This is a review of possibly the best one-person tent ever made: Tarptent’s updated and extremely lightweight Notch Li (2020 model).
You need to walk with poles to really gain the maximum benefits of the Notch Li tent. If you don’t walk with poles, this tent may well be a very good reason to start. Your walking poles are used as poles in the tent, meaning that the whole thing weighs only 554g (19.5oz).
I’m testing the tent to see how suitable it is for UK conditions. I’m interested to see how it compares with the impressive Tarptent StratoSpire Li two-person tent, which I also own and have previously reviewed. I purchased both of these tents with my own money, so my reviews are totally independent.
My reasons for purchasing the 2020 model Notch Li
For the last few years I’ve been using walking poles when hiking. This meant I could use tents that are supported with the walking poles, so I no longer needed to carry the weight of separate tent poles. I initially tried using a single walking pole pyramid tent, but I found it too small and unstable in high winds.
Then I found Tarptent, an American company who specialise in walking pole-supported tents. I first looked at the old model Notch, but quickly realised that it wouldn’t suit UK conditions very well. The top of the inner in this model was all mesh, so condensation dripping from the outer would be a problem in our climate.
I purchased Tarptent’s StratoSpire Li 2 person tent for my wife and I to use and we have both been very impressed with it. So when Tarptent updated the Notch Li, and I realised they had made all the changes that I’d previously written it off for, I had no choice but to order one.
I’ve been trying to find the perfect lightweight tent for years, one that’s suitable for long distance hiking, had enough room to sit out bad weather in relative comfort, could stand up to high winds and was fast to set up. The Notch Li has definitely been that tent.
The changes Tarptent made to the 2020 model Notch Li:
- Two way waterproof flysheet vestibule zips on both doors for strength and improve ventilation.
- Solid interior updated to add roof panels, making it even lighter than the old model’s mesh interior.
- Improvements in stitching, cutting, taping and bonding the materials.
Ordering and delivery
I placed my order for the Notch Li tent online through Tarptent’s very well made site and paid via PayPal. Tarptent estimated the total costs (exchange rate from US Dollars to UK Pounds) accurately and fairly.
The tent was sent via UPS US and then ParcelForce, who delivered it to me in the UK. ParcelForce sent me a letter informing me of the import duties that I would have to pay before they would deliver the parcel.
Instead of waiting for delivery, I went to my local ParcelForce depot, paid the charges and collected the tent. This meant it was a total of 21 days from order to collection. This is similar to the 20 days it took for the previous order from Tarptent and extremely impressive considering restrictions due to Covid-19 at the time.
The tent arrived well packaged and in perfect condition.
The Notch Li tent is extremely fast to set up. It only took a couple of minutes first time around. I fully expect to be able to pitch it in the one minute suggested by Tarptent after a little practice in my garden.
I like the design of the Notch Li. It’s similar in design to Tarptent’s StratoSpire Li but uses only four pegs rather than six and is a lot easier to pitch. This is because the inner of the Notch Li lines up more easily and runs straight between the two pitch-loc ends, rather than from corner to corner in the StratoSpire. It might be easier to see what I mean from the photograph of the StratoSpire below, as compared to the Notch Li above.
The StratoSpire is tricky to pitch when wild camping as it’s not easy to know exactly where the inner is going to end up. This is important when pitching on rough ground, as I am often trying to miss uneven ground or a bump in the grass. The smaller Notch Li has a big advantage here, as the inner is square with the pitch-loc ends. This makes it obvious where the inner is going to be on the ground once the tent is pitched.
I’m impressed with Tarptent for supplying proper pegs with the tent. The pegs are 6″ (150mm) long, light weight and very strong.
The tent is supplied with four pegs, which is good enough for a stable pitch. However, if you use the extra guy lines, you’ll need to add another two pegs.
Even with six pegs, it’s not going to weigh you down, and it’s not many for a tent of this size. Many tents I’ve used in the past have needed a lot more pegs and that adds to the overall pack weight. It’s no good buying a lightweight tent and then having to add a lot of pegs.
I carry some bigger pegs as well because I’ve found that if it’s windy and I’m pegging into soft wet ground, like we typically get in the UK and especially Scotland. I need to use a 9″ (230mm) long peg to be on the safe side. As the tent has so few pegging points, when it’s windy there’s a lot of pressure on each peg. I’ve even had one of those drag in reasonably firm ground, but it was extremely windy and it didn’t come out.
The Notch’s design has interesting mathematical and geometrical concepts, such as prismatic shapes and catenary curves. It makes interesting reading on the Tarptent website (nerd – Mark’s wife and wildwalkinguk editor)
As I mentioned at the start, the Notch Li doesn’t come with poles to support it. It requires two walking poles. Tarptent suggests you use pole lengths of between 107cm and 115cm for the best pitch, depending on how much airflow you want under the flysheet. However, Tarptent can supply tent poles for this tent if you don’t (or can’t) use walking poles.
I used to walk with 120cm fixed-length walking poles, but these are too long for the Notch. So I now use variable-length poles when using this tent, which means I can adjust the poles and vary the height of the tent to suit the conditions. This is really handy when it’s windy or cold, as I can pitch the flysheet closer to the ground by shortening the walking poles. If I want more ventilation and space inside, I can lengthen the poles to make the tent higher.
One worry I do have about the Notch Li design is that it needs two walking poles to support it. I am concerned that if I break a pole while hiking (which I have done in the past), I wouldn’t be able to erect the tent properly. However, the tent will still stand with just one pole in an emergency. I think this is a risk worth taking to save weight.
Tarptent have patented the end design, Pitchloc. This is a foldable, structural component which is used in all of their tents. It’s made of very light and strong carbon fibre tubing. The Pitchloc increases usable volume, structural strength and stability, eliminates multiple stakes and reduces setup and take down time.
The ends can be opened for ventilation. They are held open or closed with thin velcro strips.
The Notch Li has two porches and doors both sides, so you can access the tent from either side. This is helpful as you can change the access according to the prevailing weather.
The walking poles are central in the tent but they don’t restrict access. There is still enough room to access the inner without contorting yourself around the poles.
The flysheet doors are held open by a magnetic tie-back, which works surprisingly well. In fact, I think they are such a good idea that all tents should have them. Magnetic tie-backs are great in cold weather, if you’re wearing gloves, or when it’s dark, as there are no fiddly hooks. I have found that the magnets can release when it’s really windy, but this is pretty rare and a very minor niggle.
The inner tent doors have an elasticated tie backs which work really well too. They just need a single knot and that seems to hold fine. This makes them a lot easier to use than the hook-and-loop arrangements found on most other tents.
Inside the tent
The solid inner of the Notch Li has been updated in this 2020 model, with an added panel in the roof. This will stop any condensation from the flysheet dripping on you. There’s still a good amount of mesh and enough airflow though, so it shouldn’t be too warm in hot weather.
I haven’t had any issues with condensation building up on the inner tent of the Notch Li. It’s an issue I’ve had with many other small tents. The amount of mesh will mean that the Notch Li is colder than some in winter, but I think it’s a perfect compromise for UK conditions. The new design will make it usable all year, and about right for controlling condensation in the tent all year round.
There’s room enough inside the Notch Li for a large sleeping mat. You can sleep either way round as the inner is the same width both ends.
The tip of the walking pole slots securely into the tent, and it looks tough enough to last.
The inner tent can stay attached to the flysheet or can be removed fairly easily when packing it away. You can also put the iinner tent up on its own but I don’t see a reason to do this in the unpredictable UK weather. You are likely to be always carrying the flysheet, so might as well leave them both attached together.
The gain from putting the inner tent up on its own is very small. It’s also a lot of hassle to pitch it without the flysheet as you’ll need extra poles for the ends and extra guy ropes.
You can get enough airflow through the inner just by leaving all the doors tied back.
The inner tent has two mesh pockets which are a useful size – big enough for a mobile phone or head torch.
There are two hooks on the inside of the inner tent, one on each top corner. I found these ideal for hanging clothes off, to air them overnight. They could also be used to hang a light or you could put a line between them to hand things over.
The flysheet can be set high or low, depending on the amount of ventilation required. This can be done by varying the length of the walking poles.
Tarptent recommend using a walking pole height of between 107 to 115cm for the best pitch. It is possible to use longer or shorter poles, however.
If you use longer poles than the recommended 115cm, it does change the ridge shape. The tent material is also not quite so taut, so will flap more in the wind.
Using shorter poles than Tarptent recommend doesn’t seem to be a problem. It just gives you less space inside the tent. Having the tent lower to the ground means less wind resistance and less cold air blowing through it, so probably better for colder conditions.
The waterproof zips are a very good update as they make the tent a lot more waterproof in high winds.
The Notch Li doesn’t have the extra flap on the underside of the zip that the StratoSpire has. The function of this flap is to stop any drips that may get through the zip from dripping on the inner or contents of the porch. The zips on the Notch Li feel good though, so perhaps Tarptent have decided that the extra flap is not needed on the Notch. Even if some water did get through the zips, it’ll only drip in the porch. Both zips are well away from the inner tent.
Dyneema looks and feels very thin. However, from my experience with Tarptent’s other dyneema tent and stuff sacks, it’s tougher than it looks. Dyneema is extremely expensive stuff, though, so I’m naturally very careful with it!
One of the best characteristics of dyneema is that it doesn’t absorb water, so the tent doesn’t get saggy when it gets wet. This also means you can roll the flysheet and inner up together and it won’t soak through to the inner.
With a dyneema tent, you can just shake the flysheet to get most of the water off. This will be enough to nearly dry the tent. It means I’m not carrying the weight of a wet tent around all day, or having to wait around for it to dry in the mornings. I can get going a lot earlier than I might have done with traditional silnylon tents.
Dyneema is pretty see-through, so it can be very light inside the tent if there’s a full moon. It’s worth remembering that when you’re on a campsite! However, this is less of a problem in the Notch Li with the solid inner.
Using the Notch Li
I’m really impressed with the Notch Li so far, although the Covid-19 restrictions have meant I haven’t tested it as fully as I would have liked yet.
The tent feels extremely well made. It’s very fast to pitch which is really important in bad weather or fading light, as the flysheet and inner tent go up together. It’s reassuringly stable and feels safe in high winds. The fabric doesn’t flap noisily due to the two-pole and smaller triangular panel design.
I’ve experienced some very noisy nights in a similar sized but single-pole pyramid tent. Due to large panels of material and constant flapping, I spent all one night being sprayed with condensation from the flysheet every time the wind blew. This thankfully won’t be an issue with the Notch Li.
The inner tent is a good size and big enough to sit up and get dressed in, without touching the sides. This helps a lot when there’s a lot of condensation about.
It’s really nice to have two porches on this tent so you can enter or exit the tent from either side depending on the wind and rain direction.
The porches are fairly large for such a lightweight tent. Each has plenty of room for storage and cooking, or better still, one for storage, leaving one clear for cooking in if the weather is bad (although this should be done with extreme caution and isn’t recommended).
If you peg the guylines out, the porch doors can be left open for ventilation or views. It doesn’t affect the stability of the tent much at all.
This was very useful on one occasion recently when I couldn’t find a large enough space to pitch the tent. However, there was just enough space to put it up without the porches pegged out. It was a warm dry night and worked perfectly, leaving me great views of the sea and stars all night.
Comparison to Terra Nova Laser Pulse (similar weight)
The Notch Li (on the right) is pictured here on a wild camping trip, pitched beside the similar weight Terra Nova Laser Pulse silnylon tent (on the left).
The Pulse is a lot smaller inside with minimal porch space, not even large enough to store all the gear.
The Pulse also suffered badly from condensation every morning, even when the Notch was perfectly dry. This was all due to the excellent ventilation of the Notch and its solid inner with appropriate amount of mesh.
If we’re talking tent design, there are none…
The only slight drawback might be the lifespan of the dyneema material. It hasn’t been used for making tents for that long and there is a question mark over how long the dyneema will last. It’s recommended that you fold a dyneema tent up and don’t just stuff it in its bag like you may do with your silnylon tents. That way the dyneema should last longer.
Weights on my kitchen scales
Tent (flysheet, guylines and solid inner): 554g (19.5oz)
Dyneema tent bag: 12g (0.42oz)
4 x pegs in dyneema bag: 36g (1.3oz)
Combined total weight: 602g (21.22oz)
I justify paying such a high price for a tent by mostly camping wild and reminding myself that it’s saving me on accommodation costs. This way, the tent has probably paid for itself in around 10 or 20 nights wild camping.
Last year alone, I spent 58 nights camping wild in my previous favourite tent, the Nordisk Telemark 1 ULW, and at least another 10 nights in various other tents. So I feel I can quite quickly compensate for the initial cost of the tent.
Tarptent’s published price in US dollars for the Notch Li (at time of writing – June 2020) = $619 + $49 delivery. Total coast = $668.
In May 2020, I paid £549.89 for the tent. In addition, I paid customs duty of £42.25, VAT of £78.86, and a ParcelForce handling fee of £12. These extra charges came to a total of £133.11.
My total Tarptent Notch Li cost was therefore £683. This will vary according to exchange rates at the time of payment.
This is of course a lot of money, but still cheaper than equivalent tents available in the UK in 2020. There are a few cheaper dyneema tents available in the UK, but I don’t think they anywhere near as good as the Notch. They do not have the same space or stability.
Cheaper option: If you can’t justify paying so much for the dyneema tent, you could consider Tarptent’s silnylon Notch. It is around 227g (8oz) heavier, but only $334 at the time of writing.
Both Notch tents are available with full mesh inner tents which are slightly cheaper than the solid inner reviewed here.
The Tarptent Notch Li is a very lightweight and well-made tent. It is extremely quick and easy to pitch, even in bad weather. I really like the two porches and the convenience of the double doors. It’s possible to leave all the doors tied back on both sides for maximum ventilation on hot nights. It’s the perfect size and weight for long distance backpacking and wild camping in the UK.
I love the fact that the dyneema doesn’t absorb water, so the flysheet doesn’t become saggy during the night. It’s still as taut in the morning as it was when I erected the tent.
I’m also impressed by the little things such as elasticated tie-backs on the inner tent doors, and especially the magnetic tie-backs on the flysheet doors. Little things like this on the tent make it a lot nicer and easier when you’re out hiking and wild camping for weeks on end. It’s a great tent and obviously designed by people who go hiking. I cannot think of a better one-person backpacking tent for the UK’s variable weather.
I’m definitely not an ultralight backpacker. I just appreciate lightweight backpacking, as I’m often out for weeks or months at a time. A bit of luxury makes all the difference to me, so I’m happy to carry more weight and be more comfortable. There are lighter weight tents but I don’t think the Notch Li can be beaten for its comfort and usability.
Notch Li technical specifications:
- Sleeps: 1
- Seasons: 3+
- Flysheet, corded with struts, and apex cording (0.36 oz) : 11 oz
- Solid interior : 8.7 oz
- Mesh interior : 8.9 oz
- Stuffsack: 0.4 oz
- Stakes in stakebag: 1.2 oz
- Interior height: 43 in / 109 cm
- Floor width: 20 – 34 in / 51 – 86 cm
- Floor length: 84 in / 213 cm
- Stakes: 4 x 6 in / 15 cm Easton Nanos (included)
- Reflective guyline: 2.5 mm
- Packed size: 16 in x 4 in / 41 cm x 10 cm
- Imported of USA Fabric | Assembled in Nevada City, California
You will need: 2 x trekking poles 107-115cm (42-45in) OR 2 x Tarptent’s replacement vertical poles
Tarptent Notch Li website link. (Scroll down for the Set Up Video)
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