Sunday, August 9, 2020

Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid Pyramid Shelter: Cesar's First Impressions Review

The usual disclaimer: I bought this shelter with my own money and I am not sponsored by MLD or any gear company.
This is one of my favorite UL shelters that I have slept in to date, and a welcome addition to my go-to shelters.  As I have been exploring more and more of Scandinavia, I've been going into the mountains all the more.  And after trying a few different options together with my wife, we fine tuned our couple's kit, but my solo mountain trip kit was lacking.  I considered just taking my Nemo Hornet 2 to use as my solo palace.  But after using it in some rainy mountain conditions and having a bit of leaks inside the tent, and having to do a few minor repairs to it, I wanted something with better coverage and that was all around more robust.  
After much research on various pyramid shelter options, I settled on MLD, which is a company that happens to have made some of my all time favorite gear, such as my Burn pack. So here's my current list of go-to shelters:
1. Borah tarp and bivy (spring, winter, fall) or net tent (summer), for solo trips below tree line

2. Nemo Hornet 2, for 3 season trips with my wife or son below tree line
3. Tarp Tent Cloudburst 3, for summer trips with my wife above tree line
4. Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid and XL Solomid inner tent for 3 season trips above tree line or to very remote trails
A lot has changed since 2015, when I did a big breakdown of all my then go-to shelters for the first time here.  A quick explanation as to why these changes took place has mostly to due with taking more trips with my wife or son, and that when it comes to certain shelters like tarps and pyramids, I prefer using silpoly for tarps and silnylon for pyramids.  I've already explained in various videos and posts as to why I prefer these fabrics to say the increasingly popular DCF/Cuben fiber, but if you're unfamiliar with this whole ongoing UL fabric discussion/debate, you can check out my UL pros and cons post here.

So when I ordered my Duomid I didn't hesitate to get it in silnylon for various reasons (e.g. less bulk, privacy, ease of packing/unpacking, etc.), especially with how much better silnylon fabrics has evolved over the years (e.g. higher HH, less/no misting, slightly lower weight, etc.).  It's a 2019 version in 30D (more on this later), and I was able to buy an XL inner net tent used but in new condition on Reddit.  Here's a breakdown of all the weights for this shelter:

  • Rain fly and guy lines - 550g/19.4oz
  • XL solomid inner net tent - 295g/10.4oz
  • DCF drysack - 22g/0.8oz
  • Polycro ground cover - 43g/1.5oz
  • 10 stakes (4 Easton aluminum, 4 thick titanium shepherd's hooks, 2 thin titanium shepherd's hooks), one spare guy line, and stake sack - 80g/2.8oz
All-in shelter total: 990g/34.9oz

Here's what it looks like all packed up--and it fits quite nicely in my MLD Burn pack, btw--mini-Bic and metric tape measure for scale:

The shelter is one of the easiest backpacking shelters I have ever set up.  Shaking it out after it's out of its drysack is quick and easy.  Then you just stake out the 4 corners at 90 degrees to each (like a big rectangle), then put in the center pole, and it's up.  The learning curve to pitch this type of shelter is pretty low and straight forward.  For a center pole I used a wooden walking stick, but of course you can use trekking poles or a fancy-pants dedicated center pole made out of carbon fiber if you so desired.  The rest of the set up is just putting on finishing touches, with staking out the side guy lines, going around it to get a tight pitch (the line locks are great), and you're good to go.  Inside you only have to stake out two corners of the net tent, and in no time you can start setting up your sleeping mat and quilt.

The craftsmanship of the shelter is excellent, as you would expect from MLD.  Straight stitching, zippers work great, and I spoiled myself and had them seam seal the rain fly for me.  I love the color, which reminds me of a nice dark chocolate or a mocha coffee, and it has the added benefit of both privacy and it blocks out the sun well, making it easier to sleep for some (myself included).  For solo use this is truly spacious in all regards.  For one person the vestibule is massive and makes chores like cooking and packing in the rain so much easier.  There is loads of headroom while sitting up, and ample room for me laying down--even with a puffy down quilt and an inflatable sleeping mat--and for reference I am 183cm/6ft tall.
As mentioned earlier, the silnylon fabric of the rain fly is 30D, and has a HH of over 5,000.  MLD has not only tested their fabric, but has demonstrated their testing of various factors like HH and tear strength on their Facebook page and Youtube channel.  Other independent tests have been done to confirm the quality of the silnylon that MLD uses, just Google around if you are prepared to jump down the rabbit hole of UL shelter fabrics, hydro-static head, tear strength, etc.  This fabric also has great tear strength (as you can see here), with is essential to deal with high winds and heavy precipitation, for instance in exposed areas up in the fjälls.  
However it seems like MLD has since switched to 20D silnylon for their Duomids and other shelters.  I am fine with having the 30D, as the weight savings is not all that crazy, with MLD listing their current (2020) silnylon Duomids at 18oz/510g (40g/1.4oz lighter).  And I get the added durability and slightly higher HH.  Honestly when it comes to the comparision with DCF/Cuben fabric options, I just don't personally find the weight savings all that impressive anymore, which compared to either the 30D or 20D silnylon range roughly 70-150g/2.5-5.3oz.  That's literally about the same weight as one or two Clif bars.  But hey all you SUL homies, you do you.
The bottom line is that I am very happy with this shelter, and I see it keeping its place in my go-to list for a while--probably longer than the shelters from my old 2015 list.  I've only tested it in my backyard and on one long (5 day) section hike, sure.  But I can't wait to get back out there and spend more time in this shelter.  There's really not anything negative I have to say about it at the moment.  
Now it's not for everyone or all conditions, of course.  But if you are an avid section hiker that hikes in a variety of terrain (like most of us tend to do), this is an exceptional choice for mountain treks or for trips to faraway, isolated wilderness that you may want to spoil yourself with a more spacious and easy to use home away from home.  Or if you are a thru-hiker going through a lot of exposed terrain, quality pyramid shelters like this one certainly deserve consideration.
That's about it for my first impressions review, but as a complement to this review, I also shot a quick video today in my backyard.  So check out the video below to get a better idea of what it's like on the inside of the shelter and all that.  Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments of the video.  Peace!