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Reviews > Shelters > Tarps and Bivys > Integral Designs SilDome tarp > Test Report by Mike Curry

INTEGRAL DESIGNS SILDOME TARP SHELTER
TEST SERIES BY MIKE CURRY
LONG-TERM REPORT
November 29, 2008

CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE FIELD REPORT
CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE LONG-TERM REPORT

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Mike Curry
EMAIL: thefishguyAThotmailDOTcom
AGE: 38
LOCATION: Aberdeen, Washington
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 11" (1.80 m)
WEIGHT: 225 lb (102.00 kg)

I've been backpacking, climbing, ski-packing, bushwhacking, and snowshoeing throughout the mountains of Oregon and Washington for the last 25 years. I'm an all-season, all-terrain, off-trail kind of guy, but these days (having small kids) most of my trips run on the shorter side of things, and tend to be in the temperate rainforest. While I've carried packs (with winter climbing gear) in excess of 70 pounds (32 kilos), the older I get the more minimalist I become.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer: Integral Designs
Year of Manufacture: 2008
Manufacturer's Website: www.integraldesigns.com
MSRP: US $200.00
Listed Weight: 1 lb 10 oz (740 g)
Manufacturer's Note: "wt excludes 2.2 mil cord + 4 stakes (4oz)"
Measured Weight: 1 lb 7.7 oz (670 g) (excluding cords and stakes)

Component Weights:
Tarp: 1 lb 1.2 oz (490 g) (before seam-sealing)
Pole: 6 oz (170 g)
Stakes: 0.4 oz (11 g) each (4 included)
Cords: 0.4 oz (11 g) each (4 included)
Stuff Sack: 0.5 oz (14 g)
Stake/Cord Stuff Sack: 0.5 oz (14 g)

Listed Dimensions: 8 ft x 5 ft (2.44 m x 1.52 m)
Measured Dimensions: 8 ft 10 in x 6 ft 10 in (2.69 m x 2.08 m), approximately 3 ft (0.91 m) high at center
(Listed Dimensions approximate usable space)

Pole Details: Easton .340 (8.64 mm) shock-corded pole, 12 ft (3.66 m) long extended, 20 in (0.51 m) collapsed.

Stake Details: 4 nail-type Easton stakes provided, 5 in (140 mm) length to head, 6 in (159 mm) overall length

Cord Details: 4 cords (guylines) provided, 1/10 in (2.2 mm) diameter, 12 ft 3 in (3.75 m) long

Stuff Sack Details: Silnylon Stuff sack measures 3 in x 3 in x 20 in (76 mm x 76 mm x 508 mm), smaller Cordura-type material stuff sack provided for stakes and cords.

Other Details:
Color tested is Olive Green
Advertised capacity is 2 person
Also included is a 1.5 oz (42.5 g) tube of SilNet silicone seam sealer

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

IMAGE 1
Photo Courtesy of Manufacturer
The SilDome arrived in its stuff sack with a small information sheet and a tube of SilNet silicone seam sealer. The stuff sack was made of the same silnylon material as the tarp itself. My initial impression in looking at the stuff sack was that it was very small, and very light. A squeeze toggle and cinch cord held the open end of the stuff sack closed, and operated smoothly when I opened the stuff sack.

Inside the stuff sack I found the tarp itself, the single pole, and a smaller stuff sack made of a Cordura-type material. The smaller stuff sack contained 4 Easton nail-type stakes (with white nylon cord loops attached to the tops) and 4 black nylon cords for use, presumably, as guylines. The smaller stuff sack closed by means of two strips of material sewn into the seam just below the open end, which are tied around the sack.

In looking over the materials, I was very impressed with the quality. The stakes are well-made, and of a type useful in my area for lowland rainforest use, where I do much of my hiking. The pole was very lightweight, and the sections snapped together crisply, mating perfectly at each joint. The cords appeared very utilitarian, and had no noticeable stretch when I pulled on them. After looking over the ancillary components, I turned my attention to the tarp itself.

The tarp itself is made of silnylon, and is an attractive olive green color, which I suspect will blend unobtrusively into most surroundings I will encounter during testing. The bottom edge is reinforced with a nylon binding tape, with stake loops at two corners. Connecting to the other two corners is a nylon webbing strap with 3 grommets and a pull tab near each end, and a sliding quick-release buckle near one end, to "optimize tension on the shelter once it has been set up" (taken from the manufacturer's informational insert). The pole runs through a sleeve that extends between the two grommeted ends of this strap, and the ends are inserted into the grommets, with tension (and thus height of the SilDome) adjusted by shortening or lengthening the strap.

IMAGE 4
Closeup of Waterproof Zipper
A zipper opening runs vertically from the lower edge of the tarp between one pole-corner and an adjacent stake-corner. From this midpoint, it extends approximately of the way to the ridge created by the pole. The zipper is of a type commonly known as "water-resistant zipper tape" which I have used on sewing projects in the past, and has dual zipper pulls. It does not have a fabric flap that covers the zipper, but rather uses two flexible waterproof strips that when zipped shut meet very closely along the centerline of the zipper, and are designed to shed water. My experiences with this type of zipper in our heavy rains have been mixed, and I look forward to seeing how it does in this application. At the bottom of the zipper opening are two reflective tie-outs. On the other three sides there are tie-outs also located on the bottom center of each side. In addition, there are three reflective loops along the arc created by the pole, which can be used both for staking out the open side when it is set up as an awning, and for securing the unused side when set up in this configuration. Securing the unused fabric is done by means of short cords sewn into the inside of the tarp with squeeze toggles attached (the toggles can be slid through the webbing loops, and the cord pulled taut through the squeeze toggle).

Overall, the quality of stitching was outstanding, with the sole exception of a wad of loose thread stitched down on the zipper seam. I cannot tell if this was a separate thread that got stitched down, or if it was a tension problem, but the seam appears secure, and I've decided not to mess with it for now.

READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

There were no instructions provided with the SilDome, but rather a small information sheet describing features, specifications, and set up configurations. It states:

"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 catenery 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."

Two photos on the card show the standard setup and alternative awning setup, and a few features already mentioned under "Initial Impressions" above.

After listing the tarp's specifications, it concludes:

"Set-up features include an adjustable webbing securing strap between the two pole ends to optimize tension on the shelter once it has been set up, there are also 6 grommets, which offer multiple set-up configurations. A lightweight waterproof zipper allows for easy entry into the shelter, and 8 reinforced tie-outs and nylon bound tarp edges ensure the shelter can withstand strong winds. Warning: Do not cook inside shelter or pitch it near a flame."

TRYING IT OUT

I took the SilDome out into my back yard for a setup test. I staked out one non-pole corner, and inserted the pole into the sleeve, selected the middle grommet to insert the pole ends into, and pulled the unstaked corner tight, and the SilDome popped up easily. After staking down the second corner, I noticed the door's zipper teeth were on the outside (with water-resistant zipper tape, the teeth should not be visible from the outside). After briefly entertaining the idea that the manufacturer had installed the zipper incorrectly, I came to the sudden and unpleasant realization I had just pitched the tarp upside down! While I had expected the pole sleeve to be on the outside of the tarp body, the sleeve actually goes on the inside. I made a mental note to remember this, as pitching this in the dark could be problematic if I forget the sleeve goes inside the tarp.

I decided to start over from scratch, as I was curious how long it would take me to set the tarp up from start to finish. My second attempt went much smoother, and the tension strap was no longer twisted (as it had been when I set it up upside-down). I would say my total setup time was about one minute. If dealing with a small site or wind (where I needed to stake out additional points) I imagine it will take longer, which I will pay close attention to during testing.

My first reaction, upon having it set up, was "wow, this thing is huge!" I climbed in an adjusted the length of the strap to optimize tension, and the center height was about 3 ft (.91 m), but the footprint was much larger than I anticipated.

Also to my surprise was that the footprint is not a diamond, but rather a parallelogram. I asked my wife and two children (ages 7 and 5) to come join me. The tarp appears capable of accommodating the four of us, and I look forward to trying that out soon. I did notice that with all four of us under the tarp one of us has to be positioned under the zipper opening for sleeping. I intend to evaluate the waterproofness of the zipper before taking my family out in questionable weather, just to be safe. Even with the rather low ceiling height, we were all able to sit and move around comfortably, so it could be a very lightweight shelter solution for our family.

I will add that the tarp edges did not come completely to the ground, but rather arched between staking points about 3 in (75 mm) above the ground. Even with this ventilation, the inside of the SilDome was quite warm in the sun. While the temperature outside was mild, it was almost uncomfortably warm inside, something I will monitor during testing.

IMAGE 3
Alternate Configuration, Showing Tensioning Strap
After herding my children and wife out, I guyed out the middle of the arch, disconnected the stake on the side I guyed from the tarp itself, and rolled the tarp back into the awning configuration. I can see where this might be very useful for me on nights along the coast in good weather, where a windbreak is nice, but rain protection isn't essential. I look forward to evaluating this along our coast strip.

The SilDome did, despite my adjusting the tensioning strap, still have a fair amount of movement in the 10 mph (16 kph) wind in my back yard. I did not, however, use any stakes or guylines along the sides the poles connect at. During field testing I will watch closely to evaluate how much work is required to stake and guy the tarp taut under actual field conditions, especially in wind.

SUMMARY

Overall, I find the SilDome to be a well-designed and well-constructed shelter that appears quite roomy for two adults, albeit with a low ceiling height. It appears to set up very quickly and easily, though it is rather easy to accidentally set it up upside-down.

I would like to thank Integral Designs and BackpackGearTest for the opportunity to test the SilDome tarp shelter. My Field Report will be appended to this report in approximately two months. This concludes my initial report.


FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

I have used the Sildome for a total of 4 backpacking nights (all in the Olympic Mountains of Washington State) and also while dayhiking as a wind and sun shelter on 4 other occasions.

Elevations have ranged from sea level along the coast to just below 5,000 ft (1,500 m) in the Olympics. Temperatures have ranged from highs near 90 F (32 C) to lows around 40 F (4 C). Weather has been mostly sunny, though several trips have been overcast, and light intermittent showers have been experienced, but no real rain. Our fall weather pattern has finally arrived, so I should have the opportunity to test the Sildome in significant rain (and hopefully snow) during long-term testing.

Sites I have set the Sildome up at have included sandy beaches, brushy coastal rainforest sites, clear sites in montane forest, and heather meadows in alpine areas.
IMAGE 1
Sildome as elevated sun shelter

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

The Sildome is rapidly becoming my fast and light shelter of choice. It is almost as light as my usual tarp shelters (even with the pole), yet I can set it up, in most situations, in under a minute once it's out of my pack. Before commenting on its performance in more detail, however, I would like to comment on my experience seam sealing the Sildome.

Seam sealing is the one thing I've found more difficult with the Sildome than with other tarp shelters I own. Seam sealing the Sildome with the silicone seam sealer provided is no more difficult than most tents I've seam sealed, however it is more challenging than a flat tarp due to the fact that what isn't curved because of the pole is catenary cut. To ensure good sealing, I coated the seams inside and out following the instructions on the seam sealer. I had to set up the Sildome, first inside out, then correctly, to be able to pull the seams tight enough to keep things tidy. Even giving it my best effort, there are still some ugly spots of sealer buildup, but as long as it does its job, I can live with the cosmetic drawback.

EASE OF SETUP

While I haven't had to set the Sildome up under truly adverse conditions, I have had to set it up in a stiff breeze of about 20 mph (32 kph) on several occasions. Even under these conditions, and setting it up in an elevated sun shelter configuration for the first time, it took less than two minutes once it was out of its stuff sack.

When setting the Sildome up on the ground, I stake one corner, insert the pole, and stake the other end. This takes under a minute, and it usually takes me about a minute to adjust it taut. Even without staking the intermediate staking points, it flaps very little in the wind when adjusted correctly with the tensioning strap and stake placement.

When setting the Sildome up in an elevated manner, I adjust my trekking poles to whatever height I want the Sildome above the ground and run the tensioning strap of the shelter through the straps on my poles. If the poles aren't securely in the ground, or it's windy, I'll guy out the trekking poles. After this, I insert the pole into the sleeve in the Sildome and guy out the two corners (the pole will fall to the first side guyed out, but is easily pulled back up when guying the other side out). This has been my preferred configuration (since I haven't encountered any real rain yet). The first time I attempted this it took me about four minutes, now it never takes more than two.

COMFORT

I have only used the Sildome on the ground as a solo shelter so far, but will have to opportunity to try it in this configuration with additional guests during long-term testing. It is quite roomy and comfortable for me as a solo shelter, with ample room for all of my gear. I have slept with an adult hiking buddy under it with it elevated approximately 20 in (51 cm) above the ground, and it felt very spacious, even with gear, and offered adequate protection from the very light rain we received during the night. Elevating the shelter provides additional headroom, which is the one thing I find lacking when it is set up on the ground. Though the limited headroom in the on-the-ground configuration hasn't bothered me, I suspect it may be a concern when shared with others. An added benefit of elevating the shelter is elimination of condensation, which I have experienced (albeit mild) when on the ground as a solo shelter.

IMAGE 2
Excellent light transmission
PROTECTION

As I've only experienced very light rain so far (in which it performed just fine), I can only speak at this point to its wind and sun protection. Set up with one side rolled up, it provides a very effective windbreak, even along the coast with winds of 20 mph (32 kph). As an elevated shelter, I have used it as a sunshade on a trip where I forgot sunscreen, and it saved me from what probably would have been a pretty bad sunburn. It does provide very good light transmission, even with the relatively dark green color.

DURABILITY

So far, so good. No rips, tears, or fraying, and I haven't babied the shelter at all, though I do try to take good care of it. Overall, the fabric and components look like they did when I received them, other than some minor soiling.

FEATURES

A couple of features have really stood out for me. First, the multiple guy-out points have proven very useful to pull the tarp taut (though were not necessary in the conditions I've encountered so far, it does make it easier). Using these additional staking/guy-out points, however, requires providing additional stakes and guy lines (which are not provided).

IMAGE 3
Reflective tieback points (plus one at zipper bottom)
I particularly like the reflective loops located on the arc created by the pole, which jump out at me at night with the least amount of light. Using a similar reflective material on the corner guy-out points is an improvement I'd like to see, as when used as an elevated shelter it is easy to miss where the corners are when walking around camp in the dark with a dim LED headlamp.

MISCELLANEA

The nail-type stakes provided with the tarp have proven to be easy to insert, easy to remove, and able to provide adequate holding power in most situations I have encountered. They hold exceptionally well in firm soil, and penetrate rocky soil at least as well as most stakes I've used. The guy lines provided are adequate, have no appreciable stretch, and seem to strike a good balance between weight and strength, however I would prefer they be reflective.

SUMMARY

Overall, Integral Designs has hit a home run in my book with this shelter, at least when I'm looking for a lightweight tarp shelter that can be set up quickly in a variety of configurations and sites, which is what I'm looking for in a shelter most of the time. While reflective staking points at the corners would be nice when using it in an elevated configuration, substituting the provided guylines with reflective ones would accomplish similar results.

I would like to thank Integral Designs and BackpackGearTest for the opportunity to test this shelter. My long-term report will be appended to this report in approximately two months. Please check back at that time for additional information.


LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

I have used the SilDome tarp shelter on 5 additional backpacking nights during the long-term test period. Two nights were on the coast strip of Olympic National Park and three were in Olympic National Forest, all on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. Locations included coastal temperate rainforest and montane forest in mountainous terrain in the National Forest. Weather on these trips was unusually dry for the season, with moderate rain occurring only one night. Wind speeds were negligible, except along the coast where breezes of approximately 25 mph (40 kph) were encountered. Temperatures ranged from overnight low temperatures down to 32 F (0 C), and daytime highs as high as 75 F (24 C).

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

The SilDome tarp shelter has continued to perform admirably during long-term testing. Overall, I have not changed my opinion since the field report, other than liking it more and understanding its limitations better. Conditions and experiences during long-term testing have provided some new observations.

One night during long-term testing I finally encountered a moderate rain that continued through most of the night. I experienced no leaking, including around the zippered entry. I had the tarp pitched low to the ground, anticipating the rain. While condensation was present in the morning, it certainly was no worse than I have experienced with other tarps. When the condensation formed drops (after rubbing up against the inside of the tarp) the drops tended not to fall, but rather to run down the interior walls of the tarp to the ground.

During my two nights along the coast I got to experience the SilDome's performance in steady coastal breezes. Winds in prior testing had been relatively intermittent, but along my last coast trip it was steady. The first night I staked only the four corners, and was annoyed by some flapping during the night. The second night, I took some additional time (less than five minutes) to make sure the SilDome was pitched taut, and that all guy points were secured either by stakes or lines. The added investment of time resulted in almost no flapping of the tarp during the second night.

I have now had the opportunity to test the SilDome with multiple occupants. It is a comfortable shelter for two, though there is not much room to sit up if the shelter is buttoned down to the ground. While I can squeeze my entire family under it (two adults, and two children, ages 5 and 7), it is a tight fit. While I might do this again, it would only be when the chance of precipitation was near 0, as my kids tend to roll right out from underneath it (although staking the intermediate points might help with this). Also, with all four of us under the tarp, movement is next to impossible, and a coordinated entry and exit plan is required.

One limitation that surrounds the SilDome is pitching height (above the ground). I generally pitch my tarps with about 6-12 in (15-30 cm) between the lower edges of the tarp and the ground (to help with condensation). You can do this with the Sildome, but it entails having the adjusting strap always in your way. I have found, for practical purposes, I need to pitch it on the ground (where the strap can be under me), or at least 2 ft (61 cm) above the ground, so I have room to move around comfortably. I consider this a minor inconvenience, however, given the fact that condensation hasn't been especially problematic. I pitch it high if the weather looks good, and button it down to the ground if it looks like it may turn ugly.

Finally, the SilDome continues to look great. No signs of wear or staining, and my only care has been to rinse it off.

SUMMARY

The SilDome offers a great balance between the convenience of a tent and the weight of a tarp. It is far easier and quicker to pitch than any tarp (or even tent) that I've owned, and provides a waterproof shelter that is comfortable for two. I think it would serve well as a "first tarp shelter" for people who haven't used a tarp shelter before, and are afraid of potential difficulties in pitching other tarps. It is also an outstanding elevated sun shelter. It has become my light and fast shelter of choice.

CONTINUED USE

The SilDome will be the first tarp shelter I go for on most of my spring, summer, and fall trips. I will likely use it on winter trips that aren't on snow. While slightly heavier than other tarp shelters I own, I'm willing to trade the modest increase in weight for the incredible ease of pitching. It will probably stay in my gear closet when I need to shelter more than two, but it may continue to serve as a shelter for my family during periods of good weather.

I would like to thank BackpackGearTest and Integral Designs for the opportunity to test the SilDome tarp shelter. This concludes my report.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.

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