Looking for a new backpacking home? Gear Editor Chris Townsend has assessed a huge range of shelters, from double-skin tents to tarps and bivi bags
SHELTERS FOR SOLO BACKPACKING are by necessity a compromise, mainly between weight and space. Performance in terms of weather resistance and condensation control needs taking into account too. Different designs deal with these in different ways.
There are many varieties of solo shelter with the classic three being the double-skin tent, the simple flat tarp and the bivi bag. These have been joined over the years by hybrid tents, bivi tents, tarp tents, shaped tarps and hooped bivis. The different designs do overlap and names for them aren’t used consistently – one maker’s hybrid tent may be another’s bivi tent. Which is best depends on many factors. Where and when it will be used (a much more wind-resistant design is needed for mountain camping than forest camping for example), how much weight you’re prepared to carry, how much space you like, whether biting insects will be a problem and whether you use trekking poles all need considering. Here’s a run-down of the advantages and disadvantages of the basic types.
This is the standard tent design with a breathable inner and a waterproof flysheet. These tents are warmer than other designs due to the two layers. Condensation that forms on the inside of the flysheet is kept off occupants and gear by the inner. That said, on very small two-skin tents it can be difficult to avoid pushing the inner against the flysheet and dampening it. Inners are insect-proof and there are usually porches for gear storage and cooking undercover. For the space this is the heaviest design.
Hybrid/Single-Skin Tent/Tarp Tents
Remove the inner and sew the groundsheet to the flysheet, and you have a single-skin tent. These are quick to pitch and roomy for the weight but condensation can be a problem, depending on the fabric (an absorbent cloth can be used to wipe the walls in the morning). Hybrids are ones where a porch and an inner door have been added, which provides gear storage and cooking space whilst enabling occupants to keep out insects and draughts. These tents are sometimes called tarp tents when they have simple designs and are pitched with trekking poles.
This is the name for small tents that are more of an alternative to a bivi bag than a full tent. There is an overlap with single-skin tents (and the smallest double-skin ones to some extent) but bivi tents are usually smaller, making condensation even more of a problem.
Tarps are the simplest shelters – just sheets of fabric that can be pitched in a variety of shapes. They are very light for the space provided and can be pitched almost anywhere. However practice is needed pitching them, which can be done with trekking poles or by hanging them between trees. Groundsheets or bivi bags and pegs are required, plus mesh tents that can be hung inside if insects need to be kept out. Weather resistance can be good in some configurations but these are not really shelters that are suitable for using in strong winds.
Give a tarp a pyramid or ridge tent shape and it becomes easier to pitch and more weather-resistant whilst still being light for the space. The same extras are needed as for standard tarps but the best of these designs will withstand almost any weather.
Bivi bags are simple waterproof envelopes that encase your sleeping bag. They are very light, but used on their own everything bar sleeping must be done outside. Protection can be added by erecting a small tarp over the hood end. Bivi bags can also be used under tarps and even in small tents to protect sleeping bags from condensation. Being so compact when packed and so light, bivi bags are also good to carry on day trips just in case of benightment.
1. Flysheet materials
Silicone nylon is very light and durable.
PU-coated nylon or polyester is heavier and less durable but costs less. The seams on silicone nylon tents aren’t usually taped – silicone is very slippery – so some makers treat the nylon with silicone on the outside and PU on the inside so the seams can be taped. Others provide tubes of seam sealant.
2. Inner materials
Breathable nylon or polyester resists drips from condensation and keeps out breezes. It can be a bit hot in warm weather so optional mesh doors are useful. Mesh inners are cooler but breezes blow through and condensation can drip through.
Groundsheets need to be made from heavier fabrics than flysheets and have a higher hydrostatic head (the measure of how much water pressure can be applied before a material leaks). Some makers advise using a footprint under a thin groundsheet. These are usually extras and so add to the weight and cost.
4. Inner dimensions
The inner should be long enough that your sleeping bag doesn’t push against the ends. Ideally there should be room for a full-length, full-width (c100cm) sleeping mat without it touching either end. Headroom should be enough that you can sit up comfortably at the highest point of the inner – for me that means a minimum of 90cm.
Poles should be easy to attach. Ones with sleeves should slide in place without sticking. If the poles are different lengths they and the attachment points should be colour-coded
so the right pole goes in the right place.
A good set of pegs mixes thin ones for hard ground and wider ones for soft ground.
The ones for key pegging points and guylines should be 14-15cm long. With most tents adding a few different pegs to those provided is advisable both for different types of ground and in case of loss.
Guylines are the key to stability in strong winds, so extra guylines are useful in a big storm. Many tents have attachment points for these.
The porch should be big enough for safe cooking, and for storing wet gear and packs.
Flysheet doors that can be opened in a number of ways are the most beneficial. In good weather you can open them fully for easy access and good views.
Protected vents or upper door zips that can be left open in all but the worst weather can reduce the amount of condensation that builds up in humid conditions. Only close vents when you really have to.
TENTS PRODUCT REVIEW
(√) Condensation control, space for weight, wind resistance
(×) Smallish door, quite expensive
Design: single-skin dome
Flysheet: 75g/m2 20D silicone nylon with X-Tex coating, 20,000mm hydrostatic head/porch 51 g/m2 30D silicone ripstop nylon, 5000mm hydrostatic head
Inner door: 25g/m2 20D ripstop nylon
Groundsheet: 75 g/m2 50D PU-coated nylon taffeta, 5000mm hydrostatic head
Poles: DAC 9.35mm Featherlite aluminium alloy
Pegs: 8x16cm 7001-T6 alloy square Lightning, 4x16cm flat Flash
Inner dimensions: 230x95cm, max. height 100cm
Very rarely does a product come along that really excites me because it really is different and innovative. That happened last year when I tried the single-skin S10’s bigger sibling, the S20.
I wasn’t expecting much as I’ve always found single-skin tents with sewn-in groundsheets to have the worst condensation problems of any design. Lightwave claims the Sigma tents solve this. I’ve heard that before, I thought. Only this time it turned out to be true. Condensation is minimal and has never been a problem. How is this achieved? The fabric, called X-Tex, is PU-coated nylon with activated carbon in it, and it’s the latter that achieves the seemingly impossible by being so attractive to moisture that it absorbs it into the fabric, leaving the inner dry to the touch. The moisture then spreads out and passes through to the outside quickly. That conditions have been right for condensation when using the Sigma has been shown by the porch, made from ordinary silicone nylon, which has been running with it in the mornings.
X-Tex has other advantages too. It’s a soft fabric that doesn’t rustle in the wind and it’s dark inside so light summer nights don’t keep you awake. The hydrostatic head is huge and the fabric feels tough. It is heavier than other tent fabrics but not by enough to make the Sigma heavy as the weight of an inner tent is saved.
The design of the S10 is good. It’s a two-pole dome with a short crossover pole near one end to give extra space and to aid stability. There’s a door separating the main compartment from the porch with a mesh window in it. The inner is spacious with good headroom. The porch is roomy too and big enough for storing gear and cooking. It would be nice if the whole porch could be opened in fine weather, and the whole of the inner door too. As it is, less than half of each opens. The groundsheet feels tough and has a fairly high hydrostatic head. Lightwave says that it doesn’t generally advocate the use of a footprint but recommends one when “ground conditions are going to be harsh, or weight is not quite so critical”.
The S10 is almost free-standing – the porch needs a peg to hold it in position.
Five other pegs are needed to peg down the corners and the back if you don’t want it to take off in the wind. For really stormy weather there are six guylines too. The pegs supplied are excellent.
The S10 stands up to strong winds and wet weather really well, and is quieter than most tents.
At a touch under 1.4kg the S10 isn’t ultralight but it is lightweight and very roomy. For most backpacking I think this weight is fine for a tent this size.
£600 | 1.100kg
(√) low weight, porch, ventilation
(x) high cost, fabric rustles
Design: single hoop
Flysheet: Kerlon 600 silicone nylon, 1500mm hydrostatic head
Groundsheet: PU-coated nylon, 5000mm hydrostatic head
Poles: 9mm DAC NSL
Pegs: 8x 14cm triangular
Inner dimensions: 215x95cm widest, 60cm ends, 93cm max. height
Of the four small double-skin tents weighing under 1.2kg, the Enan is the second heaviest and the most expensive. However it’s alsothe roomiest and the only one I’d be happy to use for more than single night trips.
The Enan is a single hoop tent with short upright poles at each end to give more space inside and increase stability. It can be pitched quickly as a unit. Whilst it does move a bit and the fabric rustles, which takes getting used to, overall stability is good for a tent at this weight.
The inner is roomy with good headroom unless you’re really tall. The porch is big enough for storing gear and cooking under cover. Ventilation is decent as each end of the flysheet is made of mesh for good airflow.
In heavy rain fabric panels can be rolled down over the mesh. The inner door is also mesh and the flysheet door can be left open at the top – a flap here keeps rain out. In calm and very humid conditions condensation still occurs of course but it’s easier to avoid pushing the inner against the wet fabric than in smaller tents.
£400 | 1.140kg
(√) lightweight, groundsheet
(x) low height, small porch
Design: offset single hoop
Flysheet: 20D ripstop silicone polyester, 2000mm hydrostatic head
Inner: breathable ripstop nylon
Groundsheet: 40D coated nylon, 7000mm hydrostatic head
Poles: 8.6mm Yunan alloy 7001 T6, 9.5mm carbon fibre
Pegs: 12x 16cm flat needle
Inner dimensions: 220cm long, 90cm widest, 70 & 50cm ends, 80cm max. height
The Goldcrest is the least expensive of the small double-skin tents tested but also the heaviest, though 1.14kg is still very light. It’s a single hoop tent with the pole offset so the highest point is towards one end rather than in the centre. There are two short poles at the low end to give a little more height. It pitches as a unit, and is quick and easy to erect. Stability is good for such a light tent though the long unsupported section of the roof can deform in strong winds.
The inner tent is reasonable roomy when lying down. However the maximum height is low and I can’t sit up without my head pushing the inner against the flysheet, which means condensation can come through. There is an adjustable vent at the high end of the flysheet and mesh panels at each end of the inner tent but overall ventilation isn’t that good.
The porch is long but narrow. To store a pack you have to put it on its side. There isn’t room for safe cooking with the flysheet door closed. The doorway is well over half the length of the tent so when it’s open it’s hard to keep rain out.
In tents I like to sit up or lie on my left side when cooking – I am very right-handed. I can’t do the first comfortably in the Goldcrest and can only do the second by lying with my head at the low end of the tent.
Whilst the size of the Goldcrest means it’s not a tent I’d choose, if you’re happy with the space and don’t plan on cooking in the porch then it could be okay.
Laser Pulse 1
£580 | 545g
(x)low height, small porch, inadequate pegs, expensive
Design: offset single hoop
Flysheet: Watershed 7D silicone nylon, 1700mm hydrostatic head
Inner: breathable nylon
Groundsheet: Watershed ripstop nylon, 3000mm hydrostatic head
Poles: 8.7mm DAC
Pegs: 8x 13cm titanium pin
Inner dimensions: 220cm long, 81cm widest, 50cm ends, 82cm maximum height
Terra Nova says the Laser Pulse 1 is “one of the lightest tents in the world” and I can well believe it. The weight is astonishingly low. It’s achieved by using the lightest materials possible but also by reducing the size to just about the minimum. Terra Nova claims it is
“ideal for short duration mountain marathons or medium duration backpacking forays.” For me it’s too small for comfort for more than one night trips.
The light fabrics all seem fine and should last – except for the groundsheet, which
has a low hydrostatic head that suggests a footprint should be used, which of course would add weight.
This is an offset single hoop tent with a short upright pole at the low end and an even shorter optional upright pole at the other end – to allow some ventilation under the flysheet. It pitches as a unit. When erected for the first time the hoop has to be attached to the flysheet with Velcro loops, which is rather fiddly. However the pole can be left in place and rolled up with the flysheet when the tent is taken down. Once this is done pitching is quite quick.
The Pulse 1 comes with Terra Nova’s thin needle-like pegs. These are not adequate. The first time a strong wind blew, the tent collapsed, every peg pulling out bar two. It was pitched alongside several of the other tents tested and they all stayed up without a single peg coming out. I replaced the pegs with thicker ones and the Pulse 1 then stayed up. Changing the pegs pushed the weight up to 605g, which is still ultralight. It would be better supplied without pegs than with useless ones.
The inner is just big enough for one person, as long as you’re not very tall or broad. The head height is a bit more than in some similar designs but I still found my head pushing against the roof, and I’m not tall. As with other tiny tents moving round inside without pushing the inner against the outer is difficult so condensation can be a problem. The inner door is half mesh but that’s it for ventilation other than the flysheet door.
There isn’t room for storing much stuff in the tent and the porch is small. That said if you’re using a tent this light the rest of your gear is likely to be compact and minimalist too. The inner can be pulled back a little to create more porch space but I still wouldn’t risk cooking in it with the door closed.
For overnight trips, especially if you’re not very big, the Pulse 1 is wonderfully light and compact. I’d rather carry more weight and have more room but if you want an ultralight double-skin tent and don’t mind the high price it could be worth considering.
Lizard GUL 1P
£560 | 765g
(√) ultralight, tough groundsheet
(x) low height, small porch, expensive
Design: offset semi single hoop
Flysheet: 10D silicone polyamide, 3000mm hydrostatic head
Inner: 10D micro ripstop polyamide
Groundsheet: 40D ripstop thermoplastic polyurethane-laminated polyamide, 10,000mm hydrostatic head
Poles: Yunan carbon
Pegs: 7x 15cm titanium pins, 1x 18cm Y
Inner dimensions: 210x60cm, 75cm maximum height
The Lizard GUL 1P is ultralight and unusual. Two-thirds of a hoop holds up the main body of the tent with short upright poles at each end. I’m not sure what the advantage of this design over a complete hoop is, other than to give a slightly deeper porch perhaps. The GUL 1P is another tiny tent with little room to move inside or store gear and with less headroom than similar tents. As with others around this size I find it too small for comfort.
Lightweight materials are used to keep
the weight down but not, for once, for the groundsheet, which has a very high hydrostatic head, meaning no footprint is needed.
The GUL 1P pitches quickly and easily as a unit. It’s surprisingly stable in strong winds though the size means that any movement of the fabric results in it pushing against you. There are mesh panels in the inner and an adjustable vent at the top of the flysheet door but these can’t prevent condensation being a problem in some conditions.
The GUL 1P is worth considering if low weight is the prime concern, but it is expensive.
£200 | 2.065kg
(√) roomy, low cost, footprint
(x) heavy, inner-first pitching
Flysheet: 68D PU ripstop polyester, 1500mm hydrostatic head
Inner: 40D ripstop nylon/20D nylon micromesh
Groundsheet: 70D PU taffeta nylon, 3000mm hydrostatic head
Poles: 7000 series aluminium
Pegs: 11x 18cm round pegs
Inner dimensions: 218x84cm, height 100cm
MSR’s updated Elixir 1 is described as “our most liveable solo backpacking tent”. What this means is that it’s roomy, with good headroom and a large porch for gear storage and cooking under cover, plus it has features like a mesh gear loft and glow-in-the-dark zip pullers.
It’s a two-pole dome tent with a short cross pole at the top to add stability and create a bigger porch. The main poles cross halfway down each side rather than at the top, which also helps stability as it reduces the length of unsupported pole sections. There are attachment points for guylines and with these in place the Elixir 1 is quite stable when it’s windy.
The flysheet is polyester rather than nylon, which helps keep the price down but puts the weight up. The groundsheet has a fairly low hydrostatic head but MSR provides a footprint with the tent, which is excellent and something that should come with every tent with groundsheets like this. The inner is breathable nylon with big mesh panels for ventilation.
The Elixir 1 pitches inner-first, which can be done quickly, but even so it would get wet in heavy rain. The footprint is pegged out first and the pole ends fit onto the corners of both it and the inner. If you want to save weight just the flysheet and footprint can be used.
There’s room for some gear in the inner as well as a full-length mat. Headroom is good and most people should be able to sit up inside. The big inner door opens much of one side and the flysheet door too can be opened wide for easy access and good views, or just half of it for more weather protection. There are adjustable vents at each end of the flysheet, which, with the inner mesh panels, makes for reasonable ventilation. The space inside means contact with the flysheet walls is easily avoided anyway.
The design and performance of the Elixir 1 are excellent. It is quite heavy though and so not for trips where weight is significant. The price is low and it’s great value for money.
Abisko Lite 1
£485 | 1.720kg
(√) roomy, stable
(x) heavy, quite expensive
Design: single hoop
Flysheet: 20D triple ripstop silicone polyamide, 3000mm hydrostatic head
Inner: 15D ripstop polyamide
Groundsheet: 40D PU polyamide, 6000mm hydrostatic head
Poles: DAC Featherlite NSL
Pegs: 14x 16cm DAV V
Inner dimensions: 220cm long, 90cm at widest, 55cm at ends, maximum height 90cm
The Abisko Lite 1 is a classic single hoop tent with two short poles at each end. It’s made from durable materials and the design is strong and stable – Fjällräven describes it as four-season. Packed, it’s quite compact. It is quite heavy though. This isn’t a tent if weight is important. If it’s not it’s excellent as it’s roomy as well as tough.
It pitches quickly and easily as a unit. The inner is big enough for some gear as well as a full-length mat and has good headroom in the centre. The porch is roomy too and easily holds a pack while leaving enough room for cooking. The inner and outer doors are both quite big for easy access and good views. There are adjustable mesh vents at either end of the flysheet and at the top of the door, and a mesh inner door. The flysheet door can be rolled halfway up and fastened in place too, which gives good ventilation while keeping rain and wind out. The space inside makes it easy to avoid pushing against the flysheet so condensation isn’t much of a problem when it does form.
The design of the Fjällräven Abisko Lite 1 can’t be faulted. It’s well-proven and performs well. It is quite expensive but should last. The only real objection is the weight. If this isn’t significant then the Abisko 1 Lite is an excellent choice.
£221 | 635g
(√) ultralight, roomy
(x) door, condensation
Design: hybrid ridge
Flysheet: 7D blended silicone/PU nylon, hydrostatic head 1200+mm
Inner door: mesh
Groundsheet: 10D blended silicone/PU nylon, hydrostatic head 1200+mm
Poles: n/a Pegs: n/a
Inner dimensions: 224cm long, 91cm wide tapering to 61cm, maximum height 117cm
The One is a ridge tent designed to be pitched with trekking poles. It’s single-skin but has an inner wall and door so the sleeping compartment can be closed off to keep out bugs. Optional poles (160g ) are available if you don’t use trekking poles.
Pitching is simple and fast. Only six pegs are needed (not supplied) but if you want to peg out the corners of the inner and the guylines you’ll need 14. The panels deform a bit in strong winds but overall it is stable for such a light tent.
The sleeping area is very roomy and headroom is excellent. The porch is big too, easily swallowing a pack and wet gear while leaving room for cooking. The whole of the outer door can be opened up but only half the inner, which is a shame. My main complaint is that the inner door isn’t positioned so you can lie on your right side and cook in the porch.
Condensation is a problem in most single-skin tents, and I wasn’t surprised after a rainy night to find the walls wet in the morning. However there’s enough space that I didn’t brush against them and my sleeping bag stayed dry. Ventilation is quite good in wind. There’s a big vent at the rear with a large canopy over it – rain didn’t get in here – and the inner door is all mesh.
The groundsheet has a low hydrostatic head. Gossamer Gear says it’s “reasonably durable” but that you may want to supplement it.
I like The One. The space is excellent, as is the weight. I just wish the door was on the other side.
Wisp 1p Super Bivy Tent
£210 | 640g
Design: hybrid trekking pole tent
Inner door: mesh
Poles: aluminium foot end pole
Pegs: n/a Porches: 1
Inner dimensions: 230cm long, 100cm at widest, 60cm at ends, maximum height 120cm
Big Sky describes the Wisp 1P as a ‘bivi replacement’. It’s more than that as it has more headroom than many solo tents and a porch for storage and careful cooking. I’d say it was less like a bivi than the small double-skin tents and certainly easier to live in.
It pitches quickly with one trekking pole plus a short pole at the low end. Seven pegs are needed (not supplied), with another four for the optional guylines. There’s a mesh inner wall so the sleeping area can be closed off from bugs. It has ample room inside for gear, and the headroom should be enough for tall people. The porch is quite roomy too.
There’s a vent at the top of the door but even so there’s not much ventilation when the outer door is closed and condensation can be a problem. But there is enough room inside to avoid touching the walls. Big Sky do say it’s not recommended for high humidity areas. The groundsheet is quite thin so using another one under it is probably a good idea.
The Wisp 1P is a good lightweight shelter if you can handle the condensation.
£170 | 482g
(√) very roomy, stable,
(x) ultralight nothing
Design: pyramid-shaped tarp
Material : silnylon
Dimensions: 6+ sq. metres, high point 115-130cm, depending on pole height
The Trailstar has been a favourite shelter for many years now and has been on quite a few long walks. It’s an ultralight shaped tarp that can be pitched with trekking poles in several configurations, most usually as a pyramid with a centre trekking pole and a shorter pole to hold up one side as a doorway. The overall height can be lowered in really strong winds. It’s very wind-resistant – more so than most lightweight tents. It’s also very roomy so although condensation does occur I’ve never found it a problem as it’s easy to stay away from the sides. In fact the room is such that I can spread out all my gear and set up a kitchen and still have unused space.
Pitching the Trailstar is easy though it does require a little initial practice. If you use every guyline and add an extra one to the door pole 12 pegs are needed. These aren’t supplied. Neither is a groundsheet, and that and the pegs will add maybe 200g to the weight. In midge season a mesh inner is a good idea too. These weigh 255g or 368g depending on the groundsheet fabric.
The Trailstar looks simple but the design is quite cunning, making a real storm-shedding shelter. I love it.
Rig 7 Tarp
£99 | 530g
(√) lightweight, multiple
(x) reinforced guyline points, roomy, cost nothing
Design: flat tarp
Materials: 30D silicone Cordura
Being nothing more than flat sheets, you wouldn’t think much could be done to differentiate simple tarps from each other apart from size and weight. The Rig 7 shows this isn’t so. Alpkit has added 24 Hypalon rubber-reinforced attachment points for guylines, 16 at the corners and along the sides and eight on the tarp itself. This allows for a host of configurations, and great fun can be had playing with ideas. The points along the edges also have holes in them for the tips of trekking poles.
The Rig 7 is big – Alpkit says four can sleep under it. I think it’s just right for one! I like big tarps for solo use because it’s easy to peg them down to the ground for shelter in storms. The attachment points on the tarp means with practice a pretty storm-resistant set-up can be achieved with a low profile and plenty of guylines.
If you want to try tarp camping the Rig 7 is light and versatile, and a great choice.
FAMILY CAMPING GEAR GUIDE
Backpacking kit for when the kids come too
Papa Hubba NX
£600 | 2.96kg
This four-person tent is the largest in MSR’s backpacking range. It’s effectively a dome-shaped development of the Hubba linked pole system that MSR have used successfully for years. The poles are industry standard DAC Featherlite NSL aluminium alloy, with the main poles linked in an ‘H’ shape forming the main structure and two auxiliary poles supporting the tent sides. The poles fold down to 53cm long – short enough to fit inside most packs of 40 litres and up – and the whole tent weighs 2.67kg without its stuff sack.
The Papa Hubba NX is freestanding, and pitches inner-first, with the main tent hanging from the poles by clips, and the fly going over the top. With practice, it can be erected by a single person in under 10 minutes. It’s supplied with 16 lightweight red-anodized aluminium square-profile stakes and six reflective guylines.
Our first night out, on the moor near Corrour station, was cold with a moderate breeze and a couple of heavy showers – one of which came just as we were getting the tent up. This is always a disadvantage of tents with inner-first pitching – despite being exposed to the rain for less than fy minutes before we got the fly on, the floor and walls of the inner were wet enough that we had to towel them dry before we could unpack. Thankfully, this task could be delegated to our eager children!
The tent has doors and vestibules at both ends. The shape of the tent means that it’s
best to pitch with one door facing into the wind. There are guying points on the tent sides although lines aren’t supplied fixed to these, so we moved two guys from the lee end onto the sides to keep them from flapping. In stronger winds two more guys would be helpful, but you’ll have to supply your own for this.
Inside, the tent is very roomy, with space for four adults to sleep and 112cm of headroom for sitting up comfortably – our five-year-old was able to stand up straight. The vestibules were
big enough that we were able to stow both our 80-litre expedition packs in one end, leaving the other free for boots and waterproofs. Four mesh pockets provided enough places to stash kit off the floor of the inner, and there are small loops in the inner roof that a utility line can be strung from if desired.
The tent is well ventilated, thanks to large areas of mesh in the walls and doors of the inner and a large adjustable vent on each side of the fly. Even with all doors zipped up and the vents closed, we had no condensation in the first night with the breeze. We did need to partially undo the zips and open the vents on a subsequent still night near the coast though. Despite the venting, the tent is warm enough for spring and autumn use, and in dry warm weather you could be optimistic and leave the rain fly behind to have a 400g lighter and very well ventilated midge-proof shelter.
As a lightweight home for our family of four, the tent performed superbly, giving us enough room to sleep, dress and play, and packing down small and light enough to carry in comfort.
We tried four different mats from three different manufacturers, swapping them between us each night to be able to compare. All the mats were supplied with stuff sacks and repair kits.
£144.99 475g (without bag)
This had the smallest pack size and lightest weight by far of the mats we tested. It’s an air mattress that comes with a silnylon pump bag which can be used as a stuff sack for clothes or other kit (and a pillow). Inflation using the pump bag takes a bit of practice but is efficient once you’ve mastered the technique. There are two flat valves for inflation and deflation. A thin layer of synthetic insulation that lofts as the mat inflates makes it impressively warm to lie on given the low weight, but it’s easy to create cold spots when not fully lying down.
During our trip this mat suffered a mysterious scissor attack (the five-year-old claimed it was something to do with ninjas…) which left a 2cm gash. This took about 30 minutes to fix permanently using the repair kit that came with the mat. Sharp implements aside, the material is surprisingly tough and a silicone pattern stops it being slippery. The first night we used it (prior to ninja incident) the mat slowly deflated during the night, but on subsequent nights it stayed plump with no problems. We can only think that the flap in the inflation valve wasn’t properly seated that first time. This
would be a great mat for solo
and it’s tiny pack size was
Trail Pro R
£95 740g (without bag)
The Trail Pro is an exceptionally thick and
plush foam-filled self inflating mat. It’s cut in a tapered mummy shape unlike the other mats on test which were all rectangular. Impressively, it packs down to the same size as the full-length Multimat Trekker 25 despite being twice as thick when inflated – just over 5cm. The generous amount of foam inside means that it doesn’t need to be at uncomfortably hard pressure to avoid cold spots at hip and shoulder when sleeping on your side. Some weight and bulk is saved by having no foam in the outer 5cm of the mat – there are air-filled bolster tubes instead. It weighs just under 750g, which is a reasonable sacrifice to carry in return for a very warm and comfortable night’s sleep.
Neo Air All Season SV R
£149.99 680g (without bag)
This four-season air mattress expands to a huge volume, lofting to over 6cm thick. Handily, it has Therm-a-Rest’s SpeedValve system, which makes it quick to inflate. This is a simple loose open bag inside a roll-top entry, into which you blow from about 10-15cm away. The wide opening lets air be drawn in using the Bernoulli principle, which effectively amplifies your breath. It sounds gimmicky but it works. Then you roll the opening down and clip it shut like a drybag. Pressure can be adjusted easily using the standard valve. The downside of the system is around 80g of added weight.
In use, the mat is very comfortable, and it’s thick enough not to get cold spots at pressure points. Layers of reflective material and baffles inside the air chambers make it easily warm enough for year-round use. It’s fairly noisy though, crinkling and creaking when you shift around on it, and doesn’t pack down nearly as small as the Exped mat we tested.
Trekker 25 S
£30.99 890g (without bag)
The Multimat Trekker foam-filled self inflating mat comes in two lengths
– 183cm and 122cm. We took the shorter one with us as it’s lighter and two of our campers were shorter than that anyway! This is a well-constructed and durable mat, with a tried and tested design. It’s not as light for the length and doesn’t pack down as small as some of the other mats we tested, but it’s robust enough to cope with small people jumping on it and the dense foam inside makes it warm enough to sleep on without cold spots. The outer fabric is a tough nylon that has enough friction to prevent slipping about. This is a good value, no frills mat that does a decent job at a half the price of the other mats here, but if you’re after a lower weight you’ll need to spend more.
Synergy Sheet Coupler
£46.99 320g (without bag)
The Synergy coupler is a sheet with
elasticated sides and two straps
underneath. It goes over two sleeping
mats and holds them in position side by
side, effectively creating a double bed.
It’s quick to fit the sheet over the mats
and do up the straps, which can then
be tightened to draw the mats closer together and reduce the gap between them. This was useful for our three-year-old who likes to have a cuddle in the night – he could snuggle right up to a grown-up without ending up falling down a gap onto the cold ground. We tried different combinations of mats with the coupler, and all worked well, even the mummy-shaped Trail Pro. It was best to have two mats of similar thicknesses but it didn’t make a huge difference. The brushed polyester material added some warmth and comfort.
25-1 UL with gas burner
To make it easier and safer for us to cook with young children around, we needed a stove that was very stable and burned gas rather than liquid fuel. We also needed a pan set of reasonable capacity to feed four of us. We went for the classic Trangia stove – a tried and tested design that’s very stable in use. The Trangia 25-1 UL comes with a pan grip handle, two pans – 1.75l and 1.5l – and a frying pan
that doubles as a lid. The stove and pans nest inside each other to pack, with a strap keeping everything together in transit.
To use, the windshield twists on to the base, and the pan sits on supports inside
the windshield. The gas burner replaces the traditional liquid fuel burner and has a braided metal hose that feeds through a hole in the base to connect to a standard gas canister.
The windshield is very effective at keeping heat around the pot even in strong winds, giving fast cooking times and saving on fuel. Like many gas stoves, controlling the heat is a simple turn knob at the canister which gives fine adjustment. A full pan of water with the lid on can be boiled very quickly at full heat, although the burner’s minimum output is a high simmer rather than anything gentler.
The wide base makes the whole set-up very stable even with a full pan of water on the go, which means there’s less chance of an errant child knocking the whole thing over. Gas can be turned off instantly and can’t spill burning fuel onto the ground, reducing the risk of fire compared to a liquid fuel burner Any cooking system is a compromise between weight, size and usability. The Trangia is a larger and heavier than many backpacking stoves, but it wins for stability and efficiency.
>> SLEEPING BAGS
SEA TO SUMMIT
We took two of these liners,
knowing that our first night out
would be at 450m altitude at the
edge of the Rannoch Moor. Made
of stretchy fleece, the Thermolite
Reactor Extreme is claimed by Sea to Summit to add as much as 15C to the temperature rating of a sleeping bag. It’s soft to handle, with striking red sections that make it quick to find the open end. There’s a drawcord which needed careful management from the adults to make sure the kids didn’t get wrapped in it while they slept – if we were going to use the liners with the children regularly we’d cut them out. Using these inside their Deuter sleeping bags, the children were very warm even when outside temperatures dropped to around freezing. On warmer nights, the liners weren’t needed.
Little Star EXP
Filled with synthetic hollow fibre insulation, the Little Star is easily washable – a must for a child’s sleeping bag – and warm. Mummy-shaped with a hood, there’s also a zip to allow the bottom section to expand, meaning the bag
will last a growing child for several years. With the bottom section zipped short, smaller children are snug. The hood doesn’t have a drawcord to avoid strangulation hazard with young children. The bag packs down into its stuffsack, and at 700g it’s not too heavy for an adult to carry on a child’s behalf.
>> DRESSING CHILDREN FOR CAMPING
Camping at an altitude of around 450m at the end of a cold winter, we had to ensure the children were suitably warm and protected. We took the following…
FOOTWEAR: Our children both wore Bogs Skipper Boots (bogsfootwear.co.uk), which were perfect for splashing about in burns and in the sea as well as for wading through actual bog.
CLOTHING: The boys wore plentiful layers, including tough Reima Lento waterproof trousers, Reima Bro fleeces, a Reimatec Tag 3-in-1 jacket and a Reima Fleet down jacket
(reima.com). They also had Didriksons Slaskeman overalls and waterpoof jackets
(didriksons.com) and Isbjörn of Sweden Trapper trousers and Lynx Microfleece
SLEEPWEAR: We dressed the children for bed in long-sleeve base layers from Reima (reima. com) and Didriksons (didriksons.com) that could double up as insulating daywear.
SOCKS: One lesson we learned: take spares! Although children’s feet don’t get as sweaty as adults’, they excel at getting wet and dirty.
PACKS: Our youngest took an eight-litre Deuter Schmusebär rucksack (deuter.com). Our eldest took his schoolbag… with pencil case.
INNOVATIONS SHOWCASE NEW CAMP KIT
New items of camp kit previewed
Daniel Neilson looks at some of the latest equipment and gadgets to help you sleep outside in comfort, whether at base camp, a family campsite or when backpacking
Emily Rodway and partner John Chivall headed into the Highlands to test backpacking gear suitable for camping with young children
TAKING A three- and a five-year-old on their first wild camping experience in the Highlands was always going to be a challenge, especially when we were making the trip by and on foot. We had several requirements for our gear: it had to pack down small enough to fit the entire family’s overnight kit into just the adults’ rucksacks; it had to be light enough for two adults to carry everything; it had to be robust enough to cope with excited small people potentially spending lots of time inside the tent in case of terrible weather. In the end, on our trip to Corrour and Arisaig, we experienced both cold and warm nights, heavy rain and blazing sunshine, and a fair amount of walking with our packs.
Mythic Sleeping Bag
The new Mythic from Rab throws pretty much all the company’s long expertise with down sleeping bags
at one product. Needless to say, it’s impressive. The Mythic contains 900 fill power hydrophobic down. The high number means you need less down for your warmth – and a very packable size – and the hydrophobic treatment keeps the down’s warming qualities even when wet. It comes in three different weights: 200, 400 and 600 with a respective ‘Rab Limit’ of 1ºC, -7ºC and -16ºC.
In base camp or on family camping adventures,
a sizeable water holder is important. Hydrapak’s Expedition 8 holds eight litres, the biggest size they’ve made yet. This cleverly thought-out bottle folds down pretty flat when you don’t need it. When you do, there’s a wide mouth and an easy, flexible webbing handle for carrying. The ‘Plug-N-Play’ cap makes it easy to dispense water back at camp. Two baffles mean it stands up well too. It is also compatible with water filters; the Katadyn Vario filter is recommended to fit.
Abisko Dome 2
This very spacious dome tent is perfect for trips when there’ll be a lot of time inside or you’ll be carrying plenty of gear – in winter or on expeditions for example. It is designed as a two-person, four-season tent. There are two large vestibules that can open up allowing space for gear. There are also two entrances. The inner and the flysheet are raised together so the inside won’t get wet if it’s raining and the three-pole configuration means it’s easy to put up. Inside, the high ceiling allows space to sit comfortably, play cards and wait for that weather window.
Another saver for long base camp stays and family camping is this electric cooler that runs off a 12V car plugin or a regular electric outlet. It maintains the internal temperature at 18ºC below the ambient temperature. There are four modes to dial in the efficiency. A ‘night’ mode reduces the noise of the fan. ‘Max’ pumps out the most cooling and once cold, it can be switched to ‘eco’ for an A++ energy rating. An antimicrobial liner resists mould and mildew growing. The lid can be locked too, in case you’re in bear country!
At a base camp or on car camping holidays, the question of the stove often looms large, especially when you’re spending more than a couple of days under canvas – freeze-dried food or instant pasta are fine for a couple of nights, but any more and you might prefer some variety. The Primus Kuchoma is a lightweight
(2500g) gas-powered grill that allows you to cook a full barbecue without carrying large amounts of weight or taking up lots of space. It allows you to use direct or indirect heat to cook over a grill grate or on a non-stick surface. It is easy to clean and maintain. Power comes from regular gas canisters.
Outdoor gear manufacturers continue to come up with innovations for lighting up your camp. Black Diamond’s 122g Moji Colour is a lightweight and durable lantern that emits a powerful 100 lumens of solid (or strobing) white light. And in Black Diamond’s words: “the Moji Color can also flip the party switch and bring a full rainbow spectrum of colour to camp.” The lantern itself has a IPX4 rating, meaning it is ‘stormproof’. You need a good lamp at basecamp, why not have fun with it?
MR300 Portable Mosquito Repeller
Mosquitos are an occasional nuisance in the UK, but midges can ruin a trip. The Thermacell MR300 repellant Portable Mosquito Repeller uses a butane cartridge that heats and activates a repellent and is said to create a 15-foot protection zone without any spray, mess, scent or DEET. It’s also portable and lightweight.
Hammocks are big news. Long popular in bushcraft circles, they are increasingly being used by backpackers and at campsites. The DoubleNest is designed to be big enough for two (close friends presumably) but serves for one admirably. It’s intended to be put up very quickly, with the use of two carabiners (a freestanding suspension system is sold separately). It’s light and packs down to the size of a grapefruit – perfect for throwing into the car.
Sea to Summit
This new pot from Sea To Summit comes in capacities ranging from 1.2 litres up to 3.7 litres, as well as a two-piece set of two different sizes. The pots are made from hard-anodised alloy meaning they are very durable and lightweight.
A neat addition is the Pivot-lock handle that rotates horizontally to lock securely in place when in use but later folds away. Full cooksets with pans and dinnerware are also available.
So, what is the GoToob+ and why do we like it? It started life as a soft travel bottle, but has developed into a range of silicone squeezable bottles. In short, it can be filled with hand wash or washing up liquid, ketchup or mustard. A new LoopLock ensures the contents stay in the tube and don’t end up all over your backpack.
Relax, take a seat. The Helinox Chair Zero is exceptionally light (490g) and packs down really well. This is partly thanks to the DAC aluminium alloy poles, strung together with shock cords. Best of all? It’s genuinely comfortable.
Ghost Whisperer Sleeping Bag
The new Ghost Whisperer sleeping bag from Mountain Hardwear takes the lightweight, but fully featured ethos of the company’s much-loved down jackets and applies them to a sleeping bag. It is filled with 900 fill power QShield hydrophobic down allowing the weight to be cut down to an impressive 781g for the -7ºC version pictured. A very light and compact sleeping bag for the colder months.
Over the years, experienced backpackers develop a discipline, a system. When you know exactly where your headtorch is as nature calls at 3am, the experience becomes much less arduous. That’s what’s so appealing about the Night Ize GearLine Organization System. This line can hang anywhere (inside and outside) and has colour-coded ’S-Biners’ on which to organise your camp, hang your lamp or dry your smalls.
LifeStraw for a
while now. The
was a straw that you can suck through to filter water. It was then added
to a bottle. The latest version is the LifeStraw, but with a bottle adapter kit meaning you can now add it to your favourite water carrier. Best of all, for each item they sell, safe water is provided for schools in places where they need it most.
PocketRocket 2 Mini Stove Kit
The PocketRocket is a superb stove that is efficient and very compact. This next-generation version improves on the original and bundles it with an extra bowl. It is designed for one person and quickly brings water to the boil. The pot also serves as your receptacle for coffee or couscous. The extra bowl fits neatly around it and the gas can be stowed inside. The whole kit just weighs 278g. Yep, that’s light.
It’s a torch yes, but the key to this product is that it is an SOS emergency beacon too, and at a really good price (£19.95). A single charge provides up to 80 hours of light and can be charged from a power bank (that WakaWaka also makes) and via a USB cable. There are three different light settings, and the flexible positioning means it can be easily placed at the right angles and hung in the tent.
Sea To Summit
This is a very lightweight warm-weather sleeping bag with a comfort rating of 7ºC and a lower limit of 2ºC. Thanks to the 850+ down fill – that’s lots of warmth for not too much filling – it packs down to very small size and weighs just 464g for a regular size (510g for a long). The ‘ULTRA-DRY’ down is treated to be hydrophobic so it maintains warmth when wet. Other factors that cut down weight include a 1/2 zip and an ultralightweight shell.
When you’re going to be at base camp for a while, you’re going to need a broader range of cookware. This attractive set of two pots
(1.8 and 3 litres) with colanders integrated into the lids, and a frying pan with an aluminium bottom, could be just the thing. The larger pot has a fold-away handle and can be suspended over a fire. They are all stackable and pack into a neat storage bag.
This robust water filter was first designed and developed for Oxfam, the brief being to deliver a portable, sizable filter for families, groups and communities on the move, often in emergency situations. It needed to be used in the home, transported easily and stored. It has been made available to public use for a couple of years and is now being marketed in the UK. The LifeSaver Cube stores dirty water and then filters it through a microbiological water filter. A carbon filter removes chlorine, taste and odour. It holds five litres of water.
The CamelBak Chute Mag is insulated and keeps beverages cold for 24 hours or hot for six hours. Other smart features include a magnetic lid that holds the cap out the way when you are drinking, and a mouth wide enough to put ice cubes in.