Friday, November 12, 2010

Ultralight Shelter Comparisons

Ongoing comparisons of preferred ultralight shelters I have owned and used.

I am not a fan of your typical dome freestanding tents. They are heavier and less flexible compared to some shelters. A tarp with some kind of inner to protect against bugs, splash and ground conditions is my preference for a number of reasons.
I also use trekking poles when hiking and paddles on kayak trips so tent poles aren’t needed.
Most of my shelters are in stealth colors. I prefer stealth colors as I often have to camp in areas where I don’t want to attract attention.

Oware Alphamid 9’x5’x5.5’
All season
2 person
gray silnylon  
This is a new shelter for me. I have become a fan of pyramid shelters because of the way they handle extremes, their simplicity in design, flexibility and ease of setup.
The steep walls and high ceiling make for a shelter with lots of headroom. It can be opened up wide for summer shade and tight for cold winter wind.

It’s probably tight for two people and gear, but should be a luxury for solo trips.

It is too much shelter for solo use unless you plan on spending lots of time inside, like if you think you may have to sit out a storm or two. You could also justify it’s size for cool, wet paddle trips to allow room to hang paddling gear to dry.

Requires ground cloth, bug net or bivy in some cases.

Requires long pole, paddle, found stick, two trekking poles lashed together or can be hung from a tree.

Gossamer Gear Spinnshelter
white spinnaker
About the lightest all season full protection shelter made.
Very flexible design. Can be pitched tight for winter use and high and open for summer heat.
It is very roomy for one large person and gear. Not a lot of headroom when pitched tight to the ground, but enough to sit up in. Good for tall people. I know one owner who is 6’ 6”.
This has been my favorite solo shelter, combined with the Meteor Bivy, but the white color stands out too much for stealth camping.
Requires ground cloth, bug net or bivy in some cases.
I have tested with the Meteor Bivy.

Use trekking, two piece kayak paddle, two canoe paddles, other poles, or found sticks.

Golite Hut 1 (Now called the Shangri-la 1)
green silicone nylon
17 oz
All Season
Very similar design as the Spinnshelter above, but 7 oz heavier and more durable.
Otherwise the same.
This got a lot of use before I got the Spinnshelter.

Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape
All season
gray silnylon
Pyramid design makes it reasonably good for winter camping.
Fairly easy setup. Good in strong winds. Combine with ground cloth, net tent of bivy for protection from bugs and to keep sleeping bag/quilt dry and clean
A bit cramped for tall people, but tall people may want to carry one as an emergency shelter and/or rain cape.
This has been one of my favorite stealth shelters on trips where I would expect to only use my shelter for sleeping. Otherwise I’d probably use the Alphamid for more room.

Requires one pole, either a trekking pole, paddle, other pole or found stick.

Six Moon Designs Haven with inner net tent
3 Season
brown silnylon
Two person
Easy setup. roomy. Floor size is a little narrower then a queen size mattress, but much longer.
Recommended for tall people. Has a high enough ceiling to allow two tall people to sit up.
Flexible design, can be well ventilated for summer use. Double side entrance.
You can just use the outer tarp alone, the inner net alone or combined for mixed seasons.
Can be pitched in the rain without getting the inner wet. Most double wall tents do not have this feature.
Some people have complained about splash entering the net tent in hard rain on hard ground, but not that much of an issue.
I avoid pitching on hard ground when possible.
This is currently Adele’s favorite two person shelter and we used it a lot in the last year.

Requires two trekking poles, or optional poles.
A bit pricey.

Six Moon also makes a one person version called “The Vamp” it looks to be a very similar design and roomy.

Tarptent Rainshadow II
3 Season
Two person.
gray silnylon
Two person.
Very easy setup. Roomy. Maybe a little wider than a queen sized bed.
Should be good for people up to 6’ 4”
Single end entry
Compared to the SMD Haven, it is cheaper, has less flexible pitch options, a little less headroom and only the one entry.
This was Adele’s favorite and got a lot of use in the past. She now prefers the extra ventilation options  and double doors of the Haven.

Requires at least one trekking or optional pole.

Oware FlatTarp3.5 10’x10'
All Season when used by skilled tarp users.
green silnylon
Roomy enough for three people.
Requires some skill to pitch for rough weather.
Very flexible. Many pitching options. Has many well placed tie-outs.
Requires ground cloth, bug net or bivy in some cases.
I have tested with just a ground cloth in winter and with Meteor Bivy and the Serenty Net Tent in warmer months.

Use trekking poles, paddles, other poles, or found sticks.

Intergrel Designs 8’x10’ flat tarp
All Season when used by skilled tarp users.
gray silnylon
Roomy enough for two people.
Requires some skill to pitch for rough weather.
Flexible, but lacking tie-out points for strong weather use.
Requires ground cloth, bug net or bivy in some cases.
I have tested with the Meteor Bivy and the Serenty Net Tent

Use trekking poles, paddles, other poles, or found sticks

Campmor(Equinox) 8’x10’ flat tarp
All Season when used by skilled tarp users.
green silnylon
Roomy enough for two people.
Requires some skill to pitch for rough weather.
Very flexible. It has two side and one center tie-outs.
People have complained that it uses end grommets instead of tie outs. They are well reinforced so should hold up with reasonable use.
Requires ground cloth, bug net or bivy in some cases.
I have tested with the Meteor Bivy and the Serenty Net Tent

Use trekking poles, paddles, other poles, or found sticks

Mountain Laurel Designs Monk Tarp
Mostly summer use unless used with waterproof bivy or used by an experienced minimalist.
light green 9’x5’ spinnaker flat tarp
A great fair weather shelter, cook tarp or emergency shelter. It’s so light you can take it on day hikes or kayak trips.

Use trekking poles, paddles, other poles, or found sticks

Mont-Bell Crescent 2
Green Urethane coated ripstop nylon
Two person
Good all season shelter. Stands up to extreme weather when fully staked down.
Trekking poles not required.
It is a bit tight for two people.
Very comfy for me solo and all my paddle gear on gail force exposed beach.
I consider it too heavy for a solo backpacking shelter, but most people would disagree:-)
It may not have enough length and headroom for people much over 6’ tall.
People complain about the small doorway. I am fairly slim and didn’t have an issue.
It is not as well ventilated as a tarp would be, but easily as ventilated as your common dome tent.
No poles required.

Six Moon Designs Meteor Bivy

This is my most used inner under tarp shelters. It is much less claustrophobic than other bivys.
It is half water resistant bivy, half large bug net with ground protection.
It can be used alone when rain isn’t in the forecast, under a Monk(9x5) tarp if only occasional sprinkles are expected or under a more protected tarp in nasty weather.
It is roomy enough for a 3 season sleeping bag and sleeping pad to go inside. It seems to be long enough for tall people.

Recommend that the net be hung from above to keep the net off your face, I usually hang from a loop in the shelter, but can use poles, sticks, paddles, ... if using it alone.

Six Moon Designs Serenity Net Tent

Great alone or under a tarp. It was designed to work with the Gatewood Cape
Good airflow, bug and ground protection.
May be too cramped for tall or big people

Hang from a loop in the shelter or use poles, sticks, paddles, ... if using it alone.

Oware Draw Cord Bivy
Green top over black bottom with bug mesh at head

I haven’t had much time in this yet. It should be good when cool out and more protection is needed, like under a small tarp. I may try it with the Monk tarp. The bug net is a little too small for summer use in my opinion, but others don’t seem to mind the lack of airflow. I’ll have to get more experience in it
It is a bit tighter than the Meteor Bivy which means I probably wouldn’t want to put my sleeping pad inside with a winter sleeping bag, but that’s no big deal.
This and the Monk tarp would be pretty damn storm proof and have a combined weight of only 11oz! I like that idea.

Hang the mesh from a loop in the shelter or use poles, sticks, paddles, ... if using it alone.

Shelters that I would also consider and recommend:
Six Moon Designs Vamp with inner Net Tent
Tarptent Moment
Tarptent Scarp
Anything by Mountain Laurel Designs. The TrailStar or Mid series gets my vote

Tarptent, Gossamer Gear, Mountain Laurel Designs, Oware, and many others are good sources of ultralight shelters.

Here are some of my pictures:

Golite Hut 1(green) along side Gossamer Gear Spinnshelter(white) with the vestibules half open.
Very similar designs. The Hut 1 is made out of heavier, very durable material. The Spinnshelter is made out of spinnaker and is much lighter.
Normally I would use these with either a ground cloth and/or bug net or bivy.

My Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape with Serenity Net Tent in use.

Montbell Crescent2 all closed up for gale conditions off Montauk.

Integral Designs 8’x10’ tarp in A-frame mode with SMD Serentiy Net tent inside for bug protection. It still needs some tightening as the temperature was dropping and silnylon sags a little when temperatures drop.
Tom Jones shelter on Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail  in the background.

SMD Haven pitched for summer heat with forecast for strong wind and rain that night.

Tarptent Rainshadow II with vestibule tied back while setting up camp.


Anonymous said...

You own A LOT of tents, Stevie.

Great reviews, Stevie1 Thank you! I think there is a lot of space for inventions in building lighter and sturdier tents. Here is my favorite, the spectrum 23 from North Face, at about 3 pds, best, Marcus

kayakbrooklyn said...

Hi Marcus,

I actually don't own all of these. I borrowed or shared in some cases. I have owned most at one time but either sold or traded away.

Yes the Spectrum 23 is what I would consider the best of the light dome tents. It is popular with a few paddlers. Freestanding has it's advantages. It has also proven to handle winds well.

But it is heavier and less roomy than say the Oware Alphamid, Meteor bivy combination. With this combination, a kayak paddle could be your tent pole so poles would not need to be carried.

You'd know better than me, but it always seemed that the Spectrum 23 would be stuffy and damp on high humidity summer paddle trips.
Of course you'd be the expert after your Great Britain circumnavigation:-)

Most of the shelters I mentioned have the ability to be wide open for ventilation and sealed tight for gale force storms. They can also be molded to fit odd terrain.
Freestanding tents tend to be more demanding about how much area they need to be pitched on.
A tarp can be pitch over tree stump, boulders, ...

kayakbrooklyn said...

For those that want freestanding and quick setup, the Big Sky International Mirage 1P Tent is around 2 lbs depending on options. It may be good for backpackers that don't use trekking poles and want a dome tent.

There is a even a cuben fiber version.
I personally would go for the two door version for summer use.

Bryan said...

Great reviews, Steve. Thanks for posting them.

I want to try a pyramid tent at some point. Does your Alphamid work with a full paddle? Any experience with the MLD pyramids vs. the Oware?

I've also considered switching to a tarp with a bug bivy instead of my Big Agnes Seedhouse SL 2 or Tarptent Cloudburst 2 during bug season. You almost have me pulling the trigger on a Meteor.

The Cloudburst is similar to the Rainshadow II and your review of that products sums up the CB. I was amazed during a windstorm with reported 50+ winds that the CB held up fine for three days in a relatively unsheltered area. I don't like the velcro on the vestibule.

kayakbrooklyn said...

Hey Bryan,

"Does your Alphamid work with a full paddle? Any experience with the MLD pyramids vs. the Oware?"

I have recently become more of a fan of pyramid/teepee type shelters since they figured out that you don't need thick heavy material for the skin.
They shed wind well making them a shelter of choice for paddle trips.

I was amazed the other day when I went to pitch my Alphamid in a nasty cold wind and realized that it pretty much set itself up without any help from me, er, oh, well maybe not that easy, but very easy just the same.

I laid it flat, staked out the four corners and then the pole and primary line raised without much effort at all. Followed by the optional rear tie to avoid flapping. All without the usual wrestling that happens with other shelters in the wind.

I was blown away by how easy it was!!!

Anyway, the one major advantage that the Alphamid has over other pyramid shelters is that since the entry side is flat and the pole goes on the outside. You can use anything that is long enough. An assembled multi-piece paddle or one piece (greenland?)paddle as the pole, makes no difference.
Since it's on the outside of the shelter you don't have to worry about adjusting the length of the support pole.

Otherwise Mountain Laurel and the many other ultralight Pyramids are great.

You could use two assembled paddles for support with the other pyramid shelters in a "V" configuration just fine.

"You almost have me pulling the trigger on a Meteor"

I still think this is a great piece of kit. Super light. I always bring it along. It may just be a ground cloth in perfect conditions, but becomes a bug net when under a tarp when needed.
I also find it helps protect from other weather extremes by reducing splash from blowing rain under a shelter and helps reduce breeze in the cold.

Adds another layer of protection when needed. So combines well with ultralight shelters.

Regarding the Cloudburst,
It is a great ultra light shelter and I can't say anything bad about Henry Shire's shelters.

Every shelter has it's advantages and I consider the Cloudburst as one of the best all around ultralight shelters.

I think the Alphamid with a Meteor bivy would be lighter, more flexible and better for extreme conditions, but I haven't spent enough time with it yet to tell.

Bryan said...

Thanks for the answers. I didn't have good luck with a Tarptent Double Rainbow, but I like the Cloudburst, except for the velcro. At some point, I might replace the velcro with a lightweight zipper. I would agree that the Cloudburst is one of the best lightweight shelters that I've used.

Any experience with pyramids on Canadian shield granite or on sand. I imagine it's easier to set up than a flat tarp on the same terrain.

kayakbrooklyn said...

Hi Bryan,
"Any experience with pyramids on Canadian shield granite or on sand."

As a matter of fact I had to pitch the Go-lite Hut 1 and the Gatewood cape on solid bedrock in exposed strong winds. One of those winds that you can't even walk in without falling.
My buddy was using the Gatewood and had never pitched one before.

I had to use some big heavy rocks stacked on top of a stick for each tie.
We had to spend the night high on the exposed rock because it was the only safe area to camp. We were surrounded by nothing but dead trees from a forest fire and trees and branches were coming down in this area from the wind.

We were both fine in our pyramids, they didn't flap as much as I would have thought.

We ran into a scout troop when we hiked down the next morning and they told us that most of them had broken tent poles and didn't get much sleep. Of course they were probably using cheap dome tents with fiberglass poles.

It does go to show that a pyramid can work quite well without ground to stake into.

kayakbrooklyn said...

P. S. I do find that pyramid tents in general setup easier in strong wind than flat tarps and as stated earlier, especially the Alphamid.

It would be rare that you wouldn't be able to setup in a protected area so it's probably a non-issue.
The flat tarp would be more flexible though.

Bryan said...

I'm just thinking about tripping up on Lake Nipigon. The dense forest comes right down to the water, so many of the campsites are on rock. Or kayaking in Georgian Bay, where the only place to camp is on Canadian shield. Those are my favorite destinations right now.

I sure wish stores would start carrying these products. It's been awhile since I've seen the GoLite mids.

Now I need to figure out how to sell by used-for-7-days Big Sky International Convertible 2P shelter to buy a mid. I'm sold.

kayakbrooklyn said...

Hi Bryan,
I know what you mean about those rocky locations.
They sound like awesome paddle destinations.

Check out:

But I tend to use this method:

Hold off on selling your Big Sky until you are sure you dig a mid type shelter.
When you do decide to sell, you'll get top dollar at or

Bryan said...

Nice links. I tend to use method 4 in the first link. But I'll have to try your method.

I don't use the Big Sky much, so I think it's going up at some point soon. I have lots of gear I need to sell, because I don't use it.

Thanks for all the feedback and advice.

kayakbrooklyn said...

Hey Bryan,

I have also become more and more interested in the MLD Trailstar for paddle and backpacking trips.

The reasons:
No zipper/velcro. Nothing to wear out.

Very good at shedding wind when pitched tight. Wind has often been an issue with me when camping near open water.

Roomy enough for two or more or one with paddling gear to dry.

Very flexible design. People have come up with some cool pithces, including a four sided pyramid similar to an MLD solomid.
Easy to pitch.

Of course the Oware Alphamid is still my fave because of its height and the fact that I can use a fully assembled paddle as the tent pole.