A Comprehensive Look at Hex/Tepee Shelters

Gleann Gaorsaic Wildcamp

Phil Turner and 2 Dumids on the TGO Challenge

As Spring approaches the number of enquiries about gear rises. This year the most asked about piece of kit is the hex tent, tepee tent or Pyramid shelters. I suspect this is because Chris Townsend has been giving good reviews and ratings to the Mountain Laurel Pyramid shelters.

The requests for information I have cover the full spectrum of the ’tepee’ market, from festival-type tents to the latest ultra lightweight gear. So, let’s have a look at the merits of the different options and consider how they are different from more conventional camping and backpacking shelters.

Ultralight: When is shelter a tarp or a tent?

My Scottish Home

The Tramplite Shelter: Really a Tarp

Let’s start at the ultra end of the spectrum. First, off I have tails where people bracket the Colin Ibbotson shelter with others. The Tramplite Shelter from Colin — and similar shelters from both Z Packs and Mountain Laurel, are in many ways more tarp than tent. If you have not used a tarp before it is probably best not to start here! These shelters are light and offer a real of protection from the elements. However, the front doesn’t run to the ground, rather it is a ‘beak’ For the most part these give you all the coverage that you need but they are not a shelter who’s walls run to the ground; if the wind changes during the night you might have to find yourself changing your pitch. Unless you know what you are doing — or really want to travel light — I suggest passing these over (at least initially).

Tepee Tents — The Basics

The most obvious difference between these tents and more conventional offerings is that they only need one pole. Such shelters designed for backpacking can be erected using one of your trekking poles, most often with a pole extender or extra pole ‘insert’. If you are backpacking then you’ve obviously a weight saving in being able to cut out two poles.

How spacious are they?

These tents offer a lot of space inside and this is one of the features that make them popular with backpacker, particularly those who are walking in bad weather. My Mountain Laurel Duomid weighs in at under 400 grams and with an inner tent it is still under 500 grams. For that I get a massive inner space, walls that come down to the floor and a full door. Although these are often referred to as hex tents the footprint of many them — the Duomid — is actually rectangular. When you are looking for a camp spot you are looking for the same kind of rectangular space that you would for many conventional tents.

The pole being at the centre of the tent does give you more headroom than you would get in many conventional tents. A six footer will be able to sit up in the centre of the shelter. This can make life a bit easier and helps for comfort during long, bad weather, nights.

With many of the backpacking tents you can offset the pole so that it is not fixed quite in the centre — this will give you even more space for your sleeping area, which is very helpful if you are camped on un-even ground — it is easier to avoid tussocks and mounds.

In rally bad weather you might also find that you can load your pack easily from inside the tent. Once the pack is filled all you then have to do is remove the pole and pack away the shelter — this can feel very convenient!

How stable are they in the wind?

By design these tents are stable; they tend to shed wind in the same way from any side. They can take a pounding and I’ve had mine in some pretty horrible weather. Some manufacturers recommend doubling up the poles in bad weather and you can use a clever A system with two poles rather than a single pole  but I have only ever relied on a single pole.

What Kind of Poles?

This may be a bit conventional with some but I use aluminium Pacer Poles with my shelters, and I use them quite deliberately. I have seen lightweight carbon poles break in dramatic wind, in one example the pole then puncturing a rather expensive cuben fibre side. I’ve always walked with a couple of people who have broken a carbon file while walking. Because they are using their remaining pole for the shelter they have then decided to walk without a pole, as they can’t afford to break the second one. But this kind of negates the point of poles.

Now, there are some who will be on here saying I am necessarily frightening people.I imagine Colin Ibbotson will be along any moment now telling use that he walks for months using carbon poles with his shelters. But the strength of the pole might be a consideration!

Pitching

You will want to practice pitching your tepee shelter before you go out on the hills and there are a couple of reasons why.

Firstly, the height of the shelter tends to be critical. The sides of the shelter will only become tight enough if the shelter is at the right height. You need to able to work out how you need your pole extended in able to reach the right height. Most manufacturers will give you the measurements for the optimum length of your pole and you can either mark this of rely on pole measurements. Backpackinglight.co.uk sell a range of such tents from Luxe (I’ll come on to these later) and Luxe do have an extendable tarp pole which might be worth exploring. Mountain Laurel mids will come with a pole extender, a piece of tubing that simply sits on the end of your pole and tends its length by a few, critical, inches.

When wild camping you often have to pitch on uneven ground. This can play havoc with your pitch and the height of your pole. If there is a dip in the ground at the centre of the shelter your pole will need to be higher! On an event like the TGO Challenge you will hear tepee tent owners having endless discussions about getting great pitches. On flat ground it is easy to get an even and tight pitch. On uneven ground you will often find one end to close to the ground and this can effect the amount of internal space that is useable. In reality though, there is so much space in the shelters that this is not too much of a consideration.

Nevertheless, you will ant to be reasonably happy pitching before heading for the hills. And it would help if a first trip was in good weather so you have a chance to experiment when you come to pitch in the afternoon or evening.

In the field height is crucial and I make no apology for mentioning it again. If, for some reason, you loose height during the evening you will loose all tension on the sides. The shelter won’t be in danger of blowing away but it will flap all over the place.

This happened to me a couple of times before I realised what was going on. My pole was sinking into the dip and wet ground. On one occasion I placed the pole in one of my shoes to stop it sinking and on another I used a titanium mug! But once you’ve lost that height it is really difficult to set it properly again from inside the tent.

Tip: In damp conditions I tend to look around for stone that I can use to place under the pole. I really don’t like getting out in the middle of a storm and trying to re-set the height of the pole!

Fabric Choices

The lightweight options tend to be cuben fibre or sinylon.

Cuben is an exceptionally light and tough fabric that was developed (I think) for use as high performance sails. It can be punctured easily but repaired easily. A tear does not run and can simply fixed with adhesive.

The biggest downside with cuben is cost. Cuben fibre is getting more and more expensive and more and more difficult to secure by small, independent, producers. While there are always people who will pay a premium price for light weight it may be that cuben becomes a lot rarer over coming years.

You will need to work at practicing tight pitches. However, I’ve had my shelters in a couple of bad pitches during storms and while everything has been a bit noisy and draughty I’ve never felt the fabric was going to break or tear.

Sinylon is the next option, lightweight although heavier than cuben but reasonably affordable. Most lightweight gear manufacturers like Mountain Laurel and Tramplite will give you a choice of cuben or sinylon. Some people, such as Colin Ibbotson, prefer sinylon to cuben. Colin is somewhat obsessive about having the sides of his shelter as tight as possible and he finds this easier with sinylon. However, sinylon does ‘sag’ in damp conditions.

In main Cuben and Sinylon are both high performance fabrics. With cuben you are paying a premium price to save a a few hundred grams! The choice is yours.

Single Skin or Use with an Inner

Tepee tents are great single skin shelters (and this obviously keeps weight down). The extra space inside of the shelter makes it relatively easy to sleep away from walls and to avoid dampness. Of course, when there are bugs around you will want netting or an inner. Some manufacturers have options to add bug netting to the base of the shelter but in Scotland — with the midges — you will want an inner tent and most manufactures will provide you with a lightweight inner as an extra.

Let’s look at weight with the inner. My Duomid — with inner — still weighs less than 500 grams. Most double skinned tents — even at the lighter end of the scale — are double this weight. On the plus side, tents can often be set up outer and inner together which is faster. However, I reckon a well-pitched tepee tent will outperform, say, a Terra Nova Laser or a HIlleberg Akto   and it will be far roomier than either.

Budget Options

So far, we have been talking about ultralight shelters. However, there are an increasing number of more affordable options around. I’ve already mentioned backpacking light.co.uk. this company sells a number of more affordable, tepee-stylebackpacking tents. Weight-wise these shelters tend to be similar to conventional lightweight tents. However, look at this site and you will see several great options which will give you more space and an inner tent at a better price than you would have to lay out for a premium brand tent (although the weights tend to be similar). The Hex Peak, TrailPeak and Mini Peaks are great shelters at a good price. 

Before buying one of these talk to Bob backpackinglight.co.uk. You will want to check their suitability for your height. And I would also ask about performance in the wind. I walked a few days last year with TGO Challenger Geoff Cantrell who had one of these tents. He was pleased with it but fund it flapped around rather a lot in the the wind, and we camped in a couple of dreadfully exposed places. As far as I could see the problem was not his pitching but the need for more tie out points on the side panels. Bob should be able to advise here.

Before moving on I should post out that all of these tents have large side panels and ,mid panel tie outs are very useful in bad weather.

Car Camping and Festival Tents

I have a third tepee shelter, a Mega Horn II. this is a great car camping tent for two people, a good price and lots of space again. And performs very well in the wind. You would not want to backpack with this!

Conclusions and Alternatives

Tepee tents are ideal for backpacking and at the high end of the scale offer great performance for the weight. If you want to invest in one of these you can rest assured that it will cope with almost all UK three season backpacking. As I’ve mentioned before, the extra space really comes into its own during long, dark, and story nights.

But these tents are not for everyone. If you are still not convinced you will find more conventional and lightweight tents available but these will probably have less internal space and height and will all out certainly be expensive.

Fot the backpacker who wants to reduce weight and who doesn’t want to break the bank the tepee tents can be ideal. If you are still not convinced, have a look at ranges such as those from Henry Shires at Tarptent — good prices, great performance and reasonable weight.

If you are really interested. Start at Mountain Laurel and weigh up the pros and cons of Cuben and sinylon. Otherwise, looks at the cheaper options available in the UK; these might be just what you are looking for.

Feel free to ask questions or to share experiences in the comment section below.

Comments

  1. I have a Luxe mini peak used for bike packing and having survived some Biblical weather on the Isle of Man I can recommend them. Bags of room.

  2. Willem Fox says:

    Andy, what inner are you using for your Duomid; 100 gr : I want one!!
    Just bought a Zpacks Altaplex. Unlike the Duomid not so critical as it comes to pole height.
    See you in May. Willem

    • jpatrickboyle says:

      If if you don’t mind me asking, how do you find the Altaplex, and what conditions do you plan on using it in? I’ve got my mind set on one, but I’m worried about UK rain and changing wind directions. Thanks
      (PS great article Andy)

      • Looks very similar to the Tramplite Shelter. I’ve used my Tramplite is some pretty horrible conditions here in the UK. So long as you pitch back into the wind you would be fine, but you might have a noisy night! As always with these shelters a bit of protection from trees or a wall helps 🙂

        • jpatrickboyle says:

          Cheers Andy, I’m torn between that and a Duomid at the moment, have a TS but want to be able to sit up sometimes.

      • Willem Fox says:

        Just bought it so no experience in bad weather yet. Owned a Hexamid Solo but did sell it because of the absence of a porch. The Altaplex is much roomier and I expect it to give more protection in inclement weather.
        Added two guy lines as suggested by Keith Foskett.
        Good review here:
        http://www.keithfoskett.com/no-solvent-required-the-zpacks-altaplex-shelter-review/

    • jpatrickboyle says:

      If you don’t mind me asking Willem, how do you find the Altaplex and what conditions do you plan using her in? I have my eye on one but wonder how it would cope with UK rain and changing wind conditions.
      (PS Great post Andy)

    • MLD Solo bug nest inner — 270 grams.

      I got my weights a little wrong there! 630 grams in total!

  3. So do you think taking a silnylon teepee, a Golite SL3, to Iceland for a couple of weeks would be OK?

  4. Thanks for the timely article Andy. It just so happens I’m looking into the purchase of my next shelter, and having used well known traditional one man tents, I’m going for the cuben Duomid with solo cuben InnerNet. My problem with silnylon tents has been (unavoidable) UV as the killer, through no fault of the manufacturers fabrics I might add, just shear wear and tear.. Do you think cuben is more UV resistant?

    Ive had some good advice recently re. the Duomid’s storm worthiness, and at 1kg less than my alternative choice, a no-brainer really to go with the teepee style Duomid.

    Great post Andy.

  5. I have the Mini Peak 2 – excellent piece of kit and has survived v Strong Wind in the Monadhliath -; would recommend it to anyone

  6. Great article Andy, I’ve shared on my FB group page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/wildcampinginternational
    Feel free to post there anything else similar if you like.
    Steve.

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