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Reviews > Shelters > Tents > AntiGravityGear TarpTent > Test Report by S. Nelson

ANTIGRAVITYGEAR TARPTENT
TEST SERIES BY STEVE NELSON
LONG-TERM REPORT
November 5, 2007

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TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Steve Nelson
EMAIL: nazdarovye at y..oo.com
AGE: 47
LOCATION: Kentfield, CA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 9" (1.75 m)
WEIGHT: 162 lb (73.50 kg)

I've been backpacking since I was a kid, starting in the Adirondacks of upstate New York and in nearby Quebec. I now live in California, backpacking in all four seasons there, with occasional trips back to the east coast and elsewhere. I like hiking fast, and transitioned to lightweight backpacking over the past few years. I also enjoy skiing, snowshoeing, canoeing, and aviation in addition to backpacking, so my gear gets exposed to a wide variety of uses and conditions. As a design and usability expert, I love analyzing and improving products; backpacking provides a rich arena for that.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer: AntiGravityGear
Product: 10' TarpTent
Year of Manufacture: 2007
Manufacturer's Website: www.antigravitygear.com
MSRP: US$229
Listed Weight: 20 oz (567 g) for basic TarpTent plus up to 1.5 oz (43 gm) for optional seam sealing
Measured Weight: 21 oz (595 g) including stuff sack and seam sealing
Color: Royal Blue with Black floor and beak (available in Kelly Green as well)
Optional Items Included for Testing (with price and measured weight): Seam Sealing ($30); StormFlap ($29, 1.3 oz (37 g)); 8 titanium stakes ($15 for 6 on site, 1.6 oz (45 g) for 8 sent); TreeLine ($18, 1 oz (28 g)); Poncho Villa ($79, 5.6 oz (159 g))

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

The AntiGravityGear TarpTent is a truncated tetrahedron design with a mesh-draped opening topped by a small beak on the truncated face. It pitches with a single trekking pole (or optional line from a peak loop), plus four corner stakes and four staked guylines. In the version I'm testing, the rear wall is 10' (3 m) wide, the opening is 7' (2 m) wide, the peak height is 40-44" (1-1.2 m), and the interior depth is 54" (1.4 m). It's a roomy one-person shelter that could be pushed to hold two in an emergency.

IMAGE 1
Front view of the AGG Tarptent


The TarpTent came packaged in a silnylon stuff sack. The tarptent itself is constructed primarily of silnylon and mesh, with a few webbing loops and elasticized ribbons with mitten clips. All materials look to be of good to excellent quality, and workmanship is excellent.

I was provided with some optional accessories for testing: a set of 8 titanium stakes; a TreeLine stuff sack with 40' (12+ m) of cord, used as a stake bag and also appropriate for bear bagging; a StormFlap (clip-in door for the TarpTent); and Poncho Villa poncho/vestibule (which I'll discuss in this report for its vestibule incarnation, and in a separate report for its poncho incarnation).

The TarpTent also came with the optional seam sealing, which I heartily recommend, as it was impeccably done:

IMAGE 3
A view of the meticulous seam sealing


I noticed one minor issue shortly after unpacking the TarpTent: the cordlock on its stuffsack's drawcord jammed open after one use, and I the flat drawcord material snagged on the spring inside the cordlock. AntiGravityGear has since switched to a smooth round cord, and sent me updated material for this and the drawcords on the Poncho Villa.

INSTRUCTIONS AND WEBSITE

The TarpTent came with a page of instructions that I found minimal - but AntiGravityGear has already issued an extenseive update, including tips on getting a good pitch and using the optional StormFlap and Poncho Villa as vestibule.

The AntiGravityGear website is excellent - I find the design pleasing, and the information thorough (I recommend perusing the TarpTent page for a very detailed description of this product). The only improvements I'd suggest would be a link to a PDF version of the instructions for products, and possibly larger product pictures, especially the pop-up versions.

TRYING IT OUT

I pitched the Tarptent in my backyard the day it arrived, testing out various configurations and examining the quality of construction and design. At first glance, the design is very similar to the older "Brawny Tarptent" (Dancing Light Gear) 9' (2.74 m) version of this tarptent I've owned and used with much pleasure for the past several years.

On closer examination, I noted several nice design refinements. Clips on the floor and netting allow creating a pseudo-bathtub floor for the shelter, and serve as attachment points for the optional StormFlap and Poncho Villa. There's a rubber band built into the front guyline to act as a shock absorber. Lines have been upgraded to Spectra, and the attachment points and loops look to be stronger. These are all welcome additions that leave the basic, successful design intact.

I found pitching the tarptent to be easy - though getting a taut, roomy pitch seems as challenging as it has with the older version I own. The shelter pitches most roomily when using additional sticks or poles to angle the side and rear guylines up before they head out and down. Here's a side view showing the pitch without the extra poles:

IMAGE 2
Side view of the AGG Tarptent


The mesh door is basically just a drape - clips and elastic ribbons can hold one or both sides of it open, and when closed, there's extra material at the bottom on which a pole or other gear can be placed to keep the opening somewhat sealed.

Next, I attached the StormFlap - it appears to provide some additional (though not gap-free) coverage and a modicum of privacy; not bad for only 1.3 oz (37 gm) of added weight. Here's a picture of it in place:

IMAGE 4
AGG Tarptent with the optional StormFlap installed


And here's a close-up showing how it attaches to the clips and elasticized line along the apex of the tarptent's opening:

IMAGE 5
Close-up of the StormFlap


Finally, I also tried attaching the Poncho Villa poncho as a vestibule. Since at the time the instructions didn't show how to do this (they now do), I winged it, attaching a loop in the middle of the body of the poncho to the top elasticized ribbon and hook in the apex of the TarpTent's opening. This actually worked fine, and left a bit of ventilation at the top of the vestibule:



As it turns out, it's recommended to hook the loop in the poncho body over the tip of the pole in the apex of the opening - that would create a more complete seal.

Takedown was easy - simply pull up the stakes, remove the pole, and stuff the TarpTent back into its stuff sack. The StormFlap and Poncho Villa both easily fit in the stuff sack along with the TarpTent.

TESTING STRATEGY

I'll be taking the tarptent out on numerous trips: from the Lost Coast of California to many locations in the Sierra Nevada, and probably a couple of trips in the Cascades and/or Adirondacks. While I'll use it primarily for solo camping, but will try it at least once with my girlfriend.

Points I'll be examining include:

- General usability: how easy is the tarptent to set up and adjust in the field, under varying site and weather conditions? How easy is the poncho to use both as raingear and as a standalone shelter, and are its loops (thumb and line) and its hood easy to use? (One of my issues with the original Brawny tarptent is that it was often difficult to get an even and roomy pitch - doing so often required using extra poles and stakes - even using sticks on the side pull-outs; is this true of the revised design as well?)
- Weather resistance: how well do both items protect against wind, precipitation, dust and other environmental factors; do seams, webbing or other elements leak; how easy is the poncho to wear in strong winds?
- Combined use: how well do the tarptent and poncho work together? How effective a vestibule does the poncho make; how easy is it to set up, enter and exit, and seal against inclement conditions? Can I use the poncho as a tarp for my hammock, as I've used other ponchos?
- Usability of space: how usable is the space in the tarptent (I found in the previous version that the slope of the back wall made much of the shelter useful primarily for gear storage only); can I sit up without brushing my head (especially when there's condensation on the fabric; how usable is the space created by the pitched poncho (standalone or as a vestibule)?
- Coverage: how well does the poncho cover me, how well does it cover my pack?
- Condensation: I call this out in particular as I've often gotten some condensation inside my older version of this tarptent and my silnylon ponchos; how much condensation will I get with these designs, and under what conditions? How can it be mitigated?
- Ventilation: how much ventilation and flow can I get in the tarptent; if the airflow is low, what is the effect?
- Bug resistance: I've found the "mesh curtain" of my older Brawny tarptent effective against bugs; do I find the same with this new version?
- Bathtub floor: this is a feature my current Brawny tarptent does not have; how easy to use, how effective?
- Packability: how easy are both items to pack; how small do they pack down?
- Use with poles: I have several different kinds of trekking poles, adjustable and fixed, that fit the length requirements for this shelter or which could be used with the poncho; I'll try all of those, as well as an Easton carbon fiber tent pole that's the right length, and see how they work. What works best in different ground/snow conditions?
- Accessories: how well do the stakes, lines, and seam sealing work?
- Durability: how do the two main items and their accessories hold up to use, especially in the face of the rigors of the Lost Coast and the High Sierra? I'll pay particular attention to areas I've noted as taking extra strain in this design, including silnylon loops and the receiver cup for trekking poles.

I'll document my use and experiences through pictures as much as possible.

SUMMARY

The AntiGravityGear TarpTent is a roomy, super-light, simple tarptent that comes with a number of clever options. It's well-constructed of good quality materials and backed up by a company that takes customer service seriously and provides a great web site. I look forward to giving the TarpTent a thorough workout in the coming months.


FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

I've only managed to get out twice in the past two months with the Tarptent and its accessories. Locations were in Marin and Sonoma counties in Northern California, with elevations from sea level to 2500 ft (760 m). Temperatures ranged from 55-85 F (13-30 C), and weather was sunny with nothing more than light winds on both occasions. Pitch sites were hard-packed dirt and sandy coastal loam.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

The Antigravitygear Tarptent has performed well so far - it's reasonably easy to pitch (more on that in a second), provides good shelter from the admittedly mild conditions I've experienced so far, and is elegant in its simplicity.

I've not yet been able to get a consistently taut pitch - and believe this may have as much to do with variations in ground level at the spots I've picked as with anything specific to the Tarptent. I can't seem to get a good pitch so far unless all four corners are on one plane, though I will continue to practice and learn.

At one site I didn't have access to extra sticks to pull out the sides, and found that this made a difference in interior volume (though I still had plenty of room to spread out without my sleeping bag touching the sides of the shelter - there's plenty of room inside, with abundant space against the back wall and corners for gear.

I really like the mesh curtain entrance - it's easy to get in and out fast, which is especially important in buggy territory. As with my earlier version of this Tarptent, I weight down the bottom of the mesh with my second pole or other gear, and have had no problem with critters getting in so far.

One one occasion I pitched the Tarptent with the optional StormFlap; on the other, with the optional Poncho Villa as a vestibule. Both are easy to attach; the poncho requires use of an extra stake, and I wonder if it might be possible to rig a line to attach it to the main front guyout instead (that line is quite long and comes out at a shallow angle, putting it some distance from where the poncho's corner is best staked). The instructions say to attach the top loop of the poncho to the pole tip inside the receiver cup, but I like my previously-noted "mistaken" setup as well - hooking a poncho loop through the line and hook that hangs from the shelter's apex provides additional ventilation.

The StormFlap has gaps at the bottom corners in addition to the area of mesh left exposed above it. I've not been in any precipitation or strong winds whatsoever, so I can't yet comment on the flap's effectiveness for that; it does serve as a "blind" that filters a bit of sunlight and blocks the view in and out.

So far conditions have been dry and warm enough that I've seen no condensation on the inside of the Tarptent - but given my past experience with single-wall silnylon shelters, this is something I will continue to monitor.

The tent is easy to pack and carry - it fits comfortably into its stuff sack along with the stake bag and StormFlap. Since it has no poles, and the packed volume is pretty minimal, it's convenient for stuffing into any corner of my packs, as well as lashing under the straps on the outside back of the pack I used for my second trip.

I can't say I've put the Tarptent through hard use so far, but most components remain in excellent condition save the frayed lines I mentioned in my initial report. I did manage to bend a titanium stake when pounding it into hard ground using a rock (a reminder that ultralight gear requires care in use). I also note that the pole tip receiver cup at the apex of the shelter seems to slip around a bit, and that this arrangement puts a fair amount of tension on the fabric over the apex.

SUMMARY

The Antigravitygear Tarptent and its accessories have performed well in the mild conditions I've been presented with so far. I particularly appreciate the roominess of the shelter for its weight, along with its simplicity and ease of use.

LONG-TERM TEST STRATEGY

I have more extensive trips planned for the coming two months than the past two, including ones at high altitude in the Sierra Nevada, where I hope to encounter a storm or two. Campsites there will also present additional challenges, with some offering only bare granite and rocks.

Other than seeking out more challenging conditions for the Tarptent and its accessories, I will continue to monitor all the points noted in my initial report, and to gain further skill at pitching it in various ground and site conditions.


LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

During the last two months of testing I used the Tarptent in the Adirondacks and in Marin County, California. Campsite elevations ranged from 700' (210 m) to 3,200' (975 m), and conditions from relatively dry to wet and rainy. Ground conditions were dusty forest duff and very soggy, rocky soil.

Antigravitygear Tarptent with Poncho Villa
Antigravitygear Tarptent near Feldspar Brook, with Poncho Villa vestibule flipped open


PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

With four months of experience under my belt, I must say I like the AntiGravityGear TarpTent overall. Advantages include a capacious interior and accessories that add flexibility and additional space. I had abundant room inside for me and my gear, and was able to sit up and get dressed without too many convolutions (my head does brush the top of the shelter, however, and when it's soaked with condensation, I get my hair or cap wet).

Also, once I finally learned out how best to set it up (stake out the two rear corners, prop up the apex with a pole and stake it out, then stake out the two frount corners), I found setup a fairly fast and easy task. I almost always have opted to use the additional lines on the sides and rear, often with sticks to raise the line up and away from the roof, as this provides additional volume and stability.

The included stuff sack is a bit short and low in volume for my tastes - this results in a fairly hard package once the TarpTent is shoved inside (especially with the Storm Flap), though it cinches closed just fine and I don't find it troublesome to get the TarpTent into it. However, I'd appreciate a slightly larger bag, which would make for a softer package that could be packed a bit more flexibly inside or on backpacks.

A downside of most single-wall shelters is that they can gather significant condensation, and the AGG TarpTent is no exception. In fact, I'd say that, due to its single open side, it is more affected by condensation than similar shelters I've used that are open (with mesh) on more than one side.

During my trip to the Adirondacks, I experienced an intermittently heavy overnight rainstorm while camped in some already soggy conditions near a brook. The inside of the TarpTent developed a lot of condensation, and then that water was splattered all over me, my gear, the floor of the TarpTent, and my quilt as heavy rain pelted the outside of the fabric. Here's a picture of the floor of the TarpTent in the morning - in addition to being covered with water droplets splattered from the inside roof, it appeared and felt soaked through, even though it's made of waterproof Silnylon. I can't say for sure if this was the case and water had soaked through from under the tent or from accumulated condensation, or if it was simply an illusion, but it sure felt wetted out. I'll keep an eye on this in the future.

Wet floor inside TarpTent


Using the optional Poncho Villa as a vestibule is a mixed bag; the poncho provides useful, dry storage space outside the body of the TarpTent, but the area where the poncho connects to the bottom corners of the entry allowed in rain during my Adirondacks trip. The rain was heavy at times, though I don't believe that there was a particularly strong wind; nevertheless, significant water splashed inside through the mesh, wetting out various items that I'd stacked inside the TarpTent to try to keep the mesh curtain sealed.

The Storm Flap suffers from the same issue as the poncho - gaps near the bottom corners of the shelter. Here's a picture of it attached to the TarpTent (with an upper corner released):

Storm Flap


I wonder if a better design might be to extend a flap of fabric out from the sides of the TarpTent near where the corners stake out, with the flap or poncho nesting inside of that - but I'll leave an actual solution to AntiGravityGear, should they choose to address this.

Durability of most components of the tent has been good, though I do wonder why the Silnylon floor appeared to wet out at the Adirondacks site. The white spectra-style lines used for the tie outs came to me with a few snags, and developed more over time; I wonder if another material might be a better choice, though the snags so far appear just to be aesthetically unappealing and have caused no problems in performance.

SUMMARY

The AntiGravityGear TarpTent is a single-wall shelter providing the greatest floor area to weight ratio in its class. It's truly spacious, it's well-made, and it offers some intriguing options in the Storm Flap and Poncho Villa. I recommend it and will continue to use it, especially for drier conditions and for mild winter camping.

That said, I think AntiGravityGear could move this design to a whole new level by improving the way the TarpTent and Storm Flap or Poncho Villa connect, slightly lengthening the mesh, and considering how to add additional perimeter or peak ventilation. I'd welcome these changes, which would greatly expand the range of conditions where this shelter could shine.

CONTINUED USE

I expect to continue to use the TarpTent for many of my trips, especially those in dry conditions, and in winter when I don't expect wet precipitation or strong winds.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2007. All rights reserved.

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