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Tarptent Rainbow (Sneak Preview) SPOTLITE REVIEW

A free-standing Tarptent with side-entry, loads of headroom, and under two pounds!

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by Will Rietveld | 2005-09-23 03:00:00-06

Tarptent Rainbow (Sneak Preview) SPOTLITE REVIEW


Tarptents are a favorite with all types of lightweight and ultralight backpackers, as evidenced by the Tarptent Squall 2 receiving one of Backpacking Light's 2005 Lightitude Awards. So a new Tarptent is big news.

I recently had the pleasure of thru-hiking a section of the Colorado Trail with Henry Shires, and had an opportunity to inspect Henry’s latest creation tentatively named the “Rainbow”. With Henry’s permission, we are releasing this preview of the new Tarptent Rainbow, which may be available as soon as December 2005.

The Rainbow is a distinct design departure from previous Tarptents. Instead of the traditional flowing catenary curves, and headroom-at-the-front design of the other Tarptents, the Rainbow is free-standing, has a single center ridge pole, side entry with vestibule, mesh entry wall with zippered door, a sewn-in silnylon floor, and loads of headroom.

The top has one 18-inch strut to widen the tent and support the vestibule on one side and a vent/window on the other. At the ends there is a provision to use hiking poles to extend and secure the sides.

The current prototype is a 1+ person size. It has a sewn-in floor, and mesh around the edges like other Tarptents. The floor size is 38 inches wide by 88 inches long, which comes to 23 square feet. Headroom is 44 inches. It weighs 32 ounces.

The initial model will be made of silnylon, and will likely be followed with a 2-person version, a model made of Epic fabric, and other options.

The new design innovations and options coming in the new Tarptent Rainbow are enough to make us lightweight gear fanatics lick our chops! We look forward to its arrival and the opportunity to do an in-depth review.

Photo: Through-hiker Henry Shires kneeling in his new Tarptent Rainbow.

Specifications and Features

  • Tent Type: Single-wall, free-standing, side entry with vestibule
  • Capacity: 1+
  • Fabrics: 1.3 oz/yd2 silnylon, no-see-um mesh
  • Dimensions: center height is 44 inches, outside is 46 inches wide by 100 inches long, the sewn-in floor is 38 inches wide by 88 inches long
  • Floor Area: 23 square feet; the sewn-in floor has 4-inch bathtub walls that lay flat to expand width and length by 8 inches in good weather
  • Included: silnylon tent, single aluminum ridge pole, aluminum strut, 6 titanium stakes, stake sack, tent sack
  • Weight: prototype is 32 ounces
  • Full height entry vestibule
  • Large zippered netting entry door
  • Sewn-in silnylon floor
  • Top vent/window
  • Optional use of hiking poles to secure the tent base
  • Reflective Spectra cord guylines
  • MSRP: $225 (tentative)
  • Contact:


"Tarptent Rainbow (Sneak Preview) SPOTLITE REVIEW," by Will Rietveld. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2005-09-23 03:00:00-06.


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Henry Shires upcoming shelters
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kevin davidson
(kdesign) - F

Locale: Mythical State of Jefferson
Henry Shires upcoming shelters on 09/26/2005 13:22:22 MDT Print View

check out the new "Rainbow" tent coming from Tarptent---in today's Spotlite (if you are a subscriber). Wow! And a future Epic tent ? ditto!

Joshua Mitchell
(jdmitch) - F

Locale: Kansas
Interesting... on 09/26/2005 14:27:10 MDT Print View

Looks similar in concept to Montbell Fast & Light, but single wall / Tarptent-ish / First-lightish design.

Looks like it will be very competitive.

Question, it "looks" like the pole goes on the outside and the tent clips to the pole? (referencing yellow "line" in picture)

Edited by jdmitch on 09/26/2005 14:36:38 MDT.

Bob Gabbart
(bobg) - F
post a link for new tarptent on 09/26/2005 14:29:00 MDT Print View

Can you please post a link? I don't see the information anywhere on his site and I don't get the newsletter.


Joshua Mitchell
(jdmitch) - F

Locale: Kansas
Link on 09/26/2005 14:37:16 MDT Print View

Link is Members Only, however.

Edited by jdmitch on 09/26/2005 14:38:02 MDT.

Henry Shires
(07100) - F - M
Re: Interesting... on 09/26/2005 14:42:02 MDT Print View

The pole slides through a continous (yellow) sleeve just like all the other Tarptent models.


Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Henry Shires upcoming shelters on 09/26/2005 14:49:21 MDT Print View

Every time we convince ourselves that we've got our gear pat down, Henry comes and messes it all up! :)

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: Re: Interesting... on 09/26/2005 14:59:29 MDT Print View

Mr. Shires,

based upon the many, many posts in these Forums, i have to believe all of your shelters must be excellent in both design and construction. read the "SpotLite" review of the Rainbow prototype and have a few questions. i'm curious about your new "Rainbow".

other than brand loyalty from existing HS users and the fact that it's freestanding, what are the other marketing points about your new "Rainbow" shelter that would make one purchase it over a SMD Lunar Solo 'e'? based upon the "SpotLite" Review of the prototype, the Lunar Solo 'e' is slightly larger, but lighter even with the heavier floor (26.5oz). the pic looks like the "Rainbow" has overhangs that prevent wind driven rain from entering the shelter, is this correct? it sure does look like a very nice design. can't wait to hear more.

Alex Orgren
(big_load) - F
Re: Henry Shires upcoming shelters on 09/26/2005 15:00:50 MDT Print View

My wife will kill me. The only way I get another tent is to buy her a new bike first. But it sure is tempting.

Bob Gabbart
(bobg) - F
spotlite? on 09/26/2005 15:04:33 MDT Print View

What is the spotlite news letter? Is that just the regular BPL news letter because I didn't receive it. I would not have known about this review unless I saw the post here. How do I sign up?


Edited by bobg on 09/26/2005 15:05:29 MDT.

Henry Shires
(07100) - F - M
Re: Re: Re: Interesting... on 09/26/2005 15:44:09 MDT Print View

Hi Paul,

A direct comparison with the Lunar Solo E is a bit of oranges vs apples (and Ron Moak is a good friend) so I wont go there but I will share of bit of the design goals for the Rainbow below:

First and foremost, I tried to design a hybrid, free-standing shelter that incorporates trekking poles to produce the absolute minimum pole structure. Every other free-standing shelter in the world is a dome or dome-like shelter with two flexible crossing poles that meet in the middle and form the skeleton for the canopy. The Rainbow is radically different in that it uses a single arch pole that tensions to two trekking/ski poles anchored cross-wise to the arch pole tips to form a stabile base. (note: the Rainbow can also be easily staked to the ground with 4 stakes if you don’t use trekking poles) The Rainbow pole structure is under stabile equilibrium because the arch pole tips try to push out while the trekking poles (under tension from the canopy) try to push in. Tensions running up the fabric to the strut at the top of the arch complete the tensioned canopy.

Secondly, I tried to build a shelter with a lot of headroom and very steep walls both for sitting up and moving around and for limiting any chance of a sleeping bag contacting a wall. An arch (with cross-strut) is particularly effective at meeting both goals.

Lastly, I tried to design a shelter with maximal usable volume, minimal footprint, and minimal weight. I don’t think you’ll find another shelter that does those 3 things better in combination than the Rainbow. There are certainly lighter solo shelters out there and if “lightest” is your need then you should run quickly to the superb Lunar Solo E. But for a few ounces more, the Rainbow is lot of performance and luxury for the weight.

Henry Shires

kevin davidson
(kdesign) - F

Locale: Mythical State of Jefferson
re. Spotlite? you puts your money down on 09/26/2005 15:56:09 MDT Print View

Bob G. check out-----

look at online subscription--it's a premium service and you pay an annual subscription---much more useful than the ever decaying Backpacker magazine.

Go, Henry,go!

Edited by kdesign on 09/26/2005 15:58:19 MDT.

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: Re: Re: Re: Interesting... on 09/26/2005 16:13:06 MDT Print View

Mr. Shires,

many thanks for the swift reply. hopefully, you understood that i was not trying to cause a HS vs. SMD feud. i love the Lunar Solo 'e' Mr. Moak kindly sold me a few months ago. of all the tents & bivies i currently own, it's the shelter that's the closest to the Rainbow - hence my request that you compare your new Rainbow to it. i appreciate all of the info you included in your post. obviously, the Rainbow is a very well thought out and engineered design.

you've made it difficult for me. since i already own the "orange", i guess i'm i gonna' have to buy the "apple" too, once it becomes available. thanks again. best wishes for continued success in your business endeavors. "if you build it, they will come" buy it.

David Lewis
(davidlewis) - MLife

Locale: Nova Scotia, Canada
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Interesting... on 09/26/2005 19:24:08 MDT Print View

Very MSR Hubba-esq :)

In a nutshell, I would say that this new tent, while not the lightest shelter available, is clearly the lightest shelter *in it's class*. i.e... it has many of the same benefits and clearly the same amount of headroom and bug protection as other single pole tents like the MSR Hubba (and many others) while being 1 pound lighter than all of them. Pretty cool. Basically a single-walled take on the single pole dome type tent... and also using the hiking poles to save another couple of ounces.

Edited by davidlewis on 09/26/2005 19:28:24 MDT.

Bryan Redd
(lucylab) - F
Henry Shire's newest tent on 09/27/2005 09:48:31 MDT Print View


Good to see you here. I'm looking forward to seeing the 2-person version and how it compares to the Cloudburst---my favorite 2-person tent.

As regards EPIC, I'm curious how your tests are going. Personally, I have not been happy with the EPIC jacket I have. It is neither waterproof nor breathable. Once it gets wet, it is done. And, I found that as I used it more it went downhill quickly, possibly due to buildup of salts/oils from perspiration, etc. You may be using a different grade EPIC; I certainly would not want to rely on a tent made out of the EPIC in my jacket.

I have a Feathered Friends EPIC bag that seems to work ok at repelling water droplets from the occasional condensation in the tent (e.g. if it touches the tent wall). I do have some reservation, however, based on my jacket experience and its lack of breathability, about moisture buildup in the interior of the bag.

Based on the actual structure of the EPIC fiber itself, I wonder whether it is indeed suitable for long-term use as tent material (dirt, etc.).

What is the insdie scoop on e-Vent? Are you barred from using it as a tent material?

Edited by lucylab on 09/27/2005 10:22:55 MDT.

Henry Shires
(07100) - F - M
Re: Henry Shire's newest tent on 09/27/2005 11:13:06 MDT Print View

Hi Byran,

No EPIC data yet. There are certainly different grades of EPIC--the one we're testing is a polyester ripstop--and performance is no doubt impacted by fabric tautness, airflow, contact etc. The goal here it to limit condensation while preventing water from getting through. If EPIC wets through (and it will eventually) but doesn't leak/drip beyond that then that condition is virtually identical to silnylon when condensation occurs under cold and wet conditions. At that point the fabric performance differences are a wash and silnylon wins because it's lighter and less expensive. However, if we find that EPIC significantly limits condensation under other conditions where silnylon condensates then we'll take a serious look at offering it on some of the models. There's about a 1/2-ounce/square yard weight penalty for EPIC vs. silnylon which works out to a about a 4-ounce weight increase on something like the Cloudburst. There would also be a corresponding price increase of $25-$30 for fabric cost. You, the consumer, would need to decide if those increases are worth it to you and I, the "investor", will need to decide if it's worth the investment risk.

E-Vent is not available as a tent fabric, at least to me in the US.


Henry Shires
(07100) - F - M
Re: Henry Shire's newest tent on 09/27/2005 11:36:27 MDT Print View

Duplicate. NM

Edited by 07100 on 09/27/2005 11:49:18 MDT.

Daniel Schmidt
(dschmidt) - F
stability in high winds on 09/27/2005 12:39:27 MDT Print View

What about stability in high winds? One of my problems with the squall was what I felt was inadequate protection from wind/rain in high winds(40 mph+). Will it be equivalent to the BD firstlight?

Henry Shires
(07100) - F - M
Re: stability in high winds on 09/27/2005 13:05:01 MDT Print View

Hi Dan,

I haven't tested the BD Firstlight so I can't comment on that comparison but I think the Rainbow is better in wind and rain than the original Squall (your tent) and at least as good as the Squall 2 (with dual trekking poles) when staked down. The pole and pullouts provide better fabric support than do the poles and pullouts on the other models. I got hit by some high winds and plenty of rain in Colorado and the Rainbow (and occupant) survived just fine.


Re: Re: stability in high winds on 09/27/2005 13:17:30 MDT Print View

Henry -

Any idea when this tent (and a 2-person model) will be in production? I'm curious also about the condensation issues relative to the Cloudburst model; how much did you experience on your trip? It's difficult to see what venting there is other than the door side.

Henry Shires
(07100) - F - M
Re: Re: Re: stability in high winds on 09/27/2005 13:55:17 MDT Print View

The Rainbow should be available by late Dec. No timelines on a 2-person version.

The Rainbow has a high shielded window on the back wall as well as the usual venting at floor level all the way around the perimeter. I experienced one night of substantial condensation after a cold rain and no wind and one other night of minimal condensation after another cold rain and an occasional breeze. The first time the shelter was completely sealed up and the second time I left the netting door open (under the beak) which apparently helped. On other morning, after it snowed and the temperature dropped to 20 degrees, I had some really thin patches of ice on the inside walls in a few places. All other mornings were dry. I don't really have a way to measure condensation in one model vs. another but my gut feeling is that it certainly isn't any worse in the Rainbow in bad weather than any of the other models and overall better because you're a long way from any potentially wet walls. Two people can actually sit up together facing each other inside and still touch nothing. In good weather, I think condensation potential is less than the other models.