Home / Gear Reviews / Ode to the Mountain Laurel Designs Cuben Fiber Duomid: A Long Term Review and Goodbye

Ode to the Mountain Laurel Designs Cuben Fiber Duomid: A Long Term Review and Goodbye

Duomid on the TGO Challenge - Scotland 2013
Duomid on the TGO Challenge – Scotland 2013

I sold my Mountain Laurel Designs cuben fiber Duomid last week. It is a great shelter and at 12.6 ounces including guy lines, it is insanely light. But I wanted a more comfortable shelter with a bathtub floor, so I bought a silnylon Tarptent Notch instead, which also has good wind-shedding characteristics.

If you’re unfamiliar with the MLD Duomid, it is best suited for expedition style ultralight backpacking or mountaineering. The pyramid shape is extremely resistant to high winds and bad weather. Cuben fiber also pitches taught so there is no sag at night or as the result of rain.

If the sticker shock of the cuben fiber Duomid ($415) is too much for you, MLD also sells a silnylon version of the shelter for about half of what the cuben fiber version costs. There’s also a single person version available called the Solomid.

Duomid on the CT Appalachian Trail - 2010
Duomid on the CT Appalachian Trail – 2010

While the Duomid is technically a two-person shelter, most people use them as a palatial one person tent, placing their sleep system (bivy and insulation) at the rear of the shelter and using the front half as a gear vestibule and cooking area in bad weather. I’ve spent many a night in pouring rain and/or blowing wind cooking ramen noodles on a gas canister stove in my Duomid. It’s great for that.

Shelter from the Storm - Scotland 2013
Shelter from the Storm – Scotland 2013

The Duomid pitches with a center pole and most people use a trekking pole for that purpose. Unfortunately, the pole comes down smack in the middle of the living space, which is annoying  because it forces you to sleep with your head and feet under the lower hanging shelter sides (see The Problem with Pyramid Shelters for a lengthy discussion of this issue.)

Polycryo Groundsheet in Rear of Duomid
Polycryo Groundsheet in Rear of Duomid to Lie On

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of Duomid owners using internal nests instead of going floorless. You see this community-wide with all mids…that people still want the comfort of a nest with mesh and bathtub floor, instead of a plastic groundsheet and bivy sack. I find this to be a head-scratcher because the weight and cost penalty just doesn’t add up and it’s the main reason I decided to switch to a Tarptent Notch instead of buying a nest for my Duomid.

Tarp Sleep System: Bivy Sack, Sleeping Bag, Sleeping Pad and a Moose
Tarp Sleep System: Bivy Sack, Sleeping Bag, Sleeping Pad and a Moose

For example, a silnylon Duomid ($215/20 ounces) and the Duo InnerNet ($145/8.5 ounces) from MLD cost $360 total (USD) and weigh 28.5 ounces. That’s far more expensive and heavier than many other silnylon tarp tents which are just as windproof and don’t have poles in the living space.

Maybe my peers are just getting older and want more comfort. That’s certainly how I see it. Once your gear gets light enough, it’s easy to justify adding some luxury items to improve livability and comfort.

Duomid on the TGO Challenge - Scotland 2010
Duomid on the TGO Challenge – Scotland 2010

Despite my comfort gripes, my cuben fiber Duomid was a bomber shelter and I loved using it. It was really easy to pitch once you got the hang of it and amazingly weather proof if you were good at campsite selection.

The Perfect Duomid Pitch

Getting a perfect pitch with the Duomid is pretty simple:

  • Simply stake out the four main corners (with the front zipper shut)  with the guy lines at max length.
  • Stick the pole into the peak.
  • Stake the front and rear guys (the footprint has a hexagon shape)
  • Walk around the shelter and pull the guy lines taught.

For really bad weather, do the same thing but with less slack on the corner guy lines, so that the bottom edge of the shelter is closer or even flush with the ground to prevent splashback.

The Duomid has a top peak vent which I always kept open. It works pretty well to keep internal condensation to a manageable level ,even during heavy rain.

I used the included pole jack with my trekking pole – it’s basically a 6″ long tent pole repair tube that fits over your trekking pole tip and provides a bit more length. The inside of the Duomid’s peak is reinforced so you can stick the tip into the peak without damaging the tarp.

If the ground under the other end of my trekking pole was very slippery like grass, I’d wedge my Gossamer Gear sit pad under the end of the pole, with the bumpy side up.  This would lock the handle in place and prevent it from slipping and collapsing the shelter if I bumped into it at night.

Duomid on the TGO Challenge - Scotland 2013 -2
Duomid on the TGO Challenge – Scotland 2013

Still, the white cuben fiber Duomid had a few quirks. If you pitched it in an open field or campsite on a sunny day, the inside would turn into an oven. I’ve felt life a turkey basting inside it on warm days when the I had nowhere to go other than sit in my Duomid and read or sleep.

A Duomid Ghetto, Tarfside,TGO-Challenge 2010
A Duomid Ghetto, Tarfside,TGO-Challenge 2010

Of course, having moonlight light up the interior of a white cuben fiber Duomid is a treat. I’ve experienced that a few times, both in Scotland and in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

Duomid in December - White Mountains 2011
Duomid in December – White Mountains 2011

But pitching a Duomid is challenging when the ground is frozen and I’ve endured a few stressful nights where I’d had to chop holes in the ground using an ice axe pick to be able to sink some shaky tent pegs. I lean toward freestanding winter shelters like the Black Diamond Firstlight Tent these days and I’m happy to pay the weight penalty for the convenience of setting up a tent on snow without worrying about staking it out first.

Very Tight Fit on Mount Garfield
Very Tight Fit on Between Trees Mount Garfield – 2011, White Mountains

Pitching the Duomid in a Forest

While the Duomid is perfect for landscapes like Scotland that have few trees, it can also be a challenging shelter to use in forest because it has such a large footprint. I’ve had to mash it between trees more than I care to admit, including wrapping a corner around a tree to wedge it into a tight spot. Flat tarps really are the best shelters for such tight quarters because they’re so configurable on the fly.

Duomid on a Wooden Platform, Mt Bigelow, Maine Appalachian Trail - 2011
Duomid on Mt Bigelow, Maine Appalachian Trail – 2011

Seam Sealing

I bought my MLD Duomid in 2010 before anyone really knew how to manufacture cuben fiber shelters and backpacks. Back in 2010, MLD still sewed the seams of the Duomid together and you had to seam seal the shelter or it would leak in heavy rain. The most vulnerable points were the places where the exterior skin was perforated, particularly along the seams holding the inner hooks. I’m not sure if Ron Bell seam tapes the Duomid seams exclusively now or what, but sealing it wasn’t a big deal. If this is something you need to do, see Martin Rye’s excellent seam sealing instructions. Using paint thinner to cut the silicone is key because it helps the silicone penetrate the stitching.

Build Quality

Every product I’ve ever purchased from Ron Bell at Mountain Laurel Designs has been extremely well made and durable. After three years of fairly hard use, my old Duomid is still in top shape. I took great care of it of course: drying it between trips, lubricating the zipper and storing it out of sunlight, but all of the Mountain Laurel Designs shelters, tarps, and bivy sack I’ve ever purchased are top drawer and still going strong. While my cuben fiber Duomid was really expensive when I bought it in 2010, is was beautifully made and is still state of the art.

DuoMid in Snow - Crawford Notch, White Mountains - 2011
DuoMid in Snow – Crawford Notch, White Mountains – 2011

I Guess This is Goodbye

Goodbye old friend. I’m sure I’ll miss having you as my goto shelter one of these days, but it’s time for us to part.  We saw the world together and had some good times. I hope you like your new home in Seattle where there are mountains, too. I think you’ll fit right in.

Disclaimer: Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) purchased the MLD Duomid with his own funds. You often have to buy the best gear out of your own pocket. 

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  1. Ron from MLD here – Thanks for the long term review – great to see it is still going strong after four years – that plain white cuben feels like forever ago way back from the start of the Cuben revolution! I wanted to note that all the MLD Mids and cuben shelters are now taped and fully seam sealed since about 2011. (We were the first to bond vs sew only.) We have also recently changed to an even lighter and stronger reinforcement material / system that color matches the Light Green Cuben we use. We will soon be offering some new net and floor options for our Mids that further expend their incredible versatility.

    • Ron – Thanks for the update about the new Duomids and add-ons. I’ll miss my “classic: Duomid but it’s going to a good home where I know it will get used. There’s a good reason why MLD shelters maintain such a high resale value when sold used. Keep doing what you’re doing!

  2. I don’t know how you could give it up..Lols, I still have my very first Backpacking Tent stored in my Shed along with it’s various replacements. I just can’t give them up! I have complete Pot sets a 123R SEVA I bought in 1973 for $15.95 and $1.10 shipping. About 8 Tents, 5 sleeping Bags, etc. etc a 4 Backpacks including the Jansport 50th model. I still have, and it is in great shape my first Canvas Boyscout pack with my cooking gear and canteen stored inside it from 1960. I also have the Boyscout pale green Canvas tent, which is falling apart due to age and rot. Just can’t give it up..But I dont’ get free gear to test either I have to buy mine.. I still have my Tarptent Squal which I use on occasions and I bought that in 2003, anyway, It is still good as new which I am very surprised at.

    • I think I’m less attached to “stuff” than a lot of people. I’ve thrown out every scholarly paper I ever wrote, all of my high school, college, and graduate student papers, donated most of my books and dress clothes, etc and I stil think I own too much stuff. Why do you think I raffle off so many manufacturers’ backpacks? It’s to get them out of my house!

      • lmao,,Well I have found at my advanced age that I wish I had kept a lot of my College, High School and Marine Corps memoriabla especially when I was asked to created a “Life Album” by my daughters. Like the Chemistry paper I wrote in 1974 which the Professor gave me an “F” in which I proved that Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil based Foods were as bad for Cholestrol and your Veins as animal fat. 200 repeated Chemistry tests and verified by a Lab partner. Then my Marine Corps Awards and Uniforms that I didn’t keep. Well I have become a packrat for I have a box for each of the past 14 years of receipts for every item I have bought, even groceries and McD’s receipts. I just toss them in a box. Then at the end of the year I store the box in the attic. I learned to do that after and IRS in-terror-gation and mental beating…Maybe I should try selling that old camping stuff on eBay or something…I wonder how much I would get for that SEVA 123R which works as good as the day it arrived, from California via A-16 when they were a real Backpacking store and made their own packs in the Basement..

  3. Much of the backpacking community seems to have adopted the “ever lighter” mantra, and this has inspired a lot of innovation in the last few years – some good and some rather questionable. I appreciate the frank assessment of your very long term review of the Duomid, as I have been tempted to explore this alternative since it is a design that has been produced in one form or another by many companies.

    I hit a wall recently, however, in the pursuit of “ever lighter” equipment, as I began to see the lightness vs comfort vs cost equation begin to distort my equipment budget for very marginal weight savings but exponential comfort and cost sacrifices.

    Most of any potential real weight savings seem to revolve around the “Big Three”, and most debates seem to center around only two – the pack and the shelter. Ironically these are the two items that have the best chance of spoiling a trip if they do not perform their function well.

    At this point, I prefer to carry a freestanding tent ( Copper Spur UL1) despite its minor weight penalty. I find I am debating the merits of different equipment that, in aggregate, only affect my total base weight by less than two pounds. Can I really tell the difference between carrying 16lbs vs 17 lbs on a weekend trip? Only if my pack makes me ache or I get a miserable night’s sleep on the trail.

    • You’re singing to the Choir. I’ve found that peope who do longer trips than 1-nighters don’t care about gear weight nearly as much. Lightweight gear helps but there really are diminishing returns if you are capable of carrying 7 days of food and hiking 25 miles a day. What’s a 1 pound difference going to make?

  4. Ron does make exceedingly nice shelters. I got a cuben Tarp 2nd hand recently made by MLD and its so well made. So my take.

    Well done in selling it on. For me, having seen you use it a lot, I would say the cuben version of the DuoMid is way better than the Silnylon one. The door can be pitched tighter to the ground due to less (or no) cat cut. I hope MLD address the door design on the next generation of shelters made in Silnylon.

    For me the flaw in the DuoMid is the steep angle of the long sides catches the wind. Without a inverted v pole deployed on the SoloMid for example to support the sides, it has ( for me ) a poor wind-shedding, or resistant profile. The craze to add inners to mids negates the weight saving gains and people miss the advantages of them.

    See Forest take on mids http://forrestmccarthy.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/mid-life-is-wonderful.html

    Good luck with the new shelter, me I am sticking with mids. I wonder if Ron would make a SpeedMid in Cuben with a vent hood and midpoint tie-out’s ? That I would like to see.

  5. I made a project this year to develop a ground setup, and wound up with a sil Duomid after a lot of research and testing a handful of finalists. I look at the cuben ones but can’t justify the price right now. Maybe ever.

    • If I could roll back time, I’d probably have gone with the silnylon version too. Too costly. What amazes me is that people are willing to pay 500 or 600+ for the HMG cuben mid. I don’t get that. Or maybe that’s just how they’re priced, so they can be sold wholesale to retailers (who get a 50% discount so they can make money on store sales)….

      • The Ultamid closest in size to the Duomid is still significantly larger, I think. If the cuben Duomid is 450ish, 500+ for the material cost of more cuben in a larger shelter is probably not that outlandish. But it sure seems like it.

  6. nielsenbrownoutdoors

    I find this post fascinating. I agree the Duomid is an excellent shelter (I had a silnylon version) and I must admit as I have aged I have become more reflective on my gear usage, especially more so lately. The move to a Notch to me is a change that I can very much relate to. I feel that the Notch and possibly the Stratospire are “mid like” thus retaining some of the features of a mid whilst providing a tent like experience. BTW I love the 2 doors/vestibules on the notch and did you get a solid or netting inner, or both? I look forward to your reports on your experiences with the Notch.

  7. I bought the DuoMid from Philip. The choice was made after a lot of research, and getting it used helped take the edge off the price of cuben. Philip was great to deal with. I will give it a good home here in the Pacific Northwest. I might even start a winter camping kit now. Ah, more gear. . .

  8. As a very budget-conscious fellow and wannabe ‘Lightweighter’ the silnylon option is my only ‘right’ one. However I wish I’d not looked at this post as I’ve been gnawing my nails over the DuoMid vs TrailStar choice as my step inti the world of UL shelters. I’m days away from clicking the Confirm Purchase button and I’d about decided on the TS but now…

  9. Very good article, I use a cheep camo tarp that can be configured to a pup tent or a baker style. Mostly in summer months. Also use a double wide surplus skeetr net. Use of a bivybag is recommended in Maine North Woods. With plenty of bug juice. And a few hanks of paracord. Stakes I make from young birch saplings. For comfort I will also use a camo hammock , for staying off the damp ground. Everything else is for food and drink.

  10. The biggest issue with the DuoMid is that it doesn’t work well with taller folk. We have been teased with talk of an XL version but it hasn’t arrived yet. I sold mine for a Tarptent Notch and haven’t looked back.

  11. Philip, I would love for you to review your new Tarptent Notch, particularly on some questions that have been holding up my decision to buy one. The corners of the bathtub look pretty close to the edge of the fly, so how well does it protect from bouncing and blowing rain? If you left the inner tent home, would a groundcloth be so close to the eaves that you would need a bivy? Finally, is the silnylon floor adequate to block puddles that form underneath it, as sometimes happens when you’re forced to set up on established tent sites? I’m looking forward to benefitting from your experience.

    • Not sure if I will have enough experience with the shelter before it snows, although I have two more trips planned with it in November. The notch does not suffer from any of these issues, but on hindsight I probably would not have bought it knowing what I know today. Basically, the inner is too narrow for what I need, which is more space to spread out my stuff. It is a fine shelter if you just want to sleep in it, but I wanted a bit more than that. I will probably be selling mine pretty soon.

      • The Six Moon Designs Skyscape looks wider than the Notch and simpler to pitch, although the inner is not removable, and it lacks peak vents.

  12. Is the Cuben Duomid really bonded only? No sewing at all? What about creep along the seams?

  13. You heard it from Ron himself. This construction technique – taping rather than sewing – is fairly common with cuben shelters these days because they don’t have to interface with other fabrics.

  14. Love my duomid and would not give it up. I find that cuben gets less condensation then silnylon. I like that it’s quick and easy to pitch. It handles wind and rain. I had a bugnet sewn in on my duomid. in short, Love my duomid. I owned a tarptent notch and it’s a bad trade. I like Henry Shires tents but the notch I owned flapped in the wind and was too narrow; I don’t like the foot of my bag brushing up against the sides. I’ve also owned a contrail, and a rainbow and a moment all better choices in my opinion.

  15. Interesting article, Philip. I first prefered the Notch but now I think the Duomid would be a better shelter for me. Besides the already mentioned Mountain Laurel Design innertent option (mesh+bathtube) there is a further option: a solid innertent offered by Ooknest – kind of a commercial custom mod for the Duomid. It seems that you overlooked that. Ooknest made of 30D Silnylon and the Cuben version of Duomid wheigh 744 g and cost 512 € altogether. The Notch is far cheaper but I like the single pole, pyramide (triangles!) design of the Duomid, which would be certainly better in strong winds. You wrote that you disliked the narrow space at head and feet. How big are you then? And how have you experienced camping with the Notch compared to the Duomid?

    • The Notch is adequate but I find the inner tent too fussy with the 8 clips. I didn’t see any point is spending money for an inner for the duomid because there will be even less clearance between my face and top of my toes with an inner than without. I didn’t overlook Ookworks either. That guy never returns emails and rumor is he’s not fulfilling orders as timely as people would like. Neither shelter is what I’m looking for, which is a simple cat cut tarp with a big front vestibule like the Golite SL1, which is no longer made. Yama Mountain gear has one, but there’s another vendor who doesn’t answer his email. I have no time for that.

      • Thanks for the answer. Mh, sounds not that good. I will check em out emailing them first and asking about a timeline. I understand your lenght issue. For me situation is a bit different I believe. I am only 6 feet tall and I think/hope an (Duomid) innertent would fit. I am not used to tarps. And I tried only a few times sleeping in the open. It felt not that secure. What I found annoying is feeling a fresh breeze in your face. Experiencing wind at around zero degrees is not big fun I guess. That’s why I like to have an innertent.

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