Terra Nova Specs
Packed Size: 12cm x 46cm
For solo backpacks I was reasonably satisfied with the Akto once I had the mesh ventilation panels inserted, but the mouthwatering low weight of the LaserComp was too much to resist: around 0.5kg lighter.
I checked the weights of the supplied components with postal weighing scales:
Omitting the optional pole hood gives a packed weight in very close agreement with the TN specs.
Although the thrust of the advertising for this tent is sporting events such as mountain marathons (hence the name Competition), where weight reduction is crucial to performance, I have long thought that this is more of a marketing ideal:- to get the weight below the psychological threshold of 1kg, which it is, if the pole hood is excluded and the supplied pegs are used. It certainly is a powerful buying factor, more appealing and persuasive to the backpacker than the equivalent 'XXXg lighter than a rival'.
The first thing is to watch the TN video pitching instructions, available on the TN LaserComp specification page. Then watch it again and watch it some more. It tells us the order of operations and gives a useful overall picture, but with this tent more than any other I've seen, the quality of the final pitch is very sensitive to the pegging and it's easy to end up with a poor pitch (more notes on this below). Practise several times in the garden first.
The most important thing at the start is the outer door: it has a metal hook and ring at the bottom, and it must be zipped down fully closed with the hook engaged before pegging out. I've always closed all the doors and zips before pegging as a matter of course on all tents, but it is particularly important here. Also when the pole is upright, check that the transverse tape below and parallel to it is taut: the ends of the pole can easily become snagged in grass as it did on my trial pitch and it later broke free, altering the shape of the structure and preventing the door closing.
The pegs are 5mm carbon fibre shanks with a pointed metal tip and a plastic head, length 13.5cm. The performance of these relative to conventional metal pegs is a divisive subject: on the one hand the titanium pegs should be easier to drive into fairly hard ground but the carbon fibre ones should grip a bit better in soft ground due to their greater thickness. Having pitched it on the lawn I quickly decided not to use the carbon fibre ones because of the heads: thinking about many of our past pitches, even the tops of our titanium J-pegs are often buried in thick plant material (or ice!) and we need that hook at the top to extract them easily and reliably. The strategy will therefore be titanium J-pegs, a mixture of 6g and 14g sizes. The two top guyline pegs at the ends that pull out the support rods are the critical ones, so I will probably take a couple of good V-pegs as insurance for those.
The pole is a DAC featherlite type, threaded through the pole sleeve which has reflective highlights at each end to assist location, and fits into eyelets on two pull-out tabs. There is a single eyelet on each tab and no adjustment can be made: this is perfectly ok for this single hoop design since the pole will always fit properly without undue strain or slackness. Note that no pole repair tube is supplied with this tent: it may be that the pretty tight pole sleeve makes it difficult to use one.
The fly and inner taper laterally to a point at each end, and are joined by two rods that provide some elevation at the ends. The tops of the rods are also joined to the inner by tensioning tapes that are adjustable by a sliding buckle after the tent is erected. When pegging out the top two critical guylines at each end, it pays to check that the two rods are in the same plane and properly aligned with the long axis of the tent: it's easy for them to end up skew to each other which might cause uneven stresses and pegging problems later on. The rods should lean outwards away from the centre of the tent.
On the long sides of the tent, both inner and flysheet are pegged out on their own elasticated cords (unlike the Akto inner which is not pegged, it just hangs down). The cords for inner and flysheet are in the same positions and initially I used one peg for each pair of cords, which seemed to work out ok. However on completion I had four pegs left over so presumably each cord is intended to have its own peg. The cords can be stretched out at any angle which gives a lot of leeway for the peg points, but this lack of natural constraint can produce considerable variation in the final pitch. On my first attempt I found that that it was hard to unhook the door, and when I got it open it was impossible to close it again because the hook wouldn't reach the ring - something was clearly too tight somewhere. I loosened the pegs on the door side and it still wouldn't reach, it was being constrained by the pegs on the far side. I had to take them all out and and peg again starting from the door side and working outwards. I found it helped if the two pegs either side the door were stretched slightly inwards towards the zip.
On a second attempt from scratch everything went fine until I hit the problem mentioned above: I hadn't noticed that the pole end was stuck in a little tuft of grass, and when freed it tightened the flysheet and again the door wouldn't close. You really have to keep an eye on these little things with this tent for a good result.
Last but not least is that optional pole hood: this is what really bothered me even before I bought it. Regardless of the intended scenario this is a shelter - waterproofness should not be an optional extra. To make it even more annoying it is secured by tying cords through tiny loops near the pole seam, just the kind of fiddly faff I don't need with cold hands in an icy wind. When tying and untying the cord at the bottom loops, the pole gets in the way and the ends are often smothered by grass, and the loops lie flat which makes the process akin to threading a needle (not helped by the fact that both loop and cord are black). In fact, even in the comfort of the house with a strong light and my reading glasses on, I find it extremely difficult.
When pegged down the hood does provide some extra stability. This could be achieved by running dyneema guylines directly from the hood attachment loops, however care would be needed with this: those loops are not designed to withstand significant tension such as that in a typical guyline.
In the end, after a lot more experience on the hill, my assessment of the pole hood has changed somewhat. Essentially I have made peace with it. I understand that factory-sealing the seams of the ultralight silnylon material is not economically feasible and we just have to live with that aspect.
I chose to leave the hood attached by the method of least resistance and greatest simplicity, and it works very well:-
There are four loops on the pole arc where the hood is tied, one at each end and two in the mid section: I have the two middle loops and one end loop permanently tied, being careful not to compress the pole sleeve which would make threading harder. One end loop is left untied until the tent is upright. I extended this tiny loop by attaching a larger loop of Dyneema cord, and once the tent is upright I simply tie the dangling hood cords to that - very easy, and it doesn't introduce any complication.
Note that the purpose of the pole hood cords (the long black ones that thread through the loops at either end) is simply to hold the hood in place astride the tent seam - nothing more. They do not contribute to stability in any way and do not need to be tensioned significantly, there is no need to introduce the complication of adjustable tension. It's the white cords pegged to the ground that add some stability.
The internal space is fine for me (I�m 5ft 7½ins). The headroom of 95cm is greater than the Akto (90cm) and is very welcome, but the tapering ends bring the inner fairly close to my head and feet, rather closer than I expected in fact because the inner walls sag somewhat in a concave shape near the bottom. Perhaps one of the many possible variations of pegging and inner tensioning straps would help here, but it's not a problem for me. Unlike other tents I've seen, the inner has no internal pockets but it's no big deal for me.
The porch space was more than adequate, no surprises here. As well as the main porch area there is quite a bit of space between inner and flysheet at the pointy ends for some small items. Unlike the Akto, the door is opposite your legs rather than your top half: no right or wrong here, it's just a matter of taste as to which you prefer for your own routine and I don't much care either way.
The outer door can be secured in the open position with a loop and toggle, the inner door has a 2-way zip that goes down to the base which is fine. The bottom edges of the flysheet forming the door and porch are pegged and therefore taut, an improvement on the Akto where the door edge billowed around in the wind causing a minor problem when using a stove in the porch.
I first used the LaserComp on this 2½-day backpack in April, cool and breezy days with cold damp misty nights. On these first real pitches I had to spend some time making final adjustments to the pegging to make the door close easily as described above, I expect it will take some time and hill practice before the process goes really smoothly. The typically uneven ground and vegetation on a real pitch play a part too, compared with an ideal test on a nice flat lawn. I did use the pole hood but I only tied the two cords at the pole ends, the hood seemed to be well seated and secure without tying the other cords in between.
The first consideration was ventilation of the inner: there is a mesh insert at either end and a large mesh panel in the door. The large door panel must help somewhat, but the key to good ventilation is a slow steady end-to-end throughput of fresh air (I had mesh panels inserted at the ends of my Akto which helped a lot towards achieving this and was reasonably successful). The LaserComp mesh inserts are very small though, occupying just one half of the small equilateral triangle of nylon at each end (pictured above). I could have the other half replaced with mesh but the total would still be very small, and the pointed ends don't have much material to work with. I'll investigate this further.
The conditions were cold, misty and damp with a light breeze which is quite common for the UK, and subjectively the ventilation seemed reasonable, but in the morning there was some condensation on the walls of the inner. At the foot end where the walls taper to a point, the shell of my sleeping bag had inevitably become moistened by the contact, not enough to cause a practical difficulty this time but enough to make me feel uneasy: I suppose it depends on the standards you are used to, I keep thinking of our Voyager where we get no condensation at all.
On the second night it was considerably windier and I pitched in the lee of a small rise. The conditions were not demanding but there was an occasional fairly hefty gust, and the tent was surprisingly stable for its minimalist configuration, enough to boost my confidence for future trips and raise the bar for its suitability in more testing weather.
As for packing up the wet tent in the morning, well with the Akto I quickly abandoned any thought of detaching the inner, and the same is true in spades with the LaserComp. Actually now I come to write this I wouldn't know how to do it. I remember the same phrase repeating in my mind as I was packing up: 'what a bloody horrible wet mess...'. Still that's a fact of life we have to live with to gain the benefits of an ultralight tent, it's a change of attitude that is required!.
After several trouble-free pitches since trial #1 I discovered a potential pitfall when handling the Lasercomp in packing/unpacking/pitching operations. I described this on the trip report originally but is worth capturing here for reference, I'm quite surprised it hasn't happened before when I think about it and I don't want it again.
At the pitch spot I unfolded the wet pile and threaded the pole but I noticed significant resistance and it didn't feel right. I pegged out the inner cords and bottom flysheet elastics as usual but again something felt amiss. Unzipping the door and looking inside, the fly and end-rods looked fine at first glance but the inner was in a real mess: one end was correct but the other was screwed up into a sheaf between the pole and opposite rod - it was double-twisted. The fly and inner are inextricably joined by the rods: if I untwisted the inner it would surely twist the fly in equal measure. I don't even know how to detach the inner completely and I might do something that would be irreversible on the hill. I was doing all this in a quite strong gusty wind with the whole structure of wet nylon flapping everywhere and trying to take off like a kite.
Time for some clear thinking: it got into this mess without detaching anything, it must be possible to reverse it. I noticed that the tensioning strap at the screwed-up end was itself twisted and it gave me a clue: I detached the strap buckle which made it easier to deal with, and after some experimentation with turning and folding I discovered that the rod and inner can be untwisted without rotating the fly and it finally fell into place. I can't describe what I did to unravel it, it was more accident than design but I'll be more careful when packing the tent away in future. Perversely it was my attempts to roll it into a neat and tidy package that caused the problem: I must make sure I keep the flysheet, rod and inner correctly folded and aligned together at the pointy ends, and not introduce any rotations of one relative to the others.
On a dry forecast I didn't bring the pole hood this time and the tent was pitched in minimal configuration with just 8 pegs, and no guylines in the plane of the pole. The gusty wind blasted it often and rattled the inner, but the structure handled it all very well, flexing a little and never appearing under undue stress - pretty impressive and it further boosted my confidence in its abilities.
I've added this brief report to highlight the first occurrence of another problem. On a breezy but not very windy night I awoke with the tent inner sagging around my face: the tape tensioners at both ends of the tent had worked loose and slipped back to the start of their travel. In typical LaserComp fashion there was no tape left to get hold of, and I struggled around by torchlight to decouple the connector, feed some tape back through the buckle and retension them.
The lesser problem of having no tape left to grasp was easily solved on the spot once I'd fed some tape back through: I simply tied a knot near the end - job done. The greater problem is that they detensioned in the first place. Another result of devout minimalism rather than practicality, the tape is too thin and too smooth. These tapes are all that support the ends of the inner, and if some jostling from a mere breeze is enough to let them slip then it's not good enough (I'm surprised it hasn't happened before). It needs a thicker rougher material, I'm thinking something like the cinch strap on the side of a typical rucksack, which is coarse and gives a good bite in the buckle and will not slip. I can't see any DIY solution to this problem at the moment, at least one that is within my skills. While I'm at it, the connector on the tape is flimsy too, it looks like the prongs might break if you give it a stern look, they could upgrade that at the same time.
I think the performance of this tent design goes beyond its spec and it should be capable of exceeding its intended usage, and of course the very low weight is terrific. I've found my own way of coping with the pole hood and I just live with the other niggles, but basically I�m pleased with the concept if not the execution. If TN started thinking more about practical use on UK hills rather than setting a weight record we might have a true classic here. I'm sure all the deficiencies could be sorted with only very slightly more weight, it would still be extremely light.
The Lasercomp has probably prompted more discussion among its users than any tent before it, and I think we all sense a missed opportunity: a very good tent that could so easily be great. Custom modifications and tweaks to alleviate both real and perceived difficulties are common, but most of them make the thing too fussy for my liking.
In summary, these are my serious points that really need to be addressed:-