Two or three years ago, I saw that several people seemed to be acquiring these funny pentagonal tarps, and always wanting to keep my finger on the pulse, had a look at the Mountain Laurel Designs website myself to see what all the fuss was about. At the time, I was just moving up from a budget starter backpacking tent (a T2 Ultralight Pro from Decathlon), hadn’t even had my first wild camp, and my requirements were firmly for a tent, with proper doors and everything.
The Trailstar looked awesome and having no inner, was very light, but it simply wasn’t what I was ready for. However, even then I recognised the potential for me to evolve to the point where this might be the sort of thing I’d want to use. But first I needed to actually have a wild camp. So I stuck this on my Amazon wishlist in a dark corner reserved for interesting items of kit that I might want to come back to in the future. The fact that I’d probably need to go through the rigmarole of importing one, would turn what was a reasonably priced shelter into a major purchase. It wasn’t a barrier in itself (I’d done just the same to get my Scarp), but it was enough to stop me rushing out to import a shelter I wasn’t sure I was ready for.
In the meantime, I got myself a Scarp and didn’t look back. It met my requirements perfectly. There was just one thing – I kept seeing pictures on blogs of Trailstars pitched in stunning locations, and noted in particular how much space everyone had inside.
Now having this sitting on my wishlist for so long may in hindsight have been a bad idea. It’s been sat there niggling away, and every time I went to look at my wishlist there it was. Almost unconsciously, I began keeping an eye on eBay, the various outdoor fora and social media in case one came up.
I was able to resist the temptation for a couple of years, but this year something broke my resolve – I started having much more varied camps: I finally used the Gram Counter Gear Litehouse Solo I’d had a couple of years and never pitched in anger. It was great, even though I could see bits of outside through the mesh. Actually, I loved this tent and really wish I’d kept it now 😦
And working away in Edinburgh for a total of about 3 months over the last year sent me round the bend – so much so that on one trip I packed a hooped bivvy bag I’d also had sitting around for a couple of years. I duly sneaked out of the hotel one night and camped on Arthur’s Seat. My colleagues thought I was insane. I found this really quite claustrophobic, but I’d proved to myself I could camp a bit closer to nature.
In the meantime, I’d also picked up a bargain from GoOutdoors – a HiGear Soloista – it only cost me £20. As heavy as my Scarp but for the money a fabulous little shelter. Not much bigger than the bivvy really, and now being kept for stealth lowland camps.
The net effect of all of this was that I got more comfortable with the idea of being in a shelter that was closer to the outside than I’d previously dared do. Suddenly sleeping under a tarp with no door wasn’t such a big deal.
I finally cracked in August, and when a Twitter mate decided to offload his full Trailstar rig, I picked up the shelter itself and the cuben door he had. But I had to wait for the schools to go back and to get my annual SWCP trip out of the way, before I was to get a chance to try it out in anything more challenging than the garden.
And so, I took the Trailstar out on my late September trip. As luck would have it, although I could have picked up an inner nest at the same time as the Trailstar, for some reason I chose not to, but I then found a new unused one on the walkers forum. I picked this up on the first day of my recent Lakes trip.
On that trip, I slept 5 nights in a row under the Trailstar: two nights using a bivvy bag (one wild and one at a campsite), and three nights in the inner nest (two wild and one at a campsite). I much preferred sleeping in the inner, reinforcing the feeling that I’m a tent man at heart.
My confidence in the whole setup was shaken a bit because of some damage sustained early on in the trip – a small tear in the fabric, but actually it held up fine.
Although, I was quite happy with being able to have a view from bed, what was starting to get to me by the end of the trip was the lack of door and the restricted headroom – I never quite got around to using the cuben door (curtain is probably a better word for it). My stuff felt incredibly vulnerable leaving it on the two campsites we pitched at while we went to the pub. And getting in or out of the shelter seemed to involve brushing against the flysheet and transferring moisture from it to me.
These niggles started to grate, and to undermine the advantages of the shelter itself – for me these are the low weight (which I really noticed compared with my Scarp) and the amount of floor space in the shelter. I’ve got to the point where the desire for a bit more headroom and a proper door are telling me that the Trailstar isn’t the shelter for me, but I don’t want to give up the space or the flexibility the shelter provides. I’m also trying to tell myself that the fact it just looks so damn sexy pitched in a mountain environment isn’t enough of a reason to keep it. But deep down, I know that this shelter’s not for me.
So, just like many others (I always seem to be a step behind when it comes to shelters) I’ve started looking at mids as the probable solution to the problem. Mids offer decent headroom and, depending on model, a decent amount of floor space. They also, crucially, have a design which allows them to shed wind well – I wouldn’t go for a shelter that didn’t. The fact that a number of Trailstar users have recently got them, and in some cases ditched the Trailstar in favour of a mid, speaks volumes.
The aim here is to find something that allows me to extend the life of my Scarp – something I’d be happy using in all but the severest conditions, leaving the Scarp mainly for winter and tempests. I seem to be quite hard on my gear and the Scarp has already taken some wear and tear, so I want to prolong her life as long as I can.
And so I’ve just placed an order for a Luxe Hexpeak. It seems to be the one to get, and not just on price. It feels like it will deliver everything I’m looking for. I’ve done it quickly before I get too used to the excessive space in the Trailstar.
This means of course, that just as soon as I can take some pics, there will be a Trailstar for sale, together with a virtually new Oookstar (which are currently like gold dust) and a cuben door. Of course if anyone is so keen to acquire any or all of these bits that they can’t wait for a picture to be taken (ie when it’s not pissing down with rain in the garden), then be my guest.