Hmmm. I’ve bought a new tent. I do have a bit of a collection! Why did I buy this? Well, I’ve been thinking about doing some of the shorter trails in East Anglia as an alternative to driving North to the Peak District, Lake District or North Wales. They don’t have the hills that I love, but they are a lot closer and flatter, which will be less strenuous. The biggest issue for me is the challenge of wild camping. That’s why I thought of getting a different tent.
None of my tents are particularly stealth, except for the Helm 1, which is a bit heavy. I wanted something that didn’t weigh more than about a kilo and didn’t use trekking poles as they are a bit superfluous on lowland trails. I wanted a double skin tent that was fly sheet first pitch with a small footprint. The other feature that is important for lowland camping is a fly sheet colour that wouldn’t draw attention, green or brown.
Tents I narrowed it down to were the Terra Nova Laser Compact 1 and Starlite 1 and the F10 Helium UL 1. The Starlite looked good but I rejected because of lack of headroom as it is too low to sit up comfortably. The Laser Compact and Helium are very similar but there are some important differences.
The Helium is a lot cheaper, at less than half the price of the Laser Compact. The Laser is slightly lighter, saving 141g, taking the tent and poles together (892g vs 1,033g) . The poles in the Helium account for most of this difference (102g). The supplied pegs are a bit heavier too, but I will swap some of them. The colours are slightly different with the Laser being a darker green. Helium is a darker, more khaki green than the publicity photos and should blend in well. Obviously camo would be best but that isn’t really an option in mainstream tents!
Looking at the dimension diagrams, the dimensions of the two tents are virtually identical. The Helium inner is marginally shorter and the porch slightly smaller. However, the headroom is better because of the pre-bent poles which means the apex of the arch is virtually flat. The F10 also has tension band system (TBS) which should add stability. To be honest, the TBS is quite intrusive and fiddly on the Helium and I’d rather have double guys each side on the pole arch like Hilleberg tents. Another difference is the groundsheet on the Helium which is 70D compared with 30D on the Laser, although the hydrostatic head is slightly lower.
I haven’t seen a Laser Compact in the flesh, but I did own a Laser Competition. Comparing the Helium with the Laser Competition, the inner feels roomier, I suspect the ends are marginally wider. The porch is a lot smaller, but you can detach the inner at the centre of the door and pull it back to make more space. Extra care will be needed if cooking in the porch.
I don’t like the door tie back system. There’s a toggle on the fly sheet hem which connects to a ring on the roof of the inner. Not only is it fiddly but it seems to come loose easily. I tried some clothes pegs, but those can slip too. I’ve ordered some magnetic tie backs which hopefully will solve this issue ( https://speedsterstoves.co.uk/other-products/speedster-stoves-silicone-magnets.html ). It’s a real issue if you are cooking in the porch, as the door coming loose could flap against the stove a catch fire. A poor design IMO.
There are two small mesh pockets inside the roof of the inner. Personally I’d rather there were a larger mesh pocket at either end, which would be more useful. The inner door opens up virtually the whole side of the inner and can be clipped away tidily. The outer door has a double ended zip so the top can be opened for ventilation and there’s a buckle at the hem to relieve tension.
It’s very easy and quick to pitch. It feels pretty solid even without the TBS in place. For lowland camping it should be fine. I’m sure it would be fine in the hills as well, but like the Laser, it will probably flap a bit in high winds. Hopefully the vents at each end will help control condensation better than the old Laser, plus the door can be ventilated at the top. I suspect it will still be quite condensation prone though, which is unavoidable in these kind of tents.
One thing I was surprised about was the small pack size. It packs to about 30cms long and has a really good “burrito” style bag. It’s so much easier to pack than a stuff sack and there are two straps to compact it further. The bag is a bit heavy at 56g, but the utility more than offsets this. There’s a useful repair kit with patches and a pole sleeve (15g).
All in all it’s a really nice tent. If you don’t use trekking poles, then it’s pretty light and there aren’t many double skin tents that are lighter. Taking into account features and price, it’s a difficult tent to beat. Here I must give a special shout out to OutdoorGear in Bournemouth who answered my questions promptly and gave me a good service. My tent was delivered next day by DPD at no extra charge. I paid £225 vs a list price of £315, which is the cheapest I’ve seen the Helium.
If you want to check it out: https://www.outdoorgear.co.uk/Force-Ten-F10-Helium-UL-1-Tent-sku51106001.asp?subcat=1-3-person&cat=tents-by-size&dept=tents&size=1p
Disclosure: I have no relationship with OutdoorGear other than as a customer.