MLD TrailStar vs. Tarptent Stratospire 1

SHOOTING TRAILSTAR

If you have read my latest Trip Report or have seen some of my recent Tweets you will know that I have sold my Trailstar and purchased the Tarptent Stratospire 1. My affair with the Trailstar was a short one and up until my trip to the Cairngorms last month I’d never considered that I would want or need any other shelter for solo backpacking. Even before the Cairngorm trip I’d thought that the addition of an innernet/nest to the Trailstar would ‘fix’ the biggest problem I’d face on that trip: Midges and Mosquitoes. That problem on its own would have thus been solved and as Mountain Laurel Designs made the recent addition of the Trailstar Innernet to their fine line of shelter systems it seemed a simple question of How soon could I order the Innernet? 

Trailstar on her final voyage.

Trailstar on her final voyage. On Sgor Gaoith, Scottish Highlands.

There were however other gripes I had with the Trailstar. Firstly, it has a big footprint for a solo shelter which, although this can be pitched over certain features and on a certain degree of rough and uneven ground, was still big. On the one hand this equates to a great deal of internal space for one or even two people. But enter my final, greatest gripe: headroom. At only 5’8″ (actually a hairsbreadth or so shorter than that) I’m certainly not the tallest person but even I had very little headroom beyond a foot or so away from the central pole of the Trailstar, which makes the vast majority of the big footprint largely unusable or at best uncomfortably usable. There are a number of positives in the Trailstars favour of course, chiefly its fantastic wind/weather resistance.

On returning home from the Cairngorms I sat down and began looking at my alternatives. The MLD Trailstar Innernet is priced at $185 (plus $25 P&P) or roughly £130 at current Exchange Rate values but then there is the Customs Duty Lottery which could add a further 20-25% to the total. It is also fairly light at 13oz/368g, bringing the total weight of the Trailstar shelter system to 1,175g. A respectably light weight for such a complete shelter. However, I wanted one shelter for all seasons that I could use for overnighters and multi-day trips when there would be times when I’d spend long hours inside. So comfort and space were a big factor. I now knew that the Trailstar wouldn’t provide an acceptable level of such livability for me.

To further my journey along the road of Lightweight Backpacking I’d long since decided on moving to a lighter rucksack and it had been my plan to put the MLD Exodus on my xmas list and sell my current rucky the Granite Gear Blaze to fund the purchase of the Inner for the TS. In the end I ended up selling the Trailstar, my Fox Basha, DD Hammock, the Blaze and a couple of other redundant items of gear to fund the cost of a new shelter.

All that was left to decide was Which shelter?

I love researching for new kit. I’m almost always on a very tight budget (hence the reason I now was completely without a shelter system of any kind and was down to a very basic 45litre Eurohike rucky until good old Santa brought me the Mariposa), so I research and research to get every ounce and degree of practical usage for my money. First on my shortlist of replacement shelters was the Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo, the MLD Solomid with Solo Inner and the Tarptent Notch. The Lunar Solo had the headroom, space, a good sized porch, was way under budget but had the drawback of being single-walled. The Solomid was Number One choice for a week or so as it seemed to tick almost all the right boxes. Then I saw the Notch, which has a similar sized inner but with greater headroom throughout than the Solomid. Price and weight-wise these two are very similar indeed. A search for reviews on the Notch turned up this fine article by Roger Brown. After reading this the Solomid was out of the equation but I still had to choose between two shelters: the Tarptent Notch or the Tarptent Stratospire 1!

I love researching but I hate actually having to make the decision when it comes down to the wire and there are invariably always 2 or 3 choices on the table. The choice came down to weight and space. The Stratospire is 300g heavier but offers more square footage of living area albeit not a lot more. Enough to sway it for me when I calculated in the fact that the Stratospire was only 100g heavier than the Trailstar and Innernet combo and that the weight of the Stratospire over the Notch would be negated by the weight loss of the Mariposa over the Blaze (roughly 480g lighter). In the end it has become apparent that I am not willing to sacrifice comfort for weight loss. I’m no Ultralighter anyway. I’m quite comfortable with a baseweight of 7-8kg.

TARPTENT STRATOSPIRE 1

So, the Tarptent Stratospire 1 was ordered, with partial solid inner, 2 extra 9″ Easton pegs for the ridge-line guys and 2 6′ lengths of spectra cord for the mid-panel lifter tie-outs. Cost: £253 including postage.

Unfortunately, although the shelter was in the UK within a week of ordering, Customs imposed an Import Duty of £34.10 on it, Parcelforce inexplicably held onto it for 4 more days – only notifying me of the total cost of the Import Duty on the 4th day – and then on Delivery day their driver mysteriously failed to find our address!

Ok so we live in a New Build on a brand new housing estate but its not a huge estate and its well sign-posted; nobody else had had so much trouble finding the house. The following day a second driver managed successful delivery and when asked if it had been him who’d failed to find the house the day before told me ‘No mate. That guy is a complete muppet who couldn’t find his arse with a SatNav.” That made me laugh.

Tarptent Stratospire 1. First pitch.

Tarptent Stratospire 1. First pitch.

 

A thorough examination of my new shelter confirmed all that I’d heard of the quality of Henry Shires Tarptent manufacture: excellently sewn seams, top quality materials and generally well-made.

A first pitch had to wait a couple of days. It was well worth the wait and went very well for a first pitch. The inner was already attached to the outer and – adopting Roger Brown’s chosen method of pegging out both doors to form a rectangle before inserting the poles – I reckon I managed it in less than 5 mins and have since pitched it twice more in even less time. Once for the practice and to show it off (its a new toy and this had to be done!) and once to seam seal it.

I made a few additions and mods, nothing drastic, just some things influenced by Roger Brown and also Mark of markswalkingblog – the addition of some shock cord to the mid-panel lifter tie-outs (the two small black tabs visible in the above picture, there are two more on the opposite side of the shelter), some 3mm Dyneema attached to these points, the replacement of the 2mm spectra cord on the two ridgeline/door guys with longer 3mm Dyneema and a line of Spectra cord inside the roof of the inner to utilise as a ‘hanging’ line for small items (or damp socks…).

Seam sealing took about 45mins-1hr which was pretty good going considering I had only the one day before going back to work and the weather turning and that day happened to be dry but blustery. The wind was welcome only in that it demonstrated how well the Stratospire appears to shed the condition. It doesn’t stand as rock-steady as the Trailstar and in a more exposed spot it may not perform quite so well as it did in my garden, yet those large unsupported panels do not deform half as badly as you might think.

Aerial shot of seam-sealed Stratospire 1.

Aerial shot of seam-sealed Stratospire 1. I haven’t tied out the lifter guys as there wasn’t the room to manouevre.

The design, the very shape of the shelter draws the eye. Yet its going to be a learning curve pitching her so that the footprint of the inner is in the right spot. It is offset at an angle inside the fly, positioned so that neither of the poles interferes with the doors on either side of the inner, which is great but it does make positioning a little tricky. The Trailstar wasn’t quite so fussy but I can live with the difference.

The footprint is a good bit smaller than the Trailstar but more importantly the space in the interior is everything I was looking for. The two porches are each large enough to hold all of my gear, leaving the inner and the other porch free of clutter. With a regular length Exped Synmat UL 7 inside there is enough room down the sides and at either end for everything I might need during the night. I opted for the partial-solid inner – as opposed to the fully mesh sided inner – which should offer more insulation and privacy at a small weight penalty and minimal extra cost. The inner is removable and can be erected independently or left intact. There is also no need to remove the inner for packing or pitching, making the shelter a 3-in-1 tent. When pitched without the inner there is enough room for two people and gear beneath the fly.

I’ll need to source a lightweight pole to use on the windward side lifters and I’ve seen one at bpl.co.uk, unless I can find a cheaper alternative. Until such time I’ll just use a bamboo stake, a nearby tree or stake the guys to the floor. I’ve included a couple of extra Y pegs and the 2 sections of 6′ spectra cord to facilitate whichever option is available or necessary.

The final weight of the seam sealed Stratospire is 1,288g including all options. The fly weighs 714g (inc. stuffsack), the inner 408g and the pegs 166g (inc. peg bag).

There are lighter options out there but these generally involve some compromise I was either unwilling or unable to make. Time will tell whether or not its truly the right shelterfor me and for UK conditions but so far I am suitably impressed and fairly confident that it wont disappoint.

I’ll be taking her out for a trial run somewhere local on November 1st so will likely post an update shortly thereafter.

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15 thoughts on “MLD TrailStar vs. Tarptent Stratospire 1

  1. I agree with every word you’ve said. I’ve had a similar short-lived affair with the Trailstar with exactly the same gripes. I solved my problem by buying a Hexpeak though. Although I considered the Stratosphire I didn’t need two entrances and wanted a single large porch. Although probably not quite as tenacious as the Trailstar in wind, the Hexpeak will be good enough as I still have my Scarp for more epic conditions.

    • Two doors or one, its all the same to me, Matthew. Having a separate area for storing gear (i.e. a second porch) is a bonus when you’re as untidy as I can be! The porches are each large enough for all of my gear anyway. Strong winds are my one big concern with the Stratospire, although Roger Browns withstood a serious battering by all accounts. Thanks for the Comment 🙂

  2. The ex Trailstar owners club is growing. I prefer mids like the SL3 and the DuoMid XL, but this shelter you got is getting a reputation for being very good in the UK to use. Good luck with it.

    • Thanks Martin. Mids are definitely a proven shelter for UK use but as you say the Stratospires rep is growing. I considered the Duomid but with the inner it was more expensive and more tent than I required (you’re a good bit taller than I). The Solomid was a more obvious choice but had less headroom thoughout than the Stratospire.

  3. And I’m another who was sucked into the TS hype a couple of year’s back. Interesting how many who purchased then are now coming up with the gripes that seemed never to be mentioned then. For me it’s headroom – and I’m 7 inches taller than you!!! Add an Oooknest and further headroom is removed. It is manageable but I have got to an age (late fifties) when I’d rather not try to get my stiff old body to contort to do simple tasks!

    The Stratospire looks good and is getting a good press. I went a different direction and very recently got the Z Packs Duplex, acknowledging it is not a 4 season tent and that it MIGHT not be suitable in some conditions – but there is no perfect tent. Its weight (sub 700gr + pegs), space (it can fit 2 people),and headroom across the width of the tent sold it for me. Single skin, but completely enclosed by bug netting too. I also have the Tarptent Scarp 1 to fall back on if the Duplex proves not to be good enough in stormy conditions.

    Enjoy your new shelter 🙂

    • Yeah I reckon a lot more people will come to the same conclusions also, David. I might be 15+ years your junior but my back protests at too much contortionist activity at the end of a long day on the trail. Zpacks gear is swnaky stuff and I was sorely tempted by the Hexamid Solo Plus until I saw the cost. Maybe in a couple of years… (As like you say there is no perfect tent). The Scarp too is also an excellent looking shelter and from what I gather is likely the most popular 4 Season shelter used by the UK Lightweight Backpacking community but I fell prey to the odd charms of the Stratospire.

      And thank you, hopefully my affair with the Strat will be sweeter and longer than that with the TS!

  4. Looks very nice. It’s odd the customs lottery. I’ve had stuff from the US get through no problems and then other times the dreaded parcel force slip!

    Yes – headroom in the Trailstar. I agree.

    I like Tarptent. I’ve spent about 100 plus nights in my Scarp and I’ve nothing but good things to say.

    • Re: Customs Lottery – I think it depends mostly on the stated value and maybe on how the Officer dealing with the parcel is feeling at the time!
      If I have a 100 good nights in the Stratospire I’ll be a very happy man 🙂

  5. Trailstar lasted 2 weeks with me. Luckily bought it cheap and second hand to try out. Took 22 hours to find a buyer; I was lucky. Good luck the next potential Trailstar users. Back to my lovely Mid.

  6. Hello Elton,

    Mind if I ask you a bit about the SS1? I’m interested in buying one having have to give back a wonderful loaned tent which has introduced me to wild camping. I camp in the Peaks, Snowdonia and hope to get to Scotland too. I like the room, weight and functionality of the SS1, can you tell me of how it handles in typical UK weather – windy, wet, humid etc. with regard to stability, comfort and condensation? I’m a three season camper and one scared of big winds too!!!

    Did you add or would you recommend any modifications that could be done by Tarptent, e.g would additional guying points on the edges increase wind stability? Do you find it tricky to pitch given you can’t see where the inner ends up from looking at the fly?

    Cheers

    Graham

    • Hi Graham. Welcome to the wonderfully addictive world of wild camping 😀
      Your questions are welcome mate.
      The SS1 is a great shelter for UK use, especially 3 season use. Personally I feel that it is solid enough and functional enough for 4 season use such is my faith in it’s design. The Tarptent Scarp is arguably more suited to 4 season use but that is not your requirement (yet!). I’ve had the Strat out in some brisk winds but nothing stronger than 40-45mph. Now I don’t know what your experience of camping in wind is but most people tend to overestimate the wind speed when out in a tent as it always seems stronger than it actually is. 40mph is a fairly strong wind, enough to ‘bow’ in the sides of most shelters. Personally I will not go out in very strong winds anyway i.e. 55mph+ as even walking in such conditions is not easy, particularly on the tops. Of course on multi-day trips the weather is less predictable and you need to be confident of your shelter being able to withstand a battering. I have confidence in the Strat in wet and windy conditions but even with the most stable of tents (the Hilleberg Soulo for instance) I would pitch with the maximum protection the landscape could offer in poor conditions. Why risk damaging your expensive kit if its avoidable? The only time I have had a negative experience in the Strat was one night on Bleaklow. We were in the clag all night and such was the pitch we had to accept that night that one of the vents was facing the wind. I was on a ledge with just enough room to pitch and the wind was carrying the mist up the hill and directly into the vent opening. This could have happened in many shelters though tbh.
      The amount of space within the inner is generous enough for a full length mat with some room at either end for the bits and bobs I require inside with me and the two generous vestibules are more than ample for my sometimes messy approach to camp admin! I generally cook in one and store all my gear in the other. The ventilation options provided with a vent on either pole apex point is decent in inclement conditions and that provided by having two doors in kinder conditions is a welcome feature.
      Pitching the Strat on the desired orientation is something that is soon learned and has caused me little if any problems to date. Setup is relatively quick and easy anyway so moving the shelter is fairly straightforward.
      As for any custom features that could be added I cannot honestly recommend any that would improve on the default design.
      I hope that answers your questions Graham. If not please don’t hesitate to ask away. Maybe I should’ve wrotten this as a follow up to my original post lol
      Cheers.

      Elton.

  7. Thanks ever so much Elton for your comments. It’s good to hear that it’s well suited to the area I camp in too. My hand is moving ever closer to that ‘Buy’ button!

    Cheers

    Graham

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