The state of my gear: tents

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.


29 thoughts on “The state of my gear: tents”

  1. great article Robin. I really like it when people discuss the relative merits of their kit and why they chose it and how they would improve it. For me that shows a keen passion for sharing kit experiences with others but by being objective and not rosy spectacled. All kit, in this case tents, have strong points and niggles. Your article manages to summarise your tent buying choices and yet leaves room for discussion about future improvements.
    I might do a similar article on my blog in the near future, you have definitely got me thinking about my reasons for having certain shelters and their pros and cons. Of course we ought to save a little for a campside chat in a few months time! πŸ™‚

      1. Um….yes, always fun to discuss gear as long as we all keep an open mind πŸ˜€ Of course the downside is that my fingers are itching to get a new shelter (and I havent sold enough other gear to fund it yet!) πŸ˜‰

  2. My Chikara and cuben Oookstar has just arrived and is very nice. It turns the Trailstar into a four season, mountain tent. Just pitched on the lawn so far. I will use it next weekend if I can shake this latest, blasted virus.

  3. Forgot to say how good your review is, particularly of the Scarp. I can’t match that. Couldn’t even find that much to say about the Akto, despite many nights inside it.

    1. It’s a shame that Hilleberg haven’t developed the Akto further. What was once a cutting edge design has been left behind.

  4. Thanks Robin, I have managed to find a decent signal to completely read your post. Always interesting. I agree, as you will know, that i much prefer the massive advantages of having the inverted T zip as well. For me the Scarp design is excellent, even though we all want to make some changes to suit our particular traits. The zip though i found very restrictive and i made the change, via Oookworks of course.
    I hope Henry does some serious work on this point soon, because i want a Scarp 1.

  5. Thanks Robin, for a very goof article, yes we have all evolved through a series of tents/shelters. I agree that the MLD shelters are excellent and the inner works however, I do agree about the door zip, something I like on the Oookworks design. Oookworks inners do appear to be a great option, I expect to eb investing in Sean’s business quite soon.

      1. I did use the MLD inner net with my GoLite SL 2 for my 19 day trip in Lapland last summer. It worked fine, kept the mossies out and blocked a bit of breeze, however it is a bit minimalistic especially if you need space to spread out, as well the J zip is not as nice as a T zip. Looking forward to your rucksacks report.

  6. Hey there,

    Long time reader here, first time poster. Over the past few years I’ve found your gear reviews to be very usefull and interesting (this one’s no exception). Reviews like this one really help me figure out what I want and need for myself.

    Nowadays I don’t buy that much gear anymore, but instead I try making most of it myself. One of the things that I’m planning on making for myself this year is a tent. That’s also the reason I’m making my first post here. I’m very interested in the “radical tent designs” you have in mind. I might be able to make your design. If I can’t, I can probably still steal some of the details for my own design πŸ˜‰


    1. Thanks, Mark

      I’m reluctant to say too much. One might see the light of day. The other is a bit more complex and probably needs an existing tent manufacturer to come to fruition.

      If you are considering making your own tent, it will be more satisfying if you come up with your own design, to your own specifications.

      Good luck!

      1. Now you’re teasing (which makes me even more curious). First you say you have a radical design in mind and then you don’t want to say anything more about it. Can you at least tell us what problem your design is trying to solve?

        My own design is pretty much done, but I’m still thinking about some of the details before I start sewing. Besides, I need to finish my current project (a waterproof camera bag) first.

      2. Trying to take the Duomid one step further. The other is more technical. I just don’t want to reveal any more. You never know, I might persuade someone to do it πŸ™‚

  7. Nice post Robin although I am suprised that you have not purchased one of the new cuben Scarp1 tents. At under a kilo you can’t go wrong for something so stable and spacious…………………..

  8. Has the OookWorks inner arrived yet? I’m drawn to the idea of the Chikara floor, but there seem to be very few comments about its real world performance yet. Specifically I’m trying to find out how durable it seems to be when pitched on hard dirt, over partially-exposed tree roots and stones. This is pretty much unavoidable where I camp in the Backcountry. My second question is how noisy the material is when in use. Sean described it as being somewhat crinkly. The material is used for kites and gliders. My 15+ year old memories of the Nova Phocus paraglider canopy I owned was that it was considerably noisier than a TAR Neo Air.

    1. Not yet. He’s waiting for some lineloks. Blogger Zed has a Trailstar nest with a Chikara floor. He might be able to help. I will post when I get it, perhaps next week.

      1. Thanks for your reply, Robin. Blogger Zed tells me he’s been under the weather and hasn’t been able to take the OookStar out recently. I look forward to your update once you’ve received the nest.

        In the meantime, Sean responded that spinnaker material is definitely noisier than Chikara, and he offered to send me a sample.

  9. Funny just how idiosyncratic experiences seem to be with bits of gear. I had an Akto for over 20 years before I replaced it with another. And I never experienced unusually bad condensation or problems pitching it.

    Why I like it and still like it? PEACE OF MIND. Knowing it will stand up to really high winds. It’s that which allows you to sleep instead of staying awake worrying it won’t. There’s absolutely no concession to the weather for the sake of boasting of a lighter weight, which means less concern about finding a sheltered spot. The only caveat is heavy snow, but my bug bear are gusts, not uncommonly around 130 kph.

    And that full inner, whilst it can be overkill for reliably hot summers, is a godsend in New Zealand, where an antarctic southerly can send the temperature plummeting & have you shivering in your bag and in every piece of clothing you can put on.. Nor will you have to endure condensation blown onto you through some skinny mesh if the tent walls are flapping.

    Oh, and did i mention Hilleberg replace my groundsheet free of charge after 20 years when I noticed it wasn’t water tight anymore? Match that if you haven’t already swapped tents several times over by the time two decades are up.

    A roomy vestibule means I can store my pack with its 9 plus days of food,etc AND still have space to cook in the foulest weather whilst sitting inside. Another big plus is the very economical footprint. There have been just too many times when I’ve had to put the tent down feeling near exhausted and in sub optimal terrain where a palace would just not have squeezed in.

    So, yes, the design hasn’t changed much over the decades, but that is totally illogical as an argument. It’s simply a tent which prioritizes weather protection & longevity over weight. If that’s not your priority, choose something else, as indeed I have done for when I expect more benign conditions.

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