The tent we’ve used throughout this trip is the Super Quasar by Terra Nova Equipment. It’s on loan to us for the duration of this project, has to be returned in top condition, and if we want to buy it we’ll have to pay full price, £450. So, will we buy it?
These are the factors we’ll weigh up in making that decision.
The geodesic design is strong and doesn’t flap in the wind. Whereas most ‘tunnel’ tents need two pegs either end to give them their rigidity, the dome of this tent is self-supporting. Obviously, that’s most important when you’re expecting a metre-deep dump of snow, but it means the tent feels tougher. The geodesic shape gives greater height and steeper sides, so there’s a feeling of more room inside.
I knew the geodesic design would be useful if we had to camp on a soft surface where pegs wouldn’t hold, like a beach, or a rocky surface where they’d be equally tricky to use, like a… err, beach. The flysheet porch still needs those two pegs either-end to hold it tight, but in a pinch rocks or paddles could be used, and anyway these just stretch out the porch, they don’t hold the structure upright.
Many tents are now designed with outer and inner attached. They can be separated, but they're designed to be left together. It speeds pitching, but if the outer is wet when packed, you end up with a wet inner after a few days. Geodesic tend to pitch inner first, so if done in rain, the inner can get wet. But boy does this thing pitch quickly. See video of my first attempt to pitch this tent straight out of the bag. And because the outer is totally separate, if wet it can be stored in a separate dry bag. This worked superbly for us, and inside our tent was never once damp.
The problem with geodesic designs has always been weight and bulk. We used a North Face VE25 for three weeks in Alaska nine years ago, which is a superb 3-person base camp tent but occupied most of one of the pulks we dragged. The original Quasars were always good, strong tents but I’ve always considered them too heavy for backpacking. I had to carry one for my ML at Plas y Brenin (a thousand years ago) and my overnight sack weighed 32lb, which was quite normal in those days. Now it’s well under 20lb for a multi-day backpack.
I borrowed a Quasar ten years ago for a TGO article in which I took a friend backpacking for the first time. The weight of the tent had dropped, but it still felt a compromise for UK use – closer to the weight of a base camp tent but not quite big enough for the task.
In the last few years I’m delighted to say the good folk at Terra Nova have been well and truly bitten by the Ultra-light bug. They’ve poured design resources at cutting the weight of their backpacking tents, producing some really astonishingly light designs that have been used in extreme environments. The Superlite Quasar is probably the pinnacle of this exercise.
Poles, pegs, bags etc it tips my kitchen scales at 2.4kg and occupy an alarmingly small space. There may be lighter two person tents around, but they’re unlikely to have as much room inside or be geodesic. For backpacking in conditions where you need the advantages of a geodesic tent, this is the baby.
But for sea kayaking, I’m not so sure. The pegs are too flimsy for the type of foreshore we encountered in Scotland. And to save weight, the groundsheet, fabric and zippers seem just a little more delicate than other, less superlite models. I’m not saying they’re fragile. I am saying they need to be treated with a little more care when choosing a site, pitching and striking.
So will we buy one? I’m still pondering this. If I didn’t have an ultra-light two-person tent for backpacking this would be a no brain decision. The Superlite Quasar is perfect for backpacking and pretty damn good for sea kayaking.
But if the tent is only going to be used for sea kayaking, there’s no need to cut the grams. The weight is on the boat, not your shoulders. And perhaps consider something a little bigger, because by the third day storm-bound in Gairloch what had initially seemed roomy and spacious was feeling as cramped as a dog kennel.
So I’m tempted to buy a heavier, cheaper, more robust old-fashioned Quasar or larger, Super Quasar. But as I say, this is something we’re still pondering.