Repost: Integral Designs Silshelter Review #3 - Field Test
- This is a repost of my report which was originally posted December 24 in plain text format. That report referenced the file section for photos. This reposted report includes links directly to those photos. The report in the files section still has the pictures included in the report themselves.
Integral Designs Silshelter Review #3 - Field Testby Bill "AsABat" Jeffrey
Email: wjj2001 "at" yahoo "dot" com
December 24, 2001
Tester profile: I am a 43 year old male with over 30 years backpacking experience. I am 6'4" tall and weigh 200 pounds.
This is the third of four reports of the Integral Designs Silshelter:
Manufacturer's information on the Silshelter is available on Integral Designs' web site at http://www.integraldesigns.com/bshl.htm. Additional photographs can be found under Field Test #2 below.
Test Conditions: I have had several opportunities to use this shelter in the past several months. My report will be based on two of these:
- An overnight in the lower 20 (the backyard) to take advantage of a steady moderate rain with stronger winds and a low of 38 degrees.
- A two-night desert backpack at 1,650 feet elevation with a moderate breeze and cloudy skies threatening rain and again a low of 38 degrees.
Field Test #1:
Upon hearing the forecast calling for wind, rain, and more, I gathered the Silshelter, my 30-degree Marmot Arroyo sleeping bag, Z-Rest pad, and Tyvek ground cloth, and waited until bedtime before venturing into the backyard. This was a good test of setting up the shelter in a storm. The ground was quite wet and muddy. The rain had set in for a while, not driving hard but steady and relentless. The breeze would gust in different directions, sometimes blowing the rain in my face, and grabbing at the fabric. The temperature was in the low 50's and dropping.
I had pitched the Silshelter several times before, and thought I had it down pat, but the dark, the rain, and the wind confused things a bit. Finding the foot end of the the shelter, I checked to make sure which side was the outside. I plan on adding just a bit of white stitching to the seam near the stake loops to identify the topside in the dark. Once I had the fabric oriented properly, the "tarp" went up quickly. I staked the two back corners tight, then the two front corners (where the seam is, not the doors) at 90 degrees to the back edge. Letting the door flaps hang straight down, I put my trekking pole in the pole cup and extended it to tighten the Silshelter. Moving to the back, I put my second trekking pole through the center loop to raise it about 8 inches and staked out the center loop with the shock cord. I then staked the two door flaps to overlap as illustrated in the instructions, laid out my tyvek ground cloth (previously marked with arrows pointing to the front) and crawled inside, closing the door behind me. Total time was much longer than even my first pitch, about 5 minutes total.
I laid down to see how things were working. The fabric, with seams previously sealed with the including SilNet, is in deed quite waterproof. Through the thin fabric I could see the rain drops hit the fabric and run off. I had the foot more or less towards the storm, but I kept the doors overlapped and closed because of the wind, and they seemed waterproof as well.
After a half hour or so, I noticed that condensation was already forming on the roof of the shelter. Thinking about how it would fit two campers, I moved my pad to one side and promptly brushed against the damp fabric. The sides were about 2 or 3 inches above the ground, and I also noticed that it would be easy for me, who tosses and turns a lot at night, to end up with an arm outside the shelter if I was sharing it with someone. I took a spare stake and staked out one of the middle side loops, which increased the width enough to minimize this possibility.
As the wind shifted, I noticed an occassional drip near the front pole as the wind drove rain between the overlapping flaps. This shouldn't be a problem as long as one stays behind the pole. In essence, the triangular front of the Silshelter can be thought of as a vestibule, rather than an extension of the shelter. Unfortunately, my 6 feet and 4 inches means the foot of my sleeping bag was near the other end of the shelter, and the top of my sleeping bag was damp from condensation, but not rain, in the morning.
As the evening progressed, I kept looking for water intrusion, but noted only that the humidity inside was increasing, as was the condensation. I finally moved the inside door flap so it was perpendicular to the side of the tarp, keeping the rain out but allowing more ventilation. This lowered the humidity but not the condensation.
In the morning, the rain had tapered to a drizzle and the temperature was 38 degrees. My sleeping bag was dry except for the condensation on the top at the feet from being against the roof of the shelter. I also noticed a slight dampness near my head which appears to have may have come from blown-in rain. Overall, not too bad for such a light shelter.
Field Test #2:
This trip was my annual trip to train new Scouts in no-trace backpacking. The first night we hiked in a half mile with no moon, setting up camp quickly about 9:30 p.m. Soft sand and a stiff wind popped out a few stakes until I found some large rocks to hold them down with. We had heavy rain on the drive out over the mountains into the lower desert, and although we had no rain on the hike, it threatened us all night with clouds and thunder over the mountains. The tent billowed as the wind gusted, but the rocks held the stakes in, and I slept well. In the morning there was light frost on the inside of the Silshelter near my feet, and resulting dampness on my sleeping bag where it had touched the roof.
The next day involved a three mile crosscountry hike up a rocky canyon, over a mesa, and then into another canyon to camp at a 100-year old rock house. The clouds remained, but we were not blessed with any rain. Having more day light to work with, I experimented with improving the pitch.
- I found that tightly staking the door flaps so they met near the centerline of the Silshelter helped minimize sagging. Still, every night I noticed that no matter how tight I had pitched it, there was a bit of sag in the morning. Here's a front view of Silshelter showing overlapping door flaps. (Less overlap than pictured results in a tighter pitch, but more potential for leakage through the gap.)
- I used two extra stakes to increase the width near my shoulders by staking out extra loops. (This is behind (to the left of) the seam visible in this picture.)
- There was no true level ground where we camped, but rather a slight incline. Pitching the Silshelter between two bushes for wind protection, one side was lower than the other. This resulted in quite a bit of sag on the down hill side. I remedied this by staking that side higher and the uphill side down to the ground, which helped greatly.
- Experimenting with increasing the height at the foot end, I noted that the higher I went, the more the fabric sagged at the back corners. I finally settled on tying a length of cord to the back center loop (the same loop with the shock cord attached) and running this new cord through the wrist loops of my collapsed trekking pole. I secured it to a stake with a taut-line hitch so it could be adjusted to balance between height and fabric tightness. Because I wasn't sure if this would withstand a strong wind, I also staked the provided shock cord loop directly to the stake. See the detail view of use of trekking pole to raise back of Silshelter.
- I strung some Christmas lights around the door way (they run on 2 D batteries). While this didn't improve the pitch, it did make for a cheerful evening before turning in, and was a great conversation item. (Sorry, no pictures! Instead, here's a picture of the room inside the Silshelter.)
The skies cleared during the night, and in the dry 38-degree morning there was no condensation inside the Silshelter, although many others had some even in their double-walled tents.
While the Silshelter ships with 6 stakes, I find myself using a total of 10: One for the rear center loop, two to stretch the sides wider, and another to allow one door flap to be changed from open to closed without having to drive another stake at night.
Expectations and Reality:
- Expectation: I was concerned about the number of seams on the roof. Reality: Unfounded. The shelter proved to be quite waterproof.
- Expectation: Rain can get in between the door flaps. Reality: Sometimes. I am considering adding a 12-inch zipper or hook and loop closure to the doors to lengten the room to stretch out.
- Expectation: Provided stakes would bent. Reality: True. I replaced these stakes with Eastons and added 4 more than provided.
- Expectation: Difficult to pitch. Reality: Unfounded. Familiarity on a dark rainy night speeds the process, though.
- Expectation: Little condensation because of good ventilation. Reality: Sometimes. Although there is good air flow at ground level under the shelter, there is still air near the ridgeline which can create condensation if the doors are not fully open.
- Expectation: Total shelter weight would be 32 ounces, including ground cloth and bug netting. Reality: Silshelter 14 ounces, 10 stakes 5 ounces, tyvek ground cloth 5 ounces, total 24 ounces. Bug netting would add about 5 ounces for a total of 29 ounces, but would not be needed for most of my trips.
- Expectation: Packs ridiculously small. Reality: True. Until we set up camp, no one would believe that little "football" was my tent. The small size is even more impressive than the low pack weight.
- Expectation for long term use: This will be my shelter for trips where heavy storms and large hoards of bugs are not expected.
Comparisons: Walking through what is probably the most popular backpacking chain recently, I noted that the lightest tent they sold had a "weight" of 3 pounds 2 ounces. Now from experience with these "weights" I would expect the actual weight to be more than that, but even the advertised weight is twice that of the Silshelter with stakes and ground cloth. I didn't even fit in that big name tent! I do have a couple larger hoop tents which fit me well, but they weigh 4-1/4 to 5 pounds. Those are now reserved for trips with my wife, which are lower mileage, bring more comforts from home trips.
There are some cottage industry ultralight tents which compare to the Silshelter. For example, the Wanderlust Nomad weighs just 3 ounces more than the Silshelter with bug netting. However, it is strictly a one-man tent with less ventilation and less room. For most conditions, the Silshelter save weight and pack space and should provide greater room and comfort.
Next: In the next four months I will use continue to use the Silshelter on several more foothill and desert trips to see how I adapt to the "tentless" lifestyle. The final trip will be at the ADZPCTKO the last weekend of April as we wish the Pacific Crest Trail Class of 2002 well at the start of their journey to Canada.