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Reviews > Shelters > Tarps and Bivys > Appy Trails Mark III Tent > Test Report by Andre Corterier

Appy Trails Mark III

Test Report by André Corterier
Initial Report 27 February 2009
Field Report May 2009
Long Term Report August 2009

The Appy Trails Mark III set up in my back yard
Barely headroom for my little one

What's in the box
Personal Biographical Information:Backpacking Background:
Name: André Corterier
Gender: M
Age: 37
Height: 1.85 m (6 ft 1 in)
Weight: 80 kg (175 lb)
Email: andreDOTcorterierATfreenetDOTde
Home: Bonn, Germany
I have started out with backpacking slowly – single-day 24 km (15 mi) jaunts by myself or even shorter hikes in the company of my little daughter. I am getting started on longer hikes, as a lightweight packer and hammock or tarp camper. I’ve been upgrading my old gear and am now carrying a dry FSO weight (everything carried From the Skin Out except food, fuel and water) of less than 9 kg (20 lb) for three-season camping.

What's in the box
item listed weight measured weight
tarp18.7 oz (530 g)18.2 oz (516 g)
stakes, cord3.2 oz (91 g)3.2 oz (91 g)
pole set4.4 oz (125 g)4.2 oz (119 g)
center pole - - - 3.25 oz (92 g)
rear pole - - - 0.95 oz (27 g)
stuff sack0.6 oz (17 g)0.42 oz (12 g)
total weight26.9 oz (763 g)26.03 oz (738 g)

Year of manufacture: 2009
Manufacturer: Appy Trails LLC
MSRP: 99.95 USD

The Appy Trails Mark III is a tent-shaped tarp held up by a center pole (alternatively, suspended from above with a cord) and an additional outside pole at the rear holding up the rear suspension line, resulting in a fairly stable, steeply sloped structure. The manufacturer calls it "Mark III" (as opposed to its "Mark V" design) because it is designed to shelter up to three people. The manufacturer admits that this will require suspending the tarp from above, as the ground space needs to be shared in a way which is otherwise made impossible by the center pole. With the middle pole, the manufacturer states it will sleep "two with equipment". The structure is fully enclosed and accessible via a zippered door. It also provides two ventilation openings with mosquito netting, one of which can be shut with a hook'n'loop style closure.

The peak of the tarp, where the center pole goes The manufacturer suggests setting the tarp up from the front, by staking out the two front corners, then the center suspension and then the rear corner. This should create a self-supporting structure, making it easy to stake out the sides.

This was born out in fact when I first set up the tarp in our back yard. The provided stakes are short and round, so apparently not meant for difficult ground. I'm okay with that, the ground is rarely difficult in the woods around here and never in our back yard. The center pole has three sections, held together by an elastic cord - this was so easy to put together that my three- year-old managed to do so in a moment while I wasn't looking. The aluminium top of the center pole (alternatively, the carbide tip of a hiking pole) is inserted into a little round hole in the middle of a plastic cup designed to accept it (and, hopefully, making for a watertight fit). Once this is set up, creating pull on the setup by staking out the rear does indeed create a self- supporting structure. Its base, however, is that of a very narrow triangle and therefore susceptible to wind loads. Setting it up in the direction of the wind is probably easier than setting it perpendicular to the wind direction. I set it up in the latter manner, though with only a light breeze. The windward side suggested itself for staking out next by the way the structure swayed. Once I'd staked the tarp out all around, the resulting structure looked like a tent, though not with as taut a pitch as I desire.

Tip of the rear pole That's where the rear pole comes in. It's a very slender, solid bit of aluminium with a two-pronged tip. It's designed to hold up the rear line so that the direction of pull on the rear end of the tarp is slightly upwards of horizontal, rather than slanting down to the stake in the ground. Using this to hold up the rear line and using the plastic tensioning device on the rear cord allowed me to get a tense, taut pitch on the tarp. While it seems easy enough to supplant the center pole with a hiking pole, I'm less certain about finding a bit of wood to replace this rear pole (as the manufacturer also suggests to save weight). Which is unfortunate, because the tip of that rear pole is something I'd prefer not to have near any other bit of my gear. But it should easily go into the larger of my pack's side mesh pockets, so at 27 g (call it an ounce) I'm not worried.

The structure thus created provides more than ample space for myself and a lot more gear than I would care to carry, thank you. It looks to me as though two people should fit in as well, again with room enough for thru-hiking gear. I'm a little doubtful about being able to squeeze in a third - I'll see if we can test that during the testing period.

Looking at the front vent Details:
The Mark III has a front vent, which is backed by mosquito netting and a flap of silnylon held up by hook'n'loop fastener, in addition to an outside "roof" held up by what feels like closed-cell foam sewn into the front rim of the roof.

Looking counter-clockwise around myself inside the tarp, I next see the door. It has a small loop of fabric sewn to its "hinge" side, with a corresponding toggle on the outside which allowed me to roll up the "door" panel and secure it for a view. Nice.

The other side of the "door" panel features both a zipper and several patches of hook'n'loop fastener - I guess I can choose to close the door just with those patches, for some additional ventilation without letting in two much precipitation, should there be any.

Looking at the rear vent At the other end of the tarp I find a large rear vent, again with mosquito netting and a flap to close it.

Initial Summary:
I like it. It's reassuringly tent-like, and the sides are relatively steep, so I'm rather confident that two people shouldn't be a problem. I'm looking forward to trying it out with one or both of my little daughters. Stay tuned.

Field Report

Field Experience:
I've tested the Mark III both close to my home (elevation around 100 m / 330 ft) and in Sweden (elevation at Lake Erken 11 m / 35 ft), for one and three nights, respectively, each time with my older daughter. We've also spent (part of) a night in it near an unnamed Park&Ride spot close to a Swedish highway. Temperatures were between 5 and 10 C (40 and 50 F) for the first night close to home, and between 10 and 15 C (50 and 60 F) in Sweden. We had rain for two of the nights in Sweden. The Appy Trails Mark III also came along for a three-day, two-night excursion with both of my daughters into the German-Luxembourg Nature Preserve. However, due to circumstances described below, it was not used on this trip.

I love the small package the Appy Trails Mark III makes. I've used the recommended method of turning the stuff sack it comes in into a compression sack, and am impressed with what a small package I can end up with. At home, however, I usually put the stakes bag into the stuff sack and stick the poles into it as well. They then stick out of the stuff sack, but it means I keep everything together, which is good for my usual bout of last-minute "instant" packing.

I've found setting up the Mark III to be a breeze, particularly if there's a bit of a breeze going and I am able to utilize it when setting up. If so, I set up the Mark III facing into the wind. This allows me to stake down its front and set up the center pole. With a windload on the face, this results in a (relatively) stable triangle which makes staking down the rest even easier. In any event, setting up the Mark III was quickly accomplished. I still find that I need to move a few stakes after their initial placement until I'm happy with the pitch, but it's doable. So I'm good with that.

I have set up the Mark III both with the supplied pole (mostly) and with a hiking pole (once). While I had neglected to mark the correct height for the Mark III on my hiking pole, I was still able to achieve a decent pitch with a bit of fiddling about. I plan to use the Mark III on hikes in Australia and Africa during the Long Term Report phase, so I'm happy for this additional bit of weight-saving ability. I hope I'll remember to copy the correct height from the provided center pole to my hiking pole before I leave, as my new carbon fibre poles are a bit fiddly to reset.

This is one area in which I've had issues with the Mark III. I was generally camped on grass, and of course there was dew in the morning, and several times rain in the night. The resultant condensation inside the Mark III (with two occupants) was rather severe. While it did not rain on me at night (for which I'm grateful), even with both "windows" open the inside surface of the Mark III was covered in drops, which meant that I attracted some moisture to my sleeping bag every time I touched it.

Cooking in the Appy Trails Mark III The inside room of the Mark III may well depend on the perfection of its pitch (or lack thereof). I've found two people to fit with not much room to spare. There was some additional headroom, which is quite useful for equipment storage purposes. However, I do not see how I could get a third (grown) person in here, with or without the center pole, and still get some sleep. With the pitch of the tent sagging a bit over the course of a night (due to the ground around the stakes getting wet or the tarp fabric relaxing), two people side-by-side seemed to be about the most we could fit in there without necessarily having to contact the side walls of the Mark III. While my daughter is smaller than a grown-up, she takes up a lot of room in her sleep and anyway, because of the center pole I know I did not use up any of her room, so I'm rather confident that what I tested with a grown-up and a child would hold true for two grown-ups as well.

What I liked about the room was the way it was distributed. I personally feel that some items not really needed at night but still to be kept inside should go towards the foot end - the length of the Mark III is long enough to still give ample room at the front, and it really gets rather tight towards the pointy end. Even with a foot or so of room in the footbox of the tarp taken up, there is enough room at the head of it. As the door opens very far, I have not hesitated to cook on my stove in the door opening. For its small footprint (and very low weight!) it provides a generous amount of sheltered space for two - as long as lying down is all one wishes to do in here.

Weather Protection:
While I wasn't so happy about internally generated moisture mostly staying inside, I was quite happy with the way externally generated moisture was kept outside. The Mark III did not leak anywhere, and not a drop managed to get inside the tarp through the top center opening for the pole. I mostly kept the door of the Mark III held closed only by way of the patches of hook'n'loop fastener on them so as to promote circulation, and no rain got in that way, either.

Of course I realize that the Mark III is a tarp - it protects from moisture from above, not from below. Lacking a floor means that if the ground is wet when I set up camp, I camp on wet ground. This was the primary reason I did not attempt to sleep in the tarp with both of my daughters - the younger one has an old blanket-style sleeping bag which overlaps her insulation mattress. This means that on wet ground, the sleeping bag would soak up water. So we slept inside an old castle ruin instead (both nights of that trip).

With my older daughter in Sweden, I also had to set up the Mark III on wet ground, in the rain. That did not prove to be a problem and we slept allright, though of course we had to be a bit more careful getting into and out of our sleeping bags, to make sure they stayed entirely on our pads and away from the walls.

I may experiment a bit with using my second trekking pole to hold up the door of the tent when it's raining. Hadn't gotten around to that so far.

Summary So Far:
It's very lightweight and it works. Weightwise it is close to much simpler tarps. I'm appy with it.

Long Term Report

Field Experience:
I've done another overnighter with my daughter (close to home, elevation, temperature and weather all boring), and took it with me to Australia and Malawi. I slept in it for two nights in Lamington National Park, at an elevation of about 900 m (3000 ft) with temperatures between freezing and 10 C (50 F). There was no precipitation that I recall, but some dew in the morning. On the Mulanje Massif in Malawi, I did not sleep under the tarp, as I was hiking in a National Park and was told (by the guide who accompanied me) I should sleep in the hut provided for the purpose. I still set up the tarp just so I could see what sort of conditions I'd find under it the next morning. It spent the night, all by itself (boo-hoo) at an elevation of about 2000 m (6500 ft), temps as in Australia, but with a lot of wind and rain.

I'm very happy with my experiments regarding hiking sticks. In Australia, I used my collapsible Goat Poles (ultralight two-section carbon hiking poles) instead of the aluminum poles supplied with the tarp. I extended one of them to what appeared to be the correct height and used it as the center pole, with the grip towards the ground. The other pole I collapsed as far as it would go, and strung the rear line of the tarp through the wrist loop of the pole (which faced up), before staking it down. The rear pole did not require any further stabilizing elements and provided for a very nice, taut pitch on both nights.

I love that! It means that I only need to carry the tarp itself, stakes and cord in its stuff sack, for a total weight of 620 g (less than 22 oz). Which happens to equal the weight of my three-season down bag. I love that sort of symmetry on my gram-counting spreadsheet. What I love even more is that this is very, very little weight for an adequate shelter for me and another. As this type of shelter is mostly needed against rain in my book, and squeezing three people into it at the very least would require that all the equipment stays outside, I call this a two-person tarp. But it's an amazingly lightweight one at that, and I love the dual use option it gives me with my hiking poles.

Well, I had the definite impression that it was several degrees warmer under the tarp than it was outside when I slept in it on the Lamington Plateau. I was on very level ground, and managed (it wasn't hard) a very taut pitch, with all the sides of the tarp in contact with the ground, so that it acted very much like a tent. I was happy about that - the Lamington Plateau gets considerably colder at night than I was used to from the previous week in Brisbane (at sea level) and having these few degrees meant that I could leave off my balaclava (and I never sleep well with that thing on).

It also kept the critters away from my pack, for which I was happy (there was a flock of bush turkeys that infested the camp area).

In Malawi, the tarp still sat pretty when I went to check on it the next morning, and left a curious diamond-shaped dry spot on the otherwise sodden ground. I wish I'd slept underneath it, because I'm sure I would have been fine.

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Reviews > Shelters > Tarps and Bivys > Appy Trails Mark III Tent > Test Report by Andre Corterier

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