Welcome to the second installment of our Cuben Fiber Roundup 2013 series. In this episode we’ll be taking a look at the Duomid shelter by Mountain Laurel Designs (‘MLD’ henceforth).
The Duomid is a floorless pyramid shelter that sleeps two. The illustration below should give you a pretty good idea of what the Duomid footprint looks like (as measured by us, dimensions in inches).
This shelter can be pitched with either a single pole at the center or two poles in an A-frame configuration, in either configuration the pole handles support the peak. For single pole setup you’ll need a trekking pole around 130-140cm long. MLD includes a ~6 inch pole extender as well. For a little more room, a two pole pitch can be pulled off, for which you’ll need an extra trekking pole or possibly a couple more poles (more on this later). Eight stakes will cover all of the perimeter tie outs; there is an additional stabilizing tie out in the center of each panel as well, for a total of 12 stakes. Seam sealing is not required since the seams are bonded with Cuben tape. The shelter can be optionally supplied with perimeter bug netting, which is like a skirt on the bottom of the tarp. This is a nice addition to keep the pesky things that bite at bay without going to a full bug net. For full bug protection or greater protection from the elements, an inner mesh tent with silnylon bathtub floor is sold separately (Cuben floor available as an option). This is, in most ways, a larger version of the Solomid.
MLD standardizes on .74oz Cuben in the “stealth” olive drab color, and that is what ours’ is made from. It’s a very light shelter at only 12 ounces which includes the stuff sack and guy lines. The pole jack adds an additional 1.2 ounces. The packed size is roughly 13 x 6 inches. Earlier versions of the Duomid (such as ours) featured taped and sewn seams which required seam sealing, leading to a shelter that weighs a couple of ounces more.
MLD has been working with Cuben Fiber longer than most of the other manufacturers and their construction techniques are well refined. As mentioned, all of the critical seams are bonded with Cuben tape, only non-load bearing seams are stitched. In general there seem to be two schools of thought with Cuben; 1) Double or Triple stitch seams to minimize stress between stitching and the fabric, and 2) Tape/Bond/Glue rather than stitching to avoid perforating and weakening the fabric. I’m not aware of overwhelming evidence one way or another that either method is the best; the important thing is that the construction is executed properly, and here with the Duomid the construction is top notch. The peak vent contains a semi rigid plastic insert which can be pulled out allowing for the vent to be closed via a Velcro strip. A stuff sack (silnylon) is included as is a length of guy line cord, which needs to be cut. All of the tie out loops are supplied with line tensioners and set up instructions can be found online.
I always talk about how easy pyramids are to pitch… so what can I say that I haven’t already said, hmmm… ah HA! How about this; compared to a traditional tent with aluminum poles that give it its shape once wrestled into place, setting up a shelter such as the Duomid is a breath of fresh air. No it’s not a freestanding tent, but it’s an easy pitch and very solid once set up. Simply stake out the 4 corners making sure they form a good rectangle leaving the sides neither too tight or excessively loose, then just slip the pole under and up (handle first) to erect the shelter in all its simplistic glory. All that’s left after that is to fine tune the corner stakes (until you become totally boss at it and nail the setup on the first shot), stake out any mid panel or stabilizing tie outs, and call it a day. Getting the peak height too high or too low (54 inches is recommended) is one of the common causes of a bad pitch; +/- an inch is ok, more error tends to cause issues. The other issue is simply not having the bottom square; leave the trapezoids and parallelograms for geometry class.
When using a single pole it is placed dead center. This gives each person their own side and sort of buffers and accidental/intentional bad-friend-touching at midnight. To utilize a two-pole setup you’ll either need two extra long poles, a couple of ~12 inch pole jacks, or 4 poles and some lashing whereby you and your hiking buddy each lash your poles together to make 2 extra long poles. You might find the gains from doing this aren’t worth the hassle unless you really dislike having a pole in the center of the shelter.
The MLD site recommends staking the corners to the ground, then pulling out the bottom mid-perimeter tie outs to increase ventilation. The peak vent allows for some air movement inside the shelter. Interior clip points allow for hanging a clothes line, gear loft, bivy tie out, or whatever other creative idea you can muster. The Duomid checks all the boxes and comes away feeling like a well made and stable pyramid.
In the Field
Most recently I’ve been out along the north coast of California in the Point Reyes area with the Duomid. There’s really nothing a pyramid can’t do and I think this will probably be the last one I cover in this or future Cuben Fiber roundup series simply because I find myself having the same things to say about them, construction differences aside. When bugs are not an issue (such as my trips along the coast) it’s a great shelter to just open up and enjoy the view. Being able to sit or lay down with the entire front open is an experience you don’t get with many other types of shelters.
When the breeze became a little too much I simply closed up front and now I have ample protection from the wind as well as the rain. Going back to the bugs for a second, it’s funny actually. I invited a couple of friends that I know (literally a husband & wife couple) to join me on a hike and give the Duomid a try. He is accustomed to lightweight gear but forgot to mention to his wife that they’d be sleeping in a shelter without a floor. Now, I did bring a groundsheet for them, but she was a little freaked out by the thought of earwigs snuggling up with her at night. I hadn’t considered the squeamish-wife-factor previously but I’ll have to keep that in mind for future reference. Luckily for me, Sandra D puts up with crawlies fairly well 🙂
So, what else can I say about the Duomid in the field? I hardly put it through any rough weather, just a little recent rain. Based on my experience with it (and many other lightweight shelters) I have no doubts that it will handle the big storms. The worst weather I’ve ever been in, I’ve slept in a pyramid of some sort and have never been let down. For additional rain protection they can be staked right down to the ground. Even in heavy rain I’ve found this to provide plenty of protection with a simple groundsheet. If standing water is expected then a bathtub floor is in order (or find a better site).
Another aspect to consider with the Duomid is the color of the Cuben material. The olive drab blends in pretty well with rocks and foilage. I’ve been stealth camping in some undisclosed spots around Marin where we live now and I feel pretty comfortable that I won’t be noticed, unlike a bright white or yellow shelter for example. It’s one of the simple things we sometimes don’t think about. I’m not sure if MLD still offers the olive drab or not. It’s listed as the material of the Grace tarps, but they now list “light green” as the color of the pyramids which sounds more like the stuff sack color pictured above. Anyway, here are a few more images of the inside with gear for two…
Regarding that interior space…I’m 6 foot 3 and change and use a long (6′-6) sleeping bag. I’d say I’m right at the limit of being able to lie down without touching insides of the shelter. I use an air mattress which raises me about 2.5 inches off the ground. The space is mostly a concern for me when I have the shelter staked all the way to the ground, such as when it’s raining… and that’s definitely one time I’d like just a little more clearance. There is plenty of room to sit up inside, which is one of the great things about pyramids. As far as stepping over the other guy to exit/enter the shelter there’s not really a graceful way to do it. Put whoever has to pee the most near the door! I’m a little surprised we haven’t seen a dual-door Duomid option, but I bet Ron would make it for anyone who asked… one of the benefits of working with the smaller manufacturers. Lastly, there isn’t a ton of room for the gear of two people. You have to be efficient. I sleep with my backpack under the head end of my sleeping pad and any excess clothes usually make for a foot rest. I think the type of people who seek out this shelter will already be the efficient types and not have a lot of bulky gear so it’s not likely to be a major problem, in this dood’s opinion.
The Bottom Line
The MLD Duomid is a classic ultralight pyramid for two. The construction is top notch; fit and finish are both excellent. It pitches easily, gets taut without hassle, and is sufficiently reinforced. There is room for improvement in the vent closure design but it’s sufficient. The Duomid is close quarters for two hikers and their gear, but the amount of protection it provides is very good especially considering how little it weighs which might justify the tradeoff for some small inconveniences. On the other hand, those who are backpacking solo will find it quite the palace! Hike It. Like It.