Tarps are roomier than bivy bags, more comfortable, often have space for cooking in a storm and may even be ligther. Even in backpacking, often small businesses are more innovative than multinationals and buying from them is a good thing at many levels. This is why I discovered Tarptents and why I found their shelters interesting. Besides their actual product, what I like a lot of Tarptent is that they aren’t all secrets and “ready to sue” as big companies. If you feel bold enough to try to make your own Tarptent, similar to the ones they sell, they themselves explain you how to do it.
A few months I decided I wanted to know more about their one-person models, so I got in contact with Henry Shires, the owner of Tarptents.com. We had the interesting conversation which follows, reformatted in question/answer format with Henry’s permission. As usual, don’t hesitate to log in and comment or ask extra questions!
Strider: Let’s start with the Rainbow shelter: is it for one person only?
Henry: Yes, but it will fit two side-by-side sleeping pads if you need it to. Otherwise, I would call it a large one-person shelter.
Strider: Is it possible to use an alcohol stove inside the Rainbow when it’s raining? It doesn’t look as it does allow you to keep a stove dry, does it?
Henry: I’ve done it under the front beak (awning). There’s just room enough to do that if you really have to but it’s not intended for cooking.
Strider: what about about cross winds? Imagine that you set it up with the short side facing the wind for greater resistance and the wind changes during the night, as it happens frequently here in Italy in some places, coming straight at the long sides of the shelter? Will it still be stable?
Henry: The Rainow is quite stable as long as you have it properly staked at the 4 corners, back wall, and front beak. There are also additional pullouts partway up the pole sleeve and along the beak hem.
Strider: Are trekking poles really needed? If not, how much stability does the Rainbow looses, if doing without them? Trekking poles are not that useful in some parts of the Apennines, due to the fact that most of some routes are so bushy that trekking poles would be more a problem than a support.
Henry: The Rainbow sets up without trekking poles just fine. The 6 stakes that come with the shelter are all you need and staking is the way to achieve maximum stability.
Strider: The Rainbow does have a curved pole, right? How could it stand up and have that shape otherwise? I am confused by the fact that the datasheet doesn’t mention it, though.
Henry: Yes, the Rainbow arch pole is segmented and shockcorded. It slides in and out of the yellow sleeve.
Strider: Let’s move to the Contrail now, as it looks great and is probably more suited to needs of Italian/South Europe backpackers than the Rainbow. Its beak would cover a stove in a storm, wouldn’t it?
Henry: Yes, much better than the beak on the Rainbow.
Strider: The Contrail page says that a hiking pole or other pole are needed. Can you give us more information? Specifically, which kind of stand-alone tent pole should one purchase to perform the same function (diameter, top, recommended material, length…)
Henry: Yes, you will need a front pole for the Contrail. We have front poles ($5, 60 grams) if you don’t have trekking poles. Also, our pole is light and flexible so I do recommend an additional stake to run a guyline off the apex for better stability.
Strider: In bushy areas like one finds many Southern Europe parks and trails, sometimes one is forced to go for a bivy, which has much more condensation, no cover for cooking etc… just because there is often not enough space to place most tarp tents and no trees suitable for hammock camping. Have you ever considered a smaller version, one which is big just enough to fit one person not taller than 180 cm tall plus his or her backpack? The extra weight savings would make it much more interesting for ultralight backpacking than it already is.
Henry: The length of the Contrail is in large part a function of the two forward “wings” which allow the front to be staked only at the corners (especially with a stiff trekking pole). They need to extend out far enough to provide forward tension so shortening them decreases stability. The Rainbow does have a smaller footprint and is a better choice for confined areas.
Strider: there is no way that the Contrail can be freestanding, can it? It would extend its range to nights on rocky grounds (frequent here above a certain altitude). It’s not really mandatory, but it would be great.
Henry: No, there’s no way to do free-standing with that design other than by adding two long arch poles and increasing the weight substantially.
Questions common to both shelters
Strider: A shelter without sealed seams has very little utility under the continuos rains you can encounter in spring and autumn here in Italy. Sealing the seams at home as explained in your FAQ, however, can be a messy business. Can you seal the seams before shipping? If yes, how much would this increase price and weight of these two shelters?
Henry: We do offer seam-sealing ($15, less than one ounce/30 grams) if you would like that service.
Strider: Which of these two shelters is more recommended for snow camping?
Henry: the Rainbow handles snowfall quite well but isn’t intended for snow camping since it will be cold and drafty in winter weather.
Strider: It is not clear if the lenghts and widths listed for the several shelters are those of the whole shelters or only of the internal “chamber”. Ditto for the Floor Area. Comparative drawings, as those already provided for heigth and shape of TarpTent shelters, would be helpful here.
Henry: Yes, it is a bit confusing, sorry. We list exterior (canopy) dimensions as well as interior floor dimensions. The floors are inset from all the driplines and connected to the canopy edges with no-see-um mesh. In order to help give a better sense of space and relative floor offsets from the canopies, we have published full ghosted views of all the shelters. Those for the Contrail and Rainbow are here:
Ghosted views of other Tarptents shelters not covered in this review are in the following pages: