Two justly popular ~two person (plus gear) floorless shelters. Two different sets of strengths and weaknesses. We had a Trailstar from October 2009 until last spring, when I sold it to fund the Shangrila 2 we have today. I miss the Trailstar, but do not regret the switch. Read on to see if you might feel the same.
(Both photos from Craters; first by M, second by me.)
First, weight: the Trailstar is 17 oz stock (in silnylon). Seam sealing and guylines will add 3-5 oz. The Shangrila 2 is now sold as a bundle with stakes and an inner tent, but the outer was claimed as 23 oz out of the box. It is factory taped. Mine has a bit of sealer added in strategic places for the sake of paranoia, and I cut off the buckle/webbing adjusters on the four main corners and replaced them with dual position loops of cord (short for stakes, longer for snow anchors and deadmen), and also removed the inner mesh pockets and all the loops and toggles which connect the nest. With these mods and enough extra guyline for all but worst-case pitching, my Shangrila is 20 oz exactly.
The difference here is mainly that the Trailstar uses heavier fabric (30D v. 15D), and I would imagine more of it. That the Shangrila can have the zippered door and stiffened vents it does, and end up a comparable weight with modest modification, is a testament to the difference fabric makes. I’ve used both shelters in heavy rain and had no problems with either fabric. On weight it is essentially a draw.
Ease of pitching is one of main differences between the two, and the reason I switched. While the pitch speed of the Trailstar can be greatly enhanced with practice, the flexibility inherent in the (brilliant and innovative) five sided design is by nature fiddly. The Shangrila by contrast has one pitch, and goes up faster both the first time and after extensive practice. The long, narrow Shangrila is also a bit easier to fit into tight spaces. Given that I (and judging by ‘net traffic most everyone else) pitched the Trailstar about the same almost every time (see above), the advantage here is unambiguously Shangrila 2.
On the other hand, as far as construction quality goes the MLD blows Golite out of the water. The Trailstar is both simpler and put together in a far more exact manner. When it is pitched well every inch is drum tight with exactly the same amount of tension throughout. The Shangrila 2 by contrast tends to have a bit of slack in the side walls, and the stitching and reinforcement is a bit more pedestrian overall. The Golite construction is perfectly serviceable, and in the end the only functional difference here relates to weather resistance (see below).
The Trailstar is justly famous for a windshedding ability unrivaled anywhere near its weight class, and better than many shelters exponentially heavier. Provided you can get it anchored and guyed solidly, it would take truly strong (70 mph+ in my experience) winds to do much more than get it humming. I would not want to have the Shangrila out in winds much over 40 mph. This is partly due to design, with the larger sides of the Shangrila having inherently more vulnerability to gusts. But I suspect that if the Shangrila were built to MLD quality and with comparably precise cat curves and panel tolerances, it would handle 50 mph just fine (again, assuming extensive and bomber anchoring). The Trailstar will always have the advantage in high winds, but cottage quality is almost as important as design in this regard.
Conversely, the Shangrila gets the nod for snow shedding, due to the long and steep ridgeline created by having two poles. The Trailstar can be pitched with a tall, narrow door that will greatly enhance its resistance to collapse (in contrast with the wind shedding pitch shown above), but the Shangrila is still substantially better here.
The Trailstar gets additional points for this flexibility of pitch, as well as for elegance and aesthetics, and requiring only one pole. That the Shangrila easily provides 360 degree protection is a mark in its favor. While the Trailstar can be pitched all sides to the ground, the space inside becomes tiny and getting in and out quite comical. There’s a good reason you hardly ever see this option in use. There are other points to be made comparing the two, but they’re mostly trivial details.
In summary, both are excellent light shelters that will serve most users well. Those who require wind resistance above all else, tend to have roomy places to pitch their shelter, and value beautiful gear should pick the Trailstar. Those who prioritize snow shedding and easy pitching should pick the Shangrila. Both have, as of this writing, significant disadvantages as far as actually buying them is concerned. MLD has a long waiting period, and used Trailstars are in high demand. That Golite no longer sells the flysheet separately means that many users will pay more for something they will not often, if ever, use. There might be some older flys available individually, but they’re going fast.