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Reviews > Shelters > Tents > Terra Nova Laser Competition > Test Report by Coy Ray Starnes
Terra Nova Laser Competition Tent
Test Report Series by Coy Starnes
Initial Report: May 9, 2008
Field Report: July 21 2008
Long Term Report September 23, 2008
Front view of the Terra Nova Laser Competition Tent
I live in Northeast Alabama. I enjoy biking, hunting, fishing, canoeing, and most other outdoor activities but backpacking is my favorite pastime. I enjoy hiking with friends and family or solo. I hike throughout the year and actually hike less in the hot humid months of summer. My style is slow and steady and my gear is light. However, I will sacrifice weight for comfort and durability. A typical 3-season load for me is around 20 lb (9 kg) not counting food or water.
The Laser Competition is an ultralight, one and a half person, three season tent. It is not a hoop tent nor an A-frame but sort of a cross between the 2. It is not free standing but utilizes a center pole that arches over the tent from side to side in the center and guy lines to pull each end of the tent out from this center pole. I will call the sides the front and back during the report but keep in mind that the sides are longer than the ends and the front side is where the doorway opens and also where the fly extends to form a porch. The tent has an outer fly and an inner tent body. Terra Nova calls this system a 2 skin tent. The inner tent can be removed out from under the fly by simply unhooking several toggles. Mine came already connected to the fly and I have not tried to separate them yet.
The fly can be used alone but the inner tent can not due to the fact that the center pole only holds up the fly to which the inner can be connected. Terra Nova does not specify what the fly is made of but it looks like some type of very light nylon, perhaps silnylon. The inner tent is also made of a very light weight material. Terra Nova only says this about the materials used. "Terra Nova's range of specialist tent fabrics are engineered to be Best in Class and out perform existing materials. This focused development allows our Superlite tents to break World Records and our Endurance tents to be stronger and more waterproof." I later found out from the manufacture that "The Laser range uses a silicon/silicon nylon fabric, where a silicon based coating is applied to both sides of the fabric. This allows us to to use very light fabrics and still maintain excellent strength and waterproofing characteristics".
Some folks might want to know exactly how big the tent is while others would prefer to just see a picture. I will attempt to provide both. The first picture below shows me sitting with my feet out the door but my head is inside in the tallest area inside the tent. I am 6 ft (1.8 m) tall but long waisted. For example, I usually have to adjust mirrors up in a car driven by folks taller than me. My hair does brush the top of the tent when sitting on my 3 in (7.6 cm) inflatable sleeping pad but not when setting in it with the floor bare. I will add that the camera angle may have made the tent look smaller that it really is. I do know that when I set it up I was surprised at how big it looked. Of course a small tent can be an advantage when finding a place to set up.
Author sitting in tent
And squatted at the back of the tent
I measured the highest point from floor to ceiling and got 35 in (89 cm). It then gradually slopes down to around 14 in (36) tall on both ends. The inner tent is 84 in (213 cm) long and 37 in (94) wide in the middle but gradually tapers in to 24 in (61 cm) wide near the ends. It has 2 short walls that end in a point at both ends but the 24 in (61 cm) wide section is some 36 in (91 cm) from the middle with the 2 short walls extending about 9 in (23) past this point. They are held up by the black ventilation cords which connect the tent inner to the fly at the ends. This is also where the 2 short carbon fiber poles that measures about 17.5 in (44 cm) tall are located (one at each end). When erecting the tent these should lean outward slightly. They connect the bottom end of the inner tent to the pull out on the fly sheet located about 13 in (33 cm) up from the bottom edge of the fly. The ventilation windows are at each end each make up 1 of the 2 short end walls at each end of the tent. I know that don't make much sense so here is a picture.
end vent window (the same on the other end)
The inner tent features a large door which follows the same basic shape as the front side of the tent. Picture a D on its back...now make it more like an A but curved. Anyways, it measures 5 ft (1.52 m) long at the bottom and is arched to a height of 32 in (81 cm) in the center. A large portion of the door is made of a black mesh which does allow good viewing when closed (if fly door is open). The door for the flysheet simply zips down at the middle. To open it, release the small plastic buckle (the website video showed a metal hook) and unzip it. The flysheet can then be pulled back to expose half of the inner tent door. It can be hooked with a small toggle so it stays pretty much out of the way. By the way, the tent fly door opening is positioned far enough out from the inner tent doorway that even when pulled up and held open, the inner tent doorway is not exposed to straight down rain. I will have to wait and see if I can leave the flysheet door open in any kind of blowing rain though.
The fly is about 2 in (5 cm) taller then the inner tent at the center but even more so at the ends. It measures about 5 in (13 cm) above the tent at the ends and also extends about a foot (30 cm) past each end of the inner tent. The fly extends about 6 inches (15 cm) past the inner tent on the back side and 20 in (51 cm) on the front. Of course the 20 in (51 cm) area is also what forms the porch so wider is better.
The 8.55 mm DAC™ Featherlite pole is an 8 section shockcorded affair that measures 9' 4 " (2.84 m) in length. Terra Nova states that it saves approximately 10% on last years poles and when used with the complementary waterproof hood the tent is guaranteed waterproof.
The 12 tent pegs are titanium and measure about 5 in (13 cm) each. The pegs have their own small stuff sack as does the single pole and the hood cover but all fit into the main stuff sack with the tent.
The main stuff sack measures 18 in (46 cm) long with a diameter of approximately 18 in (46 cm). Here is the stuff sack pictured with a 1L (34 fl oz) SIGG water bottle.
tent and all components in stuff sack
After setting up the tent, I am going to say that the website and accompanying video pretty well described the tent. I am very impressed with the apparent quality of workmanship as the overall construction appears to be in good order. All seams look well sewn, cords seem to be securely attached and the zippers all functions smoothly. The fly is rather large and makes the tent look bigger than it actually is. A lot of this is due to the large porch along the front side of the tent. In fact, if the inner tent matched the outer fly I would say it is about the same size as most compact 2 person tents. Crawling in the tent is easy enough but once inside it is immediately apparent that this is still a fairly small tent. I tried to imagine sharing it with another hiker my size and it was not a good visual. But again, I am a fairly big guy so no surprise there. Bottom line; I found the tent to be what I expected after reviewing it on the manufacturer's website.
Reading the Instructions
The booklet provided gave 2 pages of general tips, 2 pages of care instructions and then several pages showing how to erect each model tent in the Terra Nova lineup. I found the setup instructions well written and illustrated. And for those who don't like to read, Terra Nova provides a short video on erecting the Laser Competition on their website.
The material covered in the booklet is way to much to cover here but suffice it to say, it covered just about everything; from where and how to set up, pitching in wind and or rain, minimizing and dealing with condensation, cooking in porch (they don't advise cooking inside the tent period), to how to clean after a trip. I found the general tips quite informative; however, I doubt I will be able to follow one piece of advice which was to avoid setting up under trees as falling tree sap will be very hard to clean. I just seem to end up camping in deep woods most of the time rather than in nice fields or clearings. Another interesting tidbit that would apply to any folding tent pole was to start folding in the middle to avoid overstretching the shockcord. And one last interesting note, the instruction booklet said the Laser and Superlight ranges are not supplied with fabric swatches and glue but mine came with 4 fabric swatches (floor, liner, fly and mesh) but no glue.
I wanted to give everyone at least a general idea of how easy this tent is to set up so I took a short overnight hike to see how things would go. I am happy to report that the instructions were spot on. Before leaving home I rummaged through my Tyvek scraps and didn't find one long enough but did find an old lightweight 5 x 7 (1.5 x 2.1 m) tarp so I packed it. It is also a little short but I should not be lying past the ends if I put it down with the long side oriented like I will be lying in the tent. Once I arrived at my campsite it only took me a few minutes to find a good level spot and once I had my ground protector sheet in place, setup went fairly smooth. That is until I was putting in a peg and almost jabbed a tiny snake!!!
But back to setup. I wasn't quite sure if I should insert the pole first or peg out the tent because in the general tips section it said to peg out the groundsheet before inserting the poles. Now it did say groundsheet so I am assuming they might expect me to peg my groundsheet. I don't normally do this and did not have any extra pegs for the groundsheet. However the instructions (and the online video) for the Laser Competition clearly said to thread the pole (only pole) through the flysheet first so I chose that route. Then it was a simple matter to peg the ends of the inner tent first, the ends of the flysheet next (this pulled the center pole into the upright center position) then the remaining guy lines around the perimeter.
I did loose one peg right off the bat. When I went to the other end to peg the flysheet I mush have overdone it trying to pull out a lot of the sag and the one on the other end popped out. I'll explain this sag in a bit. Anyways, I did find it the next morning but it meant I was one peg short for the night so I couldn't put the pole hood on for the first nights testing. Good thing it didn't rain. I will say that while the titanium tent pegs do save a lot of weight, they are not ideal for the loose forest duff I usually camp on. Seriously, I can usually dig down 6 inches (15 cm) or so with my bare hands, which is what I had to do the get the tent pegs to hold, and even then it felt like I was jabbing into sawdust. But to be fair, no one style tent peg is ideal for all conditions.
On the sagging I just mentioned; I could not get it to come out until I went under the flysheet and reached around the tent body to the end where an adjustment cord is located. I found that by loosening the black cord it let the tent fly pull out farther at the end which eliminated the sag. The black cord is really a light strap (more like a ribbon) that goes from the top of the tent end to where the fly is pulled out at the end. It is held by a small adjustable holder that works much like the fastener on a tick collar (for a dog). This is all outside the tent (but under the fly) where it is not really convenient to reach but now that I have it set it may not need adjusted often. And for the record, the Laser Competition venting cannot be adjusted from the inside of the tent and the only way of increasing the venting is to manually raise the ends of the flysheet
I went ahead and cooked supper as it was getting dark fast. The next morning I was up at daylight and cooked breakfast, then went about finding the missing peg. Once I found it I put the pole hood in place. I first tried to tie each individual string around the corresponding loops on either side of the raised pole sleeve but could not get it to tie down very close so I experimented and soon discovered it was much easier to just thread both and then tie both together like a shoe lace.
So besides setup, what else did I learn? Actually, after setting it up I didn't have any unusual experiences. I fiddled with the zippers and checked how the porch door could be adjusted. And how did the overnight go? Well, I did not see any condensation overhead on the inner tent and the fly did not have any dew on it the next morning but then neither did the ground. It was a balmy 71 F (22 C) when I first set up the tent but 65 F (18 C) when I crawled in my sleeping bag at around 9 PM. Actually, I was to hot to get all the way inside my bag so I started out with on leg in the bag. However, when I did wake up at 3 AM, I got inside but still left it unzipped because it only dropped to 51 F (11 C) overnight and the bag I was using was a 15 F (-9 C) bag.
I found the tent was plenty big for me and the porch big enough for my Gregory Keeler pack which has a big stiff waist belt. I kept most of my stuff on the floor along side my bag on the back side of the tent so that I could get up without having to crawl over all my gear. This included my knife, water bottles, toiletries, a few snacks, my headlamp, a small radio and a book. I didn't see any bugs inside the tent and more importantly, no snakes!
I plan to use the Laser Competition as my only shelter for the duration of this test. It should continue to get warmer as summer approaches so I am curious as to how well it does? The ventilation system seemed to work fine the first night but later on it may well be more humid besides much hotter. I don't usually wish for rain on a backpacking trip but I would like to at least spend one night in some heavy rain and wind to see how the tent handles rougher weather.
Field Report: July 21, 2008Testing Locations and Conditions
Laser Competition on recent overnight bike tour
I have used the Laser Competition on 3 more overnighters for a total of 4 nights thus far. Three were short overnight backpacking trips and the fourth was on a 29 mile (47 km) overnight bike tour to a local State Park.
The first overnighter was detailed in my Initial Report. The second overnight hike was very nice with a high of 73 F (23 C) hiking in and a crisp 51 F (11 C) early the next morning. The third overnighter was much warmer. I intentionally made it a short 2 mile (3 km) hike each way because it was too hot to hike much. It was 88 F (49 C) when I set out hiking at 6 PM and still 81 F (45 C) when I turned in at 10 PM. It slowly cooled down to 77 F (43 C) by 5 AM and 81 F (45 C) by the time I got home around 9 the next morning. It did rain some suring this hike. These hikes were in dence forest which made the ground where I set up camp very soft. The last overnighter was even warmer but it did cool down more. This was a bike ride/camp out that started at 92 F (33 C) but cooled down to 86 (30 C) by the time I set up camp at 6:30 PM and 68 (20 C) by 5:30 AM when I first got up the next morning. This campsite was in an open area with scattered trees and the ground was much harder.
Field Test Result
Before I go into what happened on each trip I will give a few general observations. First off, the Laser Competition got easier to set up each time I used it. No biggie but, I sometimes found the straps at the base of the tent that hold the inner tent in place were a bit out of place and I needed to work a bit to get everything lined back up as I prepared to set up. Also, the two rods at each end of the tent sometimes made packing a little tricky because they limited stuffing the tent. In other words, when pushing it all in, I ended up with the bottom of the stuff sack less full because the parts of the fly and inner body connected to those rods would only push so far down. This was somewhat negated by rolling the whole tent into a somewhat even bundle end to end before attempting to stuff it.
When setting up it was helpful to remove the pole sleeve hood because the pole tended to jamb in the sleeve where I had tied the hood in place. I was hoping to just leave it on permanently. I did set it up once with it in place so it can be done.
Once darkness fell I found the guy lines are not overly in the way and besides that, they show up very well in my headlamp light. This photo shows how well they show up for the flash from my camera. I am surprised that the tent itself does not show up more in the photo!
guy lines reflecting in the dark
And last, I found that at 6 ft (1.8 m) tall I barely had room to stretch out. Due to the narrowness of the ends it was not possible to sleep slightly diagonally to give myself more foot and head room. My feet would bump the sides of the tent every time I moved and I would bang the head end when sitting up or when swatting at skeeters. More on that later. I will say this thought, despite banging around on the ends of the tent, I never saw any signs of over stressing the tent. And even when the fly had a lot of condensation on it, I didn't get my feet or arms wet when brushing against the inner body.
The first three overnighters were all similar in that I really didn't have much condensation build up under the tent. I noticed a little dampness on the bottom of the ground cloth, especially when I set up on wet ground. On the last overnighter I forgot to pack my ground cloth which may have contributed to the extra condensation I experienced.
On the June 6th overnighter, I was able to keep the tent door zipped up and had no trouble with skeeters. On the July 4th overnighter it was very hot and humid and I found I had to open the inner tent door all the way just to be able to go to sleep, despite just using a light fleece blanket. I played with zipping the door part way up but as soon as I went up just a little higher than my prone position I immediately felt like I was in a sauna. I finally just opened the door all the way and used some insect repellent. It had rained some when I hiked in but quit long enough for me to set up camp. It then rained some more but not a lot the first half the night. Everything inside the tent stayed dry even with both doors (fly and inner tent doors) open.
On the July 16th overnighter it was even warmer and I again had to leave the door open to get any sleep. There was no breeze even though I was camped in a fairly open area. As I mentioned earlier, I forgot my ground cloth but fortunately, the primitive campsite was smooth and I pitched the tent on freshly cut grass. Unfortunately, I also forgot my bug spray...
When I first pitched the tent it had cooled down to 86 F (30 C) but when I crawled inside to just check it out I didn't stay long because I was dripping sweat. I crawled back out and fixed and ate my supper, then went for a long walk on a trail near the campsite. I got back just before dark but it was still quite warm so I walked to a nearby picnic table and listened to music and watched the stars awhile. It was down to 75 F (24 C) when I finally turned in at 10:30 PM but the first thing I noticed as I crawled inside was that the fly was soaking wet on the under side. Interestingly, the inner tent body was barely damp. I suspected the under side of the fly might be dry in the center so I gingerly reached up and over the inner tent but found the fly was pretty wet at the top also, just more so down around the perimeter near the ground. Since the inner tent body was still fairly dry I didn't fret too much but I was more careful about brushing the walls. However, this proved to be impossible. I managed to get the inner tent slightly damper when I pushed it against the fly but I didn't get it wet enough to in turn wet my fleece blanket so it was not a problem.
Like the previous trip, I couldn't get comfortable inside the tent without letting the inner tent door all the way down and this was with the fly door wide open and the back side of the fly lifted a bit. The netting part on the tent door is about a foot up the side of the tent and from my prone position I could not feel any breeze. In fact, even when sitting up I could not feel any cool air because the netting effectively blocked it off. However, when I let the door down a little I could feel the cool night air immediately, and by opening it all the way, I could feel it lying down. The only problem was, soon I was dealing with bugs. I managed to cover up enough so that I escaped the night with only a few bites at my ankles where I ended up poking my feet out from under my blanket. I really noticed the close proximity of the inner tent over my face as I swatted at a few skeeters.
On the overheating, I had already rigged the end of the fly that has the porch/door opening in the fly to where the back side on that end was also held up. Here is a picture of how I had it rigged but I still did not get much of a breeze even with the inner tent door open.
fly raised on backside to facilitate ventilation
Actually, other than overheating, I've had no problems using the tent, but I have had more issues with the titanium stakes than I care to remember. In general, I had problems using them in both types of soil I encountered. On thick forest duff, I had a hard time getting them to grip, and on the hard ground and at my last campsite, I had a hard time getting them in the ground. The shape of the flysheet more or less dictates where each stake has to be placed and therefore, I couldn't move a stake very far to find better ground. I ended up with a couple sticking out far enough that the tension from the flysheet wanted to bend them over. Of course by turning the top side hook of each stake away from the fly, the guy lines couldn't slide off and I managed to straighten them back out the next morning when I pulled them up. I know titanium is expensive but I would like to see an option for heavy duty pegs. I'd pay extra for some a couple of inches (around 5 cm) longer and slightly bigger around so they would not bend as easily.
Summary Thus Far
So far so good! I wish I had a chance to use the tent in a heavy downpour and or heavy winds but the few light rains and light wind I experienced were no problem.
Long Term Report September 23, 2008
Camp on The Silever Comet Trail near Rockmart Georgia
Test Locations and Conditions
I was able to get in 2 more nights and finally had some cooler weather for testing, but not cold by any stretch of the imagination. The first overnighter was on a 108 mile (174 km) recumbent bike tour on the Silver Comet/Chief Ladaga trail. Camp was at an established campground just off the trail near Rockmart Georgia at an elevation of 900 ft (274 m). The overnight low was 63 F (17 c) which was surprisingly cool considering the 90 F (32 C) weather on both days of the ride (over and back). There was no rain and the humidity was low. The ground was damp from recent heavy rains which almost canceled the trip.
The second overnighter was in local woods near my home in Grant Alabama. Compared to the previous trip, the daytime temps were much cooler with a high of 80 F (27 C) but the overnight low was not that much cooler at 58 F (14 C). Elevation at camp was around 800 ft (244 m), humidity was low and again there was no rain...perfect camping weather
Long Term Test Results
I had much better results with the cooler nights than on the overnighters back during the hottest part of summer. In fact, I did not have any problem staying fairly comfortable with just a light blanket on the Rockmart trip (August 28) and my 30 F (-1 C) down bag actually felt good on the last overnighter (September 22). I also finally found a scrap of Tyvek more suited as a ground cloth than the small tarp I was using. It is approximately 3 ft (1 m) wide and 9 ft (3 m) long. I did not weigh it but after picking both up I estimate it weighs less than half what the small tarp I was using did.
Tyvek ground cloth.
The Rockmart trip was not without a few eye opening experiences. The first was when I discovered that I had lost a stake. I am not sure how as I was careful when taking down and packing the tent at the last campout back in July. However, my friend had a spare aluminum stake so I borrowed one from him. The ground was not all that hard due to the remnants of Hurricane Fay which dropped around 10 in (25 cm) of rain in the area just a few days prior to our trip. However, the borrowed stake was much easier to poke in the ground than the flimsy titanium stakes that the Laser Competition uses. I plan to get me a set of those the next time I am in a store that has them.
The real eye opener was just how small the Laser Competition really is. What brought the point home was when getting in and out of my tent and then going over to my friends family sized 5 person tent. I was sore from riding all day so it was quite a chore just to get on my hands and knees to enter the Laser Competition. However, once inside and stretched out the tent is plenty roomy, as I had already learned during previous use. Staying cool was not a problem, partly because we sat in lawn chairs inside my friends big tent until late while it cooled down. By the time I turned in at around 10 PM it was already down to 72 F (22 C) and by morning it was a chilly 63 F (17 C). I say chilly, it felt that way more so because of the recent hot daytime weather and fairly warm nights. There was just a tad of condensation on the inside of the tent but the outside was fairly wet from dew.
We got home late and I had to work the next day so the Laser Competition had to remain damp until I had a chance to set it up and air it out a couple of days after the trip. The fly was still damp when I set the tent up but it dried in less than an hour. I was about ready to take it down when I had to make an unexpected trip to town so I left the tent set up. A thunderstorm came up while I was gone and when I got back home the tent was wet again. I just left it up a few more hours and it dried again. I did not see any hint of wetness inside the tent even though the door was open and the fly over the doorway was tied back. I have no idea which way the wind was blowing but I expect it was from the backside or at least not directly facing the doorway opening.
My last overnighter was a short hike down to the creek behind my house. I got a late start due to trying out my new (used but new to me) kayak. I returned home, ate supper and took a bath before making the short hike down to the creek. Setup was easy even though daylight was almost gone before I finished the job. It was 70 (21 C) when I first turned in around 9 PM but cooled down to 58 F (14 C) by morning. I left the door open for awhile as insects were not very bad but did zip up before going to sleep. I was actually up before daylight and took the tent down and packed up by headlamp. Being familiar with setting up and taking down the tent made it easy. I was careful not to loose another stake and was successful in that regard.
Care and Durability
The Laser Competition is holding up great! I have not had any issues with zippers sticking or getting jammed and the tent is still not showing any signs of wear, not even any sap stains despite several nights under trees. In fact it only saw one night in the open as recommended by Terra Nova. All other nights were in dense hardwood forest with the exception the Rockmart campsite which was under mixed but scattered pine and hardwood.
The Terra Nova Laser Competition is a great solo tent! Between the porch for my pack and shoes and the room inside for me and a few items I might want quickly during the night, I never felt I needed more room. However, getting in and out of the small entry did prove to be a little uncomfortable and more so when worn-out or sore from a long day.
I felt it was not ideal for hot summer nights with the mesh door closed, mostly because the netting blocked off so much of the breeze, but this was when I needed it most because of the bugs. I will continue to use the Laser Competition on solo hikes when weight is critical but may use a bigger tent when touring with my recumbent and a hammock when I expect overnight lows to be much above 60 F (16 C). I was glad to find the Laser Competition fit easily inside both hatches on my kayak. The smaller front bulkhead on my kayak was a tighter fit but no real challenge getting it in. From research I found this can be a problem with bigger tents. Bottom line, the Laser Competition is ideal for when I need a tent that does not weigh much, packs small and the weather is not going to be hot and sticky. Since I try to avoid hiking in this type weather it will be a good option for most of my hiking and other outdoor trips. I am looking forward to even cooler weather this coming fall and winter.
This concludes my testing of the Terra Nova Laser Competition. I would like to once again thank Terra Nova and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this tent.
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Reviews > Shelters > Tents > Terra Nova Laser Competition > Test Report by Coy Ray Starnes