Hands-on Gear Review

Terra Nova Solar Photon 2 Review

Terra Nova Solar Photon 2
Price:  $490 List
Pros:  Lightweight for a dedicated pole tent
Cons:  Very poor quality stakes, super small interior, small vestibule, does not hold up well in the wind, rather expensive
Bottom line:  The lowest scoring of the dedicated pole tents in this review, and one of the lowest scorers overall compared to the competition.
Editors' Rating:   
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Manufacturer:   Terra Nova

Our Verdict

The Terra Nova Solar Photon 2 is a double wall, dedicated pole tent that scored near the bottom of our comparative rankings. Of the three similar double wall tents that we tested, we unfortunately thought that this was the one we would want to own the least. While its design is very similar to that of the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV2 Platinum, we found it to be even smaller and more cramped, and indeed would not recommend it for use by two people because of its exceedingly narrow interior. In our testing, we found that there was not a single attribute that it excelled at in comparison to the other tents in this ultralight review.



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Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
Andy Wellman

Last Updated:
Tuesday
August 1, 2017

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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, but just want you to keep in mind, in case you have a soft spot for Terra Nova, 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.

Performance Comparison


Showing the front door and vestibule of the Solar Photon. The top of the zippered vestibule has an awning that allows one to leave the top of the door open in the rain for ventilation.
Showing the front door and vestibule of the Solar Photon. The top of the zippered vestibule has an awning that allows one to leave the top of the door open in the rain for ventilation.

Weather Resistance


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 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.

Set up on a day of severe wind for testing  this is what it was like on the inside of the Solar Photon  which was not well suited to handling consistent winds like this.
Set up on a day of severe wind for testing, this is what it was like on the inside of the Solar Photon, which was not well suited to handling consistent winds like this.

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 easily, 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 interior 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.

Tents set up in the park just before a thunderstorm and subject to strong downdraft winds. The white UltaMid 2 and grey Haven Tarp handled the wind the best  while the dual door and vestibule design of the Nemo Hornet on the left survived better than the Solar Photon.
Tents set up in the park just before a thunderstorm and subject to strong downdraft winds. The white UltaMid 2 and grey Haven Tarp handled the wind the best, while the dual door and vestibule design of the Nemo Hornet on the left survived better than the Solar Photon.

Livability


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 of. The Nemo Hornet has 43", while the Fly Creek HV2 Platinum had 42". This 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 simply far too small to call a two person tent.

Even in calm conditions the inside of the Solar Photon is very tight for two people  the walls have a tendency to sag inward  making the space feel even more cramped than the floor space would suggest.
Even in calm conditions the inside of the Solar Photon is very tight for two people, the walls have a tendency to sag inward, making the space feel even more cramped than the floor space would suggest.

Weight


The Solar Photon 2, with everything that you need to set it up, weighed in on our independent scale at 2lbs. 0.1oz. This is eliminating a few things that come in the package that are simply not necessary. 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, 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 like we said, you should replace the stakes immediately. It needs 11 stakes to be set up correctly to handle a wind, but can do with less if the conditions are calm.

Everything that comes with the Solar Photon  some of which can be left behind when hitting the trail.
Everything that comes with the Solar Photon, some of which can be left behind when hitting the trail.

Adaptability


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 made of 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 be 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.

Relaxing in the evening in the Solar Photon before a night's sleep. This tent was the least spacious of the three dedicated-pole tents that we tested.
Relaxing in the evening in the Solar Photon before a night's sleep. This tent was the least spacious of the three dedicated-pole tents that we tested.

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 be cinched 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.

The bundle of stakes that comes with the Solar Photon. Take our word for it  these things are totally useless. Not only are they fragile and bend easily  but they have a tendency to spin once in the ground  thereby letting whatever they are tethered to off the hook. Buy replacement stakes for this tent!
The bundle of stakes that comes with the Solar Photon. Take our word for it, these things are totally useless. Not only are they fragile and bend easily, but they have a tendency to spin once in the ground, thereby letting whatever they are tethered to off the hook. Buy replacement stakes for this tent!

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 was graded the same as the MSR Flylite 2.

This tent has the versatility of being set up without the rain fly  as shown here  if all you need is bug protection and the weather is good. While the yellow fabric is not mesh netting  it does a surprisingly good job of allowing water vapor to pass through and not collect on the inside as condensation.
This tent has the versatility of being set up without the rain fly, as shown here, if all you need is bug protection and the weather is good. While the yellow fabric is not mesh netting, it does a surprisingly good job of allowing water vapor to pass through and not collect on the inside as condensation.

Best Applications


We would really 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.

Airing out sleeping bags after a night of testing this tent in the Bighorn Mountains of northern Wyoming.
Airing out sleeping bags after a night of testing this tent in the Bighorn Mountains of northern Wyoming.

Value


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.

Conclusion


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 in fact has many design flaws that make it less awesome than the tents we compared it to in this ultralight review.

The Solar Photon set up in a meadow in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming.
The Solar Photon set up in a meadow in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming.

Andy Wellman

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Most recent review: August 1, 2017
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
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