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Tarptent Cloudburst 2 Review

Tarptent Cloudburst 2 being reviewed in the BWCA.

In early 2009, I traded a Tarptent Double Rainbow for a Cloudburst 2. For various reasons, I didn’t like the Double Rainbow, but I wanted to try another Tarptent before I wrote off the category. Tim Smith, the owner and founder of Jack Mountain Bushcraft School, says “It takes four nights to own a shelter.” But, I think it takes slightly longer to really know how a shelter performs. I need to see how it performs in hot humid weather, rain, cold, wind and more before I really know how to rate it. I usually like to spend 30 nights in a tent or under a tarp before I write a review about it.   That’s why it took so long for me to write a review for the Tarptent Cloudburst 2. In May 2009, I suffered two injuries that have kept me from doing any substantial paddling trips. By fall 2010, I finally strung enough painful days and fitful nights together to offer an opinion.

Tarptent Cloudburst 2 at a backcountry campsite on Lake Superior.Tarptent doesn’t offer a specific product description of the Cloudburst 2 other than “Two and a half pounds for 2 people.” Maybe its strategy combines minimal language with the lightweight. I don’t know. But this shelter does offer many features, including:

  • Hybrid bathtub floor — clip or unclip floor walls for splash, space, views, and airflow
  • Unobstructed entry; 3-stake setup
  • Dual arches; aerodynamic shape
  • Abundant netting for views, airflow, and insect resistance; bug proof when zipped up
  • Front beak shields rain, provides gear storage
  • Fast setup — 2 minutes from sack to pitched
  • Quick drying — inside and out in minutes
  • Small packed size — stuff or fold
  • Catenary ridgelines for wind, sag, and storms
  • Reflective spectra cord guylines included

The tent/shelter weighs 38 oz. It offers 30 to 37 square feet of floor space with an extra 8.5 square feet of storage space under the “beak”. It has 42 inches of headroom dead center on the front pole. The floor is 84 inches long, although without using the bathtub floor, it expands to 92 inches. In addition to the tent and poles, it includes three Easton aluminum stakes and a narrow but long stuff sack.

(Just a note: I know that the term “beak” is a popular one in the Ultralight crowd — I’ve used it myself. It comes from tarp aficionados, and Ray Jardine made it popular when he wrote about making them in his book, The PCT Hiker’s Handbook, now known as Trail Life or The Ray-Way Tarp Book, but it sounds ridiculous and outside the UL crowd, it’s not well-known. Either explain what it is in your marketing or drop it. On this Tarptent, the “beak” is actually a partial-coverage vestibule.)

Tarptent Setup

When I first got the tent, I noticed a bad odor — I traded a used tent for a used tent. I looked it over for mold, but didn’t find any, so I set it up in the front yard to air out. After airing it out for two days, the odor didn’t go away, so I sponged some MiraZyme Enzyme Based Gear Deodorizer by McNett on it. That didn’t work, so I soaked it in a bucket mixed as directed and let it dry. The odor disappeared.

Even though it was my first attempt at setting it up, the tent went up surprisingly quickly. With only three lines to stake out, it’s easy to adjust the staking points to arrive at a taut pitch. I’ve owned two other tents similar in design to this shelter, a TNF Vapor and a Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight, so it wasn’t surprising that it went up fast. To put this tent up, you insert the poles into silicone nylon sleeves, insert the ends into gromments, stake out the guylines in the rear using one stake and then stake out the two front guylines by inserting the stakes through metal rings attached to the guylines. There are two guy-points on the side’s mid-points. Attaching a short length of cord to these and staking them out, increases the living space while making the tent more stable in wind. I use them in every setup.

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The partial-coverage vestibule is fussy to get right. Instead of using lightweight zippers, Tarptent uses velcro to secure the two sides of the vestibule. It then uses a small velcro tab to keep the vestibule’s vent closed. It looks easy to open and close, and sort of is. The problem is that it’s actually hard to get everything aligned and closed up in a rainstorm without getting water into the vestibule area or in the tent. When the wind blows hard, the tab closing the vent opens up. I really like the idea behind the vestibule, because it allows a wide-open, a partly closed or completely closed option, but I don’t like the velcro. By using a small zipper instead of velcro, the tent might be heavier, but usability improves. That’s a trade-off when trying to save weight in a shelter and one that I think the disadvantages in this shelter outweigh the lightweight advantage. I’d take a 2 oz. heavier tent in this case for the improved usability.

This is now the third tent/shelter I’ve used that uses silicone nylon pole sleeves on the rainfly. Just like the other two tents, I found that I didn’t like the sleeves. When wet the silicone nylon sticks to the poles and makes it difficult to insert or remove. When wet, I feared ripping the fabric because of the force it took to push the poles through, so I’d carefully push them through. I’m a big fan of clips in tents and would be curious to see a tent like this that uses clips instead of sleeves.

Cloudburst in the Wind

Cloudburst 2 by Tarptent in the BWCA.I wasn’t able to use the tent on a trip until May. I used it on the Bayfield, Wisconsin to Houghton, Michigan section of my approximately 350-mile solo kayaking trip from Grand Marais, Minnesota to Houghton. For a several days on the trip, I holed up in the tent while seas built, and I spent a couple of days in an exposed position while gales to a strong gale (Force 8 and 9 on the Beaufort scale) blew sustained 50 mph winds at the tent. At points, when the gusts hit the tent’s side I feared a snapped pole, but the tent survived unharmed. One thing I noticed after spending days in the shelter is that the gray walls seem slightly depressing. I wanted the gray to keep the tent hidden, but that stealthy look takes a mental toll when holed up solo for a couple of days in a nasty storm.

Livability

Lots of space for the weight sums up my feeling about the livability. For a solo paddler, the tent seems luxurious for its weight. For two paddlers, it’s plenty big leaving room for gear at your feet or in the vestibule. The only downside in this style of tunnel tent is that the highest point is in the middle of the front pole. At 42 inches, it’s high enough to sit upright, but only for one person. It’s not comfortable to play cards in the tent.

Because of the large front door and the bug netting surrounding the perimeter of the tent, it’s breezy, which means less condensation. During cold spells or rainstorms, rain flaps roll down covering the sides. This helps stop splash back from the rain from getting into the tent and it cuts back on ventilation. I found the feature handy on cold windy nights when I wanted more warmth. That said like any tent at some point condensation is going to form. When it does, I found I needed to carefully get in and out of the tent or I’d have a wet head. Because the floor space is so large, I seldom experienced any accidental brushing of the tent’s sides with my sleeping bag.

In addition to the rain flaps to fight rain the Cloudburst 2 includes a bathtub style floor. It’s similar to the one in the Tarptent Double Rainbow, and I had the same issues with this one. You form that bathtub by clipping cords into the side of the tent. This pulls up the floor. While a good idea, in practice we found that it easily collapsed if anything was placed on it or near it. My partner said that during the rain she’d wake up worrying that the bathtub floor was collapsed. When thinking about other tents that include a bathtub floor, the point was to get the seams away from the ground and not to form some type of bathtub enclosure. Here, the tent must form an enclosure, because it doesn’t have traditional sides. It’s a challenge to come up with something that works like a tent, and I still don’t think Tarptent solved the challenge. I like the idea, but it just doesn’t work as well as I hoped.

One of the worst features other than the velcro on the vestibule  is the door. The door consists of three separate zippers that meet in the center of the floor. This means at a minimum, you need to unzip two to get out of the tent. Usually, after you get out the third zipper partially opens, which means closing three zippers to keep bugs from getting in. Then on the return trip, it happens all over. To go the bathroom in the middle of the night that means you open and close the zippers six times — maybe I’m spoiled by tents that use one zipper to open a door. I know this “feature” lets you completely open the bug netting when there are no bugs, but when there are, like in canoe country, it’s a serious PITA. A circular zipper would improve the tent ten fold. Plus, there’s a little hole left open where the zippers meet. If you know Minnesota mosquitoes, you know they’ll find it and get in.

Performance in the Rain

Tarptent Cloudburst in the BWCA.Overall performance in the rain is fine. The rainflaps combined with the partially functional bathtub floor, perimeter bug netting and large floor space keeps rain splash out of the tent. The bottom of the tent is long enough to prevent rain from coming into the foot area. The vestibule prevents rain from entering from the front. The only real problem I noticed is getting in and out. I mentioned this above and I’ll mention it again. The velcro makes it difficult to get a complete and quick seal of the vestibule when getting into and out of the tent, and the velcro tab that holds the vent closed comes loose in the wind. Both combine to get water into the living space. A zipper and a side release buckle would improve the vestibule and be worth the extra weight. Plus, the requirement to open and close zippers six times slows down the process.

Lots of users of silicone nylon complain about misting, which is a light mist falling in the tent when it’s raining. I think misting is formed when condensation is knocked off the ceiling by raindrops. We never experienced it in this tent. I think that because it’s so breathable, condensation doesn’t form very often.

Packing Away the Cloudburst

Here’s my biggest problem with this category of shelters: When packing away, you lose the benefit of a tarp and a two-part tent. A huge advantage of using a tarp is that when you’re ready to pack up, the tarp comes down last. You pack up everything under the tarp while still being protected from the rain. When finished the tarp is the only wet item. With a tent, you remove the rainfly, quickly pack the canopy, and the canopy doesn’t get too wet. With a Tarptent everything gets wet, because the floor isn’t removable. When setting up camp the following night, the floor is wet, the bug netting is wet and the tarp is wet. If it’s still raining out, it primes the tent for a night of misting. Luckily, I never experienced a Minnesota multi-day soaker in this tent, because it would be a miserable affair to change campsites.

The narrow but long stuff sack makes it hard to stuff the tent away. It’s much easier to roll it around the poles and slide it into the stuff sack than it is to stuff it.

One Small Note about the Easton Tent Stakes

One of the Easton tent stakes included with the Cloudburst 2 broke. The head came off when I pushed the stake into the ground using my shoe. I didn’t notice the problem until I pulled the stake out and the head came off. I wrote Easton about the problem. They wrote back:

We understand there have been some issues with the heads coming off a small percentage of our stakes. There was a problem with some of the heads not being completely pressed down on the stakes, so when they were hit with a hammer it would break the glue seal and the head would pop off. Please be assured that we have addressed this issue and made the appropriate changes, as well as implementing a 100% quality check for all our stakes now.

We stand behind our products and appreciate your business. Please destroy and dispose of the stakes, and know that another one is on its way.

Instead of one stake, they sent me two. I appreciate the customer service that I received and how Easton handled the problem.

Overall Thoughts on the Tarptent Cloudburst 2

Overall, I like this tent/shelter. For the weight, it offers lots of floor space. It’s hard to find another tent at this weight with all the poles included — they usually need trekking poles or paddles. It’s comfortable to sleep in. It’s mainly rainproof. Setup is easy. To fix the negatives, the door needs just one zipper instead of three. I’d prefer a zipper and a side release buckle instead of velcro on the vestibule, but I put up with the faulty closure system because the rest of the tent is good. If you’re looking at a Tarptent, this one is a good choice.

Price: $260 | More Info