All lightweight tents are compromised in some way, most commonly space. The Stratospire 2 takes a different tact by offering perhaps the most space of any lightweight 2 person shelter and instead saving weight with a trekking pole based structure and creative shape. The result is a spacious tent with full double wall protection, dual doors and commodious vestibules. Its downsides are a reliance on good soil and above average pitching technique. In the right conditions it’s a fantastic tent but it’s not the right tool for rocky, alpine or sandy substrate.
– Light (38.6oz for fly + inner)
– Dual doors with large vestibules
– Pitches with inner protected from rain
– Challenging pitch
– 8 Stake reliance (6 is feeble)
– #3 inner zippers
– Wind resistance
I find tents to be the least satisfying gear to buy. All gear has compromises but nowhere is this more overt than shelter design, where manufacturers navigate trade-offs in space, weight, durability, structure, protection and features. These trade-offs can be balanced to create an excellent tent for specific conditions, but it’s very difficult to make a tent that is versatile in its excellence.
With over 200 nights in a Stratospire 2 (hereafter SS2), my opinions have firmly coalesced. Like all lightweight tents, the SS2 makes compromises. Specifically, it gives up being freestanding to save weight with trekking poles, and further to that, it adds pitching complexity achieve above average space. However the list of what it doesn’t compromise is long: space, durability, waterproofness, vestibule space and ease of ingress/egress. Is it a good tent? For some people it’s really really good but certainly not everyone.
In the context of lightweight tents, the SS2 is huge. Most 2 person shelters that set up with dual trekking poles position them either parallel or perpendicular to the sleepers. Either approach gives ample headroom only in one dimension. The SS2 takes a novel approach where the sleepers lie at a diagonal to the ridgeline and then raises the two non-ridgeline corners with Tarptent’s strut based “pitchlock” concept. It works really well and headroom is on par with a more traditionally poled tent. Either occupant can comfortably sit up most anywhere in the tent.
The floor area of the SS2 is also large, with enough room for about 2.5 pads wide and an extra foot of length at either the head or foot end of the tent unless you’ve got a longer than 72″ sleeping pad. The vestibules are also large, both in floor area and height. They’re super.
The SS2 is a double wall tent, which is great for protecting you from the condensation that is inevitable in some areas. In it’s stock configuration the mesh top of the inner is close to the fly and will stick to its wet bottom when condensation occurs, but Tarptent has provided loops at the trekking pole tips for clipping the inner a couple inches lower. This is the best spot to use, as it keeps the mesh roof a safe distance from the potentially wet roof and also adds a few inches of width to the tent.
Pitching the SS2 is it’s number one downside. The SS2 can be a bear to pitch because of it’s large footprint, high reliance on stakes and non-intuitive geometry. All of these issues exist for good reason, but they nonetheless exist. You’ll find you need to get most of the stakes in before you know if you’ve got the geometry right, so you’ll often end up moving half of them. Easy on good dirt but a pain on rocky soil.
If you’re trying to wrap your head around the SS2’s geometry, start by thinking of a 2-pole mid where the sleepers lie parallel to the ridgeline (e.g. Black Diamond Beta Light) and then imagine wings extending out both sides and the sleeping area rotated 45 degrees so it’s diagonal to the ridgeline. Imagine some struts on the ends of those wings and you’ve got the SS2.
Once you find a spot, you can pitch it via the method shown on the Tarptent website but you’ll quickly find this doesn’t work well if there’s a decent wind. My preferred method is to fully stake the base and refine those stake positions until you have a close to perfect pseudo-hexagon and then add the poles once the shape is perfect.
In more detail, start by holding one of the strut corners in your left hand and the adjacent corner in your right. This side of the tent will correspond to the head/foot end of the inner hidden inside, so now lay out the tent in the orientation you want to sleep. Stake these two corners along with the opposite two corners at the foot end. The hard part here is that you actually don’t want a rectangle but a slight diamond because the corner struts tweak the geometry a bit. So once you have the first two stakes in, pull the next corner out at 90 degrees and taut, but then move it in (slack) and out both 5″. Then toss in the last corner of the diamond so it’s tight. I know it’s confusing, but if you take the time to perfect this then the rest is easy. When you think you’ve got a good shape going on, stake out the two side stakeout points as far out as they go. Now examine your work and see if the whole thing looks bi-laterally symmetrical. If it does, toss in those two poles and it’ll look good. Add the 2 extra stakes for the ridgeline and you’re done. If it doesn’t look good or it sets up funny, fine tune the position of your stakes until you’ve nailed the slightly squished hexagon shape.
I can do the above under a minute on good soil, but when staking is tough and the user is less experienced then it can turn into a 30 minute job. I’ve pitched it hundreds of times and still don’t like setting it up on snow, frozen ground, bedrock or sand. If you’re a lightweight hiker frequenting these areas you should look for a tent that compromises in other ways, but if you’re a forest dweller there’s probably no better tent.
The StratoSpire2 excels is the rain, is okay in the snow and poor in high winds. In the rain it sets up with a protected inner so you enter a large, dry tent with huge vestibules for whatever wet gear you have. There are few tents better. In the snow it excels for similar reasons, but it’s large roof area means you want to be wary of snow accumulations over 2 inches. Tarptent is currently selling the SS2 as a 4-season tent. It’s good but that’s overstating it’s abilities even though the silnylon is slippery and does shed snow reasonably well.
The wind is the SS2’s strongest nemesis. The SS2 has a lot of surface area and it’s not equally distributed between the stakes. The stakes holding the strut corners take a lot more force than the others, and are by far the most likely to pull out. The entire side of the tent is pretty much hanging off these stakes, so choose them well. On the Pacific Crest Trail in 2014 we took some pretty stiff winds in SoCal while camped on semi-sandy ground and the strut corner stakes pulled on a few occasions. You can beef this up with multiple stakes and rocks, but ultimately in high winds it becomes a lot of force at one spot and if you prevent the stake from failing you might find out that something else does instead.
Doors / Zippers
The SS2 has nice doors on both sides. With the trekking poles positioned in the vestibules, the doors are quite tall and easy to use. They open via #5 coil zippers which are robust and have lasted well. However, they aren’t water repellant (“uretek coated”) which means Tarptent has added silnylnon flaps over them to limit water entry. Normally I much prefer water repellant zippers over clumsy and potentially snag prone flaps, but the flaps on the SS2 are well done and rarely snag, and any water that does penetrate the zipper only lands in the vestibule so I’m content without uretek zippers.
The zippers used on the inner tent are smaller #3 zippers and I don’t like them. #3 zippers just don’t last long enough to be used on tents. The sliders on both of mine were failing by 150 nights. I tightened the sliders with pliers but that only worked for another dozen nights. Replacing them isn’t that hard, but I’d rather have #5 zips. With that said, #3 zips are the norm for lightweight tents and many makers use them also for the fly. So no knock to Tarptent here but I’d rather see #5’s.
The SS2 uses 30D silnylon, which is a great fabric. It’s been durable and the fly shows no adverse wear after hundreds of nights. Even the floor only has a pinhole or two, despite me never using a groundsheet. The fabric has also been pretty waterproof. I still trust the fly to keep the rain out, but the floor will wick through some water if it’s pitched on soggy ground, so site selection (and setting up before the rain) is key. I’d like the waterproofing on the floor to last longer, but I’ve also never had a tent floor that could be trusted after this many nights, so again no knock on Tarptent.
The only real complaint I have about the fabric is common to all silnylon, and that is how slippery it is for a floor. On a non-level surface it’s tough to stay put on most sleeping pads. The best solution is dotting the bottom of your sleeping pad with silicone dots. This adds ample grip and is far better than adding stripes of silicone or painting diluted silicone onto the floor, as those options makes for a sticky floor that is heavier and hard to clean. The upside to the slippery silnylon is that it sheds snow well. I like it for the fly but would prefer PU coated nylon for the floor.
Less durable has been the mesh, but that’s mostly due to pesky rodents chasing food in my tent. They’ve gnawed in on a few occasions but tenacious tape has always repaired the damage. No complaints here.
The SS2 uses velcro to secure the fly doors, which works well, and bungie loops for the inner doors as velcro would damage the mesh. These work fine. The SS2 does lack interior pockets although I don’t really miss them.
There’s also vents at both peaks, which are fine. They’re not huge but they also don’t let in snow etc. In wet conditions you’ll still get condensation but in my view it’s unavoidable in the PNW and the best bet is a tent that deals with it well, as the SS2 does.
TarpTent sells a few options for the SS2, specifically a partially solid inner and tent poles to be used in lieu of trekking poles. I bought these poles, but found them too flimsy to be useful so they’ve never made it beyond the backyard. The partially solid inner looks like a nice option where conditions warrant.
The SS2 stands out by providing a very livable space for two for only 38.6oz w/o stakes, sack (1092g on my scale, although newer ones appear heavier as TT claims 46oz including stakes). Compared to something like the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2, the SS2 probably has close to twice the interior volume. It also has dual doors and dual very large vestibules. It also excels in the rain and in the wet Pacific Northwest. It’s really really good, perhaps the best, for anyone who camps primarily in the forest and where decent sized tent sites aren’t hard to find.
Where it comes up short is when you’re pitching it on uncooperative substrate or expecting particularly harsh wind or snow. If your walks include a regular forays into the alpine, desert or bedrock then you’ll want to be prepared with staking ideas, or perhaps better, a different shelter.
Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with TarpTent in any way, and received no discounts or assistance in purchasing this product.
Post script: The SS2 is such a good tent that it got my brain-wheels turning on how it’s limited shortcomings could be further improved. After years of mulling it over, I ended up designing an SS2 competitor called the X-Mid 2P. It features the same advantages of the SS2, but with a much simpler 4 stake pitch, no sag poly polyester fabric, no struts so it can pack up short and store horizontally, non-slip floor, and larger vents that aren’t perpetually half wrinkled shut.