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2015-04-16

Tarptent Cloudburst 3: Initial Impressions

TarpTent Cloudburst 3 - Pitched in the wilds of my backyard

Background and General Stuff

As a preface: I really like shelters.  I have two tarps, a pyramid, and two tents now!  I find the designs fascinating.  How to achieve functionality within your design parameters, how to transfer loads through a tensile structure into the ground, how to balance protection, space, weight, and features.  I could spend all day talking about this stuff. Yes, I am an engineer.  Anyways, on to the stuff and things!

I was given this most recent shelter, a TarpTent Cloudburst 3, as a gift this past Christmas.  TarpTent has a lot of fantastic shelters at good weights, at great prices, and they are high quality. Check out their website here.  This is going to be the shelter that we (my wife Lauren, my dog Obi, and I) use for backpacking. We have an older REI Halfdome T2+ that we really like for car camping.  It is easy to use, comfortable, and we got it as a wedding gift from my uncle.  However, our Halfdome is heavy (the newer models are apparently significantly lighter) .  At least, it is relatively heavy.  It is also pretty snug for two normal sized people and an 85lb dog to sleep in. So, I asked for a new tent for Christmas.  Not to mention, I like shelters.  And I am dork.

Initial Impressions

The Good

One of the reasons I liked the TarpTent Cloudburst 3 is that it seems like an ideal balance of features, comfort, weight, and price. I could have gone with a cuben fiber shelter, and saved almost 2 more pounds.  That shelter would have doubled the price. Seems a bit excessive for the type of backpacking we will likely be doing.

From what I have seen, the construction quality is great.  Stitch lines are straight and even, and I have yet to see any construction flaws.  The folks at TarpTent have earned their sterling reputation.

The first pitch in my basement. Ready for seam sealing.
I was really impressed the first time I set it up (in the basement). First, it pitches nice and tight with just 4 anchor points.  A tight pitch means it sheds wind, rain, and snow better. Second, this tent feels massive.  The bathtub floor is rectangular, and there is plenty of room to sit up fully within that floor.  I easily sat in there with 4 other guys, no problem.

Our new Enlightened Equipment Accomplice quilt in the Cloudburst.  Obi sleeps on the orange Z-Lite pad.
A lot of the features are simply ingenious.  For instance, when it comes combating condensation, there are seemingly endless options.  You can of course roll up the vestibule doors.  As an aside, the rolled doors are secured with velcro strips.  I don't really like this. It is a bit of a pain to use, and if the bug netting ever touches the "hook" side of the velcro, there will be snags in the netting. I am thinking about modifying this system. That's all I have to say about that. For now. Back to condensation.
Velcro vestibule door closure. 
The vestibule doors can be left open, even in vertical rain, for increased airflow.
Cloudburst 3 with one vestibule rolled away

Cloudburst 3 with vestibule partially rolled away.  Note the mitten hooks that hold the rolled up portion in place.
Not only can you roll back the vestibule doors, but if weather allows it, you can roll back half, or all of the vestibule. On both ends.  You can also raise the canopy on one or both sides to get more airflow.  These options would also make it nice to sleep in on warm nights. Tons of airflow makes things much cooler. Additionally, the netting along the sides is designed so that any condensation that does form will roll down the canopy and out the netting, with no worries of it getting into the bathtub floor.  Also, the netting keeps your sleeping bag away from the canopy to keep it from the possibly wet canopy.
Webbing pole tensionsers on the Cloudburst 3
Side netting that keeps sleeping bags from touching canopy.
Side as pitched normally
An elastic band attaches to a hook to increase ventilation

A view from the inside of the canopy raised for extra ventilation.  
Outside view of canopy raised for ventilation. Note the wrinkles in the fabric.  This will only be used in very nice weather.
The tent also has several places where you can add extra guyline, which I did.  There are attachments in the middle of the sides (where the optional third pole goes), and two adjustable line locks on the vestibules.  This will increase stability in poor conditions.  For serious added stability, you can get a third pole, which goes inside the tent, right between the two standard poles.  Per the website, this third pole makes the tent capable of handling serious winds and some light snow-loading.  I got the third pole.
The Cloudburst 3 has two vestibule tie-outs, seen here with orange cord.
Cloudburst 3 with optional 3rd pole.  The 3rd pole attaches with a grommet at the bottom and with three velcro loops inside the shelter itself.   
Third pole inside the cloudburst.  The third poles adds a lot of stability to the tent
For your camping convenience, there are four little pockets inside the tent. And I do mean little.  They barely fit my phone.  But, they will likely be perfect for storing a headlamp and maybe some glasses.
Sunglasses take up the entire pocket.

I also really like that it has two full entries and vestibules.  This gives a lot of sheltered space for packs, shoes, or perhaps a wet dog.
The two, identical, vestibules are plenty big for a sprawled out Golden Retriever.

The Not-Quite-as-Good-as-the-Good

So, now I will go on to voice a few of my little gripes. I have no major qualms, just a few nit picks.  For instance, like all shelters that use silicone impregnated nylon (silnylon), you have to seam seal it yourself, otherwise you will get water leaking through the needle holes in the seams (the exception to this rule is Hilleberg tents, which are made by Swedish wizards).  The process isn't hard, just a nuisance mostly.  Similarly, because the floor is also made of silnylon, it is incredibly slippery. This means sleeping pads want to slide all over the place.  So, it is up to the end user to add some silicone lines/dots to the floor so that the sleeping pads stay in place better.

As I mentioned earlier, you can get an impressively tight pitch with just 4 stakes.  However, using only 4 stakes means there is a huge expanse of material along the side of the tent that is completely unsupported unless something is added to the tent.  If much wind at all that hits this face of the shelter, there is a pretty big deflection, significantly reducing interior volume. I probably wouldn't set up this shelter with just 4 stakes if I was expecting anything other than clear skies and at most a slight breeze.  

In part, this is due to where we camp. The Rocky Mountains are prone to sudden, intense thunderstorms. These usually include brief, heavy, cold rain, wind and often lightning and hail. Mostly though, the weight penalty to bring more stakes is low for the added stability. I think that the stock configuration of the Cloudburst 3 with four stakes adheres to an unspoken rule when it comes to lightweight backpacking shelters: good site selection is crucial.  In it's out of the box configuration, the Cloudburst3 would work fine for a sheltered and protected campsite in the forest.  

Changes

I have added stuff to this tent. Some things I consider "standard changes".  Basically, I knew from the very start I would end up doing these things.  
  • Sealed all the seams
  • Added silicone strips to floor to keep pads from slipping
  • Added extra guyline to tie out points.  
  • Added more stakes to the kit
Some things I didn't know I was going to do until after setting it up a couple times:
  • Added stake loops to third pole attachments
    • This creates significantly better tension in the large side panels of the tent
  • Added some cord to zipper pulls (they are pretty tiny)
    • The cord makes the doors easier to operate, and because I used reflective cord, it also makes the zipper pulls easier to find at night
Grey cord added for zipper pulls. Also note that the zipper is coming unzipped due to tension in the fabric.
  • Added pull-loops to included stakes 
    • One little loop of cord makes them way easier to pull out of hard ground 
Black cord tied through the stake for easier removal.
  • Purchased 3rd pole for stormy conditions or when camping in the alpine (see pictures above)
    • The third pole adds significant structural stability to the set up.  
Some things I am thinking about doing, but haven't done yet:
  • Add buckles at bottom of zipper on vestibules
    • This would relieve stress from the zipper during pitching and windy conditions
  • Add elastic and toggle in place of the velcro strips for securing rolled up doors (like Hilleberg tents have)
    • The elastic and toggle would be easier to use and wouldn't snag on the bug netting.
  • Make a Tyvek footprint (piece of material cut to fit under the tent)
    • I would use a footprint for this tent if we used it at a campground to protect the floor.  

The Specs

The tent was right at 52oz when I took it out of the box, exactly like it says on TrapTent's website.  Clearly, I have added weight since then with extra stakes, extra guyline, seam sealer, zipper pulls, etc.  As it currently stands, here are the weights:
  • Total Trail Weight =57.6oz
    • Tent body w/guylines = 42oz
    • 2 Poles = 10.5oz
    • 4 MSR Groundhog pegs = 3oz
      • for four corners
    • 4 Easton pegs = 1.2oz
      • for mid points and side guylines
    • Peg bag = 0.1oz
    • Main stuff sack = 0.8oz 
So for this full set up, I end up carrying ~47 oz less than if we were to use our REI Halfdome T2+.  I definitely like the idea of having a more roomy shelter while cutting 3 pounds off my pack weight.  Just think of how much chocolate I could bring instead.  Or a bottle of good Merlot. Or I could bring a one pound tarp and make a luxury back country suite. Perhaps all three.

Cloudburst 3 pitched with Rab Siltarp2 to create a large "porch" area.  Or as I like to call it, the Luxury Backcountry Suite.
Plenty of room to enjoy a glass of wine  in the backcountry.
I will post an actual review after using the Cloudburst 3 several times.  Thanks for reading! Now get out.  Literally, go outside.  

Matt "Gear Head" Kreider


2 comments:

  1. (not sure the previous comment worked)

    I like your engineer-way of seeing, testing and modding things... feels like deja-vu to me !

    Have you tested the tent more thoroughly ? Any feedback ?

    Thanks

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Pierre, thanks for reading! Sorry it took so long to respond, I guess I don't have notifications set up correctly...

      I tend to subject my gear to rather robust analysis :).

      Unfortunately at this point, I haven't really tested the tent in any serious conditions. A couple of calm nights is all it has seen so far. That being said I have noticed 2 things. 1) It feels very roomy. I am coming from using a dome tent (REI Halfdome T2 Plus). In the dome, your head is at the end and canopy slants right above your face when you lay down. Laying down in the Cloudburst, there is three feet of open air above your face. It also works perfectly for my wife, my dog and I. 2) Airflow is important. On a stagnant night in sheltered site, I went to sleep with the all the doors zipped. I woke up in the middle of the night quite hot and there was condensation on the fly (though none had gotten on us). I opened up both doors and was immediately more comfortable. There was a light morning drizzle for a few minutes that day, and even with the doors open we were dry and comfortable.

      It may be next year before I can give a real thorough review of field performance.

      Delete

What do you think? What did I get wrong or leave out?