An evolution of the popular Stingray, Vista and Connect tree tents, the Flite is atriangular tent suspended above the ground by three straps and tensioned using a heavy duty rathchet. A single pole gives the inner height and a flysheet covers the tent to provide weather protection.
Flite inner set up
Flite with flysheet
While the three person models use three heavy duty ratchets and cover an area of 4.2 x 4.2 x 4.2m the Tentsile Flite uses a single ratchet, to reduce weight, and covers 2.5 x 2.5 x 3m. At a minimum weight of 3.5kg it can't be classed as genuinely lightweight, but the heavy ratchet and straps can easily be seperated to split the load between two people.
Setting up the Flite is a straightforward process, with the inner and floor going up as a single unit and the shaped flysheet draped over the top and secured using the enclosed giant pegs. Although simple, this stage can be time consuming as the key to a good night's sleep in a Tentsile lies in creating a level base; something that sounds far easier than the reality when faced with anything but a perfectly level pitch.
Once set up and tensioned the Flite has a maximum load of 220kg and despite initial appearances can easily accomodate two adults and provides an additional "rain shadow", dry, area underneath of over 50ft². The floor fabric is made of 40D polyester with 12m of 25mm webbing for reinforcement and once over the initial suspicion of climbing onto a platform you can see through and that moves it proves reassuringly strong.
The flysheet is 70D PU coated polyester with a hydrostatic head of 3000 and attaches to the suspesion straps using a pair of elastic cords. The two sides can then be either pegged out to create a large dry area under the tent or fastened to each other underneat the floor to provide maximum weather protection. Strangely the Flite came with three pegs for the 4 guylines, and you really can't miss the pegs - they're very big and bright yellow!
Internally you get roof height options with the two pole slots, with the one closest to the centre of the tent giving the greatest headroom, and 2 doors. Loops on either side of the pole are designed for holding back the mesh doors when open but can also be used for hanging a headtorch. The doors come with double zip sand cover well over 50% of each side wall, with the mesh inner reaching right down to floor level.
The mesh inner reaches right down to floor level with no "bucket" walls
Tentsile Flite on test:
According to age old tradition we completely ignored the concept of having a trial run setting up the Flite before heading out for a Peak District wild camp, instead opting for watching the setup video from Webtogs (see above) several times. Just to add a bit of interest we didn't even check out the proposed site in advance, trusting that we'd find a set of three appropriately spaced trees to support the tent.
Ten minutes of searching found three suitably spaced, and suitably large diameter, trees to accommodate the Flite, but only on a steeply sloped hill. This made setup a little more complicated with the height above the ground limited by the height we could reach on the downslope hill to attach the straps, but had the bonus of giving enough height on that side to be able to walk under the tent once setup - despite the recommendation of a maximum height above ground of 1.2m!
The height we could reach up the downslope tree determined the height of the Flite
This first setup showcased the importance of making sure the tent sits horizontally and level. Despite visually appearing level the first setup had a pronounced slope from foot to head and only after loosening the tree straps in turn and adjusting their height one corner at a time was the platform level. For future trips we're now looking at getting a pocket size spirit level/laser (around £5 and weighing 130g) to speed up the process.
Climbing onto the Flite for the first time is a little unnerving but the strengthening around the edges provides a handrail to pull on as you lift yourself up and the platform proves surprisingly rigid, making it easy to sit inside with legs hanging over the edge. This may not seem that important but with an internal height of just 80cm it's by far the easiest way of sitting up.
The grey flysheet sits quietly in the trees and while there's even more discreet colours available, including camoflage and green, the Flite will never entirely fade into the background with its bright orange straps, but set around 4 foot off the ground, or neck height, the bright colour does save walking into them.
The grey flysheet fades well into the background
Within minutes of setting up we were subjected to a typical May downpour lasting a good hour and a half, and the flysheet was immediately put to the test. We opted for having the flysheet guyed out rather than wrapped in close and attached under the floor, and were soon thankful of the choice with 3 people and 2 dogs able to shelter and cook underneath the Flite, protected from the rain. Loops on either side were perfectly placed for hanging a UCO candle light and headtorch and with the angle of the slope we could walk under at one end and sit comfortably and dry on the upslope side.
Sheltering under the Flite
Having never used a hammock the sleeping experience was completely new and inevitably took some time to adjust to. Initially there's a reluctance to move at all and an accute awareness that you're not on solid ground and there's a tendancy for anything on the floor to migrate to the lowest point - which will be right up next to you. Adjusting to a hammock or Tentsile is a steep learning curve, but it's short and sharp. It means making sensible decisions on what accompanies you inside the tent and what stays on the ground below, keeping the former to a minimum. For two people there's very little in terms of storage space, though for one person and with the central divider tensioned there's just enough room to accomodate a rucksack on one side and sleep on the other.
Mat and sleeping bag on one side leaves the other side free for storing dry clothes and equipment
While the Flite coped admirably with the heavy and prolonged shower there are areas that could possibly be improved, paricularly with the flysheet tensioning. The 2 guylines on either side work very well, shedding rain instantly and away from the "dry area" under the Flite the fly has no guylines at the narrow, head, end and without precise tensioning there's a tendency for this end to lift in the wind. For futre use we're looking at the possibilities of adding either permenant or temporary guys to add some tension and avoid water pooling at the edge of the flysheet.
Being used to more conventional guylines made of paracord rather than elastic and lightweight metal pegs rather than giant plastic units we viewed both of these with suspicion but in use both proved their worth. The elastic guys allowed the fly to flex more than a static guy and the giant pegs are as light as most metal pegs and proved superb for screwing into the woodland floor - where consolidation ranges from firm to almost none existant.
While these observations cover the practicalities of using a Tentsile Flite what's harder to describe is the experience. The Flite has been specifically designed to be light enough to carry in your pack, but weight will never be the selling point. The selling point is the pure fun of sleeping in the trees. Whether it's some evolutionary memory or a return to childhood there's something about the experience which appeals to most of us, and the Tentsile Flite is designed to satisy that appeal. Yes you need a very specific layout of trees, or other attachemnt points, to be able to use the Flite and by the time you've added in a spirit level/laser and some tree huggers to protect the trees the weight rises to over 4kg, but even if you're only going to get 3 or 4 uses a year from the Flite the smile it puts on your face will more than make up for the limitations.
Tree huggers protect the trees from being damaged by the straps
In the days between testing the Flite and writing up the review Tentsile has announced a new T-Mini Double Hammock. Shaped similarly to the Flite but slightly larger, 2.5 x 3 x 3m this could be setup directly below the Flite as a storage platform or used as a standalone hammock, further enhancing the experience. In cold weather the T-Mini Double Hammock could be setup with a minimal gap to the Flite and the gap filled with sleeping mats or alternative insulation to counter one of the downsides of the Tentsile design. Although not sleeping in close contact to the ground the elevated position allows free air flow below the tent, resulting in daughts. With the mesh upper reaching down to floor level there's limited protection from side winds or cold from below, making a sleeping mat esential and a slightly warmer rated sleeping bag than may otherwise be selected.
With an RRP of £280 the Tentsile Flite isn't going to be an impulse buy and given the limitations on where it can be used it's never likely to be your only or default tent, but if there's a better way to persuade a reluctant child to try camping we've yet to see it and if there's a more fun way of regressing an adult to their childhood it's probably illegal!
More details available on the Tentsile range at www.tentsile.com