A leading manufacturer of high end shelter designs, Integral Designs offers a wide range of solo options for the individual adventurer. Today, we look at their Silshelter–a quick and easy shelter for those times that it really hits the fan!
Years ago, when I was first getting serious about obtaining high quality outdoors gear, I ran across the Integral Designs name. At the time, I was looking for a top drawer, lightweight tarp to use in a variety of situations. I saw the company’s offerings, the Siltarp and the Siltarp 2, and I was very intrigued by them. They were compact designs that were waterproof, and weighed next to nothing. Though I thought the Siltarp 2 would be the ideal solution for myself, I held off for more than a year. I could say that I couldn’t afford the almost $150.00 to get one, but in all honesty, I think I was being a little chintzy and kept putting off the purchase. But, when I was putting together my ideal long term survival pack, I went ahead and sprung the cash for one, and haven’t regretted that purchase once. I’ve now had their Siltarp 2 for about 6-7 years, and have used it on a number of occasions with great results. That’s why I was pretty sure I was going to like the Silshelter design as well. Instead of the rectangular design of their regular tarp offerings, the Silshelter has somewhat of a “wing” design that incorporates a unique way to set it up very quickly.
When I use my Siltarp 2, I have to set it up around trees most of the time. The trees give me the help I need for structural support by running the tarp over a cross-piece or just by running the guy lines. The Silsheter is different in that it can pretty much be set up anywhere. There’s no need to find trees or other structures when you pitch the shelter. In the front portion of the Silshelter, there’s a cup of material where you can insert the handle of a hiking pole to provide the vertical support for the shelter. Once the handle is in that cup, there’s a cord lock that can be cinched tight to keep the hiking pole handle from slipping out. It’s a fairly straightforward process, and can be done quite quickly. I found the easiest and fastest way for me to do it was to stake down the two rear points on the Silshelter, and then do one front point as well. Once those three points are finished, that’s when I put the hiking pole into place. While keeping enough tension so the pole wouldn’t move around, I staked down the fourth point at the front as well. In the rear of the Silshelter, there’s a second pole cup if you feel like setting up that one as well. I found that I didn’t really need it for typical shelter use, but it might come in handy if you have to spend a lot of time inside because of the weather.
After getting that process done, you’ve got the basic set-up complete as far as the “framework” goes. However, I’d advise you to go ahead and stake down a few other points of the shelter to help tighten it up and give it a little more strength. This may not be necessary in fair weather, but once a good rainstorm comes in or the wind starts kicking up a bit, you’re going to wish you’d taken the time to do the extra points. The Silshelter comes with several small stakes with hooks on the end and makes staking the shelter down a pretty rapid exercise. Even though the Silshelter can be set up with just the hiking pole, their are 16 webbing loops around the entire shelter that you can use to tie off to trees or other structures if you have the means or need that extra stability.
Personally, I carry my own bundle of compact stakes just for that very reason. I’ve been in some rough weather and I’d rather have the extra weight (albeit not very much) of my extra bundle of aluminum stakes ot make sure whatever kind of shelter I’m putting up will have the best chance making it through the night. Aside from the webbing loops at the bottom of the Silshelter, there’s also a loop in the center of the shelter that’s reinforced with an extra layer of material so you can suspend the shelter from above if you don’t have a hiking pole available. Additionally, there’s a few other webbing loops spaced across the top of the shelter as well. These extra loops provide the ability to configure the shelter in a variety of ways depending on your needs. In fact, I tried a couple of different set-ups while reviewing this shelter just to see how versatile it could be. One thing to keep in mind, at least from my own experience, is to adjust everything so the Silshelter is suspended just an inch or two off the ground to allow more airflow inside. This will help keep condensation on the inside of the shelter from becoming an issue. It’s never been a concern with my Siltarp 2, but since it doesn’t have “walls” on all sides like the Silshelter can, it’s going to have more airflow anyway.
I used the Silshelter on several occasions from late July until now. The first time that I tried it out, I hung it fairly far above the ground. There was a thunderstorm coming in the late afternoon, but it wasn’t anywhere near time to hit the sack. I wanted to have enough room to sit on a stump and do some other stuff that evening, so it was necessary to suspend the Silshelter between trees since the hiking pole configuration wouldn’t be tall enough on its own. Because of the unique shape of the Silshelter, I wouldn’t say that using it in this manner is its strongest feature. It worked, but I had to make sure that I had the tension in the right spots. Because of its split front design, I wanted to make sure I didn’t put too much stress on certain points since the Silshelter wasn’t really specifically designed for this type of cover.
It turned out that the storm wasn’t too bad, so I ended up leaving the Silshelter in its original, higher setup. If it had gotten very bad, it would have been a simple matter to reduce the length of the hiking pole and batten down the hatches a bit by bringing in the sides to keep out wind and rain. Also, with that split front design I mentioned, you can button up the shelter by bringing the two across each other at the front entrance. Additionally, you’ve got the option of leaving one side open a bit and creating a vestibule for your gear if you want to have more room for yourself in the main area. With all the different tie-down points, it’s a highly configurable shelter that’ll meet just about anyone’s needs–especially when dealing with foul weather. The material of the Silshelter, like the Siltarp 2 that I own, is made of waterproof nylon which sheds the rain like water off a duck’s back. But, also like my Siltarp 2, the Silshelter has a center seam to help strengthen the design. That center seam needs to be sealed before you head out the first time. That’s no real issue because Integral Designs provides a tube of silicon sealant with the package that’ll do the trick for you. Just apply the sealant along the seam, and then let it cure for about 24 hours before taking it out and relying on it in the woods.
The biggest strength of the Silshelter, in my opinion is its very light weight and its ability to pack down into a relatively compact stuff bag. Essentially the same size as my Siltarp 2 when packed into the stuff bag, the Silshelter dispels the notion that carrying a shelter (especially for emergencies) is too burdensome. As you can see in the picture, it’s just a little over a handful to hold, but the weight is negligible at 14 ounces. Even if you’re not wearing a full blown expedition pack, or you think you’re just going out for the day, there’s still enough room in your daypack to tuck away this shelter just in case. There are far too many stories about people that get jammed up in a bad situation in the wild where they don’t have the right gear and end up suffering due to exposure to the elements. The big threat is always going to be hypothermia. Even during the summer time, hypothermia can be a concern, especially at higher altitudes or when the temperatures drop suddenly. Having something like the Silshelter along is just good insurance to help keep you warm and dry.
The quality of construction of the Silshelter is every good as what I saw and have experienced with the Siltarp 2. Though I’ve talked about these two items as emergency shelters, I don’t mean to imply that’s all they would be good for on the trail. I know a lot of folks that enjoy going the minmialist route and having more of a bare bones type shelter rather than dealing with the extra bulk and weight of a tent. Some of those folks are the primitive skills people who like to keep gear to a minimum, and others are the ultralight packers whose primary concern is keeping down weight for those long through hikes where every little ounce counts. Either way, the Silshelter provides all the shelter one person needs–at least during most outings in the spring, summer and fall in the northern hemisphere. Because of the need to suspend the Siltarp 2 via guy lines to trees or other items, I wouldn’t typically suggest it as a normal go-to type shelter. It fits my needs, and I’ll usually have the tools with me that are needed to construct a shelter or configure something that will support the Siltarp 2. However, the Silshelter will appeal to a broader audience because it can be pitched with no tools and no other support needs aside from a hiking pole. Some folks on the trail won’t be equipped like the majority of us Woods Monkeys will be, and the Silshelter is a great way for them to have a shelter that’s quick and easy to assemble.
All in all, the Silshelter is a great design, and it offers a very robust shelter option for those folks not inclined to carry a tent with them. Because of its small size and light weight, it’s an easier sell to carry as an emergency shelter even if you think everything’s going to go perfectly on your outdoors outings. Believe, there are times that won’t happen. In the years that I’ve spent time outside when I thought I was going to be home at the end of the day, there were three times that I didn’t make it. I was glad each time that I had thought far enough ahead to bring along a shelter just in case. But, don’t let the light weight and compact form factor fool you. The nylon material is very strong given its weight, and it’s waterproof as well. Keep it clean and make sure you take care how and where you pitch it, and it’ll last you a lifetime.
Right now, I’m having a hard time deciding which I like better between the two Integral Designs products that I’ve tried. Of course there are times when you need to use a tent, but whenever possible, I’m going to go the lightweight and open air route that these two designs offer. While I’ve enjoyed using my Siltarp 2 the past several years, I do think the Silshelter is configured better for those times when the weather can get really foul. What’s more, when that weather sneaks up on you, the Silshelter can be pitched a lot quicker and with less trouble than the Siltarp 2. When I first set up my long term woods survival pack, the Siltarp 2 offered what I was looking for in a light, compact shelter that I could have with me just about any time that I was outdoors. Now, the Silshelter ups the ante a bit by offering those same characteristics, but also offering a bit more protection from the elements–which is the point of a shelter. When you do the math, I think the best all around decision is to move to the Silshelter on a permanent basis. Even the weather guy on TV can’t tell you for sure what Mother Nature has in store for us each day, so it makes sense to be ready for whatever she throws at us.
If you’re in the market for a high quality shelter, I can certainly recommend both the Silshelter and the Siltarp 2 from Integral Designs. Though I haven’t used any of their other, higher end shelter options, if they are anything at all like these two products, I’m certain you won’t be disappointed!