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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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. I strive to offer field-tested information, insights, and advice, and I have a long-term incentive to be a trustworthy source. I do not publish sponsored content or native advertising, and I do not accept payments in exchange for reviews. I have no financial affiliations with or interests in any brands or products.
This website is supported by affiliate marketing, whereby in exchange for referral traffic I receive a small commission from select vendors like REI or Amazon, at no cost to the reader. This post contains affiliate links.
I am a marketing and product consultant for Sierra Designs, but had no involvement in the design of the High Side.