UL/SUL shelters.

2 07 2014

As ever, I’ve been thinking about stuff. I have been using my trusty Rab bivi bag for a good number of years. It is made from eVent fabric and breathes well, whilst dealing with abrasion and rough ground superbly. It is a long bivi -with enough room to stow a bag and helmet at the bottom, without leaving the sleeper feeling cramped. The midge netting is essential in Scotland: leave the bag open in dry weather, perhaps with a guy line to a tree, or close it down if inclement.

But you cannot sit in it to read, cook or pass the time of day. Once you stop moving, if it is raining (likley) or if there are midge (ineviatble) you are obliged to bed down for the night. Great if you have eaten and are planning to move far and fast but not so great if you want to chill out and enjoy a glorious sunset and perhaps a wee dram. Until recently, ultralight shelters were either too fragile, too expensive (cotage industry cuben fiber one offs with dodgy stitching and stratospheric prices) or too heavy. My bivi sack weighs in the mid 800g range and after deciding that more often than not an overnighter for me includes a sit, ponder and sip scenario, I re-visited the UL/SUL shelter market.

Once you have decided on the basics: size, shape, material, free-standing or not, poles or hiking-pole use, mid or tunnel, tarp with bug net or one-piece, boom! there are now lots of good options.

The first I looked at seriously was the Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo, conveniently available from Backpackinglight.co.uk. Very light, one piece for easy pitching, available with a carbon fiber pole as an alternative to the almost universal use of a hiking pole as centre upright in these ‘mid-type shelters and it has been revised recently to increase depth of bucket floor to the ‘roof’ giving more sleepign space and less likely hood of drips. For some reason, I could not make the leap to purchase this tent. I have no idea why, I think it is superb.

Inevitably, I started looking at even lighter shelters of a similar design. Perhaps the one I spent the most time pondering was the Z packs Hexamid. This super-ultralight shelter is made from cuben, seems very simple to pitch and has ├╝ber-high geek factor. However, in Scotland I suspect the ‘bill’ isn’t quite big enough to protect from rough weather. A shame, I’d love to have this shelter for fine weather use. It should also be noted that even with pegs and pole it is substantially lighter than my bivi bag – astonishing!

Another shelter that ticked all the boxes is the Henry Shire’s Tarp Tent Contrail. This is another neat design. Again, I cannot fully explain why I did not go for this one. I had decided that silny had a better cost to weight ratio for me than cuben and in some cases the stretch of the silny was desirable (see Chris Townsend for a far more useful description than I could offer as to why).

The shelter I kept coming back to, time after time, was the trailstar range from Mountain Laurel Designs. The particular version that seemed to suit my needs was the cricket (alternatively known as the Solo Trailsatr). A review from Tramplite was highly informative and persuasive. I emailed Ron Bell, the approachable and helpful alpha cheese at MLD, with regards several details – primarily the use of a non-hiking pole and the pros and cons of single or double pole pitching (I am intending to use my bike as the second ‘pole’ if required) and along with a carbon fiber pole from Z packs of the correct height that folds to a mere 12″ I finally made my choice. Again, all in, lighter than my bivi bag. The only down side is it needs pitching rather than simply unrolling. The benefit, I can sit up and eat behind the midge netting.

Once I have the shelter and have used it I will report back.

The pictures used in this post are taken from the manufacturers websites and are owned by them. I reproduce them with the hope that some readers will be interested in their products.