Glacier Gospel Collective

Skiing with a Pyramid

Disclaimer: As with any serious gear purchase, research obsession can set in online, followed by the urge cover everything you could possibly want to know about your potential purchase. When initially researching pyramid shelters I found very little on how they are utilized in skiing and alpine environments. The lens of this review assumes primarily an alpine application in exposed environments, and not an ultralight or thru-hiking focus.

DSC00037This picture documents about the exact moment when I thought to myself, “I really need to get a tent”. Shot by Jeff Steele just before we got into our coffins of snow in the wee hours of the morning. After laboring all night under the beacon of a full moon, our ambitions withered into a forced open bivy at 9,000 ft in winter on Mount Rainier. It was a chilly night…

 

Last Spring I was afforded an opportunity to ski in Iceland, which brought the necessity for a shelter to a climax. I was going to be traveling by myself, had a semblance of a route picked out, and wanted to ski. This made the criteria fairly specific; a shelter that is compact and lightweight enough to fit in my single backpack, yet substantial enough to protect against Icelandic squalls rolling off the Arctic Ocean. Furthermore, I wanted something I could continue to use in the Pacific Northwest after my trip.DSC00129

My conventional knowledge that a 4-season tent MUST have a floor was revised after multiple unplanned bivies showed me that cosying up on top of snow wasn’t all that bad. I started to keenly look around at what fellow skiers were using for overnight trips and started to notice a trend of pyramid shelters being fairly prevalent. Upon further research I found that they are pretty darn ideal for skiing! The pyramidal design allows impeccable wind resistance, even when the direction is constantly changing as is often the case in alpine environments. Furthermore, they are exceptionally light when compared to “4-season” tents; 1.625 lbs (26 oz) for four people, or 6.5 oz a person, is pretty solid. That’s lighter than almost any bivy on the market. Additionally you can easily cook in the shelter since pyramids are floorless and ventilation (depending on pitch) is plentiful. Caution must be used however, for this luxury can certainly cause lazy mornings when the weather outside and breakfast in bed have disproportional appeal. Not proud of it, but I have also used the floorless design to relieve myself in the middle of the night by digging a hole and just rolling over. Sanitary? Maybe not. The best option at 3am? You betcha!

20150307_143647These attributes are quite compelling, however, what really sold me on the pyramid design was the ability to use the shelter in conjunction with ski equipment. The center pole of the pyramid can be fashioned by lashing two ski poles together with Voile straps, which cuts the weight of designated poles. Two pairs of skis can be used as the anchors for the four corners, further cutting the weight of stakes. With 12 total guy lines, pyramids can be strung up like a suction cup. Even 50+mph wind and snow felt fine.

I certainly do not wish to paint the impression that a pyramid shelter is perfect for everyone, for it does fall short in some applications.For example, if you wish to leave your shelter behind as a base camp when skiing, you will be taking the entire infrastructure. Regularly I remove my poles while leaving the four corners anchored with other materials, and the top attached to a heavy object.This has worked out, even when we get unexpected rainstorms and there are puddles on top of deflated the tarp. The good news is that everything did stay dry and it has been very easy to erect again. Another drawback is that despite all the benefits associated with sleeping directly on the snow, you’re still sleeping on snow. This means you can get wet and cold if you toss and turn yourself off of your pad. Potential remedies for this include ground tarps, bivy sacks, or inner tents with the drawback of course being more weight. 

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Ultimately I chose to purchase the Mountain Laurel Designs (MLD) SuperMid (i.e. The Temple of Sharing) over the Black Dimond MegaMid, Sierra Designs Mountain Guide Tarp, and Hyperlight Mountain Gear UltraMid 4 due to a combination of weight, materials, quality, floorspace and price. The following table demonstrates the comparison of all these options. Interestingly, the MLD SuperMid didn’t take the cake in any category.

Price (USD): Capacity: Weight (grams): Material: Floor Space (Sq ft): Maker:
SuperMid

$365.00

4

625

SilNylon

70

MLD
MegaMid $289

4

1050

30D SilNylon

50.7

Black Dimond
Mountain Guide Tarp

$369.00

4

2300

70D Nylon 109 Sierra Designs
UltraMid4

$825.00

4

618 CF8 Dyneema

85

Hyperlight Mountain Gear
Half Dome Plus 2

$219.00

2

2296

40D Nylon

38.1

REI

(Feb. 2016, all data from company websites)

IMG_20150312_091044When synthesizing the data, it may become obvious why the MLD SuperMid is an ideal choice. It was the second lightest pyramid being just grams behind the UltraMid4, and $460 cheaper. For its weight, 70+ square feet of floor space is phenomenal, especially compared to conventional tents like the REI Half Dome Plus 2 (the “control”) at almost half. The price tag was average, but what made it worth it is Mountain Laurel Designs as a company. They are a small cottage company, owned by the rad Ron Bell, who has been making moves in the ultralight gear revolution for more than 40 years. While they are certainly not “local” being based in Virginia, their commitment to quality equipment really sold me. The cost of going with a cottage company can mean that there are no “stock” items, as each item is made when the order is placed. Therefor, I had to wait an anxious three weeks before I first met my Mid.DSC00056

 

 

 

I’ve been in a relationship with my pyramid for almost a year now, and we have seen some real neat things together. I reach for her when I am going to be moving camp every day, want a robust emergency shelter, going light, or want a supplementary cooking shelter for a base camping scenario. Make do with a few less pounds on your next ski trip and make the switch!

 

Get Puckered,

Ben Stone

@stoneymtnphoto

stoneymountainphoto@gmail.com

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