|Terra Nova Solar Competition 2 tent|
“A fantastic all rounder 2 skin tent at a very pleasing weight and packed size. If you’re a bit of a cautious backpacker or careful with your pennies then I see no reason why you wouldn’t want to go for this shelter over the slightly lighter and less stable options of most single arch pole tents. It covers most bases when heading out into the hills and is ideal for thru-hikers, weekend trips and mountain marathons.”
Just when you think Terra Nova have reached the limits of tent design and weight, they come out the blue and smack you in the face with something unexpected – the Solar Competition 2 tent is one example.
A 3 season backpacking shelter that’s strong and quick to erect with ample living space for one, a large porch, which packs down to a small size – all for little over a kilo!
What we’re looking at here is a lightweight shelter that gives you comfort and security when out on the hills for the weight of a bag of sugar. A home for the night that weighs little more than Terra Nova’s well known and highly respected Laser Competition – but with added stability and inherent strength.
|A cracking solo backpacking two skin tent|
I’ve been testing this tent for several months now and have lost count the number of nights it’s had on the hills. It’s been all over the Peak District with me and enjoyed pitches in the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales – through sunshine, snow, wind and rain – the Solar Competition 2 has seen it all.
When you first pick it up you’ll immediately notice it’s small pack size within it’s stuff sack. All in weight is 1.10kg on my scales. This is a inner first pitch tent, so after flinging it out onto the ground it’s only a matter of unfolding the DAC 8mm poles and positioning them into the outer most brass eyelets* in each corner of the groundsheet. You get one main pole which splits over the front of the tent along with long main arching pole which then fixes to a pole hub – which in turn you insert a smaller V shaped pole at the rear.
|Split pole at rear with mesh panel for air flow|
It’s this split pole design that helps give the tent it’s stability and strength (when pitched rear into the wind). Peg out the corners nice and taught and you next clip on the inner nylon shelter the poles after which it’s only a matter of chucking over the tent’s SilNylon 5000mm HH flysheet. Some careful pegging out later and it’s job done.
Now, the inner is mostly durable water resistant treated nylon (which will keep out most drizzle and rain and condensation too) and to it’s rear is a small mesh panel for airflow and venting. On the outer fly in the same vicinity you’ll come across a further optional vent. The fabric is velcro shut but can be opened up with a cord and peg (all guys are dyneema and with handy clamcleats). The position of the rear and inner vent is such that any spindrift or side driven rain shouldn’t make it through if this comes up in your mind as a concern.
|Outer optional rear flysheet vent|
In reality, I’ve seen some moisture make it’s way under the fly but never onto the inner mesh panel due to it’s relative positioned height.
The flysheet isn’t seam sealed and despite some nights of heavy rain, I’ve not experienced a single drop coming through. This is testament to Terra Nova’s careful positioning of the seams around the tent. However, if you’re overly concerned about this, it’s easy enough to seal the seams yourself.
The front of the inner tent contains a large all mesh door. Now, I know some people may frown upon this thinking it will make for chilly breezes blowing through into the tent on a cold winters night. Well, despite my misgivings I’ve not had to endure such circumstances. Namely because you are supposed to pitch the Solar Comp 2 rear into the wind. So, any cold breeze that blows through tends to flow between the inner and outer and out through the main porch. You can feel this effect in fact when you place your hand in the porch on such nights. Retract your arm and the chilly air is gone.
|Looking out from within to the ample porch|
The main porch of the tent consists of a front entry door, with one 2 way zip, and various loops for tying back the door in a number of configurations (as is often the case with Terra Nova shelters). Porch depth is ample at 65cm depth giving you plenty of room for gear and some careful camp cooking.
Venting comes courtesy of the 2 way zip but also a concave shelter at the top of the main door outside – so if you’re creating that ‘chimney effect’ when cooking or just for air flow in inclement weather, you won’t find any snow or rain ingress creeping in.
|Single Exped Synmat UL inside.|
As for living space within the Solar Comp 2, you’ll find it’s very adequate for the solo backpacker with two side mesh pockets for storing quick to hand equipment, a elastic loop up above for a tent light and internal height of 95cm approx (which tapers rapidly to the rear). All said and done, this is marketed as a two person shelter – and in truth it’s more a luxury home for one. Two people can get in at a push (if you’re close and desperate) but you’ll likely find it a lot more cramped and that your sleep mats will overlap somewhat at the tail end of the inner.
|The tent sheds snow easily.|
So with all those details taken care of – how does the tent perform?
First off, it’s weight and pack size is excellent. If you store the tent separately to it’s poles and pegs (as I do) you’ll find it stores away to practically nothing in your rucksack. The corded poles come in at a folded length of 39cm too (handy for slipping into a hydration bladder pouch in your pack). Which reminds me – the pegs. These are Terra Nova’s 2g titanium pegs and though these suffice on firm ground in fine weather they’ll be prone to come loose. As always, you should take other pegs with you anyway to cover all likely scenarios.
For example, I’ll take a few X pegs for key stress areas and use other types for elsewhere including the titanium tooth picks.
The roof of the tent is particularly steep and sheds rain and snow very easily but it does make it vulnerable to concaving in high winds if you’re not pitched tail into the wind. On one occasion I woke to find the wind had changed direction in the night and noted how the shelter was trying it’s best to feed me a mouth full of nylon. The duress the main pole was under was quite something I have to admit and when packing up with difficulty I was surprised to discover the pole was still intact and not misshapen at all. Not ideal, by any means but a mark of how strong the Solar Comp 2 can be if things go a little awry. Saying that, in practice I wouldn’t choose to pitch the tent in winds in excess of 50mph.
|Wind changed direction in night – not good. Tent lived though!
Poles were fine after inspection (and regular use thereafter) and proof
of the fabrics tear strength too.
Even at such speeds and stronger gusts with it positioned correctly into the wind, you will find the experience somewhat unnerving. Yes, it violently shakes about and contorts into shapes that would embarrass most gymnasts – but it does stand firm. More than a single arch pole tent like the Laser Competition for example. But as always, it’s not recommended you deliberately head out to an exposed pitch anyway with such a tent. Apart from the fact you don’t want to wreck your new toy (even if it stood it’s ground) unseen stresses will occur to the poles, friction burns and tears on the flysheet and so on.
|Who loves backpacking?|
Another trip involved 55mph gusts with average wind speeds of 35-45mph and a large dumping of snow too. Again, the Solar Comp 2 stood firm even if one’s instinct inside the tent is to pack up and leg it down to the valleys. The flysheet height surrounding the tent is adjustable to varying degrees and on this occasion I had them pegged at full height.
Despite the snow accumulating up and under against the inner tent, no problems arose thanks to the generous 6000mm HH bathtub inner groundsheet.
Other times have seen me out in prolonged and heavy rain – miserable times out on the hills – and again no issues arose despite the fact the seams aren’t sealed at all.
There was one evening where things did go wrong for me I’ll have to admit. I was enjoying a fine sunset from up Kinder Scout in the Peak Park and left the inner tent pitched adhoc on the moor nearby as I wandered off to film the lovely sights around.
Some time later, dark brooding clouds enveloped the immediate vicinity from out the blue and it chucked it down cats and dogs.
Rushing back to camp and desperately trying to pitch the flysheet over the inner tent I got inside to find pools of water had collected inside. It was a bit of a nightmare to be honest as I slowly and surely mopped up the moisture with a camping towel. Misting soon followed suit and with that the weather improved a little and thankfully I was able to open all vents and doors wide to allow some cool air to dry things out proper.
So, despite the inner being water resistant, it’s not storm proof by any means (why would you think so anyway?) but the venting options worked a treat is my point.
Consequently I’ve not encountered any condensation issues either – as you’ve probably guessed already you can get good airflow through this small shelter. Granted there’s been mornings where the inside of the fly has been coated in large amounts of water but nothing on the inside of the inner tent.
– Fantastic weight and packed size for a 3 season shelter.
– Reasonably strong shelter without being a full on geodesic thanks to American style spilt hub pole design at the rear.
– It’s a fantastic all rounder. Great for mountain marathons and thru-hiking.
– Luxury sized porch and space within for the solo backpacker.
– Quick pitching and option to pitch fly only.
– Great airflow options with a deft designed rear vent.
– All nylon inner (ignoring the mesh door and rear panel)
– Inner pitch first design. Some may not like this but the tent is quick and easy to erect.
– Titanium pegs leave a lot to be desired but most backpackers carry their own supply anyway.
– All mesh inner door. Some may see this as a negative for winter camping.
– In the real world it’s not a two person tent. Adventure racers may find it adequate but most couples will be left wanting.
|At home on the moors in winter.|
Now I’ll be the first to admit, I prefer side entry shelters namely cause I’m a bit of a lazy boy at camp. I like to lie on my side and lean on one arm pottering about with the other in the porch while gazing out at the great outdoors. But no tent is perfect and they all cover by their varying designs and weights differing uses and conditions. Besides, in winter it’s nice to be wrapped up in your sleeping bag with easy access to your porch for cooking and so on without contorting around like a trapped slug desperate to flee.
But I’ve thoroughly enjoyed testing the Terra Nova Solar Competition 2. It really is a fantastic all rounder tent at a very pleasing weight and packed size. If you’re a bit of a cautious backpacker or careful with your pennies then I see no reason why you wouldn’t want to go for this shelter over the slightly lighter and less stable options of any single arch pole tent like the Laser Competition (unless you’re ultralight most people won’t notice 300-500g difference in their packs anyway).
Through heavy and regular use which would equate to most peoples 2-3 years worth of backpacking, only some very minor signs of wear and tear have come to light. Around the inner mesh door where the zip is sewn in some tears or threading has occurred. No drama at all really and nothing a needle, cotton and some seam sealer can’t sort out.
And what may come as no surprise is some ultra violet light fading on the flysheet. Again, this is to be expected with regular use and nothing a bit of Grangers’ Fabsil silicone coating for tents won’t solve. And finally the elastic loops where one pegs out the bottom sides of the flysheet have worn a little, too. No issue there that can’t be solved. Otherwise it’s in tip top condition.
So, there you have it – the Terra Nova Solar Competition 2 tent. A cracking backpacking shelter that covers most bases when heading out into the hills. It’s my go to 3 season shelter now. Aye, I’m testing other tents and what have you but when I want to pick and choose gear I’d like to take – this tent is in my list. It strikes the balance so well that you can’t help but smile and reach for it out the cupboard.
|Happy nights out on the hills.|
Nationwide launch March 2012.
* You get two sets of brass eyelets to insert the pole ends. Why? The outer is for when pitching the tent dry. There’s not much stretch in the SilNylon flysheet. However, after prolonged rain the fabric can give a little and in turn you may notice the tent appears to sag somewhat. This is what the inner brass eyelet is for. By inserting the poles in here, you consequently make the flysheet more taught and thus less prone to flapping in the wind. However, it’s something you have to be mindful of as you could risk tears and such like if the weather improves and the fabric dries. The fabric will wish to contract and so you could accidentally cause the fly to misshapen or at worst cause damage. I only mention this here because quite often I’m asked in emails why there are often two brass eyelets on such tents.