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Tarptent Contrail Tent REVIEW

Tarptent introduces the 1+ person Contrail, a throwback to the original minimalist Tarptent, but loaded with refinements and new design elements.

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by Will Rietveld | 2006-11-08 03:00:00-07


Tarptent Contrail Tent REVIEW - 1
Tarptent Contrail at sunrise in the De-na-zin Badlands Wilderness Area, New Mexico. Our campsite was littered with petrified wood and pebbles from an ancient seashore.

The Contrail is the third new tent introduction from Tarptent in 2006. Unlike the new Rainbow and Double Rainbow, which provide more user-friendly features (and add a little weight), the Contrail goes in the opposite direction. It’s more of a minimalist, traditional-style Tarptent, yet it incorporates several refinements and some new design elements. It’s also the lightest member of the present Tarptent lineup at only 1 pound 4.5 ounces without floor and 1 pound 8.5 ounces with floor. It’s also the most versatile, with a convenience setup mode and a bomber setup mode, which I explain in this review.

What’s Good

  • Lightest one plus person Tarptent, 20.5 ounces without floor, 24.5 ounces with floor
  • Uses a trekking pole for front support
  • Adjustable front height
  • Good headroom at the front
  • Plenty of room for one person plus gear
  • Improved floating bathtub floor
  • Taller sidewall mesh panels
  • Side Velcro attachment on front beak
  • Single zipper one panel entry door
  • Quick setup, only four stakes for a minimum pitch
  • Excellent ventilation
  • Extremely versatile - has a convenience setup mode and a bomber setup mode

What’s Not So Good

  • Four stake pitch is not wind stable
  • Trekking pole can puncture tent in front
  • Foot end is low and flat



2006 Tarptent Contrail


One plus person single-wall tent with floor (tested), floorless version available


1.3 oz/yd2 (44 g/m2) silnylon, 1.0 oz/yd2 (34 g/m2) no-see-um mesh

  Poles and Stakes

Trekking pole front support, two rear 14 in (36 cm) carbon fiber struts, four Easton 5.5 in (14 cm) 7075 E9 aluminum tubular stakes


Outside length 112 in (284 cm), front width 70 in (178 cm), rear width 40 in (102 cm), height 45 in (115 cm)
Inside bathtub floor length 84 in (213 cm), front width 42 in (107 cm), rear width 30 in (76 cm)

  Packed Size

14 in x 4 in x 4 in (36 x 10 x 10 cm)

  Total Weight
As supplied by manufacturer with all included items

Measured weight 1 lb 8.6 oz (697 g), manufacturer specification 1 lb 8.5 oz (695 g); manufacturer specified weight without floor 1 lb 4.5 oz (581 g)

  Trail Weight
Includes minimum number of items needed to erect the tent

Measured weight 1 lb 8.1 oz (683 g); includes tent body, two carbon fiber struts, and four stakes

  Protected Area

Total covered area 34.6 ft2 (3.21m2), bathtub floor area 21 ft2 (1.95 m2), entry vestibule/beak 10 ft2 (0.93 m2)

  Floor Area/Trail Weight Ratio

13.9 ft2/lb based on 21 ft2 and weight of 1.51 lb

  Protected Area/Trail Weight Ratio

20.5 ft2/lb based on floor + vestibule area of 31 ft2 and weight of 1.51 lb


$199 with sewn-in floor, $169 without floor


Front aluminum pole $5, 2 oz (57 g); Tyvek groundsheet $12, 5.5 oz (156 g)


The Contrail is now the lightest tent from Tarptent. In the floorless version it weights only 20.5 ounces for a one plus person tent with front vestibule/beak. The standard version (reviewed here) has a floor and weighs 24.6 ounces. The Contrail goes back to the basics in terms of creating a one-person tarptent with as little weight and as much functionality as possible.

As the following photos show, the Contrail is a hybrid design, with a traditional A-frame front end with beak, a pyramidal center section, and a truncated wedge rear. Kind of sounds like a platypus doesn’t it?

Tarptent Contrail Tent REVIEW - 2
Views of the Tarptent Contrail. The front (top left) has a beak/vestibule (with top vent) that attaches to Velcro strips on the left side. Its unique truncated rear end (top right and bottom left) is supported by two carbon fiber struts in sleeves. As seen in the top view (bottom right), the tent has two seams running from the front peak to the rear corners. In the standard setup, the front is flat (rather than beaked) and nearly vertical.

In its convenience mode, the Contrail is pitched with four stakes (5.5-inch Easton 7075 E9 aluminum alloy stakes are included), two at the front and two at the rear. Optional stakeout loops are provided on the sides and top front. Like all Tarptents, setup is easy and fast: spread out the tent in the desired location, stake out the rear corners with the struts flat on the ground, adjust a trekking pole to 45 inches (115 cm) and insert the tip into the grommet at the front of the tent, stake out the two front corners, raise the rear struts, and make adjustments as needed. With practice, the Contrail can be set up in less than 2 minutes.

At the recommended 45 inch front height, the front beak of the Contrail is flat and taut across the front of the tent. With the front corners staked in that position, an adjustable trekking pole can be extended out to 49 inches and angled to the right side so it doesn’t block the entry. The front of the tent can be raised higher with a longer trekking pole, but it throws off the tent geometry, causing the front beak to hang limp and flap in the wind.

Tarptent Contrail Tent REVIEW - 3
Contrail pitching options. In its convenience setup mode (top left), the Contrail’s geometry works perfectly with a 45 inch front height, and at that height the front vestibule is flat and taut across the front. Once the front is staked, the trekking pole supporting the front can be extended up to 49 inches and angled to the right. In bomber setup mode (top right, bottom left and right), the Contrail has much more wind stability and storm protection. The front vestibule is extended with a center guyline (top right and bottom left), and the sides are staked out to extend the dripline. For even more wind stability, the rear struts can be laid flat and the tent rear and sides staked directly to the ground (bottom right).

Tarptent Contrail Tent REVIEW - 4
Exterior features. The Contrail’s mesh entry door (top left) has one L-shaped zipper (with double sliders) on the left side and bottom. In fair weather the support pole can be angled off to the right. A large vent (top right) at the top of the beak/vestibule provides good high ventilation. The peak has an additional guyline attachment and tensioner, like the ones on the corners (bottom left). At the rear (bottom right), carbon fiber struts are enclosed in webbing sleeves, and guylines extend from the top of the struts to the ground. The angled cord pulls the center rear of the canopy down for drainage; connecting it to a strut saves one stake, but it can be staked out separately for better drainage (see previous photo panel).

Tarptent Contrail Tent REVIEW - 5
Interior Features. Front headroom (top left) is very good in the Contrail, shown here with a 51-inch angled trekking pole. Headroom is a little less, but still good, using a trekking pole set at 45-49 inches. The Contrail is roomy for one person plus gear (top right), and is long enough for a tall person. The mesh sidewalls are higher on the Contrail than they are on the Virga 2 and Squall 2, so there is little chance of contacting the wet silnylon canopy with a sleeping bag. The inside rear (bottom left) has a curtain that can be rolled up to improve ventilation in good weather and dropped down for extra weather protection when needed. The floating bathtub floor (left and right bottom) is connected to the corners with elastic cord. The floor is 10 inches inward from the dripline, and is connected to the canopy with mesh all the way around. Both front corners have a small storage pocket.

I tested the Contrail in lots of weather, ranging from desert heat to heavy rain to alpine snow. I found that the standard four-stake pitch and angled front support pole (convenience setup mode) is fine for fair weather convenience, but isn’t stable enough for wind. My preferred pitch for the Contrail is the bomber setup mode with the rear struts upright. I raise the front with a taller trekking pole (to gain headroom), extend the front vestibule to create a beak with a front guyline (to increase the sheltered area), and stake out the sides (to increase interior space and extend the dripline). This arrangement requires seven stakes and greatly improves the sheltered area, storm protection, and wind stability. The extended front beak provides plenty of protected area so I can cook under it in inclement weather, and allows me to leave the mesh front door open at night for extra ventilation.

The Contrail has no problem shedding heavy rain and overnight drizzles. The flatter rear drains well with the help of a center rear guyline to create a drainage channel. During my testing, the Contrail endured two snowstorms quite well, but I found it necessary to constantly slap the tent walls (especially the rear) to keep snow from accumulating. The Contrail is definitely not designed for snow, and would not support much snow if it were left unattended.

Tarptent Contrail Tent REVIEW - 6
Although the Contrail is a three-season tent and is not intended for snow, I got a chance to test it out on two trips where a “chance of a thunderstorm” turned out to be a late summer alpine snowstorm. The first storm (left, at 12,800 feet) was warmer and calmer, and dropped about 12 inches of very wet snow by morning with a temperature of 30 °F (the mountain goat kept me company the whole time). The second one (right, at 11,600 feet), delivered 6 inches of dryer snow followed by 45 mph wind gusts and a temperature drop to 23 °F in the morning. In both storms I guyed out the front and sides of the tent for extra storm protection. I also flattened the rear of the tent (right) for more wind resistance during the second storm.

Single wall tents are notorious for condensation on the inside walls, and the Contrail is no exception. However, because of its high vent and ability to leave the mesh door completely open during a storm (with front beak extended), it had less condensation than any other single wall tent with floor that I have tested. In the first snowstorm I weathered in the Contrail (very wet snow, nearly calm, 30 °F), I had loads of condensation on the inside walls and I wiped the walls repeatedly. In the second snowstorm (drier snow, wind, 23 °F), I had light frost on the inside walls near my head. The breeze through the tent made a big difference. On “normal” nights without precipitation, I had only minor condensation inside the Contrail.

The Contrail has higher mesh sidewalls than other Tarptents. This extra mesh plus the tent’s functional high vent on the vestibule account for its improved condensation resistance compared to previous Tarptents. The taller mesh sidewalls and greater inset of the floor from the canopy (10 inches) also minimize the chance of contacting a wet interior wall with a sleeping bag.

Tarptent Contrail Tent REVIEW - 7
Although there is a Hypalon patch around the grommet at the front peak, I managed to poke the trekking pole’s tip through the silnylon next to it. It would help to increase the reinforced area around the grommet to avoid damage from pole mishaps, or it may be better to design it to use the handle end of a trekking pole. Note that the present design does allow a trekking pole handle to be inserted in the pocket instead of the tip, but that would work better without the grommet.


For ultralight purists who miss the simplicity and light weight of the original Tarptent Virga, the Contrail brings it back better than ever. The weight is as light as silnylon shelters from Tarptent get. The Contrail is more versatile than the original Tarptents, with more pitching options, more sheltered area in front, and better ventilation and condensation resistance. I especially like the refinements incorporated into the Contrail, like the side-attaching beak/vestibule, L-shaped zippered entry, trekking pole front support, two storage pockets, floating bathtub floor, guyline tensioners, and taller mesh sidewalls.

In using the Contrail, my personal preference is to add a front center guyline and extend the front beak. That setup gives the tent a lot more stability and allows me to leave the mesh entry door completely open at night, which greatly improves condensation resistance.

From a lightweight, versatility, and functionality standpoint, the Contrail is the best one plus person Tarptent yet. However, readers who want more headroom and comfort/convenience features may favor the Tarptent Rainbow (one plus person) which weighs 8 ounces more, or the Double Rainbow (two-person) which weighs 16 ounces more.

The Contrail also claims the honor of lightest single wall 1-person floored shelter. That distinction was formerly given to the Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo, which weighs 4.4 ounces more but has 0.5 square foot more floor space. The comparison is based on Backpacking Light measured weights, and includes six stakes for the Lunar Solo and four stakes for the Contrail. The Gossamer Gear/Tarptent Squall Classic, which is constructed of spinnaker fabric and sleeps two, beats both shelters at 21.4 ounces. A lightweight option to keep your eye on if you prefer a floorless shelter, is the 16-ounce Six Moon Designs Wild Oasis, promised for Spring 2007.

What’s Unique

The Contrail is a hybrid design that benefits from several generations of Tarptent refinement. It is remarkably functional and versatile.

Recommendations for Improvement

Although the Contrail is a new design, it is remarkably free of flaws, so I have very few suggestions to make.

  • Add more fabric reinforcement around the top front grommet to avoid a puncture if a trekking pole slips, or redesign it so it fits a trekking pole handle instead of the tip.
  • Offer an optional secure staking kit that includes front, side, and center rear guylines and a total of seven stakes.


"Tarptent Contrail Tent REVIEW," by Will Rietveld. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2006-11-08 03:00:00-07.


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Tarptent Contrail Tent REVIEW
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Carol Crooker
(cmcrooker) - MLife

Locale: Desert Southwest, USA
Tarptent Contrail Tent REVIEW on 11/07/2006 19:17:16 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Tarptent Contrail Tent REVIEW

Dane Burke
(Dane) - F

Locale: Western Washington
contrail on 11/07/2006 20:51:26 MST Print View

If anyone has some, I'd like to see pictures of the inside of the Contrail showing the reduced room when the rear end is flattened and staked to the ground.

Is there still room for a 6'4" person inside of a 3-season bag? Does it require a large amount of care not to hit the ceiling, and the condensation on it, when moving around in such a setup?

How solid did the tent remain in the 45mph winds, and in what direction was the wind coming from with respect to the tent (ie from the foot end, head end, or side)?



Edited by Dane on 11/07/2006 20:54:52 MST.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: contrail on 11/08/2006 07:29:56 MST Print View

Dane took the question right out of my mouth. It doesn't look like there is much inside foot room at all, just from seeing the outside, with the tent pitched low for wind.

I am liking how the golite hut uses the handle end up. At first I didn't think I would like it, but I have seen the light. A few pluses to the handle end up is:
1. handle doesn't get muddy/dirty
2. safer for fabric especially if no grommet is present for a tip end up shelter
3. tip end is down which might give better holding power in wind or if you bump into it

Edited by jshann on 11/08/2006 07:32:50 MST.

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Re: Re: contrail on 11/08/2006 08:47:36 MST Print View


Edited by FamilyGuy on 10/30/2013 10:48:21 MDT.

Lawton Grinter

Locale: Rocky Mountains
critters. on 11/09/2006 00:31:57 MST Print View

one good thing about using your trekking pole handle side up is to keep critters from nibbling on the salty foam handles in the night. on the pct, i had a few visits from rodents chomping on the handles.

Edited by disco on 11/09/2006 00:32:39 MST.

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
The Contrail is lighter on 11/09/2006 08:24:40 MST Print View


Edited by FamilyGuy on 10/30/2013 10:54:47 MDT.

Bob Bankhead
(wandering_bob) - MLife

Locale: Oregon, USA
Tarptent Contrail Tent REVIEW on 11/09/2006 10:16:31 MST Print View

The difference is the weight of an energy bar - IMO, virtually meaningless in comparison to your total load.

Up front, I own both the Contrail and the Double Rainbow, but am also very familiar with the SMD Lunar Solo.

Both the Contrail and the Lunar Solo are excellent tents - the best single wall designs I've personally seen in 40 years of backpacking. Both have been reviewed here at BPL, and both have their strong and weak points. I'd suggest you read the reviews. Which one you choose is a highly personal thing. I strongly urge you to look at both of them; sit and lie in them; try them on for size. Then decide. Don't let weight differences alone keep you from looking at the competition.

At the recent ALDHA-West Gathering, both Bill Gurwell and Ron Moak had their full line of tents on display while I demo'd Henry's Contrail and Double Rainbow between them. What a great way for hikers to compare three excellent vendors!

Just to add another oar to the water, Ron also displayed the prototypes of his two yet-to-be-released 2007 tent designs - The one-person Wild Oasis and the 2-person Lunar Duo. The announcement of the later currently appears on the SixMoonDesigns website.

Never has it been so hard to choose between two superb designs. You can't go wrong either way.

Wandering Bob

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Re: Tarptent Contrail Tent REVIEW on 11/09/2006 10:54:48 MST Print View


Edited by FamilyGuy on 10/30/2013 10:55:19 MDT.

John Davis
(JNDavis) - F

Locale: Isle of Man
Tarptent Contrail Tent REVIEW on 11/09/2006 12:48:20 MST Print View

The Contrail looks ugly, and I'm sorry to say that's enough to take it off my short list.

I carry two trekking poles, so why not use both of them at the front and include just one short pole at the back. Then you could have a design which looks as cute as the Wilson 400 used to. The Wilson had vestibules either side and still managed to have one of the smallest footprints I've ever seen. The front poles went beside the camper's shoulders and the single rear pole was near the feet. Essentially, it was a transverse ridge design with a foot extension. In tussocky conditions, a small footprint can be a big advantage. Tony Wilson built tents to last. He used heavy fabrics and triple-stitched seams so his tents pitched tight and could stand up to a British winter, but they still came in under five pounds. There are still some about even though Tony hasn't sold any for many years.

I'm really liking the thinking behind these single skin/floating groundsheet tents and the bug proofing is starting make them look like something which would cope with the Scottish Highlands. Hamish Brown used a single skin/floating groundsheet design on his record-breaking 1974 epic over the Munros, but it had a down-to-the-ground fly and valances. I see that design as second best to the Contrail/Squall Classic type design in summer, but Hamish's Tulloch Mountaincraft tent worked in winter and also survived a trip to Greenland.

So, a single skin/floating groundsheet with a Wilson 400 configuration is what I'd go for, if someone could work out how to do the bug proofing. Possibly in spinnaker fabric, if it genuinely does get quieter with use. Ray Jardine was right about connection. It is something I relish when tarp camping. With the twin vestibules open on a 21st Century Wilson, your eyes would be able to see what the world was doing just before going to sleep, without any need to bend your neck. The openings would be in just the right place for easy viewing.

Till then, the Squall Classic looks a better bet than the Contrail. Has anyone tried both?

Edited by JNDavis on 11/09/2006 12:53:37 MST.

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: Tarptent Contrail Tent REVIEW on 11/09/2006 13:14:07 MST Print View


Can you please post some pics of teh Wilson 400 you mentioned?

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Re: Re: Tarptent Contrail Tent REVIEW on 11/09/2006 14:06:48 MST Print View


Edited by FamilyGuy on 10/30/2013 10:53:39 MDT.

Lorraine Pace
(SowthEfrikan) - F
Can't wait to get one on 11/12/2006 12:03:00 MST Print View

I think the tarptents are the best thing since sliced brown bread and am very excited to see a new, minimalistic single person tarptent.

I'm small so weight really is an issue, and anything that is simple and efficient rates highly with me.

I have the Squall 2 and it's been my favorite tent since the moment I first pitched it. I've had it in rain, wind and shine and it's been wonderful, no issues at all. I actually prefer the Squall 2 to my Hennessy hammock.

Can't wait to get the Contrail for those times I leave my husband behind, although reading the reviews I would prefer it to be set up with seven stake-outs instead of the four.

Henry Shires
(07100) - F - M
Re: Re: Tarptent Contrail Tent REVIEW on 11/13/2006 16:08:38 MST Print View

Yes, I would love to see it too. Please post something if you can.

As for the Contrail looking "ugly", all I can say is sorry ?? No design appeals to everyone and for pure aesthetics I prefer the Squall too. The main idea (in my mind, anyway) with the Contrail is that it's very efficient at what it does and the foot end room/distance from walls is greatly enhanced using dual struts vs. an arch configuration. The rear end is also much more flexible than the Squall-style design in that you can set it up with a single rear pole in a more traditional A-frame configuration if you want to using the center rear pullout (and guying out the rear corners) or stake the rear corners directly to the ground if needed.


Roger B
(rogerb) - MLife

Locale: Here and there
Re: Re: Re: Tarptent Contrail Tent REVIEW on 11/13/2006 16:45:24 MST Print View


Does this mean that we could leave the rear corner poles at home? Are there any disadvantages of such an arrangement apart from less room at the foot end?

Finally is there any photos of such an arrangement?


Henry Shires
(07100) - F - M
Re: Re: Re: Re: Tarptent Contrail Tent REVIEW on 11/13/2006 18:38:35 MST Print View

You could if you wanted to but, honestly, I don't see any real advantage. I do think it can be useful to add a bit of "lift" to the panel for snow loading or provide more of rounded top panel for rain deluge using a collapsed trekking pole. Let me see if I can pull together a photo showing how to use the center rear edge pullout and a trekking pole (and a stake) to lift the rear edge a bit.

Edited by 07100 on 11/13/2006 18:39:05 MST.

John Davis
(JNDavis) - F

Locale: Isle of Man
Tarptent Contrail Tent REVIEW on 11/18/2006 10:31:47 MST Print View

Apologies are due.

Firstly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and my views may well be peculiar to me. I am sorry if my remarks caused any offence.

There is an issue with the way things look, though. Well engineered items often look right. In the context of tents, beautiful engineering looks as if it will distribute the loads caused by 25 m/s winds and not concentrate them on to something like a guyline attachment. The Wilson, pretty much a collection of triangular shaped pieces of nylon, looked right in this context.

More apologies because I have only just acquired a digital camera. Next time I see Bruce Brown's Wilson 400, I'll photograph it and post the result, although I must warn you that I'm struggling to get good results from my little Nikon at the moment. Also, a ferry journey is required and two of my last three outings on the Irish Sea have led to sea sickness, so there is some reluctance to travel.

Edited by JNDavis on 11/18/2006 10:33:29 MST.

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: @Tarptent
For John on 11/18/2006 14:43:19 MST Print View

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Edited by Franco on 11/18/2006 17:46:57 MST.

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: For John on 11/19/2006 01:50:26 MST Print View

Nice pitch Franco.

On cold windy nights, or for precipitation protection, is that the lowest and/or most "sealed-off" that the foot-end can be when the struts are not used?

David Couch
(Davidc) - F

Locale: England
Wilson tent on 11/19/2006 11:58:17 MST Print View

To see the Wilson tent Go to then select "diary" from the menu at top of page then scroll down to "illustrated reports from past club events". Choose "Peak District Weekend January 1999", "Backpackers Club Treasure Hunt April 1999" (the tent behind the red jacket) and "SLMM Checkpoint Duty Weekend " .

John Davis says " they still came in under 5lb". That's true, but gives a misleading impression. That figure included 14oz.for poles because in the 1980's when this was first made few people carried two trekking poles or even one, 9oz for pegs (stakes) and 2 lbs for the inner tent. Much of the inner tent weight was the groundsheet which was ultra-heavy because Tony Wilson was always accompanied by his dog, and the groundsheet was tough and heavy enough to be claw-proof. The latest version was in a slightly lighter material and the flysheet alone weighed 24oz (1 pound 8 oz.), which was 2 oz lighter than the original This would be even less in 1.3oz sylnylon.

While I don't think the Contrail is ugly, I'd back the Wilson in a beauty contest between the two. It worked /works very well too.

Edited by Davidc on 11/20/2006 02:33:29 MST.

Will Rietveld
(WilliWabbit) - MLife

Locale: Southwest Colorado
Contrail Length With Rear Flattened on 11/19/2006 13:59:14 MST Print View

I wanted to respond to Dane's question about the Contrail's length when the rear is flattened for more wind resistance. Since the length of the tent is 112" and the floor length is 84", there is still decent space above your feet so they don't contact the canopy, unless you raise your feet. You can sleep toward the front to gain even more clearance.

Regarding its wind resistance, I had the rear into the wind I mentioned in the review, and it took it fine. I had a little snow drift in through the side mesh.

If you extend the front beak, you can pitch the Contrail higher than the standard 45" to get lots more headroom. In that configuration, I did brush the inside walls some, but not as much as some other tents.

Overall, some people may see the Contrail as an ugly duckling, but I see it as functional and versatile. Its my favorite one-person tent.