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