Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Terra Nova Solar Competition

(Click to enlarge images, opens new window).
I bought this tent to replace my ancient Saunders Satellite, which was no more than a glorified bivvy, though a techno-marvel in its day. At ~1.2kg, the Solar Comp is a great option for those who don't want to lug unnecessary weight around, and want more stability than a tunnel can offer. Stretched out fully inside, with my hands raised above my head, I can just touch the ends of the inner; plenty of space for me (5' 6") and my 48-litre pack. The porch is plenty big enough for poles, boots, stove, and my half-empty pack (minus tent/sleeping bag/mat), but not a jumbo rucksack, and you wouldn't want to cook in it with the door closed. Pitching is easy, even in a wind (which was still blowing some when I took these photos), and takes less than five minutes. The full technical spec for this tent is here.

Pack Size & Weight
Sold as 1055g, the pack was 1100g on my scales, including the repair kit. Decent pegs (no spares) brought the weight up to 1160g. Total weight including the footprint, decent pegs (+ two spares), and pole repair sleeve (but without fabric squares) was 1318g.

In the bag (left), and optional extras: guys, footprint and sturdier pegs (right)

The Solar Comp has three pitching configurations: inner + outer, inner only, or outer + footprint. The two front poles and the ridge come as one, and the tail-end triangle as another. The pole ends clip into eyelets on tags at the corners of the inner (which also has pegging points), the inner clips to to poles, and the fly goes over. Fantastically quick to pitch. The fly is attached by eyelets too, and has four pegging points. There also are five guy-points, but only three guys supplied, and there aren't enough pegs to go round if you've pegged down the inner - which you need to do in a wind. Nominally, the inner is pitched first, but if you use a footprint, you can pitch the flysheet first (though you might want to rearrange the eyelets - which is hard on cold hands).

Inner only (left), outer + footprint only (right)

The supplied pegs are the 2g titanium needles (see "in the bag" photo above), with yellow tops so you can lose them amongst the grass/lichen/bracken. Five of the seven fly/guy pegs came out at some time or another during the night, despite being pitched on grass (though admittedly the three windward pegs popped when a garden chair blew into the tent). They're okay for pegging down the inner while pitching, but not much else. I'm not the first to change them (below left).

Supplied pegs, bottom; replacements for the fly/guys, middle/top (left), Velcro pole tabs inside (right)

Outer Door
The door has plenty of ventilation options, including a clip/strap setup (see ventilation photos, below), but the clip is on the outside (to avoid run-off into the inner), making it awkward to reach, and it's hard to operate with cold hands. I'd have liked to see a clip on the inside too. There is another clip at the bottom to secure the zip when closed - and this can be used to peg the fly closer to the ground (see ventilation photos, below). The zip comes under some tension at the corner while opening/closing, but has a storm flap, and is double ended. Don't reply on being able to make an awning with a hiking pole. The door opens tailward and, assuming you've pitched tail into wind, it would only offer protection in rain with no wind. There is only one toggle tie, meaning that the top of the door hangs/flaps when it's tied back.

Outside door clip, difficult for cold hands (left), and how to get drips on your sleeping bag (right)

The Porch
The porch is very small, but I found the space useful. I could stow my 48-litre pack, boots, stove and poles (below left). While you wouldn't want to cook, as is, with the outer door closed, it's simple to unhook and fold back the end of the inner to make more space (below right). The flysheet door zip is double ended for ventilation.

Places to store a 48-litre pack (left), and extra space made by unclipping & folding back the inner (right)

Inner Door
The inner door is all mesh (below left), so you don't feel too enclosed, but it was draughty in the strong wind of the first night. If you pull the wall down only an inch, you have a direct sight-line out from the sleeping position, and the wind has a direct line in (below right). With a lighter wind on the second night, I didn't notice a draught at all.

All mesh inner door (left), and don't let your sleeping mat pull the side wall down (right)

The inner tent is yellow, which gives a nice colour inside, and is easy on the eye. There is space for me (5' 6") to stretch my arms above my head and only just be able to touch the end with my toes touching the other end. There is ample headroom too. There is plenty of space for my 48-litre pack to lie sideays at the head end, with room to spare

Inside views (left), and the head end (right)

The fly sits quite high, meaning that there is a fair draught underneath in a strong wind (see inner door photos, above). This is great for ventilation, but draughty with the full-mesh inner door. (It is possible to peg the fly lower down/closer in (below left), but this reduces the size of the porch.) There are mesh panels at the top of each end of the inner (inside photos, above). The outer door has a double-ended zip, and a buckle for clipping it partly open at the bottom (below, right). Ventilation just wasn't a problem, even on my second night when the wind had dropped there was only the slightest dampness on the inside of the flysheet. On a hotter, dryer, night, you could simply remove the flysheet, as the inner can stand alone if necessary.

Using the clip at the bottom of the zip to peg the fly to the ground (left), and ventilation options (right)

There are two footprints available for this tent: 130g (standard weight) for £40, or 60g (fastpack) for £120. Both are made of material "the same as the flysheet," (rather oddly, they won't let on the weave size), so I'm not quite sure where the different weight/price comes in. I ordered the 130g version. It attaches to the poles with the same tab/eyelet system, and I was expecting it to fit tightly, but in fact it's oversize and flaps about a bit. The bag it comes in is unnecessarily tight (the words condom and flaccid will give you an idea) so I'll be keeping the footprint in the main sack, and using its bag for pegs/guys, etc. (the peg pocket in the pole bag is too small for my extras).

The footprint, and optional extra (left), and the fly and footprint only (right)

As with any tent, it's worth knowing if the wind is expected to veer or back during the night, and pitch accordingly, but the SC handled a side wind perfectly. In addition, a garden chair blew into a tail-end corner during the night, shifting the poles and popping out three pegs. I woke up to find the door side of the tent in my face (in a gale); but with the aid of a handy hiking-stick (to push the pole back into place), I could re-peg without getting out of bed. Chairs notwithstanding, I found the structure totally stable. I wasn't aware of anything other than the gentlest flapping during the strongest gusts (30mph+).

I had both torrential rain and 4mm hailstones during the first night and, apart from a very small amount of rain blowing under the flysheet and into the porch, everything stayed dry. (Gear stored in the porch will likely get a dusting on a wet and windy night.) As I had little/no condensation, even the fly blowing against the inner during the chair incident (see Stability) caused no problem.

Good Features:
1055g on the box, 1100g on my scales, 1150-1200g with decent pegs.
very quick to pitch (<5mins)
super quick to re-pitch (<30secs)
5000mm groundsheet, 3000mm fly
yellow inner - easy on the eyes!
small pack size (can be packed horizontally)
stable: survived 30mph+ gusts with no flapping to speak of.
waterproof: survived torrential rain & hail with no effect
3 pitch configurations: inner + outer, inner only, outer + footprint (not included)
stand alone (inner as is, or outer + footprint + dead guys).
ceiling loop and pocket inside (see inside photos)
Virtually no condensation (*see also poor features)

Neutral Features (depending on your point of view)
Small porch: less weight, but less space.
The whole tent is small - but this is perfect for folk who don't want extra space/weight.
Full mesh inner door is draughty in windy conditions, but great for ventilation and a feeling of space.

Poor Features
Pegs don't hold in the wind, even in my garden.
(I've bought some 11g v-section pegs instead - see also right-hand photo under Pegs)
5 guying points, only 3 guys supplied...WTF?
14 pegging points, only 9 pegs supplied...ditto.
Care is needed when opening the outer door in the wet, so water doesn't trickle on/in to the inner.
Elastic on the door ties are too long, so they don't hold very well.
Only one toggle tie per door, so the fabric hangs down when tied back.
Door clip is outside, and too small/stiff for cold fingers.
*A bit draughty in strong wind - though this can be minimised with careful pitching.

I'm actually really pleased with the Solar Comp. My gripes are only minor and/or easily rectified, so I wholeheartedly recommend this tent.

Please leave feedback/questions about this tent/review via the comments' link, just below. Thanks!


Mac E said...

Hi, thats the 1st review I've seen of the Solar Comp, very well done as you've covered pretty much everything and provided great detail shots.

I didn't comment on your previous post as I've only just found your blog but I agree with what you say about the Cairngorms.

Keep up the good work, look forward to following your adventures.


Leigh said...

Thanks very much for the feedback, Richard. Hope to see you here again!

Jumbly Girl said...

Great review Leigh - you really know your stuff. Me being someone who only slightly knows her stuff (but in possession of a lovely Terra Nova Quasar) I thought this was a comp to win something called a Terra Nova Solar, ah well...

Leigh said...

My my, Jumbly, you are a dark horse. A Quasar indeed. I would have never guessed! And will you be bringing it in June?

Jumbly Girl said...

Was rather hoping for floor space for my sleeping bag in June - but will bring Quasar if needed :o). Was our camping home of choice for many years pre-child and served us very well in Iceland and Ireland amongst other places - still gets occasional single occupancy usage.

Shamus said...

What a stunning review! Thanks Leigh, very much appreciated.

Leigh said...

Jumbly - Don't worry;there'll be floor space aplenty!

Shamus - thanks for the feedback! Glad you found the review useful.

GeoffC said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
GeoffC said...

Repost due to error:
Great review Leigh.
The weight is very good for a freestanding tent and the ventilation would be of the same order as my Voyager I would think.

The one thing about this tent would do my head in - and I've mentioned it before on another brief review with no response from anyone - is that it's the wrong-handedness for a right-handed person, i.e. when lying and supporting myself on my left forearm to do things with my right hand, the door should be on my left. In this tent it's on the right. It may not seem like a big deal to some, but it's a non-starter for me.
Added: I'd have to be careful about the fairly high cut of the fly, I guess they shaved off a bit of weight there, as well as using the joke pegs.

Leigh said...

Yes, if you're lying on your left elbow, you'll be facing the wall in the Solar Comp - this had never occurred to me. Thanks for pointing it out!

Tex Gore said...

Hey man - great review; just what I needed as I'm looking to replace my old Banshee which is great apart from being heavy, badly designed, and dreadfully ventilated. One question - is it possible to erect the tent fly-first (or fly and inner together) without the footprint?



Leigh said...

Hi Tex! No, I reckon you'd have a struggle putting up the fly first without the footprint; because the poles are sprung, they need something (the inner's corner tabs, or the footprint) to keep them in place while you get the fly over the top. Otherwise, the poles will keep straightening, and shrugging off the fly.

Hope that makes sense!

Ryan said...

Great review! How hot does it get for summer camping with the ventilation only on one side?

Leigh said...

There's quite a lot of ventilation: the fly sits quite high, so there's air under it all round, and with the mesh sections at the top of each end as well as on the door I've not found ventilation a problem at all.

Anonymous said...

Hi Leigh,
Does the Solar Competition 1 have space for a pack at the wider end of the inner body? I weigh 75kg and am 185 cm tall.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a nice review! I wonder if I'm too tall for this tent with 6'4'' (193 cm). Don't want my feet against the inner when I'm sleeping... Thanks for any feedback on this! //Tom

bill gates said...

I have had this tent the terra nova voyager for just under a year now mostly took out out in fair weather I decided to camp on top of Pen-y-fan 11/04/15 the wind condition's were moderate to strong at the time's but with this being rated a 4 season tent I was confident it would withstand the weather being thrown at it , but boy was I wrong the arch pole over the door kept being blown back onto the tent and me inside all night despite being pitched correctly the result in the morning was a broken pole and where the red pole sit's over the two blue horizontal poles it had rubbed holes in both pole sleeves and the stitching inside was tearing through the inner tent where the pole sleeves attach, now I cannot insert the poles through the sleeves without them coming through the holes . I contacted terra nova about this they were useless after many emails and pictures of the damage were sent I had to send it off to them, 2 weeks for them to look at it and after they make a dissension another 2-3 weeks for them to repair it at my expense when it is clearly a design fault as there is no reinforcement protection where the poles overlap on the front of the tent but there is protection on the rear. Truly disappointed in there poor customer service I expected more form a British company I have lost faith in there product's and will buy a Hilleberg for a better experience .