l to r: Tarptent Scarp1, MLD silnylon Duomid with OookWorks nest, MLD cuben Duomid
This is the start of a new series. Inspired by Hendrik’s idea of living reviews, I though I’d cast the net wider and do a living review on all (well most) of my gear.
Before we start, I want to make a few disclaimers. It is not my intention to set myself as some kind of gear guru, handing down my views on tablets of stone from the mountain. I’m just an ordinary Joe, who’s bought a load of gear and wants to share what I’ve found. This is a personal view and I’m not suggesting that what’s right for me is necessarily right for you. My priorities and compromises may not suit you.
With that in mind let’s dive into the subject of tents, a topic close to my heart. Along with footwear and rucksacks, shelters are something that you need to get right or you can have a miserable time. Unlike footwear and rucksacks, you can get away with a poor shelter choice until the weather gets bad. Only when it’s pouring with rain and blowing a gale will you know whether your shelter is any good.
I don’t want to get into a debate about the merits of tarps vs. tents or single skin vs. double skin. For me, I want the protection of a double skin tent. I like having both the security and comfort. That’s my choice. It may not be yours.
Until about seven years ago, since leaving university, my camping had been mainly base camping, doing day walks. Around 2006, my interest in wild camping and backpacking was rekindled.
Before I stopped backpacking, I had a Saunders Backpacker S and then a Phoenix Phreeranger. Neither were still available, so my first tent was Vango TBS 100, which was a good tent but too small and heavy. Next up was a ME AR Ultralite, which was too unstable.
I then bought an Akto, which I liked, but was slightly heavy and a bit bulky. As many have done, I progressed to a TN Laser Competition. I preferred this to the Akto as it was lighter, less bulky and somehow felt right. It needed extensive tweaking but worked well. However, its Achilles heel is that it is very noisy in wind and it feels a bit cramped at either end.
When the Scarp came on the scene, its first iteration had a high cut fly sheet, which was not ideal for British weather. It is to Henry’s credit that he listened to users and lowered the hem of the fly in the second version.
So I bought a Scarp 1. The Scarp is the first tent that I’ve been really happy with, although it’s not perfect. Even without the crossing poles, it’s very stable, able to stand high winds. For a one man tent, it’s very spacious. Not only is the inner palatial, but having two porches gives huge flexibility to store wet gear and to cook. It’s very easy to pitch.
I was a bit dubious about the silnylon groundsheet but it’s been perfectly watertight. I still put a space blanket under it, but it’s not strictly necessary. The roof vents make it one of the best tents I’ve owned when it comes to condensation. Both the Akto and the Comp were terrible, but the Scarp is much better.
I’ve changed the end guying system to mimic the Akto and reduce the pegging points, but it’s a choice rather than necessity. I’ve also put some silicone sealant stripes on the inside floor of the groundsheet to prevent my sleeping mat from slipping. Silnylon is very slippery and if you are on a slope, everything keeps sliding downhill.
There are things I’d change. I’d like some large mesh pockets. The ones supplied are too small and in the wrong place (by the door). I would prefer inverted T zip doors on the inner. I’d like opposing doors rather than the doors being at one end. The pole arch material is a bit sticky to insert the pole and the grosgrain loops for the side guys are at the wrong angle.
Also the grosgrain loop for the crossing poles is awkward for inserting both poles and needs to be sealed or it will leak. In fact, the whole pole arch needs to be sealed. The clips to secure the crossing poles to the roof could also be improved.
However, all in all, these are relatively minor things. Overall, the Scarp is a terrific tent and has never let me down. I feel totally safe in it, whatever the weather. It is superbly spacious, even if you are holed up for a day with bad weather. To my mind, it beats the Akto and the Comp hands down. If I had to be restricted to one tent, this would be it. I know that I can rely on it, whatever the weather throws at me.
Despite its brilliance, the Scarp is not ultralight, being only slightly lighter than an Akto, so I bought a Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid. While the quality of the workmanship of the Scarp is OK, the Duomid is superbly made. I didn’t like the white cuben version as it looked a bit like a glorified plastic bag, so I went for the silnylon one in a very attractive olive brown.
The Duomid reminds me a bit of a smaller and lighter version of the old Blacks Good Companion. As well as the Duomid I bought a MLD mesh inner. While I liked the Duomid, I was underwhelmed by the inner. It is like a glorified mosquito net. I would be happier if the whole front could be opened, but the J zip means half the porch area is inaccessible from the inside.
It felt like the Duomid was a mistake, as I was reluctant to use just the fly. Fortunately, Sean started OookWorks and was able to make a bespoke inner. Although slightly heavier than anticipated, it was the missing piece of the jigsaw. The Duomid now felt like a real tent.
The Duomid/OookWorks combo is superb. The sleeping area is a similar size to the Scarp, but with more headroom. Tying back both doors makes it feel like a palace. The porch is huge. It’s great for storage and cooking. It’s so large that I can change out of wet clothes in it.
I was concerned about high winds but so far, it’s stood up much better than expected. It certainly doesn’t flap as much as a Laser Comp and feels pretty solid. I don’t think it’s a high mountain tent like the Scarp, but it’s not just a lowland tent.
As I mentioned, I didn’t buy the cuben version because it was white. MLD changed the colour to green, so I gave into temptation and bought one. I’ve not taken it on a trip yet, so I can’t tell you how it performs in the field. The cut seems slightly different compared with the silnylon version. In particular, the door seems lower. The silnylon version has a large gap between the ground and the bottom of the door. The other noticeable difference is that the seams are glued, so no seam sealing is necessary.
At the moment Sean at OookWorks has it and will add a couple of tweaks, which I will share with you when he’s finished. He is also making a hybrid mesh/cuben/Chikara inner for me. When he’s finished I will have a superbly spacious lightweight tent.
The Duomid is not for everyone. If you don’t carry trekking poles, then the weight advantage disappears. If you want a more stable storm proof tent then the Trailstar is probably more suitable. Every tent has compromises. I love the headroom and space of the Duomid.
What of the future? With the Scarp and the Duomid, I feel I’ve got most bases covered. I rejected the original Trailstar for two reasons. It is single skinned and headroom is a bit low.
However, the new Oookstar addresses the first issue. I’m still not sure that I want to be on my hands and knees to get into the tent, but the TS is growing on me, especially as there is a cuben version. If I were going somewhere like Scandinavia or Alaska, I would be more motivated. I won’t buy it this year, but maybe as a birthday present to myself in 2013.
I do have two radical tent designs in my head for the future. Whether they will ever see the light of day depends whether there is anyone out there foolhardy enough to take them on. One is a variation on the pyramid theme. The other draws from the designs of a couple of other tents but is unique and would be very strong.
The next topic will be rucksacks.