The Tarptent Bowfin ($309) is a 1 person double-walled tent with two large, well-ventilated vestibules that weighs 37 ounces. It requires a long but lightweight center pole to pitch, making it remarkably fast and easy to set up. It comes with a mesh inner tent that has plenty of interior space for you and your gear. The Bowfin 1 is a good option for people who want a lightweight, affordable tent that does not require trekking poles to set up. However, I could see using it even if you do use trekking poles, since it’s such a comfortable and adaptable tent to use.
Specs At a Glance:
- Weight: 37 ounces (actual 36.4 w/o seam sealing, tent stakes, or accessory stuff sacks)
- Fly: 17.6 oz.
- Mesh Inner: 12 oz.
- Pole: 6.8 oz., aluminum
- Inner tent dimensions: 50″ x 84″ x 40″
- Minimum stakes required to pitch: 2
- Doors: 2
- Vestibules: 2
- Fabric: 30d silnylon with 3000 mm hydrostatic head
- See manufacturer for full product specs
The Bowfin 1 is a semi-frestanding tent that just requires a minimum of two tent stakes to set up, used to stake out the vestibules. A long collapsible tent pole is used to erect the main part of the structure and is inserted into a fabric sleeve that runs on top of the fly. A permanently attached cross-bar on the roof helps provide width and good head room so you can sit up, while end PitchLocs provide room and ventilation for the feet and head.
The interior space provided in the Bowfin 1 is nothing short of outstanding. The inner tent can be made wider by tightening the piece of webbing that connects it to the vestibule door, so you can store all of your gear inside with you, if you wish. It can be made narrower by loosening the webbing or unclipping it completely, which is useful if you need to cook in the vestibule in bad weather (always ventilate well to prevent deadly carbon monoxide buildup). Of course having two vestibules means you can also use one for gear storage and one as a door.
Airflow is also superb, since you can open both vestibules partially or completely to create cross-breezes (loops at the end of the inner tent webbing strap let you stake it out without being attached to the vestibule walls when they’re rolled open). If you ever wondered about the utility of having two vestibules on a 1 person tent, this is it.
PitchLocs are a common design feature found on several of Tarptent’s tents and serve multiple purposes. First, they raise the end of the tent above the feet and head so the tops your feet don’t touch the ceiling and you’re not staring at the tent roof just inches above your face.
The PitchLocs also provide additional airflow through the tent (they’re essentially foot and head vestibules) with fabric doors that can be tied open or kept closed with velcro to block horizontal rain.
Finally, the PitchLocs act as a “base” for the tent and help prevent it from tipping over. In fair conditions you don’t need to stake them (the vestibule stakes are sufficient), but you can secure them further with a hook stake for more stability in breezy weather or when both vestibules are fully rolled open and the tent doesn’t really have anything anchoring it to the ground. The PitchLocs make setting up the Bowfin on wooden tent platforms a breeze because that the tent ends are self supporting don’t need to be tied down.
While the inner tent can be removed and packed separately, it’s not practical to set it up after you’ve erected the fly in pouring rain. There are too many hooks to attach (12, in fact) and small ones that require fine motor control to mate. The mesh inner tent is interchangeable with one where solid fabric is used on the bottom half to block wind from blowing through the tent. This is useful add-on option if you want to use the tent for camping in cooler weather.
Can you pitch the Bowfin without an inner tent and just use the rainfly by itself? Not really, because the length of the inner tent and its attachment points help maintain the height of the parabolic curve formed by the center pole. Without the inner tent floor, the parabola loses tension and height. This isn’t a defect of the design, but worth noting because other Tarptent models can be used perfectly well with just a fly.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Bowfin 1, be sure to watch the Tarptent Bowfin Setup video. Here are a few additional observations that I have about setup and use.
- The Bowfin includes two 6″ aluminum Easton tent stakes (the blue ones) to stake down the side vestibules. While these stakes hold well in many soils, the vestibules can put a lot of tension on them. I’d probably upgrade to a longer 8″ yellow Easton stake or even an MSR Groundhog for better gripping power.
- There are several places where you can anchor the Bowfin more securely in wind: extra loops along the bottom hem of the vestibule doors, the PitchLoc corners, and two guyout points at the halfway point of the pole. There are no apex guy out points however.
- While Tarptent rates the Bowfin as one of it’s most wind worthy tents, this is only the case when the vestibules are closed and staked out. The pitch loses its tautness when you roll open the vestibules. Can’t have it both ways.
- When breaking down the tent, it’s best to push the long pole out of its sleeve rather than pulling on it. Otherwise the pole segments get stuck in the sleeve and become difficult to remove. Not unique to this tent, but common with tents that have pole sleeves.
- The apex vents don’t have wire stiffeners or a prop to keep them open when used, although a glove hook is proved to keep them closed in driving rain.
- The carbon fiber roof cross-piece and PitchLoc struts are removable, so you can stuff the fly, making it easier to pack. However, reinserting the CF cross-piece and struts will make set up time longer. If you don’t take them out, the tent rolls up into a long cylinder which is a bit harder to pack if you carry a small volume backpack.
- You want to avoid sitting on the carbon fiber cross-piece and PitchLoc structs to avoid breaking them. Depending on how you pack, this might mean not sitting on your backpack.
- Don’t forget that you need to seam seal the Bowfin.
The Tarptent Bowfin 1 is a lightweight, spacious, and well ventilated tent that’s very easy to set up. Weighing 37 ounces, it’s ideal for camping in a wide range of conditions from hot and humid to desert, for backpacking or car camping, and everything in between. While it’s on the heavier end of the ultralight tent spectrum, it’s still quite appealing to use, and I like it more and more every time I sleep in it outdoors.
The ventilation, storage, and access provided by the Bowfin’s dual vestibule design is fantastic and you’ll have no problem keeping your gear close at hand. The internal living space is giant, especially the width, and you’ll never feel confined. But the thing I like the most about the Bowfin is its nearly freestanding design. It’s really remarkable how simple and fast the Bowfin is to set up and tear down, even in the pissing rain. That’s important to me when I’m done for the day or want to get out of camp fast the next morning.
I’ve owned several tents made by Tarptent over the years and have always been impressed by the value and ingenuity that the owner, Henry Shires, puts into his tent designs. The Tarptent Bowfin is another great one.
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Disclosure: Tarptent loaned the author a tent for this review. The author has no business relationship with Tarptent.
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