Scotland is usually a good testing ground for new gear and so it proved over the last couple of weeks as the Stratospire 2 had its first outing. The Stratospire had to cope with everything from a full on coastal storm with gale force winds to clear, still and cold evenings which provided a real condensation challenge.
In all honesty we spent the first trail days sleeping in bothies as the ground was so waterlogged it was difficult to find a pitch but as we moved East the tent came into its own. So, here are my first impressions.
The Stratospire 2 is a large two person (or three at a push) backpacking tent that weighs in at a shade over 1 kilogram. To save weight the Stratospire 2 uses trekking poles rather than tent poles from which to suspend the fly sheet. An inner tent provides bug protection and offers a tremendous amount of usable space. The Stratospire has two generous vestibules on each side of the shelter. Like all of Henry Shires’ shelters the Stratospire is designed to use as few pegs as possible. It is possible to pitch the Stratospire with 6 pegs and it is six pegs that come with the tent, however, in terrain such as the Scottish Highlands you are likely to find yourself using 10.
There’s no getting away from it; there is something odd about the shape of this tent. It looks odd on the website and looks a little odd in the promotional video. When I first put the tent up I thought it looked odd as well. It was only after I had slept in the tent for the first time that I began to appreciate the design features that contribute to the shape of the shelter.
At the heart of the Stratospire 2 is a simple ridge line tarp with doors at both ends. However, two large ‘wings’ run off from either side of the main ridge line. The inner is suspended from the fly and arranged in such away that you sleep across the main ridge line rather than along it.
Each of the side ‘wings’ has its own peg out point which utilises two small carbon fibre struts that are built into the fly — if you have studied Henry’s shelters before you will have seen something similar. These peg out points are not located in the centre of the wings but are each offset a little. The second ridge line seam which joins these two wing peg outs doesn’t cross the main ridge line at right angles, rather it runs along a diagonal.
It is this offset peg out system that provides the shelter with its odd shape but the system is pure genius!
Each inner tent door takes up about half of the space of the side of the inner. The doors are located on different sides of the inner, so that one person enters at the head of the inner and the second enters at the rear of the inner. However, that offset peg our system means that neither door is obstructed by trekking poles. In practice you simply don’t really notice the poles at once the tent has been properly erected. This is a lovely touch which is appreciated a lot the more that you use the tent.
The Inner Tent
Henry offers two choices of inner for the Stratospire. The first utilises a simple mesh wall which will keep out all bugs. The second is described as being solid; this is constructed of a lightweight fabric which helps keep out drafts and provides a little more privacy although it does feature a mesh section at the top of each door so that you can easily see out. Over the years I have found the simple mesh inners to be enough for me; they do cut town on drafts and add a bit of warmth. But as this wasn’t really my choice we ordered the ‘solid’ inner tent. The inner has a light but tough bathtub floor which has more than enough height to protect from floor water.
The space offered inside the Stratospire inner is simply huge. I’ve never come across such space in a two-person tent before (more about this below). While the doors are in different positions there is really little obstacle to easy entry from either side, such is the size of the inner. This is not a tent that expects its occupants to sleep in different directions.
Each door offers easy access to its vestibule. The vestibules are both sizeable and provide more than enough space for storing gear and for safe cooking.
Door and pole arrangement
The inner is suspended from the fly by a four small, lightweight clips, and also positioned with clips to the base corners of the shelter. I’ve come across these light clips before and inevitably I end up breaking one of them. I broke one of the roof clips on my first night, trying to jump into the inner string a storm — the door wasn’t properly open and I pinged the clips. This was easily fixed by using a small length of dyneema chord. This was a reminder that this shelter is as much a tarp as a tent and I would always recommend carrying pare lengths of chord with you. The position of the inner can be altered with a slightly lower pitch and this allows three to sleep in comfort within the shelter, although I haven’t tried this arrangement. Once my inner chord was properly adjusted I never had cause to think about it again.
The inner fabric does drape over you a little. The solid inner fabric has a silk-like feel about it and I found that this didn’t disturb me at all. I mention this because I know some folks don’t like this effect, however, there is more than enough space in this tent to shift yourself down and away from the head wall.
One thing worth considering is to apply lines of seam sealant to the base of the inner to stop sleeping mats moving around. I’ve never felt the need to do this with solo tarps/tents but I will certainly be doing this during the winter. This will keep things more orderly and will allow me to make more use of the available space; on slight slopes it was too easy for two of us to end up sleeping in one corner of the tent with a huge space being left empty!
Guy Lines and Peg Out Points
The pitching of the Stratospire is pretty straightforward but for use in UK upland conditions you will probably want to enhance the basic pitch somewhat.
The tent comes with two guy lines that run from line locks located at the apex of each door. These two guys are pretty important as they provide the stretch and rigidity to the tent. In normal conditions Henry recommends that these guy lines are simply attached to the main door pegs. You can see this arrangement in the following photograph.
Look at the front (door) peg here and you can see the guy line attached to it.
I bad weather Henry recommends utilising the guy lines in a more conventional manner. The entrance of each door is to the side of the door panel; in storm mode the guys run our from the main ridge line as you would expect. However, I found Henry’s guy lines to be too short and I replaced them with longer lengths of dyneema — you can see these in operation in the photograph at the top of the page.
The sides of this shelter offer a large volume of fabric for the wind to catch. Henry has attached two peg out points on each flank of the tent — you can see two of these in the photo immediately above. Using these side panel peg outs will give you more protection during high winds. But how to use them?
On the website video Henry hows how a trekking pole might be used (as with a pure tarp) to give extra strength to the sides. When I was showing the tent to Colin Ibbotson we both wondered whether the extra lift provided by a trekking pole was really needed. Could we simply rely on a more simple side guy?
For my first night I used both systems. For the ‘wing’ that was pitched into the wind I used a pole as a ‘lifter’ to give more support. At the back of the tent I used a simple line running through the panel tie outs, joined with a mini line lock and then simply pegged out into the ground. You can see the pole ‘lifter’ in the photo at the top of the screen. The more simple line is shown below.
As luck would have it (or otherwise) we were struck by a fierce storm on this first evening. The tent shook and flapped around quite a lot. It was noisy but no more so than our owls Hilleberg Nallo tunnel tent or any of the single pole tents. Both guy lines held OK but in the morning I had a good look at them and reflected on how effective they were.
For bad weather I would certainly use a ‘lifter’ guy on both sides. My initial ‘lifter’ was probably not tall enough. Extending the height of the lifter not only keeps the fabric from flapping around your face and feet but it also provides more rigidity to the large side panels. From then on I used higher ‘lifters’ on the tent but didn’t have another stormy evening like the first one but I’m sure that the extra tension on the side panels would help noticeably. In essence the following photograph shows how I would now pitch in Scotland in all but the calmest of weathers.
Of course, this arrangement utilises more space but it will provide you with a much tighter pitch.
There are lots of other features of this shelter to admire.
The position of the doors means that one side can be opened with the other offering pretty decent wind protection from the other direction. The placing of the apex of each door means that in rain (so long as it isn’t being driven by the wind) will not fall inside of the inner. In the photograph immediately above you can see this door arrangement. More protection can be arranged by running the zip (zipper) down from the top of the door a little.
The vestibules are large enough to give you a lot of storage space on either side plus an unhindered exit through the dipped door. I was easily able to store my pack on one side of the vestibule and all of my food and cooking gear on the other.
The system with the trekking poles works well. Once the basic shape of the tent is established it is very easy to extend each pole individually to the optimum height. On uneven ground the poles can simply be set at different heights; it is very easy to see when each pole is at the right height. The poles are arranged so that the handle is on the ground and the tips fit into circular grommets at the apex of the door, keeping the poles firmly in position. The inner is attached to the fly using stretchy shock chord — this simply stretches to ensure that you get a good and tight pitch. In the morning after the storm it was very easy to simply add a litre height to the poles to tighten everything up a bit. My longer guy ropes were used to good effect here as well. I ran the loose end through the air vents at the top of the doors and this allowed me to tension these guys relatively easily from inside of the tent. The base of the fly hits the ground effective as can be seen in all of the photographs. Your trekking poles will need to be adjustable. When I’m relying on poles to keep up my shelter I am happier using aluminium poles than carbon ones. I was using this tent with pacer Poles
I should say that tent sag seems not to be a significant problem with this tent, even after a night of rain or a morning with frost and high levels of condensation.
On our coldest night there was a significant amount of condensation inside of the inner as well as the outer fly, however, this would almost certainly have happened with any other conventional tent that I own. Using the two ‘lifters’ I think actually helps in this still, clear and cold weather as it increases the distance between the outer fly and the inner tent. I have read some reviews of this tent which worry about the small gap between outer and inner but you won’t have any worries if you use two ‘lifters’.
Concluding Thoughts and Observations
I have called this review ‘First Impressions’ because I really want to spend more time in the shelter before I produce a definitive review. However, I already know that there is a lot to like about this shelter.
We were using this tent during October in the Scottish highlands when it is dark at 6.00 in the evening. When we were wild camping we were spending a lot of time in the tent, over twelve hours on several nights. During the long nights we really appreciated the space of the Stratospire and it made for far more comfortable camping than I have experienced with other tents.
I mentioned the flapping during the storm earlier. While this was no worse than in tunnel tents (and could be helped by higher lifters) — I did find myself wondering whether this shelter would benefit from another mid panel tie out point on the ‘wing’ side of the vestibule.
The footprint of this shelter is large and this will have an impact on camp site selection. This is not a shelter that you can slip into a small patch of flat ground and I’ve said before that I imagine I shall be setting up camp as soon as I find a really good pitch rather than walking on into the evening. Having said that, I doubt the footprint of this tent is any bigger than a Mountain Laurel Trailstar. You will, though, have a far more comfortable shelter for two than the Trailstar can provide.
The only other recommendation I would have for Henry is that the stuff sack for the tent could do with being a little more over-sized. Rolling up and putting away this tent in cold weather can be quite awkward even though I got more adept at this as the trip progressed
After rain this tent can hold a lot of moisture! Always carry something to allow you to wipe down the fly as this will noticeably lighten the weight of the tent. If you have a pack with mesh side pockets, or side pockets with drainage holes, I recommend using them for carrying the pack, upside down so that the shelter can drain as you walk. A lot of water can drip out of this stuff sack!
The shelter is, of course, a backpacking shelter. In Scottish weather you may well find yourselves utilising four trekking poles. If you want to use the tent for a base camp you will have to carry two ext a poles with you, dispensing with the lifters during the day as you walk.
So, there is a lot to recommend this shelter. It is a tent for backpackers, best used with nights spent on the trail. We have bought it for backpacking treks as I like to be moving on each day; when the tent is pitched statically for more than one night it is when we are taking a break from walking.
So far so good. I was lucky enough to meet Henry when he walked the TGO Challenge. We talked a lot about tent design and it was clear to me that Henry is a very clever designer. A lot of thought has been put into this shelter in order to make life inside it as practical and as comfortable as possible. I will write a longer term review of the tent after more use next year but as far as I can see at the moment Henry has got things right again!