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Terra Nova Laser Photon Elite Tent (2008 Model) Review

With a trail weight of just 1 pound 11 ounces, it's the Guinness World Record holder for the lightest double-wall tent commercially available, but that doesn't mean it's perfect.


Overall Rating: Recommended

The Terra Nova Laser Photon holds the distinction of world's lightest double-wall tent commercially available, but the weight reduction to achieve its light weight has created some deficiencies and contradictions from an ultralight backpacker's viewpoint. Bottom line, the Photon is a mixed bag - it utilizes a stable and roomy design, it's ultralight, and storm worthy and wind stable, but it needs several refinements to make it more user-friendly and functional for ultralight backpacking.

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by Will Rietveld |


Terra Nova Laser Photon Tent Review - 1
Alpine camping in the Terra Nova Laser Photon, a one-person double wall tent with a trail weight of just 1 pound 11 ounces.

Weighing just 1.7 pounds (trail weight), the Terra Nova Laser Photon now holds the Guinness World Record for the lightest tent, specifically "the lightest two-skin tent commercially available". It's targeted for mountain marathons and adventure racers, but it's actually very suited for ultralight backpacking. My review evaluates the efficacy of the Laser Photon in relation to the previously reviewed Terra Nova Laser Competition and Hilleberg Akto and the new Terra Nova Laser Elite and Tarptent Scarp 1+. How do these ultralight double wall solo tents compare in terms of livability, weight, and value?



2008 Terra Nova Laser Photon


Three-season, one-person, double-wall, non-freestanding tent with floor, one vestibule, and one side entry door


Tent body, fly, one aluminum hoop pole, twelve titanium stakes, pole hood, pole sack, stake sack, tent stuff sack


Proprietary. Inner tent is high thread count ripstop nylon, about 1 oz/yd2; fly is Watershed SL2 2000mm; floor is Waterbloc SL 4000 mm

  Poles and Stakes

One DAC Featherlite 7001 aluminum center hoop pole, two 17.25 in (44 g) carbon fiber end struts, twelve titanium 1-gram stakes 5.25 in (13 cm) long

  Floor Dimensions

Manufacturer specifications:
Length: 87 in (220 cm)
Width at center: 36.6 in (93 cm)
Width at ends: 24.4 in (62 cm)
Height: 37.4 in (95 cm)
Measured specifications:
Length: 86.5 in (220 cm)
Width at center: 37 in (94 cm)
Width at ends: 26 in (66 cm)
Height: 35 in (89 cm)


Very lightweight fabrics, carbon fiber end struts, strong aluminum hoop pole, one-gram titanium stakes, large vestibule, large side entry door

  Packed Size

18 x 5 in (46 x 12 cm)

  Total Weight

Measured weight: 1 lb 12.1 oz (0.8 kg)
Manufacturer specification: 1 lb 11.8 oz (0.79 kg)

  Trail Weight

Measured weight: 1 lb 11.2 oz (0.77 kg)
Manufacturer specification: 1 lb 10.1 oz (0.74 kg) (excludes stuff sacks)

  Protected Area

Floor area: 17.4 ft2 (1.62 m2)
Vestibule area: 8.4 ft2 (0.78 m2)
Total protected area: 25.8 ft2 (2.4 m2)

  Protected Area/Trail Weight Ratio

12.1 ft2/lb


£330 (about US$435)


Footprint (8.3 oz/235 g/£40, about US$53)

Design and Features

The Terra Nova Laser Photon is a lighter version of the Laser Competition. The design and dimensions of the Competition and Photon are exactly the same. Both are a tunnel design, with a center hoop pole and end struts for support, and a large vestibule protecting the entry. The inner tent and fly are attached and pitch as a unit. The design is very similar to the Hilleberg Akto and Tarptent Scarp 1+, which will be compared with the Terra Nova tents in the Assessment section at the end of this review.

Based on measured trail weights, the Laser Photon is 6.8 ounces lighter than the Laser Competition, which previously held the Guinness World Record for lightest double-wall tent. The weight savings is achieved through the use of lighter fabrics and one-gram titanium stakes. The lightweight fabrics used in the Photon are impressive. The inner tent is a high thread count nylon, and the fly is a lighter version of silnylon; both appear to weigh about 1 ounce per square yard. Although the emphasis in the Photon is light weight, it's interesting to note that the main hoop pole is aluminum rather than carbon fiber. The cost for the weight savings is £50 (about US$70).

Terra Nova Laser Photon Tent Review - 2
Views of the Terra Nova Laser Photon. Entry is from the side (top left) via a zippered door to the left of the center pole. The ends (top right) are raised by a carbon fiber strut attached to the inner tent. The rear view (bottom left) shows the tent's ground level fly, which protects the inner tent from splash back. In the top view (bottom right), the entry is at the top of the photo.

Terra Nova Laser Photon Tent Review - 3
The complete tent stuffs into a small but ample lightweight stuff sack (left). The tent is "secured" with twelve of Terra Nova's new 1- gram titanium stakes (right). The stakes are 5.25 inches long and weigh 1.28 grams each.

Terra Nova Laser Photon Tent Review - 4
Inside features. The entry door in the fly (top left) ties to the side; a large vestibule prevents rain from directly entering the inner tent. The five-foot wide zippered entry into the inner tent (top left and right) is huge; when unzipped, the door lays on the tent floor. Note the rear strut and large air space between the inner tent and fly, as well as the large vestibule space. The floor (bottom left) is 87 inches long and 37 inches wide at the center, which is ample for a taller person plus some gear. Each end of the tent has a mesh vent (bottom right), plus a large mesh panel at the top of the entry door.


Setup is easy and fast: stake out one end, insert the center pole, stake out the other end, and complete staking. That's the good news; those one-gram stakes are another matter. The carbon fiber stakes supplied with the Laser Competition broke easily, so Terra Nova came up with one-gram titanium stakes to replace them. Let me be the first to say that they don't work either. The first time I set up the tent I had a lot of problems with the stakes turning and releasing the guylines, then vanishing in the vegetation. I spent a lot of time on my knees finding the stakes. In my opinion, the one-gram stakes do not have enough holding power and are easily lost, so they are entirely inadequate. I replaced them with six-inch titanium shepherd hook stakes (0.22 oz/6 g each), which did a fine job of securing the tent. The tent has a total of ten attachment loops at the base of the inner tent and fly, plus four guylines (two on the center hoop plus two on the ends). This sounds complex, but four pairs of loops can be attached to single stakes, bringing the number of stakes for a secure pitch down to ten. The net weight gain from using the heavier stakes is 1.56 ounces.

Terra Nova Laser Photon Tent Review - 5
Terra Nova provides twelve one-gram stakes (center) with the Laser Photon tent, which are little more than a toothpick (bottom). I replaced them with some "real" six-inch titanium stakes (top), which are still very light and provide a secure pitch. Alternatively, you can purchase the tent with Terra Nova's two-gram stakes, which are 4.75 inches long.

The interior of the Laser Photon is quite roomy for a one-person tent. Its 87-inch floor is long enough for a taller person, but headroom is limited (measured at 35 inches at the center and 15 inches at the ends). I'm six feet tall and found the tent's height acceptable both while lying down and sitting up. The floor's 37-inch width at the center provides some extra room for gear. Contributing most to the tent's roominess is its large vestibule (20 inches wide at the center) and 60-inch wide zippered door which combines the vestibule into the tent's usable space.

During my summer, fall, and winter testing I was able to use the Laser Photon under a range of conditions. The tent's tunnel shape, ten stakes (my modification, which includes four guylines), and fly to the ground design makes it extremely wind stable. It easily withstood 45 mph gusts with only minor deflection. When I endured a spring duststorm in southern Utah, I discovered a shortcoming to the version of silnylon that Terra Nova uses for the fly - dust really sticks to it, bad! Silnylon (silicone impregnated ripstop nylon) is available in different formulations, usually different ratios of silicone and polyurethane, and this one appears to be mostly silicone. Dust sticks to it like a magnet. Fortunately, the dust washes off with clear water.

Terra Nova Laser Photon Tent Review - 6
Dust really sticks to the silnylon used for the Photon's fly (left); a Utah duststorm turned the fly from green to brown! I found the Photon to be very wind stable and strong enough to withstand light snow (right).

The Photon is sturdy enough to withstand a light to moderate snow -if you slap the walls of the tent frequently - but it's obviously not designed or built to support a heavy snow load. Dry snow readily slides off, but wet snow sticks to the tent (as shown), causing significant deflection. The ground level fly does a good job of keeping wind and wind-driven snow out of the tent, as well as shielding the inner tent from splash-back from heavy rain. Also, the ground level fly in combination with the nylon inner tent are very effective in retaining heat - on a cold March morning I measured the outside temperature at 33 F and the inside temperature at 50 F, a seventeen-degree difference.

Terra Nova Laser Photon Tent Review - 7
The zipper on the Photon's fly (left) is not waterproof and does not have a storm flap, so water will seep through. I found the dripping inside to be minor, and it falls in the vestibule, not the inner tent. Terra Nova includes a pole hood (right) made of polyurethane coated nylon that ties on over the ridge pole, and incorporates two guylines. It weighs 3.1 ounces in its stuff sack, and is not included in the tent's weight. It's most useful for windy/rainy conditions where extra support and protection are needed. I found that sealing the seams with diluted silicone is sufficient to prevent leakage (except the zipper) for normal three-season backpacking.

While the Photon's ground level fly keeps wind and snow out, it also keeps moisture in. Translation: the tent is not very well ventilated to the outside, so condensation is a significant problem. There is a large air space between the inner tent and the fly, and good ventilation between the inner tent and fly via mesh vents at both ends and in the door, plus the door can be opened partially or entirely. Moisture readily passes out of the inner tent, but there are no vents in the fly to exhaust moisture out of the tent. Unlike the Hilleberg Akto, for example, which has a high vent on the vestibule and two end vents on the fly, the Photon does not have any vents at all on the fly, and the fly extends down to the ground. Condensation is minimal in breezy or windy conditions - in fact the ground level fly is an asset when it's windy - but on a clear, cool, calm night it's a recipe for condensation. Under such conditions I found light to moderate condensation or frost on the inside of the fly, and in rainy conditions I found heavy condensation on the inside of the fly. Fortunately, the inner tent and fly can be easily separated so the wet fly can be packed separately.

Terra Nova Laser Photon Tent Review - 8
The Laser Photon can be pitched using only the fly, poles, and stakes to create a two-person floorless single wall tent weighing 20 ounces (with ten titanium shepherd hook stakes). The inside dimensions in this configuration are 102 inches long x 63.5 inches wide x 37 inches high.


Its one thing to pare out weight to achieve a world record for the lightest two-skin tent commercially available, but it can potentially conflict with functionality. The one-gram stakes created for the Photon are a good example; they are more of a novelty than something truly functional. Under tension, they easily turn and release a guyline attached to them, and their small heads disappear in the vegetation. I personally would not entrust a high end tent costing £330 (about US$435) to those toothpicks! Rather, I would opt for more secure stakes (adding 1.6 ounces, as described above), and save some weight somewhere else. The same philosophy applies to the lack of even a minimal mesh storage pocket inside and a storm flap over the zipper, which would add another ounce. And while we're at it, how about adding a high vent or two to lessen the condensation problem?

To offset the weight added from my refinements, I suggest switching to a carbon fiber hoop pole (a two-ounce savings), a C-shaped entry door into the inner tent (a one-ounce savings, and the door would tie off to the side rather than lay on the floor), and using thinner elastic and Spectra cords on the guylines (a one-ounce savings). Such refinements would make the Photon more user-friendly for ultralight backpackers.

As mentioned earlier, the Laser Photon is similar in design to several other tents. The following table provides details for comparing the tents.

Tent Floor Area (ft2) Vestibule Area (ft2) Ventilation Trail Weight (lb) Cost (April 2009) **
TN Laser Photon 17.4 8.4 None 1-11.2 £330 (approx US$435)
TN Laser Elite 17.4 3.0 None 1.7 £387 (US$500)
TN Laser Competition 17.4 8.4 None 2.1 £280 (approx. US$365
Hilleberg Akto 18.3 8.6 1 top vent, 2 end vents 3.1 US$420
Tarptent Scarp 1+ * 19.0 12.5 2 top vents, raised sidewalls 2.8 US$295
*The TT Scarp 1+ has two doors and two vestibules
**Terra Nova and Hilleberg tents are available from US dealers; cost varies

Some highlights and observations from the comparison table are as follows:

  • The Laser Elite is Terra Nova's latest model. It's the lightest tent here, but its 23-inch interior height limits its appeal mostly to adventure racers
  • The Laser Competition weighs 6.8 ounces more than the Photon and costs about US$70 more
  • Although it has a good reputation, the Hilleberg Akto is a bit heavy and pricey
  • The Laser Photon would be a good value if it included a carbon fiber hoop pole, plus other refinements described above
  • The Tarptent Scarp 1+ weighs a bit more than the Laser tents, but it has more floor space, two doors and two vestibules, more headroom, better ventilation, and costs a lot less

Overall, the Terra Nova Laser Photon tent is a mixed bag - it utilizes a very stable and roomy design, and its ultralight, but it needs several refinements to make it more user-friendly and functional for ultralight backpacking.

What's Good

  • Sub two-pound one-person double-wall tent
  • Utilizes a tunnel design to minimize weight, and maximize interior usable space
  • Inner tent and fly pitch together as a unit
  • Very wind stable and storm worthy
  • Very taut and has a large air space between the inner tent and fly
  • Huge vestibule
  • Plenty of space for one person plus gear, or one hiker plus a dog

What's Not So Good

  • No high vent or end vents on the fly to exhaust moisture, so condensation is an issue
  • One-gram stakes are not adequate to secure the tent
  • Hoop pole is aluminum instead of carbon fiber
  • No storage pocket
  • No storm flap on the zipper
  • Dust sticks badly to the silicone nylon fly
  • Toggle and loop tieout for the vestibule door are difficult to reach

Recommendations for Improvement

  • Add high vents
  • Add a mesh storage pocket
  • Switch to an C-shaped zipper on the entry door to save a little weight and allow the door to be tied off to the side
  • Add a storm flap to protect the zipper on the fly
  • Replace the one-gram stakes with more substantial and functional stakes
  • Replace the aluminum hoop pole with a carbon fiber pole, or offer it as an option


"Terra Nova Laser Photon Elite Tent (2008 Model) Review," by Will Rietveld. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2009-05-26 00:10:00-06.


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Terra Nova Laser Photon Tent Review
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Tim Cheek
(hikerfan4sure) - MLife
atko venting on 05/27/2009 21:30:35 MDT Print View

Having used the Atko for several years, I can vouch for the need for ventilation in this ground level fly design.

Craig Price
(skeets) - MLife

Locale: Melbourne, Australia
Re: The gold standard on 05/28/2009 00:21:48 MDT Print View

I concur, fantastic quality review. I own a laser comp and can vouch that many of the points are equally accurate to that model also, wished you'd done this on the comp too to help me. I'd still buy one again though.

Re the hood & quoted weight: so that's it! I've always thought I'd just been fibbed to by the sales team. The actual weight was about 3oz more than the spec when I got it. You reckon it's because that doesn't include the hood. ahhhhh (penny drops).

Rog Tallbloke
(tallbloke) - F

Re: Re: The gold standard on 05/28/2009 00:30:31 MDT Print View

> The actual weight was about 3oz more than the spec when I got it. You reckon it's because that doesn't include the hood.

Which is cheeky, considering it's an important part of the structure, and comes as standard. I guess the weather in the US might be more predictable for fastpacking weekends, but leaving it at home would niggle me.

Woubeir (from Europe)
(Woubeir) - F - MLife
Re: Response to TN Laser Photon Questions on 05/28/2009 06:09:56 MDT Print View

but it gets down to a philosophical question of do you want a piece of gear with no features at all and absolute minimum weight, or do you want an "essential" feature set with a few conveniences adding minimal weight? Many people will opt for the second scenario.

Exactly my idea. My premium goal is to have the most enjoyable trip I can have. Lowering the weight of my pack is just a means to achieve that goal and not a goal in itself.

What the review concerns, I found it remarkable that the aluminium pole was earmarked as a 'not so good' feature. I could agree that replacing the aluminium pole by a carbon pole could be seen as an improvement to further lower the weight, but to conclude that this means that the aluminium pole in itself is a bad feature, is a bit exagerated.
I agree that it's a bit silly if you compare it with those 1 gram stakes but I don't take those stakes seriously anyway.

Hendrik Morkel
(skullmonkey) - MLife

Locale: Finland
Scarp 2 on 05/28/2009 10:06:58 MDT Print View

Will, thanks for the info concerning the Scarp 1 - I had the impression that Chris Townsend is going to do one, but maybe the TGO Magazine one was meant.

I'm looking forward to the Scarp 2 review thus, as its very similar to the Scarp 1 I am sure it will help me make my purchase decision (and if I could get the girl friend more interested in backpacking, I might even go straight for the Scarp 2 =).

Will Rietveld
(WilliWabbit) - MLife

Locale: Southwest Colorado
Re: Scarp 1 on 05/29/2009 07:35:06 MDT Print View

I stated earlier that I didn't think BPL has a review of the Tarptent Scarp 1 in the pipeline. I was wrong; it is currently under review and will be published sometime soon. Our readers are always interested in new Tarptent models, and I am pleased to announce that we have reviews of the Scarp 1+, Scarp 2, and Hogback in the pipeline. Will

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
balanced review on 05/29/2009 12:28:22 MDT Print View

Will, thanks-

This was a good, balanced, insightful review. Presentation of facts, pertinent observations. Thoughtful recognition of manufacturer intentions and reality. Good approach in pointing out ways they could cut some weight--or at least remain weight-neutral--while adding features that are useful or necessary.

/A .
(biointegra) - MLife

Locale: Puget Sound
BA Fly Creek vs. TN Laser Photon comparison on 05/30/2009 00:41:48 MDT Print View


Thanks for the excellent review and photos (I love the dust shot!).

Some of the changes that you recommended seem to appear natively in the Big Agnes Fly Creek. I'm surprised this tent has not gotten more attention, especially since it is lighter per it's floor area (1 lb. 14 oz. @ 22 sq. ft.). I haven't used one yet, but after owning a Laser and a BA Seedhouse SL2, I would expect the Steamboat manufactured tent to be more versatile and better geared toward backpacking.

Does anyone have any experience with the Fly Creek and care to comment?

Einstein X
(EinsteinX) - F

Locale: The Netherlands
Re: Response to TN Laser Photon Questions on 05/30/2009 05:51:18 MDT Print View

"My suggestions were meant to be weight neutral, but it gets down to a philosophical question of do you want a piece of gear with no features at all and absolute minimum weight, or do you want an "essential" feature set with a few conveniences adding minimal weight? Many people will opt for the second scenario."

Indeed I agree. If I'd be looking for a tent I'd also be looking for a few 'common sense' features like ventilation, way of pitching, bathtub floor etc. And when I wanna go minimal I can always take bivi/tarp. And between a Photon and an Akto there are many ounces of which only a few are necessary to give up that would give much more functionality, though I doubt if you could implement these weight neutral.

What I personally would like to see in these type of model (i.e. Akto, Lasers, Exped Vela or Hellsport Ringstind) is a minimal stake count, cuz they all require about ten pegs. I'd like one stake on each side. Period! Thread the pole, stake out one side with one peg, than the other, done. I have however thought considerably about this design and I don't think it would work without a small hoop on either side of the tent like the Vela has.


Bradford Rogers
(Mocs123) - MLife

Locale: Southeast Tennessee
UL Fly Creek on 05/30/2009 08:29:10 MDT Print View

I have the Seedhouse SL1 and have been very happy with it. I have used it for 120 nights, in rain, single digit temps, high winds, and a snow storm that dropped 10" of snow overnight (that is a LOT where I hike).

The Fly Creek is very similar tent, but they made it shorter so it probably wouldn't work for me. If you are under six feet, it would probably make a great tent. I also prefer lots of mesh for here in the SE, but most new SUL double wall tents (is that a oxymoron) tend to use more nylon than mesh. I have seen two people weigh their Fly Creek one said 2lbs 5oz, the other 2lbs 4.86oz with 13 stakes (you only need 10) so it is slightly over spec. Those may just be bad examples though as my SL1 is spot on at 2lbs 13.22oz (listed at 2lbs 13oz).

Also, while I find the SL1 to be very roomy, I don't think it is a full 22sf. They Claim 42" at the head end and 90" length (to the point) which I verified, but they also claim 31" width where the point starts tapering back, but my tent only has 26.5" here. I assume others are the same.

I think it is a great step forward in UL tents, and I would be looking at it if they hadn't made it shorter. The design is bomb proof as long as you pitch it foot into the wind. It doesn't fix any of the problems with the SL1 (small door, vestibule, etc), but it builds on that designs strengths, and in a lighter package.

BTW: the BA tents are not made in Colorado or in the US for that matter. Like all mainstream tents, they are made in China, Korea, or Vietnam.

Anne Woenker
(alwoenker) - F
lightweight 1-person tents on 06/01/2009 18:10:04 MDT Print View

For the few extra ounces, I'll take my Six Moons Designs Lunar Solo. There is enough room for me and my gear in the tent. Ventilation is great - no condensation even with heavy rain. And, the peak is high enough for sitting up, changing clothes, etc. The only downside so far was a small amount of fine mist coming through the single wall during a heavy 5-hour thunder storm.

David Wood
(RedYeti) - MLife

Locale: South Eastern UK
Re: Re: Non-hood tie-outs on 06/02/2009 16:19:30 MDT Print View


(sorry - out on the hill for a weekend!)

Well as I say - it's going to require some thought ;)

But no - not intending to run the cords via the hood attachment loops as they're not really "load bearing".

Looking at it over the weekend, its clear that placing the pole hoop into compression is mainly done by the the cords - with the hood transferring the load from the cord, laterally across the pole.

So replacing the hood with several (four? six?) lateral links (more Dyneema?) to bring the load onto the pole should do it. Three of those links could be kept in place via the three attachment points.

It has the potential to tangle badly of course.

Or... I could see about remaking the whole hood in Cuben!

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Great Review on 06/14/2009 20:16:53 MDT Print View

The comparison of similar tents at the end was the clincher. It was stuffed with information in a convienant format.

Personally I'm partial to the greater space and double vestibules & doors of the Scarp 1, not to mention its superior ventilation and much better price. Then there's the optional CF crossing poles and ripstop body for winter use. All in all much more versatility than any of the other tents in the chart.

And "stakes" for the Terra Nova LF? You're correct, they're mere toothpicks. In fact I use only MSR Groundhog stakes for their durability and holding power. Fewer chances of things going "plop" in the night.


David Wood
(RedYeti) - MLife

Locale: South Eastern UK
Pole-hood - remade in Cuben on 08/04/2009 10:51:17 MDT Print View

So, yeah, got the pole hood remade in Cuben. I've posted something about it on my blog:

Edited by RedYeti on 08/04/2009 10:51:56 MDT.

Diplomatic Mike

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Re : Cuben hood on 08/04/2009 11:39:55 MDT Print View

Looks good David. :)
I've been thinking along similar lines myself, but not for the Laser Comp. I was thinking of having 2 'hoods' made for the poles on my Stephensons 2R. Not for waterproofing, but for added guylines in side-on strong winds.
Would cuben rubbing on sil-nylon cause a problem with either fabric though?

David Wood
(RedYeti) - MLife

Locale: South Eastern UK
Cuben vs. Silnylnon on 08/05/2009 00:32:43 MDT Print View

Hi Mike,

Hmmm... not being expert in such things I can't give any guarantees but from looking at the two of them, I don't see it being an issue.

Cuben is very slippery. Rubbing the two of them together between finger and thumb, it doesn't feel like one would disagree with the other. At least, not any more than silnylon rubbing against silnylon would.

Also, in the Laser Comp configuration there's not a whole lot of movement between the two (some obviously, but not much).

I'd guess that if one did start to rub the other the damage would occur slowly enough that you could see it and remove the hood before it did any real harm...

Diplomatic Mike

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Re : Cuben hood on 08/05/2009 02:02:33 MDT Print View

Thanks David.
I've never handled cuben, so didn't know how slippy it felt. :)