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After much umming and ahhing over which tent I wanted, not to mention the hesitation over spending so much money on one item, I actually made a decision fairly quickly, after realising the tent I had decided to borrow was actually 1.8kg, not the 0.8kg we thought. It suddenly became clear to me that:
1. $600 is not actually an unreasonable price for such a specialist and high tech piece of equipment, especially when compared to what people pay for clothes, shoes, wine and other much simpler, more commonly available things.
2. I don’t need heaps of extra features. It’s just me, I’m small, and I’m not too fussy with things not being super easy, as long as they’re not just stupidly inefficient for no reason.

I have bought a Terra Nova Solar Photon 2. I was unlucky in that the last one sold out three days before I put my order in, but then very lucky that, despite Terra Nova’s current supply issues, this shop had a few on back-order, which Terra Nova had said they could still fill immediately. It was still a month wait, but that is much better than it could’ve been!

Here are two pictures of my particular tent. Clearly I can’t put tent pegs through my sandstone floor (especially not the toothpicks the tent came with – see discussion on pegs below the photos), so if you want to see what it will look like, check back later (when I’ve pitched it outside) or see the picture further down the page, or the review on OutdoorGearLab (www.outdoorgearlab.com/Backpacking-Tent-Reviews/Terra-Nova-Solar-Photon-2).


See the bundle of 13 pegs near the bottom corner? Now try to see the tiny peg on its own, just below them!

See the bundle of 13 pegs near the bottom corner? Now try to see the tiny peg on its own, just below them!

I still need to seam-seal it (to make it completely waterproof), get new pegs and possibly paint silicon strips on the floor (it is very slippery), then will have a chance to test it properly. I also need to practice setting and packing it up. I am considering trying to rig up a device (string or fabric) to allow me to pitch the poles without the inner (the poles slot into the inner, which is what lets them free-stand). This would help with keeping the inner dry while setting up / tearing down in the rain. UPDATE “set up without inner” mods are complete and successful (see blog posts on Tent Mods and North Bib walk). It has been seam sealed and seems to be rain proof but I have had significant amounts of condensation.

helens tent3_SML

helens tent2_SML

Tent Pegs

I haven’t tested the Terra Nova tent pegs yet so shouldn’t really complain, . . . . but looking at them, I can’t believe they’ll do the job. They are only 1 gram each, so I’m sure they’re amazing on a usefulness:weight ratio! I’m going to buy a new set of pegs and think I will get a composite set. Ultralight tent pegs come in 2 (or 3) types:
1. Nail: simple cylindrical profile with flattened head for bashing in (and holding the guyline). Light and good in firm/rocky soils but not much good in softer soils or sand.
2. V profile (or Y, or U): Hopefully you can work out what they look like. Larger surface area means they’re better in softer soils but are also generally a bit heavier. They may be harder to get into hard/rocky soils but at least they V or Y profile helps prevent bending.

The tent has 14 pegs. The guy points I’ve worked out so far are:
– inner tent back corners x 2 – these are probably not critical.
– fly corners x 4 – critical
– fly middle of sides x 2 – probably critical
– fly front of vestibule x 1 – not sure how important
– front vent x 2 – probably not critical
– rear vent x 1 – probably not critical

This adds up to 12. Basically I’m thinking that if I get 6 or each type of peg (nail and V/Y) then whichever the conditions suit best I can use for the critical points. Either way, this will probably add 100 – 180g to my tent weight.

UPDATE: Tent peg set below. Adds 110g. Tent pegs work well so far and I love the flexibility of my composite set. A couple of Ti Vs now have pull cords to help get them (and the other pegs) out.

6x Terra Nova Superlight Titanium Vs (10g each) and 8x Ruta Locura 6" carbon stakes (6.25g each)

6x Terra Nova Superlight Titanium Vs (10g each) and 8x Ruta Locura 6″ carbon stakes (6.25g each)

See below for previous discussion:

I haven’t purchased this yet and, while I have some favourites, I haven’t actually officially decided what I want.

Things I want from my tent (in approximate priority order):

  • lightweight (preferably around 1kg, definitely under 1.5kg)
  • reasonably durable (as much as you can get in a lightweight tent)
  • good weather resistance (wind, rain, condensation)
  • freestanding (I want the option to pitch on rocky or sandy ground) – this is not essential, but a nice-to-have
  • 2 person (for extra comfort, to put gear in while it’s raining and for flexibility for future use)

My current favourites are the Terra Nova Solar Photon 2 and the Big Sky Evolution (or Revolution). Here are some of their key features (in my mind):
Terra Nova Solar Photon 2 (http://www.terra-nova.co.uk/tents-and-spares/all-tents/solar-photon-2-tent/)
Weight: 0.975kg
Freestanding? Mostly – has a Y shaped pole setup with two poles at the front and one running down the centre to the back. Means it stands up but you really need to peg the back corners to get the most out of it.
Door/Vestibule: One front door, limited vestibule space around this.
Inner Layer: Solid w mesh door
Durability: Standard Si Nylon lightweight material is not super hardwearing, but is given a pretty good rap by Outdoor Gear Lab.
Biggest Pro: This had a really good review from OutdoorGearLab, no real downsides other than price.
Biggest Concern: They seem to be out of stock everywhere except Backpacking Light Melbourne so I’m worried if I don’t get one now I won’t be able to.

Click to enlarge

Big Sky Evolution 2 (http://www.bigskyinternational.com/SummitShelters/Big_Sky_Evolution_2P_details.htm)
Weight: 1.4kg (can knock off ~0.2 with choosing lightweight options and adding another ~US$150 on!) – they say 1.2 but that is with no pegs/guylines etc.
Freestanding: YES. True freestanding with 2 complete crossover poles that attach in each corner
Door/Vestibule: 2! one on each side, decent sized vestibules with each.
Inner Layer: Mesh – allows for setup without fly in fine weather for lovely stargazing at night or bug free psuedo alfresco hanging out during the day.
Durability: couldn’t find any useful reviews but their website says their SuprSil fabric is however many times stronger than standard Si Nylon.
Biggest Pro: Entirely freestanding, 2 doors/vestibules would be cool, I like the idea of setting up without the fly and being able to skygaze etc. (although apparently solid walls give better protection and comfort)
Biggest Concern: WEIGHT (an extra half a kilo is substantial). Is it really more durable? Is the more symmetrical (dome-ish) design going to stand up to weather/wind as well as the elongated Solar Photon? Not many reviews to judge this off.

Big Sky also have the Revolution, which is very similar to the Evolution but a fraction heavier. It seems to have 3 poles which sit outside the fly (apparently make it sturdier in weather). It gives the option of leaving the inner attached to the fly so it stays dry when pitching in the wet, OR even of just pitching the fly without the inner. Pretty sure you can’t then just pitch the inner without the fly, so it’s kind of opposite the Evolution in that way. (http://www.bigskyinternational.com/SummitShelters/Big_Sky_Revolution_2P_details.htm)

So, basically the Big Sky looks more comfortable and has better, cooler features. However it is also 400g heavier (or 200 grams heavier and more expensive). It may or may not be more durable/weather suitable. Are those features worth 400g??
(Clearly I’m not that concerned about actual size, although both these tents are supposedly quite spacious for what they are. The simple fact is that I’m tiny and I’m already getting a 2 person tent so it’s not like it’s going to be an issue for me!)

Evolution 2P

Other options include the Tarptent Double Rainbow (not freestanding), Tarptent Scarp 1 (1 person, heavier), Big Agnes FlyCreek (flimsy?) and a bunch of others that are either heavy, not freestanding, very flimsy material, or single wall so may have big problems with condensation. Any idea on how much problem condensation will cause??

Check out my favourite review site (so far): http://www.outdoorgearlab.com/Backpacking-Tent-Reviews


In the meantime, a friend has offered to lend me his 0.845kg Macpac Zenith (1p) tent. While this tent doesn’t match my buying criteria (looking for 2P and freestanding) it should be good for my first trip. This way I can learn a bit more about what I actually value in a tent before I spend a lot of money buying one.

(Not sure if this is actually what his looks like!)



  1. annathrax says:

    Thinking of buying a tent…. Started looking around, my God, so many choices! Have found this helpful though!

    • Helen says:

      There are lots of options! Unfortunately not many available to look at in Perth! Listing my priorities really helped me narrow things down and, in the end, make a decision. It was still a bit of a gamble, but I’m very happy with my tent now. I also spent a ridiculous amount of time researching tent pegs. The ones I picked are great, but I think I was more concerned than I needed to be and that many of the others would’ve been fine too!

  2. annathrax says:

    I liked seeing your tent today. It gave me an idea of sizing, how it sets up etc. that is what is so hard about buying online – you buy an expensive item and it might not be what you hoped for! Your tent worked out well for you, which is great! I might have to start saving for the same one now. Lol 😉

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