Tested: Terra Nova Laser Compact 2 packrafting tent review

See also:
Hillibery Nallo vs Vaude Odyssee

In a line Light and compact single hoop tent suited to packrafting; just don’t expect a palace.

Cost £330 ‘Grade B’ direct from Terra Nova (normally £500).

Weight As delivered in the bag: 1.26kg

Where used A few nights around Knoydart, Scotland.

As light and compact and you’ll get, for the money
Long enough inside, once you lie down
Good venting options
Quick pitching, once you get the knack
As boring greens go, it’s not a bad hue

Smaller than claimed in nearly all dimensions
Way too small for two adults, despite ‘2P’ claims
The fly door zip always snags
Toggling the tent door up is awkward and unreliable
Afterthought lace-on rain cover
Basic (but light) bent-wire pegs
Fly only rated to 1200mm
Despite vents and an open door, it can be wringing wet with condensation


What They Say
The [Terra Nova] Laser Compact 2 is the small pack size version of the classic two-person tent, the Laser Competition 2, that offers a great mix of being super-low weight with additional comfort. With all of the benefits and features you would expect from a 2-person lightweight tent partnered with a compact pack size of only 30cm long.


Review
I talked myself into a new tent for a Knoydart trip; something with less weight and less uncompressed bulk, but still with UK-weather friendly all-in-one pitching.
At a claimed weight of 1.23 kilos (2lb 11oz), the Laser Compact 2 is over half the weight of my long-discontinued, five-year-old Vaude Odyssee. There was nothing wrong with the Odyssee apart from perceived bulk and actual weight. The space inside was great and the stand-alone stability was handy. To save bulk, one time I packrafted in France with just the outer, but with Scottish summers midge-proof inner are as vital as a rain-proof cover. The Laser Compact 2 is like the older Laser Competition model, but the main poles breaks now down to just 30cm. TN also do an All Season version with additional guys and a 30D/5000mm head flysheet at £550 and 1.8kg. And under the budget Wild Country label, they do a similar looking Zephyros 2 for just £210 and 1.85kg. So weight-wise the Laser hits the sweet spot.
Other tents I considered were the MSR Hubba, as used by Barry on the Wye in April, the similar Big Agnes Copper Dome (both around £450). Tarp Tent’s Double Rainbow was another one I looked at before bouncing off on a Dyneema (Cuben fibre) trajectory. Once I realised this research could take some time, seeing the little-used Laser at a third off direct from Terra Nova put me out of my misery and I took a chance of something different. It helped that after more tan five years and 10,000km, round-Britain walker Quintin Lake still rated his.

Garden pitch: first impressions
Even without watching the vid below, first time pitching was not too confounding: thread the main hoop; fit the short end-poles and guy them out, then peg the four corners. My old Exped footprint (200g) slipped underneath. (I didn’t bother with the ‘rain cover’ till later). Apart from a bit of grass inside, the tent appeared as new.

At 10g each, the ten supplied pegs are light, but are just just bent alloy wire which date back to the 1970s. I left them in the box and staked out with my old MSR Groundhogs at an extra 4g a shot.
Peering inside, I was prepared to be a little disappointed with the Lazer, and so I was. As expected, it looked pokier and less welcoming than the Odyssee, and once measured (twice, over two days) proved to be substantially smaller than stated, most annoyingly in headroom of just 86cm. I’m sure glad I didn’t pay 500 quid to find that out.

On the bright side, at 220cm the sleeping length is fully usable because the inner’s ends are upright, not sloping, (so no damp sleeping bag foot). Like my old Hilliberg, with few poles to latch on to, the inner isn’t especially taught, adding to the cramped feel, but better pitching and tensioning improved this. The inner mesh door zips right back down to one corner where there’s a small mesh pocket to stuff it into. With the main fly porch entry at the other end, this only pocket would be at your feet.
Two people my size in here would be unbearable, but as a solo tent it’s OK. At this weight, compromises are to be expected.
The Laser comes with an 80-g pole seam rain cover which you thread on with bits of string. It’s there to stop heavy rain seeping through the over-arching seam, but feels like a design afterthought. Once you fit it you can leave it there until it comes undone, then I left it off. It looked like mine had never been fitted and was missing a cord lock to cinch it up snugly. Some have reported the attachment strings coming away from the rain cover; others say the cover isn’t needed unless it really pours. Terra Nova now recommend sealing the seam. Why not just design a waterproof flysheet?

Compared to my 3 cross-pole Vaude, the single-pole Laser may get pushed about in the wind. Another reason to leave the rain cover fitted is that it incorporates additional guys to help stabilise the tent. The guy lines on mine looked too short to provide good triangulation, but I’ll give them a go when the time comes. With the rain cover laced and cinched, and the seams underneath sealed (more below), the Laser ought to be up for some rain and wind.

This after-purchase seam sealing to make a tent fully waterproof seems an odd practice, but for years many expensive American-branded tents required this. MSR even have a how-to video. Imagine; you pay hundreds for a bomber tent, then you’re expected to finish the job of making it an effective shelter!
Seam sealing is actually as easy as painting and it’s satisfying to start the tent-bonding process by enhancing impermeability. You can buy 28g tubes of tent seam seal for £8 or, if you have some clear bathroom sealant and mineral/white spirit under the kitchen sink, that’ll work mixed 1:1 (add more spirit for a runnier mix). It takes a good few hours if not a day to dry.

Camping on Knoydart
Considering it’s mostly wilderness, finding ten square feet of flat, smooth terrain fit for camping can be a struggle in Knoydart. Ironically I spent three nights in unexpected campsites where the roomy pitches and nearby kitchen buildings made the whole business of cooking so much easier.
Morning and evening midges made lounging around outside irksome; this was the first time I’ve used a midge net in Scotland, but I’ve not come here in July for that very reason since I was a teenager.

In fact the compact inner was not noticeably frustrating, and I realise getting out without snagging the fly is easier with side-entry tents like this. Condensation could be as bad or as negligible as any other similar tent. The end vents were never closed and so was the fly door, where possible. Three nights the fly was soaking inside and out, and two nights all was nearly dry. But with the second door and easy to lift corners, wiping it all down prior to packing was easy to do well, especially using a cellulose sponge wipe (right). I’ll keep one with the tent in future. The sil-nylon fly material is very slippery; it’s even hard to shove it all back into the stuff sack.

One persistent issue I had which slowed down pitching was locating the fabric slot sleeves for the short pole at each end of the tent. It’s all a mass of green and black on black. I didn’t even spot the tiny sleeve at all first time round and put the pole in wrong. I’ve since added a bit of fluo tape to help make that easier while the rain lashes, the wind howls or the midges torment.
Others, who’ve been to SpecSavers, complain that toggling the door up out of the way to the inner is awkward and it comes adrift. I agree and one reviewer recommended simply using a tent peg; other TN tents now use mini-magnets for the same job. For the moment I’ll use a small bulldog clip.

All in all, I ended up with a begrudging affection for my Laser 2 because it packs down so darn small. I’ve yet to experience heavy winds or rain, or spend a rainy day tent-bound, which may change my view, but where weight and bulk count – as they do with packrafting as opposed to kayak camping – the Lazer ticks the boxes for the moment.

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