Tarptent Rainbow Li Tent Review

Tarptent Rainbow Li Tent Review

The Tarptent Rainbow Li is a one-person, wedge-shaped UL Dyneema backpacking tent (21.8 oz | 619 g) that is pitched with two carbon-fiber tent poles instead of trekking poles. Yes, that’s right. It uses tent poles instead of trekking poles, thereby increasing livability, headroom, and the amount of interior space inside. While the Rainbow Li is not freestanding, you can use trekking poles to make it into a freestanding tent when you have to set it up on wooden tent platforms, rock ledges, or sandy soil where it’s difficult to impossible to place tent stakes. This is a game-changer for me, eliminating nearly a pound of gear weight for those times when I’d otherwise bring my other freestanding tent on trips. I feel like the Rainbow Li is the forever tent I’ve been waiting for.

Specs at a Glance

  • People: 1 person
  • Trail Weight: Total: 21.8 oz / 619 g | Tent body : 16.6 oz / 471 g | Carbon arch pole : 4.5 oz / 128 g | Carbon cross strut: 0.7 oz / 20 g
  • Doors: 1
  • Vestibules: 1
  • Peak Vents: 2
  • Type: Single-wall
  • Packed size: 17.25″ x 4″ x4”
  • Floor area: 36” width x 88” length (22 sq ft)
  • Interior head height: 42”
  • Material: fly is .051 oz/sq yd Dyneema, floor and stuff sack are 1.0 oz/sq yd Dyneema, lower panel on the door is 10d splash resistant calendared nylon and the rest of the door is mesh, around edge of the floor and the upper vent are also mesh.
  • Poles: Carbon pole and cross strut.
  • Included: tent pole repair sleeve, stakes, stuff sacks, 6 Easton tubular stakes, and patches.

Design

The Tarptent Rainbow Li is a spacious one-person tent with a single side door and vestibule. It comes with two carbon fiber poles, a long arch pole that spans the length of the tent, and a short cross pole that helps increase the tent width. The arch pole slips into a sleeve along the roof of the tent which makes for a very strong tent that is also easy and intuitive to set up.

A horizontal top strut helps create extra width and headroom.
A horizontal top strut helps create extra width and headroom.

The door is a side entry which I find easier for entering and exiting than a door on the end of a small tent. It only opens half the tent, so depending on if you prefer to enter a tent at the foot end or head end, you can set up the tent to accommodate your preference. There is enough room to stash a pack under one side of the vestibule. Both sides of the vestibule can be rolled up and held out the way with magnetic tabs. There is also a magnetic tab to hold the mesh door open, which is much easier to use than the toggle tie-backs on other tents.

You can adjust the width of the perimeter netting to increase or decrease air flow.
You can adjust the width of the perimeter netting to increase or decrease airflow.

The tent features a floating floor connected to the tent walls with mesh which makes the tent easier to pitch on uneven wild tent sites and also aids in cross ventilation. This is a signature innovation used throughout the Tarptent product line on their single-wall tents. The width of the perimeter mesh vents is also adjustable, allowing you to prevent splashback in heavy rain or to increase ventilation in fair weather.

The tent has plenty of room for wide sleeping pads or tall occupants
The tent has plenty of room for wide sleeping pads or tall (as in long) occupants

The Rainbow Li also has dual peak vents that release hot air near the tent ceiling. When it’s raining, you can also porch the door (shown below) using the vestibule doors as awnings to enable airflow while preventing splashback (when rain hits the ground and bounces back into the tent.)

You can porch one or both vestibules doors with trekking poles or sticks to increase ventilation
You can porch one or both vestibule doors with trekking poles or sticks to increase ventilation. Note the material at the top between the split doors that prevents rain from entering from above.

The Rainbow Li can be augmented with a gear loft (sold separately) for storing items overhead that attaches with hooks in the roof. This is often something I make myself, but at $17, I simply bought theirs. It has several small pockets and you can also store stuff on top of it as well. I highly recommend this add-on, although for the price of the tent I wish they would just include it.

Tarptent also offers an optional clip-in liner that hangs below the ceiling to prevent internal condensation transfer, much like the inner tent in a double-wall tent but without the sides, if that makes sense, although I didn’t buy it too.

Gear loft in use
Gear loft in use.

The width of the floor is 38” and the length is 88”, so there is plenty of room to use a wide sleeping pad or for very tall campers. Pictured in the tent is a rectangular Nemo Astro Ultralight pad with dimensions of 20”x72”. The Rainbow Li also has plenty of headroom with 42” of vertical space in the center. The side walls are fairly vertical which helps improve the available space inside.

Freestanding Mode

While the Rainbow Li is technically a semi-freestanding tent, you have the option of turning it into a freestanding one by connecting trekking poles to attachments at the tent corners. This is a big help if you find yourself camping on a tent platform or places where it’s hard to get stakes in the ground. It’s very easy to set up the tent this way. It requires a trekking pole length of 115 cm, so it is probably best used with adjustable length poles unless you happen to use 115 cm fixed length poles.

Freestanding Mode - The corners have sleeves that fit over the ends of a trekking pole and the center pole clips to it for added stability.
Freestanding Mode – The corners have sleeves that fit over the ends of a trekking pole and the center pole clips to it for added stability.

Dyneema Construction

The Rainbow Li is made with ultralight Dyneema fabric which is highly waterproof and does not sag when it gets wet like silnylon. The floor of the tent is made with a thicker grade of fabric for added durability, enough that Tarptent says that an additional footprint is unnecessary except in extremely abrasive conditions. Given the expense of the tent, I use a lightweight polycryo groundsheet which offers a little extra protection and can help keep the tent cleaner for packing up (especially where you might pick up squashed slugs.)

The door tie backs are magnetic and are a lot easier to release one handed.
The door tiebacks are magnetic and are a lot easier to release one-handed.

The fly is a lighter-weight grade of Dyneema that is very light in color and fairly translucent, something to be aware of when camping with a full moon because it will light up the tent interior and can affect your ability to fall asleep.

The Rainbow Li comes with 6-round Easton tent stakes which provide robust anchors for the tent.  In the past, I have mostly used basic triangular tent stakes. I find that in a side-by-side comparison, the round stakes collect less dirt and are easier to wipe off in the field.

The tent includes high quality tent stakes with good holding power.
The tent includes high-quality tent stakes with good holding power.

Packing

The tent comes with a Dyneema stuff sack and there is also a small stuff sack for the stakes. Tarptent recommends folding and rolling the tent before putting it in the stuff sack. This is to help preserve the Dyneema fibers in the tent fabric, which can break down when creased by excessive folding.

You can roll the poles inside the tent or keep them separate if you prefer. In the field, when wet, I prefer to shake off as much water as possible, then simply do a quick roll and stick it in the bottom of my pack without putting it in the stuff sack. Then I separate it from my dry stuff with a pack liner. When rolling in the field, I really like having the tent laid out on a ground cloth to help avoid rolling debris into the tent.

Comparable Tents

Make / ModelMaterialWeightPrice
Zpacks Plex SoloDCF13.9 oz / 395 g$599
Tarptent Aeon LiDCF17 oz / 482 g$569
Gossamer Gear DCF One DCF/Sil-PU Nylon15.3 oz / 433 g$539
Six Moon Designs Lunar SoloSilPoly26 oz / 737 g$250
Tarptent Rainbow LiDCF21.8 oz / 619 g$649
Gossamer Gear The One Sil-PU Nylon17.7 oz / 503 g$299

Recommendation

It’s hard for me to find much about the Tarptent Rainbow Li that I don’t like. At 21.8 oz, the Rainbow Li weighs a few ounces more than the Dyneema Zpacks Plexamid Tent it replaces in my gear closet, but it is so much easier to set up.

The Rainbow Li is also one of the lightest tents you can get that doesn’t require trekking poles to pitch. Sometimes I like having a tent with more interior space, but more often than not, I like having a tent with a small footprint that fits in small places. This tent gives me that with plenty of interior space and livability and a quick and easy pitch in a lightweight package.

The Rainbow Li is a well-designed and high-quality product. I bought a slightly blemished version to save money, but the only thing I could find wrong was a seam patch that was not stuck down well. I stuck it down and it seems to be holding just fine. It’s a testament to Tarptent’s quality control that they didn’t sell the tent at full price.

Tarptent Rainbow Li Setup Video

About the author

Wanda Rice has been backpacking since the late 1980’s. She has climbed the New Hampshire 48, the New Hampshire 48 in winter, the New England 67, the New England Hundred Highest, and the Four-Season 48. Wanda also teaches for the Appalachian Mountain Club’s (AMC) Mountain Leadership School, the AMC New Hampshire Chapter Spring and Winter Schools as well as the AMC NH Winter Hiking Series. She leads day and overnight trips for AMC NH year-round and loves mentoring new leaders. She is a gear junkie, a self-proclaimed Queen of Gear Hacks, and loves sharing her tips and tricks with others. Wanda lives in southern NH and is looking forward to moving closer to the mountains in the next few years.

Disclosure: The author purchased this tent.

24 comments

  1. I am a big fan of Tarptents tents because they are so well designed. There is a huge difference between a Tarptent and a Zpacks tent, which though lightweight, just doesn’t set up as cleanly or as tightly as a Tarptent. If you want the lightest possible tent for hiking a long trail in benign weather conditions, go ahead and buy a Zpacks tent. They’re a good option for that purpose. But if you want one tuned for a wide range of weather conditions that feels like you’re sleeping in a piece of art, get a Tarptent. I also like the fact that Tarptent offers many of their models in “Not Dyneema” so you can get an affordable tent if you don’t have a trust fund. :-)

    • I couldn’t agree more! I’m three years into a Stratosphire 2 and it’s just a joy to use.

    • Agree with you Philip – getting my Aeon LI pitched tightly is not difficult and is mandatory to me just to be able to appreciate the design and manufacture of this lovely piece of art called a tent.

    • my only complaint is Tarptent does not offer Camo or Green Color for their Dyneema Tents

  2. Tempted to sell my Notch Li and buy one of these…love that porch option.

  3. Dangit, now I want one. :-)

  4. My experience with the Tarptent Rainbow was a bit different. Mostly, I believe the difference centered around where I used the tent, not in any inherent flaw in the tent. I hike in the high heat and humidity of the central states: Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia, and western Virginia (Damascus and Shenandoah segments of the AT.)

    The tent is beautifully designed and functioned well during the cooler months I had it. However, from May to October, I baked in it. The single wall design meant that it trapped moisture and heat like a sauna. My Hubba tent worked great in the same conditions, because I could pitch it without the fly so it was totally ventilated (it had a full mesh inner body.)

    I’m not trying to discourage anyone from using a Rainbow; it’s a truly beautiful and easy to pitch tent. I just wanted to note that, like any other tent (or hammock, or tarp) it’s not the best choice for all conditions.

    • was it a rainbow or a rainbow li?

      • The single person Rainbow – also the “original” silnylon version, not the LI version. Really wanted to like it, too – I think it was about a pound lighter than the original-model Hubba I had (no alphabetic suffix, just “Hubba.”)

        • Oh, I just realized: the Rainbow 2 has two doors, which does allow cross-ventilation! My comment should have focused in further: the single-person Hubba didn’t work for me in high humidity and temperatures; I never tried the Rainbow 2 (which weighed the same as the Hubba I had – with no weight savings, there was no incentive for me to try a Rainbow 2.

        • That should read: “…focused in further: the single person Rainbow…”
          Sorry for any confusion.

    • My daughter just used her silnylon Double Rainbow during a rainy trip in Scotland. It did well with the dampness, but the main pole and the cross pole would not center so she had a wonky pitch every night. We need to study on it some more to find out what we are doing incorrectly. I have a Bowfin 1S that I’m less than pleased with. It’s a condensation nightmare here in the Southeast, and the tensioning straps are so thin they constantly slip through their buckles. At the end of a tiring hiking day, I don’t want to deal with so much fiddliness. But I know many folks who are pleased with their Double Rainbows, including my daughter.

      • The Bowfin has disappeared from the Tarptent website. I guess they killed it off. It’s similar to the Rainbow but had doubledoors, if memory serves me.

        • Yes, very similar. Perhaps they decided that it was duplicative and that’s why it was discontinued. Honestly, if it weren’t for those darn straps, I’d try to figure out a solution to the condensation problems I’ve had with it.

        • Maybe tarptent has a solution. I’d contact them.

  5. Other than weight and the use of trekking poles, how does this compare in interior space and condensation to the Aeon Li?

    • I’m pretty sure it’s larger. Check out the specs at Tarptent.com.

      • Appreciate all the comments and excellent review! For what it is worth, I purchased the Double Rainbow LI, (Dyneema and a 2P tent). It was incredibly spacious, with lots of nice features (like the magnetic closures). However, I did not like the structure and especially the length of the main pole. I found it unwieldy and for my part, doesn’t set up as quickly as the Zpacks Duo or the Zpacks Solplex (now replaced by the Plexamid). The extended length of the pole makes it not easy to set up in a tight space. However, I agree that it appeared more solid and sturdy then the Zpacks, given the placement of the main carbon pole. However, in Yosemite and the Sequoias , I didn’t have the kind of weather others are referring to. Just thought I would mention this, for those who might want more room.

  6. I couldn’t sell my Plexamid fast enough. I’m glad someone else was happy to pay me money for it. One thing I’m going to like about this tent is that I can set up a basecamp with it and still have my hiking poles for hiking.

    • I had that problem on my last trip. I never basecamp when I’m alone, but I was with friends and we set up our tents before climbing Owls head. I had an X-Mid 1, which uses both poles. Unfortunately, I rely on my poles for propulsion and balance and climbing Owls Head, especially the stream crossings and the descent without them, was not entirely pleasant.

  7. I have both single Rainbow LI and Aeon. The single Rainbow LI is bigger inside to me, a 6′ 200 pound guy. I haven’t used my Aeon since I purchased the single Rainbow LI. I agree on most everything the author said.But I don’t use a ground sheet. I just wipe off the tent with a gloves hand if needed. Honestly, I have stopped looking (for now) for another tent. ?

  8. So far Ihave owned 5 Tarptents (OK 6 if you count two Moments) starting with the Contrail and now a Notch Li. So yeah, I’m a certified Tarptent fanboy – ask anyone at Backpacking Light.

    The Rainbow never appealed to me and I always thought it would be a “sail” in the wind but Tarptent owner Henry Shires says that the Rainbow is actually MORE wind-worthy than my current Moment DW.
    Who’d a thunk it by looking at the two?

  9. This is such a great review. I’ve had the Double Rainbow Li for almost two years now and it has become my forever tent as well. I bought the 2P for added room on father/daughter trips but it’s still only 27 oz I believe and a palace for myself. Great tent!

  10. I feel like I’m living in the “Golden Age” of tents. The last few years have seen such an immense improvement in tents, my 5 year old Quarterdome seems as outdated (heavy, clunky to use) as a Model T. I’m almost afraid to buy a new tent, as next year they will be Lighter/Sturdier/Roomier

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Clicky