Tale of Two ‘Mids’

by Andy Dappen

Black Diamond Mega Light

While a variety of pyramid-styled tents have come and gone over the decades, the most enduring product in this category is Black Diamond’s Mega Light. Originally the Mega Light, was the ultralight alternative to the Megamid. Made of silnylon rather than polyurethane-coated nylon, it was a good pound lighter than its older brother. Because this category of product appealed to ultralight advocates who were aggressively shedding weight, the Mega Light eclipsed the sales of the older Megamid and the original heavier brother was eventually dropped by Black Diamond. My own Megamid was emblematic of the situation –  I owned a Megamid one but once I started using a Mega Light, the heavier brother never got used and I sold it rather than let it mildew in the basement.

For about a decade now, the Mega Light has treated me superbly and receives a week or two of service each year. I love using it when conditions allow, although it’s neither the best choice of tents during mosquito season nor if your travel companion object to floorless tents (my wife, for example, wants a cocoon separating her from bugs, mice, and snakes).

Having used the Mega Light for many years, I know it’s solidly made and that the little touches from the vents at the top, to the front zipper design, to the Fastex buckle holding the bottom of the front door closed are all well-conceived and well made.

The 20 denier silnylon used for the tent is also surprisingly strong. Because silicone impregnation strengthens the base fabric rather than weakens it (as is the case with polyurethane coatings), silnylon  products are just as strong as heavier polyurethane-coated products. The Mega Light may feel flimsy, but mine has weathered many a stormy night and stiff wind.

I’ve never pitched the Mega Light in winds much stronger than 40 miles per hour and cannot attest to how all that surface area holds up to terrible wind conditions. This being said, I’ve been out in the mountains when the recorded winds on nearby ridges exceeded 100 miles per hour while I was able to find sheltered areas where the winds were much milder. The take home message: This is not be the best structure if you know you will be pitching it in wind-ravaged areas, yet many of us moving through the mountains in ultralight fashion, have the flexibility to find lee slopes, groves of trees, or other sheltered areas offering protection from howling winds.

On the downside my gripes about the Mega Light are few. First, I’d personally enjoy the choice of a brighter color. When sitting out poor weather a bright interior (rather than a blue one) is a mood enhancer. Next, in windy conditions the light fabric flaps faster and is noisier than the original Megamid. The noise elevates one’s anxiety when sitting out a storm. My solution is to insert ear plugs – if you can’t hear a tent flapping in the wind, does it really flap?

Finally, I like to roll open the front door of the structure and tie the front flaps back so that I’m sitting in a structure with a full-frame view of the outdoors. The Mega Light has tie-back loops allowing this but small tweaks to the design and placement of these ties would make their use more elegant.

In a word, however, ‘elegance’ is what this well-designed, ultra-light, and relatively affordable structure ($290) offers. Minimum weight of a new canopy, according to Black Diamond is 37 ounces, but the weight of my canopy without stakes and center pole is actually 26 ounces. The canopy’s square footprint (8.5 feet by 8.5 feet) takes up a total of 72 square feet and gives you about 64 square feet of protected living space inside.

An insert for the Mega Lite called the Mega Bug Tent ($290) has a bathtub floor composed of 70 denier polyurethane coated nylon, bug-netting sides, and has minimum weight of 3 lbs. 6 oz. (54 ounces).

More info about the Mega Light.  More info about the Mega Bug Tent.

Hyperlite Ultamid 4

In the category of floorless tents if you’re looking for the best product, bar none, this is the one. The Ultamid 4 is the Tesla of the mids. Its square footprint (9 feet by 9 feet) takes up a total of 81 square feet and delivers about 72 square feet of well-protected living space inside. This will sleep 4 people in a pinch, 3 comfortably, and 2 luxuriously. For all this space, the canopy is still so light (23 ounces without stakes) that it will function handsomely as a palatial solo tent. Furthermore during bug season, an insert (27 ounces) can convert this floorless canopy into a floored tent. In essence the Ultamid 4 lets you have your cake and floor too.

Other design features that contribute to the product’s ‘best of’ status. The cuben fiber** from which the tent is made absorbs absolutely no water and has no weave to collect water or condensation. Shake it vigorously after a night of camping and even if it poured overnight it stuffs back into the pack without extra water weight to pack around.

Next, all stakeout points and all the corners are reinforced, making all these stress points stronger than the base fabric itself. Furthermore there are 7 additional stabilizing points around the middle latitudes of this tent that can be coupled with guy lines to stabilize the tent in severe winds. I wouldn’t want to be there but if properly anchored outside and properly supported with poles or skis inside, this structure can survive seriously ugly winds.

Then there’s the matter of color. White may be boring for pictures but it keeps the inside cheery in dreary weather. More importantly it reflects the sun’s direct rays in summer, making it cooler underneath in hot weather, yet radiates heat from within more slowly, making it warmer in winter.

Finally there are myriad little touches that are simply done to the highest standard with this tent. The waterproof zipper at the entrance eliminates the snagging of a rain gutter along the zipper, all seams are taped making them completely waterproof, two hooded windows at the top of the canopy give the structure cross ventilation to reduce interior condensation, the sock taking the center pole at the top is so well reinforced that there is no worry of sharp poles poking through, and clever Delrin tightening mechanisms let you keep the canopy drum tight as the fabric stretches with changing temperatures or changing humidity without the need to re-position stakes.

The downside to this Tesla is price: If you want the lightest, strongest, highest-quality mid available it’s going to set you back $825. And if you want the insert with a cuben fiber floor and bug netting sides (27 ounces) that converts the shelter into a floored tent, it will cost you another $475.

That’s a lot of coin, but you’ll only feel that stinger once. From that point forward the tent will give you the pleasure of traveling light without sacrificing safety or comfort.

More info about the Ultamid 4 (4-person shelter, $825, 23 ounces) and the Ultamid 2 ( 2-person shelter, $675, 17.5 ounces). More info about Ultamid 4 Insert ($475, 27 ounces) , and  about the Ultamid 2 Insert ($375, 21 ounces).

** Cuben fiber is the lightest, strongest fabric on the market (lighter and stronger than silnylon); is a non-woven rip-stop fabric, and is completely waterproof. The fabric was originally developed for America’s-Cup-styled yacht racing. The manufacturer of the fabric was recently been purchased by DSM Dyneema, and in the near future the fabric will be renamed (how confusing!)

Tips for Better ‘Mid’ Results

  • Snow and Sand Anchors. Make a kit of eight 5-inch by 5-inch stuff sacks out of silnylon or lightweight, uncoated nylon. Then, if pitching the tent on snow or sand, leave the stakes behind and use the stuff sacks to anchor the staking points of the canopy.  To use, attach the stuff sacks to your staking points, fill up the stuff sacks with snow or sand, and then bury the sacks to create the tension needed at each staking point.
  • Picture Window. Even in rainy weather you can roll open the entrance of the canopy and tie back the front flaps so that you can look out over your surroundings. Of course, you’ll want to pull back your sleeping bag and sleeping pad so they are under the awning formed by the other 3 sides of the tent.
  • Bug Protection. To extend the summer range of my original Pyramid, I sewed a 16-inch wide strip of mosquito netting around the  bottom perimeter of the tent. This keeps bugs out in summer and acts as a snow flap that anchors the structure more securely to the snow in winter.
  • Center Pole. Use trekking poles or ski poles strapped together with two Voile strapsas your center pole (see photo).  In windy weather skis strapped together will form a stronger center pole.  Two sets of poles strapped together to form an inverted V inside the canopy can also create a stronger internal skeleton to fortify the canopy against wind.
  • Ground Cloth. A 3.5-foot by 7-foot length of silnylon ground cloth makes a very lightweight but reasonably durable ground cloth.  Silnylon is slippery and sleeping pads will gradually migrate off it so sew two retaining straps to cloth that will anchor your sleeping pad in place.  The lightest plastic groundsheet I’m aware of that is strong and durable enough to protect your sleeping bag and pad is made of Polycro. A 3.5-foot by 8-foot piece of this plastic (75 gauge) weighs 1.6 ounces, while a 6-foot by 8-foot groundsheet (100 gauge) weighs 3.7 ounces.
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