Recommended Pyramid Shelters

A pyramid shelter is likely your lightest effective shelter, unless the weather forecast is for constant, pouring-down rain or there are going to be a bunch of bugs (and there is an optional Innernet to handle that). This is the collective wisdom of literally decades of experience by most of the people I hike with.  I know that many readers may still be unconvinced on this point. If so, you can jump to the Tent and Tarp Tents sections.

Recommended Pyramid Shelters

Pyramid shelters give you the maximum coverage and storm protection for the minimum weight. Consider the palatial 65+ ft2 floor area and 5+ feet of headroom for the 1.5 pound Mountain Laurel Designs DuoMid XL (only 1 lb if you get it in Cuben Fiber). If you like to sleep out under the stars you can leave these shelters at the bottom of your pack, greatly reducing the time to setup and breakdown camp and without the weight penalty of carrying an unused conventional tent. (A two-person tarp weighs 8-12 oz and takes up virtually zero pack volume.) Many of pyramid shelters and shaped tarp shelters come with an optional “Innernest” which has full mosquito netting and a bathtub floor, effectively making them a tent when needed. But giving you the option of leaving the Innernest at home, saving the weight and volume.


MLD SuperMid kept Don and I sheltered and dry from a freak and exceptionally violent Sierra storm at 11,000 feet. For a couple of hours we had 50mph winds, tons of rain and horizontal hail up to the size of quarters.

Mountain Laurel Designs produces some of the finest Pyramid Shelters anywhere. Of note are the 11 ounce MLD SoloMid 2016, and for two people the DuoMid XL, or their largest shelter the SuperMid. I have used all these MLD Pyramid Shelters on trips to Alaska, Patagonia, the Sierras, major European treks and around the world—with good results even in challenging circumstances. These pyramids use your trekking poles for a center pole like a circus tent. Like many shelters in this section you have the option of Cuben Fiber, which while expensive (especially for larger pyramids) is light, incredibly strong, and waterproof. Cuben Fiber also doesn’t stretch, even when wet which means you don’t have to constantly re-tension guylines if it’s raining or just damp and dewey overnight. My Solomid 2016 is in Cuben, but my DuoMid XL is in the more cost effective Pro Silnylon.


HMG Pyramids use Cuben Fiber and are exceptionally strong and light.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear produces excellent and light Cuben fiber Pyramid Shelters. They make two pyramid shelters, the 1 pound UltaMid 2-Person, and the 1.3 pound UltaMid 4-Person. Both have an optional bug mesh and floor insert. HMG shelters are only available in their CF8 Cuben Fiber. “Cuben Fiber is lightweight, highly durable, and is 50-70% lighter than Kevlar, four times stronger than Kevlar, and allows flex without losing strength. It also weighs less than Silnylon, it floats on water, is 100% waterproof and has high chemical and UV resistance.” While this provides exceptional performance and low weight, it is also expensive. There is is no lower cost Silnylon option for HMG shelters.

The My Trail Co pyramid shelters are a good deal at since their price includes with everything you’d ever need: inner nest, pole, states and stuff sacks.

My Trail Co Pyramid 4 and Pyramid 4 Shelters (by founder of GoLite) are other options for pyramid shelters. If you want both the pyramid and inner nest they are a great deal.



The 7.8 ounce MLD Cuben Fiber Grace Duo Tarp was our choice for the Wind River High Route: Don and I weathered a strong thunder and hailstorm at the back of Cirque of the Towers. Exposed at over 10,000 feet in a mountain meadow, it kept us and all our down gear dry.

Tarps and Shaped Tarps are significantly lighter and have more floor area than pyramid shelters. e.g. a 2-person MLD Grace Cuben Grace Duo tarp is 8 oz vs the 16 oz for the DuoMid XL. For many backpackers, Tarps and Shaped Tarps are more suited to places with occasional rain (Summer in the Sierras or the desert of Southern Utah) and/or for camping in more sheltered areas (below treeline, behind large rocks, etc.). Although some skilled and adventurous backpackers use them above treeline in the high mountains and other exposed areas that get appreciable wind and precipitation.


Tarps work! Blizzard in the Wind Rivers – a 15 degree night under a tarp & 1 lb down quilt.

True Tarps have the advantage of being simpler, less expensive, lighter and having more pitching options from “close to the ground for storm protection,” to “airy lean-to pitches with great views.” Shaped Tarps tend to be a more storm resistant, but are are designed be pitched only one way—usually lower to the ground with less headroom and views. Note: I do not recommend a solo tarp—for just few ounces more you get almost double the coverage for a 2-person tarp.



The light and storm-worthy MLD TrailStar

Mountain Laurel Designs True Tarps of note are the Grace Duo Tarps in either Silnylon or Cuben Fiber. The 7.8 ounce MLD Cuben Fiber Grace Duo Tarp is a personal favorite and where I think the upgrade to Cuben Fiber makes sense. Don and I shared one on our Wind River High Route.

Mountain Laurel Designs Shaped Tarp of note is the award winning and perennial favorite TrailStar. Like the pyramid shelters it has an optional innernet.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear True Tarps of note are the 8′ x 10′ Flat Tarp and the Echo II Tarp. Both have an optional bug mesh an floor insert. HMG tarps are only available in CF8 Cuben Fiber.


A modular approach for Shaped Tarps: HMG Echo Tarps have an optional Beak (a front end/vestibule add on) and an an optional bug mesh & floor insert. Combine all three for a flexible and very light “2-walled tent.”

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Takes a modular approach for Shaped Tarps. The Echo Tarps have an optional Beak (a front end/vestibule add on for the tarp) and an an optional bug mesh an floor insert. Combined all three for a Echo Ultralight Shelter System (an extremely light “2-walled tent.”) But you have the option to take only the components needed for a particular trip.

For Tarps available off-the-shelf from a major retailer, look at the Sea to Summit Escapist Tarp Shelter from REI or a MSR E-Wing 2 Person Shelter. But realistically tarps are not seriously carried by major retailers and you are better off getting a tarp from one of the manufacturers above (or other well regarded cottage manufacturers).

For a Bargain Tarp: look at Etowah Gear’s Basic $75 8×10 Silnylon Tarp.