Zpacks has released their Flex, free-standing pole system, previously only available on their Duplex shelter, for their solo ‘Solplex’ shelter, and is being called the Zpacks Solplex Flex Tent Upgrade.
For a bit of background, the Zpacks Solplex was released on November 12, 2014, if my records are correct.
It currently sits at the #3 spot on my Lightest Fully Enclosed Solo Shelters Comparison chart, which is crazy impressive, only being beaten out by the MLD Patrol and the Zpacks Hexamid.
At 439 grams (15.48 ounces / 0.96 pounds) the Solplex offers the most weather protection of any sub one pound shelter on the market.
The Solplex may have not received the fanfare or love that the larger (two person) Duplex has received, but a growing number of big mileage long distance hikers have been putting a lot of miles on their SolPlex. It has especially, and rather interestingly, found a place within the list of big mileage female hikers (anish, wired, etc) which has been really neat to see happen. It is almost as if it has its own niche within a niche.
Back on February 14, 2015, just a couple months after it was released, I got a Solplex and like with every new tent, the first few nights are tested in my backyard, and not out on the trail. It was during those first few nights when I shot the first videos of the Solplex to hit the internet, and my ‘just how much room is there inside of a solplex?‘ showing a chromedome umbrella has been referenced by many people over the last two+ years.
While I ended up not keeping that shelter, there has been this desire in my heart and mind for the last two years to buy another Solplex, specifically a camo version. I suppose the only reason I have not is because I have been trying to get as many days as I can using the other shelters that I already have, and I suppose the price-point has played a part of that decision too, as I just do not have $600 to $700 dollars to spend on a shelter. Maybe one of these days I will get another Solplex, if my financial situation were to ever change.
Anyway, this article is not about the Solplex itself, but about their new Flex (free standing) upgrade, so let us get into the details of it, eh.
What is the Flex Upgrade?
Simply put, the ‘Flex’ is an upgraded feature that Zpacks offers that allows you to turn the Solplex into a freestanding shelter.
Zpacks is using four 203 cm (80 inch) Easton Carbon Ion poles, super sweet poles. Zpacks does not disclose exactly what diameter of the Ion they are using, but typically, when compared to aluminium poles, the Easton Carbon FX is 25% lighter, the Carbon EVO is 40% lighter, and these Carbon ION are a whopping 56% lighter. Sort of top tier carbon fiber poles. And, of course, the price tag comes along with it, as should be expected. The four poles put together hit the scale at only
283 grams (10 ounces) 227 grams (8.0 oz) – amazing considering that is for 26.7 feet (8.13 m) worth of carbon fiber pole.
Now let us just be clear here, Zpacks takes the same approach to the term “free standing” that companies like MSR take. Basically the stance that says “every shelter should have at least a couple of stakes, even if we call it ‘free-standing’“. Do you have to use a couple of stakes? No, probably not. But in the case of the Solplex, a stake in the front will need to be used to hold out the storm doors if you wish to deploy them. Likewise, a stake on the back panel will give you more room and stability. MSR takes this same approach with some of their shelters, while technically they can free-stand, using two stakes allows you to gain a massive amount of internal liveable area by pulling out fabric that would otherwise just be floating around.
Should You (would i?) Buy The Upgrade?
I would tend to think that if you spend a lot of time setting up on the beach, or in the snow, or in places with super hard packed dirt that it can be really hard to pound stakes into, or like where I live where tree roots are a really big problem, than yes, spending the extra $99 bucks for the Flex upgrade is going to be a brilliant investment.
When I am out on the California Coastal Trail, here in Northern California, and am often faced with no other option than to setup on beach dunes, having the ability to have a freestanding shelter has proven to be really helpful. If I were to buy a Solplex at some point in the future, I would not hesitate to drop the extra hundred to get the Flex poles. That said, the thought of spending $684 dollars on a new (another) tent is exactly why I do not own one.
But as I stated on my popular ‘hexamid vs solplex‘ post over on facebook, “If I were to be hiking one of the big three this year, I would very likely go with … the SolPlex … because it would give me such a wider weather-conditions-use for a minimal amount of bulk/volume pack space.” That holds true today as much as it did when I said it back on April 10, 2014.