Rating: 5 / 5
I've never purchased an item where my initial thoughts were so negative, but my final thoughts so positive. I have truly come 180 deg. on this tent!
Initial thoughts: too heavy for solo use, large pole that can break, complicated design with a difficult seam seal job, and photos don't look very taught. These kept me away from this tent for nearly two years. But after having tried a SMD Lunar Solo, TT Rainshadow, TT Sublite Sil, Gatewood Cape w/ Serenity NetTent, Nemo GoGo, ID Chrysalis, and Golite Hex 3, I can say the Rainbow is by far my favorite of the bunch. Not that the others aren't great shelters, but they all left something missing. Mind you, I'm 6'2" and 215 lbs, so that is a 'big' part of the problem. If I were smaller I may have preferred the Lunar Solo or Gatewood Cape.
No other tent has provided me all the features I'm looking for; the Lunar Solo has great floor space but minimal headroom and complicated setup; the Rainshadow was roomy but not as wind stable as I prefer and prevented views while lying down; the Gatewood was simply too small for me and also had a complicated setup (though I really like the concept and weight); the Sublite was excellent for tall hikers and very wind stable, but lacked decent views, no real awning, and was a little stuffy in calm, warmer weather (not a good afternoon nap shelter). Again, many of these shelters would work fine, but they all involved compromises.
So I purchased the Rainbow with a little reluctance, more than anything because there were few options left under 2 lbs. What a joy it was, then, to set it up in some high winds and come to truly appreciate what this tent is capable of. In a nutshell; this is the only sub-2 lb tent I've tried that can do all of the following well: vent well, provide great views, complete mosquito protection, excellent wind stabilty, generous head room, and fast set up. That pretty much sums up all the 3-season conditions I expect to encounter without compromises. I can just as comfortably enjoy an afternoon nap next to a mosquito-infested lake as I can enjoy a cold, breezy alpine camp with great views of the sunset. I suppose my one 'compromise,' then, is the added weight I must carry for these conveniences.
First, let me start by saying that the setup was the easiest I've ever experienced. This was a real surprise, as I was expecting the 12' pole to add significant hassle. My trick was to first stake down all four corners of the tent, using the tent floor as a guide to stake placement. This kept the tent from flapping around and made inserting the 12' pole much easier. Once it was through, I went to the other side to insert the pole into the grommet. I then came back to the original side, pushed the rest of the pole through (which erected the tent), and inserted the end into the grommet. Finally, one side stake and voila! I only had to tighten two of the guylines. No fiddling with re-staking to fix a sagging section. Since I had the awning rolled up already, I just crawled into the shelter. All this during 15-25mph sustained winds with stronger gusts.
To be fair, I did add my trekking poles to the center strut after a while. But even without the optional mid-height pole guyouts, the tent had VERY LITTLE wind deflection. Granted these were only moderate winds, but it gave me a good sense of what this tent is capable of, especially considering my experiences in the other tents in similar winds. I've been in tarptents where the fabric is flapping wildly, threatening to press against my sleeping bag and pull out a stake. Because the 12' pole keeps the tent quite taught, much less strain was placed on the stakes. The shape of the tent really deflected the wind well; there was even less flapping than in my GoLite Hex 3! Even though the Rainbow has been called drafty, I felt the nanoseeum mesh reduced the wind speed considerably; the breeze didn't have the biting cold that it did outside the tent.
With trekking poles under the center strut and mid-height guyouts, I think it would be very difficult for the 12' pole to snap under reasonable 3-season conditions; there simply wasn't any large movement the pole could make. And even if the pole snapped, the tent would stay erect; I am able to keep the tent upright with just the trekking poles and no 12' pole. Sure, the tent would distort and flap a bit, but I don't think it would result in catastrophic collapse of the tent like it would in an X-shaped pole setup. Add some duct tape and some sort of plastic tubing and I could see the pole being field-repairable enough to get by. Barring any high winds in the forecast, I would not hesitate to use this tent above treeline (again, with reasonable conditions expected).
I felt very relaxed in the tent; the 12' pole kept the fabric well away from my body, the awning comes low enough that rain would be very hard to enter, and I felt very secure from the winds; more so than in any other sub-2 lb shelter I've tried. Bet of all, I could sit on my Thermarest Pro 3 folded in thirds and inflated (to create a tall sit pad), and I still had a few inches of head clearance.
Yet because of the large mesh side panel, I was able to enjoy a peaceful view while lying down. The quick setup and nice views will come in handy for afternoon rest stops or early camps. Last summer I got stuck setting up a fiddly tent in a swarm of mosquitos. On a solo trip I got spoiled with the ability of the SMD Serenity NetTent to setup quickly and get me away from the mosquitos fast. I was not looking forward to upgrading to a more complicated setup for this reason. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised to discover the Rainbow sets up as fast as the Serenity NetTent, with the added benefit that the rest of the tent was set up and ready to go as well (the NetTent still requires that you get out and set up the Gatewood Cape).
To be honest, I'm actually considering returning the Rainbow and getting the Double Rainbow, even for solo use! The main reason is the added flow-through ventilation would allow for setup in even warmer situations, such as in direct sun (with moderate temps and a breeze of course) and would increase views that much more. But since 2 lbs is on the very high end of what I consider acceptable solo shelter weight, I still have to decide if this is worth the extra 8 oz.