Review: Tramplite Shelter

Camp at Loch Osian.

Tramplite Shelter with beak half open, pitched on the shores of Loch Ossian

In the ten years and more that I have been writing this blog I have never had as much interest shown in a piece of gear as I have over Colin Ibbotson’s Tramplite Shelter. From the moment that this shelter arrived through the post, readers have been badgering me to produce a review. On this year’s TGO Challenge I thought about charging for guided tours of the shelter it was that popular.

The Challenge gave me the opportunity to evaluate the shelter over a multi day hike. It also gave me the opportunity to compare notes with three other Tramplite owners, most notably Shap McConnell.

So, how does the shelter measure up?

Introduction

First up: I describe this as a shelter for it is really a tarp/tent rather than a conventional tent. I love my tarps but in the UK I often feel that the inevitable cool wind in the back is a bit unpleasant! The Tramplite shelter extends down to the ground at the rear giving me all the protection that I want. The front beak — that you can see in the photo — is a beak; it does not extend to the floor. However, the beak does provide good protection from the rain and provides a good amount of storage area.

The tarp can be ordered in one of two configurations. There is a version with a beak but no zip or there is the version (as above) with a ip opening in the beak. I ordered the non zip version but Colin was insistent that he was so pleased with the zip design that he was recommending it to all his customers. I’m glad that I went along with his advice.

The shelter is also available with an inner and while you may order the tarp alone most people seem to order the inner and, again, I am pleased that I did. Colin has also made me a cuben ground sheet so that i can use this with a lightweight bivy — more details below.

Pitching

Pitching is very straightforward. The shelter should always be pitched rear into the wind. Pitching requires 6 stakes.

To pitch, locate the two corner guy points on the rear of the shelter. Pitch these so that the tarp is taught along the base. Next inset your pole (at about 120 cms height) so that the handle fits into the apex of the shelter, which is re-enforced with dyneema material. Once you have got the pole into position — aligned with the centre of the tarp — pull about the main guy (fluorescent yellow chord) and stake into the ground. The main guy is tensioned by a mini line loc.

TGO Challenge 2015 (1 of 1).jpg

Next stake out the two front corners of the shelter so that these are tight and taught.

Next, stake out the centre tie out on the rear of the shelter. This has to be as tight as you can get it. You can see from the next photo how solid the rear of the shelter is looking already.

TGO Challenge 2015 (1 of 1).jpg

To finish, we go back to the front of the tarp. The main guy has to be tightened to the maximum. The rigidity of the alter depends on this guy. If the height of the pole is right you can see the three catenary cut seams on the rear tighten as the main guy is tensioned.

TGO Challenge 2015 (1 of 1).jpg

It is now time to tighten the two guys at the base of the beak/door. These guys are in fact a continuous piece of chord that is looped in the middle. Slacken off both guys until the loop can slip over the peg/stake that is holding the main guy. The beak guys are tightened using fasteners on the base of the beak. Here is a close up.

TGO Challenge 2015 (1 of 1).jpg

 

Here you can see the two fasteners on each side of the beak. These can be loosened to allow for the opening of doors but in most case you will simply slip the chord on the side you want open right out of the fastener.

Also, at the top of the picture you can see a strain relief buckle. The idea here is that this buckle should always be fastened before opening of closing the zipper. This will protect the zip; I’ve used this system on other lightweight shelters and it works well. The zip itself is a simple straight affair and so on as you clean it regularly and use the strain buckle this should last well.

With this system you can have one side of the beak open or both sides of the beak open. Keep the unlocked beak chords close to the shelter and you will find that it is easy to re-attach them, close and tension the beak without getting out of the centre. Ensure the main guy line loc is accessible through the beak and you can tighten the main guy without leaving the shelter also. As you can see in the picture at the top of the article, the beak is securely held in place through an adjustable toggle and attachment point on the outside of the shelter. Here is the shelter in completely open mode.

My Scottish Home

Note, even with the beak fully ope there is a good overhand from the top of the beak. In practice this will keep the inner of the shelter dry in rain even when the beak is open.

Using this shelter so far in winter I’ve not slept with the shelter fully open though I have slept with it half open. Another option — which I use a lot — is to fasten the strain relief buckle but to keep the zip open. This effectively gives you a lot of rain protection but an extended — though narrow — slit though which to inspect the outdoors.

The Inner

The inner is another piece of ingenious design. The floor is of cuben and the sides of more conventional inner fabric and netting. On each of the four corners of the inner floor you will find a piece of tough bungie chord with a loop at each end. These simply slip over the four corner guy stakes to secure the ground sheet. At mid height the inner has small fasteners in each corner that slip into loops on the inside to the shelter. In the mid rear of the inner a fifth fastener attaches to the outer. I think now all models now come with a sixth fastener positioned above the centre rear one to pull the inner further away from your face — some people really don’t like fabric fluttering over them although it doesn’t bother me and I haven’t sent mine back in for modification. Finally, a toggle at the top of apex of the inner slips into a loop fixed into the apex of the shelter giving the inner good shape and form. 

The inner is about as wide as the other inners I’ve used from Mountain Laurel. This is a long shelter and the inner makes good use of this. At six foot I find I have tons of room at either end of the inner. I reckon anyone of about 6’4 would have no problems lying flat out in this.

The inner is far more robust than the lightweight ones I have used before. The fabric in the main is solid in order to keep out wind. The front offers bug netting panels that are quite robust. Underneath each bug panel is a stretch of solid fabric again to minimise wind.

This is a warm inner as warm as any I have used before. The main shelter at the rear extending to the ground certainly keeps out the cold.

The inner opens beautifully. There are no curves in the zippers. There are in fact three. Two are along the base of the inner, meeting in the centre. The third is a horizontal zip. This system gives you maximum flexibility for opening the inner doors. The doors can be simply rolled up and kept in place by simple ties fixed on both sides of the inner.

A final nice feature is a zip in the rear of the inner that allows you to stash gear in the rear of the shelter, utilising the available space to the full. This is a particularly good space in which to store wet gear and your pack leaving the front storage space free from clutter.

Together the shelter and the inner weigh 670 grams.

After a little practice it takes just a couple of minutes to pitch the shelter and just few more to put the inner in place.  Putting up the shelter quickly becomes quite intuitive.

I mentioned earlier the groundsheet that Colin has made for me. This has exactly the same footprint as the inner and the same corner attachment points. There are no ‘bathtub’ sides; I simply wanted this provide protection for my inflatable sleeping mat.


Real World Performance

In windy conditions at a couple of campsites in Scotland I noticed that the Tramplite Shelter moved less in the wind than almost any other tent or shelter — the rear of the tarp is that rigid. I have used the shelter in gale force conditions when it has taken real battering from the winds. In such conditions I have not found this to be any worse than any other lightweight shelter that I have used, indeed I feel it has performed better than most. It will thrash about a bit and the cuben will rattle around, particularly at the apex. However, I’ve not found that the shelter was in any danger of blowing down. For a tarp, this is good news.

When pitching in very high winds it is worth considering a couple of things in advance.

Firstly, ensure that your pegs and properly instead into the ground at a decent angle so that the guys won’t pop. This happened to me once when the wind changed direction a little in a gale. I lost a front guy but this as mainly because the guy hadn’t been placed in the earth carefully. I quickly replaced it properly and had no further problems. In high winds I now double peg the main guy so that the main guy line and the beak guys can’t jump over a single peg.

Secondly, it is important to keep the main guy line as tight as you can. The battering of the wind will loosen the guy. If you have ensured that you can read the line lock from inside the tent you may be ablate tighten sufficiently without leaving the shelter, which is handy. One word of warning. Tensioning the guys on the beak may make the beak tight but it may slacken off the main guy a little. That main guy takes all of the strain and adjusting the beak guys is not an alternative to tightening the main guy.

On the evening that the wind changed conditions were so horrible that I wasn’t going to get out and re-position the shelter. Cuben is a very tough fibre and it was never in any danger of tearing or breaking; it just made a bit of a noise but then every lightweight shelter will give you this problem. The Tramplite is no worse than other lightweight shelters and, indeed, seems to be better than most in high winds.

Continuous Improvement

As I have got to now this shelter properly I realise that it is a design that has been create by a designer who has spent many months on trails pondering how to make a better shelter. Most of us will only use this for  weeks a year rather than the months that Colin uses it but, even so, we will benefit immeasurably from his intense personal use.

My model is production model No.1 and already there have been a number of subtle but effective improvements. The apex loop which fixes the inner is now bigger to help with poles with wide handles, like Pacer Poles. I’ve already mentioned the extra attachment point on the rear of the inner — this is now offered as standard. As I write Colin tells me that he is experimenting with a re-enforcement brace running along the centre rear seam. This seems to add more rigidity in high winds and may be added to the basic configuration of the shelter if Colin feels it adds substantially to performance — if he goes down this route he will offer to retro-fit this feature to each tarp already produced. Such is Colin’s commitment to quality and continuous improvement.

Verdict

This is a superb tarp shelter and one that I look forward to using on summer nights. I already have the confidence that this shelter can cope with much of what Scotland can throw at it. My experiences seem to be matched by those of others.  There are few things I’ve learned to check properly, mainly the height and positioning of the pole.When in doubt I know take a minute to re-position the pole, loosening the front corner tie outs and ensuring pole placement is right before re-pegging put the corners. These changes are simple the result of experience and I am already finding that I am erecting the shelter more efficiently first time around.

I can’t recommend this enough. This is the best tarp shelter I have ever owned.  It gives me access to the open vistas I associate with tarps but it also provides me with the kind of all weather protection that is needed in northern climates.

Ordering

This is a bespoke product that is only produced when Colin is not trekking himself. You may have to wait for your shelter. At the time writing Colin has a two year backlog of orders! There is no quoted price for the shelter —simply contact Colin via his website to start a conversation about configuration and price. Cuben is not cheap and you might expect a shelter such as this (with inner) to cost you in the region of £600 now. However, Colin has been testing a sinylon version which should be more affordable although a little heavier.

This is a specialist product that is produced on a boutique basis; it is not even produced on the same basis as many of the smaller, specialist, names that you will have heard about. However, the Tramplite shelter is a high performance product and while expensive still offers great value for money!

Use the contact link on the website:

http://www.tramplite.com/p/contact-me.html

 

Hopefully, other early adopters will add to this review in the comments section to provide even greater real world feedback.

Comments

  1. Welcome home Andy.

    Thanks for the review that I am sure many of has have been waiting for. I’d be prepared to wait two years and pay a bit extra for what seems an excellent shelter – lightweight, sturdy, spacious and simple to set up with no drawbacks that I can see.

    One question: Do you think cuben is more resistant to UV damage than silnylon? I’ve had a couple of silnylon tents die on me due to UV perishing the fabric (not the stitching). My current silnylon tent should hopefully last until I can get my hands on one of Colin’s shelters. And at 670g!

    • Jay – cuben seems pretty tough to me and I see no problems with UV. Depends how often you use it I guess and in which climate. Mind you UV has trashed a Tilly hat!

  2. Bobby says:

    Andy, thanks for the in depth review. Answers nearly all my questions, just one if you would: I know you are a fan of Pacer Poles, how do the offset handles fit the tramplite tarp tent? In the past these handles have been a pain to fit properly. Either points up or down, the tensioning of the guying have ( for me at least), always end up loosening because of the economic handles swivelling.
    Thanks for your time…
    Welcome back,
    B.

  3. murpharoo says:

    As the owner of the no.2 shelter I must also say how pleased I am with it.
    Here is a video quick look at the outer.

    Tramplite Shelter: http://youtu.be/XDbUixw4GeQ

  4. Thanks Andy for the “real world performance” insight, I have used mine a few times but never in adverse weather conditions. However, I do have one question regarding the inner, do you leave it attached or always reattach every night? I can see the benefits of detaching the inner if it is is dry and the outer is wet, but otherwise I am less convinced. Finally I do agree with you that it is a superb shelter and Colin is to be commended on his workmanship.

  5. Good stuff Andy, It’s a superb shelter, the more I use it the more I like it. I’ve posted a few photo’s/videos of mine here – http://outdoorsmh.blogspot.co.uk/p/tramplite-shelter.html

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