About the Shelter
The Lunar Solo is a single skin trekking pole-supported shelter made by Oregon-based Six Moon Designs. It’s an award-winning shelter, but it is also very much a “marmite” shelter. Hopefully this page will explain why.
Rather counterintuitively, I’m going to start with the disadvantages, as you really need to get over them before you can consider the advantages.
The observant will already have noticed that it’s single skinned, meaning there is no separate inner and outer. The tent comes as an all-in-one. There is a sheet of mesh dividing the sleeping area from the vestibule which some manufacturers would claim means it’s double skin, but it’s patently not.
Single-skinned shelters come with one huge drawback – they are more prone to condensation as there’s no in-built way of dispersing it. With a more traditional inner and outer configuration water vapour coming from the warm things in the tent (ie you) will pass through the inner and condense on the inside of the outer. Anything that drips on the inner should then run off the outside of the inner rather than fall onto you. At least that’s the theory.
What this means in practice is that on a night where temperatures drop overnight, you are likely to wake to a covering of droplets on the roof of the tent in the morning. Therefore, a small cloth is a good idea to wipe down the fly. It also means careful positioning of head and feet so as not to touch the outer and transfer the moisture to the “contents” of the tent.
How much of a problem is this really though? Well, it’s something you learn to live with. Some people will be scared more by the thought of condensation than others though. It’s worth bearing in mind that any tent will experience condensation – it’s simple scientific fact. In a double-skinned tent, you just may not notice it so much. What reduces it is ventilation and to some extent the type of fabric the shelter is constructed with.
Ventilation is something the Lunar Solo has lots of, as it can’t be fully closed – there is at least a foot of gap between the beak and the floor, as well as a vent at the top. Plus the mesh joining the fly to the floor. Generally, I’ve found this is enough to minimise the amount of condensation.
That ventilation and the single skin can make for a tent that’s cool inside – although some do use it in winter, it’s not in my opinion an optimal winter shelter. Indeed, it was feeling cold, not even in winter conditions, that prompted me to get rid of my first Lunar. In those days, I looked to my tent to provide warmth that really you should be looking to your clothing and sleep system to do.
That first Lunar went to a good friend, and ironically it was seeing the success he’s made of the shelter that made me want to get back on the horse. He describes the Lunar as his favourite shelter, and I firmly believe it’s made him enjoy camping again. It’s only since I got my second one, that I’ve come to fully appreciate this shelter and to look beyond the slight negatives.
The newer shelter I’ve got has had some improvements in the meantime, which I’ll come onto in due course.
The third thing that many don’t love about the Lunar is that it is tricky to get a good pitch. However, I recently found a guy on YouTube who pitches it differently to the official instructions with great success. I tried it and haven’t looked back since. However, it’s probably best to try the official pitching method a few times and see how you get on, before diving in to direct defiance of what you’re told to do!
Experience has shown that the key to a good pitch is:
- Aim for a slightly higher pitch (longer pole) than the instructions. This ensures the bathtub sits vertically at the sides properly. It also ensures good ventilation around the sides and back.
- Stake the two rear corners first, rather than the front two. Then put in the pole and peg out the front main guy.
- Then pull out the back and only when all other corners are done do you stake out the front corners.
It just works.
Now, if condensation, coolness and pitching challenges haven’t put you off buying the shelter, what about some actual positive reasons to buy it ?
The key advantage of the Lunar Solo is of course weight – 740g. Yes you could lose a bit more, but a couple of hundred more grams off is going to cost a lot. Because, here’s the second advantage – the Lunar is very reasonably priced for such a light shelter. Six Moons’ price at the date of writing is $225 – all in. Typically, you’ll pay that just for the fly with tents from their main competitors. In the UK, the price translates to £240 at the time of writing. The rule of thumb of taking the US price and simply changing the $ to a £ to reflect the costs of getting it to the UK and dealing with import charges, usually works quite well. But you don’t need to import Six Moons’ shelters – they’re actually everywhere. In Europe several of the ultralight gear websites have them, so even if you can’t find one in your country, chances are you can get one from somewhere else in Europe.
[Clearly depending on the eventual outcome of Brexit trade negotiations, it may be that buying from a European supplier doesn’t save you much over importing direct from the US, but let’s see. If you can buy in Europe do – you won’t escape import duty (as it’s already priced in), but the shipping is both cheaper and faster. Also, buying from a European distributor is buying in stock goods rather than placing an order and waiting for it to be built.]
Thirdly, it’s got a lot of space in the sleeping area, maxing out at 122cm width. Against this is the fact that the vestibule is a lot more open, so you will more likely stash more stuff in the inner itself. I’m not small and find it really quite generous.
Experience with the Shelter
I’ve not found condensation, which is generally people’s complaint about it, to be a concern at all. Yes, of course I’ve woken up to a damp ceiling, but it’s never fazed me. And the new silpoly version is better than my original one. The ventilation is better, it pitches better – it’s just better in a whole load of small ways.
My old views about it being a cold shelter haven’t gone away though. It’s single skin so there’s no second layer to help trap warm air when things cool down. In my mind it’s firmly in the category of a late spring to early autumn tent. I tend to take it on good weather trips – when little or no rain is forecast, winds aren’t forecast to be significant and the temperatures are generally mild.
My friend, and current owner of my first Lunar, takes it out in much damper, cooler weather than I would and it performs fine. I just like enjoying the shelter in nice conditions and using something else when the weather’s a bit less uplifting.
Issues and Longevity
I’ve had no issues with either version of the shelter I’ve owned, aside from those characteristics which are inherent to the design (see disadvantages above). I have seen people report wear and tear issues arising from the quality of the workmanship, but I’ve seen nothing like that. I also believe the current silpoly version is a lot better made anyway.
Because the Lunar isn’t my main shelter, and I don’t use it in all weathers, it’s unlikely to get the sort of use that will bring out major issues except over a very long period.
I’ve done very little to modify the tent. Of course I’ve had to seam seal it. I’ve added side panel pull-outs, but left all the existing guys (straps) in place. This is largely because there’s no point changing them – they’re perfectly good, and if I did change them I’d also have to change the lineloks to something which would better fit standard guyline rather than the flat straps used on the shelter.
Most of the other modifications I made on the first one, and/or which I would do, haven’t been necessary because Six Moons have basically incorporated them into the recent version. Chief amongst these is the apex guyline which I added to my first Lunar but which is now included as standard.
After a rocky start, I’ve realised that I really like this shelter. It’s simple, apart from requiring a certain knack to pitching, and the conditions in which I tend to take it out are ones which are always guaranteed to be enjoyable anyway. It has more than enough space. It’s my “happy place” shelter. But I wouldn’t take it out in severe conditions, mainly because I don’t need to. I’d take my Duomid in that case.
All specifications, dimensions, weights and options, as well as the products offered by SMD are as at June 2020. All SMD shelters I’ve owned have been bought by me.