Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1 Tent Review

Terra Nova maintains their reputation with the latest “lightest double-wall shelter in the world,” weighing just over 1 pound. This one has a Cuben Fiber canopy and floor.

Recommended

Overall Rating: Recommended

Because it’s the lightest double-wall tent in the world, the Laser Ultra 1 merits our Recommended rating. However, the lightest doesn’t mean the best. The Ultra has limited headroom, we are not enamored with the provided “1-gram stakes” to secure the tent, and we are skeptical of the longevity of a Cuben Fiber floor. But we are impressed with Terra Nova’s innovation and leadership in developing ultralight shelters.

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by Will Rietveld |

Introduction

The Terra Nova website proudly states: “GUINNESS WORLD RECORD: The Laser Ultra 1 has been awarded the Guinness World Record for the lightest double-wall shelter in the world!” Well, I guess that gets our attention. The Laser Ultra 1 is a one-person double-wall tent with a manufacturer specified trail weight of 17.5 ounces (496 g), which is equivalent to the lightest single-wall tent I know of, the Gossamer Gear One. The Laser Ultra has a Cuben Fiber shell and floor, with a thin nylon fabric interior, and improved ventilation. Is this the Lamborghini of ultralight solo tents, or just the winner of a low weight contest?

Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1 Tent Review - 1
The Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1 on an early spring backpacking trip in southern Utah.

Specifications

Year/Manufacturer/Model 2010 Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1 (www.terra-nova.co.uk)
Style Three-season, one-person, double-wall, non-freestanding tent with floor, one side entry door with vestibule
Included Tent body, one aluminum pole with stuff sack, 12 1-gram titanium stakes with stuff sack, pole hood, storage bag
Fabrics Proprietary: shell and floor are “Ultra fabric less than 0.6 oz/yd2 (less than 20 g/m2)” Cuben Fiber, 3000 mm; liner is ultralight nylon fabric and mesh
Poles and Stakes One 7.55 mm Scandium Alloy aluminum center hoop pole, two end carbon fiber struts, 12 1-gram titanium stakes
Floor Dimensions and Interior Headroom Manufacturer specifications: 85 in (216 cm) long x 29 in (74 cm) wide at head end x 34 in (86 cm) wide at center; 34 in (86 cm) maximum height, 15 in (38 cm) end height (dimensions verified by Backpacking Light)
Features Lightweight fabrics, large side entry door, two end vents, ends roll up for improved ventilation
Packed Size 14 x 3 in (35 x 8 cm)
Total Weight Measured weight: 20.7 oz (587 g)
Manufacturer specification: 20.5 oz (581 g)
Trail Weight Measured weight: 19.7 oz (558 g)
Manufacturer specification: 17.5 oz (496 g) (excludes stuff sacks)
Protected Area Floor area: 16.7 ft2 (1.6 m2)
Vestibule area: 3.8 ft2 (0.35 m2)
Total protected area: 20.5 ft2 (1.9 m2)
Protected Area/Trail Weight Ratio 16.6 ft2/lb (3.41 m2/kg)
MSRP US$700

Design and Features

Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1 Tent Review - 2
The Laser Ultra 1 is as light as it gets for a one-person double-wall tent, with a measured trail weight of 19.7 ounces (558 g) and total weight of 20.7 ounces (587 g). The shell (and floor) is a very lightweight Cuben Fiber, which Terra Nova calls their “Ultra fabric.”

Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1 Tent Review - 3
The tent includes 12 “1-gram titanium stakes,” which help to bring the weight down. I included a toothpick in the photo for comparison. Do you want to entrust a US$1000+ tent to these stakes? I don’t think so!

The 1-gram stakes readily pull out when the tent flaps, and are easy to lose, so the first thing I did was to replace the stakes with the lightest staking setup that I consider adequate, which is eight 6-inch (15-cm) titanium shepherd hook stakes, two Easton 6.25-inch (16-cm) tubular aluminum stakes (for the ends), and two guylines (for the main hoop pole). This adds 2 ounces (57 g) to the weight of the tent, bringing the trail weight up to 21.7 ounces (615 g) and total weight up to 22.7 ounces (644 g).

Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1 Tent Review - 4
Views of the Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1: A side view (top left) shows that the Laser Ultra is a tunnel tent design with one hoop pole in the center. Each end (top right) has a vertical carbon fiber strut and four staking points. The top view (bottom left) shows the tent’s proportions. Looking inside the door (bottom right), there is large zippered entry into the nylon fabric liner. The top of the door is mesh, and there are mesh ventilation panels in the ends of the tent.

Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1 Tent Review - 5
The tent interior has adequate floor space for one person plus gear, and gear in the vestibule can easily be reached from inside the tent.

Video tour of the Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1.

Performance

Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1 Tent Review - 6
Canyon bottom camp in southern Utah. I placed rocks on the tent stakes to secure them in the sand.

The Laser Ultra 1 is easy to set up: insert the center hoop pole in its sleeve, stake one end guyline, stake the other end guyline, place three stakes at the base of the tent on both ends, stake the center pole guylines. Set-up takes only a couple of minutes. Since the tent floor is thin Cuben Fiber, a groundsheet is essential.

As mentioned above, I substituted some sturdy stakes for the 1-gram toothpicks supplied with the tent, and also added two center guylines, for a total of ten stakeout points. During my testing I experienced wind gusts to 35 mph (56 kph) and the tent handled it with ease. The tent did shake and flap quite a bit, which is noisy, but it’s always noisy when the wind blows.

I found the tent’s Cuben Fiber shell to be quite user-friendly. It stays flexible in cold temperatures and sheds snow and rain very well. I used a thin plastic groundsheet under the tent and did not incur any damage to the tent floor while camping in the backcountry. I chose smooth surfaces to pitch the tent on, but of course one can’t do that all the time. While I am comfortable with Cuben Fiber as an adequately durable tent canopy fabric, I am skeptical of using it for a tent floor. It does have higher puncture resistance than silnylon, and much higher tear resistance, but I would still expect the inevitable punctures and patches on the floor. In its favor, it is easy to patch Cuben Fiber with any kind of sticky tape, tape that does not stick to silnylon.

Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1 Tent Review - 7
The Laser Ultra has a narrow entry vestibule (left) that is adequate for a smaller backpack. The tent has 34 inches (86 cm) of inside headroom at the center of the tent which is barely adequate (right). It gets down to where sleeping pad thickness makes a difference in how much I brush my head on the ceiling. For a shorter person, headroom is less of an issue.

My sample tent did not come with a hood for the center pole, but one is normally included to secure the tent and prevent leakage through the zipper. It rained several times while I was testing the tent and there was very little leakage through the zipper, so the hood is not really needed.

Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1 Tent Review - 9
This graph shows the temperature inside and outside the tent on a cold late October night. In the early evening, the temperature inside the tent is colder than the outside temperature. I entered the tent at 10:10 pm, as shown by the left peak in the blue line. With me in the tent, the inside temperature stayed about 6 degrees warmer than the outside temperature. I got up to pee at 12:35 (the right peak in the blue line). The other two small bumps are when I turned over in my sleeping bag and pumped some warm air out.

A double-wall tent with a solid fabric interior retains heat at night, so it is warmer than a tent with a mesh interior or single-wall tent. I have measured a temperature difference of as much as 12 °F (7 °C) in a one-person tent, and 17 °F (9 °C) in a two-person tent, so a tent with a solid fabric interior like the Laser Ultra 1 is warmer at night.

Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1 Tent Review - 8
Weather permitting, the tent’s entry door and ends can be raised “quarter open” to increase ventilation through the tent. This significantly reduces condensation inside the tent when there is nighttime air movement. However, on a clear calm night with a large temperature drop, as with any tent, there will be some, or a lot, of condensation inside the tent.

Comparisons

The following table compares the Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1 with alternative one-person shelters. Because the Laser Ultra is a unique high-end shelter, I compare it with alternative shelters of different types.

Tent Shell Fabric Floor Area ft2 (m2) Vestibule Area ft2 ( m2) Ventilation Mfr. Total Weight oz (g) Cost (US$)
Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1 Cuben Fiber 16.7 (1.6) 3.8 (0.35) Two end vents, door and ends can be raised “quarter open” 20.5 (581) £650 (approx US$1048)
Terra Nova Laser Photon 1 Silnylon 17.4 (1.6) 8.4 (0.8) Two end vents 27.8 (720) £380 (approx US$618)
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo 1 Cuben Fiber 18 (1.7) 6.1 (0.6) Mesh inner tent and large air space 23.7 (672) 495
Tarptent Moment Silnylon 18 (1.7 ) 6.6 (0.6) Two top vents, two end vents, mesh perimeter 28.8 (810) 215
MontBell Crescent 1 Ripstop nylon 21.8 (2.0) 2.6 (0.24) Two top vents plus partial mesh canopy 33.0 (936) 229
Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid Cuben Fiber 30.6 (2.8) none One top vent, open perimeter 9.0 (255) 340
Gossamer Gear One Spinnaker Fabric 17.5 (1.6) 10.4 (1.0) One top vent plus perimeter mesh 19.0 (539) 295

Key Points:
  • The Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1 is a limited production high-end tent, with a premium price tag; the Terra Nova Laser Photon 1 weighs 7.3 ounces (207 g) more and costs about US$430 less.
  • The HMG Echo 1 shelter weighs 3.2 ounces (91 g) more, costs half as much as the Laser Ultra, has much better ventilation and versatility, but headroom is limited like the Laser Ultra.
  • The Tarptent Moment is a single-wall tent similar in design to the Laser Ultra, weighs 8.3 ounces (235 g) more, has better ventilation, and costs one-fifth as much as the Laser Ultra.
  • The MontBell Crescent 1 is a double-wall tent with a similar design, has more floor area, weighs 12.5 ounces (354 g) more, and costs about US$820 less than the Laser Ultra.
  • The MLD SoloMid in Cuben Fiber is a floorless shelter with a lot more floor space, better ventilation, weighs 11.5 ounces (326 g) less, has loads of headroom, and costs one-third as much as the Laser Ultra, but it's not bugproof.
  • The Gossamer Gear One weighs 1.5 ounces (43 g) less, has slightly less floor area (but it's all usable), nearly three times the vestibule area, better ventilation, and costs about US$750 less.
  • Overall, every comparative shelter in the table beats the Laser Ultra in cost and matches it or exceeds it in other attributes.

Assessment

Choosing the Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1 gives you the distinction of owning the lightest one-person single-wall tent in the world. Of course, you pay a premium for that privilege. When you consider the weight increment of adding adequate stakes and guylines, the weight advantage of the Laser Ultra diminishes.

While I am comfortable with the longevity of the Cuben Fiber canopy, I’m not sure that a Cuben Fiber tent floor is a good idea because it’s vulnerable to punctures and will likely end up with numerous patches. I would personally choose a floorless shelter rather than one with a Cuben Fiber floor, in which case the Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid has a lot of appeal because of its much larger protected area, much greater headroom, and much lower cost. Interestingly, all the shelters in the table have limited headroom except the MLD SoloMid, and it has so much headroom that you can almost stand up in it. Alternatively, you can consider the Cuben Fiber floor sacrificial and patch it as much as needed, and it’s easy to patch.

Bottom line, the decision depends on what type of shelter you prefer and how much you are willing to spend. For a high-end ultralight tent, the Ultra is indeed the ultimate. But there are a number of alternative shelters that are also very lightweight and cost a lot less. Perhaps the significance of the Laser Ultra is that it maintains Terra Nova’s position as the manufacturer of the lightest tents in the world, and from our standpoint we admire their innovation and leadership.

What’s Good
  • One-pound plus one-person double-wall tent; the lightest double-wall tent in the world
  • Fast set-up
  • Side entry protected by a vestibule
  • Improved ventilation
  • Gear in the entry vestibule can easily be reached from inside the tent
  • Wind stable and storm worthy
  • Adequate space for one person plus gear
What’s Not So Good
  • Very expensive
  • Limited headroom
  • No storage pockets
  • Cuben Fiber floor is vulnerable to punctures

Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge, and it is owned by the author/BPL. The author/BPL has no obligation to review this product to the manufacturer under the terms of this agreement.


Citation

"Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1 Tent Review," by Will Rietveld . BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/terra_nova_laser_ultra_1_tent_review.html, 2011-06-21 00:00:00-06.

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Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1 Tent Review
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Diplomatic Mike
(MikefaeDundee)

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Ultra on 06/24/2011 00:05:56 MDT Print View

The Ultra may prove popular with UK Ultra distance runners. Some mountain marathons in the UK insist on a double skin tent as part of the carried kit list.

Will Rietveld
(WilliWabbit) - MLife

Locale: Southwest Colorado
Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1 MSRP on 06/24/2011 08:07:20 MDT Print View

I corrected the MSRP as per Matt Huff's comment. We typically list the MSRP in US$ when there is a US distributor and we can get the US MSRP. This is a mistake on my part, and I apologize for the incorrect information. Will

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
ouchies on 06/24/2011 09:25:12 MDT Print View

$700 for a made in vietnam single person tent?

at least youll have the distinction of having one of the most expensive tents on the trail ...

i wonder how long the thinner CF will last ...

Daryl Daryl
(lyrad1) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest, USA, Earth
Re: Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1 Tent Review on 06/24/2011 12:25:02 MDT Print View

Will,

Thanks for the review. Good info.

I was a little surprised by the inside/outside temp differences, however. I've been taking inside/outside temps for at least a decade now and my readings typically show greater differences than yours.

The inside of my tent is about 10 degree F warmer throughout the night, while I am lying still. I can heat things up to a 20 to 25 degree difference by moving around inside. This applies to me in a 1 person tent or my wife and me in a 2 person tent.

I (we) use small tents with total fabric coverage for the inside tent.

Were you taking the readings on a windy night? If not then I would tentatively credit the difference in our readings to the open mosquito netting on the Terra Nova. Of course I may generate more heat than you also. I tend to be a hot and sweaty guy.

Any thoughts on the subject?

Daryl

Martin Rye
(rye1966) - F

Locale: UK
Re: Ultra on 06/24/2011 14:18:38 MDT Print View

I thought the most popular marathon event only insisted on a tent with a sewn in ground sheet Mike?. So modding the fast packer option on the Ultra 1 would give a very light tent with outer and only a ground sheet.

Ultra 1 was the tent used by the LAMM elite winners recently. Talking to one person who was on it who used an Ultra 1, a Terra Nova cuben fibre pack, sleeping bag and bivy which came to about 1kg I can see why terra Nova kit is chosen by mountain marathon entrants.

Edited by rye1966 on 06/24/2011 14:19:25 MDT.

John McAlpine
(HairlessApe) - M

Locale: PNW
Lightheart Cuben Solo on 06/27/2011 08:58:29 MDT Print View

Great article and inforamtional read as usual. I truely enjoy your reviews. The cuben Lightheart Solo is a double wall tent and Judy advertises it at 14 oz. I have the tent with optional awning and it weighs 18 oz on my scale. Great design...and well worth one of your reviews.

Edited by HairlessApe on 06/27/2011 12:12:56 MDT.

Jenny Simchock
(framelessbob) - M

Locale: R.D.U
temp.differences on 06/28/2011 13:14:18 MDT Print View

Liked your temp. graph and would like to see someone do temperature differences inside and out of other shelters, especially a bivy.

Daryl Daryl
(lyrad1) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest, USA, Earth
Re: temp.differences on 07/02/2011 14:34:55 MDT Print View

Jenny,

My wife and I just returned from a backpacking trip using a small 2 person, no longer made, REI tent (Coupe?). It has a lot of mosquito netting so I have an all fabric cozy that covers the mosquito netting.

The outside temps were 33F and 35F on two successive nights. Inside temps didn't get below 50+F while we were sleeping on either of these nights. So, assuming some thermometer variance from my cheap thermometers I'd say the tent was about 15 degrees warmer than the outside air. Even assuming a lot of thermometer error would give us at least a 10 degree bump.

The night was dead still. No wind. While sleeping, a 10+ degree increase in temps inside a small,all fabric, double wall tent is typical for me. A temporary increase of 15-25 degrees is also typical while active within the tent (e.g. while changing clothes).

Daryl

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Thanks, but no thanks on 06/14/2012 20:09:42 MDT Print View

Very informative review and great photos that also explained a lot.

But... I'll take a SMD Skyscape X Cuben "hybrid" double wall instead. Far less $$ and better rooom with the option of a Cuben fabric porch for hot climes. The Skyscape X seems to be THE solo Cuben tent design on the cutting edge.

Made in Vietnam or not, The TN "Ultra Laser 1" is overpriced. Maybe it's the Brit taxes or maybe they are just "too proud" of their product.

Edited by Danepacker on 06/14/2012 20:16:05 MDT.