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Twelve Ultralight Tents and Shelters: Part 2

Hennessey Hammock Ultralite Backpacker Asym Classic with a Down Underquit at Lost Pond, New Hampshire
Hennessey Hammock Ultralite Backpacker Asym Classic with a Down Underquit at Lost Pond, New Hampshire

This is a continuation of Monday’s post about the dozen ultralight tents and shelters I’ve owned over the past six years that explains why I bought them and why I eventually sold most of them.

Here’s the entire list. I cover shelters 1-6 in Twelve Ultralight Tents and Shelters: Part 1 and shelters 7-12 below.

    1. Tarptent Squall 2
    2. Six Moons Lunar Solo
    3. Oware 1 person cuben fiber tarp
    4. Hennssey Hammock
    5. Jacks ‘R’ Better 8 x 8 silnylon tarp
    6. Black Diamond FirstLight tent
    7. Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Duo
    8. Tarptent Scarp 1
    9. ZPacks Hexamid
    10. Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid
    11. Outdoor Equipment Supplier 10 x 10 Square Silnylon Tarp
    12. Tarptent Notch

Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Duo Tarp

Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Duo Tarp with a MLD Superlight Bivy Sack at a UL Gear Demo in Harriman State Park, NY
Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Duo Tarp with a MLD Superlight Bivy Sack at a UL Gear Demo in Harriman State Park, NY

The MLD Grace Duo Tarp was my first foray into the world of tarping. This tarp was a holiday present from my wife, so I asked her to buy me one made out of Spectralite .60, a precursor to the cuben fiber that Ron Bell uses at Mountain Laurel Designs today. It was a big 8′ x 7′ x 9′  tarp with a gentle catenary cut, more square-shaped than curved, weighing  6.8 ounces. MLD still makes it today, but in a heavier version of cuben fiber with slightly larger dimensions.

When I got the Grace Duo, I was systematically section hiking the Vermont and New Hampshire sections of the Appalachian Trail, so the conditions I used the tarp for were very similar to the ones I’d used my 8×8 silnylon tarp for on the Long Trail. On the AT, I was hiking along a  heavily forested and mountainous National Scenic Trail with shelters, although the shelters were nowhere as frequent or nice as those on the Long Trail.  I was therefore more interested in camping under my tarp, except when I could get a nice shelter to myself.

Mountain Laurel Designs Bug Bivy
Mountain Laurel Designs Bug Bivy under the Grace Duo Tarp

But getting used to tarping, especially the fact that I was exposed to the weather and bugs from all sides (including below) was an abrupt transition for me. Tarp tents are much cushier in comparison.

I ‘softened the blow’ by buying a full length MLD bug bivy and then experimented with a number of different bivy sacks to address the issue of rain splatter, when rain hits the ground and bounces back under the tarp, especially at the open ends.

I figured out that campsite selection could make a huge difference in the degree of exposure to wind or rain under a cat-cut or flat tarp and taught myself how to find stealth sites that were large enough and soft enough to sleep on comfortably.  There’s no doubt in my mind that switching to a floorless tarp made me much better at finding well-drained and protected camp sites than if I’d stuck with a tarp tent. This is a subtle and complex skill that can only be acquired with a lot of practice.

But after finishing the Vermont and New Hampshire AT, my hiking and backpacking interests broadened considerably. Thru-hiking or section hiking on the Appalachian Trail is a very specialized form of hiking if you think about it. You follow a well-blazed trail that has shelters or well-defined camping areas, and the amount of food you need to carry between towns is relatively small, never exceeding a week. This is why thru-hiking is a great fit with ultralight backpacking because it emphasizes speed, distance, and endurance over more general purpose backpacking skills and navigation. Most people aren’t thru-hikers, though.

Grace Duo on The  Vermont Appalachian Trail
Grace Duo on The Vermont Appalachian Trail

I found myself becoming less interested in long trail hiking and much more interested in hiking in mountainous terrain: first in New Hampshire’s White Mountains and then later in Scotland. It took several years, but my entire hiking focus slowly switched away from ultralight backpacking and trail hiking to include winter mountaineering, bushwhacking/off-trail navigation, and longer un-supported trips over greater distances. If you’ve been following SectionHiker for a while, you’ve probably noted that my ultralight backpacking emphasis has diminished over the years and now includes a much broader selection of skills, gear, and trip types.

While I used the Grace Duo for two seasons of trail hiking, it got eclipsed by my preparations for backpacking across Scotland in the 2010 TGO Challenge. I eventually sold it because I’d stopped using it and wanted the money to buy something else, although I can’t remember what now.

Tarptent Scarp 1

Tarptent Scarp 1 on the New Hampshire AT
Tarptent Scarp 1 on the New Hampshire AT

I started preparing for Scotland’s TGO Challenge in the late fall and the winter of 2009. Henry Shires of had just come out with a new bomber double-walled tarptent called the Scarp 1 which was taking the piss out of the Hilleberg Akto, then the most popular tent used by UK and Scottish hill walkers. The Scarp is much easier to set up that the Akto, it’s lighter weight, and has two side vestibules to the Akto’s one. The Scarp 1 proved to be  as wind and storm worthy as the Akto, more comfortable, and much less expensive.

Tarptent Scarp 1 in Winter
Tarptent Scarp 1 in Winter

Knowing I needed a bomb-proof shelter for Scotland, I bought a Scarp 1 and tried it out in the White Mountains on autumn and winter trips. But I wasn’t that impressed. I found that the Pitchloc corner leg system was a bit fussy to set up (especially on snow) and that the tent suffered from heavy internal condensation despite being double walled (Henry has since made substantial design changes to the outer fly to mitigate this). On balance, it didn’t seem like a very good fit for what I wanted for Scotland or New Hampshire, so I sold it and decided to try pyramid shelters instead.

ZPacks Hexamid

ZPacks Hexamid
ZPacks Hexamid

I bought a ZPacks Hexamid because I thought it might be a good tarp for backpacking in Scotland during my first TGO crossing in  2010. Pyramid shaped tarps are very good at shedding wind and I hoped that the Hexamid would inherit those properties. I was also seduced by its light weight – just under 8 ounces – I am still not immune to this. I got one of the first ones made, ordering mine before Joe Valesko publicly announced the shopping cart page for the product at

I quickly figured out that the Hexamid wasn’t going to work for Scotland because it simply wasn’t wind or weather proof enough. There’s absolutely no tree cover in Scotland and the winds there can be insane. Add in sideways rain and you get the picture.

Hexamid in the Dry River Wilderness
Hexamid in the Dry River Wilderness

The problem with the Hexamid was that an entire side is open to the weather. That’s fine for well-protected campsites and mostly dry weather but it’s not a structurally sound shelter architecture for high winds. What you really want is a pyramid shape with solid walls (or doors) running 360 degrees around the shelter from the apex down to the ground. When staked out, the seams of a pyramid shelter provide reinforcing tension for their adjacent walls, making the tent more resistant to panel deformation in high winds.

There was also the issue of rain splatter in the Hexamid, which Joe subsequently addressed by providing an optional door that hangs in front of the opening. That still didn’t address the fact that the Hexamid might fly aloft in a gale, but by then I’d sold mine and fell in love with a cuben fiber Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid.

Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid

MLD Duomid pitched above Glen Clova, Scotland
MLD Duomid pitched above Glen Clova, Scotland

If I had to pick a favorite ultralight shelter, it’d definitely be my Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid (click for a recent long term review about it). I got one shortly before leaving to backpack across Scotland in 2010 and also used it in during my second coast-to-coast trek across Scotland in the 2013 TGO Challenge, this year. It’s not a perfect shelter for all conditions, but I’ve never doubted its ability to shield me from the elements.

The Duomid is a two-person, floorless, five sided pyramid that pitches with a center trekking pole. It has a zippered front door and a top vent in the apex to vent moisture in bad weather. The zipper runs down the middle of the front door which can be rolled up for better ventilation in good conditions or zipped tight in wind, rain, and snow. I owned one of the earliest cuben fiber Duomids (12.6 ounces with guy lines) that Mountain Laurel Designs made, back when they still sewed the seams together. They’ve since switched to gluing and taping cuben fiber shelters which eliminates the need to seam seal them before use.

Why cuben fiber? It was a present to myself on my 50th birthday. On hindsight, the weight savings provided by cuben fiber Duomids are probably not worth it, but it was my version of a little red sportscar and I enjoyed using it.

MLD Duomid Jammed into a Forest Pitch
MLD Duomid Jammed into a Forest Pitch

Pitching a Duomid well requires a fair amount of practice and good site selection skills are important. The shelter has a fairly large footprint so it works best in open, unprotected areas where there’s plenty of room and a flat surface to pitch on. Whenever possible, you want to maintain an air gap between the ground and the bottom of the walls for better ventilation although this can be problematic is there’s a cold wind blowing all night and you can’t pitch behind a land feature that will shield you from it. When pitching, it’s also very important that you understand where water will drain in the event of rain because you don’t want it to flow under the mid’s walls.

I owned my Duomid for 3 years, which is a pretty long time compared to the other ultralight shelters I’ve purchased over the years. But I sold mine after returning from Scotland this year because I knew I wouldn’t be able to use it very much in New England because of our forests) and because I won’t be doing any major hikes in Scotland for at least another 2 years. I was also significantly less comfortable on this last coast-to-coast hike in the Duomid than in 2010, because we had such colder and wetter weather this year.

First Night of the 2010 TGO Challenge in Scotland
First Night of the 2010 TGO Challenge in Scotland

Maybe it’s a sign of maturity, but I am a lot more interested in being comfortable in camp than I used to be and although the Duomid is a palatial one person floorless shelter, it’s not as comfortable as a shelter with an inner tent or a bathtub floor. While I don’t mind sleeping in a bivy sack with an integrated screen over my face (an MLD superlight bivy), I did object to having to stare at the Duomid’s ceiling  just an inch or two above my face. Smaller pyramid-shaped shelters such as the Duomid suffer from reduced interior space because the walls slope down at fairly flat angle above one’s face and toes. This is much less of an issue in bigger pyramids that have higher angle walls (see The Problem with Pyramid Shelters.)

While I thought about adding an inner tent to the Duomid, it didn’t make sense to do so financially because I could buy an  entirely new shelter with better overall livability and an inner tent for the same cost. The weight penalty of adding an inner to a Duomid was also a consideration. I decided to sell the Duomid a month after returning from Scotland in 2013. Sad to see it go, but it really isn’t an optimal shelter for New England hiking.

Outdoor Equipment Supplier 10 x 10 Square Tarp

Outdoor Equipment Supplier Straight Cut 10' x 10' Silnylon Tarp
Outdoor Equipment Supplier Straight Cut 10′ x 10′ Silnylon Tarp

After returning from Scotland in 2010, I developed a keen interest in flat tarps (see Differences between Flat and Shaped Tarps) and in teaching myself how to pitch them in all kinds of interesting shapes (see Square tarp Pitches) depending on weather conditions and available landscape features. That interested further blossomed in 2011 and went supernova in 2012. But I was finding it challenging to make the shapes I wanted to create with my little JRB 8′ x 8′ silnylon tarp.

I decided to have a larger 10 x 10 square tarp made my the Outdoor Equipment Supplier. That turned out to be a mistake, but it was a silnylon tarp so it didn’t have as much of a financial impact as if I’d had one made in cuben fiber, which is something I’d considered. I decided against doing that because I knew there was a risk that a 10 x 10 would be too big.

Half Pyramid Shape
Half Pyramid/Cave Shape

The problem with a 10 x 10 flat tarp is that it is really too big for one person. That might sound obvious for people who always pitch with an A-Frame shape, but dimensions work a little differently on a flat tarp, where some of the tarp surface is “wasted” because different pitches don’t use it all. For example, you might find yourself lying on part of the tarp like a ground cloth while the rest is above you and to the sides. Still 10 x 10 was too big. Definitely.

Then there was an issue I hadn’t anticipated in the spec I’d sent to the tarp maker, which was that I needed absolutely symmetric tie-outs. He’d not made them symmetric, which is normal on a rectangular tarp, 5 on two sides and 4 on the other, but it really screwed the pooch for me, someone who thinks about square tarp pitches. It also made some of the pitches impossible to produce without clips, something I’d rather just avoid.

I wrote the entire experience off as an inexpensive lesson learned and sold the tarp to a regular reader named Grandpa, who many of you know. It’s a nice tarp, but it wasn’t what I’d been looking for. Next time I want a square tarp made, I’ll know exactly what to ask for. Exactly.

Lean-to with one side closed to block the wind
Lean-to with one side closed to block the wind

If there’s a moral to this story, it’s to have custom shelters made in silnylon, at least the first time around, so you don’t lose a wad of money if you mess up on the specification.

Tarptent Notch

I bought a Tarptent Notch after I sold my Duomid. It’s a wind resistant, dual apex shelter pitched using trekking poles with an optional inner tent. I’ve only been in it two nights so far and don’t have any photos to share with you yet, but Roger Brown does, so check out these articles about the Notch if you’re interested. Roger’s input was influential in my decision to try the Notch, although the Tarptent StratoSpire was a close runner up.

I like the Tarptent Notch so far, but it’s not exactly what I was looking for – or thought I was looking for. I wanted a little bit more inner tent space than it has to spread out in the event of bad weather, but it does provide more space  above the head and toes than the Duomid did and is much easier to pitch in tight forested camp sites.  Still, I need to try it in warmer weather before I pass judgement on it.  I have a hunch it will be good in those conditions and I’m patient enough to find out.

What Have We Learned?

MLD Duomid in the 100 Mile Wilderness
MLD Duomid in the 100 Mile Wilderness

I hope writing these two posts about my history of tent and shelter selection choices has been useful for you because it has been useful for me. My takeaways are the following:

  1. There’s never a perfect shelter. There are always trade-offs between comfort, ease of pitch, weather worthiness, and weight. That said, weight has become a less significant factor for me over time and comfort is now increasingly important, particularly as I undertake longer trips in more challenging conditions.
  2. I tend to buy tents and shelters to satisfy one set of conditions instead of being widely general purpose. I’m not sure if that’s financially sustainable in the long run or if that’s the result of being a 4 season hiker who really needs different shelters for mutually exclusive conditions.
  3. It’s probably best to avoid first generation shelters from any manufacturer until they work out the kinks in the design and other people can tell you their strengths and weakness in different conditions.
  4. I need a winter shelter and a 3 season shelter for forest & mountain conditions. I also occasionally need a highly wind resistant shelter for those times when I hike in very windy open country with bad weather, like Scotland. My Black Diamond FirstLight, a flat tarp and a Tarptent Notch appear to fit that bill pretty well, although there are some nuances I’d still like to optimize. On the other hand, it might not be worth worrying about it so much.
  5. I should mention that I bought all 12 of these shelters with my own money although I continue to try out and review many other sample tents and shelters from a wide range of manufacturers in order to educate my myself and my readers about all the design factors that make a good shelter and what designs are best for different conditions.

What have you learned about me or about the shelters I’ve chosen over the years?


  1. I’m on a similar quest for tents — I still haven’t found the perfect tent although my current one has gotten awfully close.

    I was able to pick up a new old stock Golite Shangri La 2 with nest when Skurka was cleaning out his gear closet. I have to say for me this shelter ticks off a lot of my needs and its shortcomings are minimal.

    Since it’s a 2-person shelter there’s plenty of space for me when I’m on my own… and much to my surprise, there’s an acceptable amount of space for two fairly large people and a portion of their gear as well!

    There’s a couple things that I think make the Shangri La 2 a very good shelter for me… and I think a similar double-pyramid shelter might work well for you, too, based on what it sounds like you’ve tried and passed on.

    Like you, I’ve come to the conclusion need the extra comfort of a bathtub and bug netting after a decent amount of time flirting with tarps and bivys of varying natures.

    I’m not extremely tall, but I’m decently so and I do like my head- and foot-room. The SL2 has that in spades.

    The SL2 also has a decently large door/vestibule, one that can stay open in inclement weather so long as the rain is coming straight down or away from the door. I like this a lot, since it means I can have improved ventilation when the weather isn’t too nasty.

    Finally, setup is a snap. I stake out the net, raise two hiking poles inside, then throw the fly over and stake that down as well. All in all, I can get it set up in minutes, even cold, tired and hungry. I haven’t had to set this up in pouring rain yet but I imagine it might be tricky to do it cleanly.

    There are a few things I’m not as thrilled about however:

    I’d love to have a freestanding tent. There are a lot of places I camp with hard, rocky ground that make it difficult to pitch, not to mention staking is trickier in the snow.

    The center pole design makes it annoying to get in and out of the tent. Not a huge dealbreaker on distance hikes since you only really get in to sleep and out when you are packing up, but annoying nonetheless. A third pole (helpfully provided by your tentmate or backpacking buddy) lets you set this up as an A-frame entrance for easy entry.

    It could also use a little more ventilation. With two people there was not a single night I didn’t wake up to find condensation all over the fly. It also gets pretty stuffy when it’s warm out.

    • We used those SL2s on Andrews White Mountains trip last year and they are huge. It was challenging for students to find good pitches in thick forest. They looked comfy but I don’t think I can sleep in an a frame center pole shelter ever again…just joking.

      Freestanding tents are great. Especially for winter. I really recommend them for that. No waiting around for stakes to set.

  2. My experience is not as great as yours however I have also been experimenting with different shelters. I decided to try a two person Revolution by Big Sky. It is a double walled free-standing tent and it weighs less than 3 lbs. I have used for about 8 months now on different lenght trips in all kinds of weather and it works very well. I would be interested in your observations should you also try one.

    • Will Reitvelt recently reviewed two of big sky’s two person shelters on his personal web site and likes them a lot. I think they look huge, like a lightweight version of a Hubba Hubba. They’d be too big for me alone. Will uses them with his wife.

  3. I don’t think you are there yet. I still think the Scarp 1 is the ideal tent (For UK conditions) but i am also happy with my old Moment. I do fancy the new Moment but i can’t keep swapping and changing. I bought a VG condition used MLD Duomid with Oookworks inner which i haven’t tried yet so looking forward to that experience. Thanks for sharing your shelter history. l will look forward to part 3 soon.

  4. My little red sports car is a Triumph Bonneville. Current shelters, though, include an HMG 8×10 flat tarp and a Shang 3 (has to fit me, my wife, and now 3 dogs). I also plan to try a hammock soonish for overnight solo trail runs.

  5. Thank you for all the reviews. I’ll definitely be bookmarking these pages so I can come back and read all the info if I get bitten by the new-gear bug.

    I’ve only had two tents, the MSR Hubba and the Tarptent Moment (an older version). The first was bombproof and capable of being freestanding, but I didn’t like the weight or the two-part setup that would be a problem in rain. The latter has been nearly perfect. I’m tall, so the extra width compared to the Notch gives me room for all my stuff; also, setup is easy, condensation can be managed with good site selection, and the weight is reasonable. I can even use Z-poles without worrying that they are too long to work as support poles for my shelter.

    I met some guys on the Colorado Trail who both had Zpacks Hexamids with the beak, and those are nice. Even with all the rain, they stayed dry, although careful site selection was necessary. With the groundsheet inside the tent, the tents were almost functionally equivalent to my Moment. Over a pound lighter, too, but with more stakes and more dollars. That last bit really makes it tough to justify!

  6. The tarptent moment DW, stratospire 1, and stratospire 2 all aren’t that much heaver, and are more spacious than the notch (I have all 3). The moment DW has less head room than the notch but the ends are the same and it is noticeably wider inside and has a footprint that isn’t that big.

    • There is treatment for people like you. LOL!

      • Hi, I’m Grandpa and I’m a hopeless tentaholic…

        I have two Tarptents (love them both) and want to buy more of Henry Shires’ line.

        I also own a 10′ x 10′ sylnylon tarp I got from some peak bagging, bushwhacking early riser in New England. My wife and I used it for nine days up in his neck of the woods this summer while he was sweating in Texas where I’m from. The tarp was big enough to provide cover for my wife’s hammock and me while I slept on the ground.

        I also own several cheap but large and heavy Wally World tents for car camping.

        I’m incurable but will keep coming to these meetings…

    • All depends on your definition of heavier….. the strato1 comes in at 36oz vs 27oz for the notch, which is 9oz heavier or 1/2lb to light or even ultralight backpackers that’s a lot of weight…. i’ll be the 1st to say if you squabble over 2-3oz your a weenie but 1/2lb is pretty significant! i’d rather bring an extra 1/2lb of food or water than have it in gear!!

  7. I have done a lot of what you have. Mostly, my experience goes back to the 70’s and 80’s as far as tent selection goes. Needless to say, none of these are available today, ‘cept maybe the Stephensons’s.

    An older, yellow/orange, nylon pup tent was my favorite at 42″x42″x84″. But it was heavy at around 2 to 2.25 pounds. After two days of rain, it would always start getting my bag quite wet. I think this was one of the first silnylon tents I had. Even the floor was silnylon, where I quickly leared it didn’t make a good floor, dispite being “water proof.” In snow, it would press in so tight it felt like a hot dog roll, despite repeated shaking. A good shelter out in the ice (ice fishing) though. I used that one for about 12 years.

    Anyway, exact symetry is not realy needed with most tarp setups. A tree, rock, off-level ground or something is usually in the way. I used my somewhat larger 9.5×11.5 Cordura tarp just like a square tarp for many years. I made a 9.5×9.5 tarp in 2011, but I think I prefer the lack of symetry to cover most campsites in the woods, after using the square one for a couple years. The older tarp was turned into a shaped tarp that I use as my primary shelter at 14oz. I have been through a couple years of bad rainstorm/windstorms in the ADK’s with it. It works.

    A lot of the shelters work well in rain. Wind and swirling rains in mountains or near lakes may simply require a heavier, somewhat larger, shelter. Floors are needed if you have trouble finding or picking good sites to set up on, or, if the site is chosen for you. In the north east mountains, mostly, bugs subside by 2200 or so…except summer. Carry a net tent or bug bivy if you need one. Weight, throughout all this, has always remained about the same at around two to three pounds for full bug/water/snow protection.

    Cuben has promised to lower that weight, but it has enough drawbacks that I don’t care to use it. Even those built with cuben, lack privacy, additional ventilation, stick to snow and other design features I consider important such as ease of pitch, flexibility on coverage/site selection, and cost. And, you only save a few ounces, over all.

    I agree 100 percently that, like packs, you cannot have only one that will fill every need. Shelters between the different conditions you mention *will* be different. An open tarp does not work well in heavy wind and rain. A small enclosed shelter does not give you enough room to cook. A bomber 4 season winter shelter that weighs 5.75 pounds does not fit into an SUL summer kit. And so on.

    • I’ve started comparing cuben shelters to candy bars. If paying an extra $300 for a shelter only lets me carry 3 or 4 more three oz. candy bars (for the same weight) on a multi-day trip, I don’t really see why I need to buy a shelter in cuben.

      • CF has attributes besides weight which gives it some credibility. First, it does not retain water (weight) like Silnylon. Second, probably for the same reason, it does not stretch/sag like silnylon. I have not actually used CF but it looks like it may shed snow better.

        • Nope – silnylon is more slippery and is recommended for snow over CF. Why do you thiink Silnylon retains water….it’s waterproof.

        • I use CF on a 8.5×10 MLD supertarp- that the shelter always remains taut in the wet is wonderful. I also have fun playing around with different set ups after reaching camp- this aspect of tarping is generally overlooked. If you love experimenting, discovering, and learning new skills a CF tarp can be great way to spend those late afternoon hours between walking and dinner.

          I do own a Hilleberg Nallo but as my tarping skills improve I more and more think of its use as a luxury where we can afford the weight- the missus definitely loves its warmth, yellow glow, deep skirts and spacious inner.

  8. I think it’s a good thing to have a “stable” of tents to select from. I have been through a lot of different tent and tarp scenarios. a cheap 7’x7′ dome tent, a 10×12 tarp, an REI Roadster solo tent, a Brawny tarptent, a Six Moon Designs Wild Oasis tarptent, and my latest a Golite Wolf Creek 2. Long haul trail, a very light tarptent with bug net such as the Wild Oasis works best for me. When I’m in a desert area or location with the possibility of slithering/crawling things, I like a full floor and double wall, like the REI Roadster. A multi-day backpack in Yellowstone with my wife, the Golite 2 person tent with double vestibules worked very well and kept us dry with minimal condensation. I don’t think there’ anything wrong with having a selection for different scenarios. I can never have too many tents (or backpacks,etc.) Ron

  9. Ha, ha, hey. Yeah, you can certainly look at it that way. My food weighs about 1.15 pounds per day over a week hike or about 8 pounds . 5 or 6oz makes very little difference. I still look for ways to drop a half pound or more from my pack. Things get real difficult to justify for the difference between my 14oz tarp and an 8oz Cuben tarp. Not enough to call it good for the extra $300.

  10. Thanks for this post! Some great info there for a beginner like myself. I can read reviews until the cows come home but it’s years of experience in specific situations with a variety of gear that is of true value. Until I get that experience and have tried a variety of gear on my own, it’s resources like this that make all the difference!

    I’m currently Big Agnes Jack Rabbit SL2: I went with the two-person full tent option for when the wife joins me on the trail. She appreciates the extra comfort and whatnot. My next purchase in terms of accommodations will be something much lighter and for solo treks only: I’ll certainly be referencing this post! Cheers!

  11. Another great article, Philip, one that resonates throughout the hiking community. We all have owned a number of different types of shelters and experimented with their features.
    As you say in your introduction, “and then [I] experimented with a number of different bivy sacks,” I’d enjoy reading about your experiences with bivies and how they worked out over time for your hiking style. Perhaps this would be a good follow-on to your shelters series.
    Keep up the great work!

    • Fantastic suggestion. I think I will. Their impact has been profound, but nuanced. I’m honestly not sure I’m ready to give up my superlight for an inner tent because I stil like sleeping in it so much!

  12. Thanks for the article Philip. We spoke, you listened. That’s service! Great article with an added bonus for me – I was fully content reading about your shelter journey but didn’t realize this would also describe your evolution as an adventurer. The 12 shelters helps tell that story. Would love to hear about bivys too.

  13. Hi Philip,

    Great article.

    Have you looked at the Tarp Tent Ss1? Its a step up in size from the Notch.

    It may not suit you though as I know you often pitch in fairly tight spots.

  14. Awesome set of articles ! Well done, thanks for the effort. Always look forward to your post. Peace

  15. Great article. I too am a tent hussy. For winter I stick to a hilleberg jannu for 2 people; the weight per person is fair. For the rest of the time I split between. Bg agnes copper spur 1 and a bivy. The copper spur is fantastic — roomy, breathes well, sets up fast and is only 2 .25 pounds…good living!!!!!

  16. Might you be willing to share the details of the perfect tarp and where you would get it?

  17. Reading your great article really made me think about what i am looking for i a tent.
    So, have some questions that i would like too ask here.
    I am looking for a tent too use in many different conditions.
    I have i twin brother with who i have made many hikes using cabins too stay in at night.
    now we want to go ultralight using a tent.
    We normally had 10 kg off equipment without tent/sleeping bag/pad.
    We are now looking for a tent that we can use in 3 and even 4 seasons.
    we mostly will be using it in germany, scotland and the alps in Italy/Austria.
    The price doesn’t matter as long as it isn’t 600 euro’s or more.
    ( we live in Europe )
    We where looking at freestanding tents, but can’t decide what a good one is.
    So that’s why i am skiing some input, from people who are already doing this.
    We both are 170 +/- and 60 kg.
    Collin van Almkerk

  18. Thanks for all your hard work and money well spent to further backpacking research and knowledge! My first UL tent was also Henry Shires Squall 2. It worked well enough until my first rainstorm and it leaked (seam sealing is not my craft). I then switched to MLD’s cuben grace duo which has provided great protection in mild winds and even heavy rains of the sierras. However it’s short comings where ever-present in the 60 mph winds at Mt. Whitney’s Trail Camp this week. It held strong but flapped like a flag the all night long. I can only imagine how nasty it would have been if conditions were wet. I now recognize the need for a true 4 season tent and am looking at the BD Firstlight or the MH Direkt 2.

  19. All of these tents and you haven’t tried Hilleberg yet? I know that they’re expensive but come on you’ve tried everything else and you said yourself that you’re over the ultralight kick leaning more towards winter camping. Hilleberg makes an awesome tent and they hold their value so if you really don’t like it put it up on EBay and sell it for what you paid for it. Yes of course I have an alterior motive… I want your opinion, I need a new winter tent and I’m thinking of buying one :-)

    • No, I’ve tried the Akto. I just don’t consider it ultralight. It’s also a very fussy pitch in winter. I think I’ll wait for the Elan, which is Hilleberg’s UL version of the Akto.

  20. I can’t believe you find the Akto fussy to pitch – how are you pitching it? It’s so easy! the 4 bottom/groundsheet peg-out points first (after sleeving the pole) – this makes it ‘squared’ – then the 4 main end guy points at 45 degrees +/-, job done. Just see you have the same shape/angle at each end ie symetrical when viewed from the side. Pole guys next. I’ve seen this baby in 80mph winds and slept in my own in 50mph, gusting 80 mini tornados common in the South Welsh mountains in winter. Sorry, but a Notch or Duomid just isn’t going to take that – even if they do they’ll never be the same again!

    In the UK we have relatively little tree cover in our bigger hills, and I like mountain top pitches too so a couple of extra pounds for bombproof peace of mind is small beer. You guys in the states need to stop fretting about price too! Jeez, even Hillebergs only cost half the price in the States that they do here.

    If you’re thinking of the Elan, buy a Nordisk Telemark – more space, lighter, cheaper, same material pretty much, squeeze 2 bods in at a pinch, Elan strictly 1 man.

    Ta ta,


  21. This is a great disscussion on the merits of tents. For the record, I started backpacking at the ripe old age of 57, I’m now 63 almost. My first tent was a Saunders Jet Packer at 2.8 kg. This was followed be two Wild County efforts both coming in at 2.2 kgs, then a Terra nova 1.5kg lean-to and another by the name of Laser Light. All this before the first edition Scarp 1 in 2009. I still have that and two addional fly’s with their respective updates, end vents and the like. Last year, in a moment of madness, some might say, I bought a fairly new and hardly used Akto. The jury is still out on that one.

    I’ve been toying with the idea of a tarp, but those wee beasties put me off. But I can say right now, if I could find another tent with the space and height of the Scarp 1 and it came in at under or as near as 1 kg, I’d buy it in a flash. The Nordisk Telemark from what I’ve seen of it just doesn’t fit the bill. By the time you put a pad in it, the height is all but gone.

    just my input, for what its worth. really enjoyed the read though. Thanks

  22. I’ll look forward to reading it, thanks. By the way Philip, I hope your cold is better?

  23. Great reading, thanks. It does seem to support my own theory that we don’t REALLY buy shelters as shelters; there is a fun aspect to trying new things. I, of course, am above this and only have….ummm…let’s see now…the Golite SL3 with both a nest and a floor…umm a silnylon Duomid with perimeter netting…a couple of tents that no-one in the US would recognise but have worked OK in a few places…I did get a nice cat cut tarp off OES…and I’ve got a 10 x 10 flat tarp that I made…and a couple of hammocks…but I have nothing like the problems that you people have, and when my new shelter arrives I won’t need to buy any more. Honest.
    Actually, the SL3 is awesome except for the size of the footprint. Bugs are kept away by the Titanium Goat Ptarmigan Bivvy…I did mention that didn’t I?
    Let’s face it, it’s just fun getting out there.

  24. I hate to chime in on an older post with not a lot to say, but this is a very impressive and captivating read for those of us who are “searching” for the right wilderness shelter.

    Your comment on the potential lack of financial sustainability of buying specific purpose items rather than general purpose items rings true, in that there are mutually exclusive needs that contribute to this problem. That said, I’ve always tried to buy the best gear I could to end up with the minimum needs I have. I own both a sit-inside kayak with adequate gear storage for about 3-5 days (1-2 if carrying fishing gear) and a SOT boat for expedition trips with more gear storage in warmer climates. Unfortunately I am finding I want to do a cold weather or shoulder season extended trip and I may need a bigger sit-inside boat.

    To get back to the discussion, your axiom rings true. I started in tent camping, moved into lightweight tent camping (following my older brother’s lead), even made a foray into hammock camping, then design and manufacturing only to find out tent/shelter camping is more along the lines of what appeals to me.

    Having been raised by two Mississippi school teachers and having started off adulthood poor and in debt from college, financial constraints were a constant gnawing reality for me and my young family. Now they’ve largely eased up (we never completely break the chains, do we? If we did, we wouldn’t work) but I still find myself trying to find good (read: not the best) gear that suits my purposes at the best prices I can find. I’ve spent thousands and thousands of dollars on gear and I still get a kick out of taking a Talenti ice cream container, making a Reflectix wrap for it and modifying the top to make my own coffee cup versus buying one for $15. Works just as well as my Sea to Summit or my GSI cup. My cook pot is a 900ml aluminum grease pot I bought for $4 and Dremeled off part of the handle for weight and handling — despite my owning roughly 20 sets I’ve purchased. My favorite stove is a cat food can alcohol stove (though I have more than 10 manufactured ones).

    I’ll quit boring you guys… anyway, Phillip, thanks for a great post that gave me something enjoyable, education and productive to read on a humid Saturday morning in Tennessee. I’d love to read your current updated thoughts on shelters since you made these posts.

  25. This is a great article, as well as your post entitled, “Ultralight Backpacking Tent and Shelters”, which lead me here.

    In view of the time that has passed since these were written, what is your current favorite ground shelter(s)?

    • Don’t really have a favorite. It really depends on the trip and expected weather. The only ones I haven’t sold are the green flat square tarp and the Black Diamond Firstlight. The rest are long gone. I also do some hammocking now, but that’s not a ground shelter.

  26. Hi Philip, Fantastic article.
    “Next time I want a square tarp made, I’ll know exactly what to ask for. Exactly.”
    I’d be very interested to hear precisely what it is you would ask for…? I made the exact same mistake as you and went for a 10×10 silnylon tarp – enjoyed the flexibility but its too big and too much sag in the wet. I’m now looking into silpoly (not convinced by Cuben due to durability and the lack of shade it offers) and for shape deliberating on something like 8.5×8.5 vs 7×9.

  27. Meh….yeah… tents that are larger than tiny…. are impractical for serious backpacking in heavy forest…..(except when deeply buried in snow)….By serious I mean when you may often need to just flop down somewhere amid the bushes… rather than carefully seek out some heavenly camp site.

    Nonetheless, far too many nights in a bivy-style mini tent converted me to 3-person pyramid fandom. This or even larger versions, I use as much as possible — with general success.

    Recently, I acquired a Wenzel Starlight ($30)… theoretically for use in certain solo, buggy summer circumstances….Haven’t yet figured out how to ditch the inferior pole system ……Except for those, the thing weighs basically nothing and is quite comparable to many tents at five and ten times the price.

    Regarding winter, the warmth provided by a truly double-walled tent is quite remarkable, but not in all cases a sufficient argument against pyramids……

  28. The nicest ultra light solo tent IMHO is the new Tarptent Notch Lithium in Dyneema fabric. But it, like most Dyneema/Cuben fiber tents is expensive relative to the silnylon Notch.

    I have a Tarptent Moment DW (Double Wall) and at 2 lbs., 3 oz. for the ripstop inner, it is a great 4 season solo tent. Very wind-worthy design and only takes a “moment” to set up.

    I feel Tarptent has the widest selection of one and two person lightweight tents on the market, and all “Made in USA”, California, to be exact. Their customer service, BTW, is excellent.

  29. Great article! It really seems impossible to find a “best” tent – there will always be some compromises that we’ll try to address buying another one. Personally, I’ve been searching for a light, but warm and draft-proof tent for some time. I backpack with my dog in the Swedish “mountains”, so basically always above the tree line or with very limited tree coverage. The problem with “ultralight” tents is the mesh inner – quite useless here as the wind blows tight through the tent.
    I still like my first gen Marmot Nusku as it is bombproof and has kept me warm and dry in really horrible weather, but it is crazy heavy (3,5 kg). A few years ago I got the Ordos 2 from Alpkit (1,4 kg) and it has been great in many ways. At first I loved it, but now it annoys me more and more. The setup is quite complicated and even after lots of practice it takes me at least 15-20 minutes to pitch. And although it can withstand some really hard winds (I’ve had a few nights where I feared everything would break, but it held up just fine), when the wind picks up, it goes right through the mesh. I really hate the breeze inside, and it makes the tent really cold sometimes.
    My next one might be a Helsport Ringstind Ultralight 2 or perhaps an Exped Spica II or Cetus II. I regret not buying a Stephenson Warmlite before they got crazy expensive, as I’ve heard good things about them.

    • I tried a warmlite last year (it was used) and was horrified by the poor sewing. I managed to get my money back. That’s not the first bad sewing experience I’ve had with them. I’ve tried their vapor barrier gloves and socks and they were also very poorly made. Sound like you need a hilleberg!

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