Thursday, May 13, 2010

Comparing ultralight shelters to more traditional ones

The thing with ultralight gear is that it takes more effort sometimes to stay warm and dry. That doesn't make ultralight gear less worthy. Much ultralight gear is not made for people who don't want to think about the external issues involved.

Ultralight tents in particular depend on you adding a few crucial ingredients, including choosing a good camp site where there is limited wind, katabatic air (cold air that sinks), condensation etc, and choosing a good spot in the site where there won't be a puddle of water forming and where trees and bushes can provide some additional warmth, shelter and condensation protection. Very frequently this means that the typical backcountry campsite that most people aspire to, such as a nice lakeshore site or a spot in a meadow, are rejected because these sites will be cold, wet and uncomfortable. Much better will be a mid-slope site protected by trees. Sometimes you have to pass by the nice lake-side site or select a tent site a small walking distance away to be able to attain the kind of warmth, dryness and protection that a more robust and heavy tent will provide. Not a problem to me because the hours I spend at night are unconscious while the hours I spend hiking are enhanced by a small pack.

You can't just throw up a shelter like a Z-Packs hexamid any old place and expect it to work as well as a heavy, double-wall shelter. But with care you can choose a good site, arrange the ground sheet and other items well, and sleep warm, safe and dry. That is the trade-off. Easy warm safe and dry with a lot of weight, or warm safe and dry with a little extra thought and care. So it's only with the thought and care added that ultralight and more traditional shelters can be compared.


  1. I haven't been happy with my single walled light weight tents. They fail in hard rain. It's not as wet as outside but it's plenty wet inside. Everyone I have ever pressed about it, admitted they end up wet or have never used their tent in hard rain.

    Yeah they are great to carry and serve as an idea of a tent. But when put to the test, they fail.

    Big Sky makes a double walled shelter as does Light Heart, that I have been thinking of trying. Big Sky's weighs 2 lbs and is freestanding, and Light Heart's weigh's 26 oz but you have to use trekking poles with it.

    I also sometimes think about just carrying a blue plastic tarp. Once I camped under one, it rained really hard, like it does in Florida, but it worked perfectly and I stayed dry.

    My gear has tended to get a little heavier but I want stuff that actually works.

    One thing I noticed about many of the super light weight hikers is that they spend a lot of time in town.

  2. That may be true. I've been rained on inside every tent I've ever been in when the rain has been persistent. Just like hiking in the rain, I have my doubts you can really stay dry out in the rain.

    I think the blue tarp is a really good idea. The people in the Dwelling Portably series use them even for winter.

    I think a tarp is supposed to be better in rain than a tent anyway. I have not tried it myself, but I did meet someone with a tarp in the rain and he seemed as dry or drier than me.