getting a quality review of a piece of gear is often more difficult than it would seem. reviews on sites like REI or Amazon can be helpful but you have to consider the source. how long has it been used? in what conditions? what were the expectations? is the person reviewing qualified to make that review? i can't say how many times i've read a review online about a bike that says "i tested this in the parking lot, it's so fast!" this person has no business saying anything about that bike. i want to read the review by the person that's used the product for at least a season, if not more. only then can the review be taken with any sort of credibility.
over the past four months i've gotten a lot of questions about the gear i've brought on my tour. i'd usually just toss out the name and say, "it's great", but i always had much more i could have said. when you spend all day every day interacting with more or less a few pieces of gear you get to know any strengths and weaknesses pretty well. i mean, really well. i was in the fortunate position to have to rely on my gear day in and day out, without fail. if something didn't work right, well enough, or at all it could be really bad news, depending on the item. so i had done my homework and i chose wisely, indeed. i hope that i can provide some helpful insights into the gear i brought.
sometimes the weather cooperates and you can just sleep out under the stars, which, as far as i'm concerned, is plan A. other times you can find a sturdy structure to camp under, like a gazebo or a bridge. still, other times you just need a shelter because you're in the middle of nowhere. maybe it's due to rain, wind, or mosquitoes or maybe you just don't like sleeping outside unprotected. no matter the reason, you need to have one with you.
|Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar on tour in the nebraskan sand hills|
i chose the term shelter because it doesn't have to be a traditional tent. i personally brought along a Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar tarp, and i couldn't have been more pleased. i had looked at a few one-person tents but often found that their specs made them too heavy or bulky in terms of volume. i would have made due with what i got, but this one came on recommendation from a friend with plenty of experience with it. it's also made in the USA, which is nice.
in the past i've used smaller tarps for single-night trips and i took one to nova scotia last year for a one-week tour. it was small and covered barely more than a hammock or a sleeping bag, so it would be terrible for heavy rains. for this tour i knew it would be probable that i'd run into some weather where i'd have to spend quite a lot more time under the tarp so i wanted something that was a bit bigger and sturdier. the Trailstar fit the criteria.
the footprint is a luxurious 50 sq.ft., which is plenty of room for whatever you may want to put under there. i often just had my sleeping bag and pad along with some a few other things like food or clothes which left ample extra space... not that i needed any more, it's just nice to have. they do recommend not cooking under this thing, but go on to say that it is large. i cooked in this thing pretty much every night and morning that i had it set up with no issues. plenty of ventilation and the ceiling is high enough to not be close to any flames. if you do that, though, just be smart about it.
|10 miles east of the continental divide in wyoming.|
going through many of the western states there is a lot of nothing and the wind can get pretty fierce. often, even if the temperatures permitted and there was no rain in the forecast, i set up the Trailstar just for wind protection. with its low pitch angle and 10 tie-out points it's super sturdy. if you button it to the ground and tighten it like a drum it will hold up to some serious winds. in a few places in nebraska and idaho the forecasts called for 25mph winds with gusts up to 50mph at night and, though the walls flapped quite a bit, it held up very respectably.
|among the idaho sage brush. tripod as support.|
|aluminum stakes are garbage.|
|the inner bugnet set up solo using a guy line tied to a branch|
|high pitch for better ventilation|
the Trailstar did me well on this tour. i have no regrets with my choice. for me it worked perfectly, though, i can see for some people it just wouldn't be right. some people may just prefer the full enclose of a tent. being a tarp it does not have a bottom so you're just there in the dirt, and that may be a deal-breaker for some people. you could get the inner bugnet, but that's just another thing to set up. i, personally, don't mind at all, but it does expose you to stuff on the ground. if you need a shelter that will fit a few people, or one person and a bunch of stuff, are facing lots of rain, snow, or wind, the Trailstar might just be the ticket. MLD often has some lead times posted on the front page of their website. i think when i ordered mine it said 3-4 weeks but it arrived in under 2. sweet.