Tarptent’s Double Rainbow, introduced in 2006, received consistently good reviews on the Internet, so late in 2007, I decided to purchase one. During 2008, I used the tent exclusively. This tent has some good and bad points.
Initial Thoughts Upon Receiving the Tarptent
When I decided to purchase the Double Rainbow, I noticed a waiting list, so I exchanged emails with Henry Shires, the owner of Tarptent. He quickly answered all the email I sent to him before the purchase, so I made the assumption that the customer service would be quite good. Settled on a long wait, somehow my Double Rainbow showed up at the door a little earlier than I had believed it would. The waiting list for this tent was long, but, maybe, his production was faster than expected. This was a good as I’ve often believed in the concept under-promise and over-deliver, but I was slightly disappointed with the product right out of the box.
Upon initial inspection, I found several problems. The worst was a hole between the tarp and the bug netting. It looked like during production, the seamstress forgot to sew about a 1″ section of the netting into the seam. This was also noted as a problem in another online review. It was also missing a small bungee required to engage the bathtub floor. Having found several problems, I decided to look the product over more extensively and ended up finding overall bad stitching and loose threads. Now, I understand that silicone nylon is extremely difficult to sew, but I expect better in a $250 high-end product.
Double Rainbow’s Bug Protection
One of the reasons that I decided to try a Tarptent instead of just a tarp, which is what I’ve been using outside of the bug season, is because in the BWCA and the Northland, the bugs are unbearable for much of the June through August summer camping season. I love camping under tarps, because of their openness, but a tent has always seemed to me to offer much better bug protect. The product seemed to offer the best of both worlds. A tarp with the protection from bugs.
Unfortunately, with the hole in the netting it wouldn’t provide bug protection until I fixed the hole. Luckily, I live with an expert stitcher, and she fixed the hole. (Note: I contacted Tarptent twice about the hole and never received a reply.)
Problem solved until I found a “design feature” that allows bugs into the tent. At the point where the pole exits sleeve there is a section of bug netting which isn’t stitched into the tent. This allows no-see-ums, black flies, and mosquitoes to come into the tent as they please. It’s a very small hole, but non-the-less is there and could allow bugs in.
Setting up the Double Rainbow
The Tarptent Double Rainbow tent can be set-up in two ways, either freestanding via the use of trekking poles or by staking out the corners. The freestanding way is interesting for those that hike with trekking poles, because it allows you to set the tent up quickly and easily move it around if you have to. Unfortunately, I tore out one the pockets the trekking poles fit into. The stitching looked to be backed up upon itself, but very little force caused the whole row of stitches to fail. I emailed Tarptent for a replacement, and they quickly sent it to me.
That wasn’t a huge setback for me, because generally, I’m a paddler and not so much a hiker, despite that fact that I’ve thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 1996. So, for me, set-up hasn’t been negatively affected by the loss of the trekking pole pocket. To set-up this tent, you thread a pole through a very tight pole sleeve, it gets hung up at the center when the sleeve runs under the permanent pole in the center of the tent. After fiddling with the center pole, the main pole threads out to a confusing jumble of stuff at the grommet. The pole is then inserted into a grommet on each side and the four corners are staked out. On rock beaches, you must tie rope extensions to the tent’s corner to tie around rocks.
The main pole’s sleeve is made from a silicone nylon and isn’t very durable. Somehow, before the seventh night out, I ended up putting a hole into the sleeve.
There are several options for set-up that I haven’t tried. The most interesting is the ability to have one or both of the vestibules propped open and upright using trekking poles or paddles. This allows a more breezy set-up for days without rain or with rain that is falling straight down. I like the concept and it reminds my of the way I can set-up my old Sierra Design tent. The problem with the set-up is the extra flap of material required to make it work is constantly getting in the way when the set-up isn’t used. There is a ribbon that is suppose to tie it back, but the ribbon doesn’t seem to hold a knot. A minor problem, but annoying. Plus, if you dump water onto this flap, the water comes into the sleeping area, so it’s unlikely to get used during heavy rain when more ventilation is needed to reduce the condensation issues this tent has.
Generally, set-up is relatively quick and except for the center pole bind up and the confusing mess of “stuff” at the grommet it is painless. If you’re not a fan of tents that require staking out to set-up, then this tent isn’t for you.
The Double Rainbow has much going for it livability-wise. It’s roomy and long. It has plenty of headroom – enough to allow two people to sit-up and play cards. It has two doors and two small vestibules. Great for storing shoes and other small items. The double doors are wonderful for getting in and out of the tent during the night without waking up your partner. The width is just right for a couple. It’s a bit tight for two friends. My significant other describes it as “cozy.”
The Tarptent is also very breezy on windy day, but on calm damp days it fails to breath. This failure combined with the lack of a double wall creates the perfect situation for major condensation problems. We found on typical Minnesota calm all night soakers the walls and ceiling of the tent become so saturated with condensation that when the rain picks up and starts pounding on the tent, the drops force the condensation back into the air in the form of a light mist. During one of the nights on which this occurred, I contemplated going out to the cooking tarp and sleeping under it. Some people may note that what we experienced was silicone nylon leaking through under pressure, but my cooking tarp is made from the same silicone nylon material, and the underside was completely dry. The problem is associated with a lack a ventilation, IMO.
We also noticed that the Tarptent Double Rainbow seemed to be warmer than sleeping under a tarp, this came in handy on a surprise sub-freezing night kayaking on Lake Nipigon in Canada. I only had a 30 degree bag with me, so I enjoyed the extra warmth the tent provided.
A last livability issue deals with the floor. It’s twofold; first, the floor is sold as being a bathtub. This bathtub floor should keep rain from running under the tent and into the living area. The bathtub is created by pulling bungees attached to the ground cloth out around the stakes. It’s a nice idea, but any inside pressure from a sleeping bag, book, pillow, etc… cause the bathtub to collapse. It doesn’t really work with two people. With just one, it seems to hold up better. The second issue is that the floor is made from silicon nylon, which is very very slippery. Despite following instruction to caulk lines onto the floor to help stop mattress pads from slipping around, they still do. Set-up on any slight incline and expect to find yourself at the other end of the tent shortly.
A little nit-pick is the size of the zippers, these are extremely small and hard to pull with gloves or cold hands. The small size also leads me to believe that they will fail at some point sooner rather than later, but I haven’t seen a failure yet. I’ve seen it in other items using a similar sized zipper.
Overall, the Tarptent Double Rainbow is waterproof, but is is rainproof? I’ve found a couple of faults. The first is that this tent is extremely difficult to seam seal correctly. The instruction mention that it should be done twice, which I did, but still in the field the seams would eventually end up dripping. Expect to work on seam sealing much longer than you’d have to with a normal tent or tarp.
A second is the way the tent’s canopy ends above the ground at the narrow ends of the floor. If there is a lot of splash coming from the rain, it comes in the ends. I woke up one night to a soaked hat!
And the condensation issues mentioned above make this a wet tent on some nights. Much wetter than a traditional double walled tent or a 8′x10′ tarp. Tarptent sells a condensation barrier. They claim this solves some of these problems.
In the Wind
On several occasions, I’ve had the Double Rainbow in strong winds including a wind storm with sustained 20 knot winds gusting up to 30 knots. The larger trees were swaying around us and I set up the campsite, so the Tarptent would take the brunt of the winds and my friend’s Hubba Hubba would be the most sheltered. Impressively, the Double Rainbow withstood these winds without much collapse on the windward side. With the pole facing into anticipated winds, I suspect that the tent could withstand stronger than Gale force winds. Especially, with a line attached to the guy point.
Take Down and Packing Away
One of the reason that I love camping under a tarp is that when I’m ready to pack up, I can stuff all my gear into portage packs, dry bags and remain dry while doing it. The ground cloth even remains dry on one side when I pack it up. The tarp comes down last and if soaked stays outside the waterproof seal of my pack. If it’s a sunny day, the tarp can come out a lunch and sway in the wind for 15 minutes and get dried.
The Tarptent, on the other hand, doesn’t retain any of the goodness of tarps. You can pack your gear up, but the ground cloth is attached to the tent, so it’s going to get wet when you pack up the tent. Combine this with the sticky when wet pole binding sleeve, the snake like stuff sack and it feels like your trying to stuff a wet slipper snake into a hole too small for it. During the process the entire tent gets soaked. Then at lunch, to dry it, you have to spend time setting the tent up, which takes too much time, so it doesn’t get done. And if it rains all day, when setting the tent back up, it’s soaked and primed for a misty night. Even with a sponge or towel to wipe up the water, it is a wet affair.
In some regards, the packing away of the Tarptent is worse than a standard tent. With a standard tent, at least, you can separate the wet rainfly from the dry canopy. And I’ve never seen a tent stuff sack so oddly and oblongly shaped. It only works well if you tightly roll the tent around the poles and stuff the tent into the bag rolled up.
Overall and Conclusion
I have formed the general opinion that the tent is flawed and not worth the $250 that I paid for it. The general stitching and quality problems plus the failure of the trekking pole sleeve and the pole sleeve leave me wondering and waiting for the next failure. The condensation issues and wetness of the tent had me often regretting I just didn’t take a tarp or something else like my Big Agnes Seedhouse 2 SL.
The comfort, ultralight weight and livability of the tent for the perfect conditions and the strength in the wind are pluses for this tent, but not enough to keep the tent in my closet. I traded the tent for a Tarptent Cloudburst 2 early in 2009. After putting the Cloudburst 2 through some impressive conditions including sustained Gales with gusts to 50mph, I’ve concluding it is a much more impressive tent. If you’re looking to buy a Tarptent, skip the Double Rainbow and get a Cloudburst instead.