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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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Bob Bankhead
(wandering_bob) - MLife

Locale: Oregon, USA
Tarptent Contrail Tent REVIEW on 11/19/2006 19:41:19 MST Print View

When the weather turns to absolute crap, function trumps form every time.

I don't give a #$%& what my gear or I look like. I do care how it performs and how secure I am.

I've got a Contrail and enjoy it. I rather like its lines. I also recognize its design limitations so would never dream of trying to make this a 4 season tent. Neither would I take it along if I had any reason to expect I might run into a snowstorm.

John Davis
(JNDavis) - F

Locale: Isle of Man
Tarptent Contrail Tent REVIEW on 11/20/2006 14:11:32 MST Print View

Thanks, David. It's cuter than I remembered, so thank heavens I didn't try drawing one from memory.

Now, how would you midge-proof one if using only a tray-shaped groundsheet, instead of an inner. Perhaps a Gossamer Gear-style, mini mozzie net would do it.

By the way, I never knew Tony had a dog.

Edited by JNDavis on 11/20/2006 14:22:23 MST.

David Couch
(Davidc) - F

Locale: England
Re: Tarptent Contrail Tent REVIEW on 11/20/2006 17:19:53 MST Print View

John, enough about the Wilson tent in a Contrail thread. Set yourself up a profile, or use mine to email me and I'll answer your question.

John Davis
(JNDavis) - F

Locale: Isle of Man
Tarptent Contrail Tent REVIEW on 11/21/2006 12:41:04 MST Print View

That's me told!

Have set up a profile.

Just one problem with staying on the subject. I have killed several threads stone dead when behaving properly.

So, final thoughts on the Contrail. I'm seriously tempted by the Squall Classic, which gets the things right that the Contrail gets wrong. Just look at that gorgeous catenary profile! Oh, dear. There I go again.

Dane Burke
(Dane) - F

Locale: Western Washington
Re: Contrail Length With Rear Flattened on 11/22/2006 15:26:33 MST Print View

Thank you Will, both for your response and the helpful review.


Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Tarptent Contrail Tent REVIEW on 11/28/2006 21:31:25 MST Print View

I don't personally think that a tents visual appearance has any merit for its practicality or useability but for the record I'll add that the Contrail is a very sexy tent.

I was only introduced to Shire's tents within the past year as I started researching DIY tent plans. What I like most about the Contrail is that it gets back to what Henry was first doing with tents - minimal roof with bug netting. His Rainbow designs albeit practical and worthy they are simply not tarptents.

Will, thanks for another top-notch review. Your extensive testing and matter-of-fact presentation of results and findings plays an enormous part in making informed decisions.

Charles Thompson
(DemeraraDrinker) - F

Locale: Land of Toto
Tarptent Contrail on 02/29/2008 17:56:38 MST Print View

The issue of ugly is settled. I have seen stelth bombers and fighters take off from Whiteman AFB in MO. They have a beauty to them. Now, why do you think this tent is called Contrail? Because it resembles the bomber, an object in the sky flying with a contrail.

Rob Lewis
(roblewis) - F

Locale: Northeast
Re: Contrail Length With Rear Flattened on 12/31/2010 13:14:04 MST Print View

I have experience 3 dislikes about the Contrail, which is still a great lightweight shelter.

1. Front entry door is hard to get in and out of with a verticle pole. (better if pole is at an angle.)

2. When pitched on a slope, I have found the floor tensioners to pull the stakes out of the ground because of sliding down the slope. (Im sure that better site selection in this case would help)

3. Must be careful about placing the pole in the grommet, as I poked a hole in the silnylon in the same place as Will's review.

Overall it is a good lightweight shelter, and for someone new to Ultralight backpacking, I love the missing weight and time consuming setup of my old tent!!

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: @Tarptent
Tarptent Contrail Tent REVIEW on 12/31/2010 18:40:13 MST Print View

Wow, that is a blast from the past.
But since the Contrail is still alive and well...
Point 1 and 3 are "solved in this pic :
Contrail V poles

easy enough to use two poles and to use the handle on top rather than on the ground.
That way your poles tips can also be inserted in the soil as a peg.
If you do only use one pole, then yes you can set it to one side at least till you go to sleep.
Contrail pole aside
As for point two, I could be wrong but you would have the same problem with shelters that have the inner (tent over there) pegged independently from the fly.

Rocco Speranza

Locale: Western NC Mtns
Re: Tarptent Contrail Tent REVIEW on 10/29/2012 10:15:52 MDT Print View

I just messaged you on the other Backpacker Forum. I'll ask my question again here in a different way encase someone else can answer as well.

Is the 2008 version the one being made now?
Is that the 2008 version in the pics above?

How much better is the new versus the old 2006 version?

Thanks again for your help!

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: @Tarptent
Tarptent Contrail Tent REVIEW on 10/29/2012 16:18:35 MDT Print View

Hi Rocco
I had the original and have now have the current version.
In total there are 3 slightly different versions , the one sold now is the result of several minor tweaks that Henry has made over the years.
The current version has the ability to slide the box end down to ground level for extra rain and wind protection.
I prefer to use the extra middle strut at the end for extra leverage (working in combination with the front guyline)
You can see that in my videos at YouTube (I see you have already found those...)
The other upgrades are less visible but nevertheless useful.

Rocco Speranza

Locale: Western NC Mtns
thx! on 10/30/2012 07:36:22 MDT Print View

Thanks for the replies. Yeah, I think I'll want the newer version since I plan to keep this awhile.