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Tarptent Contrail

in Shelters - Single Wall Tents

Average Rating
4.63 / 5 (27 reviews)

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Roger B
( rogerb )

Here and there
Tarptent Contrail on 10/21/2006 20:13:05 MDT Report Post Print

Rating: 5 / 5

Quick to put up, spacious for one.

It is evident that this shelter is ideal for the long trail. Furthermore, I have no doubt that it will with stand much of what I expect to experience below the tree line on the east coast. I have not tried this shelter in high winds or heavy rain or snow but for me it is my primary shelter from now on.

Eric Blumensaadt
( Danepacker )

Mojave Desert
THE 3 season solo tent on 01/12/2007 22:06:09 MST Report Post Print

Rating: 5 / 5

The TarpTent Contrail is the result of Henry Shires' years of experience & customer feedback and it shows in every detail. Only in Hilleberg tents will you find such attention to detail.

As a single wall tent it has the very necessary ventilation everywhere you look - at the vestibule peak, at the netting-only door, at the full foot netting and, as Henry's signature in tent design, the full length, 6" wide netting just above the tub floor.

For heavy rain or when snow is anticipated there is the option of using your second hiking pole, totally collapsed in lengh, for a rear "pole" to hold the foot end up like the front so a ridge runs from front to rear. This configuration sheds rain & snow better but gives less width at the foot inside. As further preparation for really foul weather, especially wind, be sure to have a prepared guy line to use as the front, center guy. There is a captive plastic line tensioner already sewn in at the peak to recieve this front guy line.

Plus this tent is roomy in width and headroom and sets up, as Henry says, in two minutes once you've had a litle practice. Four stakes and a hiking pole are all you need. Since the Contrail is ENTIRELY dependent upon stakes for stability I've found the best all around stakes are MSR "GROUNDHOG" aluminum stakes. With their "Y" cross-section they hold even in most sand plus the "Y" shape gives them great resistance to bending when pounded with a small rock.

Yes, the Contrail is light and must be used with care. Do NOT lend it to Boy Scouts or inexperienced campers. That said it is state-of-the-art in materials & design. My previous one-person tent was an REI SoloLite double wall tube tent. At 4.3 lbs. (packed) W/ all 8 stakes it was cramped and heavy by Contrail standards.

There will never be "buyer's remorse" with the Contrail.

UPDATE: Having used the Contrail on 3 backpacking trips this summer I've learned a few tips.
1. I always use a light (3 mil) plastic groundcloth. This keeps the bottom of the floor clean.
2. I've learned to loop the side pullouts into the Groundhog stake pull loops for much more wind stability and do this on every setup.
3. I have a coiled length of Kelty Triptease guy line threaded through the plastic peak line tensioner, ready to deploy quickly as a front guyline if heavy winds kick up at night. This guyline has an adjustable (tautline hitch) loop at the stake end. The guyline can be deployed either over or under the vestibule, depending on how much room you need under the beak to cook, etc.
4.Henry Shires has updated the rear carbon fiber corner pole tie-out cord to route it back from the stake to the BOTTOM of the corner pole. This stabilizes the pole both top and bottom.
5. The one "weakness" of the Contrail is its need for more stability in high winds. Aside from lowering the front pole (Your hiking pole)and bringing the entire bottom edge lower, to obtain more stability I am considering adding a grommeted 4"X4"X4" triangle of doubled ripstop on each of the 2 top seams about 1/2 way down from the peak for 2 more tie-down points. This means carrying the guy 2 lines for the new tie-downs. A small but strong plastic hook snap on the tie-down end and a plastic TarpTent tensioner at the stake end for fast "middle of the night" deployment

Edited by Danepacker on 10/23/2007 22:17:52 MDT.

Price comparison from GearBuyer: MSR Groundhog Stake priced at: $1.95 - $2.50
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Andrew Lush
( lushy )

Lake Mungo, Mutawintji NPs
Quick to set up, full weather and bug protection and very light. on 02/15/2007 17:20:33 MST Report Post Print

Rating: 5 / 5

I just got back from a three week stroll in the mountains of the Great Dividing Range in south eastern Australia - and my home for this period was my new Contrail.

The Contrail was so easy and so quick to set up each night and exactly the same to pack up each morning. I think my average set up time each day would have been around three minutes - and that's at the end of a long 30 - 40 kilometre hike.

The Contrail stood up to strong winds, heavy rain, hailstorms and even snow (a bit of a novelty in Australia on Christmas Day!). I remained warm enough and dry enough throughout. There were some minor issues with condensation on still nights but nothing too serious.

There was ample room for me and my gear, and I was able to cook meals in the sheltered front vestibule without any trouble.

My mortal enemies on the walk were the march flies which were abundant, viscious and very hungry. It was great to retreat each night into the protection of the Contrail, listening to their impotent buzzing on the outside.

All of this comes in a fairly small package that weighs around 700 grams. What more could you ask for?

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Tim Cheek
( hikerfan4sure )
ventilation is mastered on 03/28/2007 21:14:25 MDT Report Post Print

Rating: 5 / 5

I thought I was going to melt in this tent on two humid sea level tropical nights. But, the netting was key to providing enough ventilation. Meanwhile the small ants that would have made tarp camping a mess were kept at bay by the no see um mesh.

Lapsley Hope
( Laps )
Most impressive on 04/04/2007 06:33:29 MDT Report Post Print

Rating: 4 / 5

Just purchased the Contrail. I did a seam sealing on it and did an overnight in the back yard as I knew it would rain and wanted to make sure I got it sealed which it was, didn't leak a drop. The initial setup is different than a free-stander style tent and I need to assess the geometry more closely so that fine tuning on the trail will come more quickly. One issue was the slippery floor even after "painting" the silicone/mineral spirit mixture in strips as in the instructions. The sleeping pad kept sliding away from underneath me so the next day I mixed up a large batch of thicker mixture and repainted the entire floor. Will be taking it on a 4 day North Carolina mountains trip later this month. Overall I'm very impressed with the attention to detail and quality of assembly. Its much lighter than any other shelter I've had which is a big bonus.

Edited by Laps on 04/04/2007 06:39:26 MDT.

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Brett Balmer
( backcountry )

Northeast US
Go-to one man shelter on 04/10/2007 12:21:57 MDT Report Post Print

Rating: 4 / 5

After several trips using this tent I am very pleased with it. The amount of useable space is impressive, esp. for the low weight of the tent. The construction is top-notch. Seams are impeccable, and I couldn’t find any cases of loose threads or other assembly flaws. I love the vestibule design as it allows me to make coffee in the morning while it is raining without going outside. It is also large enough to store shoes and other items you want fast access to. The tent itself is large enough to accommodate my pack.

Being constructed of sil-nylon there are some inherent traits you have to learn to deal with.
1: Although very strong, it is a thinner material and you must exercise care with dealing with it around thorns/rocks/etc.
2: Stretch – exposure to moisture causes the fabric to stretch, leaving your drum tight roof saggy and limp after a few hours. The design smartly accounts for this by allowing you to tighten the two front lines without getting out of the tent. You simply reach your arm out of the front door and tighten the lines, pulling the top taut once again.

Setup is fairly easy assuming you have a flat site and adequate soil for staking. (Like all non-freestanding tents you run into the usual problems of a rock always being directly under the location you need to place a stake.)

Overall – I would buy it again if I was in the market for a 1 person 3 season tent. I think that is about the best complement you can pay to a piece of equipment you own. The only reason I don’t give it 5 stars is due to some of the limitations of the materials – not any flaws in the design.

John Haley
( Quoddy )

New York/Vermont Border
Great Lightweight Design on 05/12/2007 20:41:16 MDT Report Post Print

Rating: 5 / 5

I've had a chance to get the Contrail out on a hike now and put some of the new ideas for it into effect. (Conduit and long Montbell SS are included for reference).

The two hiking pole front design gives unobstructed access (Thanks Franco):

.Using Two Poles for Front

The small, 2 section, 22" carbon fiber rear pole I had made up works a treat to give even more space and ventilation:

Small Rear Pole on Contrail

The Contrail is not only a lightweight tarptent, but is so versatile that it's fun just figuring new ways to set it up. Actually I don't think I've used the exact same setup twice yet.
After using the Contrail on my Long Trail thru hike I'm even more impressed now than I was initially. The ease of setup was great... always under two minutes. I have found that I use the Thera-Band tensioners every time I set it up (on sides and on center-rear pole guyline) and it keeps the pitch taut, regardless of conditions. The use of the rear center pole is almost automatic for me now and it certainly improves the rain shedding ability as well as giving much more room in the foot area. I've had an offer to buy it, but don't know if I'll be able to find another shelter as good.

Edited by Quoddy on 09/02/2007 07:18:37 MDT.

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John Kays
( johnk - M )

Light and Breezy on 05/20/2007 14:57:26 MDT Report Post Print

Rating: 5 / 5

My Contrail arrived last fall but opportunity to use it has come only twice. All of the positive comments above regarding the quality of workmanship and ease of pitching are agreed with here. It is a remarkably easy tent to pitch and to quickly break camp with. Examination of the seams and tightness of pitch brings nothing but admiration for the manufacturer.

One concern from the two nights on the trail, one last fall and one this past weekend, is the cold air circulation effect on sleeping comfort. In a fully enclosed tent I can use my 15º bag comfortably down into the low 20s or high teens but in the Contrail this same bag won’t cut it even at barely freezing temps. I have a warmer bag but, of course, it is heavier, and by packing it I have erased most of the weight saving reaped by the light weight Contrail.

In April using an Ettowah Meadows tarp which pitches close to the ground with very little ventilation in temps just below freezing, maybe down into the high 20s, I was warm and had to shed my heavy duty head gear. But, without ventilation, it began to rain inside the tent by 3:00 a.m. The Contrail has produced absolutely no condensation in similar conditions because of the ample ventilation and air circulation

This is a serious issue and will have to be dealt with if I am to continue to use this tent. The solution seems to be a big bucks, SUL bag. I have even discussed this issue with Henry and the possibility of a breathable material and possibly in the future we may see some new designs based on breathable fabric. The Contrail, as well as other Tarptent designs just will not provide the sleeping comfort in temps that I frequently experience in my present set-up.

Warmth being the only issue which, of course is personal to my own body, and being a matter of Providence and not in any way related to the manufacturer, the tent, in my opinion should receive a 5.0

Edited by johnk on 06/13/2007 11:36:30 MDT.

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Everett Kunitz
( forwards )
Does what it's meant to do- and then some. on 07/22/2007 12:52:58 MDT Report Post Print

Rating: 4 / 5

I recieved my Contrail about 6 weeks after ordering it. After spending a few days playing around with it, and fully understanding how the geometry works, I was confident enough with this tent to take it out into the field for a 900km/40 hike across the Pyrenees.

The tent performed admirable through all sorts of conditions. At lower elevations (1000-1500m) and in valleys it does offer very good ventilation, but condensation is still a major problem. At higher elevations, and above the freezing line (2500-3000m) it was sometimes necessary to lower the tent closer to the ground in order to cut some of the colder draft that would develop during the night time at these altitudes, therby increasing condensation problems due to less air circulation; normally I would consider this a a drawback, but considering the huge internal space offered, especially at the foot end it is possible to move around quite a bit inside the tent without touching the sides which really helps when you wake up in the morning and a thick layer of frost coats the inside of the tent.

The contrail is very storm worthy, when used with consideration. In my opinion is is a very lightweight shelter and not a mountaineering tent and should therefor be treated as such in terms of site selection. I went through many summer storms in this tent and never ever got wet but I am very picky about where I would pitch the Contrail (taking special care to always pitch it foot end into the wind; it is worth waiting an extra 15 minutes once selecting a site to be certain of the wind direction. Pitching the tent in the right direction makes a HUGE difference in both ventilation and storm worthyness). In very high winds I was forced on a few occasions to pysicaly hold down the sides of the tent from the inside, even when pitched right to the ground but to me the trade of of having a 700 gramme shelter is worth the few minutes of manual "anchoring" over the long run. It is worth noting that in one sudden storm I was camped beside another person in a dome tent, at 2400m, and he suffered a broken pole as the winds were so strong. I think the tent could benefit from having two tie out point along the side edge as opposed to only one.

Setting up the Contrail is not only extremly fast and easy, but also a lot of fun! Once I became familiar with the geometry, it was always fun judgeing the terrain I was setting up on and then progressing towards a perfect pitch each time by carefully selecting tie out length and angles. It seems as if a drum tight pitch is always possible with the Contrail, so long as care is taken in the initial stages of the set up. Once a proper pitch is acheived, the tent is a true "hummer" in winds- the catenary cut of the main ridgeline will make a slight humming noise in high winds. Tear down of the tent is also extremely easy; while packing the tent I always found it easier to velcro close the front entrance, as it really helps with setting up the Contrail if you have it closed.

One last thing that worried me was that after about 4 weeks of use, the front line tensioners were unable to "hold" the front lines at high tensions. I haven't yet tried replacing the line, which seems very worn, but it seems as if care should be taken with the lines while tensioning.

Nathan Moody
( atomick )

San Francisco Bay Area
An instant classic! on 08/14/2007 22:58:58 MDT Report Post Print

Rating: 5 / 5

It's tough to write about the Contrail since so much has already been said, but here are some additional thoughts to round things out.

- At the time I purchased the Contrail, I was brand new to the non-freestanding tarp/tent/tarptent world, and between some careful reading online and in the included instructions, I pitched it right the first time. That might be the first thing I've done right on the first try in many years. :-) All the credit goes to the excellent product design.

- Pitched as pictured below, I spent a night on the California coast deep in the fog - 100% humidity. I slept with the beak opened as shown, and there was a 10mph wind at bedtime, diminishing to dead calm in the morning. The foot of the Contrail was into the wind. The result? Very wet outer walls, but not a drop of condensation. This clearly was because of some fortuitous factors, but I was still incredibly impressed.

For those trying to maximize mileage, the thing breaks down quickly. At 1.5 pounds, it can go almost anywhere in or on my pack without upsetting the load.

Great for novices and those looking to get away from heavy freestanding tents. Kudos to the designer, Henry Shires - this product just rocks.

Edited by atomick on 08/14/2007 23:00:46 MDT.

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Craig Shelley
( craig_shelley )

Rocky Mountains
My choice when there are mosquitos on 08/25/2007 17:52:45 MDT Report Post Print

Rating: 5 / 5

The Contrail is excellent. I used it again this last week in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness.

Most of my backpacking is in areas that mosquitos, etc. are not common. So, I don't use the Contrail on many backpacking trips. In those areas where mosquitos are likely, I definitely prefer the Contrail (with floor) to my usual tarp/bivy sack.

It is so small I can still use a 2000cc backpack without a problem. It is fast to setup and take down. It is spacious - for its weight.

When there are mosquitos, the Contrail is by far the best option I've found for just myself.

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Pat Comer
( WPComer )

Hard to find one negative thing to say about this tent on 09/10/2007 16:18:45 MDT Report Post Print

Rating: 5 / 5

I love this thing! I have found that if you can pitch one on bare ground it really helps with it having no condensation inside in the morning. After an initial backyard tryout I have set it up a couple times in the area of OH where I maintain the Buckeye Trail and it is amazing how small an area you need to set this thing up in. It hides very well even when set up and I love waking up with no ants or wolf spiders in the sleeping bag with me due to the netting! I wish it had been my first backpacking tent but then I might not appreciate it as much! EXCELLENT PRODUCT!

Kevin Clayton
( kclayton )

Greater Yellowstone
Excellent on 09/28/2007 20:47:55 MDT Report Post Print

Rating: 5 / 5

This Shelter is Amazing.
I am new to light weight backpacking so I purchased this tent to maintain some of the features of a double wall tent. When I got the box I thought that they had forgotten to put the tent in. I set it up right away with no problems in under 3 minutes.
I am a tall person so I was also worried about the height and lenght of it, but my worries were instantly quelled. This tent is bigger then my current Walrus tent and half the weight.
I am excited to put it to use on the trail some more.

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Franco Darioli
( Franco - M )

Brilliant on 11/07/2007 16:48:13 MST Report Post Print

Rating: 5 / 5

My rating is based on what this shelter was designed for, and not to be understood as part of the "best tent ever, for anybody ,anywhere" award.
Most of the good points have already been covered and I do agree with the above comments. The reason I have used this more than any of my other shelters since I received it ,was not clear to me at first ( for example I prefer the interior space of the Rainbow) but recently it dawned on me that I really like the "fiddle" factor. By that I mean that according to the location and weather conditions, I can pitch it high or low. You can have it as an almost open tarp or a batten down, not much bigger that a poled bivy, shelter.
(as illustrated above by Quoddy), with the two poles you can have a totally unobstructed entrance, or if need to be, using the apex guyline and the middle rear pole, a very taut wind resistant set up.
It does only require four stakes and I have set it up in ideal conditions in 70 seconds, usually 90 to 120 in the bush. Typically I have 8 pegs with me, including 2 or 4 5" Easton, one Titanium nail stake and two Y shaped ones.
Ventilation is the key to low condensation. It also means that (as with any non breathable single skin shelter) it is not a good choice for below freezing conditions. Since I always wake up a few times during the night, if it needs to be, I wipe the interior down with my kitchen cloth and that ( in less than a minute) fixes the problem.
The only minor problem is the one about the guylines not holding at times when tensioned. My fix is to have them fully extended, that means re-staking just before going to sleep . The other solution would be to use a thicker line.
A brilliant extremely light and versatile solo shelter.
FrancoContrail in Nepal
Recently I received the 08 version. Pretty much all of the "annoying" little bits have been redesigned.
The rear section is tidier and easier to lift up and down.
The bathtub sits up better without fiddling.
The beak has a much larger Velcro strip that is secured from the inside.
As for the "pole in the middle" , it is easy to use two poles to have an unobstructed entrance( see pictures from other reviewers). Sometimes I do, often I don't because I sit inside leaning against the pole when it rains... (not recommended, but I do it)
Note the drop of 3000 meters in altitude between the two set ups.
( the middle rear pole is there because I like it that way)
Contrail 08

Edited by Franco on 11/03/2008 23:31:08 MST.

David T
( DaveT )
. on 11/09/2007 17:18:43 MST Report Post Print

Rating: 5 / 5


Edited by DaveT on 12/12/2010 19:30:00 MST.

Eric Riddick
( 50Miler )
Outstanding backpacking tent on 02/03/2008 01:11:23 MST Report Post Print

Rating: 5 / 5

This tent is extremely well made, aesthetically pleasing to the eye, easy and fast to put up once you read the instructions and for a floored VERY light. It is the lightest floored tent Ive ever owned in the twenty-five years Ive been backpacking and been a gear head.

It also has excellent mosquito netting. If you intend to use this thing east of the Mississippi, I recommend you seam seal it really well. I did and that added some weight to it, but that strengthens the seams as well as waterproofs them.

If you aren't going to use a tarp and are looking for a ultra-lightweight three season tent, you cant go wrong with this piece of gear.

George Matthews
( gmatthews - M )
Contrail is excellent on 02/03/2008 06:25:53 MST Report Post Print

Rating: 5 / 5

The Contrail is an excellent shelter for the price and weight. I've been switching back and forth between the Contrail and a poncho tarp. Although I haven't been able to set it up in less than one minute, it doesn't take more than three for me. I followed Henry's seam sealing tips in the instructions, and I have had no problem with leaks. On my last trip, my son used the Contrail and I used a poncho tarp with a bivy. He really liked the Contrail, too.

John Adams
( scsjohn )

Good but not great on 02/16/2008 18:20:16 MST Report Post Print

Rating: 3 / 5

I think the Contrail is a good product. I used the 2007 version with the adjustable rear canopy.

Initial impression: great room for a single shelter, light weight and adequate vestibule.

After using it for a couple of nights: hard to get the right pitch--not so much for the shelter itself as for the floor, didn't like the velcro tabs for the vestibule, smaller vestibule and didn't like the pole being in the doorway.

I think it is a good product but I think there are better one person shelters.

Albert K.
( archer )

Northeastern U.S.
So far, very impressive on 04/03/2008 02:11:17 MDT Report Post Print

Rating: 5 / 5

I only have one night in the shelter, but I did pitch it in moderate winds under humid conditions. Here are my initial thoughts:

1. Simple to set up/fast pitch - Very I had mine set in just a few minutes with a very tight pitch. The floor (in bath tub mode) was fine. I did use 7 stakes vs. 4, which did appear to make it much more stable.

2. Roomy - I plenty of room for one. I could sit up fine.

3. Reasonably stable - Even with a one pole pitch, it held up to moderate (maybe 20 mph) winds just fine. I swapped out the provided stakes with MSR Ground Hogs, which IMHO, are much better than the short Eastons Henry gives you. It seemed even better with the two pole pitch (though winds were mild when I did that). Still, it wasn't meant to be a mountaineering tent and I won't be taking the Contrail on any trips where I'll be sleeping in unsheltered sites with high winds.

4. Velcro enclosure on vestibule - I like it. No zipper to snag/break. It seems pretty strong when shut.

5. No condensation - I'm sure there are conditions where this will be an issue, but even in humid weather with light winds, the walls were bone dry in the morning.

6. Slippery floor - I painted the lines as suggested, but still I woke up in the middle of the night to find my sleeping pad had slipped out from under me (it only happened once, and I am notorious for spinning around in my sleep. I'll try to do it again with thicker lines, maybe even a few on the pad.

7. Weight - with a ground cloth (2mm GG polycro), 7 MSR Ground Hog stakes, all the guy lines, seam sealed, a small packtowel, and with 2 stuff sacks (one for stakes, one for shelter), the system weighs in at 32.0 oz. That beats my previous shelter by 30 oz.

Really, there is a lot to love about this shelter. It's already my go to backpacking tent.

Edited by archer on 04/08/2008 17:13:01 MDT.

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Don Meredith
( donmeredith )

Great tent but not as advertised on 02/13/2009 07:09:40 MST Report Post Print

Rating: 4 / 5

My Contrail lives up to every aspect of my expectations except one,the web page claims that it has a one piece bathtub floor, this is not the case, mine has a seam across the the floor about 2 feet from the front. When I contacted Tarptent I was told that this was acceptable. Had I known that there would be a seam in the bathtub floor I would not have ordered the tent. The web site no longer claims a seamless bathtub floor, seamless was removed today.

Edited by donmeredith on 02/20/2009 18:17:43 MST.

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