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 may 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.
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 throw out the tent where 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 (by cutting off the edges at those corners). Once you have the first two stakes in, pull the next corner out at 90 degrees and taut, but then tweak that out by about 5″ to make the angle a bit wider (e.g. 92 degrees) and move it in about 5″ to make it slightly slack instead of taut. Then toss in the last corner of the diamond so the second end wall is tight even while the side wall is a bit loose like the first one. 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 slight-diamond shape going on, stake out the two side stakeout points where they pull taut. Now examine your work and see if the whole thing looks good. The best way to do that is to stand at one end and look straight across to see if the opposite side is square to it and not at an angle. If it looks good, toss in those two poles and 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 questonable 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 pushing it. Silnylon is slippery and does shed snow reasonably well, but also stretches and sags a lot under snow load.
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 because they anchor most of the surface area, plus the struts tend to apply leverage to these stakes, so they 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.
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’m torn about them. #3 zippers just don’t last that long (the sliders on both of mine were failing by 150 nights) but anything better is quite a bit heavier. I tightened the sliders with pliers but that only worked for another dozen nights. 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 it’s still an issue.
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 complaints I have about the fabric are common to all silnylon, and that is (1) how slippery it is for a floor and (2) it sags when wet unlike silpoly. Silpoly would be much better because it doesn’t absorb water in the rain, causing it expand when wet and lose tension plus become heavy and slow to dry. Silpoly solves all of this. Secondly, 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.
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 (e.g. spacious, light, stormworthy), but with a much simpler 4 stake pitch, no sag polyester fabric, no struts so it can pack up short/store horizontally, non-slip floor, factory seam taped, 6oz lighter, better wind and snow performance, and with larger vents that aren’t perpetually half wrinkled shut.
Thanks for this most thorough review Dan!
A very thorough review. One of the best tent reviews I’ve read. If only all tent reviews were this detailed and thorough!
could you elaborate on how you modified the tent to accommodate the stove pjpe?
I got a stove jack (piece of heat proof fabric with flap) from Bear Paw Wilderness Designs (low quality but low price) and just sewed that to the fly, and then cut out the silnylon behind it. The stove jack has a velcro on silnylon cover to keep the rain out when no stove is being used. You can generally see the location of the stove jack in the above pictures. Like this, it accommodates 2 people sleeping in a V shape. I made a homemade silnylon floor with a cutout for use with the stove. The stove is the TiGoat 12″ cylinder stove.
Curious what modifications you made so you could run a stove. Love this tent, been using it for years now but during monsoon season a stove would be nice for drying gear out.
perhaps some photos of the stove jack could be added?
I got my stove jack from Bear Paw Wilderness Designs and basically just sewed it on and then cut away the underlying fly fabric. Bear Paw has a video showing to do this here:
I position the stove near one of the poles, which I angle to offset a bit so the stove can be more central. With two of us, we sleep in V shape with the stove between our heads. I did sew a groundsheet that clips into the fly for use with the stove, so it has a cutout around the stove area. It works well in the winter.
The stove is a nice thing but it also takes a fair bit of effort because you need to carry it (1.5 lbs), set it up, collect wood and then maintain the fire. The stove only burns for about 30 min because it’s small, so once you fall asleep it goes out pretty quick. The SS2 is about the smallest tent you’d want to do this with because the stove takes up quite a bit of space and you need to leave a buffer so you don’t melt your sleeping bag. A little bigger shelter would be nice for this use.
Thanks for a very good review. I’ve read others stating this shelter to be more or less bomb proof, with no issues in handling strong wind. Considering the issues you experienced, do you think it would help to add longer and adjustable guylines to most or all tie-outs?
I’m looking for a new 2-person shelter and this looks very promising. My tent sites are almost exclusively above the tree line though and rocks can occur a plenty.
I think the most important thing is using good stakes at the strut corners. These take the most force, so they will quite likely be the first to go in strong winds. You could even affix 2 guylines to these corners and double stake them in really bad conditions. If you keep these corners staked down then my guess is the shelter would be quite bomber. It would take quite a bad storm or a heavy snow load before something else failed. I think there are more bomber shelters but the SS2 is sufficiently tough that I wouldn’t consider this a concern.
Very nice & thorough review. My wife & I used the SS2 throughout our 2015 AT through-hike & loved it! One thing we found was that (in wet, high winds) the guy-line line-locks would slip. Easy fix by moving to a thicker cordage (3mm seemed to hold fairly bomber).
Night Candy…of “Those Flippin’ Milanders”.
Dan, thanks for the detailed review.
My partner and I were going to purchase the Stratospire 2 for a 10 day hike in New Zealand this April. However, Tarptent has just released the Saddle 2, so now we don’t know which one to get.
I noticed that you were commenting on the Saddle 2 on BPL. I’d be keen to hear which one you’d buy if you had your time over?
While I like the size of the Stratospire, the Saddle looks like it could be a bit less finicky to set up. We’re just after something lightish with a decent amount of space, room to cook in the vestibule in wet weather, but not too fiddly to set up etc.
I guess my main concern with the Saddle is that it’s a first generation tent, and will probably be improved over the next year or so… but we need to order our tent in the next few weeks!
Looking forward to your response.
TarpTent tends to release pretty refined products, so normally they don’t make a lot of changes post release. For example, I’m not aware of anything substantial that has changed on the SS2 over the last 5 years or so (yet it has gotten heavier, so I don’t know what’s up with this). I wouldn’t be worried about the Saddle having early production hick-ups.
I’m not confident that the Saddle is that much easier to pitch. Maybe a bit, but you’re still using trekking poles and guessing quite a few stake locations, so I don’t think will be a big difference. The angles look a bit more intuitive, so the early learning process might be quicker, but once you have it sorted out I don’t think this will be a major factor.
So I mostly think of the Saddle vs SS2 as a decision about space vs. weight. The SS2 is much larger but also about 25% heavier (37oz vs 46oz). It’s a big difference in weight. I’m not sure why the SS2 is so heavy, because it used to be a lot lighter. Before I added the stove jack, my SS2 was 38.6oz for the fly + inner and 41.2oz including the bag and Easton stakes. So it’s gained 5oz somehow. I expect the Saddle is a bit small for 2 – like most 2 person tents – while the SS2 has a nice amount of room. If you’re okay with the space in something like the MSR FreeLite 2 then the Saddle will save a lot of weight.
Awesome review, I have owned the SS2 for two years, I have to say for the most part it is bomb proof, dealt with high winds and no issues, I fully understand the frustration for setting up in the Sand and Rocks, I found the toughstakes for Sand and rocks really helped in this area. We used them on the WCT as most camping is on the beach. As for snow, I lasted one blizzard up on Mt. Baker and had no issues we did think the tent was going to collapse in the middle of the night. I find the longer you have this tent the quicker it is to set up, and the weight alone is worth the added frustrations.
Great review, Dan. Appreciate all the long term insights and objectivity. There should be more reviews like this!
I’ve been pretty happy with the SS2 over the last few years, to the point that I just bought an SS1 for solo use. I’m assuming the weight change is due to thicker fabrics, as I recall reading something about the degree of water resistance of the older tents.
I can attest to the learning curve for setting it up, as once when my wife took it to camping without me, our friends got a laugh out of the starfish tent and it took her a bit of time to figure it out. Also on trips where we car camp on hard ground at the trailhead I just bring a hammock for the first night and then also don’t have to worry about packing a wet tent at the start of a trip.
I have babied my tent a bit a bit using tyvek as a ground sheet, though that adds about 170g to the weight. It does however make takedown easy as the tent floor tends to be dry and the tyvek dries fast, and can even help in planning your setup as you know ahead of time where and how big your inner will be.
Thank you for the detailed review, by far the best I have read on the SS2. I am considering a SS2 for my wife and I wanted to see if you would still buy the SS2 again, or if you would recommend something else. This would be for weekend trips in the southeast and the occasional trip out west. For solo use, I use a Duomid, but while it works great for one, it wouldn’t work well for two.
I would probably also get the solid inner rather than the mesh, as I think she would prefer to have that bear proof, boogieman proof piece of nylon fabric between her and whatever is outside. Is there any reason to specifically avoid the solid inner? I have never had a solid inner on any of my shelters before, and often use no inner and all and just a groundsheet, but that is not an option for her.
I have also considered the SMD Haven, GG The Two, SMD Duomid, Lighthart Gear Duo, and Yama Mountain Gear Swiftline 2.
If you’re mostly camping in areas where the staking is reasonable then I do recommend the SS2 over anything else. It’s really good in a lot of ways. I haven’t used all of those other shelters, but I’ve used or looked quite a few of them. I think the SS2 is easily better than the other double walls (e.g. Haven). You could save some weight with a hybrid design (Swiftline 2, GG Two) but I really like a proper double wall here out west.
With that said, the older SS2’s seem better than the newer ones. The older SS2’s were lighter by a few ounces and I believe TarpTent has or is switching the SS2 to the same fabric that the Saddle 2 uses. As my Saddle 2 review describes, this new fabric is very saggy/stretchy so it’s not great for a freestanding design where there is no spring in the structure to take up sag. If you buy a new one, I’d ask if you’re getting the Saddle 2 fabric or not. If so, I’d look for a used one because the fabric on my SS2 (circa 2012) is great.
I like the solid inners. They are heavier by 2oz but they do cut the breeze a bit so they’re nice in windy conditions or in the winter. They’re better when it’s cold, not quite as nice when it’s hot and muggy. Ideally I’d have both but that’s a lot of extra $$.
Thank You Dan. I will keep my eye out for a used one and can always pick up an solid inner direct from TT if I can’t find a used one with a solid inner.
I will definitely add long guys to the ridge and will use either 9″ gold Eastons, MSR Groundhogs, or even MSR Blizzard Stakes (they worked amazingly well in the Alaskan tundra).