I’m going to split my gear thoughts over several posts just to drag it out a bit. Feedback on gear is, along with trip reports, the most important function of a backpacking blog in my view.
Let’s start with tents, a subject close to my heart. I actually took four tents with me but used two. I camped in the Force Ten Vortex 200 at Hollins and used my Tarptent Scarp 1 up in the fells. I also took my Duomid and Laser Competition (the last was a just in case thing).
Taking the Scarp first, it performed impeccably. Sealing the loop for the crossing poles and the pole arch seems to have cured the minor leak problem that I suffered on my previous trip. Some of the sealant around the pole arch has become a bit flaky, so I may reapply some sealant. I think I packed the tent away too quickly without letting the sealant cure properly.
The Scarp is a very stable tent due to the pitchlock support system at the ends of the tent. In most circumstances, the crossing poles are not necessary. The other feature that makes the Scarp so good is living space. The inner tent has plenty of space for sleeping and for gear storage. The two porches give ample room for further storage and cooking as well as the option of storing wet gear separately.
I think the venting is the best of any one man tent I’ve owned. The opposing roof vents really do seem to cut down the condensation compared with the Laser Competition or the Akto. I’m not sure about the efficacy of the vents at the ends of the tent, but they can’t do any harm.
In the past I have questioned how waterproof the groundsheet is. However, in my flooding incident, the groundsheet proved to be completely watertight. I am still inclined to use something under the groundsheet to add a bit of protection as it is quite thin. I am currently using a space blanket, which only weighs 50g. This is probably being over cautious, but it also adds a bit of insulation.
The flooding incident raises some interesting issues over shelter type and design. The bathtub groundsheet of the Scarp gave me valuable protection and bought me some time to pack in the dry as the waters rose. Had I been in the Duomid, I would have been in a more difficult position, especially without a bivvy bag. The first I would have known about the rising water would probably have been a wet sleeping bag!
It probably would also have been more tricky in the Laser Competition as it doesn’t have the protection of a bathtub groundsheet. Now I freely admit that it was poor camp craft to pitch where I did. I can’t remember ever having been flooded like this, although I can remember times when rivulets have flowed under my tent.
The pitch at Green Hole, my Scarp is on the left
It seems to me that in places like the fells in the Lake District it is wise to take a shelter that can handle adverse weather and ground conditions. I feel confident that the Scarp can handle most things that nature can throw at it. Similarly, the Akto is pretty bombproof. The Laser Comp, while still good, has some shortcomings regarding stability (mainly noise) and is more vulnerable to ground conditions as it doesn’t have a bathtub groundsheet.
The pool of water where my tent was pitched (picture courtesy of Jeff)
I’ve not yet slept in the Duomid, but it is clear that the position of any pitch needs more care, both from the perspective of the lie of the ground and from wind conditions. I think the Duomid is an interesting option for low level and sheltered conditions. It’s not a tent I would want to be in half way up a mountain in a gale and torrential rain.
Of course, the penalty you pay for security and space is weight and my Scarp with tweaks, extra pegs and space blanket weighs about 1.6kg. Everyone has a different trade off between weight and safety/comfort. At the moment the Scarp represents my optimal trade off.
Force Ten Vortex 200
Turning to the Force Ten Vortex 200, it had a difficult act to follow after my Marmot Thor, which was like sleeping in a nuclear air raid shelter. Like all gear there are tradeoffs. While it is not quite as stable as the Thor (what tent is?), it is certainly strong enough to handle most conditions. It rocks slightly in the wind, but it would take a hurricane for it to be in any trouble.
It is certainly watertight. The rain on Friday night was quite ferocious at times and there were no leaks. A very small pool of water was prone to collect at the apex of the door arch and a little bit of care was needed not to dislodge this when exiting the tent. All the seams are sealed.
The vents seem to work well. There are four mid level vents (two each side) and the end doors can be used as vents with protecting hoods. The side vents can be virtually closed with a flap of material and a Velcro tab in cold, windy conditions. The top of the door flap can be secured with a toggle and loop so that it can be opened as a vent but the material can be prevented from flapping.
There are doors at either end of the tent. They unzip on one side and curve over at the top. They can be unzipped from the top or the bottom. However they are not like the Terra Nova doors which have full zips on both sides. Only one side can be fully unzipped. There are two toggles and loops for folding back the door. Although I prefer the Terra Nova arrangement, the doors were more than adequate and it was easy to enter or exit the tent without getting wet from the flysheet (something that was more difficult in the Thor). The zips were slightly sticky where they coincide with the taped seams.
Erecting the tent requires a bit of patience. The flat pole sleeves on the flysheet mean that inserting the poles requires a bit of manipulation. The pole sleeves appear to be more robust material than the rest of the flysheet. I can foresee the possibility that the constant pushing of poles through the sleeves might cause a wear and tear issue in the future. The main poles are straight but the poles over the doors have a slight arch in the middle.
The key is to be gentle and to get all the poles inserted and lined up before pushing the ends into the eyelets. Once the two main crossover poles are up the rest is easy. Clips are used to secure the lower part of the fly to the poles and there are some buckles to tension the poles. With a bit of practice, it’s quite easy. The inner is attached to the outer, so all that remains is to peg the fly sheet. The pegs supplied are mainly solid alloy pins and some “Y” pegs. The “Y” pegs have no cord loops, so are difficult to pull out.
The inner tent is a dark orange and the outer is green and black (orange and black is also available). This combination made it darker inside than the Thor, but not unpleasant. The bathtub groundsheet was not as deep as the Thor but perfectly adequate. Along each side of the inner there are a series of very useful mesh pockets. Further storage is provided by a small mesh gear loft. There are also four “D” rings half way up each arch to hang lamps etc.
The doors at either end are an almost complete “O”. The upper third has a mesh vent which can be completely closed by a flap of material and a zip. When open, the door can be folded away in a mesh pocket to one side, which is quite a neat feature.
The inner seems slightly bigger than the Thor, but that may be an illusion as the Quasar groundsheet protector that I used exactly matched the tent floor (as it did for the Thor). For one person, there’s ample space for a sleeping mat and gear.
The official list price is £350, but I bought mine for £230 at Complete Outdoors, which is a bit of a bargain for a four pole geodesic tent. Overall I’m very pleased with it. I think it’s a great base camp tent and should stand up to anything that can be thrown at it. Is it better than the Thor? The Thor is even more stable, but I like having two porches and the entry and exit to the tent is better. On balance, I think it is slightly better so I’m very happy.