Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1 Review

Terra Nova upped the ante again, The World’s Lightest Tent record went from one of their tents to another. Using new fabrics, an evolution of their successful Laser design and big slice of bravado, it’s the Laser Ultra 1.

A few basics first. The dimensions are the same as the Laser Photon 1, a tent that I’m very familiar with. This means that internal space is pretty good depending on your height, at whisper under six feet it does fine for me, the width is good as the shape bows out in the middle letting you move around and get a lot of gear inside.
The general layout is the same too, it’s the fabric that’s big thing. This is a good call, a trusted design to try out the new material.

The first time I pitched the Ultra was on frozen snow. I really didn’t know what to expect, but the familiar method I use for pitching any Laser worked as well as ever, better I should say. The flysheet pitches differently to a Photon or Comp, the fabric has an inbuilt tension of sorts, which kind of translates into a shape-memory, it just wants to pitch well and consequently the Ultra goes up and tensions quick using the internal and external adjusters.
The fabric is Terra Nova’s “Ultra” fabric, although folk are saying it’s Cuben fiber, it’s a development of that. The 3000mm hydrostatic head it comes with is absolutely fine for the UK and that thin crinkly appearance doesn’t match either the soft feel or the surprising quietness the fabric has, even in the wind it lacks the “Laser wind rip” that I’m so used to.

The single pole is a thin and light affair made in Scandium Alloy, same as my full-sus mountain bike frame so I’m happy with that from my experience of torturing the bike without issue. The poles at the ends are carbon and here they fold in half which makes for easy packing, indeed the main poles fold very short as well. The days of awkward tent poles strapped to the outside of a pack seem very distant.
Ventilation is via the half-mesh inner door and the adjustable end panels. These are great, the flysheet can be pulled up and fixed open so that the little internal mesh panels effectively open onto the outside world, it really adds to the fresh are throughput. It does help with condensation as your damp breath and night vapours (?!) can slip away, but temperature changes and the smallness of the interior will mean some dampness at times. I’ve had both frozen rain falling from the inner when I sat up in the morning and a completely dry tent too.

The guying has the regular layout, doubling-up the inner and outer with short bungees and guys with extra guylines at each end and at the centre. These days we have decent reflective guyline and the brilliant Camcleat adjusters, those who remember the original washing line and cub scout adjusters of the Laserlite will be glad.
The guys that secure the centre pole can be attached to the tent itself or the optional pole cover. I haven’t fitted optional the pole cover which I normally do and it’s been fine so far without it. The pole cover weighs 58g in its pouch which is nothing, and if I wash sure of minging weather I’d fit it.
While we’re on weight, the daft 1g titanium pegs weight 20g in their bag, but I’ve never used these ones. They do work fine on grassy pitches, but these days I carry a mixture of titanium nails and aluminium Y-pegs with every tent I use, dependable and they have cords attached which makes my fingers glad every time I break camp.

The most important weight is 576g. That’s the tent and the poles together in their stuffsacks. Not a lot is it? The whole tent is tiny when it’s ready to pack, you can get it into the lid of a lot or rucksacks.
But there’s still space to live, as I said above the internal space is fine, in fact it’s better than the identically sized photon as it’s lighter inside due to the see-through Ultra fabric giving no sensation of being cramped at all. The same feature brings some other odd stuff, you can see the moon and stars through the tent, and the I saw the shape of the raven that stalks me through the Highlands clear as day when it passed low overhead.
The porch is smaller than the Lasercomp, to keep your pack completely inside you have to sit it on its side, but there’s still plenty of room to have all your gear accessible and to keep the door clear for getting in and out. Talking of the door, the double-ended outer zip is such a good idea on a laser, it lets the steam out and stops the cold coming in.

I’ve had the Ultra in the wind and it seems quite happy. The Laser design flexes away quite happily even when the pace gets up, but like I said above, the Ultra fabric seems to react a little differently. It’s a different fabric so I know that’s kinda stating the obvious, but as a long-time Laser user it does has a different feel and a softer sound, it’s not often I’ll sleep though high winds in Laser.
That Ultra fabric makes up the floor too, and that’s very odd when you’re not expecting it, I thought the floor was missing at first. Terra Nova must think the fabric’s tough enough for the wear it’ll get here, and it definitely seems less slippy than some, sleepmats have been staying put.

The technical and practical are one thing, but a tent has a sole function and that’s to serve as a shelter in the outdoors.
The Ultra is a fantastic shelter. It has simplicity, a usability and a comfort that defies it’s weight and pack size. The Ultra fabric is light and strong, but a revelation has been the airiness it brings to the tent. Just by allowing more light inside it changes the character of the tent, making the Ultra more pleasant for sitting out a storm or spending continuous nights inside on a longer trip, quite apart from the fact you’d be carrying less than 600g of tent with you. Maybe there’s a case for making the Photon’s flysheet yellow.
The weight and the tiny packsize make the Ultra a killer lightweight or fast and light shelter, but it’s more than that, it doesn’t feel compromised to hit it’s targets, it’s still a proper tent and that’s how I approached it. 

£650? That’s what it costs, whether any of us can afford it or not isn’t going to change just how light or how much damned fun this tent is to use.

78 thoughts on “Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1 Review

  1. Nice review, Pete. You say the HH as 3000. That what TN told you to say? I got told it’s a lot more than that in reality.

    What impressed me more than anything else about the tent (OK bar the weight and how small it packs down) was the strength of the fabric.

    I reckon there’s some real durability to it. Heavens! More than the usual fabrics out there.

    Hopefully, they’ll start doing more shelters with this fabric and the cost will consequently decrease considerably.

  2. Got to go with the official figures for everything but weight because I can check that, but aye, I’m not worried about uetting wet in the Ultra

    I’ve had it pitched on bare rock and it’s looking good, like you say I hope the Ultra fabric edges sideways through the range so we can all access it, it’s just brilliant.

  3. Does the fabric feel like Páramo? And does it act the same in the wind – quietly and not like a crisp packet?

    >The porch is smaller than the Lasercomp
    Is the groundsheet larger then? Or is the overall tent smaller?

  4. Sounds good, but for the price tag it should be ! Not sure the 200- 400g saved over other UL tents is really worth an extra £250-300.
    Perhaps over time this price will drop.
    Interesting your comments on the fabric and how it behaves in strong winds.

  5. “Maybe there’s a case for making the Photon’s flysheet yellow.”

    I’ve been wishing for a while now that Terra Nova would make me a new flysheet for my comp in that eyewateringly bright fabrick they made their laser packs from…with a two way zip. A retro fit fly with the Ultra material and a two way zip would go down even better though!

    Even in my (relative and fast escaping) youth I can remember when we all dreamt over tents finally weighing less than a Kilo. This thing just sounds bomkers.

  6. having seen one pitched properly now (the local cotswold outdoor had one set up for display purposes already), rather than pitched in the “he only wants a look why do it properly” approach I am planning on getting one!

  7. aembleton, it’s the same length as the Photon and the Comp, but both the Ultra and the Photon are a bit lower and narrower than the Comp, especially the porch which is about half the width I think.
    The fabric’s hard to describe, not Paramo, maye more like ultrathin showercurtain?!

  8. markswalkingblog, I’m sure the if they use the fabric through the range the price will come down, I’m worried that rising production costs will come up to meet it though.
    Tents prices are going to keep rising, I’ve got a £560 Hilleberg on test!
    The Ultra is half the weight on a Lasercomp, but is it twice is good? I’m working on that thought?!

  9. MeanderingLight, the simplicity and the airy feeling really do make adifference to the experience, it’s a great tent to spend time in. Small tents really should be made in lighter coloured fabrics, I can’t go back to dark green!

  10. BBF, we should do an email petition for gaily coloured replacement flysheets.
    The bummer is that 90% of tents sold are dark green, what’s wrong with you people?!

  11. > what’s wrong with you people?!

    A little more discretion is required when wild camping south of the border, so the lovely orange MSRs and red Terra Novas ones aren’t always such a good idea :-(

    However, I bit the bullet and got a Scarp, which is a sort of light grey, and it makes my old Vango feel like a crypt by comparison. Light – comfortable and spacious. Oh sh*t, I’m sounding like an estate agent…

  12. I so wish Terra Nova would make a tent of this material in the design of the Laser Comp. but perhaps just 10% bigger all round at say under 750g

    100cm for headroom and a perfect porch size together with a 25% reduction in weight, I’d find the overdraft to buy one tomorrow :)

  13. “I so wish Terra Nova would make a tent of this material in the design of the Laser Comp. but perhaps just 10% bigger all round at say under 750g

    100cm for headroom and a perfect porch size together with a 25% reduction in weight, I’d find the overdraft to buy one tomorrow :)”

    Bang on – I’d buy one too (you’d only need to put aside £10 a week for a couple of years).

    Oh, and why don’t Terra Nova just get real and officially add 100g to the weight and provide a set of proper pegs (thus better serving the 95% of laser comp/photon users who replace the 2g pegs with someting sensible)

  14. My Laser Competition still puts a smile on my face everytime I pick it up and everytime I pitch it. I can’t imagine a tent half that weight. It still impresses me how light and strong it is.

    Mind you, I’d only had eurohikes before that.

  15. I’ve heard the tales of folk wild camping getting accosted by rangers in the Peak Roddy. Not fair.

    MeanderingLight, I wonder just how much that would cost?
    I had 100cm headroom in my tent last week, felt odd.

    Markswalkingblog, it nice to test something that otherwise I’d just be kicking its tyres on the forecourt :o)

    DavidG, the pegs? I’ve figured it out, it’s because race mid-camps are always in fields or decent grassy areas, perfect for the wee pegs. Still, they could knock a few quid off and just ship the tents without pegs for regular folk to do it themselves!

    aembleton, I’ve always said the Laserlite/comp was freedom in a stuffsack. That original tent changed my life.

    Eurohike tents? Possibly coming soon…

  16. That looks like such a nuts tent. I’m not sure how much more we’ll see tent weights drop though, in the near future at least. Material can only get so light. And we’ve probably hit the weight limit for practical pegs. The same goes for poles too.

  17. Mmmm, looks like I need another tent!!
    I am glad now that I resisted the temptation to buy the old Photon Elite before they revamped the range.
    How is the Ultra inside with a fat winter mat? Did your head/sleeping bag hood touch the inner tent?
    Looks like the Scarp might be going to finance the purchase!!

  18. Loks the biz and some useful changes across the Laser range AFAIK (2 piece end strut for example)

    Not a particular fan of the Laser (not tried a Comp) but have to admit that it’s very difficult to beat having tried the direct competition which I liked less.

  19. Am I the only person who uses a ‘normal’ Laser and wonders how anyone can get themselves and kit inside anything smaller?

    Looks good though! Might have to wait for a sale!

  20. northernfall, is hard to see how much lighter you could go and still have something you couild get a person inside. Mind you, the inner on the Ultra could probably be a little lighter, it’s full fabric, what would a mesh inner weigh I wonder?

    Steady Eddie, same as the photon, my had touches the apex sitting on a fat mat, but lying down there’s plenty of room at head and toe.
    I’ve just learned to adopt a more pronounced slouch when I’m cooking :o)

    R MacE, the closest I’ve used are the Vaude equivalents, (the Power Tokee is coming soon), but as well made and as good as they are, they’re just a little more fiddly than the Terra Nova’s.
    After doing all the tents for Trail there’s a huge gap between Terra Nova, Vaude and everyone else when it comes to the weight versus usability ratio. Mind you, the MSR’s currently on test are brilliant.

  21. Roughyed, easy with a little practice.
    The biggest surprise I’ve had was when I got my Radical Design Wheelie (essentially a wheelbarrow with long handles, or even a rickshaw) in the porch of the Lasercomp.
    Always plenty of room for snacks in my tents :o)

  22. Interesting review, and this tent is really tempting but I think I would feel kind of guilty spending that pile of money on a UL 1-person tent.

    I am looking for a light 1 person tent, though, and had my eye on the Power Tokee; your mention of them Vaudes being more “fiddly” than the Terra Novas makes me second guess. Would you mind elaborating on that or do we have to wait for your full review? :-)

    I read your review of the Power Tokee on the livefortheoutdoors site, and although it was quite short (for space constraints, I suppose) you seemed to like it, of course not as much as the Laser but having followed you for a few years I was expecting that (I mean the Laser winning) :p

    The thing is I have found a good deal on a Power Tokee (30% discount, less than 270 EUR), much less expensive than any Laser… I already have a few tents, this is for a very specific purpose, so not breaking the bank is a plus, but on the other hand I prefer to make the right choice at first try.

    I’d really appreciate your thoughts on this :-)

  23. Thanks Ant. I haven’t found such a deal but even if I did I’d have to add about 40 GBP for delivery. I am from Spain and UK online shops usually charge me that much (or around that) even when they have free delivery for the UK.

    At the current exchange rate even a 200 GBP last year’s Comp would be a little more expensive than the Vaude…

    Anyway, as I said money is not the only factor (not even the most important), the Power Tokee looks fine to me, but I haven’t seen one “in the flesh”, that’s why I’m so interested in Pete’s opinion.

    As a side note, here in Spain we’re far behind in a lightweight culture and these items are hard to find locally. When I do find them in local shops (even online local shops) I like to encourage that “risk” they’re taking by buying from them if I can.


  24. Full review of the Power Tokee over the summer!

    I do like it, it’s a very nice tent, and although the basic form is the same as the Laser, centre pole, rods at the end, side door etc, they’re very different in every other way.
    The Vaude has clips for an external pole which are fiddly with gloves or cold hands, the guying at the ends is faffy and takes a while to get it sitting right, the separate guys here on the Lasers works better, is quicker and more adaptable. That along with the small porch area is what lost it ground against the Photon in the Trail review.
    Those two tents were miles ahead of the rest.

    But, the guys can be easily changed and like all the Vaude tents I’ve used it’s beautifully made from top quality materilas and components.
    The Power Tokee isn’t second best if that’s what you buy.

  25. I guess the Photon Ultra is the clear winner in the “smallest and lightest tent that you can get away with which still provides great weather shedding if you don’t mind it being a bit cramped and a bit fiddly to pitch” category, while MSRs are best in the “stable, easy to pitch and lots of space, if you don’t mind a few hundered extra grams and an inner pitch first” category

    The akto is probably the winner in the “reliable and weather proof bomber design that hasn’t changed in decades, although its now a wee bit heavier than it needs to be and is a little short of headroom too” category.

    The best tent is the one that ticks most boxes for the buyer – knowing which boxes are important will ultimately down to experience and personal preference (or failing that, whatever is Best Buy in tgo or Trail :-) )

  26. I excuse myself that as it’s four years old and way past being test kit.

    And it’s red :o)

    I really want to do a meet and pitch all the Lasers together you know. I think from a little distance it would look like a bunch of beetles in velvet jackets that you’d just discovered under a rock.

  27. “The Power Tokee isn’t second best if that’s what you buy”

    Probably due to the language barrier but I’m not sure I understand that one :-)

    I take it you don’t think it would be a mistake to buy the Power Tokee, so I think I’ll go for it. As someone else said it’s only money after all B-)

  28. Try a Mountain Marathon mid-camp – its Laser city. Seriously, look at the LAMM site photies. Its always easy to spot the folks who use theirs once a year though – they spend an hour pitching it and still looks like a wee green marquee.

    One question – how do the new folding carbon rods work – are they shock-corded like a folding alloy pole? I don’t see them on the T-N site as a spare yet but will be tempted to buy them when they come on as the carbon rods are the one thing that annoys me about the Laser / Laser Comp, when they stick out the end of your pack or panniers.

  29. Seen the shots of mid camps :o)

    I should have done a photie of the rods!
    They’re shockcorded with a little sleeve in the middle. Even if the cord breaks they’ll still slot together fine and hold when pitched, so it’s a good update.

  30. From an extensive/ongoing investigation on BPL, the question with the HH of cuben seems to be how well it lasts after a bit of folding/stuffing etc. Mostly not very well it seems although unclear if any real consequences from that.

    So if the HH on this stuff does hold up quite well after that it could be a non trivial development.

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