I’ve taken my 4 season Scarp 1 Tarptent on two late autumn backpacking trips over the past few weeks and I thought I’d write up some notes about my experiences so far. We’re right on the cusp of full winter conditions in New England, so you should expect at least one more update on the Scarp’s winter performance on snow and in alpine conditions before March, 2010.
In this writeup, I’ll try not to repeat the material covered in my previous post about the Scarp, gleaned during my summer tent setup practice sessions. If you’re not familiar with the Scarp’s design, dimensions, or overall philosophy, that would be a good post to read first. If you’re not familiar with Tarptents, check out my review of the Squall 2 Single-Walled Tarptent for a good introduction to the topic.
Autumn Weather Conditions in New England
Of the half dozen or so shelters I already own, they all fall short for camping in New England autumn weather with it’s heavy rainfall, colder temperatures, high humidity, and wind. These are exactly the conditions that I’ve gotten to test the Scarp 1 in during the past few weeks and I’m cautiously pleased with the results.
The performance of a shelter in heavy rain is one of the best ways to identify it’s strengths and weaknesses. Internal condensation, leaks, and rain splatter (tarps) all manifest themselves under these conditions.
One of the nice features about the Scarp is the ability to set up the outer fly, separate from the inner tent. If it is pouring rain outside, this lets you hang the inner compartment out of the rain and keep it dry. I tested this feature last weekend during a very wet hike in the Mahoosuc Range in northern New Hampshire where I set up the outer fly first in pouring rain, and then clipped in the inner tent. The same holds true for tear down: you can pack the inner compartment first and separately, even if it is still raining dogs and cats.
Contrast this for a moment with more conventional two-walled tents and it’s the exact opposite: your inner tent goes up first and comes down last, so it’s guaranteed to get wet if it’s raining.
As you can see in this picture, the inner tent is suspended away from the outer fly wall. This dramatically reduces internal condensation transfer between the two layers because they don’t touch each other. It’s rather clever. In addition, the clips are useful for hanging wet gear inside your vestibule while keeping it out of your inner sanctum.
Despite heavy rain (one inch overnight), there is very little condensation on the inside of the inner compartment except at the end of my sleeping bag where it touched the inner fabric. I suspect that my feet pushed the inner fabric against the outer fly in this instance, causing moisture transfer between the inner and outer layers. This is easily avoided by repositioning oneself inside the inner compartment, which is luxuriously long and wide for a single person.
However, there was a fair amount of moisture transfer between the outer shell and the outside of the inner compartment as you can see in this misty photo.
None of this water leaked into the inner compartment and the inner surface remained dry to the touch. I attribute it to seam leakage because I have not yet seam sealed the outer fly.
It is still a matter of some concern when it comes to multi-day trips where it might be raining for several days in a row, because it means that you have to pack up the inner compartment wet. While, I am confident that seam sealing will have a big impact, I’m also considering spraying the outside of the inner compartment with a DWR spray to encourage such moisture to bead up and roll off the fabric. I can’t see a downside to this.
I should also mention here that Henry Shires, the owner of Tarptent, is reconfiguring the outer fly to help mitigate some of this internal condensation by raising its bottom height to improve air flow. This is in response to requests from UK hikers who also need to deal with high humidity conditions. I may end up switching to that fly myself to further mitigate the issues reported above.
The Scarp 1 has the most comfortable inner compartment of any of the tents that I own. It’s high enough to sit up in and the walls are vertical, maximizing the usable space inside. The roof hangs down like a parachute, which I find rather calming, and the white walls make it feel like you are sleeping in a cloud.
I do have a few suggested improvements for the inner compartment which can be easily addressed with some minor modifications. First off, there are no pockets on the inside walls of the tent. I have glasses and I like to keep them off the floor at night so I don’t roll over them and break them. I will probably address this by sewing a mesh pocket into the side of the tent about a foot off the floor.
In addition, it would be nice to be able to hang damp clothing from a clothesline or a gear loft inside the tent. There are internal gear loops along the top of the inner compartment that can be used to rig a home grown solution for this purpose using a few pieces of cord and cutting open a mesh stuff sack to act as a gear loft.
The Scarp 1 comes with six, 9 inch Easton aluminum test stakes to secure the outer fly to the ground. When rigged taughtly, the outer fly puts considerable stress on the tent stakes and will drag them out of the ground unless they’re firmly planted. I’ve experimented with using lighter weight stakes and have found that you really need the holding power of a longer stake, especially in wet ground.
With snow just around the bend, I will be interested to see how effective deadmen are for staking out the Scarp 1. I plan on trying out SMC snow stakes, as well as these neat aluminum T-anchors I found recently, also from SMC, and priced at just $32 for a set of 4.
The vestibules on the Scarp 1 are very narrow. While they are wide enough to store a backpack and your boots out of the rain, I would never try to cook with a stove in one: it’s simply too dangerous. They’re also rather small if you want to take off your wet gear before trying to get inside the dry inner compartment. You need to bring a small camping towel with you to dry up the floor after you’ve removed your wet clothing.
Packing the Tent
Learning how to pack a tent takes some practice. Here’s my method for packing away the Scarp 1.
Remove the inner tent and pack it in a separate stuff sack. If the outer tent has water on it, vibrate it while it is still pitched and the droplets will jump off its drum taught surface. Next, remove the center pole and fold the tent in half by holding the yellow pole sleeve in the air. Lay one side on the ground with the other half on top, dry insides touching. Next, gather all of the pitch lock legs together at one end of the tent and drop the collapsible pole and stakes on the tent and roll it up, folding the sides in as you go, so that the roll is as wide as the length of the collapsed pole. If you’ve packed the inner tent in a separate stuff sack, it will be easy to get the outer fly into the stuff sack provided with the tent.
So far, I am very pleased with the Scarp 1. Besides comfort, this tent’s versatility really appeals to me. The only lingering question I have is how it will fair on a multi-day trip in rainy weather where there are no opportunities to dry off for several days. Other than that, the tent has withstood some challenging autumn weather and I look forward to testing it in snow and alpine conditions in New Hampshire in the coming months.
Disclosure: The author owns this product and purchased it using their own funds.