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Integral Designs Silshelter


by the Product Review Staff | 2003-09-29 03:00:00-06

See how this shelter rates with others in our Comparison Review of Tarps and Other Floorless Shelters


At only 12.9 ounces, the Integral Designs Sil Shelter provides the lightest fully-enclosable tarp on the market, making it a cult choice among lightweight backpackers that camp in inclement conditions. And, because of its flat sheet design and multitude of tie-out points, the Sil Shelter gets high marks for flexibility.

Ease of Setup (2.0)

It's difficult to get a super taut, roomy, and storm resistant pitch on a Sil Shelter.

Setting up the shelter rapidly in a storm is a simple affair - stake out its four corners in a rectangle configuration, pop in a trekking pole to raise the apex, and stake out the doors (six total stakes required). All in all, it takes about a minute for a proficient user to have overhead protection - no guylines needed.

Pitched like this (with these six stakes), the Sil Shelter looks like a prop on the set of Sanford and Son. Its sagging panels and drooping ridgeline make this simple pitch inadequate for bearing high winds, pooling rain, or heavy snow.

The first problem to address is the drooping ridgeline, which severely reduces volume in the shelter and under a snow load, cuts it in half. There are two options for stabilizing the ridgeline. The first is to place a second, shorter pole (e.g., collapsed trekking pole) with its handle into the pole cap on the interior of the shelter near the end of the ridgeline. Unfortunately, this reduces interior living space, and even forces a single person far to one side where there is significant risk of having their sleeping bag contact the interior wall of the shelter. The second solution is to use the three guyline tie-out points present along the ridgeline (one at the front apex, one in the middle, and one near the rear). A guyline to a stake (stake no. 7) at the front of the shelter can be used to tension the front tie-out point. Two additional guylines (attached to the rear pole cup tie-out and the center-rear [elastic] tie-out) can be strung to a trekking pole in the rear, and staked out as a single point (stake no. 8). Adjusting the length of the two cords involves some experimentation (and changes depending on the height at which the shelter is pitched). This provides a solution that results in a tight ridgeline capable of shedding snow and significantly increasing interior volume.

The second problem to address is the sagging of the relatively large side panels. Use two guylines and stake out (stake nos. 9 and 10) the two side panel tie-out points on the Sil Shelter. You'll need to be creative, since we assume that you've run out of trekking poles, to raise these guylines. You'll have to find some sticks or employ your ice axes, skis, snowshoes, or the like for assistance.

The result of these additional efforts is dramatic. Interior living space improves tremendously - to the point that the fruit of your efforts is a shelter that can now truly - and comfortably - accommodate two people. However, we're not quite ready to shed high winds, as the shelter is still a bit flappy. To solve this last problem, additional stakes should be added along the ground at the mid-points of each door (stakes no. 11 and 12), the mid-points of the sides (stake nos. 13, 14, 15, and 16), and a final stake along the midpoint of the rear (stake no. 17).

A final note that improves the Sil Shelter pitch is to bring the main apex support outside the shelter, using a guyline tied from the apex (via a clove hitch) to the trekking pole (and then staked out to the front of the shelter). The result is that the doors overlap a little better (despite the pole now sticking up through the "vestibule"). More importantly, it results in a tighter ridgeline and improved interior living space.

Now we're ready for some serious storm and wind resistance. And it only took 17 stakes, five guylines, two trekking poles, and two sticks or other tools!

Construction Quality (4.0)

The Sil Shelter is built to Integral's high standard of quality and offers a stormworthy package that should last awhile. We were very pleased with the design of the pole caps (for securing trekking pole handles and prevent them from slipping), but wished that more attention was paid both to the overlapping design of the doors (they do not overlap sufficiently at the apex to provide serious rain protection), and the ridgeline (we yearned for catenary lines to simplify the pitch!).


We weighed the Sil Shelter on our scales at 12.9 ounces (no stakes or guylines). Adding about 25 feet of light Spectra guylines and seventeen titanium stakes, a package weight of less than 18 ounces can be achieved.

Stability (4.0)

Properly pitched as described above, the Sil Shelter provides excellent wind stability and snow shedding. If you know you are going to be in areas of high wind, pitch the rear of the shelter into the wind. For snowy conditions, pitch the apex high to ensure steep walls and a steep ridgeline.

A lot of experimentation, skill in tarp pitching, and perseverance are required to successfully use the Sil Shelter in windy and snowy conditions, but the efforts may be worth it in the end.

Storm Protection (4.5)

The Sil Shelter can be pitched completely to the ground, offers enough stake out points to minimize spindrift blowing into the shelter, and allows for the doors to provide an almost full enclosure for the front (small gaps in the doors resulting from fabric tension are normal). Thus, the design provides a very storm-resistant refuge from the elements and is a viable option for mountain camping.

Ventilation / Condensation Resistance (4.0)

The Sil Shelter offers options for reducing condensation and allowing for cross-through air flow. Instead of staking down the rear mid-point to the ground, a guyline and stake can be used to provide a 3-8" high triangular opening at the rear. In addition, the front doors can be left open, or the shelter can be pitched lower (causing the doors to be not fully close to create a gap or "open vestibule"). Finally, since the sheet is flat, any or all of the sides can be pitched using additional guylines in the manner of a traditional tarp.

We gave the Sil Shelter high marks for ventilation because of the ease in which a single door can be restaked to open the front of the shelter.

Flexibility of Pitching (5.0)

For those that have mastered the art of the Sil Shelter Pitch, more challenges await! Simply add some extra guylines and enjoy experimenting with various pitches. The multitude of tie-out points and the Sil Shelter's flat design provides the user with seemingly infinite options for creating unique, if not effective pitches.

Insect Protection (3.0)

Because the Sil Shelter is floorless, it's going to let a few bugs in. However, the ability to stake the perimeter at the ground surface with a lot of tie-out points, and the ability to (almost) close the doors means that the swarms of mosquitoes you're likely to face will be kept at bay for a little longer.


  • Weight: 12.9 ounces
  • Height: typical, 3.5 feet (adjustable)
  • Surface Area: 40 sq. ft.
  • Square Feet / Ounce: 3.1
  • Price: $150 (price includes tarp, cord, nine aluminum Y-stakes, and stow sack)

Value (3.0)

At $150, the Sil Shelter is not cheap - after all, it's simply a flat sheet of silicone-impregnated nylon. However, it's certainly unique - because of its performance to weight ratio (where we define performance as storm resistance) - and thus, occupies an important niche in lightweight backpacking gear.



"Integral Designs Silshelter," by the Product Review Staff. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2003-09-29 03:00:00-06.