, not crinkly, and still reasonably waterproof. I use it with tarp style tents without built-in floors. Some of these have an 8 to 12" insect mesh skirt that tucks under the Tyvek to form my bug seal. The Tyvek does a better job of protecting me from the ground than the thinner polycro and being white, makes it easier to spot stuff on the tent floor. On my tents with a lightweight fabric bathtub floor, I use polycro as a footprint to protect the floor from abrasion. If you fold up the footprint with the underside in, you don’t have to worry about dirt. Anyway my folded footprint usually goes in an outside mesh pocket anyway. The Tyvek floors get grommets in the corners with bungee loops that reach to the corner pegs to hold the floor stretched out. The polycro floor below the fabric bathtub floor stays in place without help. This system has worked well for me for a lot of years. For details on all this check out henryinthewoods.com, by blog site.

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