Performance assessment: High Route Tent 1FL meets Glacier National Park

The High Route's weakest corner is this one. In strong winds, orient the shelter 90 degrees, so that the ridgeline is pointed into the wind, not perpendicular to it (as in this photo).

The High Route’s weakest corner is this one. In strong winds, orient the shelter 90 degrees, so that the ridgeline is pointed into the wind, not perpendicular to it (as in this photo).

Last month Dave Chenault and I used the Sierra Designs High Route Tent 1FL* while attempting the Glacier Divide Route, a rugged 125-mile traverse of Glacier National Park that is largely off-trail and above treeline. We experienced some of the exact conditions for which the HR1 was designed: on the first night we had marble-sized hail and 30 mph winds, and on the second night it rained heavily for a few hours. How’d the HR1 perform?

* Actually, we used one of the final HR1 samples. Production became available in early-August 2016 directly from Sierra Designs, with bulk production and wider distribution scheduled for Spring 2017.

It sleeps two, kind of

With a rectangular footprint of 4 feet x 9 feet and a maximum peak height of at least 4 feet, the HR1 fly is as big as many ultralight (and “ultra-small”) 2-person tents. Since we were expecting mild or no bug pressure at night, we decided to leave the inner tent at home and squeeze into the HR1.

It works, kind of. I’d recommend it only if:

  • The inner tent is left behind. With it, the HR1 becomes a one-person shelter, plus a dog, a lot of gear, or ample utility space. If a soloist uses just the fly, it is nothing short of palatial.
  • Both sleepers have 20-inch wide pads, and are okay with only 4 inches of space between their pad and the fly’s bottom perimeter.
  • Both sleepers are considerate, organized, and accustomed to sleeping on some of their gear (e.g. backpacks). Smaller items can be placed at the head and foot.
  • You’re mostly on the move, and jump inside only to sleep. I would not want to share it with another person during a multi-day blizzard.
  • A head-to-foot/foot-to-head sleeping orientation is preferred, or at least acceptable. If you want to sleep head-to-head/foot-to-foot, one sleeper will have a low-hanging and moderately angled fly immediately overhead.

In high winds, take precautions

On the first night we were blasted by 30 mph winds (I’m being conservative — Dave estimated it at 40 mph) while camped on an exposed bench. The weather had been calm when we’d gone to bed, and we’d chosen to porch the doors for extra airflow instead of using the additional tie-outs above each side door. To make matters worse, the wind struck the shelter at its weakest corner, and we hadn’t tightened the shelter just before bed in order to eliminate some fabric stretch. The HR1 withstood the blasts and could have withstood stronger if we’d been more precautionary, but winds of this strength are nearing the HR1’s limit. Watch just the first clip in this video:

With ultralight shelters that are not reinforced by poles, I’ve come to expect this level of performance. The Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid, which is a more traditional mid tarp, did about the same in the Yukon Arctic in 2010:

If you’re expecting high winds in the HR1, or if you’re in them already, I have three tips:

  • Orient the tent so that the ridgeline is pointed into the wind. If you need to skew the rotation to one side or another, show more of the head/foot than the sides.
  • Immediately before you turn in, retighten the guylines in order to eliminate fabric stretch. The fly is made of PE/sil-coated nylon and does not stretch as much as pure sil-nylon, but there is some. In strong winds, “some” matters.
  • Use the extra tie-out above the door. Guy it directly to the ground; or for even more strength, prop it with a stick as shown below:
For extra wind-resistance, use the tie-out above each side door. Add reinforcement by tensioning it off a stick or ski.

For extra wind-resistance, use the tie-out above each side door (left guyline). Add reinforcement by tensioning it off a stick or ski.

A 3.5-season shelter with uber practicality for 3-seasons

Because of its vertical sides and rectangular shape, the HR1 is not as winter-worthy as conventional mids. But it’s entirely sufficient for the conditions that most backpackers experience — including me. Seriously, on all of my trips I have never seen conditions that would have overwhelmed the High Route Tent.

In exchange for giving up some storm-worthiness, what do you get in return?

  • Better ventilation, due to two porch-able side doors with generous awning vents;
  • More usable interior space, due to steep wall angles and the diagonal ridgeline;
  • Easier pitch, due to the rectangular footprint; and,
  • Compatibility with two standard-length trekking poles, rather than a dedicated center pole or two trekking poles tied together.

Questions or speculation? Leave a comment

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Posted in on August 1, 2016
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  1. Josh Spice on August 2, 2016 at 12:34 pm

    Nice review and design on this shelter, Andrew. I hear it’s higher build quality than TarpTent… how so? What defines that? Thanks!

    • Andrew Skurka on August 2, 2016 at 12:54 pm

      I think I saw that comment, too, maybe Dave Chenault on BPL. I don’t know what he was specifically referring to — we didn’t talk about it in Glacier. I have inspected very few TT products and have never owned one, so I can’t say anything first-hand. Spec-wise, the big difference the fabric and seam-taping: TT uses pure sil-nylon, whereas SD uses PE/sil nylon so that seams can be taped and so that it meets fire-retardant standards.

      • Josh Spice on August 2, 2016 at 6:30 pm

        Ah, yeah, it was in Dave’s write-up on his website. So the SD would stretch less than the TT, but the TT would stay waterproof longer than the SD since SD uses a coating, which would wear and be UV-damaged. Good to know. I think I’d opt for your design SD shelter. FWIW, I thought the original Squall I had was very good quality construction, but that was a long time ago. Thanks!

        • Andrew Skurka on August 2, 2016 at 6:48 pm

          All things being equal, your assessment of the fabrics is correct. Sil is stronger and more waterproof, but stretches more. Not sure about UV resistance since the PE is on the inside of the SD shelter.

          But all things may not be equal. I do not know the weight of TT’s standard sil nylon, nor its quality. The heavier fabric will probably be stronger and more waterproof. And quality matters — a fabric with crappy treatment will not be good.

      • Dave Chenault on August 4, 2016 at 10:33 am

        Based on using the High Route on this trip, on owning the Tensegrity 2 Elite since late last year, and on sleeping in several Tarptent and Big Agnes shelters owned by friends over the past four years I think that SD is making a better product. The stitching is a bit neater, the reinforcements in corner and tieouts are more robust, and most especially the details are stronger (#5 zippers) and better done (linelocks with quality cord in the proper length, for example). Most people probably won’t notice much performance difference (save in zipper life), but even though the Tensegrity is as expensive or more expensive than most TT or BA shelters I think you get a lot more for your money.

        I need to have the Tensegrity out in a few more storms before I do a comprehensive writeup, which will be a big task. Lots of innovative details in that tent that don’t show well in photos.

        • Josh Spice on August 4, 2016 at 1:03 pm

          Nice, Dave! Thanks. Hope you’re well.

  2. TAG Glover on August 2, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    Nice write up. I really appreciate that you are being so transparent about your new shelter.
    Now, when are we going to get more details on the pack that you are wearing in the video?

    • Andrew Skurka on August 2, 2016 at 1:30 pm

      I appreciate you recognizing that. I don’t think it helps anyone to be disingenuous about the strengths and weaknesses of a product. If I say it’s the best thing since sliced bread, more people might buy it at the start, but long-term it only undermines my credibility.

      I’m working on a pack post, similar to my HR1 teaser. But I need to wait until I get to OR on Wednesday in order to get some photos of the final samples.

  3. Ryan Verma on August 14, 2016 at 8:05 am

    Hey Andrew,
    Are there any plans for making a 2 person variant of the high route tent? I need the bug protection where I live and hike, unfortunately. In Canada (Newfoundland), the window of opportunity for bugs to reproduce is essentially the entire length of time we have nice weather.

    • Andrew Skurka on August 14, 2016 at 8:09 am

      No, no plans at this time. The HR1 geometry is not ideal for a 2P tent, because the ceiling panels really encourage you to sleep head-to-foot/foot-to-head.

      You might want to check out the Sierra Designs Tentsegrity or SD Lightning, which both have good ventilation even when it’s raining. Unfortunately, they are both single-wall, and when condensation is inevitable (which is probably often the case in Newfoundland) you won’t have any protection from a wet inner fly.

  4. Giulia on August 18, 2016 at 11:48 am

    Hi! Thanks for all the thorough presentation and commentary you are doing about this shelter.

    I would like to ask, how do you think it compares with a Trailstar? I’m moving to the UK next month and the backpacking destinations on my wishlist include Scotland, Ireland, Norway, etc. My impression is that the Trailstar would be better for
    1) fitting two people,
    2) 4oz lighter when including the inner net, and
    3) maybe more wind-resistant,
    while the HR1
    1) has a smaller footprint,
    2) is easier to pitch
    3) has a tiny more livable space
    4) is a little warmer

    I guess the 3)- and 4)-points are my main questions. Is my thought process correct? I should maybe add I’m new to backpacking.


    • Andrew Skurka on August 21, 2016 at 7:08 am

      I’ve never used a Trailstar, nor had a client come on a trip with one, so most of this is speculation. I have extensive experience with MLD mids and tarps, however.

      Your impressions seem about correct. Let me just add a few things.

      The Trailstar strikes me as primarily a bad weather shelter for windy, exposed, and rainy places — worst-case 3-season weather, if you will. Hence the low-angle walls and single apex. But this has its tradeoffs, like the perimeter space not being very useful (because of low wall height), low door height, and relatively limited ventilation (versus, say, an A-frame tarp).

      The High Route can be used in those conditions as well, but not as reliably. Instead, it has better applicability for milder stuff than the Trailstar. For example, you can open both side doors for ventilation, or porch them when it’s raining. And the interior has more livable space. I could easily see the HR1 on the Appalachian Trail, for example, but the Trailstar would seem an odd fit there.

      It’s worth mentioning that the Trailstar is USA made and uses more premium materials. But it has a lead time and costs an extra $100.

      Overall, both shelters have their merits with intentional design tradeoffs. It’s simply a matter of what works best for the conditions you plan to use it in.

  5. James Linder on August 23, 2016 at 2:25 am

    The Trailstar in Silnylon is only $230..

    Also, due to its stretch ,the Silnylon Trailstar has bit of fexibilty as to its pitch height (from about 32″ to 44″)..

    There is a reason the Scottish UL hikers love it so much.

    Your freind Chris Townsend can verify this.

    • Andrew Skurka on August 23, 2016 at 7:54 am

      The previous comment assumed she would be using the Trailstar’s inner tent.

      Trailstar: $230, 18 oz
      InnerNet: $185, 13 oz
      = $415, 31 oz

      The High Route is $300 and 36 oz.

      I entertain these HR v Trailstar comparisons with some hesitation. They are optimized for different conditions (specified in a comment or two above), and I don’t think that $115 or 5 oz would be enough to offset these comparative strengths and weaknesses. Not to mention the differences in distribution or company ownership.

  6. Geoff on September 10, 2017 at 6:49 am

    I’ve used the TrailStar extensively in UK conditions and I think that Andrew has it pretty much on the money.

    The TrailStar is at it’s best in 3.5 season conditions when very high winds are a possibility, for example camping on an exposed plateau like the Cairngorms in seasons when you don’t expect heavy snow.

    With the single apex and low panel slope the sil version offers pretty much unmatched wind-worthiness in the weight class. It’s relatively quiet and comfortable at 40 mph and with solid peg placements will reportedly survive 70 mph and up if you drop it to its lowest practical peak height. There are stories of TrailStars coming through unscathed where far heavier 4 season alpine tents were flattened. So if you like to camp high it offers significantly more peace of mind than the High Route. It’s a 2-3 minute pitch, it can be kept open and vented in severe weather, and I personally think it’s the most beautiful shelter ever designed – it lifts my spirits every time I pitch it and looks great in pics.

    But as with all lightweight shelters there are tradeoffs.

    First, the footprint is HUGE – over 3 meters square, depending on pitch. This is the price you pay for those wind-shedding sloping panels. It’s is rarely an issue in open moorland areas like Scotland, Wales and Dartmoor, but it was a headache in the Alps where pitches can be hard to find. It’s mitigated by the fact that when used solo you can pitch it over a rock or tussock and still have living room, and it only needs 1 long guy. But it’s a big beast, even compared to the generous footprint of the High Route,

    Second, livability in the High Route would be significantly better. With the TrailStar much of the footprint is unusable because of the shallow angles, and tall people find their head and feet are close to the walls. With 2 people your sleeping and pitching options are limited in bad weather and it’s more commonly used solo. You have to crawl inside, which can be a pain on wet ground. Because of the footprint it’s heavy for a tarp, and even more so if you add a bathtub and bug net. And it’s not fully enclosed, so if a big wind swings 180 you’ve no option but to brave the storm and alter the pitch (though if you know what you’re doing, this only takes a minute). This doesn’t happen often but it’s a pain when it does.

    So to summarise, the TrailStar is a specialised tarp for 3 season use in windy conditions. The High Route is more livable and versatile, but personally I wouldn’t take it onto the Scottish tops unless there was a good weather forecast – if 40 mph is pushing its limit, then it might easily get overwhelmed. If you’re going to use it in the UK you’ll have to respect it’s limits and use it in sheltered sites.

  7. jonatha on September 22, 2017 at 3:49 pm

    Hey Andrew,

    If you were doing another big trip where you were facing some potentially strong winds (eg that you seemed to face on your Alaska trip) would you still take the HR1?

    I was planning on getting a mid, as I am moving to northern Europe and plan to do lots of northern hiking where conditions are not some tame at times. The HR1 has caught my eye as more liveable alternatives, but the vertical panels keep nagging at me. Is space the main reason you chose vertical?

    • Andrew Skurka on September 26, 2017 at 6:53 pm

      I would take the HR1 on my Alaska trip, although on a thru-hike of that distance I might try to cut some weight out of it by making it smaller or out of a different fabric.

      I normally can get below treeline on my trips, or at least find well protected spots above treeline. If you don’t have that option, then a mid will be a better choice, because of the enhanced wind-resistance. I recommend getting a larger mid, though, like a 2-person, because the weight increase over a 1-person is marginal and the increase in liveable space is dramatic. At that point you’re looking at livable space on par with the HR1, although also about the same weight, all things considered.

  8. shuping yin on March 15, 2018 at 12:05 pm

    Hi Andrew, always appreciate your blogs. I’m currently evaluating MLD solomid. since you have extensive experience with it do you recommend for someone like me:
    1. normally 1 to 3 days backpacking, rarely in extreme weather. high wind sometimes, like on top of mt baldy.
    2. UL is my objective

    other question: have you pitched solomid with rocks? have did it hold up?

    • Andrew Skurka on March 15, 2018 at 12:20 pm

      Have you read my series on shelters?

      I tend to discourage buying gear for worst-case scenarios. Best to buy gear for the most likely scenarios, and then resourcefully extend the limits when you get caught. In the case of Mt. Baldy, I’d say that you’re better off sleeping in a more protected campsite when it’s windy.

      Mids make for very good one-quiver shelters. Essentially, you can use it year-round, and it’s never prohibitively heavy. That said, there are lighter shelters (maybe a half-pound between the fly and nest) that would be sufficient most of the time.

      Yes, I have used rocks to tension it. Its performance is more a function of the weight of the rocks than the shelter — from the shelter’s perspective, a good anchor is a good anchor. If you plan to use rocks on occasion, you should switch to my guyline system,

  9. John on July 30, 2018 at 8:56 pm

    Hi there! When’s the new HR 1 coming out? And, are the weight savings primarily from going to lighter/less durable fabric? I love my original HR 1, but it is a tad heavy/bulky for a 1p. I like it enough I’d probably by the new one, unless major durability/usability tradeoffs. Thanks!

    • Andrew Skurka on July 31, 2018 at 6:24 pm

      The second generation will launch in spring 2019. I’ll have a preview about it shortly.

      Weight savings are mostly the result of shrinking it and converting one of the doors into a half-door (on the fly and inner). The floor was also changed to 20d, like the current fly; the new fly is still 20d.

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