In selecting a shelter to carry with me on the trail, here’s what I had on my mind:
1. Weight — It needed to be light to offset the extra load of camera gear I was carrying.
2. Roomy — I like to spread out, especially on long rainy days when I decide to sleep in or read. I don’t want to be sleeping in a coffin.
3. Belly-sleeper — Hammocks were not an option for me as I like to spend much of the night on my tummy.
4. Bug net — I wasn’t going to go for the simple tarp set up; because I have a slight horror of things crawling across or biting me in the night.
The shelter that seemed to fit all these parameters was the Tarptent Stratospire 1, and after using it for a few months on the trail I am very happy with the purchase. Tarptents (by Henry Shires) are very intelligent and efficient shelters. The model I selected was a bit more tent than most thru-hikers carry (the Contrail weighs a half-pound less and is more popular), but I justified the extra weight for point #3 above. The Stratospire 1 weighs just over 2 pounds, and it has afforded me a comfortable night’s sleep every time I’ve used it. After seem-sealing it’s held up quite well to even heavy rain storms.
There are drawbacks to every type of shelter, and for tarptents they are as follows:
– Not as user-friendly as free-standing commercial tents. These designs require a modicum of handiness and rigging knowledge. They are relatively easy to set-up, but not as simple as the mainstream dome-style tent. And because they are not freestanding, once erected most tarptents are fixed in place unless you break them down to move them. Also, these tents do not come seam-sealed, though you can pay for that service from the maker.
– Condensation: I have found the tent to be very effective at keeping the rain out, but the interior does easily collect condensation which results in a wet tent body after rainy nights. I think this is a negligible point, though, since every tent is going to get wet to some degree when it rains.
– Durability: Tarp-tents are built to be light, and I think this will have an effect on long-term durability. I’ve already found a small tear in my bug mesh, though thankfully it’s not in a place where it will spread. This is a compromise you have to make with most light-weight gear–it’s going to be easier on your back but have 70 to 80 percent of the life span of mainstream, manufactured gear.
Overall, I’ve been very pleased with this shelter. It pitches relatively easily, and I can rig it taught for windstorm and heavy rain. In fair weather it’s easy to fold back the doors for maximum ventilation. Perhaps my greatest difficulty with this tent is packing it up in rainy or windy conditions–it’s simply an awkward design to fold up, and I usually have a hard time making a neat job of it. I would recommend it to other hikers, though. It comes in a larger floor-plan for couples who are hiking together and want more elbow room.