A look at the Tarptents Stratospire and the Notch.
Most of my readers will know that I prefer to hike with pacer poles, which I have used for the last 8 years or so my review of them can be found here.
So when hiking I would prefer to use the poles as support for my shelter, thereby saving a little weight. Over the years I have experimented with a number of walking pole supported shelters but it is only in the past couple of years that I have found what works for me.
Having recently returned from a trip above the Arctic Circle, I felt it was time to write a comparison of my two preferred shelters, the Tarptent Notch (originally purchased in 2012) and Tarptent Stratopsire 1 (purchased in 2014). You would be right to say that they are practically the same so why have both? In the following paragraphs I hope to explain what I see as the strengths and weaknesses of each shelter in particular environments. But first some details.
|Weights (on my scales)||Notch||Stratospire 1|
|Fly with guy lines||463 gm||583 gm|
|Net Inner||272 gm||Unknown|
|Part solid inner||327 gm||385 gm|
|Total weight with part solid inner (excluding pegs)||790 gm||968 gm|
|Inner space||Notch||Stratospire 1|
|Distance between walking poles||80 cm||90 cm|
|Ground to centre of roof||95 cm||110 cm|
|Length (end to end)||275 cm||220 cm|
|Inner length||230 cm||215 cm|
|Inner width||50 cm||80 cm|
|Inner area from TT website||1.4 sq. m.||1.77 sq.m|
|Total Vestibule area (approx)||1 sq. m||2 sq. m|
To pitch the Notch you require 6 stakes, I normally use 2 8″ Eastons at the pitchloc ends and 4 y pegs on the sides (at the base and the guy lines).
To pitch the Stratospire you will require 8 stakes and I often use 2 8″ Eastons on the pitchlocs and 4 y pegs on the sides with 2 8″ Eastons on the guy lines, though I tend to mix and match depending on the ground. So, in summary for the Stratospire I carry 2 extra Easton pegs, which is about an extra 30 grams. All up then the Stratopsire 1 weighs an extra 308 grams on my scales. Is the extra weight worth it?
Firstly, the Stratospire has a larger inner sanctum than the Notch, and I would describe the Notch as a long narrow shelter whereas the Stratospire 1 as having the shape of a hexagonal based pyramid or it could even be described as a modified A frame.
The similarities. Both shelters have 2 doors, and vestibules, they are each supported by 2 walking poles providing headroom at the centre of the shelter, thus giving the occupant sufficient room to move around, unsurprisingly the extra space is more evident in the Stratospire than in the Notch. Both shelters come with full mesh and part solid inners and are provided with the minimum necessary stakes. The inners for each shelter are removable.
Taking a closer look at each shelter.
The Notch in my view is a one person shelter, the inner has sufficient room for a regular Thermarest Xlite, with some space to spare at the ends. But because the inner tapers towards the ends of a rectangular mattresses such as the Thermarest All Seasons will impact on the inner. The ends of the shelter have venting panels which can be opened or closed, I rarely close mine. I have used the Notch along the Norkalotteleden with a mesh inner (the part solid inner was not available at that time) it worked well, my only concerns were in cross winds where the side panels tended to impact on the inner, this would have been less of a problem with the part solid walls. Otherwise it stood up well, albeit with minimal space inside when the weather turned wet and windy. The shelter packs up small and can be easily stuffed into the side pocket of an HMG Windrider. I have recently modified the Notch by adding shock cord to the clip at the bottom of the doors on the opposite side to the cord. My reason for doing this is it replicates somewhat the Stratospire 1 zip and stake connectors arrangement which also ensures that there is less stress on the zip if the connecting clip separates. The modification can be seen in the following photograph.
I find this modification also makes it easier to close the door once you have “dived” into the tent as the rain pours down.
The Stratosphere 1 is a roomy one person, or even two person shelter without the inner. There is an extra 3.8 square feet (0.35 square metres) of space in the inner according to the Tarptent website. The inner is a rectangular shape and provides sufficient space to store gear etc., either side of the mattress, as well as at the ends. In both tents the vestibule will provide sufficient space for storing wet gear etc., however, the Stratospire excels in this area. The Stratospire packs up almost as small as the Notch and can also be fitted into the side pocket of an HMG Windrider, I tend to use strap to cinch the Stratospire into a smaller diameter cylinder when packing it.
Stratospire pictured below with inner removed and regular length Thermarest Xlite placed parallel to the poles, it is evident that there is ample space for a second mattress.
Another nice feature with the Stratospire is the ability to open both sides and have a fully uninterrupted view of the surroundings, while having the other side complete closed.
But are they any good in real life?
Measurements etc., do not tell us a lot about how the shelters will perform in the field, below is a summary of my experineces of using both shelters over an extended period of time..
1. Setting up time. After a couple of practices I am now able to setup the Notch in about 2 minutes which is especially important when it is wet and windy, I normally leave the inner attached to the outer.
Similarly the Stratospire is also fast to pitch, and with a little practice it probably takes me about 3 or 4 minutes. I do not use Henry’s suggested method for erecting the Stratospire, instead I prefer to peg out the doors at both ends to form a rectangle and then insert the poles at each end before pulling out the pitchlocs, and I found this method especially effective in windy conditions.
The challenge with the Stratospire when setting it up on uneven ground is the offset inner. As you can see from the plan taken from the Tarptent website, the inner is not aligned, or perpendicular to the poles, so some thought is required when trying to locate the sleeping area in the optimum location. With practice this becomes less of an issue.
In summary both shelters can be erected in less than 5 minutes.
2. Weather protection. I have not used either shelter in snow conditions, but I would feel comfortable with using them under light snow, however, I recognise I would need to “knock snow off” the roof regularly.
Both tents have been used in very windy and wet conditions in Lapland, my experiences are described below.
The Notch; in Lapland I have experienced both wet and windy conditions when using the Notch, and there has been a minimal amount of wind driven rain come in under the tarp. However, a wind shift to the long side can be more problematic, as the outer can be easily blown on to the inner. If a part solid inner (with a mesh roof) is fitted, this is less of a problem than when using the mesh inner, which is one reason why I prefer the part solid inner above tree line.
The Stratospire, is outstanding in stormy conditions. Let me explain, on my recent trip in Lapland I was camped on a ledge at about 1000 metres, the view was awesome. However, there was a thunderstorm moving up the valley directly towards the campsite. The tent was staked down using y pegs and 8” Easton alloys. The thunder rumbled the wind howled and the shelter was blasted by the rain. The wind was hitting the tent between the line of the tent poles and the pitchlocs and the panel between them was flattening into the inner, I did check the windward side pole and it was barely moving. The wind blew for almost 2 hours, as drenching rain battered the shelter. Some spray was blown under the outer and there was some moisture on the inner where the rain was being forced by the wind through the fabric. However, significantly, while the wind howled outside it was calm inside. I did not unpack my gear for the “what if” situation, but, I never felt that the Stratospire was going to “take off”, or collapse. This storm was one of the worst I have ever encountered and I was very appreciative of the robustness of the Stratospire. I was further impressed when I was hit by a second storm during the night.
In Summary Notch Pros:
- Fast setup
- Requires 6 pegs including 2 for guy lines
- Small footprint
- Roomy enough for sleeping gear and spare clothing.
- Ideal for long trips where space and weight are at a premium
- When the wind comes from the side the inner space can be reduced.
- Difficult to attach the inner to the handles of Pacer Poles
- Limited internal space and not suited to rectangular full length mattresses
Stratospire 1 Pros:
- Less than 5 minutes to set up
- Only requires 8 pegs including 2 for guy lines
- Hexagonal based design results in a stable shelter no matter what the wind direction is.
- Very storm worthy
- Roomy inside and can easily fit two mattresses without the inner.
- Limited ventilation options unless the doors are left unzipped.
- Requires thought when pitching when space is limited to ensure there is a flat sleeping area.
- With pegs weighs just over a kilo
I intend to use the Notch for most of my trips for its low weight, pack-ability and smaller foot print. But when it comes to spending extended time above the tree line it will be the Stratospire 1, for its weather worthiness and extra space. But there is not a lot of difference between the two, and either will work in the conditions that I am likely to experience.
Both of these shelters were purchased by me from Backpackinglight in Denmark