In a radical departure from traditional Tarptents, Henry Shires introduced the Tarptent Rainbow in early 2006. Instead of headroom only at the entry, the Rainbow is all headroom, and it has a side entry with vestibule. At 32.6 ounces with the optional extended floor, it’s luxury for one person, or one person and a pooch, and it’s do-able for two smaller people. There’s nothing “tarp” about this “tent”! It advances the single-wall tent with features and user-friendliness rivaling a double-wall tent. Is the Rainbow the lightweight backpacker’s dream come true?
The Rainbow is radically different from previous Tarptents and sets a new standard for single-wall tents.
- Lightweight 1+ person shelter
- Loads of headroom and usable space
- Vestibule entry
- Quick setup
- Easy entry/exit
- Good ventilation
What’s Not So Good
- Very difficult to insert pole ends into grommets
- Velcro attachment for trekking poles gets tangled
- Needs mid height guylines for wind stability
- Hood over high vent gets distorted
|Tarptent 2006 Rainbow (tested with optional extended floor)|
|1+ person single-wall tent (free standing with trekking poles at ends)|
|1.3 oz/yd2 (44 g/m2) silnylon, grosgrain tie out loops|
|Easton 7075 E9 aircraft grade aluminum|
Weight Full Package
|Measured weight of shelter with optional floor 32.6 oz (924 g), manufacturer’s specification 30 oz (850 g); manufacturer specified weight without floor 25 oz (709 g)|
Weight Manufacturer Minimum
|Measured weight of shelter with optional floor, but without stuff sacks is 31.9 oz (904 g)|
Weight Backpacking Light Minimum
|Measured weight 31.1 oz (882 g) for shelter with optional floor, no stuff sacks, and with titanium stakes and Spectra guylines|
|23 ft2 (2.14 m2); entry vestibule is 6 ft2 (0.56 m2)|
Floor Area/Backpacking Light Minimum Weight Ratio
|Length 88-96 in (223-244 cm), width is 38-44 in (96-117 cm), height is 43 in (110 cm). Length and width are with bathtub sides up or down.|
|$185 without floor, $215 with sewn-in floor|
The Rainbow is a 1+ person single-wall monopole tent that is free-standing if you attach a trekking pole to each end. It has 23 square feet of floor area, which is identical to the Tarptent Virga 2. The tent feels larger because of its headroom and steep walls which make all of the interior space usable. It also has a 6 square foot entry vestibule that provides additional sheltered space.
Several views of the Tarptent Rainbow: front with vestibule closed (top left), back showing the mesh vent and hood (top right), end (bottom left), and top (bottom right) showing the ridge pole and 18-inch aluminum strut that expands the tent.
The Rainbow’s single pole design reminds me of the MontBell Hexagon. However, the concept is executed much better in the Rainbow by adding a perpendicular 18-inch aluminum strut at the top (identical to the strut in the front of the Virga 2) to extend the sides so they don’t drape inward, and making the main pole almost vertical near the ends (see photos). The result is headroom and usable space galore.
Unlike the Hexagon’s funky end entry, the Rainbow has a convenient side entry through a split side “beak” or vestibule. Behind the vestibule is a vertical mesh entry wall with a large two-way zippered door. With the tent’s height and large door, the Rainbow is very easy to enter and exit.
I tested the Rainbow with the optional extended floor (5 ounces, $30), which is the most popular version of this tent. A floorless model is available that weighs 25 ounces (manufacturer specification), however a piece of Tyvek cut to fit the floor area weighs more than 5 ounces, so why bother? The optional sewn-in floor has 4-inch bathtub sides for splash protection; you can unclip the sides and lay them flat for more floor space in fair weather
The Rainbow has a vestibule entry (top left) and mesh entry wall with a large zippered door. Inside (top right) there’s loads of room for one person plus gear. Note the floor’s bathtub walls and the silicone stripes I painted on the silnylon floor to eliminate sliding. The top vent on the back wall (bottom left) has a mesh screen, and can be used to stow small items. At the head end (bottom right) there are two small mesh pockets for storage.
The Rainbow is just as quick to set up as the traditional Tarptents; simply insert the ridge pole (I usually leave the strut in its sleeve), stake the four corners, then stake the front and rear guylines. Two minutes max, just like the other Tarptents.
In my dry climate, I had a problem with the silnylon tent body shrinking, making it very difficult to attach the ridge pole to the grommets. I fixed the problem by shortening the pole by 1 inch. A better fix for this problem would be adding a second grommet to one end for use under dry conditions.
There is a tangle of Velcro on each end of the Rainbow to allow the attachment of trekking poles, giving the Rainbow a “free-standing” pitching option. That’s nice, but to ensure wind stability, I would want to stake the four corners of the tent anyway, so in my opinion the free standing option is not very functional. I opted to remove the Velcro tangle to save a little weight and simply stake the corners. It’s much easier than attaching trekking poles.
The Rainbow can be free standing if you attach a trekking pole to each end (top photo). The tension strap (bottom left) has a grommet on each end to insert the ends of the ridge pole. Due to fabric shrinkage when the tent is dry, I really had to struggle to get the tent pole tip into the grommet. A second grommet on one end would be really helpful. Velcro strips on the tension strap are used to attach the trekking poles. The stiffened brim on the high vent (bottom right) easily gets distorted and doesn’t straighten out. This was the best I could do.
Another change with the Rainbow is the use of 5.5-inch Easton 7075 E9 aluminum alloy stakes instead of the traditional 6-inch titanium stakes. The Easton stakes are actually lighter than the titanium stakes, 0.355 ounce each compared to 0.395 ounce for the titanium. The Easton stakes are a little harder to push into the ground, but you can pound on them with a rock.
Tarptent has switched to Easton aluminum alloy stakes (left) which are actually lighter and stronger than the titanium stakes previously supplied. The top of the Rainbow (right) has an 18-inch aluminum strut to widen the tent. The strut is removable to facilitate stuffing the tent, or you can leave it in and roll the tent.
In the field, the Rainbow is truly a lightweight backpacker’s dream. It requires very little space and is very fast to set up. It has luxurious room inside for one person, and is minimally large enough for two people. My wife and I slept in it on several trips, and found it quite workable, especially in fair weather.
The Rainbow sheds rain with aplomb in typical Tarptent style. The canopy extends out beyond the bathtub floor, and you want to make sure the netting around the edges is pulled inward so it doesn’t channel water inside. Condensation issues are typical for a single wall tent, especially in rainy weather or any conditions where it cools down below the dew point at night. In the Rainbow, the high vent on the back wall reduces the condensation issue somewhat when there is some air circulation, but it’s little help on a cool, calm night. There’s also more headroom, so you are less likely to brush against the wet tent walls while moving around in the tent. A pack towel works great to wipe down the inside walls, and it’s easy to do in the Rainbow.
In wind, the Rainbow is a little more of a billboard compared to a traditional Tarptent. It held up well to moderate 20-25 mph winds, with some flapping and rocking. I would like to see at least two additional half height guyline loops added to the Rainbow for extra anchoring.
The Tarptent Rainbow is about the same weight and floor area as the Tarptent Virga 2, but there is a profound difference between the two tents. Having tested the Virga 2, I can easily say that I prefer the Rainbow. It has much more usable space and headroom, and overall is a more user-friendly Tarptent. It provides most of the ease of use features of a double wall tent at a much lighter weight, albeit without the condensation resistance. With a few tweaks to certain details, the Tarptent Rainbow is destined to become one of the best single-wall tents available.
The Rainbow is not the lightest 1+ person single-wall tent around. Compared to the 23 ounce Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo with 27.5 square feet of floor space and 10 square foot vestibule, the Rainbow has 4.5 square feet less floor space, but its space is more usable because of its steeper walls. The main reason for the weight difference is the Lunar Solo uses a trekking pole for support (which is not included in the tent weight) while the Rainbow uses a collapsible ridge pole (which is included in the tent weight).
The Rainbow is a monopole design with a top strut to provide loads of interior headroom and usable floor space.
Recommendations for Improvement
While the Tarptent Rainbow introduces some major improvements in single wall tent design, and advances the user friendliness of the single wall tent, there are a few details that could be refined.
- Because the ridge pole and sleeve are so long, a small amount of fabric shrinkage can result in the grommet connection being too tight. I recommend adding a second grommet to at least one ends of the tent’s tension strap to use when shrinkage occurs.
- Although attaching trekking poles does gain a freestanding status for this tent, I don’t feel that the feature is really that functional compared to staking the corners. I suggest eliminating the Velcro pole attachment straps, which can easily become tangled.
- The stiffening in the hood over the high vent easily becomes distorted and is difficult to re-shape, so some improvement is needed. A larger vent to provide better ventilation and views should also be considered.
- To enable stability in serious winds, I suggest adding at least two more mid-height guyline loops.