Time to talk about the ZPacks Duplex Tent.
In September of 2013 ZPacks introduced the “Duplex“, a 2-person version of their 1-person “SolPlex” shelter. It has since gone on to be used by multiple thru-hikers and has gained some serious love by hikers around the world. I finally saved up the cash to buy a Duplex and have been exclusively using it ever since.
To get this out of the way, before we get into the review of the Duplex:
The total cost for my Duplex, as it came from ZPacks was: $703.55
The Duplex shelter = $595.00 USD
Upgraded to camo fabric: $45.00 USD
Carbon Fiber Tent Poles (x2): $45.00 USD
LineLoc 3 with Loop (8 Pack): $5.60 USD
50 Feet 2.3mm Reflective Glowire: $12.95 USD
The LineLoc 3’s and glowire are obviously not necessary, I just prefer using them, so that can bring the shelter price down to $685. If you use two trekking poles you can save yourself the $45 dollars for dedicated tent poles and the price comes down to $640. And, if you have something against camo, the price for the shelter is obviously $595.
Additional hardware for closing the doors (more on that below) cost me another $13.99.
I also do something very unusual, and every hiker that has seen it has looked at me and said something along the lines of “never seen that done before, good idea, weird, but good idea. I’m going to give it a try!” What I have done is purchase the “LineLoc 3 Line Adjusters with Loops” that ZPacks sells, I then reverse feed them with the guylines, and drive my stake through the loops. This gives me the ability to have a loop for my stake, and an easy way to tighten up the guylines. I was just looking at those looped LineLoc 3’s one day and the idea hit me, so I tried it, and I have used that method ever since. Obviously not something for those that do their shelter the Skurka way, but it has served me well so I just stick with it. Not going this route would reduce the cost by another $5.60 – for those who think this idea is stupid – which, it probably is, but it just makes it soooo much easy to setup and adjust the shelter.
So all said I have $717.54 invested into the shelter, but has I have clarified above, that is far from what a person needs to spend buying a Duplex.
Is that a lot of money for a two-person, or in my case, a single person, tent?
Yes, of course it is. Most of us do not have that kind of money just sitting around and it can take a long time to save up that kind of cash, it sure did for me.
But when I went looking at other fully enclosed two-person shelters, the extra money just made sense, to me, especially once I started looking at the weight of these other shelters. This is not to be critical of these other shelters, it is just a simple – yet expensive – matter of the cuben fiber fabric being less weight.
When you look at other large size single wall, two person, one piece, fully enclosed shelter, the list can look like this:
The Hilleberg Rajd is right at $500 bucks, but it will be over twice as heavy (over 40 oz).
The Six Moon Designs Lunar Duo Explorer is $370 dollars, but it too is over twice as heavy (over 44 ounces).
The Tarptent Double Moment is $350 dollars, but it is above the 3 and a quarter pounds, at 52 ounces.
That is not to say that none of these other shelters are bad, in fact I consider the Lunar Duo Explorer to be the best non-cuben-fiber two person shelter out there. The Double Moment is right behind it.
The ZPacks Duplex, the moment it came out, and still is as far as I know, is the lightest weight 2-person shelter with two doors that is being manufactured. That is obviously something that matters a great deal to me. You just need to ask yourself the same question that I did: “do I want a 20 ounces shelter or a 40 ounce (or heavier) shelter”. Your choice will dictate how long you have to save up money for a new tent. Simple as that.
So the rest of this article/review is going to focus on the features of the ZPacks Duplex.
I am not going to go into every feature the shelter has, just those ones that really speak to me.
Some of the features that I will talk about have been addressed by others that have reviewed the Duplex, and some of the features I talk about have not yet been addressed.
Other reviews worth reading are: Jacob over at HikeItLikeIt (who, if you do not already follow, you should, he does some of the best reviews out there), Willis Wall, Fellbound, BoredInTheSouth, and the great Francis Tapon has even done a video on the Duplex! (ps: I agree with him regarding the stuff-sack… every single zpacks shelter I have ever gotten, the stuff sack was too small and I have had to use a larger one I had sitting around). And if you have at all been interested in the Duplex I am sure you have already seen the pre and post AT videos by Will (Redbeard) Wood.
So, onto the features, review and thoughts!
The bathtub floor of the Duplex is one of the biggest selling points of this shelter for me!
Living in the Redwood forest and spending as much time as I do out on the trail, for a good part of the year every day that I setup my shelter it is raining, the ground is wet, the ground is muddy, and chances are a small stream of water is flowing somewhere nearby.
Having a bathtub floor that will keep water out of the shelter, for when the ground gets so saturated, or I am just forced to set up in a non-ideal location, is of the utmost importance.
I cannot begin to count the amount of times that having a nice deep bathtub floor has saved my gear from getting wet and muddy.
Things are not always this bad, but this photograph can give you an idea of what it is that I face when out hiking. I can hike for days and never find a piece of dry ground. And yes, it does make a good case for using a hammock, but try wrapping a whoopie sling around a 2000 year old Redwood tree that takes 15+ people to stand around, arms stretched out. :-p
There has been a fair amount of chatter about the storm doors that ZPacks uses – I have talked a lot about them on my facebook page, just to throw in my own 2-cents on the discussions out there.
There are two aspects to these doors.
First is that the “inner” part of the tent is ‘inset’ an inch or two from where the doors are at. This means that rain can come straight down and not hit the doors. This was such a crybaby issue a couple years ago, all over the internet. Not just for ZPacks but I suspect all the tent makers were hearing it. So, it was nice to see ZPacks take the step to go this route, as it really does work.
Secondly are the doors themselves. Each side of the shelter has two independent doors. They are secured and not removable. When both are closed, one of the doors overlaps the other door. One, or both doors can stay open. In fact, except for the truly insane weather conditions, the best route is to leave all four doors rolled up (open) so you can get the maximum amount of airflow through. Obviously if you want some privacy, close them. Obviously, if you have horizontal rain spray, close the doors on the side where the rainspray is coming from. A hiker would have to be in a truly horrific storm to find a need to close all four storm doors. I have done it, out of necessity, only twice. I have done it other times to test out condensation, wind flow, and other aspects of shelter testing that I do, but for the most part, pretty much every night I sleep in the Duplex, all four storm doors are rolled up.
These designs are nothing new to the tent world, let’s just be clear about that, for those haters out there. Yes, nothing new here. But they are still worth talking about, because inset inners and storm doors really do work!
It is hard to talk about a single wall shelter and not have the issue of condensation be brought up.
The massive amount of bug netting on the ZPacks Duplex allow for an insane amount of airflow through the shelter. This of course is the key to reducing condensation.
I have only had two mornings when I woke up with major condensation on the inside. This was because I set up on some very wet and muddy grass/weeds/bedding – because that was the only spot available – and setting up a shelter on that type of stuff pretty much always results in condensation in any single wall shelter. I did have all four storm doors open, but that is just the nature of setting up on super wet ground.
You can reduce this type of condensation, when setup on really wet ground, by using a huge ground cloth that goes out three or four feet from all sides of the shelter, but I do not own a groundsheet that big, and the one that I do own I rarely use with the Duplex.
Because the Duplex has an Inset inner, as talked about above, this allows you to keep the storm doors open in almost all weather conditions. This ability to keep the storm doors aids in having a shelter that does not suffer from really bad condensation.
IF you find yourself in a situation where you have to have all four doors closed, because of some crazy freak storm, well, the very nature of single wall shelters should just be something that you know is going to cause you condensation. Just have a microfiber cloth ready to wipe things up in the morning.
One of the most important features that I think a 2-person shelter can have is headroom. Specifically, sitting-up-headroom. You know when you go to sit up the first time in the morning, and there is that condensation on the inside of the shelter, and bam… your head gets all wet and all that condensation falls into your quilt… yeah, we all hate that. Now thankfully the Duplex does not have a lot of condensation issues, but it still is nice to be able to sit up inside of a shelter and not hit your head.
The ZPacks Duplex does not suffer from this like a lot of 2-person shelters I have been it. It is no TarpTent Double Rainbow, probably the pinnacle of shelters that will never have a head-butting issue, but I have been in a whole lot of shelters that are horrible compared to the Duplex.
Probably the easiest way to solve this is to use the mid-panel guyline and a stick off the ground to raise the huge sidewall fabric UP instead of down, if you don’t use a stick. You actually end up losing a couple inches of head/foot space by staking out that guyline directly to the ground. I like to find a stick that is about 5 feet tall (1.52 meters) and use it for the head end of my shelter, and something that is around 4 feet (1.22 meters) for the foot end of the shelter. This simple extra step, while setting up your shelter, can result in a shelter that gives you a remarkably and surprisingly additional bit of head/foot room inside of the shelter, and all but solves the head-butting issue.
I have, for a rather long time, made the statement that weekend style hikers (those who spend less than 50 nights a year out under the stars on the trail) should choose the 0.74 weight of cuben fiber fabric. I tend to feel this way for three reasons: first is that the higher spectra threads in the 0.74 make it significantly more durable. This is not to say that weekend style hikers do not treat their gear with the utmost respect, many do, but it gives those who might not otherwise have the experience to find the best campsite some extra shelter durability for if they do not pick an ideal location. Falling pinecones have been the end-story of a number of cuben fiber shelters. Same with small branches that fall off in windy conditions. These are the type of things many experienced hikers take a moment to look for before they set up their shelter. The second reason is that if you are going to invest $600+ bucks for a shelter of this quality, the extra $15 dollars or so for a shelter that is stronger, well it just makes sense, and big-whoopie-doo to the extra ~60 grams… that is inconsequential to a weekender AND the duplex in 0.74 is still the worlds lightest 2-person shelter with 2 doors. Lastly, the 0.74 cuben fiber is a darker fabric, so that means less bright sun blinding you in the morning, less moon light at night when all you want to do is go to sleep, and a bit more privacy – if any of those things matter to you.
I tend to think that if you are a thru-hiker, going with the default 0.51 fabric is a really good choice. You are going to be (well, hopefully) more conscience of your surroundings, you are going to probably care less about the sun/moon, and as many thru-hikers quickly learn, “privacy, what’s that?“.
Another option that ZPacks offers is a .67 fabric that has a camo pattern. It is the standard 0.51 cf with a layer of camo fabric that is 0.16 oz/sqyd. At the time this article has been published this fabric costs an additional $45 and will add around 45 grams (1.59 ounces) to the overall weight of the shelter. It should be noted that the camo is only on the top part of the shelter, the bathtub floor is made of the standard 1.0 oz/sqyd fabric that ZPacks has used on their bathtub floor since the dawn of time. If you are like me, you probably think “a real hiker does not use camo… that stuff is for survivalists, hunters, and such”. Well, let me just say from experience, the pattern of this camo cuben fiber is nothing at all along the lines of that. I mean, yeah, a hunter could go with this fabric without problems, but this is one of the few times I have seen a camo fabric that actually works as a hiker quality camo. I can say this with certainty because I took the risk and bought mine with the camo fabric, and after having used it, it really does not have that “oh, that guy is just a hunter” camo stigma. Why should a hiker go with the camo? Two reasons: first, it is darker inside than any of the 0.74 cf options (and I like a really dark tent) and second, for those hikers that do stealth camping – be it legally or illegally.
This is a term we like to throw around. It helps explain how much space is inside of a shelter that ends up being usable, vs space that just ends up becoming a void because of shelter design. Something like the ZPacks HexaNet is only 36 inches (91 cm) wide, but it angles upward very steeply, so you lose a lot of shoulder/head livable space. These are great if all you do is get into a shelter and fall asleep. The narrower a shelter is the lighter it will be. The ZPacks SolPlex, a shelter I have used and written a fair amount about, has a floor width of 30 inches (76 cm), however the shelter has a secondary pole, it results in a shelter that does not slant as aggressively as the Hexamid+HexaNet, and therefor you get more ‘livable space’. At least, that is what folks, including myself, like to try to explain things as.
The ZPacks Duplex has a floor width of 45 inches (114 cm). This means that two people can get into this shelter with a bit of room to spare. To compare, the TarpTent StratoSpire 2, a rather massive feeling 2-person shelter, has 52 inches of floor width. The Six Moon Designs Lunar Duo Explorer, my favorite non-cuben-fiber 2-person shelter, has a 54-inch floor width. The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo II, the most bombproof cuben fiber shelter on the market, tapers from 51 inches down to 45 inches of floor width. And the Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 Platinum, a worthy 2-person shelter in any comparison, tapers from 52 inches down to 42 inches of floor width.
I am happily single. So why did I buy a two person shelter? Well, because I wanted extra room. After more than a few years inside of solo shelters, I just wanted more room. There really is no other, no better, answer. I wanted a shelter that I could get into, out of the pounding rain, have my gear inside, be able to do a 360 inside of, and, of course (giggle) the really important thing… I wanted something that my shortened-in-length Klymit Static V Luxe would fit into, its a beast at 30-inches in width but wow is it nice for a side sleeper.
I am far from the only solo hiker that has fallen in love with the ZPacks Duplex. Will (Redbeard) Wood has done up two amazing videos on the Duplex, a pre-AT-hike video and a post-AT-hike video. In my asking around of others that have the Duplex, it seems about 85% of those that have bought them use the Duplex as a solo shelter. Rather surprising high, but it also attests to the fact that livable space is meaning more than a few extra ounces of weight for a lot of hikers.
I remember back when I was building my “lightest 2-person shelter article” – before I published it I posted something at BPL asking for feedback on what was the most important aspect of a 2-person shelter, and the vast majority of the responses that I got was “it needs two doors!“
To me, this is the huge stand-apart feature between the ZPacks Duplex and the ZPacks Hexamid Twin. Yeah, the Duplex has a nice bathtub, but the really important difference for most folks buying the Duplex is going to probably be the double-doors.
Now as a solo hiker, a shelter with zippers on both sides is not a deal breaker. More often than not I almost never open up the non-entrance side of my shelter. But, I can say with absolutely certainty that those time when I have used the other door, I was soooo thankful that it was there. Once I had a widow maker almost take out my shelter (60+mph wind gusts, brought down trees all over the trail I was on) and I ended up having to get out of the tent on the non-entry side. Another time I had a wind/rain storm hit and I really really had to get out to go pee. The wind was blowing from the direction that I normally enter/exit the shelter, and going out that direction would have resulted in wind-spray getting into the tent. But with that entry/exist on the other side of the shelter, I just unzip the door and out I went… and not a single drop of rain got into the shelter (well, except for what I brought in after going weeweee – I was soaked from the rain, sigh)
So for me, the double door system of the Duplex gets a solid “win”.
Here are some modifications that I have made, or would like to make, to the ZPacks Duplex. These are not to indicate that ZPacks is doing anything wrong with the way they make the shelter, just modifications that have me go “hmm, I would like to change this aspect of the shelter”. Please do not hold these issues against zpacks or keep you from buying a Duplex. These are just petty issues on my part for the sake of making things work a bit smoother for me.
ZPacks uses some square hardware on the storm doors which annoy me. Switching to some tac-toggle, or similar, hardware seems like it would make it easier to use – especially during the winter season when wearing gloves. If I could figure out a way to attach some tac-toggles I would do it myself, but it looks like it would require a sewing machine to make it happen. (note: zpacks has informed me they are going to try out using some tac-toggles, no idea if they will make it into production) Update, April 17, 2015: Per Joe V. from ZPacks, in a comment below, ZPacks has changed away from using the square hardware and is now using tac-toggles!! Pockets along the inside of the bathtub floor. Probably, at least, once a year I bug ZPacks about putting pockets on the inside of their bathtub floor. It would be soooo much easier for them to do it than for us to have to DIY – it means buying fabric, buying some 2-sided cb tape, and doing all the cutting and application. The folks at ZPacks could probably do it in a matter of a couple of minutes, as they are building the bathtub floor, but that is neither here nor there, as they say. I am wanting to add four pockets, one in each corner, which would allow me (or more ideally: two people) to have storage regardless of which way they face, or even head/feet style. It just seems like the extra ounce or two (or whatever) for pockets should be one of those standard features of shelters in this day and age. Update, April 15, 2015: After posting this article, and once again talking with ZPacks about adding pockets to their shelters, they are now including mesh pockets as a standard feature on their entire Plex line of shelters! ZPacks has also made them available as an aftermarket purchase for those that already have their Duplex. My thanks go to ZPacks for their willingness to make these! The last of these very minor and rather petty modifications is the carabineer on the door guylines. If you have gloves on, it is almost impossible to get the door open or closed with such a tiny biner. Switching out the binner to a couple of snap hardware like I explained in this post over on facebook, is just one of those things where the miniscule weight difference is just a no-brainer – and I would love to see ZPacks change away from using that carabineer to something else. I just like having the ability to really easily and quickly get into and out of a shelter when it is raining really hard. The easier of hardware I can find and use, the less chance of my clothing getting water, and thus water working its way into the shelter. The weight for the four LineLoc Buckles that I am using is rather inconsequential and it makes closing the storm doors a lot easier. There is just not a clean way of attaching them due to the D-ring that zpacks uses at the end of the storm doors. And of course, ZPacks is almost always willing to make custom changes when you place your order, I just did not know about the method I am using now at the time I ordered mine – you could probably get them to attach the lineloc buckles to the end of the storm doors instead of the d-ring if you like my idea so much to make such a modification. (note: zpacks has informed me they are re-working the way the doors are secured. they are not going the route I have, but what they shared with me does look like it will make it easier to close/open the door – not as easy as the lineloc buckle method I am using, but still easier than that little carabineer.) Updated: ZPacks has changed the hardware for their door systems. They have worked with another cottage gear company, DutchWareGear, to create a unique hook for easily hooking the d-rings.
On a trip where one of my photographers went with me to do photography of a trail I am designing, we decided to grab our phones/cameras and shoot some video of setting up our shelters. For me, I had the Duplex, so here is a 10 minute video of setting up the shelter. It does not normally take this long, but we were yapping about the days hike, so I was not fully paying attention. I also had the front stake almost completely pull out of the ground, so that really screwed up my setup. I had no intentions of doing a “second shoot” just to have a “perfect setup video”… I am just not that kind of person, and honestly, if you spend enough time on the trail, you just come to expect that sometimes, the tent is not going to go up perfect, just deal with it and move on. Anyway, I think the video came out good enough to be used as a clear example of all these facts. I hope the voice-over sounds ok and that the two different camera views meld together well, that is not something I usually do.
Camo Fabric Privacy:
Been getting a lot of requests about how well the camo cf fabric is when it comes to privacy, so I have done a video showing this.
As can be seen, it is almost impossible to see my bright white clean t shirt through the fabric, when I first hide behind it. And, later in the clip when I have doors on both side of the shelter closed, it is all but impossible to see that bright white tshirt.
I shot this in 1080p so go fullscreen video to really see just how good of a job the camo CF does at daytime privacy.
Ahhh, The Sound Of Rain On Cuben Fiber:
Do you enjoy the sound of rain on cuben fiber?
Are you not able to go to sleep at night if you don’t have rain hitting your cuben fiber tent?
I recorded this inside of my Duplex, maybe it will bring some soothingness to somebody that needs it :-)
You can find further discussion about the ZPacks Duplex at my facebook page, where I posted this article:
Alternative Door Closure:
The below video shows the final door modifications that I had ZPacks put together for me. It is not the easiest to use, but it is by far one of the most diversified methods I have come up with, allowing a huge set of additional ways to adjust how I want the doors to perform, important in wet and super hot conditions.
So let us recap this shelter very quickly:
I have used dozens of shelters over the last six years, in all types of weather condition. I bought the Duplex for the specific purposes of (a) having a shelter that gave me a lot of room, while (b) being almost as light as my solo shelter, and (c) giving me the maximum about of protection that I can get from a single wall shelter at, or as close to, the 20-ounce mark as I could find.
The shelter has survived 10 days of straight rain (which should be a no-brainer, any shelter should be able too), and it has survived 50+mph wind gusts multiple nights, it has kept me completely dry in situations where I had 3-5 inches of water outside the shelter (yeah, that was a bad spot to setup) – and lastly, unlike other tents in the past when I got it, used it for awhile, and got bummed about how much money I spent on it, I can say without question that the money it cost me to buy this shelter, I have not once felt bummed I spent so much on a shelter, because this is the first time when I have absolutely know, it was totally worth it.
In accordance of USA Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR, Part 255: I hereby declare that at the time this article is published that I am a sponsored hiker of Black Rock Gear, Montbell US, Suluk46, Sun Precautions, Suntactics.