Moving right along with the Cuben Fiber Roundup 2013, we’re ready to check out the Duplex, a new two-person shelter from ZPacks.
Near the end of 2013 ZPacks announced several new shelter additions to their lineup – the Solplex, Duplex, and Triplex. One, two, and three-person shelters, respectively. All three of em sport a hybrid single-wall wall design, meaning the canopy is a single layer of Cuben with the bathub floor and bug netting sides sewn directly to it. This provides a double wall under the vestibule and a single wall over head. ZPacks offers several versions of their popular Hexamid shelters (in fact, all of the “plex” shelters are considered part of the Hexamid family) and advertises them as a good choice for taller hikers. Immediately following Joe’s final beta testing of the Duplex design, he sent me one to spend some time with.
Typically the Hexamids have a hexagonal footprint, however the “plex” shelters have a rectangular footprint (excluding the vestibules). With an overall length of ~90 inches the Duplex doesn’t exactly boast a floor plan that’s any longer than ZPacks’ other shelters – actually I measured the Hexamid Solo Plus to have a slightly longer floor at 92 inches overall. So what gives?
The floor plan above is as-measured. After sleeping in countless shelters I’ve come to a conclusion; 90 inches is the magic number. 90 inches is long enough for a 6′-6 sleeping bag, on top of 3 inch thick air mattress IF the wall configuration of the tent has the right sort of geometry. Take a 90 inch long box for example. Everything will fit into that just fine, however if you angle the ends in towards the center, now 90 inches isn’t long enough. So it all depends on the angle(s) of the sides and/or how much vertical bathtub the floor offers. Ah ha! – The Duplex adds a fairly high bathtub floor and with a typical pitch it does just have enough room to fit me, my sleeping pad, and 6′-6 bag with minimal to no contact with either end of the tent. I wouldn’t call this dedicated tall person’s tent, but among the Hexamid line, it seems to be the best bet for tall folks, as well as offering the most space.
The Duplex features dual zippered entries and dual vestibules (the vestibules are zipperless… more on this later) which can be opened or closed in a number of various configurations depending on the weather or the airflow and views desired. The bathtub floor is solid Cuben and rises up about 8 inches after which point it transitions to bug netting. At both the head and foot end the bathub can be clipped to the canopy via a length of shock cord to close off the mesh to drafts and provide additional protection from rain splatter, etc… Two 48-inch trekking poles, or ZPacks ultralight tent poles are required to pitch the Duplex, along with 6 stakes for a minimal pitch or 8 stakes for a full pitch. An uncut length of Z-Line is included along with instructions on how to measure out, cut, and attach to the pull out points on the tent.
The Duplex is made from .51 oz/yd Cuben Fiber with several color choices available. This is typical of most ZPacks shelters. Although we usually prefer .74 oz/yd Cuben, many people are fine with the lighter variant (after all, it does save weight) and Joe Valesko has proven that with proper care .51 oz/yd Cuben is durable enough to survive a thru hike of any of the major trails in the US, and then some. The floor of the shelter is a heavier 1 oz/yd Cuben material. The packed size is roughly 14.5 x 8 x 4 inches (rectangular~ish). On our scale the weight was 19.3 ounces – exactly on spec.
Setup instructions were included with the tent, yet I had a couple of hiccups in pitching it (I’ll elaborate in a bit). The basic gist of it is: stake out a corner, move to the same corner on the opposite end and stake it out, leaving about half a guyline’s worth of slack, insert the pole on that side of the tent and stake out the ridgeline on that side, then move to the other side of the tent and repeat. There are a few shelters of similar design on the market, I own one of them and setup was mostly similar, however this is the point I started to wonder a few things about the Duplex…
Curiously, the vestibules have no closure system. There are 4 individual flaps, unlike the traditional “beak” of the other Hexamid designs which is a single piece (not separate left/right flaps). Two mini carabiners are included which, one must infer, are meant to fix the end loops of the vestibules together. Adding to the mystery, the center guylines afixed to the ridgeline (these are pre-attached by ZPacks) feature a dropper loop about 2/3 of the way down, followed by a line tensioner and one more loop at the end. There is no explanation of the carabiners or the dropper loop in the setup instructions and this is not something I’d come across from any other manufacturer to date. I figured the dropper loop was there to attach the carabiner and vestibules to – I soon found out that was a wrong guess. The loop is not in the right spot for that. I decided I’d figure it out later and ended up cutting a separate piece of Z-Line, put a taut line hitch in it, looped it to the dropper loop, then hooked it to the carabiner and used it to tension the vestibule flaps. It worked fine. If this sounds convoluted, yes a little bit; the photo below shows what I’m attempting to describe. It turns out I was totally off base as I discovered when I eventually watched Joe’s setup video.
Having finally got my pitch looking good I still puzzled over the concept of having no zipper or any other sort of closure system on the vestibules. The ends are clipped together but a gust of wind can “billow” them apart. In practice I didn’t have any serious trouble with this but the only rain the tent saw was in my back yard and when the wind gusted, some rain was indeed hitting the inner mesh a bit. To be fair, this was during a deluge and it appeared to be mostly splatter on the mesh, not much if anything made it inside. I asked Joe about the closure and he explained that zippers tend to fail eventually (true, usually when not maintained) and he also conceded to not having devised a partial closure method that we was happy with (yet?). Even given this, I still feel like the Duplex provides substantially better rain protection than the more minimal Hexamids. Moving on… another point that I was a little surprised about was a lack line locks at any of the corners (given the pricepoint).
To date I’ve been thrilled with everything ZPacks that I’ve come across, but I have to be honest here, the Duplex wasn’t quite what I expected from ZPacks in terms of design. The construction however is top notch as usual. The quality of workmanship leaves nothing to question, the seams are taped and bonded, and the details show a professionally made shelter as we have come to expect from ZPacks.
In the Field
I’ve had the Duplex in my hands since Nov 2013, in that time I’ve done a handful of trips with it, though not quite as many as I’d had hoped to and due to the mild winter I didn’t get it out under the rain, except in the back yard which I don’t put much stock in. The shelter is roomy and takes up some real estate with it’s large-ish footprint plus the width required for both vestibules. Once I found a suitable space, pitching it was fairly easy barring confusion about how to properly secure the vestibules. I don’t care for the lack of line tensioners because it limits the ability to relocate a stake when a rock or loose soil prevents getting good purchase; had I thought about it, I might have cut these guylines longer than the directions indicate and affixed taut line hitches to them for adjustability. That concept might make a good foot note on the set up instructions. Speaking of the instructions, the video shows how to pitch the tent properly, but a couple of the details shown there (pertaining to the center guylines and vestibules) are left out of the written instructions. It didn’t occur to me at all that the dropper loop is for the stake and the loop on the end is for clipping the vestibules to the line tensioner. Maybe I am just a little dense in the noggin, but I find that I rarely need setup instructions (or video) to get a shelter pitched. Not a big deal once figured out, but mentioned for the completeness sake.
I did take the Duplex on one snow trip to Yosemite this winter but, despite my hopes, I didn’t get snowed on. Any minimalist shelter has the potential to do just fine on the snow, but not all of them are cut out to handle much actual snowfall. In honesty I hoped it would snow just to illustrate what I see as a potential shortcoming of the vestibule design. This shelter is clearly not designed for the fourth season, and to be fair, ZPacks doesn’t claim that it is. In fact, Joe plainly told me that he didn’t intend for it to be a 4-season shelter. Fair enough. I do however have another gripe about pitching it on the snow, without a way to tension the guylines after the snowstakes have had a chance to freeze up, it makes setup sort of a hassle. The usual approach to pitching a shelter on the snow is to pitch it loose until the stakes have frozen in place, then tighten it up. Depending on the snow conditions this can be more or less the case, so yet another reason that it would be nice to have line tensioners. I know… I keep hammering on this, ok enough about it now.
Regarding the vestibule closure, a mini carabiner is not my cup of tea either. I associate some fiddle factor with these things and I really don’t want to deal with that in early morning or evening or when I’m cold, tired, or happily drunken. With a gloved hand they’re not all that easy to operate. I would have much preferred a velcro strip backed up by a snap with a pull tab at the end. A few intermediate velcro tabs might improve the vestibule closure. They’re not overly loose, but gusty wind did cause some flapping. Also, the nature of this type of design/shape is less wind shedding ability than the more aerodynamic Hexamids, this being a tradeoff for extra living space.
On the plus side the shelter offers a lot of room, I think I mentioned that already. For the weight you get a lot of shelter here. There’s no question about that; it’s amazing that this is a sub-20 oz shelter! It also offers easy-in and easy-out access plus nice views with the vestibules rolled up. In those respects, it’s as good and probably better than any of the other Hexamids. Updated to add: As Bill pointed out in the comments below, I neglected to address how two people fit in the Duplex. The best I got to do was about 1.5 when I was out with my 5 year-old son on some coastal backpacking. We fit just fine, I have no doubt Sandra D and I would have been ok too. With two “big” people in there though the 44~45 inch wide floor may feel like close quarters. You do have vertical walls to either side, but at the same time you don’t want to be pressing against them too much putting stress on the seams up top. Also with 2 full sized adults, you’ll most likely have most of your gear under the vestibules. I often have my pack inside with me under my feet; that would be fine, but there won’t be much free space for packs to just be hanging around in there with you – thus plan to use the vestibules. It’s nice for each person to have their own, as well as their own door which are features you don’t get in a front-entry shelter, for example.
Regarding airflow and condensation, the perimeter of the tent is about 6 inches above the ground when pitched properly. On one occasion I pitched within 15 feet of a pond at Henry Coe State Park and had next to zero condensation over night while leaving one of the door flaps open. On another trip near the coast I pitched in a very wet area, closed up the tent and even with the stiff ocean winds I had pretty serious condensation. Overall I find the tent to have good airflow and condensation management with a door flap or two open, when closed up it performs about the same as any other tent would in the given conditions.
The Bottom Line
The ZPacks Duplex is clearly a different shelter than it’s other Hexamid cousins, but is it a better shelter? This is now the priciest duo shelter that ZPacks offers and while it provides a larger and more comfortable living space, which one might consider a luxury, other refinements are missing. Joe’s probably thinking “Argh… Jacob… I loan you this thing then you write stuff like this about it!” But within the ZPacks product line, which are a fairly minimal, lightweight, and value priced array of shelters, the “Plex” series DO offer more room, easier in and out access, better weather protection, and all of this in a single piece design. So in that respect, and for people who are accustomed to ZPacks products, the Duplex will feel like a direct upgrade in many ways – I don’t want to sound like I’m giving it a bashing. It’s only that its existence now makes choosing a shelter more confusing because now we have to start looking at trade offs. There truly is no such thing as the perfect design! Hike It. Like It.