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Field Tested: Terra Nova Solar Photon 2P tent

In 2014 while prepping for a bikepacking trip to Iceland I realized I needed to rethink my tent strategy given the island’s reputation for truly awful weather. A short search delivered me to the Terra Nova Laser Comp 1P, a tent and brand I didn’t know very well. It was a bit of a gamble to toss it on my handlebars and ride into the inevitable storm, but it proved a worthy sanctuary and made me an instant fan of Terra Nova’s shelters. Read that review [Here].

As much as I love the Laser Comp 1p, the hoop design can be a little tricky in the Southwest where hard earth foils the most ambitious tent pegs. I also wanted a little more elbow room for outings when my wife joins the adventure. After a quick consult with Terra Nova’s American-based distributor, I decided to give the Solar Photon 2P a go.

With a freestanding architecture it’s more desert-ready than the Laser and it genuinely has room for two, albeit just barely. At only 2 pounds, 2 ounces, it was once the lightest two-person tent on the market. Although it has since lost that title, the lightest tent in the category is only grams lighter, and I would argue not nearly as good.

I could have done a better job with the stake-outs to improve on the rainfly tension, but I was lucky to have a rare night without a stitch of wind.

If I am anything, I am fussy about my gear, particularly my sleep shelters. The Solar Photon ticked a few of boxes my seemingly endless list of wants. It has a tiny packed size thanks to the gossamer weight of the fabrics. The pole sections are small making for easy portage in my bike’s frame bag. The vestibule is large enough to make for a comfortable reprieve when sitting out big storms and most importantly,  mesh is kept to a minimum. That sounds counterintuitive for a tent I planned to pit against the desert, but I have my reasons.

Spring in the desert can be relentlessly windy. With that comes blowing sand, the bane of high desert camping. Although the entire door of the Solar Photo is mesh, the walls are solid nylon. By pitching the tent in favor of the wind direction, I can position the door to defend against the ingress of sand. The desert can also get plenty chilly at night, with my most recent trip flirting with freezing temperatures. The rainfly extends close to the ground helping once again to thwart sand, but also to shut out cold drafts.

Pitching the Solar Photon takes all of 3-4 minutes with the basic structure held taught by six ground stakes with two dedicated to the vestibule. Two more at the flanks of the rainfly help pull the fabric away from the tent body for optimal air pass-through. If things get really gnarly, the tent body and rainfly provide up to 13 anchor points. During my first test outing in Utah, wind hammered the tent with gusts blowing up to 25 mph and the Solar Photon was rock solid.

I’m a sucker for well-designed fly vents and there are two on the Solar Photon.

Living within

The tapered floor plan and asymmetrical design provide a tall peak with ample sitting height and more than enough real estate for gear and wiggle room. Two people in the Solar Photon will be close buddies whether they like it or not. It’s tight. With my wife in the tent our movements have to be closely coordinated, but with its pound-per-person weight ratio, I’m not complaining.

Features within the tent are minimal, which is to say there are two mesh pockets, and that’s about it. I wouldn’t expect much more. Like many tents in this category, the door is quite small and ducking in and out of the vestibule is a little awkward, but again, that’s to be expected of a compact and uber-light tent.

Materials and construction

The first thing I noticed about the Laser Comp, and subsequently the Solar Photon, is the quality of the fabrics. The silicone-coated nylon is tissue thin, but first-hand experience enduring multiple windstorms in Iceland has made me a believer in its strength and tear resistance. The Watershed Si2 R/S 5000mm material used in the floor has a unique unidirectional stretch I assume helps protect against tearing. I’ve watched the fabric stretch and bend over imperfections in the ground and wondered if the absence of that compliance might have lead to a nasty tear. Other almost unnoticeable refinements include small webbed panels at the corners to better distribute tension on critical seams.

As I would expect of a tent of this caliber, the one pole assembly is made of scandium and uses DAC’s environmentally friendly anodizing process. If there is one shortcoming with the included components it is Terra Nova’s titanium tent stakes. Tiny little things, they actually work deceptively well in firm dirt, much like that found throughout the British isles where the tent was designed, but they’re utterly worthless in the hard earth and loose sand of the American West. Replacement stakes are cheap and I’ve got dozens, so it’s a non-issue.

Other mentionables include swatches of fabric for repairs to the tent walls, floor, fly, and mesh door. The kit includes a stuff sack for the poles and another for the whole assembly which is thankfully large enough to fit everything without a struggle. I loathe under-sized stuff sacks.

The wrap-up

For the ultra-light traveler on bike or foot, the Solar Photon 2P makes for a spacious soloist shelter, or an intimate but featherweight abode for two. The pitch is quick, the storm worthiness better than anticipated for a 2-pound tent, and the quality is top tier.

Tent buyers are spoiled for choice these days, particularly in the ultra-light category, but the Solar Photon 2P has features which make it uniquely engineered for certain applications and preferences like mine. I’m always on the lookout for the next best shelter, and this one will be tough to beat.

www.terra-nova.co.uk

Christophe Noel is a journalist from Prescott, Arizona. Born into a family of backcountry enthusiasts, Christophe grew up backpacking the mountains and deserts of the American West. An avid cyclist and bikepacker, he also has a passion for motorcycles, travel, food and overlanding.