Homer's Travels: A Tent Comparison: The Tarptent Notch Versus The Tarptent Rainbow

Friday, October 14, 2016

A Tent Comparison: The Tarptent Notch Versus The Tarptent Rainbow

NOTE:  I was going to write this post over a week ago but lately life has been distracting.

Over the last few years I have looked for a tent to take on the Appalachian Trail (AT).  I have tried two tents and I think I have the one I will take.  Here are the tents that I tried:

The Tarptent Notch.
The Notch

A few years back (Christmas 2013) I purchased the Tarptent Notch.  I used this tent for eight overnight camps, seven days during RAGBRAI, and for my five day camp at Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP).  The tent did a great job.  I fully expected that this would be the tent that I would use on the AT.

The Notch is a small one man tent (the tent weighs 27 oz [0.77 kg]) that pitches using trekking poles.  The tent and attached fly has two entrances, and two vestibules, that allow easy access to the interior and, with both doors open, allows ample ventilation.  I usually used one entrance and stored my backpack and gear in the vestibule of the other entrance.  This meant I had a clear path in and out the tent.

The Notch pitches easily taking only a couple of minutes assuming no hard wind.  The tent is pitched using two trekking poles and four tent stakes.  The tent can not be pitched freestanding, i.e. tent stakes are required.  I did pitch it once on a wooden platform but I used screw in cup hooks instead of stakes.  Pitching it on a rock surface would be difficult at best and, more likely, impossible.

The interior of the Notch is fairly cozy but I could easily sit up in the middle of the tent.  The bathtub floor provides protection from running surface water.  The tent seams are not sealed at the factory.  I sealed the seams using a silicone- mineral spirit mixture.  This resulted in me staying dry the few times that it rained during my camping trips.  There was one time when some rain came in through vents at the peak of the tent but I think this was a fluke - I hadn't pitched the tent on a level surface.

During my last camp at RMNP I noticed small holes had developed in the interior tent screen.  This could allow small insects to get into the interior of the tent.

The Tarptent Rainbow.
The Rainbow

As I considered my tenting needs for the AT I realized that I would need a tent that was capable of being pitched free standing (i.e. without tent stakes).  Also, the small holes in the Notch's screen showed that the tent had suffered some minor wear and tear.  My choice for a replacement was the Tarptent Rainbow.

The Rainbow is also a one man tent.  It weighs more than the Notch coming in at 36 oz (1.02 kg).  The tent has a bathtub floor and only one entrance and vestibule.  The vestibule is a bit tight but, having said this, the interior tent is much larger that the Notch and you could easily store your gear in the tent and still have enough floor space to sleep.  You could probably fit two people in the tent (without gear).  It would be a snug fit so you would have to be fond of your tent mate.

The Rainbow pitches using a long, collapsable pole and a minimum of four tent stakes (six tent stakes work better though).  The pole adds some weight so I purchased the carbon fiber pole to keep this weight to a minimum.  The four main stakes (two at each end) can be replaced with trekking poles.  When trekking poles are used the tent becomes freestanding.  This allows you to pitch the tent onto any solid flat surface.

The Rainbow does not pitch as fast as the Notch.  The main pole, 146 inches (3.7 m) long, is threaded through a sleeve that runs the length of the tent.  Threading the pole through the sleeve is not hard but you have to push the pole through.  Pulling the pole does not work since it is divided into nine sections connected together by bungee cord.  Pulling the pole simply makes the sections pull apart and before you know it you are only stretching bungee.

My AT Pick

Both tents have pros and cons.  The Notch is lighter, has better ventilation, and packs smaller.  The notch is roomier and can be pitched free standing.  I think, in the case of my upcoming hike up the AT, the ability to be pitched freestanding trumps the Notch's pros.


  1. The Tarptent Notch is really something. I've never seen a lot of tents that can be pitched using trekking poles. I think this is suitable alternative use for these poles when I'm not using them. For backpackers like me, trekking poles provide the support and balance that I need when walking in any surface terrain. If you need need poles or thinking of getting a pair (yup, get a pair and not just one) read the informative reviews on this site http://backpackingmastery.com/top-picks/best-hiking-poles.html

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