ZPacks Hexamid Review

Review by Mark Verber
Feburary 7, 2011, minor updates 2012

Review Item: ZPacks Hexamid
Options: Cuben with Netting
Manufacture Year: 2010
Listed weight
: Cuben shelter, guylines, and bag 8.9oz
Weight as delivered: tarp+attached guylines 8.3oz
MSRP: US$259

Note: I have a first generation which uses three zippers that meet at the top peak. Joe has now switched to a single zipper to save weight and reduce the risk of zipper failure. The other major change is that the seams in the current generation Hexamid are primary joined by sewing rather than by taping. I wish Joe still taped the seams because I fear sewn seams will rip out, but I haven't heard this happening to anyone.

Summary

The Hexamid, especially the Cuben + netting model, is an amazing light solo shelter which is fast and easy to set up with a taut pitch. There is adequate of space for one person and gear. While sharing a Hexamid would be possible, I would  only do so under exceptional circumstances because I think the roof slope doesn't leave adequate space for the person furthest away from the door. Obviously, Joe found that it could work for couple on the second half of his five month CDT hike.

Things that I liked::

Things I don't like:

My total shelter weight is 17.8oz which includes the Hexamid 8.3oz, optional door 1.5oz, 6 Easton Stakes + 2 Ti stakes, 2.8oz, GG Polycro ground cloth 1.3oz, and 1 GG Lightrek 4 pole 3.9oz.

Description

The combination of the ZPacks Hexamid product page, see Tony's pictures from BPL Pt Reyes Trip (starts at picture #17) gives a pretty good feel for the shelter.

I have a Cuben Hexamid with netting. Since I purchase my Hexamid, Joe has dropped the silnylon version to focus on cuben, and has added an extended beak which might be a good alternative to the door, and is now also selling a separate bug tenting with the tarp. While I might have preferred the extended beak, I still prefer the netting being fully integrated with the tarp rather than separate because it provide more bug free space.

There is also an optional 1.5oz "door". In mild conditions I use use the Hexamid with a Gossamer Gear Polycro groundsheet (1.3oz) which I  place inside the shelter on top of the netting. In shoulder season I switch from the ground sheet to a MLD Superlite Bivy with eVENT foot which weights 6oz. I am using the bivy to help keep the foot of my quilt dry (more on this later), and to control drafts in colder conditions.

Field Conditions

Over the last two years I have used the Hexamid in a variety of conditions. From near sea level on the California coast, to 12k ft in the Sierras. I didn't get caught by any out of season snow storms, so no experience with snow. Temperatures have ranged from 15-85F, with a significant number of the nights above dew point which is pretty unusual in my experience. There were a number of nights below dew point so I can talk about condensation. Wind conditions have varied from between completely calm, to clocked at 35mph as the wind was slowing down... I am sure it was quite a bit higher that that at it's peak. The shelter saw number rain storms, included a three day storm which dropped more than an inch of water in an hour, and a brief hail storm.

Performance

Overall performance is quite good considering this is a extremely light weight three season shelter. The netting floor is a surprising idea. Placing a ground cloth over the netting does indeed seem to work if you keep the ground cloth away from the edges. The water runs down the netting on the outside of the ground cloth providing good protection. The one issue that needs to be managed is that wind blown rain that can come through the netting and pool on the top of the ground cloth. I would not want to use this shelter in a real rain storm without some sort of supplemental protection, especially if the wind shifted so it was blowing toward the door rather than the back of the Hexamid.  I think could stay dry without supplemental protection when awake, but experience has shown me that I move too much while asleep. I am sure I would wake up with the foot and maybe the head of my quilt soaked if I faced a heavy rain while I slept. Using either a  bivy, the optional door, the optional extended beak, or maybe ground cloth with bathtub side and an elastic strap to keep a bag/quilt inside the ground sheet would have worked.

Ease of Setup

This is an easy shelter to pitch. Just follow Joe's video of setting up the Hexamid. I found that after three attempts I could set up the Hexamid more quickly that Joe does on the video. The only slightly tricky part was getting the pole properly adjusted. The first two times I went to set up the Hexamid I didn't pull the pole quite forward enough. It's important for the bottom of the pole to be directly under the front corner of the beak.

There are three supplements I would recommend. First, as Joe recommends, you need to leave approximately 8 inches of slack between the front two guylines. Rather that having to approximate this each time, tied a knot at that exact point.  This way I pull the shelter tight, and then drive the stake in at the knot location. Second, I often camp places that are extremely rocky which makes placing stakes challenging.  Fixed guylines aren't ideal. You can retying the staking loop on each trip that needs a varied lengthy, pre-tie a few loops at different lengths, or purchase a set of  mini line locks.  Finally, I would recommend doing a small shock cord loop for the two pullout for the middle of the shelters walls to insure you don't over tension them.

Condensation

For whatever reason, many of this year's trips stayed above dew point, so most night I didn't have condensation. I did see a number of nights below dew point, but even then, the condensations seemed lighter that I am used to. It seems like Hexamid is  a bit less prone to condensation that other shelters I have used. I wonder if this is something to do with the material (Cuben rather than Sil Nylon or Spinaker), or if the conditions this past year were more mild than normal.

Rain Protection

A storm was rolling in just as the Hexamid arrived at my home. I set it up with the door facing the direction the wind would be blowing on the theory that this would provide me information about performance in the worst case which can happen if the wind shifts once the shelter is set up. I found the rain protection surprisingly good the first two nights. The first night got some rain, the second night got several hours of hard rain with winds averaging 10mph. While the rain did come through the netting, I found the space from the ridgeline back stay dry. The first night I placed the leading edge of a polycro ground cloth a few inches closer to the door than the top ridge. There was no noticeable moisture accumulation on the ground cloth. The second night the ground cloth was still dry, but the the foot of my quilt did get slightly damp when the wind picked up a bit. The surface dried completely in an hour or so in 50F, 80% humidity so it didn't get that wet. I expect that if I had deployed the optional door, that the foot of my quilt would have been dry.  The third day we have some wind gusts than were around 15 mph which drove rain through the netting on to the top of the ground cloth near my head which accumulated a small puddle. Neither  me nor my quilt got wet because we were on top of my pad. I believe if the ground cloth's leading edge was was under the ridge line rather than pushing under the beak that I wouldn't have had any accumulation on top of the ground cloth.

I moved the ground cloth so it's leading edge was at the ridgeline.  The netting that was formerly under the ground cloth as well as the ground underneath was almost completely dry  in a couple of hours. It seems to me that having a netting floor to help manage moisture might work well.  The third night we had some good  gusts. I don't know wind speed  but I am sure it was more than 20mph and some very hard rain for around 20 minutes. The rain reached slightly beyond the ridge line and got the edge of my quilt wet. I wish I would have deployed the door. The fourth day and night I deployed the door. We have some very hard rain with wind gusts over 30mphs. I had no problem staying dry though I had to be careful with me feet because the Hexamid narrows at the ends. Based on this experience, I would highly recommend the optional door for more severe weather conditions. Note: One of the biggest challenges I had was because I used a quilt which drapes over the side of the pad.

After 4 days in the rain I shook the Hexamid out and weighed in. It weighted 15.5oz... nearly doubling it's weight from accumulated water. After hanging two hours in a 55F garage at a 60% humidity the Hexamid was still slightly damp to the touch, weighting 10oz.

On several rainy trips I to have issues using a flat ground cloth. I couldn't seem to find the right placement. Either the ground cloth extended too far so water pooled on top of it, or the ground cloth didn't extend far enough, and my quilt would end up getting wet because there was no ground cloth between it an the wet ground. This included one of the trips where I did use the door to get more space toward the front of the Hexamid. I think a bit part of this is that I use a quilt which I leave spread out in warmer weather to ventilate. If I had consistently used the straps on the quilt or being using a traditional sleeping bag, I think I could have found a placement of the ground cloth which would have worked in all by the worst storms.

One thing that helped was  making a very shallow "foot pocket" and turning my polycro ground sheet into something that sort of have bathtub floor by making upturned corner with tape. This was helpful because the shape of the Hexamid has the edge of the tarp coming in significantly near the front and back corners. I might be a bit more sensitive to this than some people because my quilt has a very light shell that doesn't have the best DWR finish. After several rainy trips this fall/winter I decided that I was not having fun with my improvised bathtub floor ground sheet. I stayed dry, but keeping my quilt dry was hit or miss. It never got so bad that I was concerned for my safety, but it was troubling.  I considered switching shelters or getting one of the custom ground sheet. In the end I decided to get a DWR bivy because there have been a number of trips using the Hexamid, and using other shelters that a bivy would have been helpful, especially on colder trips when the wind got under my quilt. On cool trips that I expect heavy wind, or when I expect heavy rain, I am now bringing a MLD Superlite bivy with an eVENT foot rather than the groundsheet.

Wind Performance

There were several trips where the Hexamid faced 15-20mph continuous wind, and >35mph peaks. Hexamid did fine.  When staked firmly, the shelter stayed in place with very modest flapping. In the strong winds there was some flattening of the back wall, but not so much that it caused any problems.

Bug Protection

Provided a roomy, bug free space.

Construction & Durability

The Hexamid is well construction. All the seams were taped, the sewing was even, I didn't find any frayed edges. While well constructed, the Hexamid was not up to the class leading constructions of the Cuben shelters from Mountain Laurel Designs. When the Hexamid arrived, a piece of the tape for the peak had partially separated from the shelter. A bit of pressure and the tape was re-affixes, apparently no worse for the wear. After two years of use (maybe 20 nights), the shelter still looks to be in fine shape. Ron Bell of MLD has noted that he switched to a special tape that was significantly better than the traditional sealing tape. Besides being more UV resistant, the MLD tape doesn't seem to stick out as much.

I have some concerns about the fabric swatch that you set the tip of the pole into. Joe reports that it did not wear out or get a hole after 5.5 months of use. I am very surprised.  Being a cautious person, I put a rubber cap on my pole tip to protect the fabric. This might not be needed. Joe also pointed out that putting a small hole wouldn't be a big deal because your ground cloth provides protection from moisture, not the netting floor.

To early to tell long term durability, but Joe did use his for  5.5 months on the CDT so I expect that it should be fine for most people. There is some concern about the tape aging from UV exposure.  I do have a small tear in the floor mesh.  The tear wasn't from the typical source. It's torn because I grabbed the floor with a gloved hand and thought it was a piece of clothing which was partially stuck under my pad. I jerked hard, heard a rip, and realized that it was the floor, not my shirt.

Joe has switched from taping the seams to doing a double stitch and letting owner seam seal. Time will tell how this effects durability.

Customer Service

My order was processed quickly, and Joe was able to accommodate a "ship by" date so I could take it on my next scheduled outing.

Compared To / Other Options

There are a number of ultralight shelters which might be interesting to someone considering the Hexamid. Additionally, some people will find the combination of a tarp and either a bivy or nest (net tent) effective. The shelters I think are more closely related to the Hexamid with bug netting are listed below.

Gossamer Gear The One: The One has more room to move around and  large vestibule which makes it much easier to stay dry in a rain. Entry and exit is also easier. The One is more expensive, requires two poles rather than one, and is harder to get set up with a taut pitch.

MLD SoloMid or MLD DuoMid + MLD Mid Inner Tent. More versatile and much better in harsh weather with more room inside the tarp at nearly twice the weight and expense. The solo innernet provides a smaller space than the inside of the Hexamid. I don't have experience with the duo innernet, but expect that it would feel more roomy than the Hexamid sleeping on the diagonal.

SMD Deschutes Plus: Updated Wild Oasis. Slightly cheaper than the sil-nylon, netting version of the than the Hexamid. Not as bugproof as the Hexamid since a groundcloth is laid over the netting without being fully sealed. I borrowed the Wild Oasis from a friend and only used it two nights. The Wild Oasis is a bit more temperamental to set up than the Hexmid, and I found it felt a bit cramped.

SMD Gatewood Cape + Serenity NetTent. Provides rain gear/pack cover in addition to shelter. The NetTent has less space than the Hexamid. The Gatewood Cape/NetTent has an advantage that you can use the items separately. The combination of Gatewood Cape and NetTent is more expensive and heavier than the Hexamid with netting in either silnylon or Cuben. I have no personal experience with it.

Six Moon Designs Skyscrape X (and cheaper models made from SilNylon or Polyester. I have no personal experience with this shelter. A bit less than 2x weight and more money gets a larger living space, with great views when it's not raining and you can pull back the fly. If I didn't own the Hexamid today, this is the first I would look at for a solo three season shelter. I would love to see field reports of people who have used it in heavy rain storms.

LightHeart Cuben (my review): Twiec the weight and more expensive buys you a larger living area in a true double walled shelter which can give you almost 360 visibility on the nights you don't need the fly extended. There is also an option with an awning which would be a real plus when facing extended rain.  I had some issues with this shelter being blown down in heavy winds. Attaching the spreader bar to the tent fabric should prevent some of the issues I saw.

Other Reviews

Bushwalker Hexamid Review which goes into even more depth than my review about manage in wet conditions

My recommended shelters for general information and other options.