Friday, January 14, 2011

Product Review - ZPacks™ Hexamid Twin Tent

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 - Highly Recommended

In case you haven't heard of them, ZPacks is a small cottage manufacturer of innovative ultralight backpacking gear including backpacks, and most recently tents. Joe Valesko and his wife Sheryl run the operation and make every piece of gear themselves. They are one of the few outfits making gear out of cuben fiber, which is a fabric that was originally designed for making sails for racing sailboats. It is very lightweight, completely waterproof, and doesn't stretch like silnylon does. The fabric is much more expensive than typical tent materials such as silnylon and requires some different manufacturing techniques, which may be why the larger manufacturers haven't started using it yet. By the way "Samurai Joe" is an accomplished triple crown backpacker, having thru-hiked the AT, PCT, and the CDT. After completing the CDT in 2009 using the solo version of this tent, he started offering them in addition to his backpack lineup in early 2010. Not long after, he introduced the 2 person model, the ZPacks™ Hexamid Twin Tent, a 10.5oz  fully enclosed tent (mine actually weighs 10.6 oz...I may have used too much seam sealer. This includes tent, stuff sack, guy lines, and seam sealing).


I looked at this tent for quite a while before making my purchase last summer, and was at the time craving more photos, so I will attempt to show it at every angle in this review.

The design is what I would call a modified pyramid...elongated to fit two people without the pole in between them, and open with only netting on one side. It seems like rain would go right through the large front net wall and get you wet, but I can tell you I've been through a few storms sleeping right next to the net wall and stayed dry. The beak deflects the rain well, and the netting does a surprisingly good job of blocking rain spray. Joe offers an optional clip-in storm door, and has also recently added an option for an extended beak that can be used in case of severe storms.

A unique feature with this tent is that the floor is made of nanoseum netting. A net floor sounds like a strange idea at first, but if you have ever slept in a single walled tent with a silnylon floor, you know that when condensation builds up on the inside, it ends up in several small puddles on your floor. I experienced this last spring on my PCT Section A hike. With this design, your ground sheet goes on the inside of the tent (on top of the net floor), and any condensation runs down the walls and out through the netting onto the ground under your ground sheet. This is truly an ingenious design that works so well, I'm surprised I haven't seen anyone copy it yet. So far, the floor has proven to be very durable for me after around 20 nights use, and Joe reports his didn't get any holes during his entire 154 day CDT hike.

The open front provides great views, more like you are sleeping under a tarp than a tent. What a great way to  experience nature while still being protected from the elements.

While the tent appears to be very small, there is ample room for two people. The pyramid design allows you to sit up without having to do any weird contortions, unlike tarps I've used. I'm 6'2" tall, and still have a couple of inches above my head while sitting upright.

The peak is designed with a nice catenary curve, and there are minimal seams in the construction. Just one seam that runs down the center of the peak from the front beak all the way across and down the rear wall, and two small pieces are added at the ends to give the tent its 9 foot length. By minimizing seams, there are less stress points on the tent.

Bad points about this tent...well I haven't found many. It isn't the easiest to get in and out of with the center pole and sort of low beak, but it's not too bad. Also it's a little finicky to get the pitch right at first, but once you practice a few times it gets really easy. I've found that if you angle the rear corner and side guy-lines towards the peak, you get a nice taught pitch without over-stressing the materials or seams. FYI my fixed length pole is about an inch and a half longer than recommended, but I still get a very nice pitch.

Bottom line, I really love this tent. Fully bug proof, storm worthy, and it weighs substantially less than any other tent that I have found. And I think the $340 price tag is very reasonable for basically a custom made piece of gear. If you decide to order one, do it early...it typically takes about 4-6 weeks for them to be made, and in the Spring, sometimes they stop taking orders until they get caught up.

13 comments:

  1. Very interesting post indeed. Also have an eye on this tent, but at the moment I still love my normal rectangular ID Siltarp 2 wich I always pitch between trees or with the help of sticks and stones, because I don't take walking sticks. I even got a pair of them but never even tried them because I find it so strange looking and unnatural and never missed them. Can you tell anything about pitching this tarp without walking sticks? I could imagine pitching a ridge line between two trees and then attaching the tent to the ridge line. If I expect a tree-less area I guess there are tent poles I could buy?

    Second question, how hard were the storms you mentioned? Little rain, hard rain, little wind or hard wind?

    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  2. thrush,
    I didn't like trekking poles either until I got a pair of really light ones, and now I feel weird without them. But I know everyone has their own style...Joe does offer tent poles for the tent http://www.zpacks.com/accessories/tent_pole.shtml. I think you could easily pitch it with the front pole only (2.0oz, $20), and use a tree or even a stick for the rear.

    I've had this tent in what I would call medium rain...nothing too hard and no snow yet. But I think it would fair well in hard rain or light snow from my experience. You can play it safe by opting for the storm door or extended beak though.

    I have had it in some pretty hard wind and it didn't move around too much. Of course, as with any lightweight shelter, if you're pitching in gail force winds, look for a natural wind block like trees, bushes, or rocks.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for the thorough review John. For anyone concerned about the durability of the Hexamid I have had no problems using mine in all night winds of 30 mph with no issues. The 0.51 oz/sqyd cuben is amazing: extemely light and very strong. Worth every penny.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Interesting concept....I love the weight of the tarp 3.8oz, my issue is with it's versatility of pitching options as well as it's winter usage possibilities. Anyone ever used it in wet snow? Or set it up without the poles?

    ReplyDelete
  5. I used the hexamid zpack tent during my 2011 PCT thru-hike. Overall it was excellent. I felt like I had "free shelter" given it was so light weight. When I got into Washington, I had a few rough nights with blowing wind and rain. The tent stakes pulled out a couple times and it felt like the whole world was collapsing down on me. That being said, the tent is amazingly durable, the netting is fantastically strong and never developed any punctures. It is reasonably roomy and easy to set up. I would definitely recommend it to the ultralight hiker who doesn't mind a tense night or two in the rain because the majority of the weather is pleasant and really keeping bugs away from you is the objective.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Has anyone experience with the Hexamid Solo Tent or Tarp using a shorter pole than the 122 cm they recommend? My hiking pole is 110 cm fixed, so I'm wondering if that's a problem.

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