This post was prompted by an email from reader Jim that started with,
If you were to do your Alaska-Yukon Expedition again, would you take the Sierra Designs High Route Tent?
Jim was deliberating between the purchase of a High Route and a more traditional pyramid-shaped shelter (“mid”), and he hoped that I would shed insight on the differences.
While I have discussed them in multiple places, I have not yet written a dedicated post. It’d probably be useful — I’m sure he is not alone in deciding between a mid and the High Route.
If you don’t care for the details, let me spare you. If you are looking for the most wind-resistant shelter for the least amount of weight, buy a mid, such as the:
However, if you are willing to sacrifice some wind-resistance and weight-savings, consider the Sierra Designs High Route Tent 1FL. In exchange, you will get:
- Better ventilation, and therefore less condensation;
- More interior volume;
- Dry entry and exit; and,
- A pole configuration that does not block entryways, divide up the sleeping area, or hinder movement inside the shelter.
All things being equal
Shelters within the same category — in this specific case, mids — perform similarly, but not identically. This discussion will focus on the general truths, with respect to the High Route.
To prevent a treatise-length post, I will assume “all other things being equal,” and ignore model-specific characteristics like retail price, country of origin, customer service, spec weight, fabrics, dimensions, construction quality, and little features like interior storage pockets.
Of course, I know these details matter while shelter shopping. So if you would like to dive deeper on one particular shelter relative to the High Route, leave a comment and we can chat.
The High Route and most mids are modular, whereby the fly and an inner tent body can be used together or independently. Some mids like the ZPacks Solplex are single-wall, whereby the fly and tent body are attached. This makes for a simpler but less versatile shelter.
At least to me, the inner tent body is the much less interesting component, and I don’t mention it again after this point. I use it for about six weeks per year, when the bugs are out all night; otherwise, I carry only the fly. Moreover, the design of the fly has a larger impact on the performance of the shelter. Inner tent bodies are all about the same: they keep occupants protected from bugs and ground water.
Design differences: Mids vs the High Route
The High Route Tent was inspired by mids, a shelter type with which I have extensive experience. Cumulatively, I have slept in mids for months in Alaska, Yukon, Iceland, and the Rockies; and I’ve had dozens of clients on my guided trips who owned or borrowed one.
When I was given the opportunity to co-develop a shelter with Sierra Designs, my goal was to fix the inherent shortcomings of mids, while sacrificing as little as possible. The result, the High Route Tent, has two unique features:
1. Offset pole positions, with a ridgeline that is at a diagonal to the sleeping position and the side walls.
2. Vertical side walls, rather than sloping.
What are the pros and cons of these features? Let’s discuss them.
The High Route has more surface area than a mid with the same footprint and height, and therefore will be heavier.
The reality is a few ounces worse than that, because the High Route has two doors (and two 3.5-foot long #5 zippers), whereas most mids have just one.
Obviously, more surface area and two doors have advantages, and we’ll get there soon. But, in terms of weight, it’s a disadvantage.
Mids have sloping walls, which improves aerodynamics. The most wind-resistant models have low-angle walls and multiple panels — imagine a low-to-the-ground tipi or the MLD Trailstar.
In comparison, the High Route has two vertical side doors. These catch more wind than those of even a bipolar mid like the aforementioned BD Beta Light or discontinued GoLite Shangri La 2, which have long broadsides. The High Route’s problem is partially mitigated by the positioning of the trekking poles — they help reinforce the doors.
Wash: Snow shedding
A comparison of snow-shedding ability is mixed. The High Route fly consists of three types of panels:
- Two vertical side doors, which catch no snow;
- Two steeply sloping head/foot panels, which shed snow very well; and,
- Two moderately sloping roof panels, which do okay.
A mid with steeper walls like the My Trail Company Pyramid 3 will shed snow better than the High Route. But the low-profile Trailstar may do worse. This is a model-by-model consideration, not wholly true one way or the other.
The most effective strategy for minimizing condensation inside your shelter is campsite selection. Read this tutorial to improve your skills.
Shelter design matters, too: the bigger the air vents, the better.
Mids have sloping walls and normally one door. When it’s raining, this door must be kept closed (to prevent rain from entering the shelter), which limits the ventilation to the bottom perimeter and perhaps small apex vents. On calm nights with high humidity (which is often the case when it’s raining), better ventilation would be helpful.
While mids can be pitched high off the ground (as can the High Route) to improve perimeter ventilation, this leaves the occupant vulnerable to rain splatter and unexpected winds.
The High Route has much better ventilation than mids. The side doors can be kept open when it’s raining (or porched out), without exposing the interior to falling precip. And the two doors allow for cross-ventilation.
Pro: Interior volume
For its footprint and height, the High Route has more interior space than any mid. Its steep head/foot panels are rivaled by bipolar mids, but its vertical side walls put it in another category.
In addition to its favorable shape, the High Route is also generously sized; it’s actually large enough for two people. The fly is 4 feet wide and 9 feet long. Its two apexes are 4 feet tall, and separated by a 4-foot ridgeline with a slight catenary curve. Finally, in calm weather the High Route’s doors can be porched outwards, creating even more covered space.
Pro: Dry entry/exit
If you need to crawl into or out of your shelter in a downpour, or even a steady drizzle, it’s an annoyance to expose your gear — or your tentmates — to the falling precip.
In a normal mid, with its sloping walls, such is the case. Whereas with the High Route, the interior space is completely protected by the roof panels.
Pro: Pole positions
The sleeping area under a mid is broken up by one or two poles. They restrict interior movement, and prohibit snuggling. In the case of bipolar mids, one of the poles partially blocks the entryway.
The High Route’s poles do not break up the sleeping area. They do partially block the door, but it’s a side-entry and the door is 6 feet long, so entry/exit is extremely easy. It’s far superior to a head-entry A-frame like the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo Tarp, and the door is wider than a side-entry A-frame like the Six Moon Designs Haven Tarp.
Own a mid or a High Route, or contemplating the purchase of either? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.
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