Sunday, November 29, 2009

World's Lightest Tent

What does the World’s Lightest Tent weigh? Well, the answer is apparently 9.2 oz in Cuben and 12.5 oz in sil-nylon.

A manufacturer, who I will respect and not name on my blog until it becomes public, has made a one-person full coverage tent (see below for an update). And no, it is not Six Moon Designs...although like the Refuge-X by SMD, this tent cuts weight through the use of Cuben fiber. To cut even more weight, the manufacturer used nanoseeum mosquito netting for both the windows and the floor. Basically, it is a Cuben tarp with mosquito netting everywhere else. It is 9’ long by 4.5’ wide and 45” tall. The extra length affords storage space for your gear. Three sides go completely to the ground while the other remains open with only a beak. In bad weather without adjustment, wind and water could be a factor. In good weather, ventilation and views can't be beat.

Six stakes and one trekking pole are required to set it up and it has been tested, with success, on a CDT thru-hike this year. A couple prototypes have also been thoroughly tested. It will be called the “Hexamid” and a two-person version is in the works.

The Cuben version runs $255 and $195 for the sil-nylon. You can also purchase just the tarp for $145 (3 oz) in Cuben and $85 (6.2 oz) in sil-nylon.

Gotta have it? This shelter will likely go on sale in December, although more colors (white, blue, and green) will start being available in January.

…and for those who were waiting for Six Moon Designs to re-release the Cuben fiber Refuge-X as well as the new “Vamp” for tall hikers, below is an exerpt from SMD’s website:


Over the last year we've had numerous inquiries about the status or future of the Refuge X. I've tried to respond to all questions, but wanted to deliver a more formal response in this post.

We've received lots of feedback from those who purchased the limited number of Refuge X tents we produced. The original idea was to incorporate that feedback into an updated version of the Refuge X. Sometime early this year I realized that if generate a new Cuben Fiber based product, we'll need to significantly alter our production method. One of the original goals for the Cuben shelter was to see if we could incorporate Cuben into a normal production with minimum changes to the production process.

While the Refuge X worked out pretty well, I felt we could do better. So for our next Cuben Fiber model we'll be making significant changes to the production method. We've been too busy lately for me to work out the details on how to best accomplish this.

I've incorporated Cuben Fiber in the design of one of our new shelters for next year. The first version of it will be available in standard silicone nylon. Sometime after the first of the year I plan to sit down and work out the manufacturing details of turning it into Cuben Fiber.

So the bottom line is that we're not abandoning Cuben Fiber, we're simply delaying it until we can release something that meets or highest standards.

First on the design board was the Vamp solo shelter. One of the first criteria for a solo shelter was to provide a comfortable and roomy shelter for tall people. With an overall floor length of 107", the vamp has plenty of stretch out space for the tallest hikers.

I also wanted a shelter that provided ample headroom when sitting up. So we set the support poles three feet apart to maximize the head room. This also has the benefit of making the side walls almost vertical. Which allows for greater interior volume and a smaller space.

The side entry of the Vamp makes getting in and out a breeze. Plus its oversized opening allows for a greater view. With the Vamp we separated the two functions, weather protection and bug protection, into two components, tarp and nettent.

If you're hiking outside of the bug season, you may simply carry the tarp and have a large roomy and secure shelter. Unlike traditional tarps, the Vamp provides full protection at a measly 16 ounces.

Another key component of the tarp / nettent combo is their easy at being mated together. When setting up the combined pair, you first setup the tarp. Then with your shelter secure from the rain, you can easily setup the interior NetTent. The reverse is true when taking down your shelter in a morning rainstorm. This way your inner tent will always remain dry.

The design of the Vamp makes it less prone to problems associated with shifting wind patterns during the night. On setup, one would typically set the pointed end into the prevailing winds. However, with the Vamp, any change in wind direction will have scant effects on your nights comfort.

Together the Vamp Tarp at 16 ounces and the Vamp NetTent at 10 ounces weigh in at a combined weight of 26 ounces. This is a remarkable weight for a very roomy one man double wall shelter. For those wishing to save a few more ounces. The Vamp Tarp will work well with the Meteor Bivy.

The Vamp is also scheduled to start shipping in the first quarter of 2010.
(The tent on the left is the SMD Vamp. The tent on the right is the super ultralight Cuben by.....)

(UPDATE 12/12/09 - If you notice in the comments section, the manufacturer stopped by and didn't have any problems identifying himself. So, for those of you who have read this far, the manufacturer is zpacks at, although you may not see it on his site just yet. I had one of the Hexamid prototypes and decided not to keep it. At 6'6" and 285, I simply felt I was too big for it. Despite it being 9' long, the pitch of the tarp was either touching or very close to touching my face and feet 100% of the time. To avoid it, I moved over and the result was that I was on the edge which meant rain and rain spatter would likely bother me. In the end, I'm going to hold out for the two person version. In the same breath, I think this ultralight tent would be a great option for minimalist backpackers who are of average size. Its design really brings forth a whole new concept for lightweight shelters. If you're wondering, no I wasn't concerned about a floor of mosquito netting. As Joe Valesko says, it is more durable than you think. A simple ground cloth of polycryo or tyvek is plenty.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ultralight Pillows

Sleeping in the backcountry can be a challenge without the right gear. Sleep system components must consider ground comfort, warmth, protection from elements (and possibly animals), and often something to cradle your head. Lightweight backpackers have been known to cut any pillow from their gear list and substitute a rolled up jacket, stuff sack, or even a flexible water bladder instead. Some find this comfortable and some don’t. If you’re looking for something a little more substantial which won’t add too many ounces, here are some to think about.

Lighter than those offered by Thermarest or off the shelf at Walmart, but one of the heavier lightweight pillows, is the Cocoon UL Air Pillow which is $19 / 13”x17” / 3.7oz and can be found at This is a very comfortable pillow, but it might be a little heavier than you’d like. Comfort is comfort though, and it might work for you.

A popular mainstream pillow is the Montbell UL Comfort Pillow which is $29.00 / 10.6”x18.5”x3.9” / 2.4oz and can be found at This is a very durable and long lasting solution. At 2.4 ounces, it is a fair weight for a lightweight pillow, but there are lighter options.

One new vendor which is fairly unknown is Kookabay. This is simply a guy who figured out how to bond materials to form pillows and sleeping pads and is slowly bringing them to market. In my view, he offers likely the lightest and most hearty solution for the weight. That means there are others which are less hearty and more prone to failure and others which are more hearty and unnecessarily heavy. Kookabay’s UL pillow is $30 / 12”x7.5”x3.5” / 1.3oz and can be found at

There are three pillows offered by BackpackingLight which are worth discussing. They are nothing but disposable hospital pillows and are sold in three packs for the simple reason that they will fail after a handful of uses. Out of those discussed here, these are also the only pillows made of lightweight plastic and don’t have a standard twistable valve. If you’re only using them for a very short period, other than rolling up a jacket or using a stuff sack, these are the lightest option. Quite honestly, they are fairly comfortable too. I’ve found adding a thin 1/4” to 1/8” CCF pad cut to size on top and stuffed into either a shirt or soft pillow case makes it very comfortable and remains lighter than any other option I’ve discussed. BPL pillows include the FlexAir Ultralight Pillow for $10 3-pack / 14.5”x10.5” / .56oz) at, the FlexAir Dual Compartment Ultralight Pillow for $13 3-pack / 19”x12.5” / .98oz) at, and the FlexAir Plus Ultralight Pillow for $12 3-pack / 19”x12.5”/ .85oz at

UPDATE (23 Feb 2012):
Regrettably, I can no longer recommend or support Kookabay.  In late 2011 and well into 2012, numerous customers came forward to say Kookabay (Ben Neubrander) had defrauded them.  Concerns included taking money for products never provided and providing products with bad valves which were returned for repair and were never repaired (or returned) or refunded.  I was one of those customers.  I attempted to contact Ben numerous times of the last 5 months and he simply did not respond.  Others experienced the same.  He eventually shut down his website and his PayPal account.  It was reported that he had gotten burned out, and just simply walked away without fulfilling his obligations.  Ben had a great product and was plenty fine to deal with when he chose to manage his company responsibly.  It's a shame he experienced some kind of personal hardship, but he did not handle it well.  Simple correspondence with his customers and extended timelines would have likely made everyone happy.  Instead, he just chose to cut and run.  I personally wish him the best and hope to see his products return somewhere, someday, somehow.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Stephenson's Warmlite

There’s always a lot of chatter during this time of year regarding ways to keep warm in the cooler months. Most of us know the standard methods which include camping below the treeline on soft ground duff, dressing in layers, stopping drafts, keeping your head covered, drinking something warm or eating spicy foods before going to bed, putting a hot water bottle in your sleep system, and of course getting a warmer sleeping bag or quilt and cozying up to a fire.

Another key method to stay warm is to ensure you have a solid sleeping pad capable of keeping the cold ground from sucking the warmth out of your body. Most people are familiar with r-value and throw it around as if they are pseudo scientists. Most can articulate that it is a measure of thermal resistance with the larger the number translating to the warmer you’ll be. What is missing, however, is the r-value that will keep YOU warm given whatever conditions you're in. Meaning, it is 1, 2, 3, 4? I’m not sure there is a definitive answer other than claims from those who are experienced, but either way many people like to lose sight over the reality that someone sleeping on snow could very well be plenty warm with a sleeping pad with an r-value far less than manufacturers are putting into their sleeping pads. The truth is, you really don’t know until you try. What the r-value tells us is what items are warmer than others and ultimately through thorough testing it tells you what value works for you. Keep in mind, r-value is relevant to clothing, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and anything that will keep you warm.

There are a ton of websites that discuss the relevancy of warmth and ultimately how to achieve it, but my point today was not to address all of these things, but to very briefly mention a rarely discussed manufacturer known as Stephenson’s Warmlite (

All signs point to the fact that this business was started by hippies, or at the very least, nudists. Their lifestyle is inundated throughout their marketing. In addition to pictures that may or may not make you feel uneasy, information on their website, throughout their product guide, and within all distributed literature is a blob of overwhelming information and directions. If you’ve ever seen a large Dr. Bronner’s bottle of soap, you know what I mean. Aside from the unusual marketing, they offer outstanding products from tents, to sleeping bags, and yes, sleeping pads. In fact, their founder was a fairly well known intellectual who talked about r-value, vapor barriers, and the foolishness of crushing down in the 1970's, long before it became popular. Much like many others within the small lightweight backpacking community, their customer service is top notch.

Many have compared the efficacy of sleeping pads and you can find detailed comparative information reflecting r-value, size, cost, etc., on various blogs to include some earlier posts here. The reason I think it is important to mention Stephenson’s Warmlite is because they will make you an air mattress full of high quality down to whatever size you want. They also put extra down in the footbox, something I don't know of anyone else doing. If you’re comparing, for example, one of their stocked items is a 19 ounce Down Air Mattress (DAM) which is the same weight as the biggest NeoAir by Thermarest. If you didn’t care about pack size and were only interested in warmth, the Stephenson’s DAM is substantially warmer than the NeoAir…for the same weight. So while shopping for something to keep you warm in the form of a sleeping pad, don’t forget to take a look at a little know company that makes good high quality gear and offers customizations at your request. Can you stay equally warm with less weight – YES…but it depends on your personal comfort zone within the magical r-value conundrum. If carrying less is your goal, consider layering a 1/4" or 1/8" Gossamer Gear CCF with anything from a NeoAir, Backpackinglight Torsolight, or even a small (or customized) Thermarest Ridge Rest or Ridge Rest Deluxe and you'll be able to sleep quite well in cold temperatures and even snow. Regarding Stephenson's, take a look at their other stuff too, especially their tents as I think many of you would be surprised at their lightweight and very special 4-season designs.