Terra Nova upped the ante again, The World’s Lightest Tent record went from one of their tents to another. Using new fabrics, an evolution of their successful Laser design and big slice of bravado, it’s the Laser Ultra 1.
A few basics first. The dimensions are the same as the Laser Photon 1, a tent that I’m very familiar with. This means that internal space is pretty good depending on your height, at whisper under six feet it does fine for me, the width is good as the shape bows out in the middle letting you move around and get a lot of gear inside.
The general layout is the same too, it’s the fabric that’s big thing. This is a good call, a trusted design to try out the new material.
The first time I pitched the Ultra was on frozen snow. I really didn’t know what to expect, but the familiar method I use for pitching any Laser worked as well as ever, better I should say. The flysheet pitches differently to a Photon or Comp, the fabric has an inbuilt tension of sorts, which kind of translates into a shape-memory, it just wants to pitch well and consequently the Ultra goes up and tensions quick using the internal and external adjusters.
The fabric is Terra Nova’s “Ultra” fabric, although folk are saying it’s Cuben fiber, it’s a development of that. The 3000mm hydrostatic head it comes with is absolutely fine for the UK and that thin crinkly appearance doesn’t match either the soft feel or the surprising quietness the fabric has, even in the wind it lacks the “Laser wind rip” that I’m so used to.
The single pole is a thin and light affair made in Scandium Alloy, same as my full-sus mountain bike frame so I’m happy with that from my experience of torturing the bike without issue. The poles at the ends are carbon and here they fold in half which makes for easy packing, indeed the main poles fold very short as well. The days of awkward tent poles strapped to the outside of a pack seem very distant.
Ventilation is via the half-mesh inner door and the adjustable end panels. These are great, the flysheet can be pulled up and fixed open so that the little internal mesh panels effectively open onto the outside world, it really adds to the fresh are throughput. It does help with condensation as your damp breath and night vapours (?!) can slip away, but temperature changes and the smallness of the interior will mean some dampness at times. I’ve had both frozen rain falling from the inner when I sat up in the morning and a completely dry tent too.
The guying has the regular layout, doubling-up the inner and outer with short bungees and guys with extra guylines at each end and at the centre. These days we have decent reflective guyline and the brilliant Camcleat adjusters, those who remember the original washing line and cub scout adjusters of the Laserlite will be glad.
The guys that secure the centre pole can be attached to the tent itself or the optional pole cover. I haven’t fitted optional the pole cover which I normally do and it’s been fine so far without it. The pole cover weighs 58g in its pouch which is nothing, and if I wash sure of minging weather I’d fit it.
While we’re on weight, the daft 1g titanium pegs weight 20g in their bag, but I’ve never used these ones. They do work fine on grassy pitches, but these days I carry a mixture of titanium nails and aluminium Y-pegs with every tent I use, dependable and they have cords attached which makes my fingers glad every time I break camp.
The most important weight is 576g. That’s the tent and the poles together in their stuffsacks. Not a lot is it? The whole tent is tiny when it’s ready to pack, you can get it into the lid of a lot or rucksacks.
But there’s still space to live, as I said above the internal space is fine, in fact it’s better than the identically sized photon as it’s lighter inside due to the see-through Ultra fabric giving no sensation of being cramped at all. The same feature brings some other odd stuff, you can see the moon and stars through the tent, and the I saw the shape of the raven that stalks me through the Highlands clear as day when it passed low overhead.
The porch is smaller than the Lasercomp, to keep your pack completely inside you have to sit it on its side, but there’s still plenty of room to have all your gear accessible and to keep the door clear for getting in and out. Talking of the door, the double-ended outer zip is such a good idea on a laser, it lets the steam out and stops the cold coming in.
I’ve had the Ultra in the wind and it seems quite happy. The Laser design flexes away quite happily even when the pace gets up, but like I said above, the Ultra fabric seems to react a little differently. It’s a different fabric so I know that’s kinda stating the obvious, but as a long-time Laser user it does has a different feel and a softer sound, it’s not often I’ll sleep though high winds in Laser.
That Ultra fabric makes up the floor too, and that’s very odd when you’re not expecting it, I thought the floor was missing at first. Terra Nova must think the fabric’s tough enough for the wear it’ll get here, and it definitely seems less slippy than some, sleepmats have been staying put.
The technical and practical are one thing, but a tent has a sole function and that’s to serve as a shelter in the outdoors.
The Ultra is a fantastic shelter. It has simplicity, a usability and a comfort that defies it’s weight and pack size. The Ultra fabric is light and strong, but a revelation has been the airiness it brings to the tent. Just by allowing more light inside it changes the character of the tent, making the Ultra more pleasant for sitting out a storm or spending continuous nights inside on a longer trip, quite apart from the fact you’d be carrying less than 600g of tent with you. Maybe there’s a case for making the Photon’s flysheet yellow.
The weight and the tiny packsize make the Ultra a killer lightweight or fast and light shelter, but it’s more than that, it doesn’t feel compromised to hit it’s targets, it’s still a proper tent and that’s how I approached it.
£650? That’s what it costs, whether any of us can afford it or not isn’t going to change just how light or how much damned fun this tent is to use.