This chap has been with me since the Pacific Crest Trail in 2010, and it was enjoying success before that. I was just over half way through my hike when my faithful Terra Nova Laserlight started to show signs of age, so I returned it to Terra Nova who did a sterling job of repairing it. Obviously, being tentless I needed something quick to replace it.
Tarptent has a great reputation over the pond for producing lightweight gear, unique designs and excellent build quality at a decent price. Indeed, we Brits seem to love them as well although I’ve only seen a handful of their shelters in the UK. The Contrail is no exception. I’d seen a few other hikers using them and aware that my Laserlight was needing some tlc, the Contrail was number one on my list. The feedback from users was good so I called Tarptent who listened to my situation and rushed one through the order books, throwing in a free seam-seal as well.
The rear of the Contrail can be raised with a trekking pole (or stick in this case) for more internal height
It’s a single walled, sil nylon one person shelter, has an excellent vestibule, pitches with one trekking pole (or two if you prefer and there is also a dedicated tent pole available if you don’t own trekking poles), a mesh insert running along the top of the bathtub floor and entrance means there’s good ventilation.
Tarptent claim it can be pitched in under 1.5 minutes although it takes a few attempts to become proficient. Just four stake out points will have it standing, one at each corner plus a further two on the sides, one for the vestibule and a final one on the low rear point which when wrapped around another pole (or stick) raises this for increased height inside at the foot area. A normal pitch is raised off the ground somewhat but the Contrail can be lowered in the weather looks bad.
My tent of choice for the past 2 years has been a Zpacks Hexamid Solo (review). I always take it unless the weather looks pretty nasty when there is a chance of some rain ingress. If the forecast isn’t looking great then out comes the Contrail. I’ve stayed dry in some pretty rough storms in it and it’s a reassuring place to be in during such conditions. The sil nylon sheds water well and runs off before reaching the mesh. It’s very dependent in windy conditions and I’ve always felt secure in there.
The vestibule is generous and with care, there’s plenty of room to cook and be near the stove to keep an eye on your dinner. The bottom edges of the vestibule are curved, or arched, away from the ground. I wasn’t quite sure why at first but I believe the intention is to offer a view of outside, albeit needing to get your head down on ground level. If it’s unlikely to rain I prefer to open the front completely and tie it back. This results in a good view out the front for approaching wildlife and to see who’s sneaking around the campsite at night. It also offers increased ventilation.
The vestibule provides good space.
Keep the outer tied back if you wish to get a decent view outside.
Not the best of pitches!
From some angles, it’s not dissimilar to a conventional A-Frame shelter. I’ve never used both trekking poles to pitch, although two would be better in stormy conditions. Twin poles form a traditional ‘A’ entrance, so there’s nothing to encumber your entrance or exit. I prefer one purely because it’s easier and I tend to angle a single pole to one side, as opposed to keeping it upright, this improves access.
Angling the pole to one side improves access. The internal space is excellent.
Reflective spectra cord guidelines are tried and tested and coupled with the excellent lineloc adjusters make fine tweaks easy.
LineLocs – No brainer
The interior floor space is generous (107cm x 213cm excluding the vestibule). In wet weather the bathtub floor is reassuring and if dry, it can be relaxed downwards for more width and length. With my air mat to one side, it is easy to place my pack alongside and there is still plenty of space to spread out gear. Or, the pack can be left in the vestibule. Head height is excellent (111cm), in a sitting position there’s still ample space above my head. At a push you could sleep two in the Contrail.
The bathtub floor is reassuring if water starts to pool on the ground. You can relax the pitch to bring this down and get more floor space in the process.
The weight is good, but not great. 780grs is a little less than most one person shelters but to get lower than this, you need to look at cuben fibre alternatives. Tarptent at present do not offer cuben as an option.
On the subject of the trekking pole, the Contrail is a little unusual in that the pole must be used with the tip uppermost, and the handle on the ground. A metal grommet at the apex accepts the pole tip and keeps it in position. I don’t’ like it mainly because it has slipped out on several occasions (albeit when being erected and not after). This was something I should have checked, and do now but it resulted in a tear to the nylon. Once in, however, it hasn’t slipped out.
The second grumble is the Contrail’s performance in snow. The two, rear bottom corners converge up to the apex so most of the top is flat and at a shallow angle, particularly at the bottom. Snow accumulates here and the nylon will sag down, possibly resting on the bottom of your sleeping bag. That’s aid, it makes no claims to be a four season tent.
Finally, the floor on my Contrail has a sewn seam half way down. With a floor width of 107cm I find it strange that this area could not have been manufactured from one section of nylon. OK, it has been sealed but we all know that seams are weak points and possible spots for water to work it’s way in.
Excellent interior space, both width, length and height make this a great place to be in during storms and it’s a very secure tent in windy conditions.
Price is a steal, even throwing in the £32.00 international shipping and the excise duty to the UK should you be unlucky to have your parcel pulled up.
Relatively light, decent pack size, quick to pitch, good ventilation and with the vestibule open, it’s a sweet place to spend the night.
Testament to its design, it has remained unchanged for a few years now and it’s not hard to see why. It’s still up there with the best of them, there’s no need to change it.
Weight: 27.5oz / 0.78kg (Manufacturers claimed)
Weight on my scales: 26.1 oz / 0.74kg
Floor width: 107cm / 42”
Floor length: 213cm / 84”
Interior height (at apex): 111cm
Pack size: 36cm x 10cm / 14” x 4”
What’s the Damage?
Price: $209.00 (around £134.00 as of 8.12.14)
Shipping to UK: $50.00 (around £32.00 as of 8.12.14)
Plus, don’t forget customs excise and duty should you be unlucky enough to get caught.
Dedicated pole extra. Seamseal extra. Stakes included but type not specced, just size.
I paid for it and have no affiliation with Tarptent.