Interview: TarpTent

tarptent

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Henry Shires, owner of TarpTent, based out of Nevada City, California (population ~3,000) and one of the original outdoor cottage companies.

Let us just jump right into this interview!

Hello Henry and thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions.

How many employees does TarpTent have? And how many are full time, part time, and consultants?

There are 8 full time in our office where we do design, inspection, repair, and shipping. We have a photo of the staff  although there are a couple of turnovers/new hires since is was taken.

Where are TarpTent shelters manufactured?

The manufacturing is done in Seattle and, honestly, I don’t know how many people work on Tarptent. It is certainly at least a dozen but there are full time and part time employees at the factory and also people doing sub assemblies off site. The numbers go up and down depending the season and because the same factory makes a number of other products for other companies.

Since we last spoke, I think about three years ago, at the ADZPCTKO or maybe the GGG, you have introduced the solo ‘ProTrail ‘ and the 2 person ‘MoTrail ‘ shelters.

The ProTrail is now hitting the scale as your lightest shelter.

The MoTrail is listed as the 14th lightest 2p shelter on my lightest 2p shelter chart, with the Squall 2 at the 11th place. Having two shelters be within the top 15 lightest 2 person fully enclosed shelters is rather impressive.

In the overall sales of TarpTent are you finding that these two shelters are leading the way in sales, or are most buyers looking for other aspects when they purchase a shelter from TarpTent, beyond just the weight?

We have discontinued the Squall 2 in favor of the MoTrail. We feel is offers much more usable space and much better overall storm protection. The Double Rainbow  is our most popular 2-person shelter.

I think a few folks, myself included, where a bit surprised when we saw the MoTrail was a couple ounces heavier than your existing Squall 2. Did the weight difference just end up being because of the extra length, or are there other factors involved? Regarding those same two shelters, the Squall 2 and the MoTrail are seemingly fairly close in design. Do you see yourself phasing out one of them over the next year or two, so you can focus in on the overall design?

I don’t design to specific weight spec, only to a performance and utility spec. The Motrail is much roomier and it fits two wide pads and makes sleeping head to foot quite workable.

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The much loved TarpTent Scarp 2 – a double wall 4 season shelter!

Four Season Double Wall Shelters:

The Scarp 2  is sort of at the apex of this category of shelters for your lineup of shelters. It has been around a few years, gotten a fair amount of attention, and love, from folks around the world. I have seen a number of folks that have bought it, loved it, and made small mods here and there. All great stuff.

I have been transitioning away from single wall shelters towards double wall shelters for the last season or two. Just finding that I like the flexibility of having a bug net, yet also having the benefits of a double wall shelter when needed.

Here in the USA, especially within the UL world, it really does seem as if double wall shelters are getting a bad rap over the last few years. How have sales being going for you on the Scarp 2, both here in the USA and abroad? Is what seems like a decline in use actually the case or are you seeing that to just not be the case?

The Scarp 2 is our heaviest but most comprehensive two-person shelter for the non-trekking pole user. It really doesn’t fit the UL model and was never intended to. There will always be a market for people who don’t use trekking poles and/or don’t want to use them for setup and for people who just prefer the aesthetics of an arch pole design.

I don’t at all agree that double wall shelters are getting a bad rap.

In our experience, exactly the opposite is true. People understand the benefits of double wall for warmth and separation from condensation.

Fabrics:

Moving onto the topic of fabric – and no, I am not going to ask you about cuben fiber (DCF) – instead I want to talk about something TarpTent has been very well known for and for a very long time: consistency of fabric quality.

We almost never hear about TarpTent shelters having fabric failures. Not necessarily talking about seam or manufacturing failures, but rather the fabric itself breaking down over the long term usage.

I know a number of other companies have been having huge issues with fabric quality right from the manufacture.

How much of this is because you have, for the most part, kept with using the same fabric over the long run? How much of this is an aspect of reliability of the fabric manufacture?

My general response is that we have stuck with 30D coated fabrics and they proven themselves over the years and generally hitting the sweet spot between weight, cost, and durability. I am seeing other companies putting out products with fabrics down in the 10D range and I think that’s false economy designed to sell tents but ultimately skimp on quality and durability.

Have you been able to buy all of your fabric over the years from the same supplier/manufacture or have you found the need to shop around in order to maintain consistently good quality fabric?

Yes, we have stuck with the same coated fabric suppliers for a long time and we are always looking for new fabrics that improve on weight, cost, and performance.

How many different fabrics go into most of your shelters?

We have different fabrics for floors and flies as well as two different meshes and two different “solid” fabrics.

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The TarpTent MoTrail a well refined, fast to setup, and very economical 2 person shelter!

Market Growth:

Back a decade or so ago when the market crashed here in America, it caused a lot of folks that were to use spending big money on vacations, to stop their extravagant vacations and get into, or back into, the world of backpacking. That caused a major growth surge for the industry. Do you see any noticeable sale spikes as a result of that time period?

During that crash in 2008, ordering stopped for a few weeks. Then we ran a sale and demand picked up again and trended up for years after that.

Moving forward over the last decade, I still see a fair bit of love out there from TarpTent users. That is really great to see. You seem to be able to keep your overhead down, so that has to make things nice. Each year a few more of the ‘big name’ companies keep moving into the ‘ultralight’ world of tent designs. And a few of the companies that either did not exist a decade ago, or were smaller timers, have been growing a bit.

The one thing that I have also been proud of, about you and TarpTent, is that you have stayed true to your cause. TarpTent is about tents. You have become famous for the quote “backpacks are just bags with straps on them”. I love that quote. Is the plan to continue to stick with the focus on only producing tents or do you see TarpTent expanding out their product line anytime in the next few years?

It is true I have no interest in doing packs. My passion is tents but there are lots of peripheral products related to tents that I could envision getting excited about in the future.

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Do not let the odd shape of the TarpTent ‘StratoSpire 2’ fool you, this double wall, double door, two person shelter can contend with anything in its weight and price range – and even beyond!

The StratoSpire:

The StratoSpire. I remember seeing it at the ADZPCTKO a few year ago. Thought it was the strangest shaped tent I had never seen. But there is some real wisdom behind the design has folks have started to study it, and use it. Now no, my question is not about the Shurka shelter, but rather the thought and design process that went into the original conception. Did the design just pop into your head one day (happens to me every so often in my work) and you started playing around with it, or was it a step of logical progressions from concept to concept, into making it into the shape that it became?

That one was a long time in the hopper. I worked on the general goal for years but it all finally came together when I realized I could borrow the PitchLoc corner support from the Scarp and Moment and put it into a trekking pole shelter with offset poles. The Sierra Designs shelter does incorporate the offset poles but in my opinion all the benefit of that is lost if you don’t also raise the opposite corner to gain back the lost usable volume. They can’t actually copy the StratoSpire design for all its benefits because I patented  it .

I am and have been rather curious, so I just have to ask… are most of the sales of the StratoSpire the solo or two person version?

Two person shelters in our experience are the sweet spot in the market.

A Few Other Questions:

So this is sort of a pet-peeve question/issue for me. Living here in the Redwoods we can deal with a lot of rain. Sadly it has been very dry the past year, but like everywhere in California we are hoping for change very soon! I like shelters with tall bathtubs. By ‘tall’, I mean, like… 6, 7, 8 inch tall bathtubs. Yeah, I know, “site selection, site selection, site selection”… but in the Redwoods, like other places, sometimes all you got is wet, and wetter. Do you ever see a time when TarpTent will offer the ability to have taller bathtub floors?

We do offer ‘solid’ fabric interiors which completely eliminate all chance of splash. My take is that if water is actually rising up over the top of a 5in bathtub floor then it’s your fault for pitching in the wrong place.

Want to talk about 2017, as we are moving into the winter of 2016 and 2017 product line ups are already in the works. Is there anything you are willing to share about new products being introduced for the 2017 hiking season? Is there anything you are willing to share about changes to your shelters for the 2017 hiking season?

Stay tuned.

(note: since this article was originally published, TarpTent has announced the ‘Saddle 2’)

Would also love to give you a chance to just talk about any generalized thoughts of the tent market/industry. So by all means, share away, anything that is on your mind. Anything that is annoying you about the market. Anything that you want to see changed. Consider this an open opportunity to address one and all regarding the tent market/industry.

Our daily job is all about customer education and I think the industry in general does a very poor job of that. When people contact us I make a serious effort to understand the specific customer needs, expectations, and intended use. I turn away customers when I don’t think we can meet their criteria. As with most industries there is too much hype, too little education, and too little attention paid to designing the very best products. I can’t fix any of that other than to make sure we at Tarptent do the very best job we can.

Share a bit about how you are able to seperate business life from personal life and any adventures/hikes you have been on.

Tarptent consumes much of my waking (and sleeping) hours but I was fortunate to go hiking in the Spanish Pyrenees last June and did the Wind River High Route the September before that.

Both were amazing walks and I’m hoping to see other bucket-list places in the coming years.

My son, Stuart, is now 11 and I’m also really looking forward to doing more walks with him in the coming years.

In Closing:

Thank you, again, to Henry Shires for taking the time to answer these questions!

You can find more about TarpTent at their website:

http://tarptent.com/

You can follow TarpTent on the following social sites:

https://www.facebook.com/tarptent/

https://twitter.com/tarptent/

https://www.instagram.com/tarptent/

Copyright:
John Abela,
http://HikeLighter.Com
All Rights Reserved

This article was originally published at: https://www.patreon.com/posts/7255018

8 thoughts on “Interview: TarpTent

    1. Great to hear you are enjoying the interviews!

      I think the guys at the Outdoor Station Podcast are doing a great job. Three years ago, you may recall, they did a 5 part series of podcasts with many of the American cottage company owners. One of my favorite of them was their interview with Henry, which can still be listed to, well worth the 42 minutes!

  1. John, thank you for another interview. It was a great pleasure to read. Interesting. I would even vote for a video that will actually show the manufacturing process, testing, designing team in work… I understand that it is hard to do for a one guy because it will involve traveling + equipment and cameraman. Just throw what on my mind and wishes :)

    keep up with your great blog!

    1. Thanks! Glad that you too enjoyed the interview!

      Now travelling around to all of the different cottage industry companies and doing video interviews… now that would be super fun and awesome to do!!

      But, I am just a poor hiker with hardly the funds to keep hiking each year, more or less the ability to hire a media crew to tag along with me across the nation and do interviews that generate no income.

      Would be hella fun to do though!!

  2. My favourite shelter manufacturer by far. And of course, one of the nicest people that you could ever meet. I wish Henry continued success.

  3. John,
    Like the others, I really have enjoyed the Interview series. It is illuminating in that we get a better idea of what the companies philosophies are and where they are heading. I’ve always liked Tarptents shelters as they are very innovative and pricing is where most can participate. I do wish that Henry would make a truly lightweight solo shelter though. I’ve had my eye on the Notch for years but find the weight and fact it is 16″ long packed two features I wish would be remediated.
    Keep up the stellar work John.

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