Tuesday, October 2, 2012

My thoughts and an opinion on my MLD Cuben Trailstar.

Just thought I'd write a few opinions on my cuben fibre Trailstar. I'll have to compare it to my other shelters in this opinion, based on my experience, or lack of, with cuben vs silnylon vs various shelters and it’s about me and my thoughts. But it's primarily about the MLD Cuben Trailstar. This is not a review. That I'll leave to the experts who have tested stuff rigorously and know what they are talking about via years and thousands of miles of walking / camping. As some of you know I love cuben fibre and MLD. I have bought all my stuff. I've had no freebies or anything like that from Ron or anyone, nor do I wish to even go that route. My first tent was a Scarp 2 following an excellent review by Chris Townsend in TGO. I bought this last year (2011). I have pitched it a few times and slept in it in my conservatory, it was my way to introduce myself to sleeping under canvas. I did intend to camp in it. I may one day camp in it! It is not for sale. I do things my way. I first heard of MLD on Twitter and I have never looked back / the rest is history as they say. I'll not go through all my purchases as we'd be here all night. Actually, all year! One purchase, as soon as it was released was the cuben fibre Trailstar. I had already bought an extensive list of cuben products from Ron and knew his kit was superb. Second to none! In my eyes at least. Especially his cuben products. He bonds all his cuben. No stitching! No taping. It’s bonded. I have always been a loyal customer. Whether it be my local Snow and Rock or The Gorge Outdoors or indeed Ron. My loyalty will never waive. I believe you get what you pay for and good customer service / relations accounts for a hell of a lot. Especially if one has a problem. Ok, thank you, I heard that! I can walk into the above stores and get a hand shake, a warm welcome and even a cup of tea at The Gorge. I love all my MLD kit. My Grace Solo tarp, yes cuben, was probably my only ad hock off the cuff purchase. Why buy solo with Bess? Buggered if I know! But I don't regret buying it even if it gets no use in a long time. It'll never go off! Ditto for my Super Tarp, yes cuben, but it's easy to pitch and play with. Yes, I play with cuben fibre. This brings me to my cuben fibre Trailstar. It is a bit of a nemesis. I like it, don't think I'll ever "love" it like my silnylon Trailstar or even my cuben fibre Duomid, not so sure on that one. I love the Duomid, but I like the openness of the Trailstar! It’s pointless directly comparing the two, really… Part of me is disappointed in the cuben fibre Trailstar. Those that know me will know and may understand that saying that actually pains me. It also makes me feel disloyal to Ron. But that is just my personal mental state and, frankly is "me" I hate complaining or moaning. I have already stated in many a video, I’ll not be miserable. I hate “knocking” something. Especially a premium product, which this most certainly is. But am I knocking it! I don’t know. Let me try to explain things. This particular Trailstar can only be pitched one way. Low at about 1m. I have tried higher and it just won't pitch well. I got a low pitch on Dartmoor and was quite happy enough despite a slightly flappy door and Ron and Colin via email suggesting a remedy that didn't work for me. But this slightly flappy door bugged me. I had advice from three experts in their field, Chris Townsend, Colin Ibbotson and Ron himself all gave excellent advice via email over several months but I just could not master it. Over the last 6 months or so I have befriended Colin and I was lucky enough to walk with him for one section of his SWCP walk and camp on a cliff with Budleigh Salterton behind and Sidmouth in front, lit up for me to see out my door in the far distance. A few people passed my open door. I wasn't bothered at all! I love that open door. But I'll avoid campsites like the plague anyway. Colin pitched his silnylon Duomid quickly with inner whilst I was still working on my cuben Trailstar. Baring in mind I still lack camping experience, so this was no issue to me. My first pitch was pretty poor, awful in fact, again bare in mind I'd not pitched it for a few months, even then struggling a bit. Colin was able to see my efforts first hand and suggested a higher pitch. I knew here it would not work. I was willing to play along in case he knew something I didn't or I really was making a hash of it! He was not at all impressed with his attempt. I think he was shocked how bad it was. The rear can be pitched ok, but the front / doors just goes to pieces on this particular one. Maybe a degree out in the cutting process makes a difference as I've seen images of ones pitched well. Maybe cuben is that fussy in this shape / configuration. I don't know. I can only comment on mine. From my experiments I knew this one would only pitch low, just. So I retook the reins, lowered the central pole, repegged the rear pegs. One thing I'll make clear is that the rear half is absolutely rock solid and I think Colin would agree would easily withstand a hell of a lot of wind abuse and probably not move much if any. It easily matched and I'd say bettered the silnylon Duomid that Colin was in. Nothing moved or rippled! In this respect it’s superb! Ok it wasn't a strong wind, more a gentle breeze, but enough to show the two differing models ability to cope with wind. In my opinion. But for those doors! It seems impossible to get them and / or the ridge from the central pole to door pole tight. Even Colin failed. On a premium product this is a shame and makes me a little disappointed in it. On this particular model I can get that ridge tight (pole to pole) in one position only and this means the doors are slightly flappy. Colin tried and could not improve my effort! He was again shocked by this. I think Chris also found the doors problematic when he tried it a few months ago. I copied his example of leaning Platypus bottles against the door/s to take the slack out. This does help. Shouldn't be needed! But it helps. To get the doors at that situation I have to have them quite close / narrow and pitched tight to the ground. This reduces inner space and this I have commented on before in a video or two. I do find I'm touching the inner. However this doesn't seem to matter at the moment as based on two camps I've had zero condensation. One camp was dry Dartmoor, yes a dry camp! This camp it was quite wet and rained most of the night. I cooked both times under there too! Yes, zero condensation. I'd agree one can't base much on two camps in a shelter. That's why this is an opinion not a review! You are free to call it what you will. Again some of you will know I own the silnylon Trailstar and it's a totally different beast. In this instance the material clearly makes a massive difference. The silnylon TS is simply in a world of its own. If I had one shelter only it would be the silnylon Trailstar. Period! An aside and in my mind this is vital! This does not change my opinion of cuben fibre. Yes I'm only a part time camper or weekend camper. Despite usually camping during the week. I have all of 5 camps under my belt. I'm not talking durability, which with my usage I expect many years of service. I'm talking pitch and pitch alone! Cuben fibre works perfectly in the Duomid, I have one. It also works perfectly in fixed tarps. I have 2! Plus the poncho! But in the Trailstar it's slightly trickier / fiddly / fussy! Frankly a pain up the arse. The rear pitches perfectly low. No doubt, no question. And I'd wager its storm proofness from the rear will better almost anything out there. Common sense tells me that. It’s like a stealth fighter from behind. It's the setting of the doors that for me spoil it a bit, maybe a lot. I don't honestly know if this just annoys me or really annoys me! It really annoys me but in a way that a mother loves her ugly stroppy duckling I feel the same towards my cuben Trailstar, despite its bloody annoying slightly flappy narrow door! Having used it twice it has kept me warm, dry and comfortable. Especially on Dartmoor. It was dry. The SWCP was more of a "test" (I’m no tester!) it was wetter and rained all night, slugs were about too. The general wind noise was low to zero. I didn't get any of the howling Colin reported from inside his silnylon Duomid pitched right next to me. Rain on my "canvas" kept me awake, but remember my lack of experience with sleeping out under cover. Colin commented as have others, it takes time to get used to sleeping out, the pitta patta of rain. I know Chris reported the doors making an annoying buzz in high wind, a leaning Platypus appeared to sort that. I leaned a Platy, it does tighten up the door! I also believe Colin compared it very favourably to the Akto he once owned. That swayed a lot in the wind, I believe he said. My cuben Trailstar didn't move. It made me oddly proud. Has it leaked, blown away, swayed an inch? No. Not yet, anyway. For me, being lucky to have bought both versions I'd use the silnylon Trailstar in very bad weather anyway. Primarily due to ease of pitch, more apparent inner space and a lower even more weather proof door. I reiterate, I like the open door. I want to see out. Not be couped up, shut in. It is also incredibly light, it really is. I doubt there is anything out there that can match it for weight and stormproofness! Of course if the wind changes direction with that high door… but can one complain about that vs the weight. I’m not so sure one can! Do what Chris did once, get up, and move the door! I don’t fancy it, at my stage of camping, but for the weight… Hindsight. When Ron knew I was struggling to pitch it in the very early days he offered a return / refund. Should I have accepted it? Maybe, possibly, yes, I don't know. (EDIT! It was at this point that I contacted Chris and by default, Colin (whom I had been in touch with for a little while), asking if he / they was / were interested in taking a look at the pitch. I really did not want to return it. I wanted to (try) to get it right or as correct as is possible! End Edit). Would I have bought it first up with this knowledge? No. No, I'd just have gone straight to silnylon Trailstar. It's simply easier to pitch and easier to use and has more space inside, it appears to me. But, it’s just a door. Work with it, not against it. Would I give it away? No, Never! Would I sell it? No chance. It's mine. It's probably like a bloody annoying kid. Needs an eye on it. A bit of discipline. Its like me, an oddity! I own an MLD cuben Trailstar and I love the bloody sodding thing! By Tony Hobbs


Jason Elsworth said...

I had a Cuben TS in my hands for a few days, but ended up returning it after reading Colin and Chris's comments. An 11oz Trailstar would have been the perfect shelter and would have been the only one I would have needed.I guess it was an impossible dream:). I love my Sil version.

Have you ever tried pitching your Cuben one with one of the corner tie outs as the door (as opposed to the mid point tie out)?

Anonymous said...

Hi James. First up, you're the first comment ever on my blog lol not sure that's an honor or not ;-)

I tried it once months ago and failed more dramatically than my flappy door. I really must try it again. I seem to remember getting it taught being the problem....lol.

Right, first ever reply to a comment lol. Hey its me, so I need a me profile ;-)

Anonymous said...

Have to admit I've not heard many good things (other than the lightweight) about the Cuben TS, and your account appears to back that up.

Do you think your particular TS is slightly misshapen or is this a problem for all Cuben TSs?

Anonymous said...

Hey Tony! This is really good to read and well done for putting it out there with your usual honesty and how you 'feel' towards it :)
I have a dim recollection of Ron not wanting to make a cuben TS because of the stretch factor, but memory / source is unreliable - I blame the meds...
The silnylon TS is a great piece of kit, though not for me - I'd rather be bare tarping or in a more enclosed shelter or tent. That said, I've used it on Ben Lomond, in Torridon and in the Lakes with no issue than a tendency to slide from under it if I'm using a polycryo groundsheet! I did have condensation on BL which froze to the silnylon but it was a bit nippy with snow overnight.
Nice to see you writing and long may it continue :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Jim
I don't think its misshapen as such but I wonder if no two are identical. I wonder if a tiny fraction out in cutting / bonding makes a tiny difference across the board. Two would be needed to tell for sure. But it's my suspicion.
I have only read Chris and Colins thoughts. I've not heard anything else.
Thank you for comment :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Helen,
Good to hear from you. I'd have to admit that whilst I said nothing, I was waiting for a cuben TS, thinking it would be the holy grail. It just misses the mark. At least I'm somewhat vindicated in it's not me being totally unable to do it. It was fun in an odd way watching Colin fail. Our conversation was amusing ;-) Hi Helen,
Good to hear from you. I'd have to admit that whilst I said nothing, I was waiting for a cuben TS, thinking it would be the holy grail. It just misses the mark. At least I'm somewhat vindicated in it's not me being totally unable to do it. It was fun in an odd way watching Colin fail. Our conversation was amusing ;-)

Yet I really will stick up for it. It's not that bad, really.

What appeals to me about the TS is that whilst it is a tarp it's more than a tarp, (that probably makes sense only to me lol), but it's less than a tent. I like that. Using Seans ground sheet OookWorks tub really helps, but I do fear sliding out / off as my sleeping bag is pretty big! ie wide. So I watch that. The inner on order from Sean will prevent that in any event.
Yea, two camps in it no test of condensation. But I was pleased. To me its not a winter shelter anyway. Mainly as I have the silnylon one lol :-)

I'm glad you enjoyed the read and my honest appraisal.
Cheers :-)

Anonymous said...

Replied and messed up edit, ops ;-)

Stick's Blog said...

Tony, I did not even realize that you had this site, but it is bookmarked now!

Anyway, wonderful write up. I enjoy your honesty, and your faithfulness!

Over the last couple of months, I have really been wanting to get a DuoMid and a solo inner. This set-up will be slightly heavier than my Hexamid, but I really want to try it...and eventually I will get around to it. Although, I will probably o with the Sil version simply because I can't afford a cuben version right now...but I know that once I get it and realize I like it...I will wish I had went with the cuben... oh well, we will see.

I like the simplicity of the set-up on tents like the DuoMid and my Hexamid. If I want versatility, I think I would rather stick with a flat tarp rather than a shaped tarp.

Thanks for sharing, and keep up the good work man!


Tony Hobbs said...

Hi Chad,
Good to hear from you. An Australian friend set up the blog a few years ago for me but it got little use. If I think of the odd thing to scribe I'll add it here. I just realized I can sign in too lol so not mr anonymous lol!
I have a couple of ideas for posts. One on cuben, naturally, and dog camping. Well, my take on it all :D

Flat tarp vs shaped tarp mmmmm lol. Another post lol. Not used flat so can't really comment. In USA you have more shelter from forests, bit more exposed generally in UK... Having said that if the weather looks really good next summer I might try it on Dartmoor. Need a prolonged high pressure, to be safe. So for UK I think shaped tarp ideal. I'll compare TS to Duomid in my dog post :-)

I'll watch with interest if you get a Duomid. Colin Ibbotson has a silnylon one and appears to like it. I have not used or actually touched a silnylon mid. But you can never trust my moths! They escape my wallet too often...

Catch you again soon :-)

Simon Tranter said...

Hi Tony,

I also didn't realise you had this blog!
Thanks for being honest with your thoughts on the Cuben TS. Just like you I wouldn't have bought it if I knew it wasn't going to be a lighter version of the TS, I had a choice of shelter to use in the UK for probably the next 5 years and went with it. A little disappointed at first at how much faff it is to pitch, but after a VERY windy night on the Rhinog http://simontranter.visualsociety.com/?p=500 and it not budging an inch I can live with it, for now.

I would quite like to meet up and pitch both of ours next to each other to find out if there is any difference, shame it didn't work out in March. I have the same troubles as you with the door, it has to be pitched high and narrow, which to me just makes it susceptible to side winds and is a pain in the ass to get in and out without brushing the sides! The trick to getting a higher pitch is to not pitch the back tight to the ground, the shelter wants to stay the same shape wether low or high. Hope that makes sense.


Tony Hobbs said...

Hi Simon,
Yes, let's see what next year brings.
I know Chris T said similar to you re door and wind.
But little doubt its strong, good to hear you back that up.
Yes getting in and out tight, and I was touching sides inside it too. But of course it was low. Like you I can live with it. And all my others ;-)
I don't want to put people off but this might help them make a more informed choice than we had when it was brand new. It has a place, I think.
I primarily use pbase, but for just words etc I'll jot them here. Not used it much despite it being here ages lol.
Thanks for comment :-)

Tony Hobbs said...

I get your meaning re higher pitch. It must pitch that shape at any height, really!!! LOL. I guess finding that shape ;-)

Anonymous said...

I have the silnylon TS. I would think the tie out lines would need to be proportionally longer and longer the higher the TS is pitched to maintain identical angles of the lines away from the TS out to the ground as you had in the low pitch. If the lines are not extended, they take off at a steeper and steeper angle down toward the ground, changing the directional tension on the TS material and creating slack in the fabric in the wrong places. This is more critical the lines be longer at a higher pitch in the cuben than the silnylon it seems, simply due to the stretch of the silnylon, where there is none in the cuben. This is my thought, Tony, when you pitch higher are your lines longer too? Mark in Phoenix, AZ

Tony Hobbs said...

Hi Mark, good to see you here, it's amazing how far I've come in the last two years from a live hate relationship to a love.
Yes, I do tend to use longer lines now and can definitely pitch this a bit higher.
I really must do an updated sales pitch on the cuben Trailstar and a video.