I know I am not alone when I say I am very excited to see shelter hit the market.
The Mountain Laurel Designs TrailStar has been one of, if not the, most desired and awarded cottage made shelter over the last few years. Its ability to handle horrific wind conditions has proven to hikers around the world that it is a shelter to be contended with.
For some of us though, we felt the original TrailStar just had to big of a footprint. I know I am not alone in that. Every time I have seen a TrailStar setup I just went “wow, that sucker is huge”. Those of us who have felt that way have been long waiting for MLD to release a smaller version of the shelter, and now they have done so.
Mountain Laurel Designs is stating that the LittleStar has a 15% smaller footprint.
They have also indicated that it “will handle wind as well or better than the larger TrailStar“, which of course makes sense as there is less material for the wind to sit and pound against, due to its 15% smaller size.
A number of months back I wrote an article and corresponding spreadsheet which went into detail many of the lightest fully enclosed solo shelters on the market. It quickly and to my surprise, became a sort of de facto reference guy for hikers around the world. Since it was published I have received countless requests to put together a similar article that focused on two person shelters. So a number of months ago I started working on compiling the mass amount of data that is required to put together an article and spreadsheet of this kind. It has taken me much longer than I expected it would, but I am now ready to release this.
I think it is important to note a few things from the very start.
First is the fact that I had initially set some minimum and maximum weight limits for the chart and have had to change it along the way. I asked the public for feedback and asked many cottage owners for feedback regarding this as well. It was wonderful. I have, however, made slight modifications to the maximum weight limit that will be focused on within the chart. Details of why are explained below. What I would like to mention is that I have received an amazing amount of feedback from almost all of the cottage owners. It has been an honor and pleasure.
Next aspect to note is the fact that this is not an all-encompassing list of the lightest two person shelters in the world.
There are a number of reasons for this, but the two primary reasons are:
(1) I initially set some criteria for what the spreadsheet would be based on in regards to Total Shelter Weight. Along the way the maximum weight changed a few times, all as a result of the list of shelters becoming much too long to detail them all; it would have taken countless hours of work. As it is this article has consumed a little over 65 hours of work and over two hundred emails. There simply had to come a point where I was forced to reduce the maximum weight limit in order to reduce the amount of work, the complicated, and length of the spreadsheet. When I started this article there were a number of shelters that I wanted to include but they ended up being well over 1300 grams Total Shelter Weight – and if I were to include them than people would make the case that I should have included others in the same weight category, and a list which is already long enough would have become three to four times longer. I very much respect these cottage companies out there producing amazing two person shelters that are in the 1000-1200 gram range, make no mistake about it.
(2) There are a number of companies out there that fail(ed) to provide the true weights of their shelters. Most of them simply do not list accurate Total Shelter Weights on their website. There were around a half-dozen companies that I emailed asking for accurate numbers on their shelters and they never responded. I would be doing a dis service to my readers to pull numbers out of nowhere and use them just for the sake of including a specific shelter. Companies that do not publish exact weights of their shelters are doing nothing but losing business. I can say that for a fact, as last year I was looking at one specific shelter that I really wanted, but the company fails to list accurate weights of their shelters. Rather than dealing with the back-and-forth emails to try to get it out of them, I simply moved on and purchased a shelter from another cottage manufacture. So again, there are a few shelters on the market that I highly suspect might be less than 900 grams, and even more under 1300 grams, but because they fail to provide technical details about their shelters on their websites, and in many cases never responded to my emails, their shelters are not within the chart. I make no excuse for this. I simply will not make up numbers on my own because a company is unwilling to provide information that their customers should have.
This is an exciting day for me – I finally get to share with the world my thoughts on the Six Moon Designs “Skyscape X” shelter which I consider to be one of the finest solo shelters that presently exists!
When I first wrote my article and built the spreadsheet called “SUL/XUL Solo Enclosed Shelter Comparisons” I never expected it to be as popular as it has become. It seems that every time I open it there are two or three other people looking at it. I have no idea how many times the spreadsheet has been viewed but the article itself has been viewed well over 2,500 times. I mention this because while doing researching for that article I came to realize that there were a few shelters out there I had never stopped to consider just how light weight they actually were, and the Six Moon Designs, Skyscape X was one of them!
The Six Moon Designs “Skyscape X” shelter is getting my highest praise in this review. It is an exceptionally engineered shelter utilizing cuben fiber material, super light weight bug netting, the lightest #3 zippers, and cordage that is amazingly light weight. I have bought, used and put to the test dozens and dozens of shelters over the last few years, and in the world of UL and SUL shelters, I do not know of any one-piece shelter that is better than the Six Moon Designs “Skyscape X” shelter. It is a 5-Star shelter and one that I am beyond happy that I bought. It is the shelter that is in my backpack every time I leave the house for a hike.
Here are the specs based on their website:
Weight: 425 grams (15 oz) — and let me just confirm this… when they say 425 grams, they are dead on accurate! I got two Skyscape X shelters at two different times and both of them were exactly 425 grams. That was just amazing! Oh, and unlike some of the other companies out there… when SMD says 425 grams, they mean it… as in, all of it… the tent, the guylines, and the stuff sack. You will not find any of this crappy, deceiving PR crap like what Terra Nova and MSR and others pulls with their “minimum weight” and than having the TRUE weight of the shelter be pounds heavier. Way to go SMD – keeping it real, like it should be!! But here is the point hikers, that 425 grams that SMD states is the weight of this shelter, that is everything except stakes and poles (which no company factors into their listed weight), and the vast majority of hikers these days use poles so that makes it even sweeter!
Stakes: Five. Yes, five. No six, not eight, not tent… five. This shelter is totally secure with just five stakes! And if its a nice sunny day with no wind, it only takes three! This pretty much owns every other fully enclosed shelter out there!
Inside Space: This shelter has 23 square feet of space. All of it is usable and reachable. I would say that around 5% of it is not available for sleeping and that is at the very head of the shelter. I suppose this is a good point to talk about one thing that would be a nice modification or future product update. When it is windy and if you are not using a sleeping pad, the sides of the inner wall have a tendency to move ever closer and closer in towards your head. A few times I have woke up and had the netting right in my face. I originally thought about attaching some shock cord to both sides of the inner wall (netting) and pulling it out to one of the stakes, but I think a better way to go would be to attach loops on the outside of the wall, and push a couple of sticks (or stakes, if you felt like carrying them) through them. It would take very little to prevent this inner wall from moving in. Realistically this is a solo shelter so one does not (nor should not) expect it to be a wide shelter – solo tents are light weight because they are just wide enough to fit inside of, do not go buying a solo shelter if you want a grand hotel shelter, simple as that. But, this one little modification could solve an annoyance.
Hybrid Double Wall:
I suppose it is important to talk about this issue. This shelter, like a few other shelters out there these days are being called “Hybrid Double Wall” shelters. I really have no idea who originally coined that term but I wish they would have picked a different name, it seems to be a bit mis leading to a lot of hikers who do not understand shelter terminology. Thankfully I understood the term from previous encounters with these “hybrid double wall shelters” so I knew what it was I was getting into.
The basic logic behind it is seems to be that there are two walls, a bug netting (which they deem to call a “wall”) and than a hard-shell material wall (cuben fiber in the case of this shelter). The thing is that unlike true double wall shelters, most of these ‘Hybrid Double Wall shelters’ are finding unique ways to attach the two different materials together. So, basically think your standard dome tent with an inner setup made of bug netting, with a ‘fly’ that you put on over the top of it, only in the case of Hybrid Double Wall shelters, the top part of the bug netting is cut away and the ‘fly’ is sewn/attached to the top of the bug netting. Hopefully that makes some sense.
I will say I have never personally been a fan of them. Than again I have never been a fan of dome tents, nor to be honest have I been a big fan of all netting shelters either – I guess I just do not really know what I am a fan of, to be honest. But what I do know is that of all of the Hybrid Double Wall Shelters that I have used, Six Moon Designs has thus far been able to pull off this concept in a way that actually seems to work. Not only does it work, but I have to admit I kind of like it. Ok, I think I really like it. I have never made it any secrete that my favorite all time shelter is the TarpTent Rainbow. Its a heavy beast (compared to my other shelters) but it just works so amazingly well. It has massive headroom, a lot of wiggle room inside, setups fairly easy, and is the only shelter that the rest of my family (none of who hike) will actually call “a real tent” lol. Now I do not do write “comparison articles”… I just do not do that… I never have and hopefully never will. So please understand when I say this… the Hybrid Double wall system that Six Moon Designs has pulled off with their design of the Skyscape X… well, it sort of feels like my old beloved Rainbow… only a lot lighter!
To get away from feelings and to talk about reality, the reality of the facts are simple, SMD has pulled off a hybrid double wall shelter that actually works. It has an amazingly simple entry/exist, it setups faster than any shelter or tarp I have ever owned, it only requires five stakes, and it just feels like what a tent should feel like, regardless of it being a solo-shelter. I have owned and used and tried a lot of solo shelters on the market and there are only two of them that have survived my trials and testing, and both of those are still in my house and get used on a very regular basis. But now I have three!
Vestibule: According to the SMD website, this shelter has two (2) of them. I however, am going to argue against that. The basic definition of a vestibule is that it is a lobby, entrance hall, or passage between the entrance and the interior of a building. Now the SMD Skyspace X clearly does have one vestibule, on the door entrance side. But on the other side, it just does not seem to fit the properly description of a vestibule. Yes there is a zipper that allows you to open the non-door side outer wall (going back to the Hybrid Double Wall knowledge), but there is no actual entrance into the shelter from that side. Therefore, it is not a lobby or a passage way or an entrance, it just isn’t. There is no zipper entrance to allow you into the shelter, so lets not call it a vestibule, technically speaking. But not technically speaking, yep, it has two vestibules.
Nettings: The netting is your standard No-See-Um. It makes up the entire “inner wall” of the Hybrid Double wall design with the exception of where the support poles are and the bathtub.
Canopy: The outer wall, the canopy, is made from CT2K.08 cuben fiber, also known as 0.74 cuben fiber. I do not want to get into the discussion of which cuben fiber weight material is the best for solo shelters, so let me just put it this way: Pretty much every single outdoor cottage manufacturer that makes cuben fiber shelter, with the exception of one, uses 0.74 (CT2K.08) cuben fiber. Test after test after test by some pretty brilliant people have shown that 0.74 is able to be the most water impermeable cuben fiber for its weight. Yes many people have shown that you can get away with lighter cuben fiber – I myself have been doing long term durability testing on 0.34 cuben fiber for a tarp, but I absolutely do not recommend 0.34 for anybody but the most experienced of hikers with a lot of use of CF shelters. I think one of the very important things for sticking with 0.75 cuben fiber for the SMD Skyscape X is the amount of pressure it has on the material because of only having 5 tie-out points and that spreader bar inside at the top. I have used cuben fiber enough over the last few years to really know how far you can push cuben fiber (and have pushed it too far a few times, which has cost me a lot of money!). Going with 0.74 really allows me to stake down this shelter tight. Really tight. There is none of that “setup, weight 30 minutes, than retighten your guylines” with 0.74 cuben fiber. You setup your shelter and go to bed.
Bathtub: The floor is made also made from CT2K.08 (0.74) cuben fiber. Like I said above, I do not want to get into the discussion of which cuben fiber weight material is the best for solo shelters, but a nice future option for this shelter would be the ability to have 1.24 cuben fiber for the flooring/bathtub. I have come to respect the ability of 1.24 cuben fiber on the floors of shelters. This is not to say that the average hiker will/should ever have a problem with the floor (given proper site selection/clearing) but having the ability to go with 1.24 for the floor just means that it gives you the ability to pretty much throw your shelter down anywhere, especially important on thru-hikes where camping space can be limited if there is a big pack of hikers. This potential option would add an additional 3 ounces or so, so that is why I think it would be an option and not standard. Personally, there are better options if you are willing to carry an extra item in your backpack, such as the Gossamer Gear 1/8th sleeping pad(2 ounces) but I feel like it was worth mentioning that an optional floor using stronger CF would be worth noting. I took my GG 1/8th sleeping pad and cut it down to fit about 1/2 of the bathtub floor (right at the door entrance where the most pressure is applied to the floor material) and it was a bit under 2 ounces. But I only carry it when I know for a fact I will be likely setting up somewhere that is not going to be floor friendly. Of course a person can just always deal with it and if a puncture rip ever does happen, well, that is what you carry ducktape for! Ducktape and cuben fiber seem to have a love for one other. Or better yet, carry 8 or 10 inches of “Single Sided Cuben Fiber Tape” It performs much better than that gray tape does. Now for something is not an “option” but a “must have” for the next version of the Skyscape X… an actual real bathtub. Not a floor, but a bathtub. Something that will give me at least 4 inches of height for hiking here in the Redwoods of Northern California where the ground is usually totally wet all year long – and not having a bathtub floor is just not a pleasant thing. That is what I love about the HMG Echo Shelters, they have the tallest bathtub of any shelter I have ever encountered, and I loved it!! Now the SMD Skyscape X does not need ones as tall as the HMG shelters, but having a bathtub with at least 3 or 4 inch height would really make this a dream come true shelter for me! Here is a photograph of a typical trail in the Redwoods during the shoulder/winter season which I hope explains why I am constantly after a higher bathtub floor. The very first time I got to see one of these Skyscape X shelters, and got into it, was when I was on a hike with the owner of SMD and the very first thing out of my mouth was “it needs a higher bathtub” – Ron, I am still saying it and am going to keep asking for it :-D
Zipper: The zipper is your standard #3 YKK. Only the best! One of the things I really like about this is not necessary the zipper itself but rather the angle that the zipper takes. A few solo shelters I have used over the last few years had zippers with really sharp angles, or angles in high stress/pull areas. The path that the zipper takes is very smooth. I did have to attach some 1.25 mm spectra card to the zippers because those little #3 gabbers are just to small for my fingers to find, especially in the dark or with gloves on, but this is typical of most solo shelters.
Bonding: In the world of water protection you have DWR, SilNet and tape bonding. Six Moon Design wisely choose to go with tape bonding. And not just the tape that the guys who make Cuben fiber sale – nope, SMD after a lot of testing deemed it unacceptable! So SMD does what nobody else I know of does… they went out and found some glue that works really well for cuben fiber, than cut strips of cuben fiber (0.74) and they make their own bonding tape! That is just uber crazy! And I freaking love it!! My shelter is rock solid tight and I put it to the test by having it setup 24/7 for 18 days of straight rain. Not a single drop caused by a leak in the bonding.
So far I have over 45 nights spent inside of the shelter since I acquired it a few months ago, so, not a whole lot of nights spent inside of it but probably close to what a weekend hiker would end up using it for all hiking season. There are a few things I have observed about it that I want to share with my readers.
The bathtub has yet to have any water get into it from drippage or condensation or from build-up on the netting and than working its way down.
In the nights I have spent in it only a single time did I experience any condensation at all. That one specific night it had been raining for 14 hours and the ground was saturated and it was raining and foggy all night. No shelter I have ever had could have not suffered from condensation with those conditions. I carry dried out wet-wipes (they are lighter dry and are just as good when you add a few drops of water on them) and I just grabbed the one I had sitting out for breakfast and used it to wipe up the condensation on the inside (and saved me using water from my bottle).
I have noticed that the three corners of the bathtub end up with small puddles in them on really wet ground. This is a result of the seams on the bathtub not being bonded (and SMD has confirmed this.) I know it is not dripping down as none of the material above it is wet. The puddles are small, dime-size, and would not cause any problem at all if your sleeping bag came into contact with it – that is what dwr is for after all. I will be attempting to solve this by applying some one-sided cuben fiber tape on the outside of the bathtub seams and would recommend you do as well if you order one (or better yet SMD should do it in their shop.)
The cuben fiber is standards 0.74 cuben fiber, and I have had a lot of shelters made from 0.74 cuben fiber. For some reason the bathtub floor on this shelter seems to be suffering from hydrostatic pressure issues. That is, it seems like the cuben fiber used on the bathtub is allowing water into the bathtub from the pressures applied where you sleep at, as well as where the two support poles rest on the floor. In the morning I end up having to take a towel and soaking up water under the sleeping pad and in the two spots where the poles rest on the bathtub floor. I would sort of expect this from 0.51 cuben fiber but not from 0.74 cuben fiber. I am going to put this to a test by placing a large Polycryo Ground Cloth underneath the shelter and seeing if that resolves this issue. This is an odd issue because I have other shelters with 0.74 cuben fiber floors and have never had this happen before. It is perplexing me. I will report back when I am able to determine what I believe has been causing this. Six Moon Designs has confirmed that there is a double layer of cuben fiber on the bathtub floor where the poles go, so that makes the issue of water seeping through all the more curious. Pretty much all of the Cuben Fiber out there comes from Cubic Tech Corp as far as I am aware, so it really just does not make any sense why this hydrostatic pressure issue is occurring.
This shelter is rock solid in high winds. I had it setup for one night in some very high winds (35+, which is really windy for where I hike at) and it took it without even a hesitation of causing problems. For those concerned a single stake at the head-end would be a problem in the wind, I can assure you, it is not.
In high winds there does seems to be a significant amount of air flow coming into the shelter. This can be good to prevent condensation or bad if its crazy cold and you do not have a warm enough sleeping gear. It felt like I was using a tarp. There is an art to getting the side vestibules deflecting a lot of the wind, but this is typical of any solo shelter – tricks to learning how to set it up. In the end though, I am somebody who believes that high wind flow through a shelter is a good thing, especially in solo shelters with a lot of high angle material that condensation usually seeks out.
One of the issues that haunts other solo shelters is that the netting and bathtub floor are usually so close to the end of the tarp, especially at the foot end, that you encounter issues where either the netting gets wet and than drips inside, or rain spray causes water to get into the bathtub. That I just do not see happening to this shelter. I had this shelter setup for 8 straight days (24/7) for which it rained for 6 straight days, and zero water entered the bathtub from rain spray or dripping onto/through the netting. Highly impressive. Only solo shelter I have had (out of well over two dozen) that did not have this problem (though the TarpTent Rainbow has never had this problem once I learned a couple tricks to setting it up.)
For some reason I tend to end up on the non-door side of the shelter once my pad and sleeping bag are inside. I suspect this is instinctive as every other solo shelter I have (non tarp) you have to move as far away from the door as you can in order to evade rain spray. That is just not the case with this shelter. I am learning I can actually setup right in the middle, or even right on the door if I wanted too, and enjoy the greatest amount of elbow room on both sides.
Getting into this shelter is easy. Getting out of this shelter is really easy! Without a doubt the easiest solo shelter I have owned for getting out of. I have no idea why, but its almost naturally to get out and stand right up.
Crazy fast setup time. In soft grass where stakes could go right in, I suspect I could setup this shelter in under 60 seconds. Having dedicated carbon fiber poles helps with that time of course, no fiddling around getting the right size for your hiking pole height. I have also found that I usually just leave the spreader bar inside of the shelter, even inside of its stuff sack. Makes setup easier and it stuffs just as easily.
Future Updates I Would Love To See:
Here is a list of some of the features I would love to see this shelter have in the future:
A higher bathtub. Not because it needs it from rain spray, but rather for those situations where you might need to setup in really wet ground, such as is very common here in the Redwoods of Northern California.
Adding a pouch on the non-door side would be really nice. It would probably only add a few grams and would be nice.
Adding a short zipper along the bottom of the netting on the non-door side so I could actually utilize that vestibule space, it just needs to be long enough to put a pair of shoes, or whatever through it. Would add less than an ounce and make the shelter vestibule space seem more usable.
An option to not have a zipper on the outside vestibule on the non-door side. I realize having the zipper on the other side allows for both sides to be opened up to allow max air flow, so this could be an ‘optional’ feature for those that would rather save a few grams of weight in exchange for never opening up the vestibule walls on the non-door side of the shelter. I went 12 nights inside of the shelter before I finally unzipped the non-door side vestibule zipper – but it was really nice during a warm day when I went out and sat in it for an hour or so.
Offer an option to not have all the extra clip-hardware installed (for the optional ‘porch’). The attachment in the apex of the shelter (inside) is just a total waste of weight for most thru-hikers who are never ever going to be buying and using the ‘porch’ attachment. Likewise, by not having the clips at the termination end of the door side zipper could shave off a few grams. It seems to me that any long distance willing to spend the money on this cuben fiber shelter is not going to be lugging around the weight of the optional porch.
Loops on the outside of the bathtub side-wall where your head is at. The idea of these loops would be so that you could use a couple of stakes/sticks (or cordage out to the primary side stakes) to pull out the netting right where your head is at. When its really windy the sides of the netting tend to flap around, and can even flap into your face if you are not using a sleeping pad. Rather annoying and could be so easily solved.
Additional layers of cuben fiber on the inside of the bathtub floor where your poles set at. I am concerned about long term issues in that area with poles eventually weakening the material and allowing the cuben fiber to break down. I solved this issue by applying some one-sided cuben fiber tape in that area, but it should be there by default. This is all the much more important for hikers that do not use hiking poles with broad handles. When using small dedicated poles like I am (0.292 poles) it creates significant amounts of additional pressure in a very small spot. Six Moon Designs places two layers of Cuben Fiber in this area to prevent any issues, it just does not seem to be enough to me however.
Change the stuff sack. Right now the stuff sack is a narrow and tall stuff sack. Probably designed this way for the cross-bar. Personally I would rather have a wider and shorter stuff sack and than just shove the cross-bar somewhere in my pack. Just me.
I would just like to be clear here: None of these issues I have listed above are “game changers” and would sway me from buying or not buying this shelter. None of them are so much of an issue that I do not want to use my shelter. This is an amazing shelter and I offer these suggestions in the hope that Six Moon Designs can see what one specific hiker using the shelter would love to see in a future version of the shelter. A couple of them could cause me to buy an updated version though!
In closing the facts are simple, the Six Moon Designs “Skyscape X” shelter is the finest one-piece solo shelter I have ever encountered. The 75/25 apex is amazing. It is wide enough for a 25″ pad plus a bit of extra room. It can fit a 6 foot tall person with ease. It is crazy light – the third lightest fully enclosed shelter in the world based on my SUL/XUL Enclosed Shelter Comparison – and the worlds lightest one-piece solo shelter based on my research over the last year!! It setups amazingly fast and very easy using only 5 stakes, and three stakes are all you need in nice weather. I truly believe this shelter to be a redefining moment in the world of UL/SUL fully enclosed shelters. It uses 0.74 cuben fiber giving you a higher durability of material and even with a required cross-bar this shelter packs down into a very small space, for those like myself with sub 2000 cubic inch backpacks – and it even fits inside of my 1000 cubic inch backpack when I need it too.
I am not raving about this shelter to try to talk you into buying one. I am raving about this shelter because I have been on a hunt for over three years for a fully enclosed shelter that made me happy. With a few modifications to mine, I am now happy. In the end, that is all there is to be said about a shelter.
Thanks for reading!
November 13, 2013 – The SMDSX has now been updated by SMD to have double doors!!
(disclaimer: I purchased this product with my own money. It was not given to me. I am under no obligation to write this review.)
February 2015: I have put together a new version of this article and spreadsheet. You can view it here.
For the better part of the 2010 and 2011 hiking seasons I invested a great deal of time and money buying and trying different shelters that are presently on the market that meet the sub-20 ounce mark.
To me a sub-20 ounce shelter setup is something that should be considered a SUL/XUL shelter so if it is over 20 ounces I have kept it out of this review. I fully realize there are a lot of hikers out there who feel that there are some truly amazing tents that are in the 20-25 ounce range – and I agree, there are. As a SUL/XUL hiker I have come to realize that ounces count – and grams compile really fast – and that in order to achieve and maintain a truly exceptional SUL/XUL base back weight I decided early on that the 20-ounce range was going to be the limit for this review. This really did narrow down the available options, and the list I came up with is by far not a complete list of sub 20 ounce shelters that are on the market or that can be concocted together, but if it is missing anything, you can always let me know.
Again I just really want to lay forth the fact that I fully understand that there are some exceptional shelters out there in the 20+ ounce range that in their own right deserve some huge praise, but the goal of this Shelter Comparison is to compare those shelters that are in the sub 20-ounce range.
It is also important to recognize that this list is specifically targeting the “enclosed shelter” setups and does not include tarp-only settings. This is key because as I have presented a 2 ounce tarp is really all a person needs if they just care about basic protection from the rain.