Review: MEC Spark UL 1+

In late spring I knew the summer of 2016 had the potential to be hot. I didn’t want to sweat through six canoe trips in my four-season TGV-2. So I started looking for a lightweight three-season that also wouldn’t take up a ton of space in my backpack once I got around to finally doing my solo overnights (still hasn’t happened yet but I will go on one before the end of the year, you have my word).

After some very brief research, I opted to give MEC’s Spark UL 1+ a go. I tested it out on three work canoe trips in Killarney and Temagami this summer. If you’re looking for a solo, three-season, ultralight tent, here are some things to know about the Spark UL 1+:

Features & Benefits:

First, the specs: at 1.164 kg (2.6lbs), the Spark UL 1+ certainly is a lightweight summer tent. It has one door and no windows. The tent is made of 15-denier nylon mesh. Its floor is waterproofed to 5,000 mm, above standard. The light grey fly is made of 30-denier polyester ripstop and is rated to 3,000 mm in its waterproofness.

At 2.235m (~7.3ft) long and 0.95m (3.1ft) wide, the Spark UL 1+ is a freestanding, utilitarian shelter for someone who is looking to save weight but wants something more than a bivy sack. At an interior peak height of 0.94m (3ft) tall, I cannot kneel in the tent comfortably. I am 5’4″. I can sit fairly easily though. After three trips I’m still working through what my nighttime and morning routines are with this tent, given what I’m used to.

The Spark UL 1+ is a relatively inexpensive three-season solo tent at C$289. I bought its footprint for C$30 to protect the floor and as with my four-season tent’s footprint, would recommend doing so to anyone. I’ve saved the floor from pine sap, rocks, and twigs.

It is a fast and efficient one-pole system, with all the arms extending from a T at the top of the tent. It took me a couple of attempts to set the tent up with the pole facing the right direction on my tent. There is a right and a wrong way, based on the number of clips on either end of the tent.

I particularly like the Jake’s feet that the fly attaches to that allow me to adjust the tension of my fly depending on how wet it is.

Problems & Possible Solutions:

It is a tight squeeze for me plus my gear. If you’re packing ultralightly, you likely aren’t carrying as much as I am as a guide on a canoe trip so this might not be a problem for you. The fly does create a small vestibule (0.6m² or 2ft²) where some gear could be left. If you carry a tarp with you, you could leave your gear beneath the tarp or a dry(ish) tree well. And I did manage to get my whole canoe pack in the tent with me on one particularly stormy night.

If you’re camping on rock in a rain storm (a very specific situation but one those of us camping on the Canadian Shield encounter regularly), I found rain bounced off the rock and into my tent. This is due to where the fly falls when pegged out well and how far up the tent floor comes up the wall. Be prepared to waterproof the foot of your sleeping bag with either your pack or a garbage bag during a heavy rain.

Who Should Buy the Spark UL 1+:

If you are a solo camper / backpacker / thru-hiker who loves being outdoors in the summer and are looking for an ultralight, three-season, reasonably-priced tent, MEC’s Spark UL 1+ is for you. The tent is currently out of stock but will be returning to the store in January 2017. MEC is a member-only co-op. $5 will get you a lifetime membership.

MEC Spark UL 1+

 

Other solo tent options (available in Canada): MSR Hubba NX, a variety from Eureka, and the North Face’s Storm Break.

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