Customising a Terra Nova Solar Photon 2

Pimp My Tent

Written by Haydn Williams

The first tent my brother and I owned was a Wild Country Trisar, at least twenty years ago. That tent took loads of abuse and aged very well; in the intervening years Wild Country have morphed into Terra Nova, and the Trisar’s relative, the Quasar, is still a staple of the mountain tent cannon. My focus in recent years has been mountain marathons and running in general though, so I’ve moved into the lightweight end of the spectrum.

Wild Country Trisar, 1996. What a beauty. © Haydn Williams 1996
Wild Country Trisar, 1996. What a beauty. © Haydn Williams 1996

First was the Terra Nova Laser. This is the tent that’s absolutely everywhere; I reckon easily 80% of the field (metaphorically and physically) at every MM is made up of Lasers. These worked well enough, but had a couple of issues. The first one I owned (Competition 2) had two doors and a reasonable amount of room, unlike the second (Photon 2) which was a pain to access and really too small. Both were always a little hit-and-miss to pitch, and a nightmare to find in the dark in a field full of identical tents. On 2014’s OMM I tried a Big Agnes Slater UL2+, along with a friend who pitched next to us in the slightly smaller version. We each had rubbish nights, as the lack of any connection between inner and fly sheet meant that the whole thing just flattened in the wind. I eventually managed to lash my running poles to the tent poles to give it just enough stability to get a couple of hours’ sleep.

What’s the point of all of this, I hear you ask. Well I now own the Terra Nova Solar Photon 2 and I think I’m going to stick with it. There are plenty of lightweight (sub-1kg) tents out there, but the majority seem to be designed for the US market, and save weight by having the inner made from mesh. Clearly that’s not particularly helpful in the cold, drizzly UK climate. The Solar Photon, however, is perfect in almost every way.

You’ll notice that’s almost every way. There are a couple of improvements I’ve made to mine, which I thought I’d detail here in case anyone else wants to get inspiration from them.

Inner Door
The one part of the Solar Photon which is mesh is the inner door; there’s no proper fabric flap in addition to the mesh, and so all of your heat leaks out and the wind certainly whips in.

Solar Photon 2 original door - a bit too meshy. © Haydn Williams 2016
Solar Photon 2 original door – a bit too meshy. © Haydn Williams 2016

I wanted a solution which didn’t involve any permanent change to the tent – I’m not a big fan of stitching to tent fabric, and I don’t want to put off potential buyers if I end up selling the tent again for any reason. I therefore used some yellow ripstop nylon from ProFabrics, with a combination of clips and magnets for fastening. This is the end result:
Solar Photon 2 new door from outside. © Haydn Williams 2016
Solar Photon 2 new door from outside. © Haydn Williams 2016

Solar Photon 2 new door from inside. © Haydn Williams 2016
Solar Photon 2 new door from inside. © Haydn Williams 2016

The left-hand side of the original mesh door doesn’t open, so that side of my door is attached with plastic clips to the three original clips which hold the inner on to the pole (the bottom one is clipped to the tape loop which leads to the pole eye).

Left-hand side - clips to existing pole hook. © Haydn Williams 2016
Left-hand side – clips to existing pole hook. © Haydn Williams 2016

The right-hand side has magnets on tape, threaded through the existing tape. The opposing magnets are stitched onto the edge of the new door.

Right-hand side: magnet on tape through existing tape, ready to attach to door. © Haydn Williams 2016
Right-hand side: magnet on tape through existing tape, ready to attach to door. © Haydn Williams 2016

Right-hand side: new door attached to magnet. © Haydn Williams 2016
Right-hand side: new door attached to magnet. © Haydn Williams 2016

The magnets are fairly weak jewellery magnets, but the strength is just about perfect. This setup means that I can just pull the door open for access, but it’s very low-hassle when I need to close it again. Obviously the clips on the left-hand side prevent the whole thing being inadvertently ripped off, which would be possible if it was magnets all-round. I was also pleased to find that unclipping the top gives me a nice ‘venting’ option:

Vent-tastic. © Haydn Williams 2016
Vent-tastic. © Haydn Williams 2016

The lengths of the various bits of tape will probably be adjusted as I use it a bit more; there’s currently a small gap on the left-hand side which could probably be covered by shortening the tape to pull that half up a bit higher (as I’ve already done on the right-hand side). Other than that, I’m pretty happy with it. Massive thanks go out to my Mum, who did all of the sewing machine handiwork!

Inner Sides
On your own the Solar Photon 2 is palatial, and it’s certainly not a squeeze with two in. One thing which did bug me, though, is that the sides of the inner tend to sag down and thus reduce the available living space. This is because there’s no link between the inner and the fly sheet, except where the latter is draped over the poles. I therefore need to create a link, pulling the inner up and out towards the tensioned fly sheet. I considered a number of options here, most of which were, on reflection, overly complicated. In the end I settled for magnets again, primarily because it meant I didn’t need to stitch or puncture the inner in any way, shape or form. Instead I used some green silnylon (again from ProFabrics), and attached that to the inside of the flysheet using Sil-net. It’s important to note that normal seam sealant shouldn’t be used on the siliconised nylon which modern lightweight tents are made from. I’d used Silnet to seal all of the seams on the Solar (kudos to the chap on this forum who suggested putting talc on afterwards to reduce the tackiness). The leftovers worked perfectly for attaching my new modification, which basically resulted in me having a tape loop halfway down the inside of each side of the fly sheet. From there it was easy enough to attach a magnet on a loop.

Lighter green is my silnylon, attached to inside of fly sheet with Silnet. Extra stitching is because it was way too long to start with (no stitching to actual fly sheet). © Haydn Williams 2016
Lighter green is my silnylon, attached to inside of fly sheet with Silnet. Extra stitching is because it was way too long to start with (no stitching to actual fly sheet). © Haydn Williams 2016

I got my magnets from First4Magnets in Nottingham. I had planned to use circular steel plates on the inside of the inner to make the link, but it turns out that they sit offset on the circular magnets. This isn’t a major problem, but the magnets are also shipped with a little steel bar on them (presumably to diminish their propensity to stick to other things while in the post), so I just used those instead. These magnets are much stronger than the jewellery magnets I used on the inner door described above. I did originally think that neodymium magnets would be best, since they have stronger holding power at a smaller size. However, the first ones I had delivered were too strong, and I was worried that in a storm they might cause damage to the inner. My thinking is that if they are strong enough to hold under most conditions, but pull apart if the flapping gets too much, then there shouldn’t be any problems; it’s effectively a safety mechanism that I couldn’t get if I’d stitched the two together or done some equally permanent measure. I also stuck some felt onto the magnet and the steel bar, to reduce the abrasion on the inner when it’s sandwiched between the two.

Anyway, the system seemed to work very well on OMM last year. I did use them in conjunction with MSR Tightline Guyline Tensioners to ensure that the outer remained nice and taught. The weight difference with my amendments is minimal, and the only permanent change to the tent is the addition of some identical fabric to a non-visible part of the fly sheet, using an adhesive the tent manufacturer recommends is used elsewhere on the tent (i.e. seam sealing). The magnets on the loops can be removed if you don’t want to use them on any given trip.

So they’re my two changes. Perhaps overkill, some would say, but I find that make a big difference and nicely finish off a near-perfect tent. Here’s to many years of service!

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