The big test: one-person single skin shelters reviewed (2018)

If you want to ditch the weight and really get back to basics, single-skin shelters are the only way to camp. We put six of the best to the test with a wild night in the Lakeland mountains

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The runners up


Terra Nova Jupiter Lite £210

Tester: Jon Bennett

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  • Type Single-skin, one-pole bivi tent
  • Weight 678g
  • Packed size 9x36cm
  • Best price £179

A popular shelter with front-entry, where two guy lines create a small but annoying obstruction to smooth access. For a shorter person like me (5ft 8in), the length of the bag provides sufficient space to store items at the head of the bag. On warmer nights, the midge net at the head provides excellent ventilation. Unfortunately, one of the pegging-out points at the foot of the bag came off, but a stone placed inside the bag proved a successful alternative! It coped well with the windy conditions we encountered, although the fabric does rustle in the wind. 

Pros

Weight compared to conventional tents, midge door, more headroom than a bivi, more weather protection than a tarp

Cons

Cannot sit up, limited storage space, price-tag, and guy lines badly situated

Buy it if

You are weight-conscious and want more protection than a tarp or bivi, and don’t need to be able to sit up


Big Sky International Wisp £210    

Tester: Tim Butcher

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  • Type Single-skin, one-pole tent
  • Weight 616g (excluding main pole or pegs)
  • Packed size 12x20cm (excluding main pole or pegs)
  • Best price £210

A super-light, single-skin shelter, at just 616g, with the huge benefit of a full sewn-in groundsheet and inner midge-proof door. Simple to pitch and adjust, using your trekking pole as the main central support and a supplied short pole at the tail. Big enough to both stretch out and sit up in, with a porch large enough to shelter gear and cook in. But despite the top vent and mesh inner door, condensation became a problem, and being tall my sleeping bag quickly got wet at the foot end where the tent is low and narrow.

Pros

Weight compared to conventional tents, spacious porch for gear and cooking

Cons

Condensation, need to add pegs and vertical pole/trekking pole, not quite as stable in the wind as some tents

Buy it if

You’re weight-obsessed and want more shelter than a tarp and more headroom than a bivi 


Rab Silwing £100    

Tester: Graham Thompson

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  • Type Single-skin tarp
  • Weight 321g (excluding pegs, guy lines, poles or bivi)
  • Packed size 9x15cm (excluding pegs, guy lines, poles or bivi)
  • Best price £85

Made from 30-denier ripstop silicone-coated nylon, the Silwing provides 5m2 of protection, with seven sides and eight pegging, guy line or pole attachment points. Pitching options are limited, as there are no additional guy line points in the middle of the tarp, and also no reinforced pockets for pole/trekking pole supports in the middle. It is stable though, and there’s loads of space for one person plus gear. The weight is exceptional, but you have to add pegs, guy lines and poles/trekking poles. Pitching takes practice, and if rain is suspected then a bivi bag is needed too. 

Pros

Weight & price compared to conventional tents, no condensation, space

Cons

Limited pitching options, need to add pegs, guy lines and poles/trekking poles

Buy it if

You want minimal weight and cash outlay, and enjoy sleeping with less barriers between you and the outdoors



The top three


Alpkit Rig 3.5 £59

An extremely lightweight tarp with multiple pitching options, but can its simple design stand up to a wild mountain camp?

Tester: Graham Thompson

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  • Type Single-skin tarp
  • Fabric Waterproof 30-denier ripstop with silicone and PU coating
  • Weight 305g (excluding pegs, guy lines, poles or bivi bag)
  • Packed size 9x14cm
  • Best price £59

It's good

The weight, the packed size and the price are instantly appealing, but this handful of nylon has more subtle benefits worthy of admiration. The 2.4x1.4m rectangle of nylon fabric comes with 17 hypalon attachment points, six tie-down/pegging points and five lifter tabs so you can tie on guy lines to raise or tension the middle of the tarp. It is these attachment points that set this tarp apart from others, as they allow a myriad of pitching options with only your imagination being the limiting factor. I was able to create a wedge against the wind, with a lifter at the rear to create more internal space and a fold of material into the middle to create a groundsheet that also prevented draughts reaching me from under the windward edge. The Rig 3.5 was also surprisingly stable in the wind, and allowed me a solid grandstand view of the mountains on my doorstep.

However

You do need to add on the price, weight and packed size of a bivi bag for your sleeping bag in anything other than dry weather, with the likes of an Alpkit Hunka setting you back a further £48 and 308g. Also, as with any tarp, you don’t get pegs, guy lines or poles, so you need trekking poles and plenty of cord and pegs to enjoy a range of pitching options. Some skill and practice are also needed to make the most of the opportunities of a tarp, as it is essentially just a big piece of fabric! The main drawback though, is that there is no midge protection and you get less protection from the wind and rain than an enclosed tent or bivi tent supplies. Its inability to trap air also makes this a more chilly option than a tent or bivi tent, so be prepared to pack a warmer sleeping bag than usual.

Verdict

Outstanding shelter if you want a closer connection to the outdoors and are prepared to tolerate the practical drawbacks of tarping.

  • Portability 5/5
  • Pitching 4/5
  • Protection 2/5
  • In use 4/5
  • Value for money 5/5
  • OVERALL SCORE 80%
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Snugpak Stratosphere £150

The low price and low weight are admirable, but does the lack of headroom stand up to cross examination in the hills? 

Tester: Jon Bennett

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  • Type Single-skin, twin-pole bivi tent
  • Fabric Waterproof, breathable, 50-denier nylon ripstop with PU coating
  • Weight 1096g
  • Packed size 12x27cm
  • Best price £107

It's good

The Stratosphere has two short poles crossing over at the head of the bag, creating a mini dome. This allows a very useful feature to be added in the form of a netted small storage space for valuables, or anything that you don’t want to be squashed in the bivi bag if you are either disorganised or a restless sleeper – which can be an issue when minimalist camping! This mini dome also provides excellent headspace compared to bivi bags or even some poled bivi tents. The foot of the bag is then simply pegged out. What sets this apart compared to other bivi tents, is the excellent zipped side entrance to the shelter, as this zip extends almost the full length of the bag. This allows very easy access to the shelter, and means you can easily make a brew from the comfort of your sleeping bag. 

However

The side-entry could expose more of your sleeping bag to the wet during rainy weather, although it did not leak in our tests. The midge net at the top of the door under the dome is not very intuitive to use, and makes the main body of the bivi bag looser when open, which means it flaps in the wind. I would have preferred conventional hooked tent pegs rather than the V-shaped pegs provided, but of course I could just buy different ones. Also while it was great to have colour-coded poles, being black and green they weren’t easy to identify against a green tent and a grey sky. The biggest drawbacks are that this is the heaviest of the hooped bivi tents on test, and you can’t really change clothes without stepping outside, unlike tarps and tents that provide more room for gearing up.   

Verdict

This is a great if you want a low-priced shelter with more headroom than a bivi bag, while the side-entry is a real benefit. But the weight and lack of living space is a drawback compared to some tarps and tents.

  • Portability 4/5
  • Pitching 5/5
  • Protection 4/5
  • In use 3/5
  • Value for money 4/5
  • OVERALL SCORE 80%

Lightwave S10 Sigma £499

The low price and low weight are admirable, but does the lack of headroom stand up to cross examination in the hills? 

Tester: Tim Butcher

 

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  • Type Single-skin tent
  • Fabric Waterproof and breathable X-Tec 20-denier nylon with carbon coating
  • Weight 1372g
  • Packed size 13x46cm
  • Best price £470

It's goo

 My preference is that any solo shelter needs to be stable, offer midge protection, be spacious enough to sit up and cook safely in, and allow me to stretch out my tired 6ft 4in body. The S10 Sigma gives me all this, with the kind of bombproof assurance that also lets me get an excellent night’s sleep. It pitches quickly, with just two long poles and one short which thread into continuous sleeves and secure into eyelets. Being freestanding, I was able to move it around to find the flattest pitch. Plenty of guy attachment points are provided but weren’t necessary, even during our gusty night. The S10 is roomy, and all three of us squeezed into it for a nightcap and a natter. Fortunately condensation is a thing of the past, thanks to Lightwave’s X-Tex fabric, which astonishingly manages the condensation superbly, so I had a dry night with all doors zipped up tight.

However

 The big drawbacks are the weight and the price-tag, which are in the range of many top-performing double-skin tents using traditional fabrics. And as the main reason to go for a single-skin tent is to cut down on weight and price, you have to wonder if the Sigma S10 actually offers what we’re looking for? There is little wrong with this single-skin tent, but I’d like the door between the porch and sleeping area to open full length, rather than just half the wall being a door. Also, there is possibly more space than a single user needs, so if it were it slightly narrower and tapered in height and width to the tail it would probably save both a few hundred grams and some cash. 

Verdict

Heavier than a lightweight bivi or tarp, but the space, weather protection and stability are outstanding for the weight. Would I pay £500? If my family would let me get away with it... 

  • Portability 4/5
  • Pitching 5/5
  • Protection 5/5
  • In use 4/5
  • Value for money 3/5
  • OVERALL SCORE 84%
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