Making my Own 3 Season Tent – Part 12: Field Testing

I’ve now had a chance to pitch the shelter somewhere other than the garden, and so also have been able to spend the night in it.

I took it on my recent Dartmoor trip to try out, although the forecast was such that originally I had decided not to risk it: quite windy and cold, so I really wanted something warmer but also proven. I was persuaded to take it, though, by mates who wanted to see it.

So, taking advantage of the meet up with friends in the middle of my trip, I stashed the new shelter in the boot of a friend’s car so that I could swap it out when he turned up. I then took it out for the 2 nights we were together, before swapping back to my trusty Scarp 1 for the last night (a good decision as it turns out).

The pitch on top of Sheeps Tor didn’t provide any shelter to speak of, and I was conscious in pitching it of how I wanted it aligned. I mentioned in my last post that one of the back corner seams was straining heavily, and in the week before the trip I made reinforcements for that point on the seam (both corners so it would be symmetrical, of course).

These were essentially made of two large 8″ squares of fabric joined together and hemmed, then reinforced with diagonal stitching before applying to the shelter. They were then attached with opposite points on the seam of the tent to form a diamond. The whole of the reinforcement patch was smeared in seam sealant too. This was exactly the same as the existing reinforcement on the rear centre seam.

After doing this, everything looked a lot more robust. Shockcord was added to alleviate any additional strain from guys.

Back to the trip though: I wanted to pitch the shelter to take the wind on the left rear corner (seen from behind the tent), as this was the one that hadn’t been a problem. This would make the problem seam be to leeward, and reduce any risk of failure.

This all worked quite well, although after everything was pitched there was a certain amount of thrumming due to the action of the wind on the shockcorded tieout on the windward corner seam.

I even managed to minimise the effect of the wonky beak somewhat, and it’s clear that the shelter gets better with every pitch. I also found that an A-frame pole arrangement is best – it noticeably maximises the available space and is clearly stronger.

[Pitched on Sheeps Tor, in an A-frame configuration]

As it was so cold, and also to kill any draughts through the large front opening between the doors and beak, I deployed the strap-on extended beak, and secured it in a way that wrapped around the bottom corners of the doors, making a very secure closing. So secure, though, that it was extremely difficult to get in and out, and it was very much a case of sewing me into the tent for the night. I will need to rethink this, as it’s not sustainable and will get on my tits.

[Here the extra corner seam reinforcements can be seen]

I also noticed a couple of patches of daylight through the top of the tent – one on the beak seam, which is fine as I’m due to rework that part anyway; the second being where a clumsy moment ripped the top of the door where it secures to the triple seam. Where the rip occurred was a neat hole at the top of the door. There are far worse places to have such a hole though.

My Lanshan 1 4-season inner fitted ok, but I did notice that I had less clearance between the inner and the fly than I’d aimed and hoped for. Ultimately, I should have designed the interior space to allow for curving of these seams, and ideally I’d have catenary cut them as well. But this was a calculated risk I decided to take, so I can’t complain. Ultimately, it wasn’t a problem in practice.

The second night at Fox Tor was, if anything, even more exposed, due to a paucity of sheltered spots to pitch. It was a choice of shelter or a workable pitch. I found myself being upwind of the others, taking the full force of the wind square on the back of the tent. This helped a lot with warmth and draughts, and the shelter actually held pretty solid the whole time. The addition of those corner seam reinforcements has massively strengthened the shelter.

I initially did pitch 2 with just a single pole, but became annoyed with the obstacle that resulted. I switched pretty quickly to the A-frame arrangement.

The second night, due to the pressure of the wind on the back of the tent, I noticed the lack of inner vs fly clearance a lot more, and felt a lot more cramped inside than before. It was still enough though, but on a long trip would get on my nerves: I find any tent has a number of nights that you can live with its foibles, beyond which it starts to grate. For this shelter, it’s 2-3 nights, which is actually the most I’d ever really expect to use it for in one go.

[Night 2 at Fox Tor, taking the full force of the wind from behind]

It’s most likely that I will use this in combination with a bivvy bag or groundsheet/sleeping bag cover of some sort. That will make the best use of space, and in the conditions the tent suits, will be just fine. I’m no longer sure I’ll make it a dedicated inner.

Final conclusions

Despite some, relatively minor, issues the shelter has proved to be roughly what I was aiming for:

On the plus side:

  • It works in the conditions I was aiming for it to work in
  • It handles wind pretty well considering the quality of workmanship
  • It looks ok
  • The weight is ok, if inflated a bit with over-cautious reinforcements
  • The pack size is ok
  • The colour is great. It’s charcoal grey which, although surprised how much darker it was in real life, I’m really loving. It blends in well too.

On the negative side:

  • I failed to allow enough space for the inner, principally due to the natural curving of the big seams at the back (a calculated risk which hasn’t really paid off)
  • I keep finding places that need reinforcement where seams are pulling
  • I still need to correct that wonky beak
  • The strap-on extended beak is proving impractical as it seals the tent up like a tomb – a rework is needed here.
  • I may want to make the doors bigger to create more overlap (which itself may obviate the need for the extended beak attachment)

So, I will work to fix these snags, but the shelter is mostly workable even with them as they are. But there may come a point when I decide I really need a Mark 2 version. The fabric itself is relatively inexpensive, so I have nothing to lose by getting some more in, in anticipation of another attempt.

Future plans

Immediately after completing the build, and being a bit underwhelmed by the initial result, I decided that building tents might not be for me, and I might be better focusing my efforts on inners, which are less critical in terms of structural integrity, and are hidden away inside. Indeed, the reason I have moved tents on in the past is often down to the inner not meeting my needs (typically too small), and it now seems to me that I could probably fix this problem.

I do know that inners are hard though. Conceptually the tent fly is mostly just joining large triangles with a bit of margin for error due to the size of the pieces involved. An inner requires more precision as it needs to attach to the outer tent. They’re fiddly and time consuming to make, in comparison to flys.

One thing I am going to do though, is make myself a nice bathtub groundsheet for the shelter, and a sleeping bag cover that I can attach to it with poppers. Something like the old Oookworks Banana Bivvy. I think this will end up being my default for use with the shelter. I’m also going to work on a new “curtain” arrangement for closing up the front when needed, and may even re-model the doors to be bigger too.

And I haven’t actually given up on making a tent itself either. What has become apparent to me over recent weeks, is just how simple a lot of tent designs are. It’s then about the hours refining the design to be easy to sew accurately. I do think I need to master the catenary cut. I find I look now at the details of tent construction on commercial offerings, and often I’m concluding that if I could achieve the quality of sewing, I could do it so much cheaper. So it’s highly likely that I will make another tent, even if it’s just a Mark 2 of this one.

Indeed, I’ve been having ideas, and two in particular:

  • A bivvy tent of some sort: a low(ish) profile stealthy, small footprint trekking pole-supported shelter. I have concluded I hate bivvies themselves, but I still want a quick and easy to deploy shelter that doesn’t weigh too much. So I’ve pretty much decided to design and make one. For such a shelter which won’t be used in challenging conditions at all, the quality is largely irrelevant too. So I have nothing to lose.
  • A shelter for shoulder season backpacking, when I often want a but more space. Traditionally, I would use a pyramid shelter of some sort here, but to get the sort of headroom and lateral space I’d want it would have to be so big, I’m better off just taking my Aston (which is great). So I’ve concluded the way to go is a two pole design which massively increases the headroom. There are a lot of examples out there of a Anaris/Haven/Duplex/Lanshan2 type design, but I’m thinking of something a bit less symmetrical. Whether this will come off, we’ll have to wait and see.

The other thing I’m toying with is fabric, and specifically the question of DCF. 4-5 times as expensive as silpoly but easier to work with – indeed it needn’t involve much sewing at all if I chose to just bond it. But it’s a big risk in money terms. If I do it, it will be for the shoulder season shelter I mentioned just above. Right now supply of DCF remains problematic, with DSM putting their prices up in the next few weeks, leading to a bit of a run on existing supplies. That’s on top of their already restrictive distribution policy. If I were to go for it, I’d likely end up using heavier grade DCF than I want to get the colour / non-transparency I’d be after. Again, it’s a wait and see – I need to be confident of the design before I commit to something like that.

So, in conclusion, it’s highly likely that more MYOG adventures are to come, but the nature of them is likely to be in a bit of flux. Meanwhile, I have a shelter to go out and use….

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