The Mountain Laurel Designs TrailStar cuts through high winds likes a fighter jet. The Trailstar's large footprint, however, requires relatively large sites that, depending where you are, can take longer to find. The shelter's low angle walls are not suitable for serious snow loading. And, because the tarp performs poorly in cuben fiber, the silnylon version (that we tested) is relatively heavy compared to other types of floorless shelters.
Some people love the Trailstar, but over the years our testers have developed a strong preference for flat tarps or pyramids. If you want a spacious tarp that can handle epic weather we suggest getting a pyramid tarp, specifically the Mountain Laurel Designs SuperMid.
Like many of the ultralight shelters we tested the TrailStar is not widely available on at major online retailers. The Black Diamond Beta Light however, is available at many online retailers, often on sale.
Mountain Laurel Designs TrailStar ReviewPrice: $230 List Pros: Tremendous coverage and strength for its weight, multiple pitching configurations, simple and reliable.
Cons: Large footprint requires large campsites, door needs to be repositioned when wind changes direction, hard to enter and exit.
Measured Weight oz: 22.1 [seam sealed silnylon + stock guyline] 18 [silnylon no guyline or seam seal]
Manufacturer: Mountain Laurel Designs
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Ultralight Tents and Shelters of 2018
Our Analysis and Test Results
You can buy the TrailStar at www.mountainlaureldesigns.com.
The Trailstar can be pitched in many different configurations that offer varying degrees of comfort. The most common configuration (both for our testers and, an image search reveals, by the masses) is pitching it with a taller trekking pole in the middle and a medium length pole at the entrance. As long as you keep the angles right the Trailstar is a highly customizable. With long lines it can be pitched several feet off the ground or buttoned down tight against the ground. When pitched with 6-8" between the bottom wall and the ground the shelter provides two people with lots of space to lay down and to store gear. Head room is less plentiful in another configuration. When the Trailstar is locked to the ground it's admittedly difficult to enter and exit.
Wind glides over the Trailstar as fast and as fluidly as an Olympic speed skater. It's difficult to estimate just how sturdy the shelter is in very high winds — it depends largely on stake and soil type and other campsite characteristics — but we believe that it's capable of protecting you in every condition found by backpackers. Pitching it around 120cm height works well for most conditions and dropping the center pole to around 100cm allows you to lock the edges close to the ground. The Trailstar's longer walls, when compared to most A-frame and falt tarps, reduce the amount of force applied to each tieout, which is critical because it can be difficult to truly lock the edges of many tarps to the ground. The Trailstar feels very safe and secure in high winds.
The low flat design is much less capable of handling snowloading, however, when compared to mids. A few inches of snow in the shoulder season is no problem, but we don't believe the Trailstar is suitable for winter nights that bring 6+ inches of snow. Mids with four steep walls do much better with snow loading.
The Trailstar is cut from high quality 30 denier silnylon and constructed with an attention to detail that few other silnylon shelters can match. Unlike most self-supporting double wall tents found in our backpacking tent review this is a shelter that's competent on extended trips to the planet's most remote areas. When sleeping in the Trailstar during a serious storm far from the nearest trailhead one feels comfortable and secure and confident that the shelter will not break.
Weight and Packed Size
Our silnyon Trailstar weighed 18 oz. before we seam sealed it and attached a generous amount of guyline. Afterwards it weighed 22.1 oz. You can save some additional weight by purchasing lighter guyline that doesn't absorb as much water.
The Trailstar is adapatable in that it can be pitched in a variety of ways. Unfortunately, each configuration is relatively similar and takes up a large area. In our rating we score the Trailstar higher than pyramid tarps and considerably lower than A-frame and flat tarps. The Trailstar is rather poor at adapting to sites that require a suboptimal pitch.
The Trailstar is limited by its large footprint. While testing the shelter in the High Sierra we were unable to camp in sites that accommodate pyramid tarps and many self-supporting tents. When walking through rocky terrain it can often take much longer to find a suitable campsite; if pitched close to the ground the long, low walls may touch rocks close to the perimeter, which, when combined with wind, may abrade the silnylon. Pitching requires a relatively large flat area free of obstacles, perhaps 12 ft. by 12 ft. in area. Therefore, it's important to consider if the terrain will accommodate the Trailstar. In most places, and certainly in many established campsites in forested areas, the shelter goes up without a problem. Some long distance hikers and those that travel off trail in may find a shelter with a smaller footprint to be better for their needs. The magnitude of this drawback will largely depend on the terrain that you plan to travel through and, if venturing through rocky or densely forested areas, your ability to identify potential campsites in advance.
When the wind changed direction at night we had get out and reposition the door so that it didn't catch as much wind. This can be annoying, as it requires repositioning multiple tieouts, but choosing good campsites can largely mitigate the problem.
Both for first time users and experienced users the Trailstar is more difficult to pitch than many other shelters tested here. It's not terribly difficult, but it does take longer and requires more finagling than pyramids and the A-frame tarps we've tested.
The Trailstar walks the line between being a tarp and a mid, but we don't believe that it matches the performance of mids in winter weather. This is a do-it-all 3three-season shelter, not a four-season shelter capable of significant snow loading.
We believe the Trailstar is best suited to camping in exposed areas with high winds that have large campsites.
$230 for a top-of-the-line bombproof shelter! This is an excellent value.
How to Get It
The Trailstar is not sold by major commercial or online retailers. Get it online at
It's important to note that Mountain Laurel Designs has a heinously long wait time and that their website is very difficult to use and is rarely updated. Through purchasing at least five products we've found that it usually takes 4 to 10 weeks to get something from their online checkout to our doorstep. Mountain Laurel Designs builds excellent products, and offers custom options on everything they make, but you must plan ahead.
Check out this fun setup video.
— Chris McNamara and Max Neale
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: April 13, 2015
Summary of All Ratings
100% of 2 reviewers recommend it
OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:
Average Customer Rating:
100% of 2 reviewers recommend it
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Mar 13, 2015 - 09:26pm
TullochgorumI feel that your review of the TrailStar is too grudging. Please batten down the hatches for an extended rant…
I've used it quite extensively in Scotland, Dartmoor (where I live) and the Western Alps. For exposed 3-season camping above the treeline it has no equal, in my experience. In these conditions I would very much prefer it to your recommendations of a square tarp or mid.
You criticise it for weight, but it's unfair to compare it to much less robust alternatives that would fail in the kind of conditions that wouldn't even ruffle the TrailStar. In terms of wind, the real comparison is with free-standing mountain tents at many times the weight and price. My other tent is a design frequently used on the South Col, and in strong winds the TrailStar performs better. In life-threatening situations there's an all-sides-to-the-ground limpet-pitch that is truly bomb-proof. On exposed sites a handful of extra ounces seems a small price to pay for significantly greater safety.
You're much more bullish about the capabilities of a tarp in high winds than any experienced tarp-camper I know. The general view seems to be that anything higher than 40 mph is problematic for a tarp, and in Scotland no-one seems to use them above the treeline. There's a growing sub-culture of using TrailStars though. There's good anecdotal evidence that a well-pitched TrailStar can shrug off upwards of 70 mph, though happily I've never had to put that to the test. But in 40-50 mph it doesn't even flap - it flexes. It's impressively quiet in wind. Ultralight mids are much noisier, and in my view would sit between a square tarp and the TrailStar in wild weather performance.
You criticise the footprint, but in the terrain it's designed for I've rarely found it a practical problem. I've pitched over rocks and tussocks and still had plenty of liveable space. On the other hand I've slept soundly in my TrailStar on sites where I would never have trusted a tarp and would have had a sleepless night in a mid.
You criticise the TrailStar because you had to re-position the door in a storm, but surely that applies with even greater force to a tarp in storm-pitch. In fact, with a little ingenuity you can rig the guys so that it's a pretty quick operation to switch the door. But I've never had to do it in anger - the TrailStar is only vulnerable from a narrow angle, so this shouldn't occur very often if you pitch wisely. Only mids provide 360% protection, but at the cost of cutting you off from nature.
You say its performance depends heavily on the pegging, but surely that applies equally to tarps and mids. I use Groundhogs all round and have never had a peg pop. I think the TrailStar design distributes the force between the pegs better than the mid design, and the panels deflect better.
You say it can't take snow-load but that's only partially true. There's a steep pitch that sheds snow pretty well in all but the heaviest conditions. In fact you can pitch it as an emergency mid if you run into an unexpected blizzard. For most UK winter camping or the elbow season in the Alps it's just fine. But you're right - it's not the choice for Alaska in December.
And then there's the liveability. The TrailStar is a joy - palatial space for sleeping, gear and cooking without losing the connection to nature you enjoy with a flat tarp. The coverage is so good there's no need to protect your bag with a bivy, and you have quite a few choices for bug protection. Your own pictures of the square tarp above the treeline aren't exactly enticing compared to the comfort of a TrailStar. Stormbound days in a flat tarp are pretty miserable, and in a mid your door is closed and you're stuck in a coffin.
Yes, if you wander in the woods this type of shelter is overkill. But if you enjoy camping high, wild and close to nature you won't do much better than a TrailStar.
Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
Apr 2, 2014 - 06:35pm
My2CentsThe Trailstar is a tremendous shelter for use above treeline, where it sheds wind like nothing else I've used. There is a small learning curve to pitch the Trailstar well, but once learned it's superbly flexible in dealing with different weather and uneven terrain.
MLD recently introduced a solo inner net for the Trailstar. Judging by discussions on Outdoorsmagic and Backpackinglight, OookWorks inners are usually (but not always) well-made, but you could be waiting a year or longer to take delivery. And BearPaw inners have a tendancy to come in significantly over the specified weight, and not everyone is happy with the build quality.
Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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