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Solo Tent Feedback Request
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Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Solo Tent Feedback Request on 12/20/2011 17:58:22 MST Print View

I'm soliciting feedback as part of some research that I'm working on an article for BPL about solo tents.

So, a few questions for solo tent users, in the following context:

Most of you who have a lot of experience with this ultralight thing, based on what I've read in the forums here and from talking to many of you "generally" agree that:

- You don't really select a solo tent for severe weather protection, you don't really select a solo tent for weight savings, you don't really select a solo tent for interior living space, you don't really select a solo tent for privacy, and you don't really select a solo tent for views.

So, is it really all about the bugs?

Or is there something else? Is there some psychology that drives you? Is it a feeling of security?

How do you feel about owning, carrying, and using a solo tent when you might know that *something else" might give you *something more* for less weight and cost?

Or, perhaps, is it just that there are so many "neat" solo cottage tents available out there that are a lot lighter than all the "neat" mass-produced solo tents? Are manufacturers selling you something that isn't really there?

Thanks for participating, I'm looking forward to a lively discussion.

DISCLAIMER: I own and use solo tents, along with other shelters...I'll weigh in on this too.

Christian Denniston
(cdenniston) - F
Solo Tent on 12/20/2011 18:32:50 MST Print View

This may not be an exact response to your question but I can tell you the reason I did not purchase a solo tent is because of the lack of versatility. With a tent you only have one option regardless of conditions. I thought about purchasing a BA Fly Creek UL1 for a long time, but why purchase that when I can get a modular system like a mid with a removable inner for about the same price and less weight. Although, I would have to say the one thing that really drew me to the solo tents initially was the simplicity. Lay it out on the ground, pole here pole there, couple stake, done. All the parts are there, and all the protection, but in the end versatility was more important to me than ease of setup.

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Solo Tent Feedback Request on 12/20/2011 18:33:41 MST Print View

Some comparisons can be tough since tent types are different from tarps, but not so with the Hexamid. I got a netted Hexamid because (1) it prevented bugs, and (2) it made sure everything I unpacked was repacked in the morning.

Aaron Croft
(aaronufl) - M

Locale: Oregon
Familiarity on 12/20/2011 18:42:14 MST Print View

I think for me, especially in unfamiliar places, there is quite a bit of comfort in having a fully enclosed shelter. For example, I spent my last summer backpacking in the PNW and always brought along my freestanding solo tent (other than a few trips with the girlfriend). Unfamiliarity with the weather, locations in which I was camping, and other conditions I might face had me erring on the side of caution.

On the flip side, I'm happy using a pyramid tarp in familiar places (Colorado or Utah). The field mice sure seem to love it, too.

Larry De La Briandais
(Hitech) - F

Locale: SF Bay Area
Solo tent feedback on 12/20/2011 18:45:55 MST Print View

I don’t qualify as an ultra-light backpacker, but I am certainly trying to lighten my load significantly.

My reasons for using a solo tent are numerous. Not necessarily in order are:
1. Bug protection. I just don’t want bugs crawling on me.
2. Dirt protection. I use a quilt now and sleep kind of sprawled out. I want the walls to keep me from sticking my hand in the dirt, or from kicking dirt into my sleeping area.
3. Breeze protection. I absolutely HATE ANY breeze blowing on me when I sleep. My wife turns on the ceiling fan on at home during the summer and I hate it. I don’t sleep as well and will wake up several times each evening.
4. Ease of setup. Many of the tents setup quick and easy. That is a primary consideration for me when choosing a tent.
5. Privacy. Not really anything that is necessary, but I just want me and my stuff out of site when I sleep. And since I sleep sans clothes, so does everyone else!
6. Ease of rain protection. It’s pretty easy to setup a good tent to keep your stuff dry. Don’t need to know much to get it right.

Those are my reasons. Considering how light and simple to setup some of the light tents are it just seems way worth it. Now, I might change my mind if I did a trip with high mileage days and few bugs, but otherwise...

** Just for clarification. I consider it a tent if it is fully enclosed (therefore must have a floor). Part of the enclosure can be mesh. That is what I consider a tent. The tent I use must also close up so that those outside the tent cannot see in. That is my personal requirement, not part of the definition of a tent.

Edited by Hitech on 12/21/2011 12:44:09 MST.

Stephen Barber
(grampa) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
Solo Tent - > Tarp on 12/20/2011 18:52:34 MST Print View

I started with an all-in-one solo tent, because one backpacks with a tent, you know. Tradition! (Cue music from "Fiddler on the Roof")

At this point the closest thing to a solo tent I have is an MLD Duomid - a very shaped tarp. Even with a bivy or inner bug net tent, it's still lighter than my original all-in-one tent. It also has more room, allows for better views, and is plenty weather proof. Better all the way around!

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: Solo Tent Feedback Request on 12/20/2011 19:01:58 MST Print View

I will preface this post by saying that I *was* a tent user but have transitioned through that to tarps. Hopefully my post is still of some value to the research you're conducting.

For me, a combination of psychological and practical reasons existed. My transition to Lightweight/UL went something like this:

1. Began with a standard two person backpacking tent.
2. Discovered the UL world and started researching all of the new (at least to me) shelters including tarps and tarptent-style shelters.
3. The idea of a simple cat-tarp really appealed to me for aesthetics, weight, and simplicity, but I hit a wall when it got down to actually buying one. Issues were:

a. Bugs. Wisconsin has a lot of bugs everywhere for most of the warmer months.
b. I was new to sleeping out, so all the anxieties from the noises of the night were somehow eased by complete tent walls.
c. I didn't understand the intricacies and skills of using a tarp, bivy, groundsheet for different conditions.

4. I settled on a Henry Shires Tarptent because it allowed me to be in a shelter that resembled a tarp, but was comforting like a tent, and it kept out the bugs. For some reason, many of the cottage manufacturers have shelters that, to me, are just "neater" compared to many of the mainstream companies. They're also much lighter and often less expensive.

5. I continued refining my gear and became more comfortable with less. My next shelter move was to a MLD Trailstar. It can be pitched in ways that resemble a sealed up tent, but can also be very open. Plus it is floorless.

6. I finally tried tarping when I won a HMG Echo I shelter system. It was my first tarp and my first piece of cuben gear, so I had some more to learn. When going solo, I now use a tarp. When out with my wife, we use either the Trailstar or the TT DR.

After using a broader spectrum of shelters, it all comes down to the experience an individual wants to have with a comfort level they are OK with. Sure, there are some manufacturers that overbuild and over-market their tents, but I think that when you consider the vast array of backpacking personalities and styles, the myriad shelters on the market all have a legitimate buyer. Personally, I have no use for anything over two pounds anymore which usually rules out large manufacturers and most tents, but others will find a good fit with a solo tent for their needs and expectations.

Dave Heiss

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Bugs and security on 12/20/2011 19:03:20 MST Print View

If I was backpacking with a group of friends, I'll entertain the thought of cowboy camping if the bugs are not too bad. But when I backpack alone, I feel more secure in a tent (like the contrail I use now). By secure, I mean I have a dry safe place to spread out any stuff I need, free from the hassel of biting or annoying insects, where I can sleep without worry of being bit and where my stuff won't be chewed on by critters.

So it's part physical security (I know bugs can't get to me) and part psychological security (the walls help me feel safe and protected). For me, its hard to relax and get to sleep without a tent. Even if the "walls" are primarily netting. Weird, but that's how my mind processes it.

Christopher Yi
(TRAUMAhead) - F

Locale: Cen Cal
Re: Solo tent feedback on 12/20/2011 19:10:48 MST Print View

I'm in the same boat as Larry. Bug/dirt/breeze/rain protection, ease of setup, privacy. Current tent is a Moment, but I'll be switching to a cuben tarp + net tent this coming season. Willing to pay for less protection/ease of setup for the weight loss, and I've never tarped it before.

I'm also a very lazy hiker, and I don't mind setting up a tent, but for some reason I find rolling up my Moment in the morning an annoyance. With the tarp, I'd be stuffing it. Same applies to blowing up a sleeping pad. I don't mind using an Instaflator instead.

Edited by TRAUMAhead on 12/20/2011 19:15:27 MST.

Ryan C
(radio_guy) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
Re: Solo Tent Feedback Request on 12/20/2011 19:17:39 MST Print View

Most of the time I use my Tarptent Moment. Simple and very quick to put up, full bug and weather protection, a bathtub floor to keep me and my gear dry in a monsoon, and it is lighter than a regular tent. I am trying shaped tarps and bug netting but overall still prefer the Tarptent.

Nothing wrong with Tarps, bugnets, and bivies. I just cannot justify spending $$$ on uberlight cuben models that I would not use as much thus leaving me with heavier silnylon options that when combined weigh the same as the full Tarptent.

There are some reasons I also have a 3lb solo double wall tent though:

1. Loaner for friends on short trips
2. Mild winter conditions (stronger structure with beefy poles and double wall)
3. High humidity environments that produce heavy condensation
4. General Camping not associated with backpacking

Given this, some of the new double wall tarptent style shelters weighing less than 2lbs that use trekking poles (Tarptent Notch) sure look fascinating and offer flexibility similar to shaped tarps and bug inner-nets with a bathtub floor.

Edited by radio_guy on 12/20/2011 19:28:17 MST.

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Solo Tent Feedback Request on 12/20/2011 19:32:53 MST Print View

For me, it's definitely all about the bugs. And since I'm going to sleep in something that keeps the bugs at bay, I might as well have a bit of room to boot. I have a tarp and bug netting, but it doesn't save enough weight over my Lightheart Solo to make me use it much, plus the LH Solo is just easier to get into and out of.

I will say that the only time I ever cowboy camped I loved. That was the Wyoming trip. Cold enough so that no bugs were around at all. I used a bivy, but didn't even close the top, just laid inside the bivy with my head completely outside. I'll do it again when I can get out when the bugs aren't around and it's not too cold and windy since I enjoyed it immensely. But for where I normally backpack, I'll use the tent far more than the tarp.

Sam Farrington
(scfhome) - M

Locale: Chocorua NH, USA
Solo Tent Feedback Request on 12/20/2011 19:42:34 MST Print View

Hi Ryan,

Hah! The tents I have purchased, modified and made from scratch have all had those considerations you mention as chief criteria. Since I don't seem to fit into the profile from your feedback, this may not be helpful, but there you have it.

In addition to those criteria you mention, I am also big on self-supporting tents, that do not depend on stakes to keep them up, even though stakes may be used to anchor the tent and support a vestibule or two. T'wer it not for the advent of carbon poles, MYOG ones anyway, this would not be so, as the weight penalty would be too high. Why self-supporting? Because I don't want to carry stakes sufficient and heavy enough to support the whole shelter, and have found that a shelter supported by and tensioned over arced poles is much less likely to end up in my face or drenching my gear.

Also, the tent must be pitchable and strikable without flooding the interior in heavy rains, should afford entry and exit in heavy rains that keep the interior as dry as possible, should have an open awning to cook under in heavy rain, and the awning should be able to be 'locked down' from inside the tent when conditions become severe.

Unlike some of the threads and posters on this site, heavy snowstorms are not a chief criterion. My feeling is that the weight penalty for a tent fully suitable for heavy snowstorms and gales, such as the weather in some of the plains states right now, is too high for a tent used primarily in milder seasons.

Protection against bugs, crawlies, slitherers and creepers, absolutely!

Kevin Haskins
(kevperro) - F

Locale: Washington State
Not sure how to answer all that. on 12/20/2011 19:44:56 MST Print View

I have always hiked solo and started with a single person tube tent (Walrus)that was 3lbs 4oz. I took that tent on long sections of the PCT and half the AT and many other trips over a decade. Shelter is just a safety and comfort thing and that was a light weight shelter for it's day.

Now that I'm older and taking shorter trips (comes with family and a job) I carry a single person Tarp Tent Sublite (approx 23oz complete) when I know the weather will be good, and a 2-person Sierra Designs tent (3lbs 5oz. complete) when I suspect the weather will be bad.

I don't put any more thought into it other than comfort, safety and what tool I think will serve best for the weather I'm likely to face. I've slept outside under tarps, cowboy and in a couple different tents and like having a nylon cocoon.

Personal preference.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Solo Tent Feedback Request on 12/20/2011 19:51:19 MST Print View

Perfect timing Ryan. I just bought my first double wall solo tent in 12 years. I stopped using them then because I made a switch to hammocks, and tarps.

I moved. Backpacking has changed in a lot of ways since then. I chose a Hilleberg Unna. And used it for the first time last weekend.

I did choose it for it's severe weather capability. I wanted something for high winds along the Lost Coast. I too wanted a refuge from the elements including drafts. Rains a lot here so being able to pitch as a unit was a big plus.

I did choose a tent for privacy as I am doing more trips with groups these days.

I did choose the Unna for interior space. Nice and long. I'm 6'3" I have a Doumid that I am very happy with. It would be too short inside with the inner net. The Unna is also wider 2 feet above ground than the mid and feels just as spacious inside. Especially with the inner removed.

I also choose a free standing design as I no longer use trekking poles. Stakes can be difficult to use at times, nice to not need them always. Plus it is super easy to put up.

All said and done, I really enjoy having a warm, dry, clean home that I take with me and pitch/strike up easily

I have much less expensive shelter solutions to choose from. Most I made myself. And they work fine within their limits. But with the modularity of the Unna it really could replace all of them. It won't. Different tools for different tasks.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: Solo Tent Feedback Request on 12/20/2011 20:00:42 MST Print View

I must admit I used, overused, and abused my old solo tent. About 35 years ago, well before the days of silicone nylon, I found a 100% nylon pup tent that said 2 people. I think by todays standards it would be a 1+. It weighed about 2-1/2#. I used it for about 10 years. I really loved it. A really terrible price we could barely justify, $29. 3 or 4 years later we got another somewhat cheaper built model, though no less expensive. After 3 nights of rain on the Ausable, on a flyfishing trip, we discovered a couple leaks. We added a nylon tarp to both. Later, after the color had washed out of the orange nylon, and turning it to a strange pale yellow, I loaned it to somone and never got it back.

Why did I choose it? Many reasons.
1) It provided good weather protection, never perfect.
2) It was big enough to cram 2 people in, if you really liked your partner.
3) It was small enough to bring two, in place of one 10# beast.
4) It had a FLOOR, a novel concept for a backpacker that had never seen one in a back woods tent.
5) It looked strange on a state campsite, a lonley tiny pup tent?? Sears 10 and 14 man tents surrounded me, reminding me of my place in the scheme of things. But, it did provide privacy. With a 3 pound tarp, a good campsite with all the basics.
6) 6 stakes to set up. Simplicity. I could walk in, have it out and set up, before my partners would even finish getting poles together for their fancy new free standing tents.
7) For ten years, it was the lightest thing for shelter I could find. (BW, ie Before Web.)
8) It was bug proof. On spring fishing trips, ice-out, it worked excelently to repel the swarms of black flies that often surrounded me. A NICE safe zone.
9) I used it as an ice fishing shelter, with a full plastic covering, cept over the vent. My brother and I would sit and play cards for hours, it seemed. The tent was just nice to be in. 'Specially after I got the old was even warm at -10F.
10) It was really durable. 10 years out of a tent was good service.
11) The wife and I used that old solo tent together a lot. Our yearly week (well, 9 days) long trips in fall became an anual event...we still practice that.
12) I was just comfortable using it. Crawling in, sitting up to tie off the storm flap (if needed) & zipping up the screens, laying down and maneuvering into the bag was just easy and comfortable. Only a side entry is as easy. On a couple occasions I had a bear (probably a 'coon) snuffling around outside the tent. That was OK...I was in the tent. Mostly, I don't even wake up anymore because of critters... Using a tarp, once the kids had grown and moved out, was in many ways, almost the same as using that old solo tent. I believe it measured about 38" wide(I think, it didn't *quite* fit two old military winter pads, I needed to cut them down) by about 7'3 long and 40" or 42" high. About 8" around and 15" long, including a 7'x7' tarp, good for a carry package.

When it came time to replace it all I could find were blue, with heavy, woven poly floors. I could never find the like, though I found a picture of one in an old magazine around 1976 or so. I sorta wish I could copy that tent design in silnylon, or cuben, today.

So yes, I was just getting to it, it was not about any of the things you mention, alone. Rather it was about ALL of the things you mention, and more.

Edited by jamesdmarco on 12/20/2011 20:14:49 MST.

solo on 12/20/2011 20:03:10 MST Print View

"- You don't really select a solo tent for severe weather protection, you don't really select a solo tent for weight savings, you don't really select a solo tent for interior living space, you don't really select a solo tent for privacy, and you don't really select a solo tent for views."

My solo tent for warm weather currently is gossamer gears "the one"

- not selected for views
- not selected for privacy
- not selected for extreme weather ability, just reasonable protection
- not selected for interior space, but more than a bivy

-yes, selected for bug protection
-yes, selected for weight savings (18oz)
-yes, selected for bathtub floor
-yes, selected for minimal stretch and sag

No problem cowboy camping in cool clear weather, not afraid of creepy crawlies or critters, just really want a way to get away from mosquitos etc when necessary. Havent tarped, but Id have no problem doing that in cool clear bugfree weather. Less enthusiastic about confining myself to a bivy for rain protection or bug protection though.

Edited by livingontheroad on 12/20/2011 20:15:44 MST.

John Abela
(JohnAbela) - MLife

Re: Re: Solo Tent Feedback Request on 12/20/2011 20:04:19 MST Print View


I believe that many hikers just feel that a tent is the way it is suppose to be. Especially those who have not yet found the light that is lightweight backpacking. For many people who are weekenders only it is a matter of convince and comfort - for those few nights a year that they are out in the woods they want a bit of each of those.

Over the last few years my shelter process has gone this way:

TarpTent Moment (sold after my first trip out with it)

TarpTent Rainbow (still own it, most headroom of any solo fully enclosed tent I have found for its weight)

HMG Echo I (loved it - the most bombproof cuben fiber shelter on the market but sold it after reaching the SUL world)

MLD Superlight Bivy (cf/momentum - sold it after it not meeting my likes)

ZPacks Hexamid Solo Tarp & HexaNet Solo Bug Shelter (sold it after a few trips, it was to tight for my 6'1)

HMG Echo II Tarp (sold it after I moved into the XUL world)

ZPacks 8x10 0.51 CF Tarp (still have it)

ZPacks 9x6 0.34 CF Tarp (still have it)

For myself I have come to enjoy sleeping without a fully enclosed setup. Two exceptions to this are: (1) in the deserts regions where I know there are snakes and scorpions, which I admittedly have a psychology issue with. (2) In the high Sierras where the bugs-that-shall-not-be-named rule the kingdom. For me the weight of a MLD Bug Bivy is the easiest solution to these two issues - granted one of them is purely a psychology issue.

David Wills
(willspower3) - F
Re: Solo Tent Feedback Request on 12/20/2011 20:13:18 MST Print View

On the PCT this year I left planning to use the tarp and bivy I used on the AT. I switched to a Lightheart Solo at kickoff mainly to increase room, privacy, and ease/quickness/consistency of setup. The side effect of full rain and wind coverage was greatly appreciated as well, but a secondary concern. I enjoy the feeling of being enclosed when I sleep, but the it isn't much different than in the SMD Meteor bivy. Changing clothes with privacy and away from the bugs is a big plus, which is impossible in a bivy.

I prefer a more modular system than the Solo for rainy setup, wet packing, the option of being lighter, and speed of drying. With that in mind I went to a MYOG Duomid to maintain the roominess, privacy, quick setup, and full coverage I loved in the Solo. Now I have the option to make a bivy, solo net tent, or duo net tent for bugs, or use nothing at all.

To me, the worth of the cottage industry shelters lies in the extra performance you gain with a rather modest increase in weight over a reasonably roomy tarp and bivy, which is what I assume you are insinuating with 'something *more* at less weight'. With construction materials being consistent, fully enclosed tarp tents that omit tent poles will weigh a scant few ounces more than a normal sized tarp and normal bivy. For that small penalty one gains all of the above mentioned benefits plus some I didn't mention while sacrificing ventilation and that 'close to nature' feeling.

To put it shortly, tarp tents offer the best value of performance per ounce to a lot of people.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Solo Tent Feedback Request on 12/20/2011 20:35:11 MST Print View

My case is a little different in that I always have a 75-lb. dog with me, so I need a bug-free space for him as well as for me. We need a little more space than is found in a solo tent--more like a 1.5 person tent. Another thing I've found is that my dog regards the tent as HIS (note the possessive pronoun!) crate, so he walks in, curls up on his pad and goes right to sleep. That is one of the reasons I prefer a tent to a tarp--to keep my dog calm at night. For myself, outside of bug season, I actually would prefer a tarp--airier and more views. The tarp does involve a lot more fussing than a tent, though.

The second reason I use a tent rather than a tarp: I did a lot of research and found that the combination of a tarp (GG SpinnTwinn), ground sheet and bug net big enough for both the dog and me, plus the extra stakes needed for the tarp, weighs more than my Gossamer Gear Squall Classic. With a Cuben tarp, the total weight would be about the same as the Squall Classic. If I had to add a bivy, the tarp combo would be heavier yet. I'd still need the ground sheet to keep us and our gear out of the mud in wet weather. I'd still need a bug net because I like to be able to sit up and read. I realize that these numbers would change a bit if the dog weren't involved, but if the dog weren't involved I could have a smaller tent, too.

In the interests of lighter weight, and on the recommendation of Eric of "Balls and Sunshine" fame, I recently bought a ZPacks Hexamid Twin plus cuben bathtub floor ground sheet. I set it up in my living room, and the dog and I spent most of a night in it. I think it's going to work out just fine for me, the dog and (with some squeezing) one grandchild. It won't work for two plus dog after the grandson (almost 12) starts his teenage growth spurt, but by then he will be able to carry more weight, so a heavier shelter won't be an issue. This December having been (so far, and forecast for the rest of the month) an all-time record dry December in the Pacific Northwest, I obviously have not had a chance to test the Hex Twin in bad weather. It has also been too cold (thanks to an almost perpetual inversion layer) for good seam sealing. (I will probably do that indoors with windows open and an exhaust fan in the window, or else take it up in the mountains above the fog layer, where it's a lot warmer.) The Hex Twin (with cuben ground sheet) is 10 oz. lighter than the Squall Classic, about the same amount of floor space but definitely more head room. However, I'm hanging on to my beloved Squall Classic until I've had a season in the Hex Twin, and will decide this time next year which one I want to sell.

Bugs: Early spring: ticks. The 3-4 weeks after snow melt: mosquitoes. After that, until first heavy frost: biting flies. That leaves basically October as the only time I could leave the bug net home (I won't camp overnight when it's dark more than 12 hours--can't stand being cooped up in the tent that long).

If you are evaluating shelters in your article, I hope you'll include the new version of Six Moon Design's Lunar Solo, which, from Ron Moak's description, appears to have overcome the objections I had to it, particularly the too-low ceiling height at head and foot.

Edited by hikinggranny on 12/22/2011 12:19:44 MST.

jeffrey bennett

Locale: Near the bottom
"Solo Tent Feedback Request" on 12/20/2011 20:38:07 MST Print View

It is all about the Bugs. I can not stand those dang spiders running across my face in the middle of the night.
Cooler temp and low bug pressure, I love my bivy.