First Look Review
January 3, 2011
Lightheart Gear Solo Awning (Sil Nylon)
Weight as delivered:
My experience was with a prototype of the Lightheart Gear Solo Awning. Judy kindly sent me one of her first prototypes because I was struggling with whether to purchase a Solo Cuben Awning with just the awning (which has a projected weight of around 14oz!!) , or one with a second door and a zipper in the back fly. There was some question about whether you could get in and out if the awning was in a locked down pitch. My conclusion was a second door isn't needed unless you expected to regularly be using all the side pull outs. Judy encouraged me to share my experiences with the prototype, with the caveat that it was a prototype not finished to her normal standards. Since it's a prototype I didn't bother weighting it or looking too closely at the construction. I focused exclusively on the design.
Let me start by saying that this is the first time in something like 8 years that I used a double walled shelter. I forgot how nice it can be. I didn't have to constantly monitor my movement and stay away from the walls.
For three season outings, especially when facing a mix of rain, bugs, sunny days and moderate winds, this would be THE shelter I would choice. The Lightheart Solo Awning is particularly well suited to the AT and other forested destinations. It's weakness comes when facing high winds that might be experienced on an unsheltered coast or in exposed alpine locations. In these locations, I would not feel comfortable using the Lightheart Solo without something that would keep the spreader pole from rotating in high winds which might collapse the tent. Since I try the prototype Judy has indicated that all future shelters were going to have velco to secure the spreader pole to prevent this sort of rotate. The velco might resolve the problems I saw, but I can't say that for certain because I haven't one of Judy's shelter with the velco in the face of very strong winds. I would feel more comfortable with the speader being in a sewn in sleeve.
In nice conditions the fly could be easily rolled back, providing nearly 360 degree views while still providing a very nice, bug free space. When raining, I found that I had a large, dry space to manage camp life. With the awning deployed there was room to get in and out of the tent without getting water on the floor, I had room to cook. Better still. I still had an almost 180 degree view out of the shelter. Wow, that was nice. I really liked using this shelter.
See the Lightheart Gear website for a complete description. I will add more here when I have more time. One thing to note, due to it's diamond shape, it's fairly long for a solo shelter.
The shelter was only used in my backyard. It arrived just as a storm rolled in. The shelter saw a couple of days of near continuous rain, a day where the winds were continuously above 15mph and gusts that I measured at 35mph. [I am sure the gusts were stronger than that, since I didn't pull out my wind speed meter until the wind was already dying down.] There were several other days with mixed conditions. Several of the nights the temp dropped below dew point. I need to get it back to Judy so there wasn't an opportunity for really extensive testing.
Basic set-up with simple and quick. I could easily get it up in around two minutes. Much of that time was spend inside the shelter while I deployed the poles. This was very nice when facing cold rain. The instruction suggest you stake out the four corners, put up the poles, and then you can remove the 2 side corner stakes and use them for the fly. I tried staking out the tent with and without the stakes in the side corners, and with leaving the stakes in or moving them to the fly. I found little to no difference in the ultimate pitch, stability, or ease of getting the shelter up. I found that while it is possible to set up the shelters with the poles fully extended, it is very tricky, and I was always afraid the poles would slip out of my hand and poke a hole in the tent roof. This didn't happen, but I found that setting the poles for around 100-110cm, and then extend the pole to 130cm and then lock it at that length was much easier. One thing that I noticed is that it's very clear when the pole is the right length, so if your pole doesn't have length marking on it, you are fine. With a number of other shelters I found that if I didn't pre-mark my pole with the correct length, I had a real struggle getting an optimal pitch. The Solo Awning makes this pretty easy. Once the poles are in you stake out the two sides of the fly. The awning can be put up with a pole, tied to a tree, or pitched down (more on this later). Very simple.
Getting a storm worthy pitch is a bit more of an issue. Everything was fine up to around 10-15 mph winds. Above that, and you really want all the side pull outs to be stake down. In really heavy wind, even using all the side pullout wasn't really adequate: the fly flapped quite a bit and deflected down so that is was in direct contact between the fly and a significant portion of the netting on the side with the strong wind. Given that this is a prototype, some of the fabric flap might go away, but I believe the geometry of the shelter is such that this will be continue to be an issue. The Achilles Heel of this shelter is the spreader bar/pole interface under heavy winds. I had the shelter collapse in heavy winds several time. Both with the awning deployed, and in a lock down pitch. In each case the winds were strong and shifting. The forces on the tent resulted in the spreader pole to rotate. When it rotated too far, the poles popped out and the tent collapsed. Thankful, the poles didn't seem to damage the tent walls, and I was able put the tent up quickly. Nothing inside the shelter got wet. I was never inside the shelter when it collapsed, so I can't give exact details of what happened. I believe having some way to attach the spreader pole to the top of the tent to prevent it rotating, maybe several loops or even better a sleeve would dramatically reduce the likelihood of collapse, but I expect a strong enough wind might overcome even that. Of course, if you are expecting super strong winds, you should be using a real 4 season shelter. I had not read anyone reporting a collapse, so I wondered if I might have been doing something wrong. I talked with Judy and she indicated I was the first person to report this problem to her. I sent email to a number of people I knew had one of Judy's solo shelters asking if they had any idea what I was doing wrong. I found two people who had also experienced a collapse when facing strong winds. One of them noted that I should not be surprised, that the vast majority of ultralight has issues with strong winds, go with a pyramid (which is what I use in really nasty conditions) if I was expecting really nasty conditions. Several people had seen winds similar to what I had experienced without of the shelter collapsing, though they noted that it took several trips before the felt fully comfortable in strong winds. They did see the spreader pole rotate some but never to the point of failing. They also felt compelled to use every pullout, e.g. more than the minimal 4 stakes that is possible to set the shelter up with.
Condensation thanks to the double walled design was not a problem. One night there was heavy condensation on the fly, and the combination of the SilNylon stretching and the wind pressed the fly against the the foot of the tent. [Tightening up the shelter can often be achieved by lengthening your poles so you don't have to exit the shelter as SilNylon stretches. Since it was a double walled shelter, I wasn't particularly careful about keeping my bag from brushing against the tent walls. In the morning I found that the shell of my bag was slightly damp, but not to the point that it caused any problem.
In locked down mode, there is a fair gap between the ground and the bottom of the fly, and the inner tent extends always to the edge of the fly. I had some concerns that wind blown rain would get in. This didn't happen to me. I won't guarentee it won't happen to you, but the wind was blowing a steady 20mph with much higher gusts.
Below is a demonstration of getting in and out of the awning in it's locked down mode.
Getting in and out of the lockdown pitch would be more difficult if the extra pullouts on the awning staked down. Personally I found that the extra pullouts were not really needed in moderate winds, and I would not be confortable using the Solo Awning in high winds. Therefore, if I was going to purchase the shelter, I would have gone for the lightest weight option, which would have been the Cuben Solo Awning with a single door, though the second door is quite handy.
Six Moon Designs Skyscrape X (and cheaper models made from SilNylon or Polyester). I have no personal experience with this shelter. Very simular design. A bit smaller and lighter than the Lightheart Solo. I like the peak being a bit closer to the head than the foot from a living space perspective, but pictures make it look like it comes down a bit too close to the feet (I tend to move my feet a lot at night). The combination of the spreader bar being attached to the shelter and the triangle rather than diamond shape guying should make this tent more stable in strong winds.
ZPacks Hexamid (my review) in it's most minimalist form is likely to be somewhere between 65-75% the weight of the single door Lightheart Gear Cuben Awning Tent (final weight not settled yet). For someone who puts a premium of weight, it's hard to beat the Hexamid. If you add the optional door and/or a bivy, the Hexamid can climb up toward being very similar to the weight of the Cuben Solo Awning. The Hexamid didn't have a problem staying up in the same winds that collapsed the Solo Awning. That said, the internal space in the Solo Awning feels much more roomy, you don't have to carefully avoid brushing against the walls, and I found I could easily manage camp life in the rain using the Solo Awning, where it feels like a constant struggle to stay dry using the Hexamid in serious rain. The Lightheart Solo Awning is much easier to enter and exit.
Mountain Laural Design Solo/DuoMid + Inner Net. The Lightheart Gear Solo Awning is lighter, and provides nicer platform for managing camp life in the rain. The Lightheart Gear Solo Awning is also lighter than doing a SoloMod with the Inner Net, though the SoloMid would be lighter if you didn't need to bring the inner bug tent. The Solo/Duo Mid is much better at handling high winds and snow.
Gossamer Gear The One: The Lightheart Solo Awning was a bit easier to pitch correcty due to the challenge of getting the back pole set correctly on The One. I felt like I had more room in the Lightheart Solo, though there might me more volume inside The One. I found that The One handled wind better than Lightheart Solo.
Lightheart Solo Thread at Whiteblaze
Lightheart Solo Thread at BackpackingLight.com