FIRST TEST: MSR THRU-HIKER 2 (2016)
Tarping – once a bastion of hardcore specialists – is going mainstream. More and more people are finding merit in a more ‘open’ type of shelter, designs are getting better, and so are high-tech lightweight fabrics. Plus, in a bid to save weight, manufacturers aren’t shying away from recruiting other bits of kit you may be carrying anyway, like trekking poles.
The Thru-Hiker is actually two products, either of which can be used independently: the Thru-Hiker 70 Wing (the blue bit) and the Thru Hiker 2 Mesh House (the, er, mesh house bit.) The wing is simply a specialised tarp, which can be erected using trekking poles and tensioned using the supplied guys. It’s rather elegant in the way it ‘floats’, and – thanks to locking tensioner guys at the tarp’s four corners – it can be made very stable, providing your poles are up to it. What’s more, with the addition of further guy lines (there are plenty of loops) and a shortening of your poles, you can make this as low and tight or high and loose as you want. This is a very versatile shelter, as all tarps are, and it can be used as just a tarp if you don’t want to involve poles.
Use the Wing with the Mesh House and this starts to resemble a ‘proper’ tent, though it is still minimalist. The purpose of the Mesh House is simply to keep bugs out and enclose the 2-person sleeping area, with a lean groundsheet and a couple of inches of draughtproofing round the edge providing a small-but-significant bit of protection. It’s quality stuff: 10D polyester mesh with a 15D nylon groundsheet with 1200mm of hydrostatic head. The little details sing: you get six ultralight pegs for each component, everything is pared down for minimum weight, including those dinky little zips, and the Wing is subtly reinforced at the corners. All very nice; but at the end of the day this isn’t quite a tent.
So what it is? Well, first off, consider what the Thru-Hiker can and can’t do. Pitched correctly it will offer a decent amount of protection from wind and rain. The Wing can fully enclose the House along the sides – which are slightly tapered – and there are bigger versions of both, so you can mix and match to your needs. But it is designed, as the name suggests, for long walks along big American trails – so while it’s meant for mixed conditions, it’s probably more at home in high valleys and woods than mountaintops in anything but quiet weather. The time you really want to get this out is on a calm weekend in summer or autumn, and then it is glorious. The open aspect puts you right in the environment, you get bags of fresh air, no eggy smells, respite from the bugs, and – day and night – views of the special place you’re in. It’s a very different experience, more exposed than a tent, and there are drawbacks. But used properly, the light weight of this system, its build quality, ease of use and airy aesthetic makes it great for a lighter night. I loved it; my only gripe was Wing’s price: £150 for a tarp is steep, however lovely, though to find even a solo tent at a similar weight you’ll be spending more. And, of course, you might not be a trekking pole user – in which case, you’d best camp near trees!
Total weight (excl. poles) 940g
Material (Wing) 20D ripstop nylon
Material (Mesh House) 10-denier polyester mesh and 15-denier nylon
Packed size (Wing 70) 23x10cm
Packed size (Mesh House) 25x10cm
Sleeping area 2.13x1.32m
Tarp size 2.44x2.64m min, 2.89m max
A fine-quality, brilliantly designed minimalist shelter for 3-season use in all but bad weather. Used as intended, it’s a great way to spend a night out.
REVIEW BY SIMON INGRAM