The ground below the tent is rugged, too rugged—some would say—to sleep comfortably on. Rocks, roots, and ferns blanket the forest floor, and the earth slopes awkwardly towards the valley far below. But the surrounding woods are lush, verdant, and stirring. Rather than searching out level ground, these campers have taken to the air, suspending their tent high above the site in a gap between the trees. The forest never felt so immersive.
The Tentsile Stingray tree tent pitches in mid-air, suspended from straps radiating from its three corners. These straps ratchet tight to three trees or other stable anchors, creating a taught supporting base floor for the structure. When its rain fly-sheet is off, the mesh roof of the tent affords an unobstructed 360º view of the forest canopy above and around the tent.
The Stingray has been embraced by recreational campers, extreme slackliners, forestry professionals, scientists, and eco-resorts alike. It has been pitched in forests, over bodies of water, in caves, and above canyons. It is light enough to travel in a backpack, and has zero ground footprint. In its first year on the market, Tentsile sold over 3,000 Stingrays, and the tent enjoys distribution on four continents by the likes of REI and Backcountry.com.
The tent is the brainfruit of Tentsile’s founder, Alex Shirley-Smith, and product designer Kirk Kirchev (who joined Tentsile in early 2012). Together, they evolved the company’s existing tent designs into a range of sleek, portable products that have captivated outdoors enthusiasts worldwide. In 2014, Kirchev moved to China to manage the company’s production line. Shirley-Smith stayed behind to run the company’s London studio.
Shirley-Smith is a city boy. He was born and raised in North London by hippie parents, his father a hydrologist and his mother a teacher. He has had a lifelong love of forests, and understands all too well why it’s important for urbanites to escape the built-up maze of the city. After training as an architect, he developed a practice in suspended treehouse architecture. As his practice evolved, he quickly discovered that treehouses were not for the masses. To his disappointment, his clientele proved to be an exclusive set, looking for a whimsical experience to supplement their luxury lifestyles. It was around this time that he began dreaming up a lightweight solution that could reach more people and have more of a widespread positive impact.
When it comes to impact, Shirley-Smith has a fantasy. He wants the tent’s users to rethink their relationship to nature. He hopes that the Stingray will trigger people’s imaginations and change their perspective of the earth. “Perhaps,” he speculates, “one day, when enough people discover this new opportunity to spend time in nature in comfort and security, people will come to value trees more. Perhaps this way, by being there, among the trees, we can reduce or even reverse the rate of deforestation.”
According to the field of ecopsychology (a.k.a. ecotherapy), nature is integral to our evolution. However alienated from nature we may be, we have a built-in instinct to connect with it. This instinct is often referred to as biophilia. Immersing ourselves in nature nurtures us, and in turn, creates positive associations with thenatural environment. Proponents of ecopsychology claim that such experiences should motivate people to break environmentally destructive habits and adopt more sustainable lifestyles. Nature makes us happier, healthier, better people. So the thinking goes.
The idea makes sense. We see examples of it all over popular culture, from The Sound of Music to Avatar. Our connection to nature triggers all our senses and invites us to explore, to transcend new boundaries, to go deeper in (or higher up, as the case may be). The more immersive the experience, the more emotionally fulfilling it is, and the more powerful its therapeutic benefits. Shirley-Smith’s tent achieves more than a conventional tent because it amplifies our experience of nature. It reshapes our view as inhabitants of the planet, elevating our perspective of the wilderness as a place to protect and live in.
At the end of the day, it is hard to measure the impact that Tentsile has on the world, except through the experiences of the Tentsile user community (many of whom are active bloggers). For every tent sold, the Tentsile company plants three trees through the organization, WeForest.org. It’s a good start, but the rest is up to us: the users and explorers. Happy camping…