When I first heard of the MLD Trailstar four years ago, I was puzzled how long into the Autumn my new friend, Peter, could wild camp in one. We were hiking the Coniston Fells at the time in nasty Winter weather, three of the group pulled out early, down towards Levers Water. As we battled through the snow and my hands stung with the cold, he told me that he could go all Winter under the Mountain Laurel Designs tarp tent.

Sergeant Man Trailstar tarp tent wild camp
Sergeant Man Trailstar tarp tent wild camp

Next thing I buy will be a Trailstar.

I should start by explaining what the Trailstar is but first let me talk a little about using tarps for shelter.

Using a tarp for shelter

People have been sleeping under tarps for centuries. A sheet of any material will protect you from some weather, the sun at least. If that material is waterproof, you have a rather valuable piece of real estate.

We take so many things for granted these days, but if you spend any time in Africa or any third world country, you understand how precious an impervious canvas sheet is.

Tarp toggle hammock in the Forest of Bowland
Tarp toggle hammock in the Forest of Bowland

Rigging up a standard 3m x 3m tarp as a shelter is straight forward enough when you know a couple of knots, have some paracord and something to tie to. It’s also very satisfying when you do a good job, and it does what you intended it to do.

The problem with square tarps is that they are tricky to shape. That is, manipulate them so you can pin them to the ground and benefit from being sheltered from the wind or driving rain.

Wild camping in the Peak District Higher Shelf Stones
Wild camping in the Peak District Higher Shelf Stones

A ‘DD’ 3m x 3m tarp is a brilliant piece of kit, but even though I use one on probably half my camps, and always when hammock camping, they are a pain in the neck to make into a decent wild camping shelter by themselves. The main problem is getting the headroom.

What is the MLD Trailstar?

Tarp wild camp
Tarp wild camp on Scoat Fell

The MLD ‘Trailstar’ is a shaped tarp. It solves lots of problems that a square terp fails to. The shape means that it stands more like a pyramid with five corners pinned to the ground (most of the time 😉 and a middle, propped up by a hiking pole or stick, high enough to sit under comfortably.

Trailstar Shape & Construction

Mountain Laurel Designs have designed and pieced together the tarp to be a pentagonal shape.

Trailstar floor
MLD Trailstar floor

So, five triangular pieces make up the tarp tent. The pentagon’s corners are anchored down, and the point in the middle where all five parts meet is the high spot, much like a wigwam.

Pitching the Trailstar

There are some great videos on Youtube showing how to erect the Trailstar. I pin down the back point of the tarp and the neighbouring corners, prop it up in the middle with my pole and pull the long line from the branded opening corner along my other pole, anchoring that line to the ground. Now I stake down the other two front loops.

Trailstar door
Trailstar door

That’s the basics. You’ll need to adjust here and there, have a play and depending on the weather decide how much play to give the pinned down lines.

It is as simple as that. With no zips or tent poles to work around, tension wise, there’s much less faffing around.

MLD Trailstar - Sergeant Man
MLD Trailstar – Sergeant Man wild camp

On a hot day, you want air passing through the whole setup to avoid condensation build-up, so you might give the lines a little slack and tension the tarp up using the pole in the centre.

In cold, windy weather you would peg the loops to the ground right up near the tarp itself and use a short extended walking pole in the centre to keep the whole thing low and aerodynamic. You don’t get as much headroom when it is blowing a hoolie, but as long as you’ve staked it down right, facing out of the wind, you know you’re safe.

How much is an MLD Trailstar?

Direct from Mountain Laurel Design you’ll get a Trailstar, made specifically for you for $230 (about £185), you can ask for individual specifications if you know what you want. However, it’ll take a while as MLD are in the States. Watch out for Customs tax when it comes into the UK, a friend of mine had to pay £45!

Coyote brown Trailstar
Coyote brown Trailstar

MLD don’t sell the Coyote Brown on the website anymore so you either get a second hand one or ask Rod to specifically make you one. I also have an Orange Citrus one. The Silnylon also comes in Gray or OD Green. Their Dyneema version comes in Camo or Green.

Your best bet is to look on eBay or the Outdoor Gear Exchange group on Facebook for a used one. I have two, and they both came used but in perfect condition.

Because there are no doors, zips, flaps or vents (it really is just a tarp), one could last forever if looked after.

Is a tarp better than a tent?

There’s something about being zipped up in a tent, out of the elements, that makes you feel safe. You are ‘out of the storm’. I get that. But, as I say in my Sleeping Warm blog, the only heat source in there is YOU. When you get in your sleeping bag and zip it up, you can be as snug as a bug.

Silnylon tarp
Silnylon tarp

The Dyneema version is a lot lighter but mine is Silnylon. As it’s coated in silicone on one side it will not let water through, so be careful you don’t snag it on something. The sides are always sloped so water doesn’t pool like on some tents.

Ventilation will eliminate (or at least drastically reduce) the condensation build-up, and that’s a great help in the cold.

There’s loads more space in the Trailstar. If you use an ‘inner’, which doubles as floor and bug net, you’ll have a living area and a sleeping space. Cooking in the living area, in which you can easily fit two people, you’ll be very comfortable, and the airflow will carry the toxic fumes away from the stove.

Trailstar door
Trailstar door (or lack of one)

Then the sleeping space gives you a little sense of security, but with the open doorway or the tarp giving you possibly the best views you’ll ever have while wild camping.

Trailstar weight

MLD’s web site says that a new Silnylon Trialstar is 453g while the Dyneema version is only 311g.

My orange citrus Silnylon Trailstar is 500g. It’s a few years old. I’ve replaced the guy lines with 2mm Dyneema which is strong as hell, and as it’s plastic, when you cut it and seal it with a lighter, it won’t fray.

Any idea or questions please comment below.

Have fun.

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