MLD Trailstar – Review / Overview

This review is for the Silnylon version of the Trailstar


This will be more of an overview than a review, there are so many reviews of the Trailstar out there. I think an overview with some hints and tips would be more beneficial.

A bit of background first

After more than 50 nights in varied conditions and locations, I thought it was about time that I give my MLD Trailstar a review / overview and a little information as to why I chose the shelter in the first place and what I had used before..

In 2015 I decided that I wanted to mix photography and hiking as a way to get out and explore more. I started going out using gear I had from years gone by and decided that I wanted to start camping out.

Camping would be a way of not only enabling me to walk further, not having to turn back and walk back to the car at the end of the day but put me in a position where I could capture sunset and sunrise landscapes.

It had been years since I had camped and the only tent I had dated back some 10-12 years, a Vango Force 10 Mk3. This was obviously too heavy to be lugging around so I did a quick search online and found that Vango were still a popular brand and that the Blade 200…. seemed to be a popular choice as well as the Banshee.

I bought a Blade 200 and set off out, after only a few camps I realised the shelter was not really designed for open moorland camping. Only a small amount of wind on top of a tor would flex and deform the pole. I did a little more research online and ended up buying a Hilleberg Akto.

The Akto was second hand and I picked it up at a relatively good price. Unfortunately, I didn’t get on with this either. I am 6ft tall and found that I either woke up with a wet footbox of my sleeping bag where the inner had touched the fly or the inner flapped in my face all night long.

Back to the drawing board.. By pure chance, I stumbled upon a YouTube channel of someone hiking and camping on Dartmoor, Tony Hobbs. This was when I first saw a Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar and I loved the simplicity and space it seemed to offer whilst watching Tony’s videos.

I advertised my Akto and it sold within a day, leaving me with enough money to buy a new Trailstar from MLD and an Oookworks inner.

Soon after ordering my Trailstar I had an email from Ron Bell, Chief Happiness Officer / Design Minister as his email signature read advising the order had been received and just over two weeks later my Trailstar was at my local post office. As you can imagine I was very keen to pitch the shelter but our garden was all loose shingle so I set about seem sealing it.


The Shelter

The Trailstar is effectively a five sided shaped pyramid tarp with various pitch options, superb wind shedding performance and stacks of space.

When I ordered my Trailstar, seam sealing before delivery was not an offered option. MLD now offer this service for an additional cost and I would recommend anyone who has never seam sealed a shelter before either taking this option or practicing prior to doing it for real on the shelter.


The Specs…..

Cost, My Trailstar cost Β£163 including shipping to the UK in 2015, I was fortunate to have zero import charge.

When my Trailstar arrived, it weighed around 500/17.6oz in the stuff sack without lines or seam sealer. After attaching the lines and sealing the five seams it came in at 611/21.5oz which included a length of spare line.

The current Trailstar uses a newer silnylon and comes in a little lighter. I can vouch for this, you’ll understand when you get to the end..


Packability

As the Trailstar is effectively a large sheet of material with guylines attached its easily stuffable and can be compressed down to the size of a small-medium down jacket.

If you’re used to a conventional tent, with poles and struts, you may be surprised how small the shelter will pack.


Build and Quality

The Trailstar was the first of my MLD shelters, before hand I had only had mainstream tents and was use to the quality and finishing of them.

The first thing that struck me about the shelter was the stuff sack. This may sound a little strange but the stuff sack is extremely well made and finished. The seams are triple stitched flat felled seams with not one stitch out of place.

When I took the shelter out of the stuff sack, I inspected each seam and again did not find any issues at all. The stitching is all straight and
parallel with no wiggles or miss stitches.

After more than 50 nights use there is little to no sign of use and it could easily pass for a nearly new shelter. I have not had to carry out any repairs or alterations whatsoever.


Pitching

At first, pitching the Trailstar may seem daunting but it’s actually quite simple.


The easiest way to pitch the shelter in my opinion is to act as if its very windy each time. That way you will have a method in your head and have little problem when you’re pitching in strong wind.

I would advise putting either a different coloured guy line or an identity line on the rear pegging point so you can easily identify where to start first.

I would also advise that when packing the shelter you have the rear pegging point at the top of the stuff sack so that you can peg the shelter to the ground and secure it right away if the wind is strong with the rest of the shelter still within the stuff sack.

Tip – Some people use a carabiner or clip to attach a short line to a longer line which wraps around the pole, making it easier to move the door if required.  

I peg the three rear points of the shelter first, followed by the two front points. With the rear pegged down, find it easy to align the two front points with the rear mid panel tieouts to secure them.

Place the central pole followed by the door pole and then go around the shelter starting at the rear to tighten the lines.

Although I have had the shelter for a few years now, after only a few pitches I could set the shelter up within a few minutes in most weather condition and be inside away from the weather.

There are a lot of reviews that state the Trailstar needs a massive area to be pitched, this is not technically true. As long as there is nothing directly under it that may cause damage, sharp rocks or stiff vegetation you can pitch pretty much anywhere.


Obviously, you can’t pitch in a heather bush but as long as there is space to lay down and sleep and you don’t mind sharing with some long grass, you can normally find a pitch without issue.

One of the great things about the Trailstar is the variety of pitches, heights, door widths ect.

My favourite fair weather pitch, nice and open providing great views.


If one of your walking poles snaps or you simply need to close the shelter down due to the weather its possible to pitch with one pole and/or hunker it down.


Pitched with the front of the shelter rolled back to open up similar to a MID.


Pitching Height

The height to pitch is a personal preference, people tend to start low around 110cm and gradually raise the setup. I pitch at 135cm and used to drop the height down if the wind picked up. However after speaking with Peter Dixon for the last nine months or so I have left the height at 135cm and never had an issue even in winds above 70mph.

One tip I would give anyone would be to initially set the pole height around 5-7cm lower than the intended pitch, silnylon sags a short while after pitching. Instead of having to get out, especially during adverse weather, simple raise the pole height inside to re-tension the shelter.

There is allot of pressure exerted on the base of the pole at ground level. If the ground is soft, a small rock or similar under the pole helps spread the load and stops the pole sinking during the night.


Space and Coverage

The Trailstar provides an incredible amount of internal floor space. I have said floor space for a reason, the sloping sides to reduce the internal ‘usable’ space but even pitched low down, 110cm, there is more than enough room to sleep and cook. Pitched at 135cm even with an inner installed you have more than half of the internal space left for gear, cooking or for friends to sit and chat.

Due to a friends tent failing, there was plenty of space for me to sleep within my inner and him to move his gear and sleep comfortably out of the weather.

Whether you’re using an inner or not, there are plenty of options of where you can lay/sleep.

Simple Polycro for gear and Oooktub to sleep on
Winter camp with Borah bivy and foil ground sheet
Oookworks Weenest at the back of the Trailstar
Bearpawd mesh inner pitched to the side.


Weather Protection

The Trailstar does not have a door so mindful pitching in key. If you’re expecting the wind to change during the night, using natural features can help, if needed the door can be lowered or the location can be changed with ease.

That being said, I have only ever had to change the door around twice and that was due to extreme unforecast weather moving in during the night.

I have used the Trailstar in all weather conditions, extreme winds, snow, heavy frosts, driving rain ect and apart from a line slipping on two occasions in very strong wind, never had to get out and re-secure lines, move the shelter or pack up and walk off.

I generally sleep at the back of the shelter in winter and lengthways in summer with my head towards the door.

I have camped out in some pretty strong wind, the Trailstar has never given me reason to doubt it, seeing off winds in excess of 75mph. Yes it flaps as any shelter would be it remains stable and secure with the wind buffeting over the sleek profile.

In November 2018, I headed up on to Fur Tor on Dartmoor with two friends. One of them, Karl also has a Trailstar and it was only the second night he has slept under it. The forecast was for around 35mph winds through the night but we were hit with winds averaging 60-70mph. Neither Trailstar moved or gave us concern in the night and although Karl has seen my Trailstar in strong winds, I think it gave him more confidence in the stability and protection provided.

Whilst camping in snow, it is essential to ensure pegs are secure and peg choice is very important. I always stamp down to areas in which I intend to pitch to make sure its level and that I won’t end up in a pool of melted snow or with a big rock under me. Digging out or stamping down the area also aids in peg placement.

In a heavy snow storm, with no door, spin drift can sometimes enter the shelter. This has never been a major issue as I have either been inside a bivy or an inner. Within the shelter there are a number of mitten hooks midway down the main seams running from the apex, if snow or rain is causing you an issue you can attach your waterproof jacket to these mitten hooks to act as a door or as some people have done you can make yourself a door.

A door I made for a friend. MLD Rain kilts can also be used as doors in some situations.


Conclusion

The Trailstar is in my opinion a fantastic shelter, offering both versatility in pitch and nearly unrivalled weather protection.

On more occasions than I can count, it has proved itself, keeping me dry, out of the wind and safe in weather that would potentially cause other shelters to fail.

If you are buying from outside of the USA, there will possible be an import charge to factor in but for me, for the protection and options the shelter delivers its very good value for money.

I have a number of very good shelters, however the Trailstar is more than often the one I pack and is nearly always the shelter I pick when planning longer trips.

I still own my brown Trailstar but have wanted an orange one ever since the colour option became available. Earlier this year I ordered one and was happy to find that the quality of workmanship and materials is as high as with all of my other MLD products.

At the time of writing this, I have only used the Orange one for a few nights but it has already proven itself as capable in strong winds and heavy rain. Due to a material change, the new shelter weighs less, coming in at 523g/18.4oz with lines and after seam sealing.

If you’re someone that likes to be fully enclosed, the Trailstar is defiantly not for you, but I would still say give it a go, you never know, you may love it πŸ™‚

Camped above Mallaig in the Scottish Highlands
The morning after the Oranges first strong wind

Edit..

As mentioned below in the comments, pictures of the new seams on MLD shelters. These pictures are of my orange Trailstar.

Apex External
External Main Corner with seam
Internal Main Corner with seam
Close up of seam internal
21 comments
  1. Avatar

    Two trailstars OO greedy πŸ˜‰
    Cannot say anything, I have two Duomids rof

    1. Dave

      Hah, I know for a fact that you have more than just two Duomids πŸ˜‰ Thanks for reading mate.

  2. Avatar

    Nice post Dave

    1. Dave

      Thanks Peter πŸ™‚

  3. Avatar

    Very good review/overview Dave. The only regret I had about mine was not getting one sooner. I hadn’t thought about stuffing that rear guy line in last.

    1. Dave

      Thanks John, I’ve done it for quite a while now, stops the shelter acting like a sail in strong wind.

  4. Avatar

    Thank you for this.
    I see you also have a review of the MLD Cricket. I’ve owned two (not backpacking right now and extremely limited in storage space), and always have lust-wondered about the Trailstar. Maybe, then, based on your thoughts about pitching space needed. Maybe.
    This (https://dzjow.com/2011/02/18/pitching-options-for-the-trailstar/) might be mildly interesting.
    Amazingly designed shelters. Thanks again.

    1. Dave

      Hi Dave, many thanks. I have never had a situation where I have not been able to pitch. Something that I’ve seen people do is see a nice spot to camp then struggle for an hour or so to find a setup or actually make the site work when if they looked around somewhere more suitable may only be 100ft away.

      I can’t recommend the Trailstar enough, anyone that knows me will agree that I like the shelter a lot πŸ™‚

    2. Avatar

      One trick the Trailstar has up its sleeve is that it also works well as a hammock tarp. So you can actually have many MORE pitching options: a strong tent which can handle bad weather on an exposed site or an insanely comfortable hammock camp if you can find some trees. It’s a great set-up to go exploring in a new area.

  5. Avatar

    Potential contentious point is the lack of a rolled hem on the new MLD shelters. Do you have any thoughts, views and/or pictures Dave?

    1. Dave

      Ron Bell replied to a post about this on Facebook. The new Silnylon is reportedly a lot stronger than previous materials used and the seams are all still triple stitched.

      My new Trailstar has the new seams and they are extremely well finished. On an outing on Dartmoor with a friend, we had a very very windy night and the shelter was fine. Other respected manufacturers have used non rolled hems/seams for a long time without issue.

      I will take some pictures and post them at the bottom of the review/overview later so you can see.

      1. Avatar

        Thanks Dave. Appreciated.

        1. Dave

          Hi Matt, post updated with seam pictures. Cheers, Dave

          1. Avatar

            Cracking. Cheers.

  6. Avatar

    One of the best reviews of the Trailstar that I have read or seen (on Youtube).
    I now definitely want one for myself.

    1. Dave

      Thanks Phil, much appreciated.

  7. Avatar

    “anyone who has never seam sealed a shelter before either taking this option or practicing prior to doing it for real on the shelter.”

    Is sealing particularly tricky or if you make a pigs ear, does it cause anything more than aesthetic problems

    1. Dave

      The process of sealing a shelter is easy enough but it’s easy to make a mess of the seams and the shelter itself.

      *Too much on the seam and it looks messy.
      *Too little and the shelter will leak.
      *Packing a shelter up too early after sealing can leave a mess on the panels of the shelter.

  8. Avatar

    Nice review! I’m a bit ‘born again’ about my Trailstar (ahem, I also have two!), though my partner isn’t convinced, mainly due to the draughts and inconvenient centre pole. Any thoughts or tips on an A-frame pole configuration?
    Pete

    1. Dave

      Hi Pete, many thanks. A friend asked about A-frame a while ago and we had a little go at doing it. You either need very long and very strong poles or you end up with two poles invading on the interior. It was also not as strong a pitch as a single central pole.
      ATB, Dave

  9. Avatar

    Dave I wanted to say thank you for writing this and answering my questions on instagram. My trailstar arrived a few weeks ago as you know and after talking with you I seam sealed it and took it out this week for the first time. Your pitching hints made it simple and I was the envy of our group. Have you seen that Mountain Laurel have put a link to your review on the trailstar page?

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