Terra Nova Solar Photon 2 Review
Cons: Very poor quality stakes, super small interior, small vestibule, does not hold up well in the wind, rather expensive
Manufacturer: Terra Nova
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Terra Nova Solar Photon 2 follows much the same design pattern as the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV2 Platinum, although there are far more flaws that led to a lower overall score. Our biggest complaint with this tent was how small it was, only 33" across at the feet. The narrowest inflatable sleeping pads available on the market today are around 20" wide, so you can see there is no way to fit two sleeping pads, even narrow ones, into the interior of this tent. It also comes with titanium skewer stakes that weigh one gram each and feel like an absolute joke. Suffice to say they don't work at all, and need to be replaced for this tent to be functional in the backcountry, but this almost seems like an insult after having spent nearly $500 on the purchase. We will go into more detail below about what works, and what doesn't about this tent. In case you have a soft spot for Terra Nova, keep in mind that what we express here is in comparison to the other nine tents we tested for this review, and also the countless ultralight tents we have used and reviewed in the past.
This tent was one of the lowest scorers when it came to weather resistance. It performed roughly the same as the Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Tarp Duo, which is an A-frame tarp that is completely open on either end, but was still better than the MSR Flylite 2. The problem begins with the included stakes, which are barely strong enough to poke into the ground, but also have a habit of twisting about in the ground so that the loops that are attached to them come unhooked. In the wind, this tent had a propensity to come un-staked, which presents obvious problems. But supposing you replace the stakes, as you should, it is a narrow, long tent with two very broad sides that easily catch the wind. Numerous guy out points help, but what doesn't help is that nearly all of the fly attachment points are made of stretchy bungee cord, meaning it is almost impossible to stake this thing out tightly, it can always stretch looser, which it has a habit of doing.
We would also cut all of these bungee attachments off and re-tie them with static cord if we owned this tent. Overall, our experience was that this tent catches the wind quickly, the fly does not like to stay tight or in place, and when it gets soaked by rain easily touches the inside liner tent, which then gets wet as well. The floor is also not bathtub style, meaning the waterproof nylon does not stretch up the sides of the inner tent, so splash back from rain off the fly easily soaks the walls of the inner tent. And since this tent is so narrow and undersized for two people, if the inner walls get soaked, it is very likely that you are getting soaked. Enough said.
Due to the very narrow, tight fit inside that cannot fit two narrow sleeping pads; we gave this tent the lowest score for livability. By comparison, the other two dedicated pole tents, which both also felt cramped, had minimum widths at the feet. The Nemo Hornet has 43", while the Fly Creek HV2 Platinum had 42". This width is enough room for two narrow pads, without much left over. The Solar Photon 2 also felt even smaller than it was, because of the interior fabric, hanging off of the single center ridge pole, tended to fall inward with no means of holding it outward. We also found that the vestibule was the tiniest of any that we tested, and if two people tried to put their gear in it, there would be no possible way of getting either in or out of the tent. While we liked that the double wall design of the tent meant that it had built in bug protection and did an ok job of managing condensation, as long as you guyed out the outer fly, so it wasn't touching the inner liner, this tent was far too small to call a two-person tent.
The Solar Photon 2, with everything that you need to set it up, weighed in on our independent scale at 2lbs. 0.1oz. This figure is with a few things that come in the package that are not necessary not included. While this is very light for a two-person dedicated pole tent, it was, in reality, the second heaviest shelter in this review, when not including stakes. Only the Nemo Hornet 2P was heavier, but since you could split that weight between two people, it would end up feeling lighter on the trail.
On the other hand, the Solar Photon 2 is not big enough for two people, so it wouldn't make sense to split the weight while carrying it. In theory, it comes with everything needed for setup, but as we said, you should replace the stakes immediately. It requires 11 stakes to be set up correctly to handle wind but can do with less if the conditions are calm.
As a tiny tent, the Solar Photon 2 can be set up in many tight and cramped spaces, making it mildly adaptable. It can also be set up both with the rain fly in place, or without, but the inner tent is very lightweight nylon as opposed to bug mesh, so even without the fly on one would not be able to see the stars on a pleasant night. However, it is adaptable to more different situations that either the MSR Flylite 2 or the Six Moons Designs Haven Tarp, both of which have a fixed pattern for setup, meaning they can only set up one way, and also take up a lot more space. The stake out points for this tent are not adjustable and are very short and close to the tent, so it would be challenging to use rocks or roots as potential anchors where the stakes did not work.
Ease of Set-up
While the design is fairly intuitive to figure out how to set it up, the fact that the stakes are worthless and the fly attaches with stretchy bungee cord that doesn't let it cinch down tight, mean this tent is a bit of a pain to set up. It also needs to be guyed out quite a lot to be able to handle the weather, and thus requires 11 stakes for full deployment.
Since the attachment points are not long enough or adjustable to use rocks, you must have a location that is capable of taking 11 stakes in the ground, meaning rocky terrain will not work very well. In short, this tent presented more of a pain to set up than the very similar Big Agnes Fly Creek HV2 Platinum and earned the same grade as the MSR Flylite 2.
We would not recommend this tent for two people; it is simply too small to be practical or comfortable. As a single person tent, there is enough room, although we don't find it to be sturdy enough for rough weather. Backpacking or camping in locations with a decent amount of natural shelter and soft ground is where it will thrive the best.
This tent retails for $490 if you are in the United States, and far more than that if you are on the other side of the Atlantic (489 British Pounds!!). Since it has many flaws and was one of the poorest performers in this review, we don't feel like it presents a worthwhile value.
The Terra Nova Solar Photon 2 is a disappointing double wall, dedicated pole tent that looks like a solid three-season shelter designed for bad weather, but has many design flaws that make it less awesome than the tents we compared it to in this ultralight review.
— Andy Wellman