Ditch the dome
Ah, the venerable freestanding dome tent! Roomy. Stable. Easy to erect and move around. Or is it? Is it really any more roomy than some of the other options available to us? Certainly, it's stable – maybe even bombproof if its got a nice geodesic structure – but complex structures come with a price to pay: poles. Lots of them. Big, dangly, fold-away poles, held together with elastic cord. Furthermore, once a manufacturer settles on poles, they succumb to a temptation to add bizarrely complicated joints and awnings to create as sci-fi a shape as possible (I know not all of those examples are strictly dome tents, but as examples of overcomplicated designs, you get my point). Then, of course, this creates the need for additional of tie downs and guy cords to make sure your easily moveable shelter doesn't, well, easily move.
Mainstream manufacturers release a veritable plethora of tents every year, all designed to appeal to our senses and impress us with their technological ingenuity. I suppose the idea is that the more high-tech they are, the more we are likely to feel secure in them at night. Their latest tent will be the perfect shelter for all your needs, and hey, it's “ultralight” at 2.5kg/5.5lbs!
Admittedly, in recent years, the geodesic dome has fallen somewhat out of fashion, but the tendency to overcomplicate designs in search for the perfect (or, rather, perfectly marketable) tent remians. In reality, of course, there is no perfect shelter. There are only shelters appropriate for your needs, for the environment and climate you will be in: the time of year, the expected conditions, the amount of bugs etc.
Do we need all this over-engineering? And if not, what do we need? These are the fundamental questions we should ask when purchasing a tent or shelter. Do you really need a double-walled tent with integrated bathtub floor and separate groundsheet/footprint to protect that floor? No. Traditional tents also weigh a ton, and with profit margins always important, the combination of complicated construction with poorly sewn seams makes it almost inevitable that some will leak. And yet they still remain so attractive...
For an ultralight approach, we need to embrace a shift in values; we must accept that all that extra stuff is unnecessary, and reject it. A shelter can (and arguably should) be simple. That is precisely what the name suggests: it is a shelter, not a second home. It must protect you, keep you dry, offer you a place to hang out in poor conditions, and, ideally, not take up 75% of your pack weight and space.
Through careful consideration of what we need from a tent, it is possible to drastically reduce the weight of this essential item, and consequently of your pack. You can easily cut the weight of your shelter by a half or more, simply by switching to a simpler alternative. But how simple?
Let's begin by simplifying the structure. Instead of two walls (one to keep out rain or moisture, another to keep out the rain or moisture that the first one doesn't keep out), could we perhaps get by with just one?
One wall or two?
We've been told we need two walls in a tent to reduce condensation, and provide an additional layer of protection from rain. But is condensation really all that bad? It only becomes a problem when you come into contact with it, or when so much is produced it splatters off when pounded by rain.
In order to reduce condensation, traditional tents are designed with ventilation flaps and other contrivances to encourage airflow. With that taken into consideration, what if, instead of fighting condensation, we simply accept it as part of the experience? Then we quite literally open up our shelter options.
Most ultralight shelters are single wall, floorless designs, either in the shape of tarps (essentially a sheet of material suspended as you choose to create an open shelter), or in the form of an enclosed (i.e. zippered) or semi-enclosed pyramid-style structure. There are many variations on these two designs, but in principle tarps and pyramids can be considered a simplified categorisation.
But what about condensation?
To which I say: So what about condensation? Yes, it happens, somewhat inevitably. Because tarps and pyramids are designed to be open or raised shelters, there is plenty of airflow through them, but condensation will still form if there is a temperature differential between the shelter material and the air. You don't even need to be in or under it to find moisture building up on the iside of your tarp (for much more info on condensation see the link to a Backpacking Light article at the end of this post).
Typically, the amount of condensation is nothing a microfiber-towel or a good shake can't deal with. Then, when you pack up camp, you simply stuff the shelter into the outside mesh pocket of your new ultralight backpack, and hit the trail. You can always stop to dry it off if the sun is shining.
As for needing a separate vestibule to protect your gear whilst you're inside the shelter, often there is so much room under a single-wall shelter that this simply isn't an issue. If you do brush up against some condensation, it's not usually enough to wet out your nice fluffy down sleeping bag – which is what we really want to avoid. To assist with this. some bags and quilts have a heavier duty material on the footbed and shoulder areas, or are constructed entirely out of a more water resistant material, and can therefore be used under a tarp without the need for an additional wall of protection.
However, to be on the safe side, many ultralighters might use a bivy under the tarp or in their shelter. This adds a layer of protection against condensation, the ingress of rain, and bugs. Bivy bags typically weigh very little – far less than an inner tent – and, assuming you have a fairly good idea of the weather conditions, offer the flexibility of sleeping inside them without even using an additional shelter at all. When you combine a bivy bag (or bug inner) with a tarp or pyramid you effectively have a very flexible, modular system: a kind of modifiable two-wall shelter, that you can adapt to different situations and conditions.
It is this flexibility of use which we seek in the ultralight world. Why be limited to a static design of a tent when you can carry multiple shelter options with you for less weight. For example, with a tarp and bivy you get to choose from: tarp only, tarp and bivy for rain/bug seasons, bivy only, or tarp and bug inner if you live in particularly hellish mosquito country. You carry with you the best of all worlds, and can adapt to the situation with ease.
So to summarize: don't fear condensation. When you think about how it magically forms out of thin air, it's quite a beautiful thing. When you consider that some tarps weigh a mere 200g (7oz) or less, even after adding stakes, cord, and seam sealer, the total weight could be around 500g, and you’ll have shaved up to 4 lbs (2 kg) from your load. Not bad.
How about no walls at all?
The logical extension of all this is to skip the shelter altogether if you know the weather is going to be fine. That's a nice idea, but I have yet to go hiking anywhere where the weather is 100% predictable. Even in desert climates I'd still take a simple tarp as shelter, and sleep under the stars only if conditions seemed appropriate. If it does rain, at least I have shelter, and in hot climates it can also be used to create shade. The weight of a tarp is a small price to pay for safety.
Sorry, did you say floorless?
In a tent, you usually have a floor. Some people even buy another floor to protect that floor from the ground. With a tarp or pyramid shelter, there is much less between you and Mother Earth. There are advantages and disadvantages to this, the main advantage being, of course, less to carry. The main disadvantage is a potential increase in condensation, but this is largely compensated for by the open, ventilated designs of the shelters – and anyway, we just learned not to fear condensation! Love it for what it is!
Personally, I think that it is precisely the proximity to nature offered by tarps and pyramid shelters that is their main attraction. To wake up under a tarp and see morning mist rising off dew-covered ground is something quite special. Throw in a couple of deer cavorting in a nearby dell, and you have an idyllic scene to accompany your morning oats. Why hide yourself away in a tent when the whole point of being outside is to be in nature? Under a tarp or in an open pyramid, you are much closer to the environment, and your experience will be all the better for it.
Nevertheless, sometimes we need a little protection from the elements. It would be a shame to have to camp on less-than-ideal ground and get mud, sand, or moisture in our gear. The simplest solution is to carry a small sheet of polycryo or tyvek to provide a barrier between you and whatever surface you camp on. It need only be a little larger than your sleeping bag, and weighs next to nothing. Another option is to simply use a bivy; most have a more durable, waterproof material on their base.
Naturally, as with any tent, you'll probably want some form of insulating barrier between you and the ground to keep you comfortable and warm in the night. This will most likely take the shape of an air or closed-cell foam pad – and we'll look at those and some alternatives in part 4.
Ah, but I live in bug country...
I feel you. There are several ways to cope with bugs. Many summer bivy bags feature a bug window. Tie the bivy hood up to the top of the tarp, zip up the hood, and sleep in peace. Some bags feature a larger area which can be suspended or raised to give a less claustrophobic feeling. For the ultimate in luxury, and in my opinion indispensable in places such as Lapland or Minnesota, a solo-sized mesh bug inner will keep the bugs at bay and give you a little room to keep your sanity intact. There are as many bug inner designs as there are tarps and pyramids, so check out the manufacturer links at the end if you are blighted by bugs.
If you want to go one step further, some tarp manufacturers offer separate inners, that essentially transform the shelter into a very simple two-walled tent. They can be a godsend in terrible bug country as they give you a little more room if you need to escape the winged onslaught.
Aren't tarps hard to pitch?
It’s good to remember that if you are caught in dire conditions, being able to get a shelter up nice and fast is essential. Honestly, tarps and 'mids are no more difficult to pitch than any other tent. I'd even go so far as to say they are easier. A couple of stakes, some tensioning, maybe (but not necessarily) a knot, and you'll have a shelter more taut than any dome, and often in a lot less time.
So which are better then, tarps or pyramids?
Neither. It all depends on where you'll be going, the conditions you expect, and you personal preferences. Tarps offer great flexibility: hang them high for palatial roominess, or hunker down to the ground in bad weather. They are more suited to forested areas or low country – they are not really intended to withstand sustained high winds, and they don’t offer much heat retention in cold climates.
Pyramids on the other hand are great for variable climates and/or winter use, but can still be opened up to create a lean-to like shelter. They also offer plenty of headroom if, like me, you are on the tall side. They can shed wind better and, as they are surprisingly sturdy, can be used more readily in open or exposed spaces. They also can be pitched high or low, and offer the possibility to hunker down behind a closed door in atrocious conditions. They are somewhat better in cold conditions.
But I really need a freestandiing tent!!!
Theoretically, with enough knowledge and skills, you could pitch a tarp or pyramid anywhere, but there are certain conditions when a freestanding shelter might be preferable. If you know, for example, that you will be pitching on bare rock, obviously stakes are not an option, and you will have to make use of rocks or other weighty objects to tension the shelter.
In such circumstances, there can be benefits to a freestanding tent that can be pitched quickly and moved around - fortunately today there are many freestanding or semi-freestanding shelters from manufacturers large and small that still qualify as ultralight, and the popular ones are highlighted at the end of this article.
Are there any other options?
How about a hammock? There’s been an increase in popularity with hammocks in recent years. There are ultralight hammocks with integrated bug netting, and a tarp rain fly for around 700g. Pretty good, if that's how you hang...
A note on CHINESE rip-offs
Much has changed since the first version of Ultralight Makeover was published. Back in 2011, the only place you could buy truly ultralight gear was from cottage manufacturers, who carefully designed and hand-made their own gear. In the years that followed, the “big guys” saw what was going on and jumped on the bandwagon. As a result, a lot of ultralight (or at least much lighter) shelters were “designed” (a.k.a. copied) and sent off for bulk overseas manufacturing in Asia. C’est la vie.
But what goes around, comes around. If you offload the manufacture of your top secret designs to nascent capitalist countries in search of cheap labour, what can you expect but to have your designs appropriated? Unfortunately, this process also extended to the cottage industries. All it takes is for some industrious individual in a far away country to order an über light tent from a cottage, and then hey presto, the design can be copied and not much can be done about it (unless you have the money to throw at international trade lawyers, and to my knowledge most cottage industries don’t).
Anyway, long story short, yes, you can find cheap knock-off versions of almost any kind of shelter on Aliexpress. Look in there and you’ll see knock-offs of TrailStars, WickiUp’s, Hennesey hammocks - pretty much everything you can imagine.
Is it ethical to buy them? Well, obviously no. Are they any good? That’s harder to determine. I’ve never seen any in the flesh. Reviews I’ve read are often by people who haven’t seen the originals, so there is no comparison. They’re cheap because the labour market is exploitative, and the materials are probably not specced to as high a standard. They damage industry and innovation and employment in your own country, so to an extent you are shooting yourself in the foot. (I made a short film sort about this, if you’re interested.)
That said, if you are totally broke and want to enjoy the outdoors but can’t afford original prices, what can I say? It’s your choice. Personally, I’d consider looking at used gear from, for example GearTrade or the Backpacking Light Gear Swap forums.
What does Backpacking North use?
My journey towards using ultralight shelters was probably fairly typical. Many years ago, I was in InterSport in Rovaniemi, and made an impulse purchase of a Haglöfs Genius 21 dome tent.
It was spectacular. I loved it. Short, Norwegian pensioners admired it at the top of large Norwegian mountains. It weighed a ton! Remember the 343 principle I wrote about in part 1? The Genius 21 weighed 4kg (8.8lb)! Not so genius after all. Sure it could fit 2.1 people (go figure), and when split between two it wasn't quite so bad to carry. But When I took it on a solo hike with my dog (who, incidentally, refused to carry half of it; so much for man's best friend) I was utterly exhausted. Great tent though. Tough. Reliable. Green. I took it to Utah last year with a friend. It was such a pain to pitch in the high winds blowing down from Forty Mile Ridge. So much for the ease and simplicity of a dome. (Well, to be fair, it would have been hard to pitch anything on slickrock with a storm raging.)
Just before moving to Minnesota, I decided I wouldn't carry such a ridiculous weight with me ever again, and went in search of a solo tent. After reading recommendations in Colin Walker's and Chris Townsend's books, I plumped for a Hilleberg Akto.
Perfect for one man and his dog. And much lighter than the Genius at 1.4kg (3lbs 2oz). Today, that seems to me like a fairly heavy shelter. I still like the Akto as a tent, although today, Hilleberg have released a pseudo-ultralight version called the Enan. Ultimately I decided to sell it, as I just wasn't using it any more.
When I finally decided to truly go ultralight, I took a dive off the deep end and purchased a Gossamer Gear SpinnTwinn.
A simple tarp, made out of spinnaker fabric, (used, like Dyneema/cuben fiber, for yacht sails). When it arrived through my post box, I couldn't stop grinning. It weighed 300g, seam sealed, with cords attached. Let me repeat that: 300g (something like 10oz) – and that's for the two person SpinnTwinn. That's 3700g lighter than the Genius 21. Or 1100g lighter than the Akto. It felt as if weighed nothing at all. I still laugh deliriously when I think about this. I'm doing it now.
And the fact is, it's a great shelter. Simple to pitch, easy to re-pitch and modify if the weather changes. Beautiful. Elegant. Its taut catenary curve is truly something to behold. To see the world slipping into darkness under it is so soothing. To wake up under it is an invigorating delight. I felt more a part of nature under the SpinnTwinn than I did in any other shelter. Admittedly, compared to a really basic rectangular tarp (without a catenary curve) it is a little limited in pitching options (or at least, you need some creativity and skill) but I loved it. It achieved everything I needed.
So why did I need to go and buy a DuoMid?
Well, under a SpinnTwinn in bug country you are going to want some protection. A bivy is fine, but a little limiting. Also, I wanted something for the more exposed conditions of Lapland, and something that I could use in winter – something, in other words, with a door. The SpinnTwinn is great but in a snowstorm... no thanks.
My Mountain Laurel Designs DuoMid has a bug netting perimeter to keep the worst of the mosquitoes at bay (I’ve since removed it - opting for a more effective bug inner against the rapacious Lapland mosquitoes), and can be pitched high or low for additional space. It is already huge, with more than enough room to sit or half stand. Pitch it high and it becomes palatial. Open the doors wide and it's like my own personal laavu (lean-to). I can shut out the wind and the snow. I can cook inside. I can fit all my gear in and still have room to lounge around. It's light – 614g – still 3400g lighter than the Genius 21, and like the SpinnTwin pitches perfectly with my trekking poles (just one, in fact). Plus it has one additional feature...
It's bright yellow.
There's a lot to be said for blending into the landscape, but there's a lot more to be said for waking up under a sunny yellow pyramid of joy. These days, I reach for my DuoMid more than any other shelter when heading out alone. Although sleeping under a tarp is wonderful, there is something about the DuoMid that just feels right. It might not be the lightest pyramid or tarp (MLD now offer cuben fiber versions, and there are similar designs by others as we’ll see), and I did supplement it with a really good bug inner from OokWorks to cope with the summer mosquitoes in Lapland, which pushes the weight another 300g), but sometimes, you know... weight isn't everything. I'm still carrying less than ever before. I'm protected from the elements. And I'm happy. And that's what counts.
For a bivy I use a Katabatic Gear Bristlecone (200g / 7oz) – a truly great bivy with plenty of room for all-year-round use, and a huge 180º bug netting window. As it has a waterproof floor, so I don't really need a ground sheet, but I generally take a sheet of tyvek, just in case.
If I’m travelling with a friend or family, I use a Nigor / Eureka Wickiup SUL 3. Split between two people, it’s 1.9kg isn’t too bad, and it’s proven to be a reliable shelter with a fast setup.
As I mentioned earlier, the shelter you choose must suit your needs and the environment you most often hike in. No one shelter will be perfect for every situation. What's good for Lapland is probably overkill for Utah. When you're choosing a ultralight shelter, take a look at what ultralighters in your neck of the woods are using. It's highly likely that their gear choices will be appropriate for you. And with that thought in mind...
What do other people use?
While researching this article, I was amazed how many tarp configurations are available from different manufacturers. MLD, for example, offers seven versions of a simple rectangular tarp (and that's before we even get into TrailStars). As the emphasis of the Ultralight Makeover series is on proven gear, I'll once again be focusing on exactly that: gear which other bloggers and hikers use and recommend.
If there's one thing to say about buying a tarp it's this: size up. They're so light you can afford the luxury of a two person shelter, and when you are stuck under one for a day you'll be glad you did. The weight penalty of choosing a two person tarp over a solo is usually negligible compared to the benefits of larger coverate.
Gossamer Gear Twinn
Gossamer Gear’s SpinnTwinn was one of the most popular tarps created, and the company has gone through a couple of revisions. mostly changing materials. They currently offer the just the basic Twinn, a silnylon version that weighs 8.5oz / 242g. The Twinn remains easy to set up. With just a couple of trekking poles (for example Gossamer Gear's LT5 poles which are a match made in heaven) you'll have it up in under five minutes. The catenary curve limits its pitching options a little more than a straight cut tarp, but creates a very taut pitch that rain just trickles off. A taut pitch will limit any unpleasant nocturnal flapping (from the tarp... other wind noises are your own problem), but now that it’s made of Silnylon you’ll have to work a little harder to keep it tight as the material is affected more by humidity and moisture than cuben fiber or spinnaker. I switched out the provided line for a slightly thicker (maybe 2mm) cord. I found the spectracore line on mine stretched when wet, causing the line to slip in the corner and side linelocs. It costs a mere $155, which is a pretty good bargain.
Backpacking Light gave the original SpinnTwinn a coveted "highly recommended" rating, which you can read with a membership subscription here. The ubiquitous Mr. Morkel also liked his, at least until he got a...
Hyperlight Mountain Gear Echo II
The HMG Echo II is a nice modular tarp system. It takes the traditional rectangular tarp design and adds a few elements to make it more suitable for a range of conditions. The tarp itself is not dissimilar to the GG Twinn, but the accessories make it an interesting shelter. An inner tent (15oz / 425g) transforms it into an integrated double-wall, bug-free shelter. A separately available “complete” Echo II System (29 oz / 823g) combines the tarp, inner and a neat detachable beak. As with all cuben fiber gear, it's a bit pricey – the complete, two person Echo II System comes in at $695, while the tarp alone is priced at $325. They also have a traditional flat tarp (which can be pitched in more flexible ways.
I like the look of it, and so do Hendrik and Philip W.
Many of the ultralight tarps use exotic materials and designs, and consequently cost a lot of money. However, if you're on a budget, there are a lot of basic rectangular tarps which in some ways are more flexible as they offer an almost infinite variety of pitching options. The Alpkit Rig 7 tarp, which weighs 550g (including stuff sack!), costs a more pocket friendly €100. MLD also offer a range of tarps, including the neat little Cricket.
There is one shelter that has risen in popularity recently that, being semi-enclosed but doorless, doesn't fit into either of the main categories:
Falling somewhere between an open tarp and a pyramid shelter, Mountain Laurel Design's TrailStar has proven very popular - among UK ultralighters it’s almost obligatory. It might well be that its combination of luxurious space, simplicity of pitching, and the open "alcove" style entrance is perfect for the inclement British weather. Many people claim that its wind-shedding abilities are unsurpassed, and it certainly looks very sturdy for its 16oz / 450g of silnylon. It's a good example of a shelter that suits a particular climate, I think, although I'd hesitate to make it my main shelter in Lapland where, as it were, I need closure.
Chris Townsend uses one, and there can be no greater recommendation. If you want to see how easy it is to pitch, check out this awesome video at The Pain Cave.
Basically, a tarp with a door, constructed typically (but not always) around a single pole to create a super-sturdy single-wall shelter. Not all are pyramid shaped, but it serves as a good indicative categorization.
By far the most popular pyramid shelter of them all, Mountain Laurel Designs knocked out another winner with the DuoMid. Os their website says, “Often copied, never surpassed”, and it’s true. With their excellent construction and array of build-to-order options, the DuoMid is, perhaps, the ideal shelter. Pitch it open, pitch it low, get it with a bug netting perimeter, use it in winter (although it'll take longer to pitch) – it's such a good all-rounder. 16oz in silnylon, 12 oz in cuben fiber. But don't take my word for it. Witness the joys of yellow, grey and white at Thunder in the Night, Andy Howell, and Section Hiker.
As with rectangular tarps, the are many imitation DuoMids out there, so check the links at the end for other (often more readily available) options. MLD also now offer a bunch of material options, inner tents, and different sizes (i.e. SoloMid, DuoMid XL et al), so you’re bound to find one that suits your needs.
Locus Gear Khufu / Khafra
I originally hesitated to add Locus Gear to the guide, but over the years they have gains considerable popularity, so I would be remiss not to include them. It’s easy to call their pyramids a MLD ripoff, but in all fairness these things go both ways nowadays, as MLD has also responded to the offerings of other manufacturers. Anyway, the Locus Gear Khufu comes in many materials, has inners available, and by all accounts is a very well made and reliable shelter. The Sil version weighs in at a comparable 470g, but there are also DCF and eVent options. Hendrik, as ever, has one, as does Ryan Jordan. You’ll have to order from Japan, and convert the Yen into your own currency yourself.
Nigor WickiUp SUL 3 – a direct copy of the GoLite SL3 with arguably superior material construction.
The original Shangri-La, a twin-pole, single wall, pyramid-ish shelter receievd many favourable reviews in it’s time, and the Wickiup continues the trend. It has a teepee style construction that offers a huge amount of space for the weight (2lb 7oz / 1.13kg) and has undergone something of a resurgence in 2013. It's sold with the mesh inner, for a complete (and fairly reasonable) weight of 4lbs 5oz. / 1.93kg. Chris Townsend has reviewed it for TGO as has Norwegian Outdoors. I found it to be an excellent wind shedder in Sarek, and it remains one of my go-to shelters. You can find them online at UltralightOutdoorGear.uk.
HMG UltaMid 2 / UltaMid 4
If you want the best, look to Hyperlight Mountain Gear's highly-esteemed, cuben fiber UltaMids. These are the high-end, luxury apartments of the 'Mid world. They are used by people like Ryan Jordan, Jaakko Heikka, Forrest McCarthy and a whole host of people who demand the best. The only reason I don't have one yet is the premium price (and I have enough shelters already, let’s not be greedy). HMG also sell a variety of inners – including, now, a half inner, which for me is a major attraction. I prefer to only have half the inside of a 'Mid as my "safe zone", and the other half open to the ground for cooking and stashing wet gear. The UltaMids are great looking, very highly-regarded shelters. The two-person UltaMid 2 weighs 18.8 oz / 534 g and costs $715. The UltaMid 4 weighs 23 oz / 653g, and costs $865. The only problem is deciding which one to get, and which member of my family I should sell to finance one. There’s a good review at Bickpacking.com, and this shelter is perfectly suitable for that purpose.
Not ready to abandon tradition just yet? Fear not, there are ultralight options also for you…
Terra Nova Laser Competition and Laser Comp 2
Clearly riffing off the Hilleberg Akto, the Laser Comp (930g) gets a recommended rating from Backpacking LIght (members only). They also have new smaller packable versions in the Laser Compact 1 &.2.
Tartpent Scarp 1 & 2
Once all the rage, now not so much (perhaps owing to some reported quality issues), Henry Shires Tarptent Scarp (1 = 1.36kg / 48oz; 2 = 1.7kg / 60oz) got a recommended at BPL, a favourable review at Blogpacking Light, hesitant approval from Section Hiker, and tainted love from Backpacking Bongos. Tarptent have a range of shelters, the most popular of which are the Rainbow, Moment, Bowfin, and Notch.
Gossamer Gear - The One
There was once legend of a tent - truth be told a hybrid single-wall with inner - that was the one tent to rule them all. It was even named “The One”. It was a tent that surely existed at some point in history, but then vanished. Not so long ago, Gossamer Gear resurrected “The One”, and it once again gained a good reputation. At 21 oz / 600g for around $300, it’s a pretty nice shelter and gets good reviews. I was a little uncertain about the back of it, which has (as far as I can tell - Gossamer Gear never post photos of the back) just a small awning over mesh, and I worry that horizontal rain or drizzle will easily ingress. They also make “The Two” which, as a name, doesn’t quite work the same way.
I know what you’re thinking… Hilleberg?? Are you serious?? But yes, the Enan is a UL version of the venerable Akto. It weighs 2. 5lb / 1.13 kg, so it’s pushing it, but we’ll let it in as they do make some nice tents. Terry Abraham has one, and likes it. Backpacking light readers make some valid points, and it’s true that the TarpTent Moment is lighter and cheaper.
Single Wall Tents
It’s often noted that alpinists and winter ski-tourers prefer quick erections (the tent, not the climber/skier), and .
Black Diamond Firstlight
Certainly overkill for summer, it makes a great, rapidly deployed winter shelter, when you really don't want to be messing around with snow anchors and DuoMids unless you’re willing to lose all your toes to frostbite. Check it out at Alpinist, BPL (still members only, sorry), Section Hiker (of course), and Thunder in the Night.
The MSR Advance Pro is a very similar version of the same tent.
Sometimes a freestanding tent can undeniably be useful. If you’re camping on slickrock or bikepacking, the possibility to quickly throw up a tent can be a godsend. In olden times, this would have meant serious weight. Today… Things have changed. It’s no longer uncool to have a freestanding tent. What a happy world we live in!
Big Agnes tents
Over recent years, Big Agnes has embraced truly ultralight principles. They now have a ballooning range of freestanding UL tents ranging from “Superlight” (not really ultralight tents, but still respectable such as the Seedhouse SL1 (1.33 kg) or SL2 (1.53 kg)), to Ultralight (now we’re talking; the Copper Spur HV UL1 (964g), and UL2 (1.25kg) - both of which come in mtnGLO versions with integrated lighting; and the Fly Creek HV UL1 (765g) and UL2 (879g). Then there’s the Crazylight series (which almost seems to be deliberately taunting those who speak of the dangers of going crazy light) - here are the truly insanely light tents such as the Fly Creek HV1 Platinum (652g), and HV2 (737g), and the lightest, the Fly Creek HV1 Carbon (454g). They even have bikepacking specific tents now, which are perfectly suitable for backpacking too.
Big Agnes tents are particularly popular with bikepackers, who practically require their gear to be ultralight. You’ll find reviews on Bikepacking.com. Note that some of the tents, while described a “freestanding” are really “semi-freestanding”, so check what your needs are when narrowing down your selection.
Two hammocks stand tall (if a hammock do that) above the rest: the Hennessey Ultralight Backpacker Aysm Zip (1lb 15oz / 878), and the Warbonnet Eldorado (weights vary, but around 1 ln 9 oz / 700g) or Blackbird (1 lb 5 oz / 708 g). I know nothing about Hammocks, but you can read Hennesey reviews from users at Outdoor Gear Lab, Broke Backpacker, and Warbonnet reviews at Ultralight Outdoors, Section Hiker, and Outdoor Gear Lab. If you are interested, Hammock Forums is a good place to begin your research.
Ponchos are less favoured these days. While I wouldn't recommend the uninitiated leaping with both feet into poncho tarp camping, there are several manufacturers still catering to those with a hankering for some multi-use rain gear. Check out MLD's range, Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape. or the GoLite Poncho Tarp. If you went to know more, check out The Hikng Life, who recommends the MLD Pro.
Other sites with alternative and additional info etc.
Brian Green has a great intro post on ultralight shelters.
Trailspace also offers a good post that covers hammocks too.
BPL: More than you'll ever need to know about condensation.
BPL: More than you'll ever need to know about catenary curves.
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