Ultralight Backpacking Tent
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dirigo 2
$900, 1 lb. 12 oz.
For six nights on a 96-mile traverse of the Wind River High Route—two-thirds of it off-trail and camping in the alpine zone between 10,000 and 12,000 feet—the Dirigo 2 endured rain and strong winds. But our last night had me worried. Camped in a completely exposed meadow at nearly 12,000 feet, the Dirigo was hammered all night by steady winds of 40 to 50 mph—but it never even bent under an onslaught that would have flattened many backpacking tents. That performance closed the deal for me on the value of this incredibly sturdy and durable, two-door, two-person ultralight shelter.
The wind we faced throughout that August night camped above Baker and Iceberg lakes (watch the video below) and other nights at exposed campsites in the Winds, and hours of steady overnight rain, proved the Dirigo’s hardiness in the most trying three-season weather: At well under two pounds (14 ounces per person), it offers better protection against the elements than some tents twice its weight, and withstands moderate winds without even making much noise.
“Dirigo”—Latin for “I direct” or “I lead,” and the state motto for Maine, where HMG makes its gear—seems an appropriate moniker for this sturdy shelter, which I also tested on a five-day, 78-mile backpacking trip on the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier.
Like other ultralight tents, the non-freestanding Dirigo pitches with trekking poles and eight stakes—and, importantly, you need poles that extend to 125cm (not all poles do). To achieve an even and taut pitch, you first lay the tent out flat and stake the four corners, initially without pulling the corner guylines tight. Insert the trekking pole handles into the reinforced grommets at either end of the short, carbon fiber Ridge Bar at the tent’s peak—which lends stability to the setup—and extend the poles to 125cm. Then stake out the vestibules and end guylines, and lastly, use the ample adjustment range on each stake loop and guyline to get a taut, balanced pitch.
It’s fairly easy and quick once you’ve tried it once or twice, but of course, not as simple or fast as with a freestanding tent.
While quite stable when fully staked out, the trekking poles tilt slightly inward, which means you occasionally bump those poles when moving around inside the tent—and the drip line allows rain into the tent with either vestibule fully open (to maximize ventilation). To keep rain out and still allow some cross-ventilation, I left the bottom of each vestibule partly unzipped—the one-way zippers open from the bottom—and that kept everything inside dry.
Besides pitching with trekking poles, the Dirigo’s most conspicuous feature—which largely explains its price—is its fabric. A three-season, single-wall tent with an integrated, internal no-see-um bug mesh with zippered doors, its walls and floor are constructed of five different types of waterproof, ultralight, highly durable Dyneema Composite Fabrics, the same stuff used in HMG’s packs (like the 3400 Windrider) and its tough, waterproof stuff sacks and gear pods. The tent also comes fully seam-sealed.
Other tents will wear out, suffering tears or zipper failures, but you’ll be challenged to wear out the Dirigo.
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Livability is quite good for a shelter in this weight class: The 32.5 square feet of interior space (52×90 inches) and peak height of 45 inches outdo most double-wall tents that range from two to three pounds. With adequate sleeping space for two, ultralight backpackers who prioritize low weight over capacious living quarters will find it comfortable enough.
Impressively for a tent this light, the Dirigo has two doors and vestibules that, while smaller (6.25 square feet each) than found on some ultralight tents, are just large enough for storing boots and mid-size backpacks while allowing room to come and go. The vestibules can be opened partly or completely, with one or both flaps rolled up, leaving the tent open on one or both sides for stargazing or maximum ventilation.
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The bane of single-wall tents is condensation, and the Dirigo is no different—but performs better than some competitors. As with any tent, ventilation is best achieved by leaving vestibule doors at least partly open. But breathable fabric panels at both ends of the Dirigo help facilitate ventilation. On one calm night in the Winds, I awoke to find significant condensation on the inside of the tent walls, even though I’d left both vestibules partly open; but my companions using other single-wall tents had the same experience.
I otherwise had no condensation all week—even on that rainy night when I left the bottom of each vestibule partly unzipped—but I never completely closed the vestibules. After that rainy night, I was impressed to find no condensation in the morning—zero—but it had also been steadily windy all night. The Dirigo lacks anything like mesh panels at the bottom of each end of the tent, which might help it ventilate better and create a way for condensation running down the inside of the walls to drain outside.
With a packed size of 12x8x6 inches—it comes with what may be the beefiest tent stuff sack on the market, an HMG drawstring stuff sack made of DCF—the Dirigo 2’s bulk compares with other double-wall ultralight tents, most of which are heavier. DCF fabric is light but does have some bulk to it.
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Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dirigo 2
Yup—this is a really expensive tent. But for backpackers, climbers, and others seeking the ultimate, ultralight, sturdy, livable, two-door, waterproof, and extraordinarily durable two-person shelter, the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dirigo 2 will pay for itself many times over in backcountry nights.
You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking this affiliate link to purchase a Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dirigo 2 at hyperlitemountaingear.com.
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See also my “5 Tips For Buying a Backpacking Tent” and “How to Choose the Best Ultralight Tent for You.” (Both of those stories require a paid subscription to The Big Outside to read, which costs as little as five bucks, or just pennies over $4 per month for an entire year.)
Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned backpacker, you’ll learn new tricks for making all of your trips go better in my “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Wilderness Backpacking Trip” and “A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking.” With a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read all of both stories for free; if you don’t have a subscription, you can download the e-guide versions of “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Wilderness Backpacking Trip” and the lightweight backpacking guide without having a paid membership.
NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See my Gear Reviews page at The Big Outside for categorized menus of all of my reviews and my expert buying tips.
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