Welcome to my blog. I'm an outdoor writer and photographer with a passion for wilderness and mountains. Use the links above to find out more about me and my books and walks. Click on a blog heading to see any comments or to add your own. -Chris Townsend

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Trailstar Wars



From left: Cricket, Cuben Fibre Trailstar, Silnylon Trailstar

Backpacking shelters can be curious things. Following my trials with Tony Hobbs' Cuben Fibre (CF) Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar tarp (see posts for March 1 and 4) I was interested in seeing the silnylon version, especially as I couldn't pitch the CF one to look like the images I'd seen of it. Luckily, Colin Ibbotson who has a silnylon Trailstar was keen to see the CF version so we decided on a day walk together with shelter pitching at its heart.

On a pleasant, mild spring day we headed up the little hills above Grantown-on-Spey, wandering up nice little wooded dells then across some broken ground recently planted with saplings to a heathery summit with excellent views across Strathspey to the Cromdale Hills and the Cairngorms. Now we needed somewhere to pitch the shelters. So far the ground was all too steep, too boggy, too tussocky or too wooded. We headed down to a little burn but the main result was wet feet as the land was saturated. Further down the glen we finally found some rough pasture that was suitable for pitching the Trailstars.

The results were interesting and to me quite surprising as we found it impossible to pitch them the same way even though the only difference is the fabric. It soon became clear the silnylon version is more functional, more versatile and easier to pitch. Initially we pitched them both with 120cm poles. The edges of the silnylon one were down to the ground, the CF edges were high above the ground - so any wind would blow straight in. Later Colin tried pitching the CF one down to the ground. It proved possible - as long as you were happy with a door that was a tall, narrow slit with almost vertical side walls that would catch the wind. Pitching it with a sensible door like the silnylon one is impossible. Next I pitched the CF with a 100cm pole. With this the edges will go down to the ground. However the door is still quite tall with side panels that would catch the wind if it came from the side and a big entrance that let in rain if it came from the front. Pitching it with a low protective door, as is easy with the silnylon Trailstar, wasn't possible.

My conclusion is that the silnylon Trailstar is a superb shelter but that the CF one, whilst pretty good in some respects and certainly much lighter weight, has some flaws that would prevent me choosing it.

Colin also brought a Mountain Laurel Designs CF Cricket shelter, which has a fixed shape. This looks excellent for sheltered sites - it would have been fine on the Pacific Northwest Trail - and shows that with some designs CF can be pitched quickly and tightly. Talking it over we decided that CF is best for fixed shaped shelters or flat tarps but that for flexible shaped ones like the Trailstar the complete lack of stretch makes it unsuitable.

Update: following comments and requests I'd like to make it clear that I'm judging the two Trailstars on suitability for UK wild camping, and anywhere else where exposed sites and stormy weather are expected, as I think this is the big strong point for the Trailstar design.


From left: Cricket, Cuben Fibre Trailstar, Silnylon Trailstar

Tarp pitching practise over we ambled back down the glen to Grantown-on-Spey, pausing to wonder at the stupidity of a pheasant that thought crouching down in a ditch made it invisible, admiring a heron flapping slowly overhead and being entertained by a mass of toads on the track, many of them mating, and all heading for an unsavoury looking dark and reedy pool, which I guess I'd find attractive if I was a toad.

31 comments:

  1. The Silnylon Trailstar is a superb shelter and in bad weather I can't think of any other shelter I would rather use. Pitched low at 90cm I have used it in terrible weather and its been fine. Its wind shedding profile is first class.

    A very interesting experiment you did with Colin Chris and thanks for that and Colin also for helping.

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  2. Thank you. I was looking for such a review. Seems like the silnylon Trailstar is the better choice. Especially when it comes down to using it in inclement weather.

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  3. Very cool stuff, Colin & Chris. This is a very useful article for those who're pondering the cuben TrailStar.

    Do you see a perfect environment for using the CF TS?

    btw, may I entice you to install Disqus as a commenting system? It is easier to post comments, share articles and have (threaded) conversations (while avoiding Spam, no worries =)

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  4. Thanks for posting this! Rarely one gets to compare the same design in two completely different materials. I've always thought that the stretchy nature of silnylon is a key element in shelter design. Sure, the sagging is annoying when the fabric gets wet but one can always add more tension to it.

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  5. Thanks Chris (and Colin).

    Posts like this are so useful. I've been pondering whether to get a Trailstar to add to my collection.If I do, the silnylon one looks like the one to get.

    I'll be using my cuben Duomid soon. I think the cuben version might be better than the silnylon version, which fits with your observation on fixed shape shelters. You ought to try the Duomid some time as it's a great shelter, especially with one of the OookWorks nests.

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  6. Thanks for the review, both. The Silnylon TS looks fantastic and Martin’s comments confirm it. If i was going Tarp, i would go for this. But one question, It looks a bit big for one person, what are your thoughts?

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  7. very interesting this, I do have my eye on 1 of these shelters and this has made my mind up, thanks

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  8. Good side by side review. The photos illustrate the difference in pitching very well.

    Do you think the Trailstar is big enough for two people? (We *are* very good friends ;-) )

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  9. Colin Ibbotson13 March 2012 13:15

    Thanks Chris for an enjoyable day and getting to play with Tony’s cuben Trailstar. Trying to clear my life so I can hike fulltime is ironically keeping me away from the hills!

    I think it’s important to stress that the cuben Trailstar is in no way a bad shelter but for UK (wet and windy) weather its use is more limited. I only use the Trailstar in bad weather and couldn’t use this shelter pitched at 120cm because of the large gap that remains if the door is to be made useable. Not sure if you took a photo of the slit that was the door with a 120cm ground pitch? Certainly made me laugh! For more sheltered climates this gap might not be a problem and does give you even more internal space. At 100cm things are much better and a really good storm proof pitch was easily achieved, the exception being the entrance. The entrance at 100cm in cuben was as high as silnylon at 120. No problem getting in or out like you have in the silnylon pitched low, but the weak spot of the Trailstar has always been that entrance and how it flaps in high winds. In silnylon it’s easily fixed by lowering the pitch, I could see no way to fix this in the cuben Trailstar.

    A good shelter but it’s not nearly as flexible as the silnylon version.

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  10. Thanks for all the comments everyone.

    Sheila, the Trailstar is easily big enough for two people - there's more space than in many 2-person tents. It could sleep 3 in the 120cm pitch.

    Alan, I think whether it's a bit big is subjective. I like roomy shelters, especially in winter. The weight of the Trailstar (either version)means lots of space is available at low weights.

    Hendrik, I can't see a perfect environment for the CF Trailstar compared with the silnylon one but of course there is the weight difference, which is significant. That would be the reason for choosing the CF Trailstar.

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  11. Blast! You've gone and made the Cricket look useful in British conditions. MLD's photos didn't.

    Now we need a Cricket versus Solomid shoot-out.

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  12. I dont av either so cant help there lol. And wont get one either. Too small lol.
    T / Y ;-)

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  13. A grand review, thanks both. To reassure Sheila, I used the silnylon version of this sharing with 1 and even (for a 17 day stretch) 2 people over a total of 62 days in the Pyrenees in sometimes appalling weather, and it barely moved. I sometimes pitch seam-to-door for better access when using with others, though this is 'incorrect' it does allow a big hole to get in and out of ;)

    I love my TS - simple, sturdy, light and roomy.

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  14. I've been thinking of going the tarp route for a while and really like the look of the silnylon one here.

    Thanks for the reassurance about size for two; I thought it looked an ample size, especially from others' photos showing it with an mesh inner inside.

    Which bring me to the next query; can you rig it for a double mesh inner? Or two inners? Or would we need to get two bivvy bags (with bug nets)? I'm really reluctant to splash the money on this without the means to keep it midgie-free - on those (rare) wind-free nights.

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  15. Sheila, I don't see why you couldn't use a double mesh inner. I don't know of one though. Mountain Laurel Designs doesn't make an inner for the Trail star. Oookworks makes custom inner and could maybe make a duo one.

    http://oookworks.com/index.php

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    1. Bearspaw Wilderness in Colorado USA makes a mesh inner with bath tub floor. Cheaper than Ookworks even with vat and postage paid

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  16. The MLD solo Innernet does sort of fit. But you are very restricted in it. Its a solo. I'd imagine the serenity shelter might fit front to back (only) as well. But again, its single. But better than a bivi for bugs, Id av thought. Less constricting.
    The OookWorks looks a good choice for more room.
    Tony.

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  17. The Innernet is really designed for Duomid.
    The serenity is really for a tarp.

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    Replies
    1. That was me ;-)
      Tony.

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  18. I love my silnylon Trailstar for the weather we get down here in New Zealand and was hoping that the cuben one would be a direct replacement, just lighter. This would allow me to use just one shelter year round. However, it doesn't look likely to be the case.

    I am on the verge of returning my cuben version (haven't had time to test pitch it yet), but just got to wondering if it would serve well as summer/sheltered site tarp with the option of a pretty storm worthy 100cm pitch if conditions changed suddenly. What do you think Colin and Chris? Is there a good summer pitch, a sort of large sized cricket or maybe with one of the main seams as the door rather than than a mid point.

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  19. Jason, did u or anyone here see my video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5PJQKxzOYA&feature=youtube_gdata_player its 29 mins but shows several configs, inc rear end low back high front. Plus my Innernet in it. I lent this TS to Chris to help re pitching. I was struggling with pitching it. Chris photos on this blog a few days ago show it can be pitched at 1.2m. I nearly returned it as I struggled with pitch. But I sent it to Chris, he did a darn good job and of course now I wont be returning it. But its clearly a totally "different" beast to silnylon. Ive not yet seen a silnylon TS.
    My opinion is I see no reason why you could not do as you ask. Higher in summer. Lower in winter. High would be airy. I have other TS vids up there. It is tricky to pitch, but I think with practice and patience it should be doable. Chris spoke quite highly of it in his first camp out in it on this blog.
    You defo need to try a few pitches and see how it goes. Keep us posted.

    Tony

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  20. Jason Elsworth14 March 2012 08:04

    Thanks. I have seen the videos, but will have another look. Will keep you posted if I decide to keep it.

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  21. Great :-)
    To me (one of) the big difference/s is the gap at the bottom. 1.2m pitch = gap at bottom. So if you or I am happy with that and the air that will pop in and visit then I see no reason to not like the shelter. If you can pitch it! I have suggested to Ron a little instructional video or photos of the cuben on his site. When I was struggling to pitch it he, on a Sunday!, pitched one of his and took pix and emailed them to me. His pitch was 1, tight, and 2, high off the ground. He did also show it pitched low. I think if we know its "limitations" and can work with it then it should be ok. I'm personally not sure its a beginners shelter in cuben. All my other cuben shelters are much easier to pitch.

    My goal from this, is to learn from Chris how to pitch it properly, consistently. It was too hit and miss for me. But rather than return it, I wanted to learn from it and hopefully help others like you.

    Ron is very good and I have found his customer service first rate.

    Tony

    PS - was able to put my url in this time. Thats hit and miss for me ;-)

    PPS - my info is based on very basic and limited knowledge.

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  22. Jason, I don't know what summer weather is like in new Zealand. Here in Scotland it can be windy any time of the year. The CF Trailstar with a 120cm pole is fine any time of the year if it's calm. The 100cm pitch is okay as long as the wind doesn't blow across or into the door. When I used it earlier in the month (see post for March 1)the 120cm pitch was fine until the wind picked up and the 100cm pitch was then okay as the wind was from the rear. That said in Scotland I would fine the silnylon Trailstar more versatile as a year round shelter.

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  23. Chris, if the wind shifted, could you potentially not just switch doors? ie move a peg or two and the door pole to keep rear to wind?

    Does the Scarp have a small gap all around the bottom, an inch or so? The Scarp uses an inner to help shelter the sleeper from that gap. I think. The Trailstar cuben gap is probably nearer 6" but would an inner like an OookWorks give some degree of protection to the sleeper? At 1.2m. Of course at 1m its ground level.

    From what I see, I'm sure its workable, within limits if someone went cuben rather than silnylon?

    Tony

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  24. You could move the door but I think this would require moving more than a few pegs. Once you move one corner peg you have to move the others.

    An inner would make a difference, especially if it had side walls. The gap with the 120cm pole is more like 10-12" though so you'd still feel the wind. I think the CF Trailstar needs a 100cm pole in stormy weather.

    It's certainly workable just much easier with silnylon.

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  25. Sheila, I see that Bearpaw make a custom net inner for two for the trailstar. I have a pyranet 1 which does the trick but sags on a low pitch (in fairness this wasn't designed for the trailstar so I shouldn't complain really).
    Have a look at the pyranet 2 custom options and see what you think. I found the customer service to be excellent and the prices good in comparison to other options at the time (2 years ago).

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  26. Thank you RichieRich. I'll look into that. I need a little more work on convincing my hubby and camping partner that this is a good idea. We were camping out on Friday night and he was cold in the tent. OK, it was 1°C, but we have good, thick down bags. But bless him, he feels the cold!

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  27. The Cuben Fibre Duomid from MLD is a superb shelter and very functional in UK Conditions.

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  28. Hi Chris,
    Just ordered the silnylon compact trailstar, same as original but 15% smaller, hoping this compromise isn't a mistake , it will be used only for myself, being used to an Akto like yourself Im hoping I still have more head height to play with.

    I went with the still to be name (unavailable on website compact) version as was a little worried about no been able to pitch the enormous size of the trailstar on tighter summits. The way I see it is in tighter spots most of your available space inside the trailstar will be unusable anyway due to foliage, rocks and ditches, in areas where space is restricted.

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  29. Just ordered the Silnylon version, looking forward to trying it out :D

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