Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New Cuben Shelter

I hinted at it in an earlier blog about Trail Days 2011 and now I'm happy to report that after 5 months I'm the proud owner of a cuben fiber tent.

Over the last 10 years with a greater focus in the last few, cuben fiber has taken the lightweight backpacking industry by storm. It is essentially a sandwich of mylar (plastic film often used by drafters and others) with Dyneema threads running through it. Dyneema is similar to Kevlar (fibers used in bullet-proof vests) in that both are ultra high molecular-weight polyethylene which have extremely long chains at the molecular level. The longer the chain, the better the load transfer within the fabric. The result is an extremely tough and lightweight material. It is waterproof, low-stretch, and comes in a variety of colors. The one downside - it is extremely costly.

I had been on the lookout for a full cuben fiber shelter to supplement my two other favorite shelters: Gossamer Gear SpinnTwinn Tarp (for non-buggy seasons) and the Z-Packs Hexamid Twin Shelter (for buggy seasons). Both are under 10 ounces and are amazingly spacious. I wanted something a little more robust, something that would be more versatile in bad weather, and something I could likely use year round (including minimal snow situations).

Comparing the few cuben shelters on the market was fairly easy as there weren't many. Options included tarp-like shelters with clip in net inserts and some kind of vestibule which I thought was too finicky and I didn't like crawling on my belly to get in and out. Terra Nova had an interesting option in the Laser Ultra 1, but it was a little too small for my big body and it just wasn't worth being uncomfortable for the money. Six Moon Designs came out with a cuben shelter called the Skyscape X which I mentioned in my Trail Days 2011 blog entry. I personally was not thrilled with the robustness of the roof support, lack of defined bathtub floor, or the fact that the ceiling seemed to dip on my shoes and face despite it being fairly long. As I understand it, there have also been delays with delivery and additional tweaks to the design, specifically reinforcing the seams.

So what did I end up with? Well for me the choice was fairly straightforward as the it was the only option that met all or most of my criteria - the Lightheart Gear SoLong 6 ( As far as I know, I'm the first owner of the cuben version of this tent.

I wasn't in a huge rush for my tent, so Judy (owner of Lightheart Gear) and I had numerous discussions over the last several months to hammer out details I wanted to change. In fact, customizing the tent exactly as I wanted it was likely one of the most critical factors in who built me a cuben tent. Judy was willing to do just about anything within her skill-set and resources which was tremendously helpful. As a result, custom ridge vents were added. Micro-adjusters were added to the carbon pole corner struts (similar to Tarp Tent). The struts themselves were installed in a more robust manner and different weights of cuben were used. Toggle hardware which holds doors and windows open was improved and made smaller and lighter. The non-entrance side of the tent was given a second zipper to open the whole other side for views and ventilation if needed. Loops were attached to the top of the peak and the interior pole support was velcroed in place to enable me to hang the tent from a tree and retain structure shape if I break a trekking pole or decide not to bring them. I wanted the floor to be white so I could more easily spot things without an abundance of light. I wanted the canopy to be green or some kind of stealth color so I could blend in despite the fact that I like bright colors to help lighten the mood (more and more studies are claiming that bears are attracted to bright colors...consider this fact in your apparel choices). It was also important to me that the seams be taped and I liked the flexibility of using different weights for the canopy and floor.  I've learned to roll the tent in such a way that it is a little bigger than the bag for my SpinnTwinn tarp and smaller than my Six Moon Designs Lunar Duo.

On my scales without a stuff sack or stakes, the tent weighed 21 oz. This is slightly heavier than some of the other cuben shelters I mentioned herein, but this is far bigger, with many more functional frills, and it is sturdy and stable enough for me to feel plenty confident that it will weather a good storm. Most of the weight comes from the cuben floor which wraps up around the corners to form an 8" (!!!) bathtub floor. I have never seen any similar tent offering such great protection from ground water. The exterior canopy hangs over the floor with a significant gap, so ventilation is vastly improved from other designs as air has no choice but to circulate. Consequently, it also came in green...which is exactly what I wanted and especially important if your trail name happens to be Jolly GREEN Giant. A full coverage tent enables me to leave certain things at home, whether it is a bivy or netting, etc. In short, it allows me to leave some gear behind and come out very close to the same weights I'd get if I used a tarp (within 3-5 ounces depending).  This tent is extremely roomy which can't be understated.  I'm 6'5" and I can sit up or lay down and not come close to touching the canopy or sides.  I can easily change my clothes and do just about anything I want which in the past I've reserved for bigger shelters.  It is, by far, the most roomy single-person fully enclosed shelter I've ever been in and pictures don't do the interior space justice.  The space of this tent is a luxury, not something that needs to be squeezed in to conform to some lightweight mantra.

In the end, I got exactly what I wanted - a lightweight shelter with plenty of space and very stable. The more I play with it, the more I like it and the more I appreciate the quality and function. It has quickly become my favorite tent. Now don't get me wrong, it was extremely expensive, more expensive than any shelter I've ever purchased. Fortunately selling off several unused pieces of gear made this purchase possible.

If you're in the market, and especially if you're a bigger than the average person or just want a 1+ shelter option, definitely give the Lightheart Gear SoLong 6 a look. In silnylon, this shelter is an affordable 26 ounces at $275.


Redwood Outdoors said...


Being the owner of multiple CF tents and tarps this is uber sweet to see!

I have cuben fiber tents from ZPacks, HyperliteMountainGear and MLD (and a couple of TarpTents, non cuben fiber) and a couple other custom made ones, and you really seemed to have made a tent that incorporates many of the best features of many of those.

I own both the HMG Echo I and Echo II and the weigh of both of those is right in the ball park for what you listed this is at! It is hard to compare just about any other tent in the world to the ZPacks Hexamid. Sub 10 ounces is just insane (but man is it awesome!)

So I noticed that she both sewed and taped - was this your idea or hers? Nobody else in the industry does this - nobody. It would be interesting to know how much the weight of the over-tap weighed, compared to the weight of seamsealing over the sewing work.

I freaking love the bathtub height! That is the #1 most loved feature about the HMG Echo tents. They freaking rock!! In the PNW in South America, in NZ, nothing can be better than a nice high bathtub floor!

The tie-outs on the bathtub corners do worry me a bit, based on looking at the one photo. How reenforced on those things? It does not look like there is much material holding them on. Did she push through the CF and into the inside to secure them, or what is she doing with those thing to keep them nice and tight and not in a position to rip the CF if you really have it pulled out tight?

I very much hear you on the head-height issue. Few things suck more than sitting up and hitting your head on the down-angle of the roof of your tent. This is what I freaking love about the TarpTent Rainbow. It is the only tent I own that does not have this issue. What degree of an angle did you go with? Looks like a person still might hit their head, but a lot less than most other solo CF tents out there.

Love the carbon fiber poles in each of the four corners. Solves one of the big issues with other bathtubs of not keeping the bathtub upright (and squared, due to poor setup). So, you said 8 inches high, times four, so you have about 1.28 ounces in having those? Guessing on which diameter you went with.

The roof vents are a killer idea to pull in from other designs! Not that CF suffers much from condensation, but you should be able to totally eliminate it with those - brilliant idea!

Love the little addition of a pouch to put your glasses and such on the inside wall of the tent. Not a single manufacturer of CF tents offers this. Totally annoys me. Hate having to fumble around looking for my glasses and flashlight when the 2am call comes around.

Look forward to hearing you report back on sleeping with your head at different ends of this tent, and how the netting on only one side changes things. In the winter you could sleep with your head on the non-netting side to block any wind flow and in summer switch back around to keep the air flow around your head.

Would really love to see some photos of you sitting up inside of this tent - at different locations inside of the tent - and on top of a sleeping pad. All to often folks forget that a nice inflatable sleeping pad adds 2-4 ounces of needed height inside a tent.

So did you go with 1.26 oz/sqyd for the bathtub and .74 oz/sqyd for the top? Or, is that some .51 oz/sqyd I see in there?

Thanks for sharing this!!

Alan R said...

Not keen on the wedge shape but if it was a curved centre pole it would be good for UK conditions.
Good to see other companies starting to use Cuben and hopefully this will bring the price down.
I expect you would pay something like $500 for this or am i being optimistic?
Hope you enjoy it and look forward to your review on the trail.

Jolly Green Giant said...

@ Alan +$75 with all the mods.

Brian said...

Nice write up and congrats on the scoop of having the first Cuben Fiber version. Like Alan I'm not particularly a fan of the wedge shape but can appreciate that it's not for me and it's what you want. A dome version with external poles similar to the BigSky Mirage would be nice in Cuben.

In your review you mention several of the small custom modifications that you had made, but they are hard to see in the photos that you've used. It's cheeky of me to ask, but is there any chance of some close up photos of just the mods themselves?

Great post and I hope you get outside soon to enjoy your new purchase. Happy trails!

Alan R said...

Not bad then when you think the Terra Nova is over $1000.

Jolly Green Giant said...

@ Alan - HA! You and my wife have a different definition of "not bad".

Jolly Green Giant said...

@ Redwood Outdoors - It's a great shelter and I did pick it over the HMG Echo I and II after taking a hard look at both.

Lightheard did the taping and it was already part of how they handle cuben shelters, so I can't take credit for that. Same with the little pouch on the inside. Sure is a nice touch and is how cuben shelters should be handled. It surely added some weight, but a penalty I willingly accept. The bathtub floor is great as are the orner tie-outs. They are similar to Tarp Tent. I hope to add some pictures in the immediate future to show the details. Judy used different grades of cuben in areas of high tension. As far as headroom goes, I honestly can't say enough about it. I hunch at the tallest part of the Tarp Tent Contrail. I have several inches of headroom both sitting up and laying down in the SoLong6. The netting goes nearly completely around except for the peak areas of the head and foot. I added an optional zipper on the non-entrance side to completely open it up as otherwise it was designed to be pulled up slightly which I thought both looked a little goofy and I didn't like the tension it put on the canopy. I'll put a sleeping pad in it for a picture or too, although I should mention one of my next custom surprises is a sleeping pad that might just be the most perfect option....

Jolly Green Giant said...

@ Brian - I'll try to add some pictures of the mods shortly.

markswalkingblog said...

Interesting tent for the price and as Alan R said probably not quite right for the UK, but the great thing is you could have it custom made to fit our conditions. A little difficult to see if you could cook in the porch area/under the fly and this would be a requirement for the UK as well. However larger and cheaper than TN's offering and it can be customized. I like the possibilities that the company could offer.
Thank for bringing the company to my attention.

Anonymous said...

I've been interested in LightHeart tents for a while. As Alan and Mark have said, they are not quite right for UK conditions, although I think it would only take a few tweaks. I think you are wise to have the roof vents. The roof vents on my Scarp have been very effective at reducing condensation.

Alastair said...

This is my first visit to your site. As you can see from this pic I've got quite a lot to learn about lightweight travel!
Or maybe I've just got quite a lot to buy..?

Jolly Green Giant said...

@ Alastair - Welcome. Yes, I do have a tendency to motivate money from leaving your pocket. But you'll carry less in weight and in items which will hopefully yield a more enjoyable journey. Good luck!

Judy Gross - LightHeart Gear said...

I'd like to answer a few of the comments here. Regarding the seams on the cuben tents being both sewn and taped, this is something that I do on ALL cuben tents. I feel it seam seals better than using any other method, looks more professional, and reinforces the seam. so not only do I tape seams that require seam sealing, but there are a few other (smaller) seams that don't really need to be sealed, but I do tape them just to reinforce the seam. I have found that most any tension on a sewn cuben seam tends to stretch the holes quite a bit. Where cuben is sewn to mesh - I don't tape. All reinforcements are bonded with layers of cuben and not sewn on. I try to avoid sewing the cuben where I can. I make my own custom seam sealing tape so it matches the color of the tent. As a result of the JGG asking for the ridge vents, I now put (one) ridge vent standard on all SoLong 6 tents. I find it is customers like the JGG that push my limits and get me to innovate and improve my designs.

I would love one of the UK commenters to explain to me why they don't think the tent would work for the UK (so I can adapt it for that environ).

Any other questions I will be glad to answer either here or via the website.

Judy - LightHeart Gear

Jolly Green Giant said...

@ Roberto - I have not had enough time with SoLong 6 in bad weather to tell you whether it would work in those conditions. Chances are, you may have more luck going with a free-standing tent if you know you will be in high wind. Have you looked at Tarp Tents or perhaps the MSR Hubba? There really aren't many free-standing lightweight tents out there...

David Grover said...

I would suggest a one man hammock tent if you are going ultralightweight camping. Hammock tents are awesome because you don't have to worry about rocks, sticks and lumpy ground keeping you awake at night because you'd be suspended in the air between two trees!

mtnbob said...
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