(Update: My full review of the Saddle 2 is now available)
TarpTent recently released their new Saddle 2 tent, which has led to discussion over how it compares to TarpTent’s somewhat similar StratoSpire 2 design. Both tents are trekking pole supported double walls using the same materials. On the surface, it appears that the Saddle 2 offers similar functionality in a somewhat smaller/lighter/cheaper package that might avoid some of the SS2’s downsides.
I’ve been an owner of the StratoSpire 2 (hereafter SS2) for quite some time, and have previously reviewed it mostly positively. I recently sold my StratoSpire 2 to try out the Saddle 2. Thus far, I’ve only used the Saddle three nights and thus am not in a position to write a review, but I wanted to post a few observations on how these shelters compare as there is more here than just weight and space. A proper review will follow in due time.
TarpTent lists the Saddle 2 at 37oz including stakes, while the SS2 is listed at 46oz – a seemingly substantial 9oz difference.
My Saddle 2 weighs 1043g (36.8oz) for only the fly + inner (no pegs, stuff sack, seam sealing). Underweight? No, because TarpTent’s claims of 37oz include the stakes and it’s not clear if they also include the stuff sack and stake sack. TarpTent’s Easton stakes are 8g each, so without stakes the tent should weigh 1002g (or less if the claim includes the sacks), yet mine weighs 1043g (+41g / 1.5oz / 4%). So my Saddle 2 is moderately overweight.
I tossed the pegs because the Easton tube stakes still have frustrating issues with the heads coming off, leaving your stakes busted and stranded in the soil. I know Easton has made improvements over the years, but there is no excuse for a 2 piece stake when 1 piece stakes exist that function better. Why TarpTent continues to use these over a similarly heavy but better in every regard Y stake baffles me.
My StratoSpire 2 was purchased about 5 years ago, and upon arrival it weighed 1092g (38.5oz) – or just 35g/1.4oz more (also for just fly + inner). However, I assume TarpTent’s current 46oz claim is accurate, meaning that newer SS2’s are quite a bit heavier than the older ones like mine. I recall a claim of 40oz when I bought mine about 5 years ago. So a Saddle saves about 1.5oz over an older SS2, and might save 9oz over a newer SS2 but only because the SS2 has gained weight.
Also pertaining to weight, the SS2 really needs 8 stakes for a robust pitch, as the ridgeline is wimpy without. Conversely, the Saddle has better vestibule angles so the pitch is reasonably robust with only 6 stakes. Accordingly, users can save the weight of 2 stakes when camping in friendly conditions. So we’ll give the Saddle a 0.5oz benefit here, and conclude that the Saddle saves at least 2oz, and up to 9.5oz.
I expected the Saddle 2 to be a fair bit smaller than the SS2. As it turns out, it is smaller but not that much. I’d subjectively put the interior volume at about 80-85%. It’s not the palace than the SS2 is, but it’s still a nice size for a 2 person shelter. Lots of 2 person tents are smaller.
The peak height is lower, but the headroom is still good because it’s fairly high everywhere with 4 supporting poles. The floor is a little smaller but fine for two and a bit of gear around the sides of the pads. I thought it would be a bit cramped, but I’m quite content with the space inside. No complaints here.
One downside of the SS2 is that it has quite a large footprint which can make it difficult to find a suitable site. I expected the Saddle would be a fair bit smaller here, but the difference is modest. The Saddle is a bit smaller, but it still has decent sized vestibules and the corners stick out somewhat, so the space requirements are still above average. Notice in the top photo that I wasn’t able to fit the tent within the designated pitching spot.
Dry Entry Doors Disappoint
TarpTent makes the claim for both the SS2 and Saddle 2 that the “Interior never gets wet during entry, exit, setup or takedown in storms.”
Unfortunately, this is not entirely true for the Saddle. The SS2 has a fly that fully protects the inner from vertically falling rain, but the fly of the Saddle only mostly protects the inner. There are portions of inner that are not covered by the fly when the vestibule door is open. It’s not a huge deal and still better than most tents, but TT’s claim is not entirely true. Users in very wet conditions will prefer the SS2’s entrance.
No Trip Cords
A genuine advantage of the Saddle is the lack of trip cords around the shelter. The SS2 has stake-outs that extend about one foot from the two pitch lock corners, plus you really need ridgeline guylines for a decent pitch, so the net result is four opportunities for disaster.
Conversely, the cords at the foot end of the Saddle are much closer to the body, and since ridgeline guy-outs are often not needed, there are no mandatory trip cords. Good stuff.
Packability / Needs 4 hiking poles
Another genuine advantage of the Saddle is that it can be packed into whatever shape you like. The SS2 has fixed corner structs that dictate a long packed shape which won’t fit horizontally into a pack (and inserting it vertically conflicts with everything else, so it usually goes outside). In contrast, the Saddle doesn’t have any fixed structural components, so it can be packed much shorter or however you like. The ability to pack it horizontally inside a pack was a selling point for me.
The flipside of this is that without internal support, the Saddle needs 4 hiking poles instead of 2 (or appropriate substitutes). It’s not an issue if both hikers use adjustable poles, but if you need to carry TT’s set of poles then much of the weight savings are given up.
It can also be a bit tricky affixing some poles at the ends. A 3 piece pole that collapses quite short works well. Conversely, a fixed length GG LT3 requires a little more skill with knots. The Locus Gear CP3 poles are excellent poles and work well in this application. They are highly recommended.
Ease of Pitching
One of the cons of the SS2 is the tricky pitch. Any shelter that uses multiple hiking poles will require some effort, but the SS2 also has non-intuitive geometry that makes guessing the stake positions hard.
The Saddle 2 is undoubtably easier to pitch. There is still some stake fine-tuning, but the geometry is simpler so you’ll get an okay pitch on the round of stake positions and from here it’s reasonably easy to understand what’s off. A pro at pitching the SS2 won’t save time with the Saddle, but the learning curve is definitely friendlier.
With that said, the ends of the Saddle are still more complex than ideal. Rather than having a flat bottom hem, the ends of the Saddle are a V shape that necessitates guessing how splayed to stake the V. Correctly guessing is rewarded with a taut pitch, so it’s easy to see when you’ve got it, but a flat end that fixes the distance between the two end stakes would be better. I think TT did the V shape to avoid the need for another stake from the top of the end pole, but there are ways to have both. An end that gently slopes outward from the end pole (rather than being vertical) to a straight bottom hem would be simpler to pitch and more wind resistant. I can’t think of any advantages of the current design over this, but maybe I missing something (I guess it does allow the end pole to be outside the tent, and thus easier to tweak).
Clips vs Zips
The SS2 has #5 zippers on the vestibule doors, whereas the Saddle does away with these in favour of velcro and clips. The zippers work fine and #5’s last a long time, so I suspect the rationale for the clips is saving weight and easier construction.
I find the clips are fine. They do make it quicker to enter the shelter, but are more difficult to do up from inside. Thus far (only 3 nights of use), once inside I’ve just done up the velcro and left the bottom edge unclipped. This strategy seems like it works in non-harsh weather. If you do need to do up the clips from inside, make sure to do up the clip before affixing the velcro or it’ll be a struggle. Overall, I’m neutral on the clips but I expect I’ll have a strong opinion one way or the other by the end of my thru-hike this summer.
Perhaps I’ve yet to master the Saddle pitch, but thus far the tent hasn’t done a great job of pulling the inner floor taut. It pulls the inner taut length wise, but the floor remains loose from side to side because the ends of the fly are only a little wider than the inner so they don’t have a good angle to pull the floor outward. Not a big deal but not great. It’s harder to herd dirt out the door.
The Saddle is $20 cheaper at $329 vs $349.
The Saddle 2 and SS2 differ in quite a few areas, but neither stands out as the obvious choice. If current SS2’s really do weigh a portly 46oz, then I would go with the Saddle. It’s a bit smaller, but packs nicer, is lighter, doesn’t have trip cords and pitches easier. I don’t like the limp floor or see the point of the V shaped ends, but it’s pretty good overall.
In comparison, the SS2 does pull the inner taut, has full coverage doors and more space, so if you don’t mind a more complex pitch, frequent rainy conditions, don’t hike with 2 sets of poles and/or don’t mind a few more ounces, then the SS2 has some genuine advantages.