Review – Terra Nova Solar Competition 1

Fortress of Solitude

“All in all, it’s a backpackers friend I’ve grown to love immensely and is a serious contender in replacing my Terra Nova Laser Competition – sure it weighs a little more, and the porch aint so luxurious. But it’s strong and easy and quick to pitch. My bivvy/tarp combo weighs more – and this tent gives you comfortable shelter along with some great wide views in fine weather when the doors are tied back.”

The Terra Nova Solar Competition 1 tent – a shelter I’ve been very reluctant to hand back after testing.

Initially, once pitched in my garden I was a little indifferent to it. I thought the porch was an awkward shape and too small, the flysheet appeared to sit well above the ground in places and the set up seemed a little awkward with it being an inner pitch first tent.

There are significant areas of mesh panels for condensation control, but bearing in mind this is a 3-4 season shelter I thought they may contribute to some chilly nights out on the hills.

So, how did we get on?

Doing it in the woods

If there was ever a perfect example of never judging a book by it’s cover and putting a product to the test out in the field – this was it.

All concerns were fortunately unfounded – by and large – though some others cropped up that I didn’t anticipate originally.

What you have here is a very considerable alternative to the Terra Nova Laser Competition. It doesn’t weigh much more and is a great deal stronger (and quieter) in inclement weather. The tent all in comes in at 1010g’s – on my scales. That’s the tent itself, poles and titanium toothpick pegs. Impressive for a semi-geodesic tent, no?

Naked tent found pitched in Lathkil Dale

Granted, the weight was a little more in the end, because I dispensed with most of the titty sticks as they’re really only suitable for firm ground – which there is not a lot of up in the hills. On soft or real hard soils the pegs are next to useless.

All said and done, I got rid of the pole bag (which has an in-built pocket for the pegs) and tent stuff sack for most trips – preferring to store the tent loose in my rucksack and the poles and pegs elsewhere in pockets and so on.

Porch aint so small after all

The silicone nylon flysheet and (mostly nylon) inner packs down incredibly small not unlike the Laser Competition tent. So, they easily fit in a pocket or sit flat at the bottom of a pack. Brilliant! These are the kind of shelters I really like. They’re not bulky and cumbersome.

Light as a feather and easy to put away and forget about.

Bed for the night on MOD land – pitch location? Classified

When it comes to pitching the shelter, it’s quick and easy enough compared to most tents. You lay out the inner, fling out your poles, place the ends in the brass eyelets  and attach the inner via some small plastic hooks. Because the tent is ‘freestanding’ you can then easily position your home for the night wherever you please.

Following this of course, you then attach the flysheet by means of hooking the corner end eyelets over and under the DAC Featherlite poles. Job done.

However, there are velcro attachments on the rear and front of the tent – specifically where the guy ropes are fixed. No bad thing – but it can be a pain to stick them in place as you awkwardly maneuver  yourself around and under the fly – all the while the poles resisting your every pressure to position them correctly.

But as with all things, practice makes perfect – or at the very least, you just get used to such quibbles – part and parcel of various tent designs. For example, with practice you can get the flysheet attached pretty quickly if it’s raining – and thus not get the inner soaked wet through.

Next you peg out the guys (if needed – the tent is strong enough on it’s own as it happens) and areas of the fly to form a porch or air flow channels – and you’re finished.

Now, here comes the nitty gritty…..

Does this tent stand up to storms? Yes, it does. Surprisingly well, in fact. I’ve recorded 45mph gusts (no more than that, I’ll admit) which in most scenarios will affect any tent and this shelter only shakes – like most semi-geodesics doing a gentle ‘jiggy with it’.

Now, when it comes to wind speeds – folk will often say “Oooo it was 70mph up on them tops today” when in reality it was about 35mph. Would you still be standing if hit by a car at 70mph? I don’t think so. Folk tend to have no idea what wind speeds are. They quote the maximum gusts they saw on the weather forecast – which is only that. A forecast. Even at 35mph it will impede your walking in exposed places – and that will mean a tent gets a good throttling.

Using gadgets like the Kestrel 3000 and sharing it’s information with fellow hikers – they are always surprised at how low the wind speed is when compared to how they feel standing about in it. Well, most people anyway…

So far the Solar Competition 1 tent which is made of lightweight materials has easily withstood 45mph gusts along with average speeds of 35mph. A good sign if ever there was one that it will take some 4 season abuse. On that basis and born from experience, I’d say this is a tent you could use in most conditions, whatever the weather and you’ll be fine.

Naturally, if you’ve pitched it incorrectly or sitting out a hurricane – then expect to see some tears or bent tent poles.

Buckle up! It’s annoying!

And so to the mesh panelling – well, the inner door is all mesh and you get more of that above the head end of the tent and some to the rear. To be honest, when I began testing this tent in the late dregs of winter – I hardly noticed a chill. But I reckon you would in the height of winter – make no doubt.

Put a peg in it, will ya?

What doesn’t help is how high the flysheet sits above the ground. Sure, the generous bathtub inner compensates for spindrift and horizontal rain – but when there’s a breeze blowing as described above? Aye – you’ll feel something come through around the porch area at the very least – which ironically is where the flysheet sits highest!

Consequently, this may cause you potential problems for cooking within the shelter in inclement weather. The porch depth is not much more than a size 11 boot. But there is more than enough room within the inner tent and around it at the head end for gear etc.

“Let off some steam, Bennett”

But because the flysheet is at a steep angle from the ground up – and the wind can blow under a bit – with such a small porch, cooking isn’t necessarily going to be safe. Flames may blow back at you or even hit the tent.

However, I use a Caldera Cone cooking system – and have not experienced any problems in that respect. Far from it. But I know you’d have to be mindful of all this with a popular gas stove like the MSR Pocket Rocket, for example. The flames would sit higher off the ground and closer to the fly.

There is an element of flexibility with the tent door and fly – whereby you can extend it out a little to create a bit more room in the porch – but then the fly sits real high off the ground. And if you do it up all tight, then you’re left with little space to fling even the smallest kitten!

I’m emphasising the sense of space in this tent because I’ve no doubt some folk would buy it hoping to save weight along with all their heavy gear and be disappointed – but it has to be said, if you’re gonna buy this tent, you’re likely to be carrying lightweight gear anyway. And kind of know what to expect – again, it’s those compromises….

Saying all that, I thought there was plenty of room for me, a 45 litre pack and all my camera gear. Something that surprised even me! I didn’t expect it to be so.

Sat up in the tent upon a 6cm mattress, my head didn’t touch the top of the inner tent either (I’m 5’11”) which I thought was odd as the inner is stated as 90cm – not complaining of course.

So, given my first impressions of the tent – all transpired rather well. Where I had concerns they just never really materialised. The opposite in fact occurred. I was pleased to be proven wrong and consequently grew to really like the tent.

One gripe I do have though, is with the height and position of the outer door. Granted, it opens high and wide giving the user a great wide view out onto the landscape around – but if you take advantage of the 2 way zip and make a vent at the top, rain can sprinkle straight down upon you inside. The very top of the door overlooks you, you see. Also, the buckle clip to tighten the door shut can be fiddly to use – be it clipping together or otherwise. Could be a problem in cold weather – I’ll leave that one with you.

Oh! And one other minor gripe – situated in the porch is some groundsheet fabric protruding out as part of extending the porch area and acting as an anchor for one of the tent poles. There’s no need for this. It gets in the way as it raises itself from the ground – causing bits of gear to slide about and disappear underneath.

All Terra Nova need do is replace this with an integrated strap with brass eyelet on the end for the tent pole.

The overall conclusion?

  • Fantastic low weight, pack size and strength for a solo semi-geodesic tent – ideal for adventure racers and lightweight enthusiasts.
  • Should stand up to all but the very worst weather conditions (shedding snow more than carrying the load)
  • Relatively quick and easy to pitch
  • The inner mesh door could do with some nylon fabric about 10 inches high along the bottom to repel chilly breezes in the winter
  • A flying V to the rear flysheet fabric would help with air flow through the tent. Currently it’s regular cut sits too close to the inner tent mesh panel.
  • Porch is bigger in use than you’d think after initial practice pitching in your garden
  • Generous bathtub inner groundsheet.
  • Peculiarly you only get the guylines for holding out the sides of the flysheet and rear. Not the two guy points found on the front head of the tent. No drama – just a bit odd.
Our last night together…will be a sorely missed tent

All in all, it’s a backpackers friend I’ve grown to love immensely and is a serious contender in replacing my Terra Nova Laser Competition – sure it weighs a little more, and the porch aint so luxurious. But it’s strong and easy and quick to pitch. My bivvy/tarp combo weighs more – and this tent gives you some great wide views in fine weather with the doors tied back.

I love it – and am really quite sad to see it go back to Terra Nova towers…..


51 Comments Add yours

  1. Neville says:

    Hi Terry, looking forward to the review, the comp 2 could be just what I'm looking for. Any view on the durability of the fabrics on the photon versions?


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