IN MAY I used the Trailstar on eleven consecutive nights under the stars crossing Scotland in the 2017 TGO Challenge because, for whatever unfathomable reasons, I had this notion that the challenge would be more of a proper crossing, a purer crossing almost, if this sorry soul was to camp all the way.
Back in the south of England, a question posed by a fellow member of the Backpackers Club, Bobby McDonald, got me thinking about the performance of the Trailstar – or Troookstar as my set-up is called because of the inclusion of an inner made by the equipment maker OoooWorks.
Mr McDonald’s question was this: “What was the most valuable piece of kit on the challenge?”
Two pairs of unbranded wool socks and zinc oxide tape, as a team, were top of the list simply because only one insignificant blister appeared on my feet during the 200 miles of the crossing. That was down to the frequent airings my feet received as much as the effectiveness of the socks and the tape.
But, while good socks and zinc oxide tape are important and are equipment, the accolade of most important piece of gear must go to the Troookstar, which was the real hero of the crossing. On the 2016 challenge, I had used it for only five nights and only two nights consecutively. It’s had about 25 nights of use over the past year – but it was the eleven uninterrupted nights in May that made me an even bigger fan of Mountain Laurel Design’s tent, tarp or whatever you want to call it, than I was before. And after a long continuous use of it in foul weather, better equipped to comment about it.
Trailstar owners will tell you that its assets are its simplicity, the speed at which it can be pitched and the space in the porch. That ability to be able to spread yourself out protected from the elements is a luxury, but by far its best asset is that it can be pitched anywhere, especially on uneven ground.
Across Scotland in May the Troookstar was pitched on a stretch of boggy land, a stony bank by the river Black Water near Bendronaig Lodge, an undulating and hollow-ridden riverside near Loch Muick, and a gully, to shelter from the gale-force winds throwing themselves down Glenmazeran. The last two pitches were not places that would accommodate a conventional tent with any ease.
Not once did the set-up feel like it would falter, even when the storm-force winds twice changed direction and started to blow into the entrance and the three times that rain thundered down so hard on the outer that the impact of the raindrops made me feel like the pitch was under a waterfall.
My commitment to the Troookstar was confirmed in spring when my Hilleberg Akto, which had sat on my equipment shelf for a country year, was sold via eBay to a chap in Glasgow.
As much as the Akto is vaunted for being robust, it still shakes, rattles and rolls in a strong wind. Not that it will crumble or fold, but my problem with the hoop design was that it was not aerodynamic and catches the gusts, which in turn vibrates the structure of the tent – not to mention its square-shaped vented ends. And, compared with the Trailstar, it is cramped in there.
My other difficulty with the Akto was feeding the carbon hoop through the sleeve – what a fiddly procedure and again getting it out the next morning. The Akto was bought to replace a Robert Saunders Backpacker S, that was purchased in the late seventies and last used in 2013, although it remains serviceable. The Saunders tent has no hoops or abrupt edges that irritate the wind, just an aerodynamic shape that sheds the wind – much like the Trailstar – just without the cavernous space inside.
Two poles at the entrance to the Backpacker S, were a step up from the central pole of the cheap and cheerful generic ridge tent it replaced. Because of the central pole of the Trailstar and because I use an inner I have gone back in time by in effect having a pole – walking pole – that is positioned at the centre of the inner, but because of the space inside the Trailstar, it does not feel like an imposition.
At the stony riverside, one tent peg bent under the force of trying to get a hold in the ground, which was harder than you would expect in Scotland – after a prolonged dry spell – and the other five main pegs were at best only five inches into the ground, with plenty of spare peg protruding. When the wind altered direction and brought with it heavy rain the simplest and quickest solution was to drop the doorway and pull the cover in on itself and peg it down – leaving one of the walking poles to suffer the wrath of the elements.
That arrangement worked a treat and held firm all night despite a battering from the rain and wind. It reduced the space in the porch of the tent to about half its normal size, but there was still plenty of sheltered area in which to cook. It could be argued that if the Troookstar was what might be called a proper tent then there would be no need for such emergency measures – but part of the charm of the Trailstar is being able to view the outside while in the relative comfort of a sleeping bag.
At Glenmazeran, the wind was as strong in the valley as it had been at about 2,500 feet, so it made sense to shelter from the worst of its strength in a gully away from the trees.
There were flat pitches above the river’s flow but there was also the threat that branches might fall on a tent in the storm, the winds were so strong. There was no ideal pitch and there was nowhere flat, but the pitch in the gully was sheltered from the sharpness of the gale. The central walking pole was stuck on a lump of earth and the Troookstar spread about it looking for a time more akin to a Hexapeak, because of the height of the pitch, than a Trailstar. But it worked and the camp spot captured some of the early sunshine the next morning to dry off the residue of the frost that had appeared overnight.
Above Loch Muick, the pitch was a case of needs must. The site was lumpy and grumpy but the time was getting late and tiredness was sneaking in. The main pegging points of the Trailstar were anchored and one of the walking poles stuck up in the middle in a matter of two minutes. With the entrance pole in position, the gear was hauled in and any slackness because of the pegging positions ironed out by pushing the walking pole higher to make the tarp more taught – leaving the pegs where they were.
Seconds after the rucksack was dragged under cover an almighty dense downpour struck, decreasing in intensity after five minutes but not stopping for more than ten minutes and soon returning to continue for the rest of the night.
That was one of those tired days, when a quick cold bite to eat – yummy pork pie and a cup of tea – was swiftly followed by sleep at nine o’clock. And it was still raining the next morning. But I was dry and warm with the Troookstar was just fine and dandy.