Friday, 17 July 2009

Bigbananafeet’s Bigbananatent

My window of opportunity was small, the weather window even tighter but I wasn't complaining. You don't test a tent in good weather. There are far too many online reviews of tents which are just the writers' opinion on how they think it will perform in wild weather after having it up in the garden and given it a shake to simulate wind then turned the hose on to simulate rain. "Frankly, that's just a load of bollocks you've just written then" is my message to these folk. The evidence for this claim? Just check out all the reviews that claim the Laser Comp isn't storm worthy. I'm afraid to point out to all these dissenters that its bendiness is actually part of its strength. I and many others I know certainly haven't been blown away and I promise you, I've had it some serious storms. This; however isn't about the Laser Comp. It's about the Shangri La 3 and as you can imagine I was expecting a great performance having had it up in the park...and given it a shake ;o) See my first thoughts here.

I only had Saturday off as I was going back onto nightshift meaning I have to start work at 23:00 on Sunday. I was desperate to get an overnight camp in as it would be the last outing for 2 weeks. That meant if it was an overnight then it would have to be somewhere close and just a straight up and back route. After much consultation with the map I decided to go up Ben Vorlich in the Arrochar Alps. I've been up this mountain before but when I was there it was a shitty day spent looking at the inside of a cloud. Keeping a watchful eye on MWIS I knew that the weather was going to turn on Saturday night but the walk in should be very clear. Perfect conditions to see the view's with perfect tent testing weather on its way! Just perfect.

As I was only going up one Munro I left late, arriving at the car park at Inveruglas around 13:00. The weather was glorious and I took my time ad mining kit while enjoying the views with an ice cream complete with 99' and a cappuccino from the wee cafe.

Eventually I set off past the hydroelectric power station then turning off the A82 up the service road that runs to Loch Sloy. The hills here are rugged with plenty of character. One aspect of the hills in this particular corner of the Arrochar Alps I like is the contrast between man and mountain. Even with all the pylons, power cables and the dam the mountains still manage to look majestic.

Having made my way up the road taking photie after photie I started off up the western slopes up Lag Dubh to get on to the southern ridge of Ben Vorlich. The sun was hot and my base layer wringing wet. I was wishing I had a hat after getting my face burnt the week previous in Glen Ey. Once you gain a bit of height the path becomes quite well defined and easy to follow all the way to the summit. It almost felt like I was cheating at mountaineering as my map didn't come out once. The views were fantastic and with the air being almost crystal clear the surrounding tops and the grass around me took on many vibrant hues. This is why I climb mountains. I love being up here in this kind of environment, it makes all the effort to get up there and the stresses of modern life fade away. After a while lingering on the rocky outcrop that holds the summit cairn I dropped down the north eastern side of the ridge to the unnamed lochan where I planned to camp.

I put my pack down and refilled a water bottle and popped in a juice biscuit (nuun for those not in the know) then wandered around looking for a flat, well drained spot with maybe a little shelter. I found one after a little search but I did note the fact that I had passed up several spots I could've happily chucked the Laser Comp on. That's not a complaint as such but it's worth pointing out to the solo user that with the larger footprint you will obviously need more space to pitch. The spot I chose ticked all the boxes and had a few extras thrown in such as a decent water supply and fantastic views. I'll definitely be back here at some point.

I stuck a peg in the ground to mark the centre of my pitch and then using my trekking poles and eye's I measured out the peg points. I then tried to peg the base of the tent out and found that I was closer than my original attempt but still had to move all the pegs around for a while until I was happy I had a symmetrical hex shape. My method did help but there was still a bit of faffing around. Ideally I'd like not to be having to double or even triple handle each peg point. While writing this Dave Hanlon of The Armchair Adventurer pointed me in the direction of this handy article. It looks like a more accurate method which I'll try out soon. Thanks Dave and also to the author :o) Next the pole went in and I tightened everything down. As an after thought I stuck two spare guy's that live in my peg bag onto the top hang loop and pegged these into the prevailing wind at about 30 or 40 deg apart. Done.

Next I got on with the usual camp unpacking and spreading out rituals before sticking the stove on and then running about taking photies of the view before the weather changed. The wind had already picked up a little and the clouds that were flitting by from the south east were getting a bit lower. I stuck the head end of my bivy bag at the back of the tent as I had noticed a couple of tiny rips in the fabric on the panels on either side of the door zip. They looked like tiny nicks from a knife or similar.

Inside the masses of space still amazed me as I waited for the stove to boil. I can actually stand up if I stoop right over and as far as cooking inside goes? "Nae bother!" In fact as I was on my own in here I had to make sure and not place my rucksack and other junk so far away I couldn't reach it. While waiting for dinner to rehydrate I pulled on my Rab Generator and went outside to retrieve my beer. I checked in with loved ones and ate dinner whilst watching the views and trying to pick out the peaks in the distance.

Nature's fridge

Eventually the wind got up high enough to send me back inside to settle down with my book. The sun had gone and the wind and clouds that were very low above me now had put paid to any sort of sunset. I zipped up the door and got into my warm down filled nest. By about 23:00 I put the book down and tried to get some shut eye. The wind by this point had gotten up and was gusting quite hard now, the highest I measured when I went out 'to water the roses' was around 48MPH. The tent was very, very stable and although I could hear the wind outside and the flap of silnylon there was nothing bending alarmingly or looking anywhere near the limits of staying together. In fact I was quite happy being in there, this may due to having developed balls of steel while getting slapped in the face with Laser Comp pole and fabric.

I was drifting in and out of sleep and at around 00:00 I heard the noise of rain on the fly. The rain gradually got steadier and heavier until it was lashing down probably helped by the wind. I wasn't getting much sleep now due to the noise of the wind and the rain. The rain was so hard the wee trickle outside from the lochan had become a white torrent now. I switched on my head torch and realised that the inside of the tent was filled with mist? I poked my head out for a second and realised I was in the clouds now. At about 02:00 I felt a drip hit me in the face "ah shit, not good!" head torch on again I could see the water droplets oozing in through the seams and coming through the vent at the back a little. The drop that hit me in the face had run down the shock cord I had hung the hood of my bivy bag with. I removed that and zipped the bivy right up and hunkered down into my sleeping bag trying to drift off unsuccessfully.

At about 07:00 I awoke and realised that the wind had dropped a good bit and the rain was only coming on and off in showers. It was also a good bit lighter inside; I unzipped the bivy bag and surveyed the scene. My bivy bag had some droplets sitting on it that looked like they had come in through the seams and then shaken off when a gust got a hold of the tent. Other than a lot of moisture on the walls everything else looked shipshape. Remembering that I was nightshift that night I struck camp quickly. Again the tents internal volume helped as I just packed almost everything and got dressed inside before going outside, removing the pegs and simply stuffing the fly under the MSC on my pack.

I know that in a review I'm now supposed to give a little summary of the main points but I'll just give my thoughts as I walked out. First the usability of the tent in mountainous conditions is great with all that space inside. As long as I take the time to find a bigger spot than I'm used to and once I've mastered the technique of getting the peg placement spot on I'll be very happy taking this shelter with me. In terms of weather protection the stability in the wind is perfect and I couldn't fault it, the water ingress however is another story. My advice is not to believe the bullshit about expanding hydrophilic thread used on the seams etc, in the real world it doesn't work. Again in comparison to the Laser Comp it doesn't have a hood to cover the seam so I'm going to seal the seams using something like Mcnett's and be done with it. TBH I was half expecting to have to do this anyway. I am going to make some sort of mod though involving Velcro I think to allow me to shut the vents over to prevent windblown ingress. The weather conditions I was in all night were truly horrible and probably worse than most people would plan to be out in. Just check out the before and after pics I took of the wee stream from the lochan.

Overall I'm extremely pleased with the performance of the tent and with a few simple changes I reckon it'll become a favourite in winter and when the weather's looking terrible, both for solo use and for when I'm out with Louise. I'll update on seam sealing and on vent mods in the future...when I get around to them.

As a side note hike-lite where I bought the tent from have taken the tent back (due to the wee nicks in the door fabric) with no quibbles and I'm awaiting a replacement. I've bought a few items from them in the past and their customer service is spot on.


  1. First part doesn't sound like any kind of mountaineering I know: Beer, a double room and space to stand up. Glad to see that it wasn't all luxury. Wouldn't want you to be getting too soft on us. Before an afer picks realy do tell the storey. It was a night of two halves alright. On the shelter: I've been looking with more and more interest at the mids from MLD since I guess they combine the best of tarp and tent but have always wondered how they do in wind. We seem to have moved wholesale to low profile shelters that hunker down against a blow and high structures look so outof place now that it's hard to imagine they do the buisness. You're experience realy suggests otherwise.

  2. Aye, there's no point in dragging yourself up a mountain if there's no luxuries, something I learned from PTC* it's the real driving factor of getting packweights down, you should see some of the wonders he produces from his pack occasionally, Banoffee pie and the like!

    I had a look at the MLD mids and I still want one but they are bit pricey, I got a good deal on the Golite.

    Because of the shape the 'tall bit' presents the smallest profile to the wind anyway, it also doesn't care which direction the wind blows either. It really was very stable and if you think about it had 6 stakes in around the perimiter and 2 extra's. 8 stakes is a lot of holding power as it is but I could've had another 5 in if I used the centre panel tie outs making a potential 13 in total! If that gets ripped out I don't wanna be up there!

  3. Thats a real test :-)

    The Golite looks good, the space is amazing. Daves right though, we're used to low profile tents now but some of the old photos of the Himalayas, Arctic etc show pyramid type tents.

    I'm interested in singleskin Tarptents myself, a bit curious about condensation but more concerned by the midge threat. Would you take a 'nest' if you thought there were going to be too many midges or do you have another method?

  4. Condensation was a bit of a non issue really, there was so much moisture in the air I could see it as mist inside the tent. The steepness of the walls meant that it mostly ran down to the ground and and the sheer size in there meant I never had to touch a wall anyway, it's so big inside you can almost hear the echo when you speak ;o)

    The midge risk eh? aye, now that does give me the fear. There was no chance of them that night but I had the bivy (has a bug net over the face) in there so I wasn't worried. For two peeps though I'd want a nest of sorts but I'm not carrying the golite one, it's too heavy and doesn't leave a porch area. I'll have to either make my own or commission somone cleverer than me to do it.

    I suspect that the fact the taught fabric is pulling down on the pole in compression you end up with a really tight pitch and side on it doesnt really have as big a profile as you'd think due to the taper. Also consider how much stronger your trekking pole is compared to a DAC or Easton tent pole. Do you think you could support your weight on one of the poles from even a five pole full geo beast from Hilleberg or Crux? My Laser Comp has survived 50MPH sustained with 67MPH gusts, measured. It only just survived though but I'm starting to think the Golite would just laugh at that.

    As an aside the pic in my banner was taken on Beinn Dubhchraig in about 30MPH or so wind and it got up to about 50MPH overnight. I suffered a seriously bent pole section that night because the pole hood had come loose.

  5. Eeek, I see the MLD mids have become a lovely 'jobbie brown', I'll bet thats a nice colour to lift your mood when tent bound ;o)

  6. I was thinking if I just used the Fly of my Phreeranger it would be a single skin Tarptent but I weighed my bivvy bag and it's heavier than the inner tent, sod that for an idea then.

    About a nest, I wonder could you modify a travel type double size mosquito net, would you say a sewn in ground sheet is nescesary or do you think it would it seal well enough just laying on the ground with some gear to keep it down?

  7. I've had, and sold on, 2 Hex's. Not because they leaked or were in any way defective but, at 6'4", I found it really hard to avoid touching the walls.

    When you get yours back, be a pal and measure it up for me, would you? :o) I'm just curious to find out if this latest incarnation is bigger than the original.

  8. Will do Kev, I'm about 6'0" an am nowhere near the wals so maybe they are bigger. I'll let you know.

    Not sure Mac E, similar ideas have crossed my mind. If I'm going to put any effort into a nest I want a bathtub floor I think.

  9. If you are looking for a pristine but second hand duomid, there is a chap on Outdoors Magic wanting to sell his (Ed h)


  10. Edward? Think he sold it a wee while ago :o)

  11. "..we're used to low profile tents now but some of the old photos of the Himalayas, Arctic etc show pyramid type tents"
    I'm not long back from Himalayas and we had proper old fashioned orange pyramid tents (inc broken zips & weird stains!!). It snowed a few nights and got really gusty winds in the late afternoon but I was toasty inside my sleeping bag. :o)

    I like "nature's fridge".. does it take Irn bru?

  12. I saw that the other day Bapckpackbrewer, I think it went pretty quick too. Makes me wonder why he sold it on cos I know he uses a hex too. It was he who sent me the detailed BPL review in a mail.

    Yep, Irn-Bru goes in on the bottom shelf but ice cream doesnt seem to last long in there. I'm a bit concerned about the statement I'm making about my my class with my beverage choice though. We don't drink yer fancy micro-brew stuff round these parts!

  13. At least you kept the buckfast out of the picture, then we'd know all about how classy you are! :o)

  14. I still like it even if it does leak. It just looks fucking marvelous, the big yellow cone-shaped wonder, so it does.

  15. I'm pretty impressed with it myself, the leak issue is easily sorted I think. I reckon it'd be a great tent if you had the missus and the sprog out.

  16. Aye, I'm thinking along the same lines.

    I'm supposed to give Mike (aff OM) a shout to have a nose at his Hex and a few beers as well if I ever get a spare weekend. :O)

  17. Your're welcome to have a poke at mine as well. Here, maybe we could have a Hex/Shangri La meet? see who can fit the most people boozing in a Hex on a mountain!

  18. Mike's still no working right so it'll have to be a camp-beside-the-pub meet.

    I'll give you a shout when I've got a potential date for it.

  19. Now that's a real test! Thanks for the report and insights, really enjoyed to read it all.

  20. Revisiting this as I'm looking seriouslt at teh shangrila 5. Looking for a big tent to accomodate a group on winter trips and I can't see anything that gets close in terms of weight/space/cost balance. With your experience of the 3 would you trust the thing in a) deep cold b) big blows c)filled to the brim with perspiring humans. I'm a bit concerned by the lack of snow skirt for the intended purpose can you pitch the sides in contact with the ground? would you buy teh nest and does that help any with condensation (guess not).

  21. Answers...

    a) Yep, you can pitch it low to the ground to stop drafts. It has no valances but an ingenious sort with a sewing M/C could sort something out I'm sure. Make sure you have enough insulation.

    b) Yep, I'd use the heavier supplied pole than my carbon trekking poles if it was really serious wind speeds though. Obviously with any tent in gusty,high speed winds it needs to be well anchored. I find with 6 Y pegs at the main guy points (corners) and another 5 at each intermediate point (centre of each panel) and with it pitched drum tight its like a limpet. If the wind is strong enough to pull 11 Y pegs out of frozen turf I don't wanna be out there anyway. I've also found that even although it has pretty big volume dimensions the conical shape seems to cheat the wind very well. It's the tent I'd grab automatically now if the conditions were going to be bad.

    c) It's big but the SL3 is really only a two man tent practically IMO. You'd get 3 in, but it'd be a squeeze...and in winter you'd probably be considering leaving some kit outside.

    I hate to say it, and I feel a little like a traitor given the wee red smasher that graces my banner but I think the SL3 has become my preferred option for most trips now as it copes with a bigger range of conditions and circumstances than any other tent I own. It really is a jack of all trades. Seriously, seam seal it and it's perfect. Sure it's a (little) heavier than my Laser Comp when stripped down but it'll be standing long after the Laser Comp has blown away. You can get 2 in it cofortably and squeeze more in if needed and once you have the knack of pitching it, it's up in seconds. We've even taken to using it for quick trips on a campsite recently as if it gets wet it's no harder to dry out at home than any other mountain tent whereas the big "party" tent we have is a nightmare to dry out in this wee flat before storing away again.


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