Six Moon Designs – Deschutes Plus review

I’ve had several questions about this tarptent – so here’s a review of what I think of it. When I researched before buying this I couldn’t find a lot of useful info, so hopefully some of this will be of interest if you’re considering this shelter.

It’s a single skin, ultralight, tent shaped tarp with some excellent features. I tend to use this where I need minimal but reliable shelter and I’m not expecting to be in exposed or windy conditions. It packs down really small and all up weighs only 665 gms. This for me was one of the biggest benefits. If you want to go lighter there may be a few options available, but I think you’d be in Cuben/Dyneema fabric territory, which are usually fiendishly expensive, aren’;t they? The Deschutes Plus is currently available for $185, plus pole and pegs/stakes.

The 665g total weight breaks down as: Fly 495g inc stuffsack, carbon pole 51g, pegs 119g inc stuffsack. I’ve not made any special effort to use lighter pegs, though I did buy the carbon pole which saved 39 gms… I added 2 guys to the attachment points provided so the weight includes this along with the pegs needed. Full details below…

Here’s the link to Six Moon Designs – so read up here for what they are saying about their product: https://www.sixmoondesigns.com/collections/tarps/products/deschutes-plus

Fully open, I tend to keep one side of the full door closed usually
Slightly inaccurate! At 6′ my sleeping bag is nearly touching both ends and sometimes does.

Pros:

Packs down very small. Good floor space. Reasonable sitting height. Well made. Mesh skirt to provide some insect protection. High spec fabrics will continue to be durable and weatherproof. Quick set-up. Really neat, minimal and pleasingly functional.

Cons:

Set up has quirks. Condensation (I live in the UK: humidity can be high). Not designed for a tight-as-a-drum pitch so flaps even in light wind. I wouldn’t use at all in high winds or exposed sites.

Review:

I should say straightaway that I love this shelter. When thinking of purchase it seemed reasonably priced to me (I bought it direct from USA), it works very well for a lot of conditions and I really enjoy using it. If you’re looking for a superlight set-up this is definitely worth considering. So, let’s tackle the less favourable issues first:

It may well be user-error… but I struggled a bit at first to get this set up correctly. I think the reason for this is my preference for setting up (mountain) tents or tarps to be as tight as possible: rain then bounces off ’em and the wind goes round. With the Deschutes Plus this doesn’t seem to be that possible. After the first couple of pitches I realised you need to stake out the first few pegs with a lot of slack in the system, otherwise you’ll end up with the tarp too close to the ground,  which obviously reduces all the internal space. To be fair it does hint at this in the enclosed instructions, but it wasn’t that clear to me.

So once I’d sussed this I realised it’s possible to set up with the tarptent basically “hovering” above the ground, with the gap below filled by the mesh skirt – more on this in a min. But the problem is then that you cannot cinch  the shelter down as tight as I’m used to so that it doesn’t flap in breezes. The cinch adjusters on each peg position allow you to tighten it down, but the single pole then bends alarmingly and the canopy still has looser sections, whichever way I’ve tried it. So the result is a (generally workable) compromise.

Of course we know all single skin tents will suffer from condensation in some conditions. In the UK I generally get a lot of it. Perhaps I’m a heavy breather and pump out a lot of moisture vapour…! (I doubt it.) Wet sleeping bag, mind where you touch the tent, drips etc. To be quite honest… the first time I slept out in higher winds and driving rain I woke convinced the tent was leaking. There was a fine yet refreshing… spray of water on my face each time a buffet of wind hit the tent. In fact it was the wind driving the condensation off the inside of the canopy into a fine mist that successfully dampened everything in the tent.

The solution is to leave most of the door open overnight – assuming you’ve got it pitched correctly away from the prevailing wind. Or you could just live somewhere dryer… As mentioned above I usually have one side of the front closed and one open depending on wind conditions. One slightly strange detail is that you insert the base of the pole into a grommet on the mesh skirt to locate it. This works well, but there isn’t another grommet on the mesh on the other side of the main zip. I guess this doesn’t matter in practice, as the fully open pic above demonstrates. Talking of the main zip: there’s a knack to opening and closing it as it crosses from the relatively loose mesh inside to the tighter canopy itself. It’s a lightweight zip so I have to take care here to make sure I don’t bust it.

EDIT: Here’s a very helpful comment from another user responding to this review on Facebook: “If you can’t get the tarp pitched tightly you need to revisit how you’re doing it. Set all the guy lines to their max length, peg out the front two points either side of the door leaving plenty of slack. Peg out the back. Insert the pole and peg the front. At this point I adjust the two points to make the front snug and the rear to snug it up across. The pole should be vertical all round. Peg out the remaining two side points and the tarp should now nice and tight. The fabric will settle a little after an hour or so, I adjust by moving the pegs. The more you pull on the guy points for adjustment the shorter they become which lowers the fabric which means less air flow and more condensation. You can use some short sticks under the guy points to lift the tarp for better air flow.”

EDIT: He also comments: “(I have the Lunar Solo) which is identical but a tent not a tarp. The worst conditions I’ve used it was a night of very heavy rain, thunder, lightning and high winds at 11,000 feet in the Rockies. No problems at all.” Encouraging to hear.

The mesh “skirt” attached to the perimeter of the tent is pretty effective. Once you’ve got the pitch sussed the skirt should be under tension all around inside the tent, providing a reasonable level of protection against flying bugs (as long as the door is shut, of course). I put a lightweight groundsheet on top of this, anchored by various bits of luggage and gear in the corners. For sure, Scottish midges for example will get in anywhere and you’ll have company from any insects that were already living where you put down your groundsheet, but I think this feature is good and well-designed. 

Interior floor space is good. As I commented in the layout pic above I find at 6′ tall it’s quite tight from head to toe once I’m on a fairly high volume mat. I use a down bag and over a typical night it’s hard to avoid either the hood or footbox getting damp from touching one of the end walls.

Height at the apex is fine. The main issue I’ve had is with the canopy blowing inwards in wind. On this issue I’d be reluctant to use this anywhere but a reasonably sheltered pitch. Although Six Moon Designs say the Deschutes Plus “sheds winds under the harshest storms” in my opinion this seems an over-claim. You’d be in a flapping maelstrom inside and I’d be constantly concerned about the (otherwise excellent and superlight) carbon pole simply snapping. Maybe I have that wrong about the pole, or maybe the heavier aluminium pole option is sturdier, but whatever I don’t see this as a storm-proof shelter.

Bivvy heaven (view is from the back with sea breeze detail)

The optional guy-out points also are not where I’d have positioned them. After a couple of flappy nights I pressed these into service, but they seem to have a different purpose to guys on the type of mountain tents I’ve been used to. These seem to be here mainly to achieve more volume inside the structure rather stabilise it against wind. It could be that my misgivings on this are unreasonable: as a tight mountain tent may not be a fair comparison. I’m comparing this to 3-season tents, bytheway. But there it is.

Details I really like include: the prussik knot and clip on the main, front guy. It’s a really quick and effective way to get the front of the tent taut. Generally the speed of pitching is great too: a few peg placements, insert the pole and clip it to the front guy and you have your shelter. I also really like the silver colour. Although not camouflaged for stealth camping it is really nice to live inside on gloomy evenings and early mornings, being pleasingly translucent.

Conclusion

I’m really glad I bought this. It’s a great improvement on a regular tarp for no real extra weight penalty. Six Moon Designs generally have a great reputation and if this isn’t quite your ideal shelter have a look at some of their other options, they do a wide range of tents and tarps. Disclosure: nobody paid me to say this! Happy bivvying.

Advertisements

NC500-odd Day 10 the final run

Ready to roll. But earlier, breakfast…
Pre-packed muesli with dried milk and extra nuts, washed down with coffee in a bag, all served in the finest titanium…

Good morning. Possibly the last day and today’s target: as far towards Inverness as I can get. Wonder if the car is still there? Perhaps someone has let the tyres down/nicked it/got it towed away? We shall see. Later. Or tomorrow.

So after a luxurious breakfast… I’m off up the glen, climbing for what seems like hours to the watershed between valleys.

Nearly at the top

The watershed opens up into a vast landscape. This is now Flow Country. https://www.theflowcountry.org.uk/flow-facts/

The peat is on average as deep as a double decker bus, it formed since the last Ice Age, it keeps more carbon locked up than all the forests of Britain. Superficially it just looks like a very large expanse of almost nothing, but is in fact a thriving wildlife sanctuary and true, natural wilderness.

All good, but where is the famous Crask Inn? https://thecraskinn.com/

Ah, there it is! In the middle of nowhere/somewhere, a tiny oasis and a haven for campers, campervans, naturalists and walkers. And for cyclists looking for their Second Breakfast.

I loved the way the Inn just popped out of the landscape when I’d almost forgotten about ever finding it. And the warm welcome and hand-cooked food were pretty lovable too.

The run down to Lairg though was inhibited a tad by a cold headwind, but down I went and eventually, down I was.

Suddenly I was able to pick up speed. The B-road past the Falls of Shin was a particular highlight. Then it was on and on, past Bonar Bridge and a quick stop at Tain.

The original bridge was swept away in 1892. This one: 1970’s

Looks like I could get to Inverness today after all. There was a tailwind, it was flat, the sun was shining again. Then, stupidly, I swung onto the A9. Because it looked the most direct route. If you come this way don’t do this. I’d assumed a major road would have a reasonable shoulder for safe passage of bicycles. It didn’t. What it did have was really heavy traffic of all shapes and sizes, moving at speeds that seemed ridiculous after the last week or so of largely empty roads and largely courteous drivers.

Up onto the Black Isle was a particular lowlight. An endless, lorry-choked hill until eventually the bridge to the city appeared way below.

Still alive!

Mercifully the bridge had a cycle path away from the murderous traffic, but the massive sidewinds at this height made the whole operation feel perilous. Then it was wrangling with downtown traffic, stop lights, pedestrianised streets, wrong turns. Finally I spotted the castle, rolled in and took the obligatory blimey-I’ve-done-it photo…

And yes the car was still there. So I drove home. Stopping in Braemar to change out of riding kit and back into a civilian. The drive was 440 miles on 3 cups of coffee, home in the small hours next morning – just like in the old days…

But you know, just an amazing trip. Outstanding. Sooo lucky with the weather. So much to take pleasure in and be thankful for. Freedom and beauty and a lot of gear changing…

The tally was 978 and a bit kilometres, so I guess that’s the North Coast 611.

11,977 metres of climbing too. I also like that last stat in miles: I think it comes out as vertically up nearly 7 and a 1/2 miles. Lucky that it was back down again too…

NC500-odd Day 9

A day of fire and water.

First the water. Packed up early to be at the ferry “port” in good time. Port was a portacabin (locked), piles of fishing detritus and deserted.

When he arrived I got the ferry man talking: bit of a theme emerging here like Malcolm on Cape Wrath he’d taken over from his father who started this ferry route 42 years ago. Originally it was by speedboat – must have been an adventurous crossing – and he then had to carry passengers one-by-one ashore on his back.

Nothing happens. Then suddenly the boat hoofs into view, pulls up in a rush and disgorges a load of confused looking Chinese tourists. Then we’re off. Another private ferry crossing for me. I’m pretty sure my 20 quid didn’t cover the fuel bill…

Whoosh

Just a spectacular journey in the spray, on the deck in the morning sunlight. “A bit of a wee swell” had the boat tossing around and pitching, with big bangs as it hit oncoming waves. Too soon John O’Groats hove into view and we were docked back on the mainland coast.

So I got to J0G eventually. Did I cheat? Well, I cycled further… and anyway, today I head back West to Thurso and onwards so that will patch in the missing bit of the journey here. (The official NC500 would now take me down the East coast back to Inverness, but I’ve got other plans. More to follow…)

My private boat in the centre background…

Joy! The wind that was in my face the day before yesterday was now mainly at my back, so the delights of a wind-assisted ride helped the miles pass pretty smoothly on the way back to Thurso. Terra incognito for awhile, the repetition of the route happens later.

Passed Dunnet Head. Did I take the several mile there-and-back detour to reach the most northerly point of the UK mainland? No I didn’t.

So that was the water. Next, the fire.

The hill-fire at Melvich was worse. Apparently the emergency services were battling to save a big nature reserve further inland. I’m flagged down by an over-excited cyclist who’d just rode through. “The road’s still open, but they’re going to close it! The smoke’s really thick! You’ll need one of these!” (gesturing at Buff wrapped around his face).

Not very impressive photo of what turned out to be a Lot of smoke…

Traffic was being held up to form escorted convoys. The controller guy let me through. It was a really unusual experience entering the smoke: banners of shadow scrolling past on the road in front of me, the sun winking on and off, and then into the first of the thick patches. It’s what the word “acrid” was invented for: bitter, throat-catching, eyes streaming. Small flames licked at the edge of the road, great wodges of yellow smoke blotting out almost everything. (No photos though. For obvious reasons…)

As it’s impossible to hold your breath forever it was lucky that the thickest smoke came at intervals. I think I counted 5 intense bits.

And then I was out into what felt like a dim, overcast day until, eventually, the smoke thinned out enough for the sun to take back control of the blue skies.

Later, much later

My planned variation to the North Coast 500 official route was this: to avoid the East coast run back to Inverness, which is apparently quite featureless, exposed and lorry-ridden. Instead to head back West to Bettyhill and then onto the road South through Strathnaver to Altnaharra. Then, down to Lairg. This involved a bit of retracing of my previous route, but it promised a scenic journey through relatively unvisited glens.

And so it turned out. Bivvy for the night was on the shores of Loch Naver, in a fold in the ground on a stony beach out of the wind.

Just off the road, no passing traffic. Sundown…

NC500-odd Day 8

Et in Orkadia ego…

What a day. What a sightseeing day with a bit of cycling to get from point to point. And great weather again thrown in when needed most. Everything about this day just fell into place.

The prairies of Orkney

As I had only one day on Orkney this bit of the “odyssey” was confined to the main island. I had a ferry to catch tomorrow morning back to the UK mainland.

The landscape initially was not what I was expecting. I guess I had developed a view that because Orkney is so rich in neolithic and prehistoric sites the terrain would be wild upland in sympathetic resonance with this. But instead I found mile after mile of improved grassland, sectioned by endless barbed wire fences and herds of black beef cattle imprisoned within. They did look very well-kept, while everywhere the landscape was dotted with regular, watchful farmsteads.

Neolithic 1: up to Skara Brae. I’d read about this place years ago, but there were two stand out elements. i. what a setting – perched above a broad sand beach and a big wind coming off the north Atlantic. A storm here in the 19th century had uncovered the almost-intact dwellings of peoples from 5000 years ago, complete with their stone furniture and scattered artefacts. ii. a painstaking reconstruction of House 7, starring neolithic carvings on the entry to one of the stone-walled beds, worn away by the occupants getting in and out, and a small chamber off, maybe even an en suite…

My school education had it that the Stone Age was all about cave-dwelling, grunting and dragging spouses around by the hair. Wrong. The quality of the stone-work and the sophistication of these pre-metal belongings had it otherwise. These had to be knowledgeable and sophisticated people to farm, hunt, fish and survive here. But why were there two female skeletons found under the walls of House 7?

Neolithic 2: onwards to the Ring of Brodgar. Expansive standing stone circle perched on a natural causeway between two freshwater lakes, ringed by low hills. Other stone circles and marker stones dotted around what clearly had been a very significant landscape.

I think that’s a neolithic croquet hoop behind the big stone…

The stones came from 5-7 miles away. There’s usually nearly as much rock under the ground as above. It’s thought they were moved on a bed of wet seaweed… The whole circle enclosed by a bank and a ditch dug into solid rock…

Neolithic 3: the apotheosis, Maeshowe. So lucky to blag myself onto the coach that ferries the people who’ve booked sometimes weeks in advance – up to the howe itself. It ain’t a burial mound. It’s aligned with the midwinter solstice so the sun shines into the chamber itself. It’s ringed by a large earthwork – to keep people out presumably and to mark how special this place was. Ceremonies of death and rebirth, most likely; disarticulated bones found in some of the niches; burial platforms found nearby – with scattered fingers and toes that have dropped off, the howe mainly featuring long bones and skulls. The analogy is that of the typical Christian cathedral, it wasn’t built to bury people in, it’s just that some believers wanted to be interred in such a sacred place.

You crawl in through a long stone tunnel to emerge in a central chamber with standing stones guarding each corner.

Maeshowe is also famous for the amount of “Viking” graffiti. Certainly Norsemen broke in looking for treasure. Finding none they scratched runes on the walls. Iron Age versions of “I was here”, “I really fancy so-and-so”, “Haha we found the treasure already”. My favourite was high on the corbelled roof, which must have required the scratcher to stand on his mate’s shoulders. It reads: “I have carved this really high up.”

So, prehistoric and mystical site overload took me to Kirkwall which was very well-to-do and provided nice coffee in the sunshine. A tap on the shoulder and there’s Bob from the ferry. Another quiet greeting and there’s the friendly Belgian I met at a viewpoint days ago in Torridon. Small worlds. The two of them the sum total of everyone I know in Kirkwall that day.

Which one is the Belgian and which one is the American…???

It goes on. Over the Churchill barricades that link the southern islands and keep the U-boats out, then a quick visit to the Italian Chapel – all that’s left of a POW camp housing the fellows who built the barricades, and onward to find a bivvy spot for the night, close to morning ferry “port”.

It’s a Nissan hut
Handpainted trompe d’oeil devotion

Heading further South now, into the evening and over the rolling hills of Orkney. Where to bivvy? Everywhere there are barbed wire fences, wide open landscapes, sentinel farms and tractor activity.

Fast running out of land.

Over the last hill and the coast below coming into sight. A ruined farm. Hide round the back. Cook supper as the sun goes down and pitch camp once the tractor noises have died away and the light has faded.

Tomorrow, down to the sea and hopefully the passenger ferry back to John O’Groats. Now, sleep.

Tomorrow’s ferry should be just behind the church down there…
Chez moi. Any ghosts?

NC500-odd The Cuckoo

A digression. Jottings from my Trip Notes.

“The cuckoo she’s a pretty bird, she sings as she flies, She brings us glad tidings and tells us no lies. She sucks the sweet flowers to make her voice clear, And the more she cries cuckoo, the summer comes near.”

Cuckoo 1: Ah, but you never see them do you? Harbinger of summer, strange migrant visitor. Recluse. Hidden among the lush summer leaves. I saw one today! In fact you hear them for miles – everywhere. Almost every time I’ve stopped and made camp there’s been one banging away. And on almost every hill there’s that sarcastic call, pointing out how bonkers you are to be grinding up that climb. Cuckoo. Cuckoo. Anyway, in the absence of any trees this one was perched on a power line pole, in plain view of the whole world. They’re quite a big bird actually. This one paused for a second as I (slowly) drew near, but in an instant went back to its usual, incessant racket.

Cuckoo 2: Do they never stop?? Woken by a cuckoo at 2.37am. Ok fair enough there was a faint bit of light. Perhaps all these cuckoos I hear on every climb is in fact just one – the same one. Perhaps it’s journeying through the North too…

Cuckoo 3: I saw two today! Together, on the wing. A slightly hawk-like aspect – for a second I thought “sparrowhawks?” – but no, that idiotic refrain gives them away every time. Never seen two before…

Cuckoo 4: Cuckoo Watch Update. I saw another two today… This is becoming a bit tedious… Perhaps it’s normal up here in the wilds of Sutherland? Perhaps it’s a Thing and not at all remarkable. These two were on the wing, cruising from power pole to pole. Didn’t stop banging on for a second. If you’re a cuckoo, head for North Scotland – there’s a party going on.

“Oh, meeting is a pleasure and parting is a grief, An unconstant lover is worse than a thief. A thief can but rob you and take all you have, But an unconstant lover will bring you to your grave”

NC500-odd Day 7

A great thing about camping at hostels is you can use the hostel for everything but sleeping. The Kyle of Tongue is just about the perfect hostel – warm welcome, well-stocked shop, hot showers, wifi, comfortable lounge, dining room with a view. Or it would have been but a hill-fire up the road had taken out the phone mast and the power. Still, the warm welcome remained and there was enough tepid water left in the system for a shower and kit-wash.

Up, packed and on the road early again today.

Good morning

The plan was for a short day – almost a rest day – with a bit of riding and another boat later (more on that to come). But it didn’t work out like that.

Once past Ben Loyal the terrain flattened out and became more monotonous – certainly compared to the last few days’ extravaganza of scenery. The riding though was tough. Good country for wind turbines round here. The relentless Easterly wind full in my face and the short day turning into more of a battle.

A welcome break from the labour was the approach to the hill-fire above Melvich. Fire tenders had been going back and forth since dawn and getting closer I could see why. The power and phone signal were back on at the hostel earlier, but as I approached the scene the scale of the blaze became more obvious. The road had been closed yesterday, Luckily today the Easterly combined with a bit of sea breeze was blowing the smoke up and away.

Smoke ahead
5000 acres were ablaze to the South

Fire engines continued their shuttling back and forth, a helicopter was dropping gouts of water inland. Beaters in fireproof overalls gathered in knots, drinking tea.

On I went and eventually into Thurso. The sort of place that has that battered end-of-the-line feel about it and feels like it is partly populated by refugees who – on the run from something big – had got as far as they could and then stayed forever, washed up.

Sam at The Bike Shop fitted two new bottle cages for me (I could have done it, but he insisted!). Nice – and nice to have bottles in their Proper Place rather than lashed to various bits of the bike. Thanks Sam!

Down to Scrabster to wait for the Orkney ferry in the sunshine – and out of the wind. A good experience, modern ferry, courteous handling staff (quickly but carefully securing bikes on the car deck). Dinner onboard enlivened by a big chat with Bob, a cyclist from USA, who is clearly a fan of Scotland and actually high-fived me for riding the Bealach Na Ba…!

Au revoir, mainland

And then in under two hours into Stromness, in late evening but before the Coop closed. I’d decided to book a hostel as arriving then it would be easier than finding a bivvy, and the sole campsite didn’t sound that promising. Strange to be inside and in a bed…

5 star bicycle accommodation…
Seem to be in the 17th century?

NC500-odd Day 6

Waiting for the boat. Into the unknown

As well as a pub on site (captive audience so an average experience) the Durness campsite has the sensible benefit of a breakfast bar – so some hot food later I rolled down to the ferry for the first crossing at 9.00am. Foot passengers milled around as well as two genial cyclists with mountain bikes (sensible, it turns out).

Onto the second boat – Malcolm the boatman had taken over the ferry crossing from his retired father and plies his way back and forth to the peninsula – up the jetty, a bit of steep cobbled road and into The Parph…

Three MTBers appear off the peninsula, kitted up and looking every inch like they know what they’re doing. Wait, was that Lee Craigie? It was. “Ah yes, she’s often up here.”

A whole lot of nothing on the way to the edge of the world
Guard house for the firing range

A trashed track. A broken road. Winding its way across the emptiness of The Parph on its way to the lighthouse. Which seemed to not appear for a looong time. Within a mile I’d broken my second bottle cage and lost a bottle.

Its 11 miles To The Lighthouse, but it took me over an hour and a half as I nursed the bike over the bombed out and storm-bashed road, fearful for my tyres and spokes. MTBs were definitely a good option if you were in a hurry…

It was a genuine buzz when the lighthouse and the edge of the known world sprang into view round the last bend. And the Ozone Cafe was a great experience, filter coffee and a freshly made sandwich in the sunshine. Eccentric too, looks like the cafe owner lives up here on the edge, out the back.

The foot passengers from the ferries earlier had been scooped up in minibuses that live on the peninsula and then bounced up here on the road to ruin. After the latest batch had left there was an interval of peace and nothingness, except for the wind as I had the place to myself.

Overall it was slightly more downhill back. Dancing around every stone and hole on the track and I was back, phoned Malcolm and my own private Beulah ferry puttered across to take me back. Just a great diversion from the main route and felt like a little “mini adventure” all in itself. (And found the lost bottle on the way back too, so all good.)

Westwards to Tongue. The skies occluding in a haze of cloud. And easy riding until The Moine rears up – the headland you have to winch yourself over to get to the next bay. But an amazing meteorological event once I was up on the top: the cloud rolling away exactly as if someone was snatching a curtain aside, the deepest blue skies appearing behind and the whole world lit up in late afternoon, golden light.

It was a lot more amazing in real life… Open the curtains!

And then to top this off for a grateful cyclist a 6km descent hurtling down and down, over the bridge at Tongue and to my stop for the night to camp at Kyle of Tongue Hostel – conveniently just over the bridge, almost before I had to push a pedal again.

The Fellowship of Cape Wrath eh? Amazing day…