Sunday, April 10, 2011

First impressions: MLD Trailstar

It's mostly been gear talk on the blog lately, but spring has finally arrived here in Oslo so I'll soon be spending lots of time outdoors and writing trip reports!. It's such a high to see everything come alive again after a long, dark and cold winter. You can tell I just love subarctic winters right?.

This time I want to talk about a shelter I bought this winter, the Trailstar from the cottage gear manufacturer Mountain Laurel Designs (MLD for short). I have yet to try it in anger, so these will just be my first impressions. MLD categorizes it as a "hybrid tarp shelter", something in between a tarp and tent. Personally I view it as an advanced tarp, a pretty unique one at that.

What makes it unique in my eyes is the simplicity of the design and the amount of sheltered space it provides to 1-2 hikers, not to mention what everyone raves about: it's ability to shed wind.

The Trailstar is basically five identical panels of silnylon, sown together to form a star shape. It's held up by a hiking pole in the center (reinforced with dyneema to cope with the stresses) and a total of ten tieout points (5 is typically needed for a standard pitch). A second hiking pole is often used to raise one of the sides to make entry and exit easier like in the picture above. There's also a loop at the top of the shelter so that you may hang it from an overhead branch and create a large sheltered space where people can hang out. That's what I'll try to do at some point anyway :). Inside there are 5 small loops that can be used for various purposes, for instance to hang a bivy net hood, a tent light etc.

Not much more to say about it really. There are no zippers, vents, buttons, mesh or anything like that. Very little can go wrong with it. I like that.

I got mine in yellow, but you can also get in grey and olive brown, and with an optional stake set. The weight of mine is 542 grams including the stuff sack. It will be slightly heavier after it's been seam sealed. The price was 155 dollars when I bought it. Now its gone up to 169 dollars. Still a very nice price for such a versatile shelter. Oh, I almost forgot to mention that you get some very solid guyline/cord with it, the strongest looking I've seen to date.

Pitching the thing
The Trailstar can pitched in many configurations and at different heights. A low pitch of for instance 100 cm (39 inches) with pegs in all tieout points looks very bomber and should be able to survive the harshest of winds. Here's mine in that configuration with my Talon 22 daypack in front of it as a size reference:

Such a low pitch will of course decrease the usable living space by a lot, but it makes quite a difference in stability I would believe. MLD talks about a tight ground pitch being 36 inches, so you can go even lower if the conditions get really bad. A higher pitch at 47 inches (120cm), or maybe 44 inches, is what I hope to use the most as it makes the living space very roomy indeed for a single hiker.

Everyone talks about this being a very simple shelter to pitch. With practice I believe it will be, but I didn't think it was all that easy when I made my first attempts. I read Steven Horner's instructions and aimed for a high pitch. It was not sure how loosely I should lay it out on the ground and at what length I should adjust the guylines as a starting point. Pegging all 5 points also made it a squeeze to get under to set up the pole. Now I only peg 4 to begin with. I guess all this will become second nature after a while and that a pitch can be made in 1.5 minutes like MLD states, or maybe a bit more to make it drum tight.

I'm really looking forward to trying the Trailstar out this season!. I have a good feeling about about this particular piece of kit.

More about the Trailstar:

Steven Horner's review
Colin Ibbotson's review (PDF)

Pitching instructions
Steven Horner's instructions
Bus stop shelter pitch by Blogger Zed

Videos (all too few to be found):