The TarpTent MoTrail is a spacious two-person tarp-tent style shelter that requires at minimum two trekking poles to set up and is made of 30D SilNylon fabric. Complete protection is provided by sewn-in bug netting and a SilNylon bathtub floor. In contrast to the other tarp tents in this review, it is aligned so that users sleep with their head and feet parallel to the eave of the tent, rather than perpendicular to the eave. This has the notable advantage of allowing more length end to end inside the tarp while also allowing more head and foot clearance while sleeping. It feels larger and more spacious inside than the Zpacks Duplex, but also has a far more extensive profile on the sides to catch the wind. While there is a lot to love, including how livable it is on the inside, we also noticed that it was relatively heavy, not super adaptable, and not the easiest to set up in a stable manner.
Tarptent MoTrail Review
Cons: Bulky and relatively heavy, large broadsides can catch wind, not very adaptable
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The MoTrail is a tarp tent that is pitched lengthwise in A-frame mode, similar to how one would set up a catenary cut tarp such as the Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Tarp Duo. It is cut in a way that the rear, foot end of the A-frame is lower than the entrance end, and due to the fact that it includes sewn-in bug netting tent with a bathtub floor, it is not adaptable to be set up in different configurations, one of the primary advantages of using a tarp for shelter. It is also not "cat" cut on the eave, the easiest way to maintain perfect tension throughout an A-frame pitched tarp but instead incorporates an added triangular piece of material with a tensioning bar, and some other complicated systems to maintain ideal tension. We found these systems to be fairly effective, but also perhaps a bit "overdone," and lament the lack of simplicity that inspires many to use a tarp for shelter. Regardless, the MoTrail is very livable and affordable, although has some issues with weather protection, adaptability, and ease of setup, not to mention a relatively heavy weight for an ultralight tent that doesn't include poles or enough stakes. For interested solo travelers, check out the similar but smaller TarpTent ProTrail.
Your purchase comes with the tarp and sewn in interior tent, as well as four stakes (a minimum of five are needed for set up), a long tubular stuff sack, a small sack for the stakes, and printed out setup instructions that are very comprehensive with diagrams. The included stakes are light and strong but are not very effective because they don't have a notch to hold cords, which easily slip off. Furthermore, a minimum of five stakes are needed if you want the vestibule staked out, so we recommend purchasing at least five of your own preference. You will also need a minimum of two adjustable trekking poles, although it is possible to setup with three trekking poles if desired for a little bit of added stability. You can also choose to purchase optional poles at checkout: the rear alone ($6, 1.25 oz.), front alone ($16, four oz.), or both ($21). Lastly, the tarp is not seam sealed, so you will need to do this before taking it out adventuring.
The MoTrail ranks right up there with the best we have used when it comes to livability. We have already mentioned how long the interior space is, enough for plenty of extra equipment or a dog while still sleeping comfortably. There is also plenty of headroom on the door end of the tarp. It includes sewn-in bug netting and a bathtub floor that cannot be removed but does have tensioner straps to each corner of the tarp to allow for fine tuning dependent on site specifications. The foot end of the A-frame comes with Velcro affixed storm or privacy flaps, a nice touch that can be pulled back for better airflow.
There are also strips of sewn in lightweight netting that keep the feet of your sleeping bags from coming in contact with the tarp, another nice touch for preventing wetting due to condensation, a standard issue with single wall tents. There are two pockets for storing fragile or valuable items, and the vestibule, while not huge, is large enough for packs and shoes. The livability of this tent was its primary positive characteristic, and we gave it 9 points, near the top scoring Gossamer Gear The One as well as the Zpacks Duplex.
This tent weighs just over 2 lbs. without stakes or the mandatory two trekking poles (or optional poles available for purchase), making it one of the heavier tents in this review. We aren't terribly surprised, considering how much fabric and cordage is used in its construction. There are virtually no options for modifying the tent to lighten the load that wouldn't compromise its performance. Furthermore, it doesn't pack down very small compared to the competition — its stuff sack is large, long and tubular, and sort of awkward to stuff the tent into. While it is still light compared to an average backpacking tent, it received the lowest score when considering weight, and was heavier than double wall tents such as the Nemo Hornet 2P and the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV2 Platinum, which both included poles in their weight.
We found the MoTrail to be fairly effective dealing with rain, but with its dual long, broad sides, a bit of a sail in the wind necessitating optimal site location. It is made entirely of SilNylon, so when wet is prone to stretching and needs to be tensioned further. Luckily it comes with line locks on all stake-out points, so this is not such a big deal.
A fascinating and unique feature we have not seen on other tarps is a tensioning bar above the door, sewn in conjunction with a triangular piece of material on the eave of the tent. This bar allows for the use of a tensioning strap if using one pole at the front, or the option for dual pole front setup, both of which slightly increase the stability of the tent in the wind. It is also removable if desired, although overall tarp tension is compromised in this case.
These systems are a bit hard to describe - see pictures below. One issue we had with this design was that similar to what we experienced using the MSR Flylite in the rain, the triangular shape of the eave does allow water to pool on top of the tent, without always running off the sides as desired. This piece of fabric was small enough that the pool couldn't get big enough to compromise the structural integrity of the tent, like we rapidly experienced with the Flylite, but is a flaw none-the-less. We also wish the stakeout cord on the vestibule was longer, as one night we found it to be too short for our site to stake it out properly.
Unlike standard tarps, this one cannot be adjusted to many different layouts dependent on the site. It must be set up the same way each time, and with very large broadsides that can catch wind, a sheltered site is highly advised. It is also not freestanding, so the softness of the ground must be considered, as well as the slope of a site since sleepers can only orient in one direction. Lastly, none of the components are modular, so it is what it is, a not terribly adaptable tent. If adaptability is your main concern, we would recommend a standard tarp instead, such as the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp, which will allow you to configure your system better to exactly to match conditions or desires.
Ease of Setup
Due to its relatively large size, we found this tent to be moderately difficult to set up with one person, especially in the wind, although with two it becomes quite a bit easier. For us, it was a challenge to get the trekking pole heights perfect each time, and trying to hold them vertical while hammering in stakes was hard, compounded by the fact that with this setup, tips need to orient upward into grommets, rather than downward where they can stick into the ground. A very taut set up would be easier to achieve with a longer stake out on the vestibule, and an added guy out from the top of the rear pole; we would change both of these things after purchase if it were our tent. Even with a little practice, we did not find it to be significantly easier than erecting a standard tarp if alone, which translates into challenging! For the most straightforward and quickest ultralight shelters to set up, look toward pyramids, specifically the Black Diamond Beta Light or the Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid 2.
This tent will best be used by a couple who wants a light set up but doesn't want to compromise at all on comfort and space, as many other UL tents require for couples, and who require bug protection. It will work far better on established trails with flat and sheltered tent sites than for above treeline adventures.
The MoTrail retails for $259, making it one of the most affordable fully enclosed options available. While it wasn't one of the highest scorers overall, it has some nice advantages, and for the right purpose or trail could represent a fantastic value purchase.
The TarpTent MoTrail is a uniquely designed tarp tent that is spacious and comfortable on the inside and includes built-in bug netting and a bathtub floor. This tent is for those people who want space and affordability, and who anticipate sheltered camp spots.
— Andy Wellman