Let me first of all state that I’m a terribly lazy camper. When we got our new inflatable tent a couple of years ago I was in awe at not having to fold up poles. Life was easy. My laziness was satisfied.
Now skip to 2019 and I first see a thing called a Zelter Shelter on a programme on Channel 4. I’m intrigued but a few flaws let it down and I held off buying one (after all they are well over £100). But skip on to 2020 and the new model is released, and we now have rain flaps and a few other refinements. Time to take the plunge!
So what is a Zelter Shelter? Well it’s a rather glorified bivvy bag, but with an inflatable tube supported pyramid shape, but it’s also a poncho, and it’s also a hammock tarp. Essentially it’s a kite shaped item with inflatable tubes semi permanent fitted into it. It comes in a dry bag that’s over sized (think easy to pack and compressible).
With its supplied dry bag it’s not the lightest tent out there, but not by much; and with its dimensions (very variable depending on how you pack it) it’s not the smallest either – but when you consider it’s also two other items; and then you throw into the argument that you can pitch in under a minute and – better still – you can pitch in a storm whilst you’re actually inside or under it then the deal becomes a whole lot more attractive. It’s a great fit on my handlebar rack and didn’t feel too unstable.
Pitching is a simple affair. Open it up, loosely lay it out, locate the inflation valve in the top of the door and blow it up until the poles are nice and hard. That’s it. You’re done. I’ve managed in 40 seconds (although I did briefly see stars).
For additional security there are three pegging out points, and then for even more security in high winds you can use guy lines to really improve the stability. I tend to guy the front line if there’s any chance of a breeze, but none of the others have ever been used.
So what’s it like to sleep in?
Well condensation isn’t an issue! I’m not sure what the shelter is made of but I’ve never had problems with ventilation at all, although I do tend to leave the hood open.
You do need a mummy sleeping bag and camping mat though as due to the foot arrangement a square mat doesn’t work at all.
When you lay in it the centre ridge tube makes the foot area quite snug, but the designer has created a bag to one side of the pole to allow for taller people. I have no trouble at all with my over 185cm height and large frame.
When laid inside it there is room for some gear storage, but as it’s primarily intended as an emergency shelter it’s not huge inside. There’s room for a bag of two, or a small backpack, but prepare to leave your panniers locked to the bike if you have lots of gear.
The shelter has a fair amount of rigidity with it’s inflatable poles, but when the door is left fully unzipped and unless you manage to inflate the setup so it’s super hard it has a tendency to sag, and the same for the long pole which sometimes droops if the tension is let go on the front guy. None of these are major issues though, and once zipped up the tension keeps it fully upright.
I’ve had it pitched in a fair wind and it didn’t feel bad. The shape is quite aerodynamic and the wind tended to just make it flap a little.
The shelter has a 10000mm hydrostatic head which, put quite frankly, is silly! With the waterproof zips and stupidly high head you can be assured that you will be dry at the end of the night, and in a thunderstorm which forced me to bed early and then dropped about 2″ of rain I was bone dry inside.
If you saw the photos from our first Foldie-Roll you’ll have seen it in use. That’s how much I love it and trust it – and as a foldie fan it’s great having such a versatile package in one bag. Indeed the dry bag it comes in has even been used as a washing up bowl before now!
The Zelter comes in a few colour options, but I went with the green. It’s a very “British countryside” colour and blends in well with many of our native shrubs and plants should you wish to wild camp.
What’s it like to wear?
Yes I did say it’s a multi usage item, and I have worn it twice when being caught in rain. It’s very dry, but definitely an occasional use poncho. It won’t replace your big coat but it might be the difference between arriving dry and arriving soaked – which when camping can be the difference between life and death.
Converting it isn’t too difficult, but it can take practice and I’d suggest you pitch it and swap modes a few times in a known safe place before venturing up a mountain with it and having to figure it out in a storm.
It works really well with the bike too. The length covers the legs very well and the only thing I got was wet feet. Because it’s fully waterproof too if means it didn’t really get much heavier when soaking.
So are there any downsides?
Well yes, actually. The biggest being it’s size. It’s quite small and so if you get caught on a rainy day you might need a diamond tarp to make a living shelter, or you’ll need to split it open and use it as a tarp before reassembling it to sleep in.
The only other downside I really found was the three zips which meet at a corner don’t actually touch and they leave a hole big enough for things to get in. Best to stuff something down there if you don’t need the ventilation.
In all though, it’s my best tent style purchase ever. Is a real jack of all trades and whilst it’s a master of none of them it has a really good try and on the way it absolutely succeeds at it’s primary goal – it keeps you dry and safe.
If Bivi/one man bike packing is your thing then I can totally recommend it. If you’re into the two man tent though, best to skip it.
🟡🟡🟡🟡🟡🟡🟡🟡🟡🔵 9/10 – perfect for me, perhaps not for everyone. A great creation.
UK sales are handled via Amazon and it’s priced at around £150. The price seems to be very variable though. A non-poncho dual mode version is also available – please make sure you check carefully which version you’re getting 🚴♂️