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Review: Sierra Designs High Side Tent || Light & packable, but small

The Sierra Designs High Side, perched at 10,000 feet in Silliman Creek in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park.

The most interesting new shelter from Sierra Designs in its spring 2018 lineup is the High Side. I previewed it in my summer Outdoor Retailer coverage, and recently used it on two 5-day/4-night backpacking trips in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park in the Sierra-Nevada.

Testing conditions were varied. We camped in forest, at treeline, and in the alpine. Nighttime temperatures ranged from the low-20’s to low-30’s; the dew point was exceeded several times. Unfortunately, it never rained or snowed, and we never encountered howling winds, but I feel confident in speculating on its performance in these regards.

Review: Sierra Designs High Side Tent

The 1-person High Side is new from Sierra Designs, and will be available in Spring 2018. It falls into the “ultralight/ultra-small” category: it weighs just 1 lb 15 oz for the fly, body, and pole set; but it offers only 24.9 square feet of protected space (17.2-sq ft interior, 7.7-sq ft vestibule) and a 32-inch peak height. It has enough room to lie down or sit in a hunched position, and to keep your gear out of the rain, but nothing more.

The High Side features one side-entry door, two fly vents, a porch-able vestibule awning, and wind-resistant torpedo shape. Its pitch is intuitive and fast, and requires a minimum of seven stakes. The dedicated pole set has abnormally short segments (12.5-in rather than standard 14- or 16-in), which greatly improves its packability.

The High Side is a 3-season non-freestanding 1-person tent that weighs less than 2 lbs for tent, fly, and poles. MSRP is $280.

The production version will feature two fly vents, to maintain some ventilation when the vestibule is closed. My review sample did not have them.

Target user

What types of users may be interested in the High Side? If you:

  • Are willing to sacrifice livable space for weight-savings.
  • Seek a shelter with a small footprint and/or small packed size.
  • Want a dedicated pole set, because you don’t use or need trekking poles, or because you are willing to carry more weight in exchange for a less fussy pitch.
  • Camp in humid environments, and therefore benefit from a physical barrier between you and a possibly condensation-soaked fly.
  • Always use the fly and tent body together, for a full-sided and fully enclosed experience.
  • Have a limited budget, or don’t care to spend $300-$600 for a shelter that is marginally lighter and/or uses more premium fabrics like 7d nylon or Cuben Fiber.

The High Side falls into the “ultralight/ultra-small” category. There is just enough room to lie down (or sit in a hunched position), and to keep your gear out of the rain.

Comparison chart

How does the High Side compare to other ultralight/ultra-small, 3-season, 1-person tents with dedicated pole sets? In general, it has the most affordable price and shortest peak height; its weight and protected space are middle-of-the-pack.

The primary explanation for these rankings is the fabric: the fly, floor, and body mesh are 20d, 30d, and 15d, respectively. These are more cost-effective but heavier than the 15d, 10d, and even 7d fabrics used in the pricier models.

Design

The High Side consists of a non-interchangeable inner tent body and fly. The tent body can be used on its own during dry nights, but there is no fly/footprint option for bug-less trips. A separate footprint is available for $30 and weighs 3.8 oz (108 g).

The tube-style non-freestanding shape relies on two pre-bent half-hoop poles. The squatty 32-inch peak height is partially offset by the resulting verticality of the side walls. The overall interior volume is probably comparable to a fin-style shelter (e.g. BA Fly Creek or Nemo Hornet) with a taller peak height, because so little of the ceiling space is usable in that architecture.

The tent body can be used on its own during dry nights. The pre-bent half-hoop poles create more usable space than fin-style tents, but the interior volume of the High Side is still stingy due to the 32-inch interior height.

The pre-bends in the poles are exceptional on the High Side’s door side. This “high side” provides a few inches of extra clearance during entry/exit, versus a less dramatic pre-bend.

The vestibule awning can be closed shut or porched open. In the former configuration, ventilation rests with the perimeter gap and with two fly vents. Ventilation is never a full substitute for good campsite selection, and under challenging circumstances condensation may be inevitable regardless of the shelter’s design.

The porch-able awning greatly improves ventilation (and therefore condensation resistance) and increases usable space. The side-entry is much more convenient than head-entry for entry and exit.

Pitch

The High Side has a straightforward and intuitive pitch:

  • Stake out the four corners of the inner body.
  • Attach the body to the two poles, using clips.
  • Drape the fly over the inner body. Attach the fly to the poles using the four Velcro loops under the fly. And attach the fly to the inner body using four side-release buckles.
  • Stake out the vestibule and the opposite fly panel.

As described, this basic pitch requires seven stakes. I would recommend nine, however, so that the vestibule awning can be porched in calm conditions. This greatly improves ventilation (which will help to minimize condensation) and creates more usable living space.

For high winds, the High Side has four additional tie-out points, one on each side of the two poles. With its small profile and torpedo shape, I suspect it would do well in high winds, although its cramped size would be a challenge in frequent inclement weather.

For improved perimeter ventilation, bring up two more extra stakes to pull the fly away from the inner tent body along the non-vestibule side.

Packed size

Rather than conventional 14- or 16-inch pole segments, the High Side pole set uses 12.5-inch lengths. This adds some weight, due to duplication of materials at the joints, but overall it’s a winning spec: the High Side has a much smaller packed size. Inside my Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60 Pack, the High Side easily fit horizontally, stacking neatly with my sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and full-sided BV500 bear canister. I did not need to store it vertically, or stow the pole set on the outside of my pack.

Due to the short pole segments, the High Side will fit horizontally inside many backpacks, including my Flex Capacitor.

Its storage sack is another nice detail. The burrito-style bag, which is modeled after a climbing rope bag, is less conducive to stuffing than a normal stuff sack. But I found that loose folding was adequate, and the compression straps were useful in shrinking it further.

A size comparison

Room for improvement + personal opinion

For what it is, I think the High Side is designed well. But I have a few recommendations:

  • Offer a fly/footprint pitch, so that the High Side can be used in bug-free seasons without carrying the inner body.
  • Install side-release buckles mid-way on the vestibule zippers, so that the door can be partially porched without stressing the zipper. Currently, the porch option is all-or-nothing, and in the “all” configuration precip will land just a few inches from the inner body.
  • Add two plastic rods along the non-vestibule side of the fly, so that the fly can be tensioned away from the inner body (to improve ventilation) without needing a stake, reducing the minimum number of stakes to six (and recommend number to eight).

I’d be much more interested in the High Side if it were bigger, because small shelters feel like coffins in bad weather, but I understand this fundamentally changes the nature of the High Side. Similarly, I’m sure that other backpackers would like to see it available in Cuben Fiber or gossamer nylons, although these fabric substitutions would dramatically increase the price.

As someone who uses trekking poles, who is willing to work with fussy pitches, and who is willing to carry some extra weight for liveable space, the High Side is not my top choice. Personally, I would prefer the Sierra Designs High Route 1FL, or a similar modular double-wall shelter system. But I have no doubt that the High Side will find a market due to its weight, price, packed size, and easy pitch.


Disclosure. This website is supported mostly through affiliate marketing, whereby for referral traffic I receive a small commission from select vendors, at no cost to the reader. This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

I am a marketing and product consultant for Sierra Designs, but had no involvement in the design of the High Side.

6 Responses to Review: Sierra Designs High Side Tent || Light & packable, but small

  1. Morejazzplease October 3, 2017 at 1:13 pm #

    If this was made out of 20D sil for the fly, used less stitching, thinner grosgrain loops, and overall materials, I would be interested. I LOVE the side entry and awning though!

    The TT Notch is 3oz lighter, uses my trekking poles and costs about the same. SD tents are SO close to being exceptional, I just wish they would tweak a few things to make them competitive to the UL market. Even compared to the Fly Creek, it is heavier, has less internal space, packs down larger, and has a lower peak height…

    The design is really cool though. Maybe a “HV” or “pro” version made out of UL materials?

    • Andrew Skurka October 3, 2017 at 1:21 pm #

      I share some of your sentiments, but I also understand why SD made the decisions it did. If this shelter gets some traction, you might see an “elite” version with lighter materials, but expect the MSRP to jump to $350-400, which is not a niche that SD wants to play in right now.

      Re the Fly Creek, I don’t think it’s the clear winner in comparison to the High Side. It’s a few ounces lighter, but $70 more and nearly 50 percent longer in its packed size. Interior volume is difficult to gauge because the architectures are so different. At the 30-inch height inside the High Side, it’s at least shoulder-width, even though the peak is only 2 inches above that point. With the Fly Creek, it’s probably also shoulder-width at 30 inches, even though the peak height is 8 inches above, because the “fin” design provides so little interior space along the ridgeline.

      • Morejazzplease October 3, 2017 at 3:31 pm #

        I agree that they are not 1:1 comparisons but they are pretty close and going to be compared by the market.

        I totally understand why they did what they did, but your skills + their manufacturing, could = phenomenally effective AND UL shelters.

  2. richard October 4, 2017 at 6:28 am #

    For comparison I weighed (not cuben or carbon): tarp, footprint, mosquito net at 1.25lbs. Add treking poles at 1lb, then add stakes and cordage and a WILD kit weigh the same if not more than this 3lb tent. But at nearly the same weight the tent has a single point of failure namely the poles and the WILD kit has more configurations and uses.

  3. Jay October 4, 2017 at 11:10 am #

    I love tying knots and making fussy pitches and I value being able to sit up straight while it’s raining, but this is pretty cool.

    I know you said you thought it’d hold up well in inclement weather–how do you think it would be to pitch in the rain? This is not hugely important to me (I live in Arizona, where it’s sometimes/often windy but rarely rainy), but it does happen, and it’s is nice to just be able to get under my tarp and stake it out from the inside when the weather is bad.

    Anyway, I think SD probably made a lot of the right decisions on this and I hope it finds an audience, because between this tent and the Sweet Suite, along with the new bags, they’re doing some interesting design work, and I hope they continue down this path.

    • Andrew Skurka October 4, 2017 at 11:16 am #

      Pitching a conventional double-wall tent in the rain is never ideal, because you normally have to erect the inner body before throwing the fly over it, and during that time rain can be getting in. However, it’s such an easy pitch that I think it could be done without much harm. You can clip the poles to the inner body before staking it out, and you can keep a very small profile while you’re staking out the first two corners (both fronts or both rears). Then, quickly stake out the opposite corners and throw the fly over it. You could probably keep the time it’s exposed to precip to about 30 seconds.

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