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Reviews > Shelters > Tents > Tarptent Sublite Sil Tent > Test Report by Pamela Wyant

TARPTENT SUBLITE SIL

Initial Report - June 1, 2010
Field Report - August 17, 2010
Long Term Report - October 12, 2010
Follow-up Report - November 6, 2010

Tarptent Sublite side view

Tester Information:

Name:  Pam Wyant
Age:  52
Gender:  Female
Height:  5 ft 5 in (1.65 m)
Weight:  175 lb (79 kg)

E-mail address:  pamwyant(at)yahoo(dot)com
Location:  Western West Virginia, U.S.A.

Backpacking Background:

I enjoy a variety of outdoor activities, including backpacking,
day-hiking, car camping, and canoeing.  Most of my excursions
are confined to weekends, although I try to fit in at least one
longer backpacking trip each year, and have started section
hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT), accruing a little over 300 mi
(483 km) so far.  My style varies with the activity, but since
becoming a lightweight backpacker, I've noticed I tend to pack
somewhat minimally even on trips where I have more space.
Still, I don't like to sacrifice warmth, comfort, or safety.


Initial Report - June 1, 2010


Front view 

Product Information:

Manufacturer: Tarptent
Year of manufacture:  2010
Model:  Sublite Sil

Color:  Grey canopy, black floor
Fabric:  Silnylon
 
Advertised Weight:  680 g (24 oz)
Measured Weights (with tent lightly seam-sealed): 
658 g (23.2 oz) tent only
672 g (23.7 oz) tent & stuff sack
714 g (25.2 oz) tent, stakes, tent & stake stuff sacks

MSRP:  $209 US

Website:  www.tarptent.com

Specifications from tarptent.com:

Specifications
Weight
Sleeps
Height
Floor Area
Floor Width
Floor Length
24 ounces (680 g)
1
45" (114 cm)
18.8 sq ft (1.75 sq m)
26/37/26" (66/94/66 cm)
86" (218 cm)

Product Description:

The Sublite Sil is an ultralight enclosed shelter designed by Henry Shires of Tarptent.  The  Sublite Sil sets up with trekking poles, fitting the ultralight philosophy of multi-use quite well, and saving the weight of carrying poles that are only used for tent setup.  The Sublite uses four tent stakes (2 at the front & 2 at the rear) in addition to the trekking poles for normal set-up, and has an additional optional tie-out at the rear.  Tarptent also recommends running an apex line to the front corner stakes in the event of high wind.

Rear viewThe Sublite has been cleverly designed to minimize weight while providing space where it is most needed.  The black silnylon floor is widest at the shoulder/chest area, and slightly narrower at the head and foot ends.  The canopy has a high peak and drops sharply to the front and rear, and is wider at the front and rear, narrowing at the peak.  This allows plenty of space for me to sit up, as long as I stay centered under the peak area.  The foot end has two small struts built in that provide additional room so the rear of the canopy doesn't drop down to hit the sleeper's feet.  The peak has two metal tubes to hold the trekking pole tips.  The tubes are connected by grosgrain ribbon and fabric sleeves to each other and the top of the tent.

While at first glance I thought the tent was symmetrical, the entry side is wider, providing a relatively generous vestibule.  The vestibule has an additional horizontal seam over the non-entry side, where the mesh inner wall is sewn.  The vestibule has an entry zipper running from about 1/4 of the way down from the peak to the bottom edge.  The zipper is small and lightweight, and is covered by a Silnylon flap.  A small quick-release buckle holds the bottom edge together, presumably so gusts of wind or tension stresses won't cause the zipper to start to unzip.  The handles of the trekking poles fit into fabric sleeves at the bottom of the widest portion of the tent.  The sleeves are attached to the floor on each side by an adjustable strap that can be loosened or tightened to adjust tautness.  The rear portion of the vestibule can be pulled up to the top of the mesh section and tied with an elastic strap to allow for better views and ventilation when weather allows.

Rear vent adjusts with hook and loop


The inner wall of the tent on the vestibule side is mostly mesh, with only a small amount of Silnylon at the front and rear.  A 2-way zipper runs vertically from near the apex to within a few inches (a few cm) of the ground, then curves and runs parallel to the ground to end near the back of the mesh wall.  A wide strip of mesh runs around the entire perimeter of the tent, allowing for additional ventilation. The mesh can be adjusted so it is lying flat with the floor, or raised a bit for more ventilation by using adjustable cordlocks and clips inside the tent. The peak has a small triangular section of mesh at the front, with an 'eyebrow' style cover to allow venting.  A Silnylon flap covers the mesh at the foot end of the tent, and can be folded/rolled away for additional ventilation and views, fastening at the flap top on each side with a short length of hook and loop tape.




Set-up:

After reading the provided directions, which came printed on one sheet, set-up was fairly easy.  The first time I set the Sublite up was for seam-sealing, and I set it up on my porch, after dark, by the light of a headlamp, since my porch light was burned out.  This was the night before a weekend trip, so I was in a bit of a hurry.  Even under the less than ideal conditions, set-up was fairly easy and pretty much intuitive, although the tips on what to do first were helpful. 

Inner adjustment lineBasically, I simply had to stretch the tent out with the floor side down (duh!), prop up the rear struts and stake them out using pre-tied corner guylines that pull out at an angle.  (The struts don't want to stay up very well at this point, but that is fixed later.)  Next, I slip my trekking pole handles into the pockets at the center bottom (with tension straps loosened) and inserted the pole tips into the metal tubes at the top.  Releasing the poles (which immediately fall backwards over the tent, but stay in the attachment points), I move to the front of the tent, and pull out the front corner guylines, staking them through the attached O-rings.  At this point I can begin to fiddle with the fine adjustment to make the canopy taut, including making sure the trekking poles are spread out wide.

Actually, on my first set-up, instead of using the stakes, I used cord to tie the front and rear to my porch rails, which worked fine, although it didn't allow me to tighten the tent very well.  I have since set it up in the field, which was a simpler matter, working as described, and which allowed for a tauter pitch.

Seam-sealing was a little tedious, but not particularly difficult.  I used the recommended GE Silicone II clear sealer thinned with mineral spirits.  Instead of a foam brush, I used a small bristled paint brush (about 1/4" or around 1/2 cm), and it did a neat job.  Since I was painting in the dark, I will probably apply another thin coat later in case I missed any spots.

About my only problem with the Sublite at this point is that Tarptent's directions say to use trekking poles at least 135 cm (53 in) long.  My poles are 125 cm (49 in) long.  By pushing them right up to the 'stop' section, I can make them about 130 cm (51 in) long.  So far this seems to work, although I think the canopy may not be as taut as it would be with longer poles.  Hopefully over the course of the test I will be able to borrow a longer set of poles to see how that affects set-up, and make the decision as to whether investing in a longer set of poles would be worthwhile.

Size comparison to 2 L bottle

Initial Impressions:

The Sublite is about what I expected based on the website description and another Tarptent model that I own.  The styling is clever, allowing for a good bit of space for a shelter weighing less than a pound and a half (680 g).  (A little over that with the included stakes and seam-sealing.)  The design has a good bit of mesh, which I hope will help with condensation in the humid areas I frequent.  The vestibule is large enough to stow my pack and boots, and still be able to enter and exit.  And it packs small, just a little larger than a 2 L bottle.

At this time, my only concern is whether my slightly too short trekking poles will be sufficient to use with the Sublite in all conditions.









Field Report - August 17, 2010


Field Locations and Conditions:

Cranberry, Monongahela National Forest (MNF), West Virginia, May 2010 ~ 25 mi (40 km) weekend (2 night) backpacking trip.  Overnight temperatures were in the 50 F (10 C) range, humidity was high, little to no wind, light showers the second night.  I slept with the vestibule door zipped closed both nights.

Use and Conclusions:

Opened up ready to crawl intoThe Sublite is undoubtedly the smallest tent I have ever used.  I love the way it packs up tiny and is so light weight.  It was easy to fit in my pack with no real effort or forethought about how everything could fit around it.  And the weight (or rather, lack of weight) is great.

Setup is relatively easy and intuitive.  The Easton aluminum stakes provided with the tent do a good job in the loamy soil of the MNF, seeming to strike a nice balance between good staying power and ease of insertion.  The first field setup did require just a little fiddling to get the stakes set at just the right point to provide optimal angles to hold the rear struts at the right spot, but the second night I got it right the first time.

The tent has a roomy footprint for its size, with ample room on the sides and good length.  I do somewhat miss having more vertical height, especially at the footbox end and the mid-portion of the tent.  I experienced a good bit of condensation on the tent both nights of my trip, and found the footbox of my sleeping bag brushing up against the tent ceiling, wetting it out.  (This was compounded by the ground being slightly sloping, the norm in West Virginia, which made my bag slide toward the foot of the tent through the night.)  I was using a synthetic bag, so this wasn't a big concern, but I am a little concerned about future trips where I might use a down bag.

I also missed having quite as much room to maneuver around when sitting up.  Due to the way the tent is designed, only the center of the apex is tall enough for me to sit comfortably, so I had to be careful when changing clothes or packing up gear or my head would be bumping the walls.  This would cause a light spray of condensation over my sleeping bag and other gear in the mornings until I finally wised up and wiped the walls down with my bandanna before trying to finish packing.  Overall this was more of a nuisance than a serious disadvantage, and the trade-off of light weight is probably well worth any small inconvenience.  I should probably note that the rest of our group also experienced various levels of condensation, including those with double wall tents who still had condensation on the fly.  One nice thing about the small size of the tent is that there is not a lot of wall surface to have to wipe off. 

I hope to borrow a longer pair of trekking poles for my next trip, to see if this makes a difference in the condensation.  (Note to Henry:  a trekking pole extender that would work with the Sublite for shorter people like myself would be most welcome!)

The large mesh of the door wall was appreciated in the nearly breezeless conditions I experienced, as I could easily catch what little fresh air there was.  I was a little concerned how the Sublite would handle the rain, as the mesh wall on the non-door side is not very protected, but it did very well, and I did not experience any leaking from the light rain during the second night, even though I left the footbox open for ventilation.

The vestibule of the tent was room enough to handle my boots, camp shoes, water bladder, stove, and near-empty pack, keeping them all covered and safe from the rain.  I found the best way to store my pack was to lean it upright against the inner mesh wall, although this does block some of the air.  Since I hardly have anything left in my pack at night, I may try just storing it under my feet on the next trip.

Summary:

The Tarptent Sil strikes a nice balance between weight and roominess, especially on the sides and length.  The vertical height is good in the center, but rapidly drops off to the sides and ends, and requires a bit of re-thinking on my part to avoid continually bumping the walls as I change and pack.  While I experienced condensation, it was no more than I expected for a backpacking tent in the humid conditions of the West Virginia mountains in late spring.

Long Term Report - October 12, 2010

Setup in the Roaring Plains

Field Locations and Conditions:

Roaring Plains section of the Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia, September 2010 ~ weekend backpacking trip with 3 mi (5 km) of easy trail into a base camp, 13 mi (21 km) rugged day hike, and a 3 mi (5 km) return trip to trailhead.  Temperatures in the 40 F to mid 70 F range (around 5 C to 25 C).  Dry weather, with high wind the first night and high humidity the second night.

Use and Conclusions:

Makeshift pole extensionFor this trip I packed the Sublite near the bottom of my pack, just above my sleeping quilt.  Due to its tiny packed size, I could fit it sideways across the pack.  It took up much less space than my quilt, clothing bag, or food bag.

I set up in a little cove-like area among some trees, over top of some small brushy plants and grass.  Setup was a bit fiddly between getting the rear tieouts properly angled to keep the foot struts erect and placing and adjusting my trekking poles.  The first night I used my somewhat short trekking poles, but found I could create a makeshift extended by inserting a couple of twigs in the metal tubes with the trekking pole tips, which kept them from fully inserting.  This gave another 5 cm (2 in) or so of length to the poles, but of course made the connection a little less stable, and I felt it would likely not be optimal under dicey weather conditions.

Since weather conditions were dry and my pack was relatively clean I just placed it inside the tent once I unpacked it.  The footprint of the Sublite is amply large to allow sufficient room for a pack and all of my other gear.  For convenience I left a few items such as my larger water bladder, stove, and shoes under the vestibule, but I would have had plenty of room to have them inside if necessary, such as on a colder weather trip when I wanted to keep water from freezing and a fuel canister a bit warmer.

The Sublite has plenty of headroom in the center, however it rapidly slopes down both from end to end and from side to side.  While I could easily sit up without brushing my head against the tent, if I didn't stay perfectly centered, my head and shoulders would be brushing against the sides of the tent.  I found this annoying when trying to change clothes, pull socks on, or reaching down to adjust the foot of my quilt.  It was even more annoying in the mornings, because I found I had lots of condensation, which would rain down on me and my down quilt if I brushed the walls of the tent while pulling on layers or getting out of the tent.  I found I had to wipe down most of the interior with a handkerchief, and wring it out several times to avoid an unwanted shower.

Lots of condensation rained down on my bag

Even with care some condensation rained down on my bag from the Sublite walls

Since I was sleeping on a slight slope (common), I also found I tended to slide down toward the foot of the tent at night.  This resulted in my sleeping quilt wetting out at the foot - something I try hard to avoid since I use down.  On a positive note, the high peak of the Sublite and the sloped walls made a good place to hang the quilt with the footbox facing the sun to dry out the next morning.  Since we were base camping, and day hiking, another slight problem occurred.  I had to collapse the tent in order to have my trekking poles for hiking, and my bag wasn't completely dry yet.  However, worrying a storm might come up while I was gone, and since the inside of the Sublite was still damp with whatever condensation I hadn't been able to completely wipe up, I placed my quilt and extra warm layers inside a trash bag in the tent, relying on my clothing dry bag to keep them lingering moisture from the bag out of the clothing.  This worked fairly well, but even with a water resistant Pertex shell, the moisture had spread through the quilt from being inside the plastic trash bag, and I had to air it out further in the waning evening sunlight, as pictured below.  The quilt did not completely dry before the dew set in, but it was enough that I didn't feel any loss of insulation.  Still the situation really concerned me, as thoughts of what could happen if the weather were rainy, windy, and colder raced through my head.   Since it was only a two night trip, it wasn't a huge concern, but imagining what could happen if I were on a trip with several days of bad weather was scary.

Drying out my quilt

For the second night I borrowed a longer pair of trekking poles from a friend in order to see if the correct length poles made a difference. I had a bit more trouble fiddling with setting the longer poles, and in fact, found I could not fully extend them to the recommended 135 cm (53 in). When I extended them that far on the vestibule side, I found I could only extend them to about 110 cm (43 in) on the other side.  I'm not sure why this was, but perhaps the somewhat uneven ground came into play, or perhaps the cushiony brush underneath kept the ribbon that runs under the tent from fully extending.  The photo above with the drying quilt shows the setup with the longer poles, and it didn't really seem to make a difference as to the tautness of the walls.

I should note that other members of our trip also experienced condensation of various levels both evenings.  So, it wasn't actually so much the design of the tent that caused the condensation, but rather the weather.  The condensation on the second night wasn't unexpected, as it was nearly breezeless and humid, but that on the first night was, as it was very breezy and there had not been any recent rain - the ground and woods were very dry.

Front view, Roaring Plains

Summary:

After my last experience, I have concluded sadly that the Tarptent Sublite just doesn't work very well for me.  I plan to try it for one additional trip and report those results, however most likely I will not be using it beyond that trip, and plan to pass it along to a friend who backpacks in drier climates.

While I love the light weight and roominess of the floor, the sharply sloping walls just provide too much chance of wetting out my insulation with condensation, and presenting too large a risk of getting myself into a situation where I cannot stay dry and warm enough if the weather goes dicey.  For now, when I tent, I will go back to using another of Henry Shire's designs, the Double Rainbow, which I tested a few years ago.

Follow-up Report - November 6, 2010

October camping

The last weekend of October I used the Tarptent Sublite in a car-camping type setting.  I set up the Sublite around 6 pm, on soil that was rocky underneath and covered with a thick layer of grass.  The stakes were a little hard to get in the ground using foot power, and I later found I had bent two of the stakes in the process.   I also had a bit of trouble getting the trekking poles to stay in the pole pockets at ground level.  I finally solved this by shortening the poles a bit, sliding the pockets over the handles, and then extending the poles out.  As before, I noted that the top of the Sublite sagged inward a good bit, and I could not get the upper portion taut even by extending the poles.  I'm not sure if it's feasible to add a couple of strips of hook and loop tape to the upper portion of the tent, in the event that might create a place for water to penetrate the interior, but it seems something along that line would help keep the top from sagging inward.

Frosty footboxBy 7 pm was noticing droplets of condensation already forming on the vestibule door, even though I had not yet been inside the tent other than to spread out my pad and sleeping bag.  The moisture was apparently rising from the grass and earth as the air cooled.  The temperature dropped to about freezing overnight, but having brought a warm 0 F (-18 C) sleeping bag, I slept with the vestibule wall tied back for ventilation and the mesh door zipped closed.  In the morning both the interior and exterior of the Sublite were lightly frosted, with several droplets of water on the interior near my head and chest.  I actually liked the Sublite better in the colder weather, as I could simply brush the frost off without my gear soaking up moisture, and even with the vestibule door open it was nice and warm inside.

Final Conclusion:

The Tarptent Sublite provides good floor space (including a very nice vestibule) for the weight, however, the condensation issues in the humid climate I camp in prevent it from being a tent I am interested in using in the future.  I also found set-up a bit fussy for my taste, and while the peak height allowed ample space for me to sit up (and then some), the sharply sloping walls limited bending over without brushing my head and shoulders against the ceiling.  I will be passing the Sublite along to a friend in a drier climate.

Thanks to Tarptent and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test the Sublite Sil.



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