Tarptent Double Rainbow Review

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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

081013-214When 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

080920-331One 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.

Tarptent’s Livability

070917-050The 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.

Rainproof?

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.


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10 Comments

  1. Posted September 16, 2009 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the detailed review. I have also heard good things about the Cloudburst model and may get that.

    I have owned a Squall for years and would mention that I haven’t had any trouble with durability of the tent materials; nothing has failed as yet.

  2. Posted December 1, 2009 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    Bryan, I like how you give an honest review of the tent and don’t just praise the product avoiding to upset the manufacturer.
    I work with silnylon: it’s very easy to sew, so any manufactruing glitches are poor workmanship.
    I have repaired a friend’s Tarp Tent and in my opinon the product is inferior. There was no hemming on the fabric to prevent the fabric from fraying, there was no reinforcement on the thin fabric where the hiking pole is used to erect the tent( so a hole developed after short use), the guy points ripped out … the list goes on.
    I initially was keen on the Tarp Tents however after seeing my friend’s I decided that simply a shelter like that would not last.
    I went with Hilleberg instead: a very light tent but seriously sturdy, I mean it.
    Impeccably made it has the feature of taking down the inner seperate before packing away a wet shell. Not cheap but certainly the best.
    Thanks for your review.

  3. Posted December 1, 2009 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the comment and taking the time to read the review. I’d rather my reviews be honest and upsetting than pandering. Someone may buy something based on my recommendation and I’d feel terrible if I recommended a terrible product.

    It’s good to hear that my impression about workmanship is echoed elsewhere. From the glowing reviews on the Internet I was concerned that I had a lemon…

    I’ve heard good things about Hilleberg. I’d like to try one at some point. I had a chance to use another brand of tent with external pole sleeves and found that I didn’t like it. The poles kept binding up when the fly was wet. I’m still fond of Big Agnes’s Seedhouse SL 2.

  4. Peter
    Posted May 15, 2010 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    I own a Hilleberg Unna and never had a problem with the external pole sleeves, nor with the sleeves of my Akto, Kaitum and Stalon. Back to the Unna. It’s a 2 kilo gross (1,7 kilo net weight) freestanding tent and gives great protection. On hot nights you can sleep with the big door open and since 2009 there is an all mesh inner tent available. Yes, the Unna has no vestibule, but when stuck in a storm you can create one by unhooking one corner of the inner tent. It’s a very versatile tent, and will survive anything you’ll throw at it.

  5. Posted May 15, 2010 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the feedback, Peter. The other tent with external poles I used was a tent by Big Sky International. When the fly was wet, it was very difficult to get the poles to feed through the sleeves.

    I’d like to try an Akto, but I have no desire to spend the premium demanded in the U.S. to try a tent I’ve never seen. If someone from Hilleberg is reading this and wants an honest review, feel free to send me a tent. :)

  6. Jim
    Posted May 13, 2011 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Caution about buying from Tarptent!! I own a Rainshadow 2 and used it on the JMT for 3 weeks the tent worked great in the dry high altitudes of the Sierra Nevada Mtns with little condensation problems. I like the roominess of the tent but after only 3 weeks the stitching on many of the stays and pole attach sections started coming apart after several field repairs we were able to complete the hike. I sent the tent back in for repair to Tarptent and to my despair I found that Tarptent took almost a year to repair it! After sending multiple emails to Tarptent they finally responded after I threatened to come by there shop in person to talk to someone. They stated that they had some kind of weather incident and that there shop was damaged and they could no longer find my tent. Low and behold they finally agreed to send me a new replacement tent but what arrived was my old tent and a message stating that they found the old tent in a corner of the shop. The tent had been returned with two large 10″ rips to the bottom and I had identified the areas of repair needed but only half of them were re-stitched. I again emailed Tarptent to see what could be worked out and they have at this time still failed to respond they did although send me a tube of silicone and some patch material which I believe is an unacceptable way to handle the repair. I had heard good things about Tarptent so I am not sure if this is an isolated issue but there lack of communication and fairness to my issue should be considered before buying one of there products.

  7. Jason
    Posted November 17, 2011 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    I just came across this post because of an ongoing issue.

    I purchased the tarptent from backcountrygear.com in August to use in the Wind River Range. Second time I set it up a low gust of wind came down off the mountain and snapped the back hoop in two thus tearing the fabric. I was able to still make the tent work for the remaining five nights by using a second trekking pole in the back.

    When I got back I contacted backcountrygear.com and was told that they would check with Henry Shires about it. He didn’t believe that it was a manufacturer defect but would be willing to repair the tent. I sent the tent off for repair and he received the tent on Sept 30th. Meanwhile I spoke with the folks at backcountrygear.com who changed their mind and were willing to issue me a complete refund once I receive the tent back from Henry Shires. It came down to the fact that I didn’t trust this tent to hold up in the backcountry and that it was an inferior product. Who wants to worry about a tent breaking on you in stormy weather.

    So the current status is I’ve contacted Henry twice over the past two weeks and have gotten no response. I had a friend send a question in today who got a response from him in 30 minutes. That’s when I started wondering if others have had problems like me.

    This is definitely a bummer since his products are so well known in the thru-hiker community. You want to support the smaller companies but I could have had a lot less headaches if I had just bought a Big Agnes tent from REI. And nothing against backcountrygear cause they want to rectify the situation but that can’t happen until I get my tent back from Henry. Not happy to hear he’s taken up to a year with others.

  8. Heather
    Posted February 13, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    All the comments are very much appreciated. I’m considering a Tarptent [Stratospire 2] but want to have something I can count on even if that means more weight. I live in an area with a lot of rain and humidity, and have read some concerns about condensation, misting, etc.

    • Posted February 13, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

      All I can mention is my specific experience with the Tarptent Double Rainbow which I reviewed here and the Tarptent Cloudburst 2 review that I did. Those observations may or may not apply to Tarptent’s other products. If you asked me: Would I buy a Tarptent product again? I’d answer, “No.”

      Personally, I’d buy a tarp with a bug net with you’re worried about condensation. I personally think that misting is more about condensation than penetration.

  9. Mathieu DREO
    Posted June 9, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the review, at least a professional and objective opinion for this tent !

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