When I first heard of the MLD Trailstar four years ago, I was puzzled how long into the Autumn my new friend, Peter, could wild camp in one. We were hiking the Coniston Fells at the time in nasty Winter weather, three of the group pulled out early, down towards Levers Water. As we battled through the snow and my hands stung with the cold, he told me that he could go all Winter under the Mountain Laurel Designs tarp tent. I was already hooked.
Next thing I buy will be a Trailstar.
I should start by explaining what the Trailstar is but first let me talk a little about using tarps for shelter.
Using a tarp for shelter
People have been sleeping under tarps for centuries. A sheet of any material will protect you from some weather, the sun at least. If that material is waterproof, you have a rather valuable piece of real estate.
We take so many things for granted these days, but if you spend any time in Africa or any third world country, you understand how precious an impervious canvas sheet is.
Rigging up a standard 3m x 3m tarp as a shelter is straight forward enough when you know a couple of knots, have some paracord and something to tie to. It’s also very satisfying when you do a good job, and it does what you intended it to do.
The problem with square tarps is that they are tricky to shape. That is, manipulate them so you can pin them to the ground and benefit from being sheltered from the wind or driving rain.
A DD 3m x 3m Superlight Tarp is a brilliant piece of kit, but even though I use one on probably half my camps, and always when hammock camping, they are a pain in the neck to make into a decent wild camping shelter by themselves. The main problem is getting the headroom.
What is the MLD Trailstar?
The MLD ‘Trailstar’ is a shaped tarp. It solves lots of problems that a square tarp fails to. The shape means that it stands more like a pyramid with five corners pinned to the ground (most of the time ;-)), and the middle is propped up by a hiking pole or stick, high enough to sit under comfortably.
Trailstar Shape & Construction
Mountain Laurel Designs have designed and pieced together the tarp to be a pentagonal shape.
So, five triangular pieces make up the tarp tent. The pentagon’s corners are anchored down, and the point in the middle where all five parts meet is the high spot, much like a wigwam.
Pitching the Trailstar
There are some great videos on Youtube showing how to erect the Trailstar. I pin down the back point of the tarp and the neighbouring corners, prop it up in the middle with my pole and pull the long line from the branded opening corner along my other pole, anchoring that line to the ground. Now I stake down the other two front loops.
That’s the basics. You’ll need to adjust here and there, have a play and depending on the weather decide how much play to give the pinned down lines.
It is as simple as that. With no zips or tent poles to work around, tension wise, there’s much less faffing around.
On a hot day, you want air passing through the whole setup to avoid condensation build-up, so you might give the lines a little slack and tension the tarp up using the pole in the centre.
In cold, windy weather you would peg the loops to the ground right up near the tarp itself and use a short extended walking pole in the centre to keep the whole thing low and aerodynamic. You don’t get as much headroom when it is blowing a hoolie, but as long as you’ve staked it down right, facing out of the wind, you know you’re safe.
How much is an MLD Trailstar?
Direct from Mountain Laurel Design you’ll get a Trailstar, made specifically for you for $230 (about £185), you can ask for individual specifications if you know what you want. However, it’ll take a while as MLD are in the States. Watch out for Customs tax when it comes into the UK, a friend of mine had to pay £45!
I would really recommend a Trailstar OookTub Groundsheet which will keep you off the wet ground, the walls stop the water from trickling in.
MLD don’t sell the Coyote Brown on the website anymore so you either get a second hand one or ask Rod to specifically make you one. I have an Orange Citrus one. The Silnylon also comes in Gray or OD Green. Their Dyneema version comes in Camo or Green.
Because there are no doors, zips, flaps or vents (it really is just a shaped tarp), one could last forever if looked after.
Is a tarp better than a tent?
There’s something about being zipped up in a tent, out of the elements, that makes you feel safe. You are ‘out of the storm’. I get that. But, as I say in my Sleeping Warm blog, the only heat source in there is YOU. When you get in your sleeping bag and zip it up, you can be as snug as a bug.
The Dyneema version is a lot lighter but mine is Silnylon. As it’s coated in silicone on one side it will not let water through, so be careful you don’t snag it on something. The sides are always sloped and under tension so water doesn’t pool like on some tents.
Ventilation will eliminate (or at least drastically reduce) the condensation build-up, and that’s a great help in the cold.
There’s loads more space in the Trailstar. If you use an ‘inner’, which doubles as floor and bug net, you’ll have a living area and a sleeping space. Cooking in the living area, in which you can easily fit two people, you’ll be very comfortable, and the airflow will carry the toxic fumes away from the stove.
Then the sleeping space gives you a little sense of security, but with the open doorway or the tarp giving you possibly the best views you’ll ever have while wild camping.
What Pegs to use with an MLD Trailstar
You’ll need six pegs for the main anchor points on the Trailstar with the optional ‘in-between’ tie-outs needing another four. The best tent pegs for a bombproof shelter like the Trailstar are Eastons, which you can get from MLD in the U.S., but our Aluminium Tent Pegs are plenty sufficient.
You’ll probably have a Trailstar inner tent or bathtub groundsheet and either of these need pegging to the same anchors as the Trailstar so you really are best having long pegs with a notch to hook on to. Because I’ve spent years camping under a tarp like this, the pegs we sell are 180mm long and have a notch near the head. You don’t want something pulling off the end of the stake in the middle of the night.
MLD’s web site says that a new Silnylon Trialstar is 453g while the Dyneema version is only 311g.
My orange citrus Silnylon Trailstar is 500g. It’s a few years old. I’ve replaced the guy lines with 2mm Dyneema which is strong as hell, and as it’s plastic, when you cut it and seal it with a lighter, it won’t fray.
Pimp My Trailstar
There are a few additions you can make to your Trailstar set up to make your camp a little more comfortable.
In the summer you really want bug protection so the OookNest, with it’s groundsheet and bug net, protects you from the wet ground and stops you being eaten alive by the midges and such.
The OookNest hooks onto the pegs you’ve used for the tarp and is kept up by the pole in the middle and little hooks on the inside of the tarp. This inner tent for the Trailstar takes up about half of the footprint and still gives you plenty of space to chill and cook in the huge porch area.
We’ll star making Trailstar OookNests again before the spring comes.
During the autumn and winter months, you can lighten your load a little by using an OookTub. Our bathtub groundsheet is made to protect you from the wet ground but as it has sides on it, water won’t trickle down onto your sleeping area.
This also hooks onto the pegs you’ve used to anchor your Trailstar down with lineloks to increase the tension and keep the sides upright.
Although not essential, a door on the Trailstar will reduce the wind and rain getting into your porch area. When the wind changes during the night, this can be a bit of a problem.
A Trailstar Door Screen is a luxury, and not needed most of the time, but it takes up little room and only weighs 45 grams. If you’re camping on a campsite it’s very handy to stop nosey neighbours seeing you in bed.
Should I Buy A Trailstar?
For me, camping in a Trailstar is something that all wild campers should do at some point. It’s a great way to camp. One of the best things is not having a closed doorway. During the night you can be looking out over a town with the stars shining above, and in the morning you may just be lucky enough to catch a beautiful sunrise or snow capped mountains.
There’s loads of room for you to sleep and cook or just chill out for the evening.
I’ve carried mine on many a group walk and had four clients and myself shelter from the cold and rain whilst having lunch. It’s so light I can have it in my bag on every hike.
You won’t regret buying one because you’ll have a great wild camping experience and if you ever part from it you’ll get your money back as they sell like hot cakes.
Any idea or questions please comment below.