INTEGRAL DESIGNS SILDOME TARP SHELTER
TEST SERIES BY EDWARD RIPLEY-DUGGAN
||Catskills, New York
||6' 1" (1.85 m)
||215 lb (97.50 kg)
I enjoy walking in all its forms, from
a simple stroll in the woods to multi-day backpack excursions. Though by no
means an extreme ultra-light enthusiast, from spring to fall my preference is to
carry a pack weight (before food and water) of 12 lb (5.5 kg), more or less. In
recent years, I've rapidly moved to a philosophy of "lighter is better," within
the constraints of budget and common sense.
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
Manufacturer: Integral Designs
Year of manufacture: 2008
Manufacturer's Website: www.integraldesigns.com
Shelter color: Grey (Olive green and yellow are also offered)
Shelter fabric: 1.1 oz silicone impregnated nylon ("silnylon")
Listed weight: 1 lb 10 oz (740 g); this "excludes 2.2 mil cord + 4 stakes (4 oz)" (quoted from website)
Measured weight, all components (including tube of silicone sealant) in main stuff sack: 1 lb 10 oz (740 g)
Measured weight in main stuff sack, excluding sealant, cords, stakes: 1 lb 7 oz (650 g)
N.B. This is 3 oz (85 g) lighter than the website measurement
Measured weight of stakes and cords in small sack: 3 oz (85 g)
Measured weight of pole: 6 oz (170 g)
Measured weight of shelter body: 17 oz (480 g)
Manufacturer's stated interior length and width*: 8 x 5 ft (2.4 x 1.5 m)
Packed size (stated and measured): 3 x 3 x 20 in (8 x 8 x 51 cm)
Length of pole, folded, measured: 20 in (51 cm)
Type of pole: Easton aluminum (black) .340
Number and type of stakes: 4, Easton aluminum nail-type stakes with cord loop through head
Number of cords supplied: 4
*As the dimensions of the shelter vary according to how it is pitched, and apparently exceed the stated measurements, no attempt has been made to provide confirmatory measurements.
All parts of the shelter, as supplied
The SilDome arrived in good condition, housed in a silnylon stuff sack with cord lock (below the tarp body in the image above). The contents and appearance were much as I expected from the website. The only literature is a card describing the shelter and its features. I quote a portion of the text here, as it succinctly states what the SilDome is intended to be. "The SilDome is a minimalist tarp shelter that utilizes a single 12 ft shock-corded Easton .340 pole to provide its parabolic shape and allow the catenary cut 1.1. oz Silicone impregnated nylon to be tightly set up in a variety of configurations. It can be set up as an elevated dome day shelter, a ground level two-person sleep shelter with side ventilation or rolled back into an open-fronted awning wind shelter."
No warranty is stated on the card, but the website states "All Integral products are warrantied to the original owner against defects and workmanship. If a product fails due to manufacturing defect, Integral will repair or replace it at its option. Repairs due to accident, improper use, or wear and tear will be charged on a time and material basis."
Design and materials
The SilDome is quite unusual among true tarps in that it uses a folding tent pole housed in a sleeve for its main structural element, in conjunction with a webbing strap system, designed to maintain tension in the pole (described further on). This adds some weight compared to a pole-less tarp, but creates a structure that is closer to a minimalist tarptent. Since part of the tension in the tarp is provided by the pole/webbing system, this should make for quicker setup than a standard tarp. From preliminary pitching attempts, this conjecture seems accurate. I was able to erect the structure within a couple of minutes, both as a closed shelter and as an awning.
The silnylon body is carefully sewn and constructed. All of the edges of the tarp are sheathed in nylon. This should not only prevent any damage to the silnylon, but the heavier nylon will likely allow greater tension to be applied if all the edges of the tarp are pegged out. Though only four pegs are supplied, there are nine nylon loops along the ground edge of the tarp for pegging out (this includes two loops at the foot of the door, so it can be pegged open). Additionally, there are three tie-out loops (made of a reflective fabric, which is handy) around the radius of the pole sleeve, presumably so that the supplied guy-lines can be used in high wind conditions. Given all this, it's rather surprising that only four pegs should be supplied. My preliminary pitches of the tarp show that this suffices to hold the structure erect and moderately taut, but allows a good deal of flap at the midpoints of the sides, where these auxiliary loops are situated. Until I am confident that the shelter will work well under windy conditions with only the supplied pegs, I will be carrying a minimum of four additional pegs for further staking. There is plenty of room in the peg bag for these.
The erected SilDome, showing water resistant access zipper
Erected in the shelter configuration (as opposed to an awning), with each end pegged out (see image above), the footprint is a parallelogram. A surprising amount of the space within seems usable. Although I will probably be testing this (except perhaps in awning mode) as a solo shelter, there is more than enough space for two, though for use in this manner I suspect 8 staking points would be a minimum to ensure a dry interior if rain was even remotely a possibility. The height at the midpoint of the tent is determined by the tension in the webbing that connects the pole ends at ground level, but I was able to achieve 3.5 ft (1 m, approx.) without overly aggressive cinching of the buckle that controls the tension, and I found this height very comfortable. Access to the erected tarp is via a water resistant three-quarters height zipper. There is no drip-guard on the interior below this, but the outer surface has two flaps of urethanized fabric (integral to the zip) that meet snugly over the zipper teeth. I hope this is sufficient, as I have mixed experiences with such zips. This is one aspect I will be testing especially thoroughly.
The pole is secured by means of an internal sleeve made from the same silnylon fabric as the tent body. Each end of the pole has a projecting peg that fits into a grommet on the webbing strap, which is attached to the sides of the structure directly below the axis of the pole sleeve. As already noted, this maintains the pole tension. There are six grommets, three on either end of the strap, to allow a variety of pole positions relative to the wall of the tarp. A buckle can be used to fine tune the strap tension. On all four corners of the tarp, the silnylon is sewn to double-thickness, for additional strength.
As noted in the product specifications, a tube of silicone sealant is provided. Initially I will not seal the shelter, as I like to be able to determine where the worst leaks (if, indeed, it does leak) occur, and to pay especial attention to those areas. I will report on this in the field or long-term reports. None of the four supplied cords is pre-knotted. Depending on preference, they could be used with cord-tensioners, or (as I generally do), secured to the loop on the body of the tarp with a bowline, and tensioned at the peg end with a quick-release tautline hitch or a zee-line tied off with a couple of half-hitches. In brief, while massive knot-tying expertise is not required to use the shelter, to use it to maximum advantage, some knowledge of a few basic knots is necessary.
The SilDome as a wind awning
Above is a photograph of the SilDome erected as a wind awning. To this end, on the interior there are three nylon cord locks on nylon cords. These fit through the external guy-out loops (the bright glares in the image, due to their reflective coating), much in the manner of a button through a buttonhole. The tensioners are then slid along the cords to tauten the loop that's now wrapped around the half-awning. Once completed, the fabric is pretty much out of the way. Some swags hang down slightly, but I wasn't being terribly fussy when I did the setup in the photo, and I think that with more care a better result can be achieved, not that this is in any way crucial. I tied one of the supplied cords to the top guy-out loop to support the front of the SilDome. This arrangement handled some light morning breezes with aplomb, and I can foresee, come the cooler months ahead, first setting up my shelter in this manner while I relax, and perhaps eat. The SilDome does carry a warning not to cook inside, or pitch near a flame, so I probably won't want to use it as a kitchen shelter (besides, there will still be bears around over the test period, and I keep my cooking area away from my shelter for that reason).
So far, I find this tarp shelter very appealing. Despite being somewhat heavier than a simple pole-less tarp, the ease with which it can be erected, and the ability to use it in several modes, show great potential. My testing will evaluate durability, various other methods of use, how weatherproof the interior is, and any other issues that arise. It is 3 oz (85 g) lighter than the website would indicate, which is a pleasant surprise.
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
I used the SilDome on two overnight backpacks in the Catskills during the field report period. The first night was spent at an elevation of just under 3000 ft (914 m). A steady wind of about 15 mph./24 km/h started shortly after nightfall, though humidity was low and temperatures were moderate (about 45 F, 7 C at the lowest). The SilDome was set on a flat rock with soil at the margins, at the edge of a large open area (resembling an alpine meadow). A second night was spent a month later at the same setting, on a somewhat grassier area, with low temperatures just below freezing, but no wind. No rain was experienced on either trip.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
When pitched on rock for the first trip mentioned above, I attached cords to the loops at either end of the shelter and tied the cords out to adjacent shrubs and small trees. I was able to put a single stake in at each side, in addition. Because of the rocky nature of the site (chosen to minimize impact), I was not able to achieve an especially taut pitch. This resulted in some noisy (and rather annoying) flapping from the walls of the SilDome during the night, as the wind was persistent and occasionally quite strong. The shelter was entirely stable throughout the night, though some flexing and deflection of the pole was noted in heavier gusts. I had not used any guylines, nor were they called for by the conditions.
Because of the way the tarp was pitched, the breeze blew unimpeded over my sleeping pad. The sides of the shelter had ended up above the ground by a few inches (or centimetres), as I was on a sort of rocky dais. I had anticipated some wind would gust within the shelter in any case, and had bought along a sleeping bag rated for a lower temperature than I normally would for the conditions that evening. I prefer this to using a lightweight bivy sack for wind protection in milder temperatures. The sleeping bag in question is light for its warmth, and fairly breezeproof, although if there had been any rain or snow, I would certainly have packed a bivy in addition. I was perfectly snug in my bag, dressed just in shorts and shirt, but not (I felt) by a large margin.
For the second night, I selected an area under low trees, to provide some shelter from any night winds and a softer sleeping surface, and this time I pitched the shelter with eight pegs (the four supplied with the shelter, and four of my own). I achieved a good taut pitch. I had previously shortened the strap that controls the pole tension in order to create a higher ceiling (the easily adjustable profile of the tarp is one significant advantage with this shelter). There was no flutter to speak of this night, but that may have been because there was no significant wind this time. I did feel that I achieved a much better pitch than that first night when using eight pegs, although this many pegs are by no means practicable on all terrain.
I had no problems on either occasion with any accumulation of moisture on the walls, or even on the inner apex of the tarp. I would not call this any more than a preliminary assessment of condensation in this shelter, as the overall humidity levels were low on both trips. Leaving and entering the shelter is very easy, and doesn't result in brushing into the walls to any degree. As a result, even if the tarp becomes damp, I suspect that this won't be a nuisance. I hope to have an occasion to put this matter to the test in the coming months.
The pegs supplied provide a firm grip, and are extremely strong (I have other shelters that use these Easton pegs, and I have yet to damage one even in the rockiest soil). I did not have occasion to use the SilDome in its wind awning mode, but I hope to do so during the Long Term report. I have not yet seam sealed the shelter, either.
I do have some minor reservations regarding the SilDome. Least significant is Integral Designs' choice of a non-reflective black cord for tie-outs. This is easily rectified, of course, but I will not alter this during the test. Because it is so inobtrusive when in use I have twice caught my foot on tie-outs at night, though not with any serious consequence to me or the shelter.
The second concern is harder to analyze, and a lot more subjective. The weight of the SilDome tarp is not that much less than that of many tarp-tents with built-in floors. Most of these offer some protection against crosswinds, even it it is only netting. (It should be noted that the usable sleeping area of the SilDome is larger than most of these.) As with all shelters, and especially tarps, wind and weather working its way into the sleeping area is a concern, as is the quality of the pitch. I have already noted that I seem to need to carry a heavier sleeping bag than I customarily would if I was in a fully walled tent.
Now it's fall, a time of cooler weather in the hills. I'll probably bring a lightweight bivy sack to protect my down sleeping bag from moisture (and, if it snows, as it often does in November, spindrift), as well as to keep errant breezes at bay. I find myself wondering whether there will be any real reduction in my overall pack load (in comparison with various other lightweight shelters I own) when I use the SilDome. With the weight of a bivy sack (and/or a heftier-than-usual sleeping bag) factored in, I may even be carrying a few ounces more.
Despite these reservations, the SilDome is certainly a very elegantly constructed shelter, and (based on my preliminary field experience) it is easier to pitch, more adaptable to diverse terrain, and faster to erect than a conventional tarp, so it certainly earns points for ease of use. Most of my previous tarp camping has been with smaller silnylon rectangles, fully tied out, used in cold weather conditions. These can be quite awkward to set up.
This is an aspect of the SilDome that I will be examining closely in further testing: does it offer a clear, significant advantages over simple tarps? How is the performance in comparison to a tarp-tent of equivalent weight? Crucial to this will be how well it handles wind (and, weather allowing, light snow loads).
LONG TERM REPORT
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
For the past two months I have used the SilDome on three backpack trips (three single nights) in the Western and Southern Catskills, at elevations to 3,000 ft (914 m). Nighttime temperatures have ranged from 35 F (2 C) down to about 20 F (-7 C). I'm a little frustrated that I have still to experience rain while using the SilDome, and the snow on the peaks that I was hoping for arrived just as this report became due. In consequence, I will write an appendix in due course.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
The SilDome has continued to show its advantages as a quickly-erected shelter, handy under cool weather conditions. It has held up well in moderate breezes, but has not yet been exposed to strong gusting winds. I have pitched it in a variety of configurations and locations, on one instance (in the Western Catskills) on a small flat spot on a gently sloping hillside. I have generally deliberately allowed a significant distance between the ground and the edges of the tarp, to facilitate ventilation. This has sometimes necessitated careful placement of tie-outs.
Perhaps as a consequence of allowing plenty of airflow, I have continued to experience minimal issues with condensation, even on cold nights. I've been rather impressed by this, as most single-wall shelters of my experience tend to accumulate moisture or frost on the walls and apex under these conditions.
I have not used the SilDome as a wind awning, though it has seen brief use as a sun awning (in which role it was quite effective). The winds have simply not obliged, at least on those days on which I have had it with me. I've even carried it on a couple of day hikes with the intention of setting it up if it got gusty, to see how stable it was in this mode of use. It is certainly light enough to carry on a winter day trip for this purpose, and given how bitter winter's winds in the hills can be, I think this is a useful potential application. However, no winds to speak of materialized, leaving me frustrated. I hope to also address this in an addendum.
I am very pleased with almost every aspect of this tarp shelter, especially the ease of set-up in comparison to conventional tarps. However, one issue that I mentioned in the Field Report has continued to bother me. Although I have not yet had to utilize a bivy sack or bag cover (as I usually do when there's potential for blown snow or rain when I'm using a tarp), I have been carrying, and have really needed, a warmer-rated (and therefore heavier) bag than I would have used had I been occupying a tent.
I calculate that the weight advantage over a lightweight single-wall tent is significantly offset by this added weight, given the fairly substantial base weight of the SilDome. I do enjoy the sense of being unenclosed, and I have decided that the use of this tarp shelter is as much an aesthetic issue, especially under three-season conditions, as it is a practical one. I personally would not elect to use this shelter in the height of bug season (in my part of the world May through early July), but I do note that Integral Designs has just come out with a bug netting liner (the BugDome) for the SilDome, which should resolve this concern, though at an added cost in weight and dollars.
This is not, it seems to me, intended as a true minimalist shelter, and therefore it seems to fall a bit "betwixt and between" a true lightweight tarp and a lightweight single-wall tent or tarptent. With that qualification, it has performed admirably so far. It has been easy and quick to set up, far more so than a conventional tarp. In addition, it's far simpler to find a good site to pitch it on than with a tarp. I do find that it's necessary to carry at least a couple of extra pegs above and beyond the four supplied (as noted in the Field Report, I have used as many as eight), or else improvise, which is perhaps the better solution.
I will continue to use the SilDome for the near future, as I feel there are questions I have about its performance in wind, rain, and snow that I have simply not been able to address during the period of the test. I remain undecided about longer-term use. I suspect that I'll end up carrying it on those occasions when I am in the mood to use a tarp rather than a tent or tarptent. In practice, this tends to be the case in the fall and early winter. As such, this is perhaps a bit of a niche product for me, but it addresses that niche well. I may also buy the BugDome to extend the seasonal range.
My thanks to Integral Designs and BackpackGearTest for the opportunity to test the SilDome Tarp Shelter. This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org
Version 1. Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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