So the 2013 Cuben Fiber Roundup ran right past 2013 into 2014 due to us relocating right in the midst of things. Picking up where we left of last fall… in the third part of our series we’ll take a look at the Terraform SW 1-person, a single person shaped-tarp made by YAMA Mountain Gear.
The astute reader or anyone who is very familiar with YAMA’s product line may be thinking to themself “…wait a Cuben Fiber, single wall Terraform??” – and you’d be right to question this fact. It’s not currently listed on YAMA’s website because it’s a prototype that Gen is working on bringing to market after he analyzes feedback from people, like me, and more importantly the PCT thru-hikers in his “My YAMA Adventure” program. This shelter is sort of a marriage between YAMA’s Terraform design, which is a modular shelter consisting of a shaped tarp and a separate inner tent, and their Cirriform single wall shelter which has a pointed beak.
The length of this shelter is what first grabbed my attention. Even with a 6′-6 sleeping bag inside, there’s still quite a bit of room at both ends which is nice for a change when you’re tall like me and finding that you normally “just” squeeze into a lot of the shelters out there. While at first 89 inches inside length doesn’t sound overly roomy, the fact that both ends of the inner stand vertical makes it feel much more so. It doesn’t matter how thick of a pad you sleep on, or how big your feet are, neither will impact your effective space. The width at each end is generous as well, making for a spacious footprint. When pitched at a typical height, I had no contact with the shelter while sitting up, or even leaning forward and reaching all the way down to the foot end. This is the first ultralight front-entry shelter that I did not feel claustrophobic in; for that matter some non-ultralight front-entry shelters leave something desired when it comes to living space.
Staking out the Terraform requires 8 stakes for a minimal pitch, 10-11 for a full pitch. The inner consists of a lightweight silnylon bathtub floor which rises to within a few inches of the canopy and then transitions to bug mesh for the last several inches providing full protection from the the elements and bugs. The mesh can be cinched closed by a line that runs along the sides, thus eliminating rain splatter and drafts – an interesting feature. The beak of the tarp has a single zippered entry and can be rolled up partially – or completely by un-staking a couple of guylines up front. The entry on the inner features a zipper that makes a ~ 90º turn across the bottom and up the side. The vestibule offers ample space for a pack, shoes, and gear. The seams of the canopy are bonded and do not need to be seam sealed.
YAMA Mountain Gear utilizes .74 oz Cuben in white for the canopy. This is our preference of Cuben Fiber weight for shelters, not too heavy, not too thin/light. The packed shelter including guylines and line locks weighs in at 20 oz on our scale. The packed size is roughly 12 x 6 inches.
Upon sending me this shelter, Gen made sure to re-iterate to me that it was a prototype and some of the sewing and construction was not up to his typical finish standards due to it being tinkered with and tweaked by him. Despite that, I thought the construction looked pretty damn good! I took it along with me to the GGG West gathering this year, where over 100 ultralight backpackers get together to trade stories, drink adult beverages, and check each others’ gear out… and everyone who commented about the Terraform remarked about how great it looked. I don’t think Gen or any of his customers have much to worry about in the craftsmanship and quality departments, even this prototype passed muster with a pretty tough crowd.
I did not receive any setup instruction with the shelter. Unlike a more typical pointed-beak that would require 3 or 4 stakes at the head end, the squared off beak of the Terraform has a beautiful, broad sweeping shape, but also requires 5 stakes at the head end. After studying this for few seconds I decided it wouldn’t be all that different than setting up a typical beaked shelter, so I proceeded to make my trekking pole lengths about 46 inches and 30 inches, then started by staking the rear corners out, got the rear pole under, staked out the rear ridgeline, then moved to the front and kept going in a similar order working on those two intermediate guylines of the beak last. The rear also has a “mini beak” which depending on the pitch can share the same stake as the rear ridgeline, but sometimes it’s easier to get things tighter by just using a separate stake for it. The geometry of the canopy is great and it pitched very taut for me without any struggle.
In the Field
I’ve done a few trips with the Terraform. Most recently it accompanied me to the GGG West, as I mentioned above. Find space for it was not a problem, however for those who are used to sleeping under a very minimal shelter like a poncho tarp or whatever-thing you measure by how many grams it weighs, the Terraform might feel a bit like luxury. It’s not overly large, but does offer a bit of room for the solo hiker. I didn’t encounter any problems with this in the areas that I was traveling, and I would happily trade off the convenience of being able to plop down “anywhere” for the comfort allowed by the nicely sized footprint of this shelter. If anything I’m over-exaggerating the size a little, it’s not to the extent that it feels like any compromise is being made.
Having just said that, on a prior trip near the coast I did have to make it fit into a space which was surrounded by stinging nettles and blackberry thorns (I kid you not). I really wanted to get away from the blackberries as much as possible as to not put any new holes in this thing (or my air mattress, or buttox!) I opted towards the nettles and my hands and ankles paid for that pitch. Again though, being able to sleep without my feet or head rubbing on either end is awesome. Although this experience did make me question if I have a nettle fetish. Well, I digress…
Sinking stakes was not a problem at any of the locations I took the shelter and the inclusion of line tensioners is always welcome in my eyes. Setup was a breeze.
Speaking of breezes, I’ve pitched out in the open, on a cool night, in a grassy field and with only the slightest breeze I had minimal condensation inside. The second night of this I closed the bug netting up to the tarp using the cinch line inside, an experienced a noticeable increase in condensation. So, the shelter does seem to vent adequately when not sealed up as one would hope/expect. One note that Gen made to me was the fact that the little vent on the beak was a trial and won’t be making an appearance in the production version. I never tried using it, sounds like it was not a necessary feature.
I never managed to get out in any serious wind with this one… we had a whacked out winter that felt mostly like summer. I have spent time out in windy weather with other beaked shelters enough to generalize about the design I think. The shape tends to do very well, like rock solid, when the head is pitched into the wind. It’s also easiest to get them pitched this way! When the wind is blowing from the side it makes pitching it that way very tough, which should be a clue that you’re doing something wrong 🙂 The long profile becomes like a small sail when perpendicular to the wind, and although I’ve never had a shelter blowout (yeah… the wind tends to shift sometimes and gets sideways to you), they tend to wobble around and flap enough to lose sleep over it. Again, I can’t say that would be the case with the Terraform, but in my experience with a couple other “similar enough” shelters. all of the above held true. Every distinct design has it’s pro’s and con’s, that’s just the way things are.
So what’s not to like? That’s a good question! I’d really like to buy one of these for myself as a totally enclosed 1-piece shelter… I just find myself wondering how attached I am to pyramid designs?? Although I tried to get snowed on, it didn’t happen, but I can see this profile doing well in the snow. Anyway, if I had to pick on something, the front-entry design either appeals to you or it doesn’t. The front pole can be kicked to one side, making access to the door a little better, but overall these types of shelters are not the easiest to get into and out of. For solo use I’m fine with that. In fact, I used a Spinn Shelter shelter (by Gossamer Gear) for several years which is more minimal and offers far less room so I see the Terraform as an all around upgrade, though to be fair the former is a minimalist tarp. You can’t knock a pickup truck for being a truck instead of a sports car, so it’s hardly a fault of the Terraform that it’s a front-entry shelter. The number of stakes/guylines is sort of at the upper threshold, and there’s very little difference between a minimal and full pitch. Lastly, this is really picking nits, but the YAMA logo is very large. I have to admit that I do like it, but at the same time it could be toned down a little – and Gen mentioned to me that he plans to do something more subtle on the production models.
The Bottom Line
I hope this Terraform prototype find its way to the storefront at YAMA Mountain Gear. It’s one of the nicest shelters of this design that I’ve come across. There’s something to be said for having complete protection from the elements and bugs in a single piece design and the Terraform delivers. For the protection and ample space offered it’s relatively lightweight, though cost remains an unknown. The main hurdle in getting your hands on one will be convincing Gen that this design should be released to the public. So if you’re interested, tell him you heard about it here and you must have one! Gen’s a great guy, maybe some magic will happen! Hike It. Like It.