I’ve owned a MLD TrailStar, and nest, for about two years now and it’s a shelter I have mixed feelings about. For those that haven’t heard of a TrailStar it’s a shaped-tarp in the form of a pentagon and pitches with a hiking pole in the centre so it becomes, effectively, a pyramid shape.
On the positive side:
- It is very well made with all seams and guy tensioners still working perfectly after two years.
- It’s very tough and can take a lot of abuse.
- It offers a good space to weight ratio. Without a nest it is possible to sleep two hikers plus kit in comfort and three if necessary.
- It can handle high winds, torrential rain and snow with ease once it has been seam-sealed. Why, oh why, don’t all tent makers seam seal as part of the manufacturing process? Nobody would buy a car and expect to fit the engine themselves!
- There is superb ventilation and it is rare to see even the slightest bit of condensation. As the shelter is so large there is zero chance of touching the sides (apart from entering or leaving the TrailStar) so condensation problems just don’t exist.
- It is easy to pitch.
- The nest has a tough floor and it is totally bugproof.
- It is possible to cook inside a TrailStar although for safety reasons I wouldn’t advise it.
- If you are a cycle-camper it’s possible to get your bike under cover. A folding bike fits in with ease, a “proper” bike does take up a lot of space but it can be done.
These are all desirable things to have in a shelter and it is easy to see why the TrailStar gets many rave reviews. It really is a top shelter and will perfectly fit the needs of many backpackers. However, nothing is perfection so here are some of the things that I consider to be disadvantages to the TrailStar:
- It is impossible to stop draughts coming into the tent. While very good for ventilation this does make for a cold shelter. This can be a real problem in the cooler times of the year.
- The entry point is just part of the shelter lifted up by another trekking pole. No matter how the TrailStar is pitched, entry and exit are achieved on hands and knees. On dry ground this is fine but when it’s muddy both hands and knees get filthy. I can live with dirty knees but it’s a real drag to keep my hands clean so I can prepare food and eat it.
- The TrailStar has to be oriented “back to the wind”. As there is no door it is quite possible to have no privacy when on a commercial campsite. Apart from personal modesty, all your possessions and kit are visible to anyone passing by.
- If the wind turns by 180 degrees after pitching the TrailStar becomes a rather effective wind tunnel. Yes, you can repitch it fairly easily but who wants to do that in high winds in the dark?
- Two trekking poles are needed to pitch the TrailStar. Not a problem to me as I always use two trekking poles anyway but some hikers might find it a problem.
- A large area is needed to pitch the shelter. It is possible to pitch over logs and other obstructions but this is not a shelter that can be squeezed into a small space.
I now wish that I had purchased the inner with solid walls rather than bugnetting to help keep the draughts at bay despite the extra weight penalty. To deal with the problems caused by there being no door I have made myself something that functions as a privacy screen and wind blocker from silnylon. However the “dirty knees” syndrome really does annoy me; a piece of polycro or similar helps but that soon gets muddy and I’m back to square one.
So, I have mixed feelings about the TrailStar. It is a great shelter in terms of keeping the elements at bay; I would describe it as bombproof. I can’t think of another backpacking shelter that shrugs off high winds, rain and snow while dealing with condensation so well – it really is top class. On the other hand the difficulties posed by the size, height, length and openness of the entry/exit point irritate me intensely.