A couple months ago I was up at the Six Moon Designs offices, just South of Portland Oregon. While I was there I had a chance to check out their latest backpack, the ‘Minimalist‘ – and they even allowed me to share a picture of it on my Instagram page.
They asked me if I would like to try one out when they got in stock and I said sure, of course, testing out new packs on the market is something that I love to do. So a few weeks later one showed up at my house. Free of charge, which is always cool. It is super rare for me to accept free gear, but at the same time, there are just so many new packs on the market right now that buying all of them has gotten to be too blasted expensive. Thankfully a few friends have sent me a few backpacks to do some testing with (such as when I did the initial-look of the Pa’lante Simple Pack, and another buddy is sending me his Pa’lante V2 to do the same, woot!) but anyway, yeah, full disclaimer, Six Moon Designs sent me the Minimalist free of charge, and with any obligations beyond reporting directly back to them my thoughts on what I like and did not like.
So onto my insights into the backpack, and down at the bottom of this article will be a video that I did while out on the packs maiden voyage.
It seems it is time for the hiking blogosphere to start posting their “Christmas Lists” – I have already seen three or four just in the last week.
I had an article about 95% of the way written, and decided to delete it and do something different. The idea pop’ed into my brain to write up ‘my favorite piece of gear from my sponsors‘, but the more I thought about that, the more I realized I just could not decide on a single piece of gear from a couple of my sponsors. For instance, I have over 2000 days of use with the Montbell Dynamo Wind Pants and my absolute love for the Montbell U.L. Thermawrap Jacket would make it impossible for me to pick between the two. (opps, guess I just gave away that companies two favorites, doh!). The same could be said of companies like Six Moon Designs and ZPacks. So I figured the only way I could make this happen is if I picked two pieces of gear from each company that sponsors me!
I rarely do product announcements via my website (half dozen times at at the most since I started hikelighter)… but the second generation Six Moon Designs “Fusion 65” backpack was just made available for pre-order a few hours ago.
The Fusion 65 backpack has been, without question, the #1 backpack that I have been waiting for – and if you are wondering why, go read my thoughts about it on my “Gear of 2014” article.
The Six Moon Designs ‘Flight 30‘ pack is one of the newest and most exciting backpack on the market for SUL hikers, runners, fastpackers, FKT’ers, peak baggers, and those looking for a small volume backpack that can handle 10 pounds or so of gear and have very little, if zero, bouncing while moving fast down the trail.
It is clear that the market is getting ready for an explosion of new products for those individuals that move fast, move light, and need gear that, for the most part, did not exist even a half-decade ago. As more and more hikers have moved into the world of SUL, and even XUL, a necessity for good quality backpacks, that are themselves SUL in nature, are desperately needed. At the same time, as adventure racers, ultra runners, and ultra marathoners, are discovering the joy, and sometimes pain, of pushing themselves even further, so too are they finding the need to be using backpacks rather than vests, in order to accommodate additional garments, required safety gear, and additional food for those going without resupply. For the last few years there has been a void in the market – a near lack of any products in the 15 liters up to 35 liters of volume space. A few have come along but very few, and those that did were obviously designed by folks that just did not ‘get it’ and instead where just trying to tap into a market prematurely without doing the necessary research for what was needed. Companies that have gotten it have, unfortunately, continued to produce products for either day-runners (in the form of vests from companies such as Ultimate Direction, Salomon and others) that do not offer enough volume, or are companies (Montane, ZPacks, and others) that use traditional backpack shoulder strap systems that just do not work for faster moving adventurers.
The Flight 30 was designed from the ground up to resolve these issues. The lead developer of the Flight 30 is well respected and experienced long distance hiker, Brian Frankle, who is also be an active trail runner. Ron Moak, the owner of Six Moon Designs shared this on BPL: “The Flight 30 was designed for ultra runners who need to carry enough gear to be able to spend a night out without suffering. To accomplish this, it needed to be larger than your typical running pack. However, it also couldn’t interfere with your normal running.“1
As the year comes to an end I felt it was time to look back and highlight my favorite pieces of hiking gear over the 2012 hiking season. Last year I did the same thing and I really enjoyed how it made me stop and really consider the truly exceptional pieces of gear that I had used over the year – and I have done a lot of refinement to my gear lists over the last few years and for the most part have them where I want them. This year I am going to list 12 items rather then ten, because this is 20″12″, and I just have more items I want to highlight.
The below items are going to be listed in no specific order, so please do not think that I feel that the first item in the list is any more or any less a favorite piece of gear.
#1 – Six Moon Designs Skyscape X – You can read my review of this shelter or head right over to their website. As is documented within my SUL/XUL Fully Enclosed Solo Shelter Comparison, the Skyscape X is “the worlds lightest Total Shelter Weight one-piece fully enclosed shelter“. I first saw this shelter when I was on a hike with the owner of Six Moon Designs and almost instantly feel in love with it. I have bought two of them in the last year or so and would buy another one without thought or hesitation if I needed another shelter. I have never found any one piece shelter at this weight (425 grams / 15 oz) that provides as much protection from the weather.
#2 – ZPacks Waterproof Breathable Cuben Fiber Rain Jacket – You can read my review of this jacket and my follow-up article on it or head right over to their website. There are rain jackets and then there are rain jackets. Some rain jackets are truly exceptional when it comes to breathablity. Some rain jackets are truly exceptional when it comes to weight. Other rain jackets are popular because of their price. This jacket from ZPacks is by far not the most breathable rain jacket in the world. It is nowhere near as breathable as the latest gore-tex nor the latest eVENT. This jacket is also not the most durable rain jacket in the world, and it falls in the middle of the price range for top end rain jackets. What this jacket has going for it is that it is the world lightest three layer rain jacket that is presently on the market. I have used this jacket for hundreds of miles in the rain, a couple of hours in the snow, in hail for twenty or so minutes, and on a day to day basis around town for months. I have bought two of them over the last year or so and some of the changes to the most recent versions have made this my defacto wind and rain jacket.
#3 – Icebreaker Men’s Bodyfit 260 Tech Top & Icebreaker Men’s Tech T Lite Short Sleeve Shirt – My long time readers will know I just moved into the world of Icebreakers this year. I use to be a die-hard Patagonia Capilene 3 user – and was for many years. The price-point of Icebreakers kept me away from them for many years. A sale on them early in the year was good enough that I picked up both the Tech T Lite shirt and the 260 Bodyfit. Together these two pieces of clothing have resulted in the best layer one and layer two setup I have ever used. By themselves they both have their weaknesses (and more weaknesses than positives) but when put together I have absolutely fallen in love with them.
#4 – Inov-8 Trailroc 245 – These shoes, only on the market for a short part of this year, have become an absolute mainstay in my hiking life. For a number of years I have used the Inov-8 X-Talon 212 shoes. I loved their weight, I loved their traction, I loved their support. What I did not love about them was their (for me) narrow toe-box. With the introduction of the Trailroc 2012 series Inov-8 has introduced a larger (anatomical) toe box. As I have said for years, there are times when performance and functionality matter more then weight. In this case I have added 33 grams (1.16 ounces) of additional weight to my shoes in order to have a shoe that can handle my toes swelling as I am pounding out the long mileage days. Absolutely worth the additional weight. I went with the 245’s over the 235’s because as a long distance hiker I felt the need for a rock plate was of higher importance than ten grams. I am glad that I did. The X-Talon 212’s had two shock zones and to have gone from two to none would have just not been fun.
#5 – TrailDesigns Sidewinder & Evernew Titanium Non-Stick 900ml Pot – Just going to be honest, adding twice the amount of weight to my setup in order to have a more versatile cooking setup was both a hard one, but an amazingly rewarding one. What I have discovered, as a long distance backwoods hiker, is that I have come to value food the more that I hike. I use to be somebody who could feel I was happy with eating idaho potatoes and top romin for days on end. Both of these could be made very easily with just hot water – and honestly, most of the time I did not even heat up the water. But over the last year I have come to value and appreciate getting to camp and spending a few minutes sitting down and actually ‘making’ a real meal. Having a 900 ml pot allows me to make meals I could never make with a food in bag approach. I can sit there and chop up carrots and real potatoes and all kinds of other stuff and make a real meal, thanks to the larger pot. Yes, it means having a 5 ounce cook setup rather than a 2 ounce cook setup. The long term physiological effect of cooking a real meal more then makes up for those additional two or three ounces. The TrailDesigns Sidewinder is truly a magical cooking accessory. A pot stand and wind screen built into one. It rolls up and fits inside of my pot. Super easy. A bit expensive for what it does (my old pot stand and wind screen cost 25 bucks, versus 80 bucks for the sidewinder) but in this case, it is one of those times when the extra money is totally worth the all-in-one-ease-of-use-amazing-performance factor that the Sidewinder provides. (ps: yes, sometimes I even take the pan-lid that is part of the 900ml pot… I take with me some dehydrated o’brien potatoes and some EVOO and wow does it make an easy way to have a great breakfast.)
#6 – ACR ResQLink 406 PLB – This should be an obvious one. I have never actually had to use mine, but as a hiker that spends the vast majority of my time in the deep backwoods while building a new hiking trail, 130 grams worth of weight is something I do not even think about when it comes to overall life-safety. My PLB goes with me, without thought, without hesitation, without compromise.
#7 – Suunto MC-2G Global Compass – This has been a fairly new upgrade for me. I use to use a smaller, lighter, less feature rich compass. But as time goes on I have found the addition of the features of this compass worth the extra weight. Most hikers would question having a compass with a mirror on it for most trails in America, but it has its value in some situations. Moreover the mirror can do double-duty to help me see the bottom of my feet if I have a bad blister that needs to be taken care of (very rare), and can also be used for tending to any facial cuts that I might get from trees or such. See my article When bulk matters more than weight for more on my thoughts about this.
#8 – Sawyer PointOne Squeeze Water Filter System – Very little can be said herein that has not already been said about this product. The weight to performance of this filter makes it the unquestionable king of filters for hikers. Combined together with the Evernew Water Carry Bags and you have yourself the best 1.0 Absolute Micron filter on the planet with water bags that are durable enough to handle long term use when used properly.
#9 – Gossamer Gear Lightrek 4 Trekking Poles – You can read my full review of these poles or head right over to their official website. These poles continue to be an exceptional pair of hiking poles. Thousands and thousands of miles using them. I list them as my “favorite gossamer gear product” on my Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador page for a reason: because they are the finest three-season hiking poles on the market from a weight to performance factor.
#10 – Black Rock Gear Vest – I am new to the world of hiking with vests rather then full on jackets, and the Black Rock Gear Vest has proven to me that vests have a place in a backpackers setup. Sadly the demand for these and the fact that Black Rock Gear is a small cottage company and the fact that sourcing material is often times hard, the availability of these vests have been extremely limited. I was lucky to get one from their last batches – and very glad I was able to get one!
#11 – Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles – You can read my short-term review of these poles or head right over to their official website. In my quest to find a four-season set of hiking poles, pretty much everybody I respect that I asked said these where the best ones out there. I gave them a go and have to agree. While significantly too heavy for summer time hiking (unless you are not a sul/xul hiker) these are freaking amazing bomb-proof trekking poles.
#12 – ZPacks Arc Blast Backpack – I have to be honest here and say that I have very few miles on this backpack. However once you have hiked a lot of miles you are able to very quickly know if a backpack is going to work for you or not. This year I have purchased 11 backpacks from three different cottage companies, most of them I used for less then 20 miles and just knew they were not going to work out. The Arc Blast reminds me a lot of the days when I had a ULA Circuit. It has the support and tough feeling factors that my normal non-frame cuben fiber backpacks lack. This should make it very nice for winter hiking and for those times when I am on the trail for 8 or 10 days between trail towns (note: I have not used this backpack in such a situation yet, as I only got it about a month ago, but one just knows these things.) Loaded up with all of my winter gear, this backpack feels like my load is around 4 pounds lighter then what I know it actually is – and that is sweet. I really look forward to using this backpack in 2013 in the deep backwoods of the Redwood forest. I was amazing hesitant to buy this (and did not buy it for over six months since it was released) because I had previously used hybrid cuben fiber backpacks from HMG and found the material to be way overkill for me. In the end my decision for buying it was other hikers reporting the ability to load it up with a fair amount of weight and have it carry the load very well. So far with the limited use I have used it for, I too have been amazingly impressed. I do not understand the how or the why, and my previous ZPacks Blast with external supports did not carry the load good at all, but this backpack is a whole other story. I have had a few buddies try it with a full load and it has made them go “wow”, just like I did the first time I put it on. A ULA Circuit is still going to be more comfortable overall, but if you are willing to give up 26 ounces for just a little bit of comfort, which I am, this could be the go-to backpack for me for the foreseeable future while I am long distance hiking. Only time spent on the trail will truly show if all of this is true or not.
Have you posted a “favorite gear of 2012 article”?? If so post a comment with a link to it so I and others can check out your favorite gear!!
In accordance of USA Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR, Part 255: I hereby declare that I am a “Trail Ambassador” of Gossamer Gear. The Gossamer Gear products mentioned within the content of this review were purchased by myself and were not supplied to me free of charge, or in exchange for services, by Gossamer Gear, unless otherwise mentioned. I hereby declare that I am a “Sponsor” of Black Rock Gear. The Black Rock Gear products mentioned within the content of this review were purchased by myself and were not supplied to me free of charge, or in exchange for services, by Black Rock Gear, unless otherwise mentioned. Any other product(s) mentioned within the content of this review is free of endorsement(s) between myself and the manufacturer(s) and meets all FTC 16 CFR.255 compliance requirements. (i envy those of you who live in countries where these stupid disclaimers are not required by law to include in articles)
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.)