Outdoor Flooring Part 2: So You Need a Hard Floor for Your Tent. What Material Suits Your Job?

A fully loaded semi and trailer on top of Bike Track 2-inch ICM Flooring.

In our last post, we explored the basic tent flooring options—no flooring at all, fabric flooring and hard flooring. Today, in our second post in a four-post series, we take a deep dive into the third solution and examine hard flooring options.

Whether you need to store heavy vehicles in a remote location; build military tents and shelters; or just pitch a tent for a wedding or special event in a muddy field, you need some kind of hard flooring solution.

There are three main material options: plywood, concrete, and plastic. How do they compare and stack up? Let’s take a look:

Plywood and 2×4 Modular Flooring

Some builders use 3/4” thick, 4’x8’ sheets of plywood in tandem with 2x4s to construct platforms. This process is labor intensive—it requires more than just throwing down sheets of plywood. For a 28’x16’ area—a common tent dimension—you will need 450 square feet of this high-grade plywood. At approximately $50 per 32 square feet, that’s $700, plus labor expenses, which estimate $77/hour or more. Bear in mind as well that the good 3/4” plywood tends to be more expensive than the cheaper stuff found at places like Home Depot. Plus there is the cost of the 2x4s, nails, etc. Say it takes 2ish hours per tent. And what if you have multiple tents? The costs quickly multiply.

Workers constructing a plywood floor outside
Although plywood is inexpensive, creating a plywood involves more (and hence more cost) than just throwing down sheets of plywood. (Photo Credit: Blue Peak Tents)

Plywood’s big pluses—at least in eyes of some civilian (and even military) builders—are the modest upfront costs and the fact that it is lightweight and can be moved relatively easily.

Warped plywood boards
Plywood flooring absorbs water and is easily warped. Thus it can only be re-used a very limited number of times, if at all. (Photo Credit: New Heights Roofing)

However, plywood absorbs water readily, becoming warped and heavy when it does, and it must be replaced regularly incurring these costs again and again. There are also hidden risks—irregular boards can be cumbersome to transport, and splinters are not a trivial matter, especially when people are on the move and tired (and thus more vulnerable to infection).

Concrete Flooring

Depending on the type, quality, finish type and other factors, concrete ranges from $2 to $30 per square foot. Some plusses—the material is sturdy, capable of supporting heavy vehicles, does not conduct electricity, and is easily molded to create ad hoc structures.

Man building a concrete pad outside
Installing a concrete pad can be cheap and simple if you know what you’re doing. But what if you need to move your floor elsewhere? (Photo Credit: Homestead Structures)

However, Concrete Flooring has its challenges, too. You need to do more than just buy the concrete. You need relatively skilled labor; you have to do site/sub-floor preparation; you need to transport the concrete; and you need to mix, pour and cure it. In addition, there are disposal costs to get it out of the ground. Abandoning or deconstructing installations creates environmental hazards. Re-pouring at new locations creates new costs.

Man using jack-hammer to break up concrete
If you ever need to remove your concrete pad, that’s a another set of costs. Not to mention environmental concerns (if you’re into that sort of thing) (Photo Credit: Lat-Works)

General Thoughts So Far

Plywood and 2×4 Flooring as well as Concrete Flooring both leave things to be desired for tenting and sheltering applications: durability, in the first case, and flexibility, in the second.

Both also have other drawbacks. For instance, installing outlets and threading/taping cords can be a bear when using either material. It is almost impossible not to create tripping hazards and an ugly, distracting flooring environment.

Plastic Portable Flooring—Best of Both Worlds?

U.S. Army Soldiers unload Bike Track 2-inch ICM flooring sheets from a truck during a training exercise.
Plastic flooring can provide the durability that plywood lacks as well as the portability that concrete lacks. (Photo credit: 3rd Infantry Division Artillery)

Depending on your application, plastic flooring might be superior for several reasons:

  • It is load-bearing. Bike Track’s product—one of several options on the market—is capable of up to 80,000 pounds/square foot given standard parameters.
  • Plastic lasts. However, not all plastic tent floors are equally durable. At Bike Track, we guarantee our modular flooring for 5 years—and customers say they last for 15+ years.
  • It is portable. Plastic can be put down and pulled back up quickly—for example, 14 to 42 square feet of Bike Track can be installed per minute, per person.
  • Viewed over the long term, plastic tends to be more cost effective. You save on labor (no more ripping up old plywood); material costs (no need to pour and re-pour concrete); and transportation costs (plastic is easy to stack and stash).
  • It eliminates common annoyances. With certain models; there is space to run cords, so say goodbye to tripping.

But even if plastic is right for your application, you are not done yet! You need to choose two out of three key attributes… which we will cover in our next blog post. Stay tuned!