This review has been a long time coming, two years in fact. I first got hold of my Hexamid Solo in March of 2012, picking it up at a friends in Florida just before my Appalachian trail thru-hike. Joe Valesko, the main man over at ZPacks had given me a nice little discount in return for a review on the blog, and still I haven’t written it until now.
This, however, is a good thing because if I had written about the Hexamid during my first month on the AT, it wouldn’t have been a favourable review. Nothing wrong with an unfavourable gear report if the equipment is poor but my first few weeks with this tent were like a relationship with an ex-girlfriend. I have always thought of the Hexamid as female, I don’t know why but it fits nicely with this analogy. She’s very pretty to look at and has a good shape, during the early days our friendship was very much a case of getting to know each other, I had to put some work into figuring out her moods, behaviour and in turn, her to mine as well. She could be temperamental and I was never too sure if I could trust her.
Some two years later, now we know each other and get along, our partnership has flourished and I feel guilty holding a passing glance at another tent. I may ask a few questions towards another hiker about their chosen shelter, take a quick look round but I know that the Hexamid is always the one I would go back to.
The Hexamid Solo on a recent trip
A few times over the last two years I have sat poised at this keyboard with ‘ZPacks Hexamid Solo Review’ at the top of the screen and a little flashing cursor blinking at me impatiently underneath. And each time I put off the writing because I knew I still had to spend more time in her company. There are good points, great points and areas I’m still not sure about but when all is said and done, the proof in the pudding is that the Hexamid is the shelter that I would always take with me on a trip if I can.
As far as the question I am always asked goes, is it any good in the rain? Well, I’ll answer that one for you as well.
When I first saw the Hexamid on ZPacks website, I was looking for the lightest shelter I could obtain for the AT. I read the blurb and then looked at the photos and videos. The first, almost blatant feature which could not be ignored, was that the entire ground floor, and pretty much one side of the shelter was constructed of .7 oz/sqyd screen mesh, or bug netting to you and me. I thought the mesh would get filthy, didn’t know if it would keep the rain out and I worried about its durability.
The front and all of the underside of the Hexamid is made from bug netting – It takes getting used to but works
I don’t know if Joe and his wife, Sheryl, have devoted some of their free time to water behavioural studies, in fact possibly a lot of time, but they have an uncanny knack of designing and producing equipment, not just tents, that look like they would turn and run at the mere chance of rain but in fact, perform very well.
Here’s how the design, and practice works. The shelter roof, two ends and one long side are constructed from .51 oz/sqyd cuben fiber. This grade is only one notch above the thinnest Cuben that ZPacks offer, the 0.34 oz/sqyd but because it is not exposed to abrasion, such as a pack would be, there is no need for it to be thicker. The other long side, the floor and a couple of inches up to meet the cuben are made from the insect mesh. Make no mistake; Cuben is waterproof so my fears about its performance in this area have long since evaporated. ZPacks also tape the seams which unlike some manufacturers, should not be an added extra or do it yourself job. Water runs down the Cuben and onto the mesh, because the force of gravity is pulling the droplets down, they do not come through the mesh, but simply run over it. Reaching the bottom, they either drop off or run and follow the mesh onto the ground under your ground sheet which is either a piece of Tyvek, ZPacks extra groundsheet, or their poncho which is designed to double up as this ground sheet. The water simply runs under whatever option you choose.
It was a little disconcerting at first.
Crikey Fozzie, you’re lying in a tent in the middle of a thunderstorm, and one side plus the bottom is insect mesh.
It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence does it?
But, with due credit to the Valeskos precipitation studies, it does work. So, for all those who have asked the worn out question when they hear I use a Hexamid – How is it in the wet? The answer is great. But, hang on; there are a couple of areas you should know about.
I did send this tent back to a friend who was holding excess gear for me on my AT hike after a couple of months because I was getting wet. Actually more damp but there are instances you should be aware of. Firstly, on the AT for one, most of the time we were hiking between 4000 to 6000 feet in elevation. In layman’s terms, that means up in the clouds. On those peaks during the early days on the AT, we were engulfed in this cloud so our environment consisted of a fine mist. Ever walked at night with your head torch on and just clipped the bottom of the clouds, or mist low down in a valley? All those billions of miniscule water droplets twinkling back at you caught in the light? Well, that’s where the Hexamid does have problems. The fine vapour works its way through the mesh and the net result, on a few mornings, was that my gear was coated in a little moisture, the sort of light coating where you can run your finger down a sleeping bag and leave a clear line. Gear was not wet as such, more clammy. That said, in a fully enclosed tent with little ventilation, this may be no worse than the accumulation of moisture lost through your body anyway.
Secondly, if it does rain really hard, you may have issues with splash back, namely on the insect mesh side of the shelter. I learned how to deal with this pretty quickly and some of it is common sense after a little time spent with the Hexamid. I soon learnt that pitching on hard pack soil is not a good idea. The water cannot drain and ends up smacking into it and splashing back onto the mesh, where a small proportion can work its way through. It is better to pitch on leaves and short grass where the rain is softened somewhat and splash back subdued.
You can also, and should, lower the front beak which was optional when I got my Hexamid, but now default, although you can still leave it off on request. This will take care of most of a rain shower. If it is severe, and there is splash back, you simply move to the rear and rig up something to deal with it such as in my case, a small length of Tyvek pressed against the side mesh and help in place by my backpack. I would think ZPacks may have received some feedback on the performance of the Hexamid in the early days without the beak because it is now default.
The beak offers good protection
In the rare instances where you may get splashback, simply push up some tyvek against the netting and keep in place with your pack
So, to all those who have asked the question, and hopefully any more that were thinking of, if you’re not due to spend 6 weeks camping in cloud cover; yes, the Hexamid will keep you dry.
It pitches with 8 stake out points and a trekking pole. Despite the higher than usual number of anchor points, it is very quick and easy to set up although it may take you a few pitches to get the hang of a decent, taught pitch. Cuben doesn’t stretch so a little more attention has to be invested unlike Silnylon which will offer a little more sympathy. The front two corners are staked out, a little in from full tension to allow the pole to be inserted inside onto the roof of the tent and the slack taken up. A reinforced area on the ground mesh accepts the tip of the pole although I’d recommend using a rubber end to your pole just as a precaution. The tent is now pretty much erect, the front guy will keep it upright whilst the other 5 anchor points at the rear are dealt with, three at rear ground level and another two higher up on the rear to pull the wall away somewhat.
Joe does a better job of showing you this than I probably am in explaining but it takes three minutes:
I use the ZPacks poncho as a ground sheet. Each corner has a loop which attaches to the four corners inside and there are two side anchor points as well. The hood and neck zip are simply secured up tight. This allows enough waterproof floor space for you and your pack alongside. The poncho is another story other to say that I love the thing. It weighs so little and in turn replaces other items, saving further weight. If you get the poncho, there is no need for a pack liner, a pack cover, a separate ground sheet and a waterproof jacket. Not only does it weigh just 144 gr / 5 oz, with all the items above it does away with, it’s capable of saving you, at a rough estimate depending on what gear you already have, a further 650 gr / 22.9 oz, and maybe more. If you don’t like the idea of a poncho, either use some Tyvek or one of ZPacks Cuben groundsheets.
Using the ZPacks poncho as a groundsheet . . .
. . . the ponchos corners are secured to the corners of the Hexamid with simple clips . . .
. . . or use a section of Tyvek
I originally ordered 1.25mm ZLine Spectra Cord and Micro Line Loc Guy Line Adjusters, purely because they were lighter than other options. I don’t use them anymore, the cord has a tendency to bunch up and tangle a little and the Micro Loc’s didn’t do the best of jobs holding the cord anyway. Much better, at a slight weight premium, is 2.2mm Z-Line Slick Dyneema Cord and the great LineLoc 3 line adjusters which are fool proof to set up, the cord just glides through and they lock easily and securely. The cord doesn’t get tangled either.
2.2mm Z-Line Slick Dyneema Cord & LineLoc 3 adjusters – perfect
I’ve found it to be sturdy in the wind, I would try and pitch one end into the direction of any gale so the lower ends deflect the wind up and over somewhat but I’ve never had it blow over and it has been through some rough storms.
Ventilation, as you’d expect, is excellent. Look at it, it has one whole side and a bottom made of mesh, of course the ventilation is great. With air movement constantly being stirred around if there is a breeze, any body moisture is whipped away before it has a chance to settle. I have not slept in anything else apart from a hammock that has better ventilation and the cases of moisture accumulating on the inside of the Cuben are rare.
I usually leave the beak up unless it looks like rain, I love seeing outside at night. When rolled down it has its own line that can be clipped to the front staking point already in use for the actual shelter. There’s also room underneath it to cook although you may have to move it towards the tent itself. I’m obliged, although you know already, to warn you of cooking near your shelter. Sometimes it’s inevitable, just take care.
I don’t know if ZPacks initiated the trend of open sided shelters, if not they were certainly one of the first. The last couple of years has seen a rise in the number of designs were the option to have one part of a shelter stripped back to allow the occupant to see out. It’s a wonderful place to spend the night because you have a view of your surroundings. With the beak rolled up one side of the Hexamid allows you to see what’s going on, where the bear is, what the cloud is doing, who’s up already etc.
The Hexamid was used for around 800 miles on the AT and it has been my shelter of choice since, as well 1000 miles on El Camino last year. The mesh is still intact, the Cuben is fine and in fact there are no wear issues anywhere. Despite Cubens slow rise to fame and many who doubt it, it is ultra-durable especially when used for shelters because they not exposed to rubbing or abrasion.
Pack size is, for want of a better word, is funny. When I first looked at the supplied stow bag (also Cuben), that’s exactly what I did because I thought ZPacks had sent me the wrong bag. 20cm high X 14cm wide X 15cm diameter (8” X 5.5” X 6”), with a little squeeze, I can get my hands around all of it to give you some idea. It’s around 25% of the size of my Terra Nova LaserLight tent that I used on the PCT; it’s tiny. After 2 years, however, the stow bag is showing signs of wear, there is stitch elongation and some fraying, I wouldn’t take it on another thu-hike. This is just down to it being stretched to accommodate the tent and undoubtedly some abrasion moving around in a pack all day.
Packed size – Just, well, funny.
The final, and best selling point of the Hexamid I have left to last because it is a mammoth selling point; the weight. OK, so it is more suited to thru-hikers who pay more attention to what’s on their back, someone living and solely hiking in Wales’s inclement weather once a month probably wouldn’t consider it an option. However, the weight cannot be ignored:
316 gr / 11.2 oz.
(Based on: Cuben tarp: 113 gr / 3.9 oz. Bug net: 142 gr / 5 oz. Beak: 43 gr / 1.5 oz. Groundsheet corner clips: 14 gr / 0.5 oz. Stufsac: 4 gr / 0.25 oz. No cord, linelocs or stakes included).
I remember the days when I was convinced that any tent would never get under a kilo / 2.2 lbs. Now it’s way less than a third of that. Some may not be drawn to the Hexamid because of their worries with rain but the main selling point for me, and most others, is that this shelter is so lightweight it just can’t be ignored.
Rear view – 3 ground stake points and 2 to keep the walls back
If I were planning a trip to Ireland in the middle of Winter with fierce storms forecast then you know, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t take the Hexamid and choose something else. I consider it the perfect shelter for the Pacific Crest Trail where all a hiker really needs is bug protection and shelter from the odd spell of bad weather. With my experience on the PCT and AT I have full confidence in taking it on the CDT where my number one priority is the weight.
We come again to that old disagreement that has been, and will still rage concerning minimal, lightweight equipment. When you first see it and look at the weight, many peoples first reaction is that it won’t do the job and it won’t last. It’s been a learning curve for me over the last 10 years where gradually I have taken what I may perceive to be gambles with minimalist equipment. You know? Hovering over the order button with a little cringing? With very few exceptions, all of it has performed to my hopes or exceeded them. It’s just a case of having a little faith and next time you are due to order a new shelter, or pack, or whatever, ask yourself if you really need all those extras, heavy material and pointless bells and whistles. Invariably, your faith will be repaid.
Even now when I erect the Hexamid I stand back and look at it. It is so simple. Every time I crawl in, lie back and look out, a small part of me still harbours a little concern that it will let me down.
But it never has.
Pay homage to the lightweight industry, bow down, pray and your fears will be vanquished.
All hail the lightweight revolution . . .
ZPacks Hexamid Solo
(Exchange rate based on £1.00 = $1.60)
Tent with screen – $360.00 / £225.00
Tent with screen and Cuben ground sheet – $430.00 / £268.00
Poncho doubling as a ground sheet – $155.00 / £97.00
You will need to spec which lines and adjusters you require, ZPacks also sell some good lightweight stakes. All seams sealed by ZPacks, comes with cuben stuf sac. Packing and delivery extra. If you order for delivery to the UK then customs may keep your package until excise and duty is paid.