The Alpkit Soloist backpacking tent is a good value, reasonably lightweight tent with several features that make it a good option for bikepacking. It offers more shelter than a bivvy bag, but might not be big enough for taller riders.
Bikepacking continues to grow in popularity, but while many will be happy to sleep in a bivvy bag, for some the confined space is a step too far. Most regular tents – even the lighter ones – are often not suitable for bikepacking, though, with pack size and pole lengths being key factors.
The Alpkit Soloist seems designed with at least one eye on bikepacking, as it packs down very small – small enough to fit easily into most popular bikepacking bags. Also, when folded the poles measure 35cm, short enough to pack into a frame bag.
The 11 vee-shaped aluminium pegs are around 8g each, and have a very useful pull cord for getting them back out of the ground. They seem strong, despite aluminium being fairly soft, and took being hammered into hard ground with a stone without bending.
The Soloist allows various setups, include pitching as a standard tent with a separate outer and inner; pitching the outer only and using the footprint as a groundsheet; or, if it's absolutely not going to rain, pitching it as just a tent.
Obviously, the simpler you go, the lighter it gets. Standard with footprint is 1355g, standard without it is 1219g, the outer and footprint for a 'tarp tent' style is 1006g and the inner only is just 773g.
The standard way to pitch would be as inner first, then once the pole is in place, add the outer. The downside is that, if it's raining (let's face it, it's raining...) the inner will get wet. In theory the Soloist can be pitched outer first, which gets round that, but given how quick and simple it is to pitch normally, unless it's absolutely lashing down it's not a huge problem.
After a few attempts the whole thing can be up within five minutes, and if you're really desperate, under three minutes.
The 'tarp tent' option is good if you don't think mosquitos or insects will be a problem, however, as it gives a basic rain shelter and groundsheet with some wind protection – though obviously without the extra protection the inner tent gives.
While the inner-only option is very light, it gives no protection from rain, and heat radiates away quicker. It's more for keeping insects away on hot, dry holiday nights than for use in the UK, then...
For most people the standard pitch option will be most suitable, and unless you are certain of soft ground that's clear of sharp objects, the footprint is worthwhile too – the standard groundsheet is very thin and light.
Alpkit classes the Soloist as a three-season tent, meaning it's designed to withstand rain but not severe wind. With a hydrostatic head of 3000mm for the outer sheet and 5000mm for the groundsheet, it equals or betters most similar lightweight tents – and will fend off even heavy rain.
In windy conditions it feels secure, but setting it up in the right direction is vital – you need either the front or back to the wind, not the sides. It's a tall and quite upright design with limited peg points on the side, and just the one guy rope on each side.
The Soloist works best on flat surfaces, where it can be tensioned front to rear correctly. If you can't, the inner tent tends to fall inside at the midpoint, reducing available space. Wind hitting the side can have the same effect – even slight winds.
The problem is the inner is not secured in the middle, and relies on the four corners being absolutely perfect, which in reality isn't possible.
Anyone who's slept in a bivvy will know they can be extremely claustrophobic, even if you don't normally suffer in confined spaces. Being zipped into a bag isn't for everyone and for those people, the Soloist will be ideal. Most people will be able sit up, sleep and store a few items easily, and while the porch isn't massive, it's big enough for things like helmets and shoes.
Those above 6ft tall will find the Soloist either really tight or too small, though. When pitched the inner space measures 200cm at its widest point (the floor), although the sloping sides quickly reduce that, so your head and feet can easily touch the inner tent.
One frustration I had was the front entrance, which uses two zips – presumably for weatherproofing – and makes getting in and out slow going. A single and perhaps arched zip would be preferable.
Also, the catch the outer material rather easily, especially when opening from the inside, while the guylines are a little fiddly and in plain black they're not visible in the dark.
However, these are clearly small niggles and – limited room for those over six-foot aside – hardly deal-breakers.
Compared to other bikepacking shelters, the Soloist offers good value. There are bivvy bags for less money, including Alpkit's own Hunka at £41.99, but a bag has limited weather protection.
The one-person MSR Elixir 1 is a similar price at £215, but heavier at over 1800g. To get a genuine two-wall tent setup at a similar weight, it's worth looking at the Vango F10 Helium UL with its trail weight of just over 1kg, but that's slightly more expensive at £250.
For riders intrigued by bikepacking and looking for a shelter for (almost) all weathers, the Alpkit Soloist is a solid choice at a good price. It offers more protection (and less claustrophobia) than a basic bivvy bag and, while it isn't perfect, the downsides – so long as you're not over six foot – are pretty easy to live with.
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