Ultralight Backpacking Tent
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid 2
$699, 1 lb. 2 oz./510g
$399, 1 lb. 4.5 oz./581g
I’ve encountered every form of mountain weather over more than three decades of backpacking, but rarely conditions like my son and I faced over three days in August in the Wind River Range: hours of daytime hiking through cold rain and wind and long nights of sheltering from that weather. Besides our invaluable time together in the wilderness—and even occasional glimpses of the mountains through a veil of air impersonating gumbo—the trip provided the redeeming benefit of seeing how impressively the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid 2 performed, keeping us comfortable and dry.
A two-person, single-door, non-freestanding, single-wall, floor-less, pyramid-style shelter, the Ultamid 2 employs a design that has withstood the test of time, enduring because of the pyramid tent’s exceptional space-to-weight efficiency, stability in harsh weather, and reasonable ease of use.
The Ultamid 2 pitches using two trekking poles lashed together with HMG’s sturdy Ultamid Pole Straps ($15, sold separately) and positioned at the tent’s center—which creates sloping walls—and staking the shelter’s eight stake guylines around its perimeter. It can also be suspended from a peak point, like a tree branch that’s at an appropriate height off the ground.
It can be pitched alone, as a floor-less pyramid-style tarp shelter, or with any of a variety of inserts or a ground cloth available from HMG. We used it with HMG’s Ultamid 2 Insert with DCF11 Floor—creating a bug-proof, waterproof, very stable and spacious ultralight shelter with mesh interior walls and a floor—and we tested it using two different models of adjustable, collapsible trekking poles.
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Pitching the Ultamid 2 takes several minutes, even after you’re practiced at it, partly because it requires adjusting and balancing the tension and length on the eight reinforced, three-foot, 2.8mm stake guylines around the tent perimeter—but one person can pitch it. How you position the stakes and set the length of their guylines determines how high the bottom edge of the rainfly/tarp rises off the ground—the higher it rises, the greater the air flow from the floor to the two vents at the tent’s peak, helping to minimize condensation.
Using only the eight stake guylines around the perimeter, we found the Ultamid 2 more than equal to the steady wind blowing throughout two nights camped in thinly forested terrain by lakes in the Winds: The walls hardly moved. But the Ultamid 2 also has four center panel tie-outs on the walls and one tie-out on the cone for suspending the shelter under a tree; it also comes with an additional 100 feet of 2.8mm guyline. The cone’s design prevents deformation when using oddly shaped poles, paddles, sticks, or skis.
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The Ultamid 2 area measures a cavernous 63 square feet (six feet, 11 inches by eight feet, 11 inches)—more than twice the floor area of many heavier, two-person, freestanding tents, abundant space for two people plus all gear with room to spare. Both the Ultamid 2 and the Insert reach a peak height of five feet four inches. Even with the sloping walls, that provides plenty of headroom to sit upright around the shelter’s center pole. In a pinch, you could sleep four people under the Ultamid 2 (or inside the Ultamid 2 Insert), although that would be tight, leave no space for gear, and require climbing over one another to go in and out.
Erected underneath the Ultamid 2, the optional Ultamid 2 Insert’s area measures slightly smaller than the Ultamid 2 at six feet, four inches by seven feet, 12 inches, maintaining space between the mesh and exterior walls while still creating a spacious shelter for two people and their gear.
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With fully taped, waterproof and durable, DCF8 Dyneema composite fabric walls, the Ultamid 2 is a legitimate four-season, ultralight shelter. The tough fabric is highly resistant to tearing—although I did puncture a small hole in the top due entirely to operator error (accidentally punching the tip of one trekking pole through the fabric while erecting it, after the tent’s corners were staked, putting tension on the fabric). The hole never expanded, a credit to the fabric, and post-trip, I easily patched it using Gear Aid Tenacious Tape; HMG also sells a Dyneema Repair Kit ($15). The Insert’s tough, waterproof DCF11 floor has a deep bathtub well that protected us from rain-splashed mud getting inside.
The Ultamid, like any pyramid-style tent, does not have a good drip line: Rain will directly enter the front side of the tent when the door is open. But there’s significant spacing between the outer, waterproof walls and the interior, mesh walls of the Ultamid 2 Insert, so we rarely brushed against damp ceiling and had only minor condensation buildup on a night of hard rain in the Winds, when we had to close the door to keep rain out.
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While condensation has classically proved the bane of single-wall, waterproof tents, the Ultamid design achieves good high-low ventilation thanks to dual peak vents with no-see-um mesh and ground-level air circulation under the elevated edges of the rainfly’s entire perimeter. The door’s two-way zipper also allows opening it slightly from the bottom to boost ventilation in rain.
Over three late-December nights of camping in Idaho’s Boise Mountains, with lows ranging from the single digits to the mid-teens Fahrenheit, my son and I slept inside only the Ultamid 2, using a standard tarp as a floor. We also threw snow around much of the tent’s perimeter, except the door area, limiting floor-level ventilation. Predictably, given that, the low temps, and snow falling each night, a thick layer of frost formed on the inside walls of the Ultamid 2; and although it flurried onto us when we brushed the walls, it was never warm enough to melt and drip, so it wasn’t much of a problem. When we packed up the Ultamid on our final morning, that frost fell off almost completely by simply shaking the shelter—the Dyneema fabric easily sheds frost.
There’s no vestibule, but we could tuck our boots under the lower edge of the tent outside the door to keep them dry; we could even lengthen the stake guylines to elevate the door side of the Ultamid higher off the ground and away from the tent interior enough to cook under it in the rain (leaving the bottom of the door partly unzipped to help ventilate and avoid carbon dioxide buildup inside from the stove).
Relative to its living space when pitched, the Ultamid 2 packs down to a very compact package measuring 8.5x6x5.5 inches.
There’s also the larger Ultamid 4 ($999, 1.4 lbs.).
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid 2
While it’s quite expensive and has shortcomings, you’d be hard-pressed to find a backpacking shelter that compares with the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid 2 for living space, space-to-weight ratio, stability, durability, and protection in almost any weather and any season.
You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid 2 at backcountry.com or hyperlitemountaingear.com, the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid 2 Insert at backcountry.com or hyperlitemountaingear.com, any of the various insert or floor options for the Ultamid 2 at hyperlitemountaingear.com, the Ultamid 4 at hyperlitemountaingear.com, and the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid Pole Straps at hyperlitemountaingear.com.
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 Backpacking Trip,” “A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking,” and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.” With a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read all of those three stories for free; if you don’t have a subscription, you can download the e-guide versions of “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Backpacking Trip,” the lightweight and ultralight backpacking guide, and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.”
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 The Big Outside’s Gear Reviews page for categorized menus of gear reviews and expert buying tips.