Those familiar with HMG’s Echo shelters may recall that they use a modular approach allowing the shelter to be customized depending on how much protection is needed. The Ultamid takes a different approach with its simple design. At the time of writing this article there is no inner available from HMG, it’s simply a pyramid tarp. It is possible to order with a mesh bug skirt which aims to prevent flying insects from making their way into the shelter by flying under the perimeter, our model did not include this feature. As with most pyramids, the footprint is rectangular.
That 83″ x 107″ footprint makes this the largest two person pyramid we have laid hands on, in fact the largest we know of. The increase in footprint real estate comes with an increase in peak height also, which is one of the constraints of pyramid design. HMG recommends a peak height of 64 inches, which seems just right when pitching it. Most trekking poles will not achieve this even when fully extended, so something additional will be needed. A “pole jack” is one option, or a dedicated tent pole (which HMG does not yet offer), lashing two poles together, a stick of the right approximate length, or maybe something like a ski or paddle. More thoughts on this below. As far as stakes go, 5 or 6 of them can be used for a minimal pitch, 11 stakes for a full pitch (there is no mid point tie out on the front, hence the odd number of stakes). The seams are all bonded which also eliminates the need to seam seal. Dual top vents are secured from the inside of the tent with a Velcro closure and feature bug netting to keep the insects out.
HMG utilizes .74 oz Cuben in white for the Ultamid. This is the sort of material weight we like to see on a shelter, not too heavy, not too thin/light. The whole package comes in right about 19.5 oz which includes the stuff sack and all guy lines. The packed size is roughly 15 x 10 x 3 inches (rectangular~ish).
I’m aware there were a few grumbles about some of the finer points of the construction on early models; let’s just get these out of the way so we can move on…
- Tie Out Loops – Some of them were cut a little unevenly and attached with clumsy looking bar tacks. HMG has addressed and corrected the issue.
- Zipper Garage – Initially there was no “garage” (a rain bonnet at the top end of the zipper) which led to some water getting inside at the top stitch. HMG addressed this and added a garage.
- Zipper Strain Relief – Initially there was no strain relief (a way to fasten the bottom door flaps together to prevent strain on the zipper). HMG addressed this and added a strain relief.
Last year I talked with Mike St. Pierre about HMG and despite their growth and success since then, it’s good to see them keeping with the concept of a customer-feedback-integration loop. As it stands before me, I cannot see any worries with the construction. In typical HMG fashion the Ultamid gives the impression of being overbuilt, if anything. The critical seams are double stitched and bonded with multiple layers of Cuben and Cuben tape, and less critical seams are single stitched and/or bonded. All tie outs are reinforced with bonded Cuben patches and feature multiple bar tacks. The party hat is reinforced with Dyneema wrapped around a conical plastic insert. The guylines are quite a bit heavier than those typically seen on lightweight shelters, but they work great with cold hands and there’s no need to think twice before wrapping them around sharp granite rocks. The perimeter guy lines are cut, pre-attached, and set up with line tensioners. An additional length of cord is supplied to be cut and attached to the mid panel tie outs. Lastly, a Cuben stuff sack is included to round out the package.
No setup instructions were supplied with the shelter. It’s a pyramid, so getting the base staked down square and not overly tight is the key to a quick and successful setup. Leaving the zipper strain relief buttoned at the bottom and unzipping the door allows for the pole to be slid in, then it’s a done deal. No rocket science involved. Oh, speaking of poles I found that either the GoLite SL-3 or SL-5 pole will fit just right. Other options may be sourced from Seek Outside, Ruta Locura, or Kifaru. If you know of any others please leave a comment!
In the Field
My most recent trip with the Ultamid 2 was out at the 20 Lakes Basin / Eastern Yosemite. The weather was beautiful and minimal bugs made this an easy trip for the Ultamid 2. A little wind turned it into a sail while setting up and even though I had a hiking buddy (as one would expect when using a 2-person shelter) I asked that he let me set up unassisted. When your expensive Cuben tent is wanting to take off and fly into a bunch of scrappy granite it’s a little unsettling, but persistence pays off without any harm done to the shelter. Having a small bit of experience with the Ultamid prior to this trip, I already knew it requires a little more space than I’m used to. Visualizing this in my noggin I eventually found a spot. With either of my smaller mids I could have squeezed into one of several flat patches of ground that I came upon, but that’s the trade off for more living space.
I couldn’t sink any stakes so I just used available rocks, of which there were no shortage. This is where I don’t mind those heavier guylines. Got a pretty decent pitch although it took a little jockeying with the boulders. I left the door open that night for stargazing and to catch a few of the meteors that were flying by frequently. Despite the breeze, everything held just fine and the pitch was still solid in the morning.
The next evening I found myself setting up on a little bit of a slope. The weather was good so I just pitched the mid “level to the world” which left one corner a little high. Soft ground here and good purchase with the stakes. I mostly used titanium Shepard hooks and had zero problems with them pulling out in a steady breeze. Sleeping on grassy surfaces and near bodies of water is a sure way to get some condensation going on, however I opened both top vents and the inside of the Cuben remained dry with thanks to the breeze.
I’ve only slept alone in the Ultamid 2 thus far. It’s more than a palace for one. While some two-person mids can be cozy for two, and “nice” for one, there is no doubt that the Ultamid 2 is meant for two guys (or gals) with gear. Even the door is oriented on the narrow end of the shelter so neither person has to climb over the other for entry/exit. Could hiking or climbing partners choose a better mid for base camp or to ride out a storm in? I don’t think so – and wait, there’s more! The larger footprint means this is going to fit taller people very comfortably. I’m 6′-3 ish and didn’t feel the least bit squeezed in – no touching on either end while sleeping on an inflatable pad. Good stuff. While I would normally choose a more appropriate solo shelter I’d be very tempted to grab the Ultamid 2 just because of the fact that it fits my long frame so well. I asked Mike St. Pierre if HMG will eventually offer a Solo version of the Ultamid; he said they’re going to kick around the idea now that the slow season is approaching.
Lack of an HMG branded insert is not an issue. I also asked Mike about the possibility of an HMG branded inner and it sounds like they’re working on it. Maybe they’ll offer one sometime down the road; either way there are plenty of other manufacturers who offer various mid-shaped net tents and/or who can custom make something.
I am a little hung up on the pole situation though. I really don’t want to carry a dedicated pole, and if I’m going to it will have to be light. Of course if two people are going to use the shelter, one of them can share the load by carrying the pole. Another way I pitched the Ultamid was with a ~ 12″ pole jack but it required maxing out the extension on my BD Alpine Carbon Cork pole and even then it just made the 64 inch height. I really don’t like maxing poles out like that, especially in a Cuben shelter which doesn’t stretch. Strong winds will transmit their forces into the pole(s). I have seen my BD poles flex hard in some high winds under a different Cuben mid… I thought for sure they’d brake. They didn’t, but sooner or later a pole failure or pole-tip failure is inevitable when they’re extended out all the way and being loaded up at the ends. The pole jack will probably be fine 9/10 times in inclement weather, but a dedicated pole is probably the smart solution.
Other things of lesser consequence… the buckles used to fasten the doors open are a bit much; a simple toggled and elastic loop would have been just fine. Opinion is bound to vary. The zipper strain relief needs a little extra material at the end to use as a tab to grab hold of, especially with a gloved hand. A minor change that I mentioned to Mike and he says they are implementing it.
I just wanted to revisit the post for a second to make a few quick updates…
1. Right around the time I posted my write up on the Ultamid, Hendrik of Hiking Finland also posted his thoughts on it. His version is the prototype which lacks some of the refinements that I mentioned earlier, but he has a lot more nights under it than I do. If you’d like to have another perspective on this shelter I suggest visiting Hiking in Finland and reading Hendrik’s write up.
2. Forrest McCarthy also posted a great overview on the history of pyramid shelter and includes his thoughts on using the Ultamid. Check it out here!
3. I wanted to provide a better way to show the difference in size between the Ultamid and an MLD Duomid (or similar sized shelter such as the Locus Gear Khufu). Originally I composed a photomerge of the 3 shelters but it didn’t convey what I had hoped (most likely due to me not executing it very well). Instead I thought I’d just pitch the Ultamid over the top of a Duomid. I wasn’t in best form on this attempt either and didn’t get the end shot dead straight on, but close enough I think to get the idea across…
The Bottom Line
Pyramid shelters offer a straightforward do-it-all design. HMG adds some interest to the classic pyramid design by upping size of the “industry standard” two-person ‘mid at the expense (or benefit depending how you look at it) of a higher peak profile. The price is steep, but the market may just bear it as this mid and the space it offers are exceptional. HMG has proven that they know design, construction, durability, and customer service. All of those points coupled with the unique features of the Ultamid will likely make this a compelling choice when comparing to similar sized offerings on the market. Hike It. Like It.