Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid: First Impressions

I won’t be able to get out and try the new shelter until the weekend, after I’ll be able to report back with photographs. But if you’re one of those folks who is very interested in this shelter here are some first impressions, based on a couple of days playing in the garden.

Be warned. This is for dedicated gear heads only!

The ultimate aim for the lightweight backpacker — at least when it comes to packs and shelters — is to obtain the greatest volume for the lowest weight. Well. perhaps that’s not strictly true when it come to packs but it certainly is for shelters.

The teepee style shelter has a lot going for it. The teepee is very stable in bad weather, provides all round protection and usually provides a great deal of useable space. I have a tarp that provides a huge amount of space for a ridiculously light weight but, for me, this is not a shelter to use in really bad weather and high winds. I love my tarp but on a multi night backpacking trip it is nice to be able to look forward to a good night’s sleep. The last thing I want to be doing all night is getting up to cope with a change in wind direction or to tighten guy ropes and so on. For some folks this is the ultimate challenge, but it’s not for me.

The Golite Hex has always been attractive but perhaps not enough to tempt me in parting with real cash. The Hex provides real space but it is quite heavy. Add a bug nest for dealing with Scottish summers and there’s very little advantage over my Akto. The Hex can be used for two people but is a little cramped and on long trips the lack of a proper vestibule is a problem — as is mud in the tent.

Enter the Duomid

Over the last couple of years a number of lightweight specialists have moved in on the Hex adapting its design to use four sides as opposed to eight and relying on lighter weight fabrics for construction. Mountain Laurel is a company I know well and when they introduced the Duomid I sat up and took notice. The Duomid is available in two materials, sinylon and cuben fibre. The sinylon version is light but it the cuben fibre tent that really catches the eye. This is a shelter that copes with the elements, provides plenty of space and yet weighs less than 400 grams. Add a single person bug nest and you will still be only around 700 grams. 700 grams for a two skinned tent is significantly lighter than a Laser Competition and for this you get substantially more room.

I intend to use my Duomid as both a single skin shelter and, perhaps, as a dual skin in Scotland.

Now the tent has arrived I’m very happy with both the weight and the space that it features. Here are some early observations.

The Use of Cuben Fibre

This tarp tent is certainly very light but I worried about how robust it would be. Like spinnaker cuben fibre is heavily used in the world of sailing. I can be very tough despite its weight. But cuben has one problem, it can puncture easily. Cuben is often sealed using solvents and heat rather than stitching. Stitching, however, can cause problems under pressure and the threads can simply pull through cuben’s resin structure.

The quality of Ron Bell’s goods — both the manufacture and the design — is always superb and so I decided to look seriously at the cuben option. Could it cope with high winds and storms?

I emailed Ron and the n spoke to him on the phone. The cuben fibre tent was pretty bomb proof. It was almost as good as the sinylon. The only real difference in the two was the strength of the door zip, the cuben zip being lighter and more fragile (I guess because of the pressure on the cuben). I checked with ULA pack maker Brian Frankle who has used the cuben version. Brian reckons the tent is super in high winds. So, I decided to go for it after chatting with Phil Turner on this year’s TGO Challenge. Phil has also taken the plunge.

The Duomid tarp is beautifully made. The design is clean and the stitching in stress areas is usually supported with sinylon. In addition Ron uses different weights of cuben fibre across different sections of the tent. It certainly looks bomb proof. Use the mid tie out points on each of the four sides and this becomes a rigid structure with no flapping at all.

My first real inspection was of the zip and here I got the first real sense of Ron’s genius. The zip is light and fragile so Ron has designed a support system to take the strain. At the bottom of the zip is a popper fastener and a plastic buckle clip. These take the strain of the tarp off the zip and Ron recommends that the zip is only opened — either from the outside or the inside when these fasteners are closed. After playing around a bit I can see the point; these really do make it easier to protect the zip.

Space and Height

One up the tarp reveals itself to have a rectangular floor space. At 6 feet tall I easily have enough space to stretch our comfortably. Phil is 6 feet 2 and he finds it comfortable as well. The shelter feels particularly rooms if the mid panel tie outs are used. The pole can sit in the middle of the tent or can be offset at an angle to provide yet more sleeping space. There is clearly enough room for two people here. In two person mode the pole can be fixed in the centre of the tent or two poles can be used in an inverted V shape.

The shelter is suspended either from a chord from above (using a tree branch) or from a walking pole. MLD reckon the optimum height for the pole is four and a half feet which gives even tall people a lot of space to sit up in.

Pitching

The Duomid can be pitched using a number of variations. In bad weather it can be pitched sides to the ground with the mid panel tie outs providing real stability, or so it seems in the wind I experienced yesterday. In warmer weather (or colder still weather) ventilation can be improved by raising the mid point floor tie out points — to do this you simply set the tent up with less tension along the length.

The door pitch can be raised in a similar way with an effect that looks something like the beak of a Henry Shires Tarp Tent. Releasing the tension on the front width and you should be able to use the beak setup without any real tension on the door zip. The door can be configured in a number of ways. It can be rolled back or it can be pegged out so that one side of the door is offset from the other, increasing space, visibility and air flow.

The peg out options are interesting. At the mid point of each of the four sides of the pyramid are tie out points at the base as well as higher up the sides. A chord can be run between the two to provide a good V shaped configuration which really tensions the material as well as moving the sides of the shelter as far away from the inhabitants as possible. But the mid tie outs don’t have to be used. A far shorter length of chord can be used to raise the middle panels and this should provide enough stability in reasonable conditions.

The bottom tie outs are fixed to a kind of line lock that I haven’t come across before. This allows you to run a chord through it and to provide easy tension. These line locks are really effective at the front when you want to adjust the tension from inside of the tent. While effective, these line locks only really work with reasonably thick chord. At first I tried pegging out with 1.5 mm dyneema. This tiny chord is very tough and works well with min line locks. Using this chord I couldn’t see how to get the fixed locks to work and resorted to using mini line locks. When I replaced this chord with the chord the came with the tarp I had no problems.

I’ve yet to cut the chords into lengths but I reckon I’ve probably enough chord to make buys for both the mid tie outs and the simple base ties. When using the base ties, especially at the front, I can expand the length of the guy by using some 1.5mm dyneema as an extension piece. I always carry spare 1.5 mm chord when I’m carrying a tarp. It weighs very little and with the use of a few simple nots provides you with a lot of extra options.

Cost

So far so good. But cuben does come at a price. This is not cheap stuff and I suspect that it is difficult to work. It takes a true artisan to work in this stuff and that — at least — is what Ron Bell is. This tent exudes quality.

This isn’t a tent for somebody who wants a shelter that will last for years but most lightweight hikers may find it worth the investment.

The sinylon Duomid costs $195, which is just under £120. The cuben version is about £230, so there is a real price premium. The sinlyon version weighs in at 450 grams and the cuben at just over 300 grams.

By way of comparison a Hilleberg Akto will cost you £330 on Amazon and more elsewhere. Add an inner tent to the Duo mid and the sinylon version will set you back £206 and the cuben about £320 — still less than the AKto (and with substantially more room). Cotswold and Tiso sell the Laser Competition at around £260 (although you can buy it cheaper). The Duomid has tons more room than the Competition. The Duomid arrives in a small envelope which may well evade customs though if you’re unlucky like me it will cost you another £20 in duty.

Mountain Laurel Designs is a tiny company. You get besp[oke quality at a price. Oh, and you have to wait for your order to be made and delivered. The production queue at the moment is 6 weeks.

So, there you have it. You will have to wait until the weekend for a fuller report. The weather forecast is for rain on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and so the tent should get a reasonable test. All I have to do is to seam seal the stitching seams on the side panels and I should be ready.

I’l leave the last word to Phil Turner. I think Phil was at home today. I got a text early on telling me the weather was good and he was off to play with the tent. A few texts later and Phil was declaring unlimited love for his new tent. I think this is a tent that is going to get me the same way!

Comments

  1. excellent write up so far Andy. There are a few people around on the net in the UK who already own this but not in Cuben fibre. I will be interested to find out how the cuben fibre version fares out in the wilds.

    And no this is exactly the length of report i wish to read. Hang on a minute…..I am a gear head!

    :)

    • Dave, one of them — Mike from Dundee — was I believe the guy who suggested to Ron that he put tie-outs on the mid, side panels. Ta Mike.

  2. Great stuff – now you’ve mentioned the ‘V’ pole configuration I’m tempted – I seem to have a mental block on having a pole in the middle of the tent going back to the days of a classic ridge tent and knocking the hooter over going out of the door…

  3. I will be very interested to see how you get on with this. Can’t say I like the idea of a see through tent, but the silnylon one appeals with a bug shelter. Also interested in the A frame idea.

    • It’s not see through! Not out in the open.

      I shall be very interested to see how I get on with as well!

  4. Mike fae Dundee says:

    I can’t claim all the credit for the mid-panel tie-outs Andy. I’m pretty sure others suggested it too.
    We need more long ‘gear-head’ posts! :)
    I’m experimenting at the moment with the ‘V’ pitch using trekking poles. Ron suggests using 2 12″ lengths of alum tubing to extend the poles. I’m playing around with ideas on this. Carbon fibre is the lightest, but the most difficult to work with. I have some cf sections from old fishing rods.
    The easiest idea i’ve thought of is 2 sections of alum tube flattened at one end. Drill a hole through the flattened ends and screw together. A nice, simple extension that can be adjusted to any angle. I may try and make an alum joint that fits onto 2 cf shafts.
    One of the things i like about shelters like these is that you can fiddle about with them to your hearts content.:)

  5. That’s a relief MIke. When I go out with Bob I’m usually left twiddling my thumbs while he plays with an amazing array of new gadgets and gear.

    Now, I’ll be able to play with the tarp!

  6. Mike,

    You’re in luck. I’m in a gear head kind of mood at the moment!

  7. Ryan Jordan of BackpackingLight.com got in touch via the wonders of Twitter to tell me that he’s used the cuben DuoMid with Serenity NetTent “on the Beartooth Plateau at 12k in a pretty bad storm with high winds – held up ok”. Nice.

  8. Sounds good Phil. Perhaps there will be a gale this weekend :-)

  9. You know, part of me wants there to be actually…. Just make sure you photograph it though, huh? ;-)

  10. Phil, there will be a camera and podcast machine and — I think — Bob is threatening to take a video!

  11. Mike fae Dundee says:

    I’m meant to be in the Gorms this weekend with the Duomid. Severe gale force winds are forecast for the Friday according to Metcheck.
    The Duomid might stay in the pack, and a nice bothy sought out instead! :)

  12. You wimp Mike :-)

  13. Really helpful and informative post Andy. I’ve seen a couple of pics on BPL US where it looks like the edges kind of flatten/bow out, like a catenary curve where it meets the ground, robbing lots of space at ground level. (think you posted below the one I mean)
    The pic on Phil’s site looks much better with the corner seams forming a nice straight line down to the ground.
    I’d be interested to know if you think the one in the BPL pic is just a poor pitch, or is this a feature of the cuben version?

    • I know what you mean Jim. Height is critical here. Ron suggests 54 inches is the optimum height. After measuring my pole lengths I realised I was using them shorter than that and this had the effect you mentioned. But even down low there is a lot of space inside, especially with the mid panel tie outs used. I guess it depends on the weather. I’ll take lots of photos at the weekend!

  14. Mike fae Dundee says:

    I too have noticed the ‘flattening’ that can occur at the corners. I can’t figure out what causes it. I spent a couple of hours in my parents flat garden pitching it. Sometimes it comes out perfect, other times i get that ‘flattened’ corner effect. I’ve tried various combinations of height and guy lines, but haven’t nailed down the reason yet.
    I’m not too worried if i don’t get it perfect every time, as there is more than enough room for it not to cause any problems.

  15. Andy – when you get a chance could you illustrate some of the configurations with pictures. I’d be most interested.

    • Philip,

      I was out this weekend camping on the side of the Welsh coast. On Friday night we had an incredible storm which really pounded the Duomid. I hadn’t cracked the config but the storm really helped. The next evening was sunny and calm with lots of chances to experiment and take photos! They will be coming, maybe this evening.

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