Been meaning to write this for a while but I wanted to hold off and get more people’s impressions before moving ahead.
I think I have enough at this point to confidently come to the conclusions I have reached without reservation.
First let me start with the pro side of tarptents before I get to things, and I will particularly focus on one tent, the Tarptent notch which is a four point secured with stakes tent that uses your hiking poles as structure instead of tent poles.
The tent is designed well and as an engineer it is what you would like to think you would design yourself.
The tent is easy to get tight and has two entrances and two vestibules. You can have stuff in one vestibule and unzip the inner mesh and access it..
I also discovered it has side attachments to secure it to a tree or a rock.
It is very quick to set up and take down and is light as well.
Now, let’s talk about the negatives with the notch in particular.
The tent always has airflow on the sides, this means that any wind coming along will blow dust in your face and all over you and your stuff. (This goes for most tarp style tents)
The tent comes with small round stakes which do not hold the tent in wind.
The four point securing of the tent is a huge liability if one stake comes up the whole thing is coming down.
The tent is cold, you have no way to get the tarp sides down low enough to keep the cold out.
The tent is small, you are not going to be able to turn around in it and as a six foot tall man it is a bit short and narrow.
The tent handles moisture badly, if your sleeping bag touches the side then it will get wet, you do not want that.
I spent a month trying to make the notch work on the PCT and could not do it. It failed many many times on me in almost any wind. I froze in snow and cold weather, having it ice over twice. I had my sleeping bag get wet from the tent. I could not sleep in the tent because I absolutely did not trust it would stay standing even when I would lash the thing to trees and rocks. I honestly slept better cowboy camping.
The tent might be fine for someplace where the weather is perfect and there is no wind but for the PCT it is, in my opinion, a dangerous product which fails easy and should be avoided.
What I got to replace it:
I ended up getting a Big Agnes fly creek UL2 which is a two person tent that weights only slightly more than the notch. It is free standing and easy to secure and set up. I can climb in with my pack and dump everything everywhere and spread out and sleep. It has three pockets on the inside for my glasses and headlamp etc. It has places in the top to hang laundry so you can let your body heat dry them. It provides ten extra degrees of warmth just climbing in. It handles weather good and I never have thought it would blow over. There are two types, the regular with high side walls (which I got) and the mostly mesh ‘platinum’ version.
Everyone I know who had the notch has switched away from it. After the rain at kickoff was a tarptent and zpacks tent destruction zone. Most failed that first night at kickoff this year.
The PCT is a great test of a product and I do not think a tarptent of any kind is a wise investment.