Slingfin SplitWing Shelter Review

SlingFin SplitWing Shelter Review

SlingFin’s SplitWing Shelter bundle is a 1-2 person, ultralight, three-piece modular shelter system with a tarp, mesh body with a solid floor, and an optional vestibule. This setup allows you to have one system that you can dial in for different 3-season conditions, and save weight by leaving the extra pieces at home when they’re not needed. A 4-ounce footprint is sold separately which can be used as a groundsheet if you don’t use the mesh body. Trekking poles are required for setup.

The SplitWing prioritizes light weight, a small footprint, and small packed volume over comfort, spaciousness, and durability, and thus is best suited to the more experienced user willing to make that tradeoff.

Specs at a Glance

  • Manufacturer’s weights:
    • Tarp 7.9 oz (7.9 oz, actual)
    • Mesh body: 11.2 oz (11.4 oz, actual)
    • Vestibule: 1.9 oz (2.0, actual)
    • Stakes: 2.4 oz for 6 stakes 2.6 oz, actual)
    • (Extra guylines and stuff sacks – 0.5 oz + 0.7 oz, actual)
  • Dimensions
    • Tarp: 41”-47” tall and 60-72” wide at head end, depending on pitch; 36” wide and 20” tall at foot end; 90” long.
    • Mesh body: floor dimensions: 82” long by 56”/31” (head/foot) wide, 34” tall at head end
    • Vestibule: 6.8 sq. ft of coverage
    • Packed size (Tarp, Vestibule, and Mesh Body in one stuff sack): approximately 11“ long, 5 ½” wide (18” circumference) uncompressed.
  • Materials
    • Tarp, Vestibule, and Stuff Sacks: 10D Nylon 66 Ripstop Sil/Sil, with 30D Nylon 66 Ripstop Sil/Sil reinforcements
    • Mesh body:15D Nylon No-See-Um Mesh body with 20D Nylon Ripstop coated with polyether urethane (PE). Read SlingFin’s explanation of sil/sil and their contrast of polyurethane (PU) and polyether urethane here.
    • Stakes: DAC aluminum J-stakes
There’s plenty of width for one person and their gear.
There’s plenty of width for one person and their gear.

Tarp Details

The SplitWing tarp is a modified A-frame design with a ridgeline sewn on a catenary curve to use less material for less weight, reduce sagging and allow for a tighter pitch. The tarp tapers from the head to the foot, and the foot end is closed off with a vertical, triangular-shaped wall. You pitch the SplitWing tarp with two trekking poles; the one at the foot end is collapsed down to its smallest size and used tip-up outside the shelter, clove-hitched to the rear guyline, while the one at the head end is pitched handle-up inside the peak of the tarp, and can be raised or lowered depending on the preferred pitch. The “split wings” are a set of two awnings on either side of the A-frame head opening that each have a mini carabiner-type clip holding a guyline. These 2 guylines attach to the same stake and hold the head-end pole upright.

The SplitWing tarp is a modified A-frame design with a ridgeline sewn on a catenary curve
The SplitWing tarp is a modified A-frame design with a ridgeline sewn on a catenary curve

There are 9 stake-out loops around the perimeter (including the 4 corners) and 2 sidewall guy out loops to which you can attach the included extra guyline and linelocks. O-rings along the inside of the ridgeline allow you to attach the mesh body, or when the tarp is used alone, can hold a clothesline, glasses, or a clip for a headlamp.

Both the SplitWing tarp and vestibule use a gossamer 10 denier (10D) nylon 66 ripstop fabric coated with silicone on both sides (sil/sil). 10 denier is light-duty for a tarp fabric, but not unheard of. Slingfin claims that nylon 66 is more durable than standard ripstop nylon, and that the double coating of silicone increases fabric strength further. Reinforcement patches throughout the tarp at critical points, like the peak at the head where your trekking pole handle goes, and tie-outs, are made from 30D sil/sil nylon.

The foot end tapers down and is pitched with the trekking pole outside the tarp.
The foot end tapers down and is pitched with the trekking pole outside the tarp.

The tarp has two main seams–a ridgeline seam and a seam perpendicular to it across the width of the tent. Additionally, there are seams to attach the split wings to the head of the tarp and the footbox to the other end. None of these seams are taped, and Slingfin claims they don’t need to be seam-sealed either–a rarity in the world of silnylon tents– due to a seam construction method requiring specialized equipment: the “double-needle lap-felled seam.” You can check out an interesting discussion about the waterproofness of this seam method by Dan of Durston Gear and Judy of LightHeart Gear, on SectionHiker here. In use, during a torrential rainstorm, when I felt cold torrents of water running underneath the floor, I experienced no leaking through the tarp seams.

Why the Split Wings?

For many years, my only backpacking shelter was a homemade Ray-Way 2 person tarp with beaks (see my Ray-Way Kit Review). Since the Ray-Way Tarp is an A-frame with beaks on either end, you could vary the geometry from high and narrow to low and wide. The lower you pitched the tarp, the more coverage the beaks would provide to the tarp ends.

When I first saw the SplitWing I was perplexed by its design.
When I first saw the SplitWing I was perplexed by its design.

Coming from that experience, I have to admit, when I first saw the SplitWing I was perplexed by its design. The SplitWing looked similar to the beaks I was familiar with, but the “split“ is actually a sharp arc (i.e. not like a beak that’s been cut up the middle). It has no way of being sealed closed or overlapped, so while the beak provides some degree of extra rain and wind protection, it is always vulnerable to rain from directly above.

Through use, I discovered that the main purpose of the split wings is to seal off the vestibule from rain. When the vestibule is attached, the wings of the SplitWing act as awnings to cover the gaps between the sides of the vestibule and the tarp and do it very effectively. Hyperlight Mountain Gear’s Echo II (reviewed here) does a similar thing in reverse, where wings on the vestibule wrap around the outside of the tarp end.

The arc of the split wing came with some stitch elongation, but they didn’t leak even in heavy rain
The arc of the SplitWing came with some stitch elongation, but it didn’t leak even in heavy rain.

One thing I noticed upon unpacking the tarp were some stretched stitch holes along the sharp arc of the split wings where the binding tape joined to the main fabric. I contacted the manufacturer, and they replied that this was aesthetic, not structural due to the reinforcement panel being cut slightly smaller or the stitching being tighter than normal. They told me to stay in touch if it gave me any problems, but I haven’t seen any further elongation during my testing. They have a strong warranty policy including…which I’ve never seen before…a statement that the user making “reasonable and necessary” field repairs or alterations on their products doesn’t void the warranty.

The front vestibule provides complete protection in poor weather
The front vestibule provides complete protection in poor weather

Vestibule

The vestibule is a 1.9 oz kite-shaped piece of silnylon that provides excellent utility for its weight, turning the tarp into a fully-enclosed shelter. It attaches in four places: on each side with a mini quick-release buckle and strip of velcro, at the top via a mini quick-release buckle connected to a tiny stuff sack that goes over your trekking pole handle, and guyed out to the same stake to which the wings are guyed out. To enter and exit, you unclip one side. My favorite setup is to unclip and roll up one side to get the best of both worlds: a protected vestibule on one side and ventilation in through the other. In this scenario, I sleep a little off-center, closer to the protected side.

The vestibule attaches to the peak by clipping to a tiny stuff sack that goes over the handle of your trekking pole. I wish it clipped directly to the tarp.
The vestibule attaches to the peak by clipping to a tiny stuff sack that goes over the handle of your trekking pole. I wish it clipped directly to the tarp.

The clip at the top allows you to drop open the vestibule quickly, but then you are left with a tiny, easy-to-lose stuff sack to keep track of when you are packing up. The vestibule pole-sack (not sure what else to call it!) has two other issues: it makes the connection point between the trekking pole handle and the tarp extra slippery (two pieces of coated nylon against each other) and the pole has fallen on me in the night. Also, in order to put the vestibule on once the tarp is up, you have to lower the trekking pole, slackening the pitch. This is less of an issue and is a common way that inner tents attach, especially in pyramid shelters. But I would much prefer the quick-release buckle were sewn into the tarp near the peak, so you could ditch the pole-sack and attach the vestibule without lowering the trekking pole. I plan to modify my setup in this way.

The mesh body can be pitched alone, with trekking poles tip-up, on clear but buggy nights.
The mesh body can be pitched alone, with trekking poles tip-up, on clear but buggy nights.

Mesh Body

The mesh body follows the same minimalist design ethos as the tarp. It has a 20D PE-coated nylon floor that resists the smelly deterioration common in PU-coated tents. This floor is a flat piece of fabric–there are no bathtub walls, but the edges are pulled up slightly by the tension created when you stake it out. The mesh body attaches with toggles to the O-rings on the underside of the tarp ridgeline and one on either side wall behind the sidewall midpoint tie-outs. This way, when you guy out the midpoints of the tarp, it also pulls the sides of the mesh body giving you a lot more internal space. The mesh body can be left attached to the tarp when packing up. It can also be set up alone on clear but buggy nights, by using the extra included guylines at the head and foot end, and clove-hitching or wrapping them around the tips of your trekking poles (both pitched tip-up).

O-rings inside the mesh body let you hang glasses or small essentials to keep them safe off the floor

The mesh body has cord loops at its four corners, which loop over the same stakes the tarp uses for its corners. Interestingly, if you buy a separate footprint, it uses linelocs at the corners to be able to adjust the tension and use it as a groundsheet when the tarp is pitched at different heights. The fact that the mesh body uses fixed loops means you lose that flexibility in pitching the tarp–you have to keep the tarp pitched at 110 cm to use the mesh body (and the vestibule).

Two people is cozy, but not claustrophobic when the mid panels are guyed out.
Two people is cozy, but not claustrophobic when the mid panels are guyed out.

The door is constructed with 3 zippers that meet in an upside-down T shape, with extra sliders behind a piece of grosgrain ribbon. Straight zippers tend to last longer than curved zippers, but if the sliders wear out (usually the first thing to go on a zipper), just cut the ribbon and use the spare slider. This way you don’t have to take the mesh body zipper off to replace the slider. There are no interior gear pockets, but there are a couple of O-rings for hanging small items.

Since I live and primarily recreate in the northeastern US, the epicenter of Lyme disease, I always use a bug shelter outside of winter. If such is not your environment, you can leave the mesh body, the heaviest piece of the bundle, home any time you’re not in peak bug season. However, the mesh body also effectively turns the tarp into a double-walled shelter, which is much better at managing condensation than a single-wall.

Guying out the sides provides substantially more inside space
Guying out the sides provides substantially more inside space.

Performance

This shelter bundle packs up small (11” long, 18” circumference). Since there are no rigid pieces to the shelter, it compresses and can mold to fit into the spaces in your backpack. While each of the pieces comes in its own stuff sack, the stuff sack for the mesh body is big enough to hold all three pieces together and is my preferred packing method for simplicity. I keep the stakes in an external backpack pocket so they don’t puncture the shelter or damage any of my other gear.

The mesh body hangs a couple inches below the tarp ridgeline, creating an air gap that prevents condensation from entering the tent.
The mesh body hangs a couple of inches below the tarp ridgeline, creating an air gap that prevents condensation from entering the tent.

As described above, I’ve used the full shelter (tarp, mesh body, and vestibule) in a torrential rainstorm with nothing inside getting wet. I’ve used it on hot, buggy summer nights with near 100% humidity with just the tarp (rain is nearly always a possibility in New England, especially in the mountains) and mesh body. The inside of the tarp was soaked with condensation, but none of it transferred to me because of the gap at the ridgeline between the mesh body and the tarp.

The SplitWing tarp is a minimalist ultralight design meant to compete with the weight-savings of Dyneema Composite (DCF) shelters at a lower, more accessible price point. In their promotional/ explainer video, Slingfin pokes fun at this juxtaposition, saying you can use the stuff sacks to hold all the money you saved by not buying a DCF shelter. To achieve this weight, there are some tradeoffs in functionality and convenience.

  • No adjustability on the tie-outs: Tie-outs on both the tarp and the mesh body are simple loops of cord. This means that to get a really taut pitch, you may have to pull out your stakes and re-stake them, which can be a problem in rocky or frozen ground. Sometimes the mesh body loops and the tarp loops don’t line up perfectly and so they are not both under ideal tension.
  • Small interior: The SplitWing is made to crash in at the end of a long day, not to hang out in. When used as a one-person shelter, there is room to spread out your gear between the floor space in the mesh body and the vestibule, but not to sit up in (even if you’re 5’4” like me). You can prop yourself up on your elbows to read or look at maps, but that’s about it. Slingfin is straightforward about the close quarters of using this as a 2-person shelter.
  • Front-entry shelter: The SplitWing has no doors; you enter via the head end. You can pitch the front trekking pole higher, but if you are using the vestibule or the mesh body or both, you have to set it to 110 cm (tip: write the pole height on the stuff sack with a permanent marker). At the front entrance, the guyline is attached to each split wing with a mini carabiner. To enter the tent, you unclip one side. However, this leaves the guyline only attached to the stake. Then, once you’re inside the tent, the guyline is attached to the stake, several feet away from you, hard to reach.

Comparable Two-Person Modular Tarp Shelter Systems

Make / ModelMaterialWeightPrice
SlingFin SplitWing Shelter BundleSil/Sil Nylon 6621 oz$315
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo IIDyneema Composite Fabrics29 oz$695
Six Moon Designs Haven Tarp BundleSiliconized Nylon34 oz$335
Tarptent Stratospire 2Siliconized Nylon45 oz$359
Tarptent Stratospire LiDyneema Composite Fabrics29.1 oz$689
Yama Mountain Gear Cirriform II DWDyneema Composite Fabrics28.2 oz$765
Yama Mountain Gear Cirriform II DWSiliconized Polyester34.8 oz$375

Recommendation

The tarp can also be purchased alone and weighs just 7.9 oz.
The tarp can also be purchased alone and weighs just 7.9 oz.

The SlingFin SplitWing Shelter Bundle is a good system for hard-charging hikers looking to pare down to the essentials with a shelter that will reliably and fully protect them from storms and bugs while they’re sleeping. One or two people can have this protection for a pound and a half shared trail weight, including stakes, which is a fantastic performance-to-weight ratio. If you found yourself bristling at any of the tradeoffs to achieve this weight mentioned above, this may not be the best shelter for you. But for hardcore backpacking minimalists, this ultralight shelter system has a lot going for it at a price that’s hard to beat

Disclaimer: Slingfin provided SectionHiker with a SplitWing bundle for this review.

Editor's note: Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker's unsponsored gear reviews, articles, and hiking guides.

About the author

Greg Pehrson is an ultralight backpacker who was bitten hard by the MYOG (make-your-own-gear) bug. He repairs, tinkers, and builds gear, often seeking to upcycle throwaway items or repurpose things from outside the backpacking world.

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8 comments

  1. Great review! FYI – I’m 6’2″ 210lbs can sit up inside my splitwing without any difficulty. It’s just enough room for me to sit and read, change layers, etc.

  2. Fantastic review! All that you need to know in one item, well done.

  3. Great review.

    But I just don’t understand the thinking behind the separate vestibule in this type of shelter. By the time you have the fins as well, leaving the vestibule at home would be a trivial weight saving while leaving you vulnerable to unexpected storm conditions.

    And if you *are* using the vestibule, the shelter is heavier than if you had it sewn in.

    A traditional one-peg vestibule gives you more options for venting, views and shelter, and a two peg vestibule such as the classic Saunders Jetpacker design gives you many more options.

    Plus you are surely less likely to get flapping and water penetration with a sewn-in vestibule, though I can see that the fins may help mitigate that with this design.

    So for a trivial weight penalty a sewn-in vestibule offers better storm resistance, less hassle and more flexibility.

    Or am I missing something?

    • Postcript – I’m guessing that SlingFin would counter that their design avoids the need for a zip. And that’s certainly a small win for reliability.

      But you’re sacrificing a lot of usability.

      And in my experience it’s long, curved zips that cause the problems. A short straight zip should give reliable service for as long as the fabric would last, especially if you fit a second slider in reserve, so you can just lever off the old slider if it wears out and carry on using the zip.

  4. I would prefer the Tarptent Protrail at 26 oz. for its much better ventilation and protective vestibule.

  5. I’m a hammock camper, but I occasionally travel to places without trees. I was considering a bug bivy & tarp set-up, but went with the SplitWing Bundle. I’ve used it on a couple of short trips and I really like it. I haven’t been able to pitch it tautly enough, but that has a lot to do with my relative inexperience with non-free standing tents.

    One reason I sleep in a hammock is I stiffen up too much sleeping the ground, and it’s far easier for me to get in & out of a hammock than a tent. The front peak of the SplitWing is high enough that it’s fairly easy for me to get in & out of this tent.

    I’m just amazed by how spacious this tent is for one person. I can sit upright with my back all the way against the door, too — I’m not sure what height I had the pole set at, though.

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