A more efficient camp routine is needed

Pimp My Tent

After six months of usage of Monica, my Tarptent Scarp 1, I’ve now got a feel for what I like (almost everything) and what I don’t (a couple of minor things only). Most importantly I’ve got a good sense of how she performs in the field and in a range of conditions – from warm buggy nights all the way through to resolve-testing nights of constant rain and high winds. And she’s done really well – better than I could have hoped, and it’s meant that I’ve camped out in conditions more extreme than anything I’ve ever done or would ever really consider doing deliberately.

I am a clumsy oaf, and along the way Monica’s taken a bit of damage – thankfully nothing major which prevents her being used, but enough to bug me and make me want to sort it out, if only out of respect to Monica. In a way these accidents have been beneficial too, as when they happened they made me thing about what else I would do to improve what is already a mighty fine tent.

So in this post, I’m going to set out talk about what I like, what I don’t, and the planned repairs and modifications that will take an already excellent tent up to being, for me, the perfect shelter and hopefully result in more camps like these:

The pitch at Codale Tarn
The pitch at Codale Tarn
Morning on Rosthwaite Fell
Morning on Rosthwaite Fell
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High Raise

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Angle Tarn
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Shipman Knotts

Why I chose the Scarp 1

At the beginning of 2012, I started looking around with a view to replacing Sally, my old T2 Ultralight Pro, bought from Decathlon in 2007. A perfectly serviceable tent for lowland or campsite camping in undemanding conditions, and considered reasonably light at the time (2kg), at a cost of about £70 it was decent value. But it is what it is – a cheap tent – and I would never consider taking it out in windy conditions, or when the forecast is for heavy or prolonged wet weather. And the slackness of the flysheet immediately rules out winter conditions. But I liked the size, with pretty much perfect internal space and a decent porch. In looking for a new tent, my criteria were: (1) at least the same amount of space as Sally, (2) better ability to handle more frisky weather, and (3) a lower weight.

Tonight's accommodation
Quechua T2 Ultralight Pro

I looked at at number of options, and my shortlist ultimately came down to:

  • The Hilleberg Akto
  • The new 2012 Vango Helium 100 or 200
  • The Scarp 1 from Tarptent (I also looked at the bigger Scarp 2 as it gave more tent and was still lighter than Sally)

The first tent to be eliminated was the Akto. It was the narrowest and lowest headroom of the shortlist and almost the smallest in terms of total area. In every area I compared the tents on, it was 4th or 5th best. It was also by some margin the most expensive tent – not that the cost was a major consideration as I was prepared to pay to get the best tent for my needs. But I’d be damned if I was going to spend that much more money on a tent that was the worst spec of the bunch.

I quickly narrowed down the Vango choices to the larger Helium 200 – the 100 was just too small. Similarly, although I could still achieve a lighter tent if I went with the Scarp 2, I didn’t honestly need something that big. So I was down to the Helium 200 and the Scarp 1.

Essentially this meant the choice was as follows:

  • Helium 200: slightly more space in the inner tent, and a negligible 60g lighter. And cheaper at around £250.
  • Scarp 1: much bigger vestibules, and two of them too. And a sense that the Scarp 1 is stronger in wind.

The only reservation about the Scarp was that on paper it had slightly less overall floor area than my old tent, but the key difference in reality is that I can use all of the space in the Scarp. And there was clearly a risk in buying blind from the US. But when I reminded myself of my key purchasing criteria, it clearly had to be the Scarp. But before buying I did do a lot of reading of blog posts and reviews.

I opted for the solid inner and also got the crossing pole set too – I wasn’t sure I would need them, but better to buy it in one go than have to face another set of overseas postage and customs import charges.

A brand new Scarp 1 pitched for the first time in the garden

What I like

Where do I start ? How about with the reasons that drove the buying decision: robustness, size and weight.

Size: The Scarp 1 is palatial for one and even though it has slightly less inside space than my old tent, all of it is usable and as a result it feels bigger. The light material also helps create the feeling of space. Whilst I don’t always use both porches, it’s nice to have the flexibility to store gear in one and cook in the other. In my old tent I would either have had a major cramming issue in the porch or have been forced to keep anything bulky inside the inner. In really warm weather I have the option of dispensing with the inner altogether and enjoying a massive space.

Weight: achieving the outright lowest possible weight wasn’t my primary goal, as I’m not someone who would sacrifice funtionality for weight regardless. My goal was simply that the replacement must be lighter than my old tent, and would simply be a deciding factor when considering equivalent specifications. But I have managed to save around 600g in weight with this new tent, although I lose some of that again when taking the crossing poles.

Robustness: the key reason for needing a new tent was that I wanted something more capable in wind and rain, and a tent which would give me the confidence to camp in remote spots. The Scarp 1 certainly achieves this, and many consider it to be the best lightweight backpacking tent in the world in this respect. Certainly, my recent night at Small Water being buffeted by the strongest winds and heaviest rain I’ve ever camped in has proved Monica’s capabilities in more testing conditions. That one night alone justified the purchase completely. Notwithstanding this, I have added to the robustness of the tent by doing Robin’s arch pole tensioner modification – in effect giving me the tension band feature that I would have got if I’d gone with the Vango Helium. This also has the benefit of giving me some spare guyline were I to lose any whilst on a trip.

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The scary windy pitch by Small Water

Things that aren’t perfect, but I can live with

The main thing here is the packed size. The rigid end struts of the tent that give it the stability, also constrain the packed size to 20 inches. This makes it taller than other tents in the rucksack and just gives less flexibility in packing. This length though, does if anything make it easier to carry in the side pocket of my rucksack as it’s length ensures that I can strap it down with two compression straps.

Niggles

I’ve no scientific basis for believing this, but Monica does seem a bit colder inside than my old tent. Whether it’s the lighter material, better ventilation or just advancing years, I don’t know. I’ve used the same sleeping bag in both, so it’s not that. It’s not a major issue, but it did alert me to the need to look at my sleeping arrangements more closely.

Having two porches makes it possible for the tent to be used by two people, although it is really a one person tent. As such, I do find sometimes that I don’t fully use both porches – unless my gear is actually wet, I prefer to have it fully inside and to use my rucksack as a pillow. This means that there is space that’s not being used fully. So there are days when I really want to eliminate the second porch, and adjust the size and shape of the inner to relocate the space to a single larger porch.

The crossing poles are a bit of a faff, requiring several circuits of the tent to put them on. So in most conditions I do without them, and I’ve only had one night when I’ve considered them to actually be needed. What I have found though, is that they do a good job of holding the outer fly and tent inner away from each other, and therefore further reduces the chance that moisture will infiltrate. So I have used them a couple of times when a lot of rain has been forecast or when I expect to wake up and find a fair bit of condensation.

The inner and outer doors, when open, tie back with an elastic tie and velcro respectively, and both are prone to slippage. Because there is only one tie-back point on each, there is a certain amount of bunching, made worse on the inner’s door due to the issue with the broken roof clip (see below).

I’ve also not yet found a way of satisfactorily organising my stuff inside the tent, and the two small pockets sewn into the inner aren’t really that useful to me.

Planned Repairs

I came home from the Peak Meet in August with two bits of damage to Monica:

  • oafishly blundering into the tent one time I yanked the inner downwards and snapped the plastic hook which secures it to the outer, leaving it sagging badly. Not a major issue and doesn’t affect the weather-resistance properties of the tent itself, but nonetheless irritating. I have a workaround, which came out of simply clipping the inner in wrongly – I simply left one of the middle clips out so the sag was out of the access route. This is a perfectly good workaround, but all I need is a new clip and then it’s fixed properly.
  • it was only when I got home and pitched Monica in the garden for her dry out that I noticed I’d lost the bungee cord on one of the end ventilation openings. I have no idea how this happened and there’s no damage to anthing else – it’s just as if the bungee cord got cut off. I don’t tend to use these ventilation openings anyway, so it’s not been a problem.

So the plan is to fix these small issues when I undertake the modifications planned below, but until I do them Monica’s perfectly ok, so it partly comes down to whether I can be bothered.

Potential Modifications

  1. Longer guylines – I’m still using the factory-shipped corner guylines which although adequate do mean that I don’t have the extra pitching flexibility that longer lines would afford. This was a niggle on my windy night at Small Water when stony ground made it difficult to get my pegs in because I was pretty constrained in my guying. Heavy rocks came to my rescue that time, but I’d rather have the flexibility.
  2. Separating the grommet that holds the ends of the crossing poles from the main guyline. I’ve never been able to get both ends of each crossing pole into the grommets and playing with the guylines which are adjustable at top and bottom, only restricts the guying itself even further. Both this and the re-guying can be achieved by copying this modification from Robin.
  3. Improving the security and neatness of the door tie-backs.
  4. Fix the broken roof hook that secures (or rather now doesn’t!) the inner to the outer.
  5. Replace the lost bungee cord on the end ventilation opening.
  6. Install some light storage and organisation solutions inside the inner to help me better organise my gear.
  7. Find a way of more securely stopping sliding of my inflatable sleep mat. No matter how many spots or stripes of seam sealant I put on the floor, it still happens. In any case, I’d like the ability to accept a pitch on a slight slope as a couple of times I’ve found it difficult to get somewhere flat that is also dry. I’m not talking about a 45° angle or anything silly, but just to be able to cope with the situation where a pitch that looks flat turns out to have a very slight slope when I lie down.
  8. Make it easier to put up the inner the right way around when not pitching all in one. This can simply be a few coloured stitches somewhere.
  9. Find a way of attaching my solar panel for charging my Powermonkey Extreme that enables me to angle it however I want.
  10. Single porch configuration. I’m going to look into how I might tweak the inner to effectively shunt it into the second porch to leave me with a single larger porch with no overall reduction in space in the inner tent. This might mean having a new inner custom-made, so I can see this leading to a chat with Sean in the not too distant future.

In doing all of these, of course, my first stop will be to Robin’s blog at http://blogpackinglight.wordpress.com/scarp-mods/ which I have used as my main inspiration for what is possible, and I am massively indebted to him for taking the time to document his modifications in such detail, so that I can shamelessly plagarise them.

I tend to get out less during winter and so this is one of my many projects for that time and should help keep me occupied when I’m unable to get out actually using the tent. By the end of it, I should have a tweaked set-up that will give me the flexibility for the range of conditions I meet and that is in tune with how I use the tent. 🙂

6 thoughts on “Pimp My Tent

    1. Your material on the scarp wasn’t just useful for the mods, but played a part in the decision to buy it too. So valuable being able to get a feel for someone using and living with it rather than just a passing gear review.

      I have to say my last backpacking trip has massively increased my respect for the tent. What I thought was a breezy night (20-35mph winds as measured by @munro277) was then blown out of the water a couple of nights later by an epic tempest, and I wished Peter had still been there so I could measure the wind speed. I woke up the next morning with a massive smile on my face at the thought that I’d spent my money wisely.

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    1. The only advice I’d give is to be really clear about what you want – in terms of size, weight, capabilities – rather than just go for what’s in the local outdoor shop. And I suggest you leverage the twitter community for ideas when the time comes!

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