The HMG Echo I is a modular shelter which includes a catenary cut tarp, a beak that attaches to the tarp, and an inner tent (aka “insert”) which offers full protection from bugs and rain. HMG sells these items together as a shelter system, although they can be purchased individually as well. The shelter footprint is more or less rectangular. The beak gives the footprint more of a dagger-like shape. The illustration below should give you a pretty good idea of what the footprint looks like (as measured by us, dimensions in inches). The dashed lines reflect the floor space of the insert.
Unofficial Approximate Footprint Dimensions
The Echo I is pitched with two trekking poles, just like most tarps. It’s possible to make a minimal pitch with only 6 stakes, however 8 will result in getting the tarp more taut. The insert can be staked down at the corners also with an additional 4 stakes and this is the best way to get everything pitched properly. The seams are bonded and sealed, so no worries about having to take that extra step before setting up in the rain. All tie outs are reinforced with bonded Cuben patches. The insert features a robust Cuben floor with bathtub walls which rise up quite high and a solid cuben wall at the foot. The rest is bug netting. When the insert is being used the shelter provides double wall protection, with the caveat that the tarp does not extend all the way to the ground, nor does it have a closure at the foot end.
HMG utilizes .78oz Cuben in white for their tarps and 1.14oz Cuben for the floor of the insert. These are the sort of weights we like to see on a shelter, not too heavy, not too thin/light. The whole package comes in right about 23 oz which includes the stuff sack and guy lines. The packed size is roughly 9 x 14 x 4 inches (rectangular~ish).
There are no worries with the construction, the peeps at HMG are doing a great job on these. The critical seams are bonded with multiple layers of Cuben and Cuben tape, the zippers are double stitched, and less critical seams are single stitched and/or bonded. The guylines are quite a bit heavier than what I’m used to seeing on lightweight shelters, but they work great with cold hands and definitely reinforce the idea that this is a bomber shelter, though it could be an area to shed some grams for those who consider such things. All of the guy lines are cut and pre-attached and set up with line tensioners. Lastly, a Cuben stuff sack is included to round out the package.
No setup instructions came with my shelter. Anyone familiar with pitching a tarp should at least be able to get that far without any head scratching, which I did. One note about the tarp, it’s a little narrower and doesn’t pitch as low to the ground as some of us might expect from our experience with other tarps. The reason being, the insert provides protection from wind driven rain and rain splatter (at least in theory).
With the tarp in place the insert is pretty easy to figure out. It simply clips into rings along the insider perimeter of the tarp, and a couple more points at the peaks of the tarp to suspend it. The insert has guy-outs, which are elastic shock cord. This is a good design move as it prevents undue stress on the tarp and/or insert. I also noted that the insert is a bit shorter than the tarp so the foot end is better protected.
Lastly, the beak. I fondled this thing for a few minutes before realizing the cat was staring at me with this “what the hell is this human doing” look that cats make so well. Not to let the cat get the best of me, I fired up the internet and looked at a photo of the Echo with beak attached… A Ha! Enlightenment! So the top of the beak sports a beefy Velcro closure which wraps securely around the trekking pole. Next, secure 2 snaps on the beak to snaps located near the front tarp tie outs. Then, 2 guy lines reach back toward the center of the tarp to connect to yet another couple of d-rings there. Line tensioners allow these connections to be battened down. Finally the front of the beak has a guy line with a loop that can be attached to the ridgeline stake, or an additional stake if one chooses, again a line tensioner is used to snug up the beak. The beak attachment is surprisingly secure and well thought out, in my opinion. Oh, and the beak does have a zippered door for convenience.
I elected to kick the front trekking pole over the the side opposite the beak-door for easier in and out. Piece ‘o cake.
In the Field
My most recent trip with the Echo I was the Cathedral Range above Yosemite. The weather was beautiful and the bugs were long gone so it turned out to be an easy task for the Echo. The first night I didn’t get a great pitch due to rocky, uneven ground and having a hard time finding purchase for my ti-stakes. I struggled with the setup a little, but it ended up ok enough. One thing I took away from this is: a sketchy pitch on the tarp makes for a lousy pitch on the insert. The mesh was drooping down on me but it didn’t matter. I had a touch of elevation sickness and just konked out for the night.
The next night was on flat ground where I had no difficulty staking it out where I wanted and got a perfect pitch. Although setup isn’t difficult, it feels a little more time consuming than with some other shelters I’ve pitched. To be fair, I never time myself, and I rarely sleep in the same shelter enough to get super fast at setting any of them up.
Had a little breeze both nights with little to no flapping, so that was great. On the plus side the insert does knock the typical breezy-tarp effect down a little, and I like that since cold-face is one thing that can keep me awake.
On a previous trip I took the Echo to Point Reyes where the wind was quite strong, and again no issues there. Good site selection is always important, but that aside it seems to shed the wind very well. That is, when the beak is pitched into the wind anyway, pitching the side against the prevailing wind is not advisable for any tarp if it can be avoided.
This winter I’ll take it out into some heavy rain to see how it goes like I have done with some other shelters in this article. I expect the Echo will do fine with a proper pitch and site choice.
One more thing, lest I forget, my 6′-3 lanky frame fit just fine inside the insert. It’s plenty long, and wide enough too but don’t expect to have more than one person in there unless you’re sleeping in a vertical config! I had no problem with the confines of the inner. I will have to see how I feel about that after having it in some rainstorms, but given the double wall, I don’t think it should be an issue of much concern.
The Bottom Line
The HMG Echo I is a shelter that provides more configuration options for the solo hiker who favors a tarp-like setup. It has a feeling of sturdiness that’s not found in every tent. The Echo sheds wind nicely while offering some solace under the protection of its beak. Full bug netting and a double wall are comforts (and sometimes necessities) that enhance the value of the Echo. While it’s a little heavier than just a tarp alone, the Echo provides the tarping experience but also packs a wallop of added utility when the conditions call for it. Hike It. Like It.