Saturday, 31 August 2013

Gimme shelter

This week I made a big decision that I've been orbiting in ever-decreasing circles for months. I always knew it would end this way. I've just ordered a Trailstar tarp from US company Mountain Laurel Designs:

MLD Trailstar (image from
Also in the post is a custom-made 'bathtub' groundsheet from Oookworks based near Castle Douglas in south west Scotland.

So now I'm committed to living under a single-skin shelter for a month.

The Trailstar is a shaped tarp meaning it looks like a tent when pitched, giving all-round protection from the elements. If all the rave reviews I've read are to be believed, it's very stable in windy conditions and not as noisy as a tent. Using a couple of trekking poles, it can be pitched in a variety of ways to suit the conditions: high with a big entrance for good weather, low to the ground so it sheds the wind in stormy weather.

If I had to summarise why I've opted for a tarp rather than a traditional tent it would come down to one word: space. The Trailstar has bags of space for spreading out gear, getting dressed and undressed, sitting and reading or relaxing or watching the world go by or the rain come down outside. It's also possible to cook undercover fairly safely provided you're near the entrance and it's pitched reasonably high.

The decision was really made during my Foinaven trip in May. The rain throughout the evening was incessant. Unable to sit outside, I was confined to my tiny, porch-less tent which quickly became a damp claustrophobic coffin. A second night of that would have driven me berserk.

Weather-wise I'm assuming the worst for the Tay watershed walk. There'll be plenty of evenings when I'll want to stay under cover, I'm sure. I figured that being able to stretch out in space and comfort and actually live a bit rather than be mummified in nylon will be key to keeping up morale through the bad weather times.

That's the sensible and logical justification anyway, but there's more than that. Tarp living just seems so romantic. It's closer to nature and closer to the outdoors. The Trailstar is essentially open: there are no zips, no clips. There are many Trailstar evangelists out there now. It's hard to look at Chris Townsend's pictures of his wild camps from his recent Scottish Watershed walk, for example, and not catch the appeal. Shelter worthy of a rolling stone.

I may hate it, I may love it. If I hate it I'll just have to grow to love it. As if walking 300 miles wasn't enough of a novel and challenging experience in itself...


  1. It's a bomb-proof shelter you've got there Stefan. Make sure you take a lightweight sleeping bag bivi, as in foul weather there can be misting inside a single skin sil-nylon shelter and you don't want your sleeping bag to get damp in continuous poor weather, as it will lose loft quickly.
    Good luck with the walk.
    All the best

  2. Hi Alan,

    Many thanks for the advice, I'll definitely take that on board. Nothing much worse than a damp sleeping bag!