Review: Sleeping among towering redwoods in a Tentsile tree tent
Earlier this year, Tentsile launched its smallest, lightest tree tent to date, shortly after winning an ISPO Award for the all-new UNA. We recently had the opportunity to spend a night tree-camping in the UNA in the superlative redwoods of Northern California. We dropped in, hung out and slept until the beating rays of the sun and rustling of neighboring campers woke us up – here's how it went.
When I was assigned my camping spot at the Outpost outdoor trade show, I was rather excited to hear it was a Tentsile. I'm currently in the process of testing the flagship Safari Stingray so I know Tentsile has created a pretty comfy way of camping in the great outdoors. Plus, we've been covering these things since they debuted, so it's about time to see how they actually perform.
Things got even better when I found my assigned tent number and realized it was the new UNA. While Tentsile's other products are rather large, heavy camping tents, the UNA is a single-person tent you could carry on a backpacking trip. The tent's 6.2-lb (2.8-kg) weight is still pretty heavy for a backpacking shelter, but it at least makes semi-lightweight travel a possibility – unlike, say, the gym bag-sized 34-lb (15.4-kg) Safari Stingray. And at US$200, the UNA is also much more affordable than other Tentsiles.
In short, the UNA is actually a somewhat practical product in a Tentsile lineup that leans "looks cool, but awfully heavy, expensive and complicated for a simple, relaxing camping trip."
Mine was a quick test, as I only had one night to spend in the UNA, and it was already set up upon arrival. That was a good thing since it took me and three other first-timers about 30 minutes to get the Safari Stingray hung up and adjusted just right (or close enough) on my first outing with that tent. I'm sure the smaller, lighter UNA is easier to hang and adjust, but I'm also sure that if you get the chance to sleep in it without having to set it up yourself, you should take it.
One thing that was clearly an advantage in the redwoods was the overabundance of trees. UNA set-up requires finding three trees that are all angled under 90 degrees from each other; a perfect equilateral triangle would be ideal, but you're probably going to have to make do with something less than perfect. Each webbing strap is 15 feet (4.6 m) long, so the trees have to be spaced close enough as not to run out of strap.
Depending upon where you are, set-up requirements might make it difficult, even impossible, to find the right trees, but when you're in the middle of a thick patch of massive redwoods, your job is much easier. The photos show just our corner of the larger Tentsile village, so clearly show organizers didn't have a problem finding workable hanging spots.
A side note about set-up – some of Tentsile's advertising and social media shows its canvas stretched high up in the trees, ladders dangling to create picture-perfect temporary treehouses with gorgeous views. In reality, though, Tentsile recommends going no higher than 4 feet (1.2 m) – a letdown if your goal is to build your own suspended high rise, but we guess that's the legal department talking and you can always ignore at your own risk.
Our UNA seemed within that 4-foot range. It was a little too high just to sit in with my feet on the ground and I had to kind of gently leap up into it, after unzipping the mesh canopy.
The mesh wears one zipper that runs lengthwise from the pole at the top down to the far corner, joining together with two side zippers that run along the arched pole. To get in, I opened the long zipper enough to swing my feet in and under the mesh and opened the top zipper on my side, then ducked below the rain fly and got in. In the end, it wasn't the most graceful move, but it was easy enough to slip inside, find some centralized balance and close up the zippers – no worry about flipping out, as you might get with a hammock. I didn't get a photo of my awkward entry, but you can get the idea of how you open the zipper, sit in the tent and then lie down from this Tentsile photo:
The zipper design requires a little care because all three zippers meet in the middle just above your head, and it's pretty easy to leave one or more just a tad open, which could let mosquitoes and other pests in. I woke up to find I had done just that, leaving a little less than an inch of open space, but luckily no crawling or fluttering pests woke me up at night and no bites developed days later. UNA campers simply need to take a little care to ensure that the zippers are completely closed, something I'd be sure to do on a subsequent go-round.
Tentsile recommends the UNA for use by those no taller than 6 feet (1.8 m). I'm 5' 9" (1.75 m) and had plenty of space inside. It seemed my tent had a subtle downhill slope from top to bottom because I woke up with my feet all the way down in the the apex corner, with a bunch of extra space up top, but my legs were stretched out and I was not contorted in any way. It felt plenty roomy and comfortable.
Tentsile's triangular floor lies flat effortlessly, unlike a banana-style (non-spreader) hammock. It still has some nice give to it and sinks when you lie in it, providing a very comfortable "zero gravity" night of sleep.
A potential issue I noticed in the morning – the floor sunk just below the lower edge of the independent rain fly under my weight, meaning that wind and blowing rain could have gotten in through the mesh. It was still and clear during my night in the redwoods, so it didn't cause any issues for me. I believe you could work around it by readjusting the rain fly and tightening the guy lines so that it sits down a little lower, but it's another thing to be mindful of if you are camping in a UNA or other suspended tent.
One drawback of Tentsile's design, which I have noticed in both the larger, heavier Safari Stingray and the UNA, is that the floor, while fairly heavy-duty, is uninsulated and not immune to the cold below. I started my UNA night off quite comfortably, all wrapped in my down mummy sleeping bag, but got chillier from below as the temperature dropped to its wee-hour low somewhere in the low 40's F (mid single digits Celsius). It wasn't uncomfortable enough to wake me fully in a fit of shivering, but it got close in the early hours before sunrise.
I didn't go in thinking about under-floor cold being a problem, as Tentsile's webbing-reinforced 70D nylon ripstop floor seems thick and tough (thicker than the UNA's 40D poly rain fly). The company doesn't offer either an under-quilt or sleeping pad for insulation among the accessories it sells, another fact I took as a sign that the floor would be warm enough, unlike thin hammocks that can get quite chilly without separate insulation. I thought that an advantage of a tree tent over a hammock would be no worry about cold from below, but it didn't play out that way.
I'd imagine the UNA would be comfy enough on a warm night – I was comfortable early on before the temperature dropped – but if temperatures are going to drop into the low-40's, 30s (F) or below, I'd recommend some form of insulation, whether an insulated sleeping pad or a makeshift under-quilt. Better to play it safe than leave open the possibility of ending up cold, miserable and unable to get back to sleep.
Tentsile's UNA sales page lists the tent as a three-season, but its multi-tent comparison chart has it as a four-season, perhaps mistakenly. We'd say no-go on winter camping but can see it as a three-season option so long as you're prepared to insulate during colder spring and fall trips.
The UNA includes storage pockets on either side of the arched upper, which are quite helpful in storing things like phones, keys, flashlights and other items you want to keep organized and/or have easy access to during the night and morning. Loose items will have a tendency to sink toward the center of gravity and get lost in your sleeping bag/blankets or poke you uncomfortably during the night, so the storage pockets are a plus.
Another plus inherent in hanging shelters in general – they double as protective canopies for gear like backpacks and shoes. I wouldn't trust this function in rain or storms, but on my clear night, I stored my shoes directly below the tent floor with confidence, giving them a little protection in case any light rain rolled through.
All in all, I enjoyed a good night of sleep in the UNA, even if it was chilly at times. The suspended floor is super-comfy and flat enough to roll around on naturally in your sleep without getting all contorted and achy, as you might in a two-point hammock. I dropped off to sleep quickly and slept right in until the noise of surrounding tree campers and the light peeking through the redwood canopy woke me up around 9:30 am. That's later than I would usually awake on a camping trip, and I attribute that half to the comfort of the UNA and half to the nice shade provided by massive redwoods. The generous flow of whiskey the night before probably helped, too.
My bottom line: If I show up to Outpost next year, and they tell me they have an available UNA for me to sleep in, I'll be just as enthusiastic as I was this year. It is a very comfortable way to sleep outdoors and is particularly well-suited to huge, shady redwood trees. I'd be inclined to bring a sleeping pad or quilt with me, however, if the temperatures are going to be low. If temperatures are warm and skies clear, I'd definitely like to go rain fly-free next time to enjoy the views of the soaring trees and shining stars.
At $200, the UNA is priced competitively with other hanging, single-person shelters like the 4.3-lb $199 (2-kg) Lawson Blue Ridge Camping Hammock and 5-lb (2.3-kg) $229 Crua Hybrid. The UNA's 6.2-lb packed weight is more than those two and other camping hammocks or backpacking tents, but you can also break it down into different configurations to save weight – drop 0.7 lb (0.3-kg) by tightening the tree straps by hand and leaving the ratchet home, drop another 1.1 lb (0.5-kg) by leaving the rain fly home on clear nights, etc. Tentsile's two-person Flite+ would also be worth looking at for saving weight because its 7 lb (3.2 kg) could be split between the two people sleeping in it.
The comparison chart puts the UNA's packed size at 18 x 8 x 8 in (46 x 20 x 20 in), but if my initial experience with the Safari Stingray (and tents in general) is any indication, it might be quite difficult to roll and squeeze it that small after the first use.
Personally, I'd probably opt for something lighter for backpacking or bikepacking but could still see using the UNA regularly on non-family car camping trips on which I sleep solo, like an annual biking meet-up, during which we all sleep in our own tents. Of course, thinking about the scant green on the sun-baked rock of Moab's Sand Flats doesn't give me much confidence in stringing up a Tentsile, so maybe we'd need to change it to Park City, Crested Butte or somewhere else with some trees before I'd truly consider a UNA for that kind of trip.
All in all, the UNA is a nice addition to Tentsile's lineup, especially considering that the company's larger tree tents rise quickly and steadily in price. The two-person Flite+ is the next tent up at $350, and the range-topping Safari Stingray will set you back $950.
Tentsile's website says it will be upping the UNA price to $250 in 2019. As of publishing, the site is also advertising free shipping on orders of $150 and above. So if the UNA is on your "must buy" radar, you might consider acting sooner rather than later to save a little money.
Product Page: Tentsile UNA
UPDATE: Tentsile reached out to clarify that it offers a sleeping pad for insulating against the cold. The thermally insulated SkyPad, developed in collaboration with Klymit, is available for $120.
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All hammocks sleep “cold” since there isn’t any insulating value in the floor. By the time you’ve gotten all curled up in you bag, you’ve also compressed the air space underneath you enough to render the bottom useless, also. I’ve spent several cold late nights thinking just like you - no pad. No more!
That said, I virtually never sleep on the ground anymore outside. If I’m backup, I use a lightweight hammock shelter. If I’m car or boat camping, I’m in the Tentsile.