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?
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.
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.
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.