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When I hear the word bathtub, I think of a porcelain tub with soapy water and rubber ducks. Apparently when campers hear the word bathtub, they think of the bottom of their tents. There is a bit to know about bathtub floors and why they matter–so let’s get to it.
What is a Bathtub Floor when talking about tents? A tent bathtub floor is a thicker, more waterproof, and more impermeable material than the tent walls. The bathtub floor curve upwards at the edges to meet the walls forming a “bathtub”. Tent bathtub floors are designed to keep water out of the tent from ground runoff and from water dripping from the tent sides.
So… cool. The idea is sound, but is it completely necessary? What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a bathtub floor? I did some research to answer my questions about them, and I’m passing on the time savings to you. I love saving you time!
The What And Why of Bathtub Floors
A “bathtub floor” within a tent is when the floor of the tent is made of a thicker, and more waterproof material that curves upwards into the sides of the inner wall of the tent. Imagine a cookie sheet used for baking made out of a tarp, and that is the basic premise of a bathtub floor. Or, even more apt, just imagine a bathtub, except one where you try and keep the water out. I guess we should call it an anti-bathtub floor.
Note: the inner wall of the tent is the tent itself, and the outer wall is referring to the waterproof tent fly that is removable.
Because the tent bottom is now a thicker material, this also makes the tent heavier, which is mostly relevant for backpackers.
The bathtub floor’s purpose is to aggressively prevent water from entering into the tent. The bathtub floor fulfills the purpose of a tent footprint, which is to to protect the underside of the tent, and prevent water from soaking through the bottom of the tent.
The edges of a bathtub floor curve upward so as to prevent water runoff from the outer wall of the tent from seeping into the tent, and eliminates the need to put a ground cloth on the underside of the tent.
Summary: Bathtub floors protect the occupants from water, and are more resilient to be being placed on rough surfaces than tents without bathtub floors.
An example of a tent with a bathtub floor is the Hyke & Byke 2 person tent.
An example of a tent without a bathtub floor is the Kelty Grand Mesa.
Where Did Bathtub Floors Come From?
Tents used to be very simple, made up of a tarp and a pole or a rope. There were no floor or sides to speak of. As tents have evolved to contain many more features than they used, to, they grew sides, and floors. The floor of the tent was a thin material, made of the same stuff as the walls.
To help keep out water, some campers use a ground cloth underneath their tent to protect the floor of the tent, as well as to keep out water. Tents with bathtub floors simply cut out this step by making the floor more waterproof and tougher.
Do I Need a Tent With a Bathtub Floor?
As always, it depends on your needs. A bathtub floor fits squarely in the “nice to have” category and is not strictly necessary, and in some cases is undesirable. As always, technology can only make things more convenient, but tent placement is still critical–make sure you avoid dips and depressions as places to pitch your tent, with the understanding that when you’re car camping, you don’t always have a lot of options.
Bathtub floors are not crucial to have, and you can live just fine without them. If you already have a tent without a bathtub floor, then this is not the feature that determines whether you should buy a new tent. However, if you are in the market for a new tent, a bathtub floor is a nice to have that simplifies tent setup, and can help your tent stay dry on the inside.
Drawbacks to Bathtub Floors
Depending on tent design, sometimes the tent does not have adequate ventilation, making condensation a big problem. Condensation occurs when warm air loses its energy and therefore has to dump its water molecules.
Since a bathtub floor is impervious, it does as great a job of keeping water IN as it does keeping water OUT. So if your tent ventilation is lacking, then you might have some moisture beading on the inside of the tent which then puddles on the edges of your bathtub floor.
For an example of this, there is a great review of an inexpensive tent here with this issue:
Inevitably, any level of water protection will come at a cost of weight. For car campers like us, this is not a a big deal. But ounces do add up for backpackers.
We went camping with my brother, his wife, and our little 2 and a half year old niece. She was so cute and excited to be camping! She couldn’t help but run around our campsite exploring everything, and running around in the tent for a couple minutes and then coming out again.
I did notice that as she darted in and out of the tent that the door clearance was quite high from the ground because the door zipper was above their tent’s bathtub floor. She would trip and catch herself multiple times throughout the night. I’m pretty sure I tripped as well at some point.
It’s not a huge deal, but I thought I’d mention it. 🙂 Because the door clearance is a couple inches higher, it’s a bit easier to trip on the tent threshold.
Reduces Need for Ground Cloth
Yay! One less thing to pack! It’s always nice to get gear that’s bundled so you have have one less thing to clean. This could be considered a pro and a con, because washing a tarp or ground cloth is typically easier than washing a tent, especially if you are camping on muddy ground.
Protected From the Elements
A bathtub floor is good at what it’s designed for, to prevent water seepage from the ground, as well as water splash back from rain dripping off your tent fly. Additionally, you have a thicker layer between you and the ground which protects you from holes being punctured by sticks and sharp rocks (it’s a good practice to remove as much as you can anyway) which can allow water or bugs into the tent.
Bathtub floors are now extremely common in tents, and they are no longer a premium feature. You don’t have to worry about spending a lot of money if this is a feature that’s important to you.
Do you need a tarp under a tent? With a bathtub floor, the need for a ground cloth or a tarp under your tent is eliminated. You now have extra water and puncture protection when you pitch your tent. Without a bathtub floor, a ground cloth or tarp is still not mandatory. Many campers have success staying dry with good tent placement.
For more information about using a tarp or a ground cloth underneath your tent, click here.
How do I protect my tent from rain? Rain comes from all angles, so it’s important to protect your tent on as many angles as you can. To prevent water from coming in from the bottom of your tent, it’s critical to place your tent on a spot of ground where water will not collect. To prevent water from above, make sure your tent fly is properly installed, and that you have adequate ventilation (especially on humid nights) to prevent condensation. Additionally, waterproof spray is an optional treatment you can use on your tent to improve your tents water protection.