Gossamer Gear SpinnTwinn Tarp

I recently got a SpinnTwinn from a well-known auction site. Gossamer Gear don’t make them anymore but their new tarps are almost the same apart from the material used. The SpinnTwinn is made from Spinnaker fabric while the new ones are called the TwinnTarp and constructed from silnylon. Today was the first chance I had to try pitching it and I’m seriously impressed with it. It pitches easily, is stupid light and cavernous for a single hiker but would easily take two. Potential buyers of the TwinnTarp might be interested in this blog post as the new version is almost identical in weight and size.

Firstly, the stuffsack is nice and large so it’s easy to pack the tarp away and get it out when you need it. Once packed the stuffsack will compress to very packable size and is easy to squeeze into most spaces in a pack. It’s my bugbear to get gear with over small stuff sacks as its a fight to pack the gear back in them and hard balls of fabric eat volume in a pack. So, 10/10 to Gossamer Gear for that.

The SpinnTwinn is a caternary cut tarp rather than a flat tarp as the shape handles wind better. It also looks rather elegant with its gentle curves! There are four corner tie outs plus 3 other on each of the long sides. The ridge lines have colour-coded tabs so it’s easy to see which is the front (red) and the back (blue). There’s more than enough pegging points to hold the tarp in position and the coloured tabs are a simple work of genius. Another 10/10.

Pitching the tarp is simple. Set your trekking poles to 32 and 45 inches respectively for the back and front. Peg out the back pole and corners, move to the front and carry out a similar operation. Adjust pegging and heights to match the ground conditions and it’s done. I think it took me about 2 minutes after an initial practice go. Here’s some pictures of the normal pitch.

My cat, Millie, photo bombed some of the images! Obviously it’s possible to raise the tarp if more ventilation is required but the measurements below give an indication of the size and coverage pitched in normal mode. NB: all measurement are to the nearest whole unit:

  • Ridge 115 ins (9ft 6 ins, 292 cm)
  • Side Base lengths 101 ins (8ft 5ins, 256 cm)
  • Front height and width 46 x 73 (3ft 10ins, 117 cm) X (6ft 1ins, 185cm)
  • Rear height and width 32×70 (2ft 8ins, 81 cms) X (5ft 10ins, 178 cms)

Anyone under 7ft and 5ft across will have plenty of shelter from rain and wind! Joking aside, it’s a huge covered area with lots of room for a hiker and gear. It could easily take two hikers. With a well-behaved stove it should be fine to cook out of the elements too. Most people of normal height will be able to sit up at the front end in comfort. Size and pitching time are another 10/10.

But what if the weather turns gnarly on the hike? Luckily it’s possible to drop the foot end either by a small amount, to the floor or anywhere in between and still have room to shelter under whilst being protected from three sides. I didn’t do an especially good job of repitching it but enough to show me I could have a very stormworthy shelter inside a minute. Here’s some pictures.

There are two tabs at the ridge pole ends so it’s possible to rig up a bug bivy or even an inner tent. Alternatively, the tabs could be used to set up and internal ridge line to dry clothes on. There are also two tabs at the floor part of the front so it would be easy to make up a “door” to shelter the hiker from weather coming from the front or to give privacy. Versaltilty and storm-worthiness score another 10/10.

Weight is the bane of a backpacker’s life so what is the penalty for carrying a cavernous shelter with good weather and wind protection, the ability to cook safely out of bad weather and room to live in if the weather is really foul? A mere 280g (9.87 oz) for the tarp plus a stuffsack weighting 10g (0.35oz) including seam sealing and all the lines/linelocks.

As I wrote at the start of this post, I’m seriously impressed with my practice pitching in the garden and can’t wait to try it out in the field. I can’t see any way to make this a better ultralight shelter but proper useage will confirm that…..or dent my 10/10 rating from this afternoon’s playing with the SpinnTwinn.

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Hiking Umbrella: neat gear!

I’ve come to the conclusion that a hiking umbrella is an indespensable piece of kit for hikers. Not only do they keep rain off but they shield the hiker from ultraviolet too when the sun is out, provide welcome shade and keep you far cooler than any hat will. They can be pressed in to service as a lunch stop shelter or to block rain and wind from entering the entry of your tarp. Spectacle wearers don’t get wet lenses and maps stay dry when you read them. They can even double as an emergency tarp pole.

The obvious disadvantage to using one is that a hand is needed to hold the brolly when it’s deployed. However, some pieces of shockcord fastened to the shoulder strap of your pack solves that. The other disadvantage is using them in high winds. Not recommended! But, by and large, we hikers don’t experience high winds that much in relation to the amount of time we are in the rain so it tends not to be a problem. I always carry backup waterproofs anyway.

I was sceptical about using a brolly until I used one. Now I wouldn’t be without one as its just too useful in all kinds of weather apart from high winds. I wouldn’t use on when scrambling up mountains or walking on ridges/ near big drops so common sense is needed. Nevertheless, I can recommend using a brolly.

Mine is made by Euroschirm who, I think, made the Golite Chrome Dome. At any rate, apart from the logo it is identical to the Golite. Here is a link to the manufacturer showing the chrome one and different coloured versions too.


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A few days in Norfolk

Rather than backpack I drove my motorhome (RV to my American readers) to Norfolk for a few days of sea and sunshine. I took a leisurely drive to Cromer and found a place to pitch up. One of the joys of having a motorhome is that you drive differently; as soon as yourself sat in the driver’s seat you’re on holiday! No point in rushing so you tootle along without driving flat out but keeping at a reasonable speed. Unlike the mad commuting dashes!

Once I’d parked up and got Millie the Cat settled, I went to explore Cromer. It’s an old-fashioned seaside town with a pier, shops selling crab-catching kits, buckets and spades and other beach stuff, some interesting local shops rather than national chain stores, four or five pubs and quite a few chip shops, restaurants and cafes. It’s also surprisingly quiet at night. I like these sort of towns as there’s something about them that remind me of holidays with my parents and they are quintessentially British.

Norfolk is good hiking country too. Contrary to legend, it has some hills and fairly steep ones at that. There are several long hikes such as the Peddars Way and the Icenic Way as well as the Coastal Path that takes a good week of long days to cover. The coastal path is a delight to walk too. I walked the whole of it a few years ago as a backpacker  but this time it was just day walks. Suntan lotion is usally essential as there is a lot of UV reflected from the sea even if the day is overcast.

The county is blessed with a good bus service including a route called the Coastal Hopper which is really handy as it trundles up and down the coast at regular intervals. The fares are reasonable too.  This allows the day walker to bus out somewhere and walk back to base. Alternatively, go further afield and walk for a day then catch the bus back so it’s possible to explore the area easily. A good bus route is nice when you’re in a motorhome because you can leave it parked up with the gas and electric on while you go out and play.
If you want a simple holiday or a break for a few days I can recommend both Cromer and the county. It’s a “proper” holiday destination with simple pleasures and all the better for it. Nice beaches, lots of things to do if you’ve got kids, lots of nature and nice walking too. You can go to Norwich if you like big cities, Yarmouth if you want the full-on “bucket and spade” experience complete with amusement parks or enjoy the tranquility of Sandringham (where the Queen has a holiday castle) or just chill out in a quiet cove or wood.

 One of the things about Norfolk is that it has “big skies”. Sunsets can be spectacular if the weather is good. Stupidly, I forgot my camera but below are two shots using my camera phone of a sunset and the pier at night.

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Backpack around Anglesey: kit review.

Euroschirm Pro Trek Umbrella.  As I wrote in my previous post, I experienced really heavy rain on the first day and hot, bright sun the rest of the time. The brolly performed faultlessly throughout. It acted as a wonderfully ventilated sunshade and kept the rain off me. However, when the wind got up a lot I had to put the brolly away which is why I did get a little damp on the first day and sunburnt on the third. Overall, well worth carrying for the shelter it offered.

Gatewood Cape and Nest. There is an in-depth review of both in my blog but, as ever, it performed perfectly as a shelter. In hindsight, I didn’t need bug netting as the island seems to be midge-free. I could have got away with using a polycro groundsheet. A bit of extra weight carried! 

I didn’t use the cape as a shelter because the brolly performed well enough in conjunction with a light rain jacket.

Paramo Bora Fleece  I used this as my insulation. In conjunction with a Montane Pertex windshirt it worked well as a waterproof too. I did get a little damp where the pack straps pressed on my shoulders but, oddly, the water stayed on the outside of the fleece. Overall, I’m very pleased with it as a multifunctional top. Possibly if I had used the proper Paramo windshirt I would have remained completely dry. A test for another day! 

I think it’s a very useful solution to combine warmth and waterproofness in one package. However, I can see it being too warm on hot, rainy days. Then again, the ventilation zips on the chest/abdomen area work well and it’s very breathable. It’s fairly heavy but it’s possible to save the weight of a proper waterproof shell which mitigates the weight. In common with most Paramo garments I find the sleeves to be a little long for me. My conclusion is that I like it and it performs well in the circumstances I used it in.

Integral Design eVent Short gaiters. Kept the rain out the top of my train shoes and stones too. Useful and light piece of kit, very small pack size.

Mountain Laurel Chaps. At 47g, possibly the best waterproof leggings around. No condensation, no wind got through nor any rain.  The only problem was my Montane windshirt wasn’t quite long enough to cover the crotch area fully so I did get damp there. Not a fault of the Chaps though.

Golite Jam 50l pack  Quite an old pack nowadays but still one of the best packs in its capacity range. Carried all my gear comfortably. The hipbelt pockets are large and really useful to carry food, camera, compass and what have you in. Did get a bad thorn-induced gash which I repaired with Tenacious  Tape.

Enlighten Equipment Prodigy Quilt  I’ve got the 40F (10C) version and temperatures at night got down to about 9C. I was warm and comfortable sleeping with it just as a quilt and never needed to cinch up the footbox. Performed to specification, can’t fault it. Because it’s synthetic the volume is 8 litres which took up a fair amount of space in the pack but that’s the nature of the beast. I’m with Ray Jardine about the use of synthetics in a potentially damp climate. 

Thermarest NeoAir.  Mine is the full-length one and I’ve had it about five years. Durable, warm and blissfully comfortable. Wouldn’t be without it. Pack size is about the same as a litre bottle.

Montane Featherlite Pertex Windsmock  Light, very packable. Kept the wind off and light rain too. Worked pretty well with the Paramo Bora. Too short to use with Chaps. To my mind, an indespensable piece of kit.

Outdoor Research Baseball Cap/Kepi  Very light and versatile. I hit my neck sunburnt when it was too windy to use the brolly and I’d forgotten to clip the Kepi bit on. My fault and not the cap’s. Visor is very useful in bright sun and the Kepi really does work.

Overall I’m very pleased with the performance of my backpacking gear now. I don’t think I can get it much lighter without compromising on performance to a level I don’t want to experience.

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A backpack around the Anglesey Coastal Path(ish)

Every year a friend and I have a week-long backpacking holiday. This year we decided to do the Anglesey Coastal Path which is, depending on which source you believe, either 120 miles or 123 or 125 miles in length.

I travelled up to Nottingham to meet my friend and we caught the train to Bangor as we had planned to stay there overnight before starting the hike for real. Over the years we’ve learnt to be flexible so, after learning that we were in easy bus ride reach of Llanfair PG we thought we’d divert just to say that we’d been in the longest place name in the British Isles. Here’s a picture of the train station.

After taking a few photos and having a coffee at a cafe we set off for the coastal path. Almost immediately it started raining hard and didn’t let up all day. We had planned to camp at Malltreath but, after covering around 15 miles, we were soaked and the campsite resembled a mini lake. Being resourceful and flexible we thought “Bugger it, let’s  find a B&B and dry out” only Malltreath had none to offer us. We decided to press on to Rhosneigr which was some 12 miles away and the only place of a size large enough to have a B&B. Luckily, we caught the last bus which took us about six miles. The rest of the distance was made up of yomping in the deluge and hitchhiking.

Luckily, there was room at the inn in Rhosneigr so we booked in, started drying out our kit and went for a beer and food. Sometime during the evening we became embroiled with members of a christening party and had a great evening with a crowd of extremely drunken Welsh people. Lord knows, how they managed to get to work in the morning!

We had our own conumdrum to solve as we were now effectively a day ahead of our planned itinerary. A quick look at the map showed there were no places to wild camp between Rhosneigr and Holyhead and we knew there were no campsites either. We had planned to B&B in Holyhead after camping for two nights but that had gone out the window. After a bit of discussion we decided to B&B for two nights in Holyhead and vary our route in; the next day to be spent doing another part of the coastal path but without our backpacks.

As we wandered up the coastal path to Holyhead the sun came out with a vengeance. Absolutely perfect conditions for enjoying the sights and an incredible change from the previous day as the pictures show.

After a tedious walk over the Four Mile bridge we arrived in Holyhead and found the B&B, dumped off the packs and went out to explore. It has to be said that the town isn’t especially pretty as its a functioning port. It is also a desert if you like real ale.

After breakfast the following morning we set out to explore the North and South Stacks. Again, the day was superb. I ended up with a bit of sunburn on my neck but the views were worth it. Apparently Holyhead has the largest breakwater in the world apart from one in San Dieago and its huge!

The next day we left Holyhead to follow the coastal path to Caemas; this time equipped with much needed suntan cream. It was a beautiful walk to do but it made quite a long day. Our campsite was about a mile out of Caemas and it was very, very quiet. We share our pitch with a trio of very tame, friendly ducks. The night skies looked spectacular as the sky was clear but my phone camera couldn’t do them justice. 

The following day we should have followed the coastal path to Moelfre but we’d heard of an old copper mine that was worth seeing so we modified our route to take it in. The copper mine was basically an excavated mountain. It was sad to see the damage done to the land but it was a magnificent sight in a way. Here’s some photos of the copper mine and the view from the campsite at Moelfre.

Moelfre is a pretty, small town and we had a pleasant night there. The morning sun reflecting from the sea woke me in the morning but it soon became overcast and our final day was a mixture of hot sun and drizzle. Our plan was to walk the coastal path as far as we could then catch a bus to Bangor for our final night. That is pretty much what we did! Here’s a view of the sea from Bangor and some shots  taken on the way to it.

So, ok we didn’t do all the path due to bad weather and wanting to see other things we’d heard about. We only camped twice instead of four times.  But we really enjoyed the trip and that, not sticking slavishly to a route, is the important thing. We’d been drenched, sunburnt, scratched by thorns, ate too much, drank too much, had lots of laughs and added an extra bond to our lifelong friendship. I’ll take that!

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A brief backpacking escape

It was the early part of the merry month of May when I took the opportunity to escape to do some backpacking. My dad had been killed in a road traffic collision a couple of weeks before And I really felt the need to escape from the bureaucracy of death for a short time. I figured some time away from it all would give me a chance to get myself sorted out a bit. A normal death is bad enough but when there are coroners arguing over jurisdiction and police doing forensic investigations……well, it becomes manic.
As I travelled by train to Matlock I reflected on how different it was from last month when there was snow on the ground at Whatstandwell and everywhere was extremely muddy. “Not this time” I thought as the sun shone and lambs frolicked in the fields as the train sped by. At Matlock I then caught a bus to Bakewell. I was feeling a bit pushed for time so I caught a local bus to Monsal Head. 
Monsal Head is high up and looks over the Wye Valley. The views are tremendous. At Monsal I met up with some fellow members of the Backpackers Club. After pitching, a friend and I wandered up to the head of the Wye Valley to enjoy a beautiful sunset before joining the others in a local hostelry. A convivial evening was enjoyed by all on a balmy (not barmy) night.

The Tuesday morning dawned dull and overcast. As we departed our separate ways to the pitch at Winster it started to rain. And rain it did non-stop all day! So much for my hopes on the train travelling up. As the group I walked with sploshed along we decided to truncate the walk by catching a bus from Bakewell to Stanton so that we could pitch earlier than intended and get out the rain. The walk over Stanton Moor took us past the Nine Ladies stone circle which was very interesting. 
I was very pleased with my strategy to keep dry. I used my trusty Euroschirm umbrella and wore a Pertex windshirt (made by Montane), some softshell shorts and Integral Design eVent ankle gaiters. Despite the torrential rain I kept dry and well ventilated while others suffered leaking waterproofs or built up their own, damp, internal atmosphere. A brolly is the way to go! 
Eventually we made the Miner’s Standard on to find that, despite me checking beforehand, the kitchen was not open. Cue dejected faces. Luckily, a takeaway in Matlock delivered pizza to the 5 surviving members on the meet and another member of the club who had just happened to pitch there that evening. Again a pleasant evening was spent talking and drinking while sitting next to a warm fire. When I left the pub the rain had stopped and had been replaced by a very thick mist. So thick that I couldn’t see any tents in the field and found my way by memory. Back at the tent the pub was impossible to see. After getting inside my Gatewood Cape it started raining again. Heavy rain fell all through the night. As usual, the Gatewood Cape kept me sheltered from the elements.
Come morning the rain stopped long enough to get packed away but the forecast was awful for the next few days with persistent, heavy rain and high winds predicted. Discretion being the greater part of valour I made the decision to wander down to the village to catch a bus to take me on to Matlock and the train. A pity as I’d hoped to spend longer out, and do some wild camping, but there’s always the next time.
And, yes, the short time away really did help me to get my head around the loss of my dad. Fresh air, exercise, beautiful scenery and the company of fellow backpackers gave me some sorely needed respite and time to think.

The view from Monsal Head looking over the Wye

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Gatewood Cape revisited

A few weeks back I posted a long-term review of the Gatewood Cape on my blog. I found a picture of it not long after pitching when I was visiting the Well Dressings in Tissington, Derbyshire a couple of years ago. In the light of the photographic evidence I have to confess that I am not the most tidy backpacker! On a nice day stuff gets strewn around all over the place! 

The shot captures me hunting for food hidden in an orange plastic bag. I find putting related items in different coloured bags/stuff sacks helps with packing and finding things easily. However, it doesn’t help when you realise you’ve already taken something out the bag – hence my quizzical look at the debris on the ground!
However, the pic does show a good view of the Cape and Serenity NetTent.

Photo by Geoff Gadsby

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Wake up and smell the coffee!

I love backpacking and I love real, freshly made coffee. However, the two don’t mix very well. A hiker who wants to have a lightweight, never mind ultralight, pack weight can’t carry a percolator or Mokka pot. There are add-ons to various cooking systems than convert your cooking pot into a cafetière or some kind of filter coffee system but they are a faff to use and add weight. Once the coffee is brewed the problem of what to do with the coffee grounds arises. Also, out on the trail it is difficult to clean most of these backpacking coffee makers.

So I thought I was doomed to drink instant coffee while hiking. Not the worst horror in life I know but I did miss my “proper” coffee. Especially the first cup in the morning.

A few months ago I was wandering around a supermarket and saw an intriguing product – coffee bags! I had to try them and I was very pleased with the results. Essentially, they are large teabags but filled with coffee. You dunk them in a mug of hot water and let it steep until you get your desired strength, take the bag out and drink. Easy peasey and no mess. Even better, you can squeeze the excess water out of the bag and carry the bag(s) out of camp to be disposed of properly. Both the coffee and the bag are OK to put in a compost pile so there is minimal impact on the environment.

The coffee bags come in boxes of eighteen bags and each bag is individually sealed in a waterproof bag (also recyclable). So the backpacker can take as many, or as few, as they want for a trip and be certain that there will be no spillage and the coffee will remain dry whatever the weather.

The coffee bags I’ve bought are produced by Lyons and they taste good. I’ve managed to track down two varieties. The first one I tried is called the Everyday Blend and it is quite smooth and not especially strong but has a decent coffee taste. The second is called the Number 3 blend and is much darker, richer and stronger tasting; I’d describe it as a breakfast or after dinner coffee.

I’ve no affiliation with Lyons but I think they deserve a pat on the back for making coffee bags. At long last backpackers with coffee addiction can get their fix using a simple, reliable and lightweight option that is unaffected by bad weather, fits with the leave no-trace ideal and everything is recyclable or compostable. Did I mention the coffee is very drinkable too?

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Six Moons Designs Gatewood Cape: Long Term review

I’ve owned a Gatewood Cape and Serenity inner for three years or so now. Like most backpackers I suffer from shelter lust but the Cape is the shelter I keep returning to. I’ve done many trips using it be they two/three dayers or week-long so I thought it was time to give a review. Before doing so it is worth pointing out the Six Moons have recently upgraded the Serenity to give a bit more headroom and deeper bathtub sides which look to be an improvement but have increased the weight a little.

To business. The Cape is a multifunction piece of kit that acts as rain gear, pack over and shelter for the solo hiker thus offering the prospect of real weight savings to the hiker/backpacker. It is made from Silnylon. Annoyingly, it is not seamsealed unless the buyer pays a small fee for Six Moons to do it. I took that option and I’m glad that I did as they did a far neater job than I could do. Mine was flawless in terms of sewing and construction and, after three years, looks like new.

Worn as a cape the Gatewood is large enough to cover the whole body down to mid-thigh length and easily wide enough to cover the wearer and a pack of about 65 litres. The hood is a simple design with a draw cord closure but it works well enough. I usual wear a baseball cap with it to stiffen up the visor. Being made from silnylon means that it is completely wind and water proof. Like all capes and ponchos it is prone to flap in winds so a simple belt made from shockcord is advisable. As silnylon doesn’t breathe I was worried that condensation from perspiration would be a problem but, in practice it isn’t. There is enough ventilation from underneath and the sides to reduce condensation to a minimum. The cape can be warm though. However, the door zip is cleverly positioned to become a chest-zip which can be used to give extra ventilation and cooling.

The guy lines for use in shelter mode can be annoying but I solve the problem by fastening them to the fitted buckles that are inside the Cape. To keep my lower legs dry I use some MLD Chaps but, as with all ponchos and capes, your arms will get wet as they are normally outside the material. I either just allow my bare arms to get wet or use a light windshirt to protect my arms. As protection from bad weather the Cape functions perfectly but it has to be said that it is not an elegant, fashionable look.
Turning the Gatewood into a shelter is easy. Simply take it out the stuffpocket, or take it off, and open it out. Position the rear into the wind and peg down the guylines at the rear, insert a trekking pole into the holder, guy that out, guy the front two corners and it’s done. There are three things to note.

  •  Firstly, the shelter can be pitched at the end of the fixed length guylines to give extra ventilation or in “storm mode” meaning the guyline attachment points are used as pegging points. Storm mode does mean a couple of inches of headroom are lost but I’m still able to sit up in comfort. I’m 5’10” and I think a six-footer would be able to do the same with ease.
  • Secondly, the attachment for the trekking pole is a detachable grommet mounted in a colour coded housing. It’s easy to remove when using it as a Cape but I leave mine clipped in and have noticed no discomfort.
  • Thirdly, I use trekking poles but Six Moons do offer a 50g pole for hikers who prefer not to use trekking poles.

As a shelter it offers fully enclosed protection with entrance/exit via a zipped door over half the front area. It’s one of the easiest shelters to get in and out of that I know of. The front always has an airgap as silnylon is non-breathable and further ventilation can be obtained by opening the hood up. As well as supplying fresh air to the hiker the airflow means condensation is fairly minimal and easily wiped off with a jay cloth or buff. Even in high humidity I’ve never experienced bad condensation and what there is usually vanishes once the door is opened. There is a large pocket on the non-opening front side which also doubles as pocket when used as a cape and as a stuffsack when the Gatewood isn’t being used.

Without the Serenity in place, the shelter offers loads of room for one hiker and could probably take two in an emergency. The first two times I used mine the weather was horrendous; very high winds and torrential rain going on for twelve hours or so. The Gatewood didn’t even blink and shrugged the bad weather off with ease. I have complete confidence in it as a three season shelter. Silnylon tends to sag a little after thirty minutes or so of being under tension but retensioning is easy-simply undo the trekking pole and adjust the height by a little and retighten. No need to leave the shelter.

Using the Serentity NetTent is easy too. Clip it to the apex of the shelter and attach it’s corners to the appropriate external guylines or, if you prefer, peg then down from within the shelter. I use some tiny titanium nail pegs for this- weight cost is under 10g. The Serentity is completely bugproof and has a waterproof floor plus bathtub sides. It works very well. Inside the Serentity there is enough room for a full length sleeping mat plus pillow with about 6-7 inches to spare. There is an internal pocket for head torch or wherever and ample side room for clothes and other stuff. There is sufficient head room for me to sit up while sitting on a fully inflated NeoAir. The vestibule has enough room to stow a large pack, boots, cooking gear and still have unimpeded entry and exit.

Together, the Cape and Serentity come to just over 600 grams. Add in a pair of Chaps and pegs of your choice and you get a sub-700g package that offers compete wind and rain protection while hiking and a very stable, weatherproof and bugproof shelter while camped. This is why I always come back to using the Gatewood; in my opinion it is simply unbeatable for hikers who want to lighten their load and become ultralight/ultralite.

Here is a photo of the Gatewood pitched and zippered up. All the gear visible is under cover. You can see the pocket on the left front and the hood is partially open.


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Mountain Laurel Designs TrailStar: a few thoughts.

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:

  1. It is very well made with all seams and guy tensioners still working perfectly after two years.
  2. It’s very tough and can take a lot of abuse.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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.
  6. It is easy to pitch.
  7. The nest has a tough floor and it is totally bugproof.
  8. It is possible to cook inside a TrailStar although for safety reasons I wouldn’t advise it.
  9. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

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