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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I’d love to see a 2 person version of the High Route.
I think adding a second pole for more headroom/interior space really starts to pay off once you have 2 occupants. So I like a single pole mid for solo use, but a more complex double pole design, such as the HR or TarpTent SS2, once there’s more than one sleeper.
Just purchased a High Route and really looking forward to using it. I think that I’ll really love the versatility of mixing up the fly and tent body depending on conditions.
I had a DuoMid XL and the HR1 up in my backyard (backpacking season hasn’t started for me yet), and compared side by side. Slightly apples to oranges, given the DuoMid’s bigger footprint, but even with that, the HR felt much roomier when lying down. More space over my face (for less condensation), and my feet farther from the other wall. Could sit up comfortably w/ out brushing against sides.
Looking at the High Route concept from a MYOG (Make Your Own Gear) perspective, my first reaction was “nice but not for me”. I need a small footprint for alpine walking, and in the photos the Sierra High Route looks massive.
But this is misleading. Checking the specs I realised that the fly is only a touch bigger than the MLD SoloMid, and smaller than the MLD SoloMid XL or the Z-packs Solplex. And it’s around half the footprint of the TarpTent StratoSpire1. Given the space and liveability this is startling, and a testament to how smart Andrew has been with his design.
Intriguingly, used as a floorless solo tarp without the inner there is more space than most would need, so there may even be scope for scaling down the design a bit. This would reduce the footprint and fabric weight, while improving wind performance a little.
Andrew – I followed your blog on this design and never picked up on the small footprint. Perhaps this is something that Sierra could highlight a bit more in their marketing – it really is a selling point for mountain walkers.
From the commercial point of view I understand Sierra’s choice of fabric, as they have to hit an accessible price point. But MYOG offers the opportunity of using a top quality SilNylon or SilPoly PU, which should improve performance still farther. Or you could shell out on Dyneema Composite and hit a very attractive weight.
Andrew – do you think the concept would work in Dyneema, or does it rely on stretch like the TrailStar?
It can’t be easy to find a fresh concept in a field like this with a history stretching back thousands of years. But Andrew has pulled it off – and unlike the other offset pole designs on the market, this has a pleasing logic and simplicity about it. Impressive!
Good point about the footprint.
Yes, the concept would work with DCF. In fact, the shelter would be better if made out of a no-stretch or low-stretch material.
What would make low stretch better?
When the shelter stretches, it looses taught-ness across the ridgeline and in the door panels.
Im looking to buy my first mid and for price point, there’s only 10$ difference between the MLD Solomid XL and the regular one. I don’t think I will need the XL version since Im just 5.9 but I was wondering if the asymetrical shape of the XL would perform better in high winds? If you would have to go in Alaska or Scotland for example, would still bring the Solomid regular or switch for the XL? Btw, I just purchased the SD High Route tent and can’t wait take it in the backcountry! For the price, it’s hard to beat!
Comparing wind-resistance of SoloMid vs SoloMid XL is probably splitting hairs. I think the bigger question is your size, how you plan to use it, and what other shelters you have. If you already have the High Route, you already then own an oversized shelter for crappy conditions. Might make more sense to go with the regular SoloMid, as a lighter and smaller shelter for friendlier weather.
At the risk of undermining a sale, I will point out that the SoloMid and HR1 check a lot of the same boxes, and I think you’d be better off investing in an entirely different shelter system, like a hammock or tarp/bivy. The SoloMid is better for wind and weight. The HR1 is better for interior space, ventilation, and price.
Good point, I haven’t seen it this way. I like the idea of going with a tarp/bivy setup since I already have tent. It’s just that those MLD mids are so tempting and with the videos I saw on Youtube, the Solomid looks to perform outstanding in really strong winds. I guess I’ll have to think more about it. Thanks a lot for the reply!
At the risk of stirring a pot regarding intellectual property and foreign trade and perhaps a bit off topic (apologies ahead of time) have you looked at the trekking pole tent from 3F UL? I know I saw a comment from you on one of the groups I am a member of regarding grades of silnylon fabrics. There seems to be a lot of interest in the tent amongst some groups, although I do not know how much hard use they have seen. However, a few folk have had them out in less than optimal conditions and reported no problems.
Honestly, I have just returned to backpacking/climbing/caving after an almost 45 year hiatus. I am amazed at the changes in equipment,techniques, and the amount of people involved in those sports. I have found upgrading my equipment to be quite a challenge given all of the choices.
No experience with 3F.
What is the best ultralight non condensing shelter for rain/humid conditions?
There is no “best” shelter for anything. Only shelters that meet your performance requirements while minimizing tradeoffs.
A condensation-resistant shelter will offer lots of ventilation, even when it’s raining.
But even the best designs can be overwhelmed by the conditions. Campsite selection matters a lot, https://andrewskurka.com/tag/five-star-campsite-selection/
Hi Andrew! Thank you for being my backpacking mentor as I get into it. There is a ton of bad info on the internet, but all your content is golden & comes with your reasoning/experience. Do you know if the High Route would function if I snapped or bent a pole?
Like any trekking pole supported tent, if you were to bend or break a pole, that would impact your ability to pitch it properly. You probably have to be resourceful for the duration of the trip, and then get a new pole when you get home.
If you can find the time I think your review of the new Taptent AEON Dyneema solo tent would be interesting both for you and us.
The AEON seems to have solved several problems inherent with ‘mid style solo tents including better ventilation and more interior space per sq. ft. of the footprint.
As you have wast knowledge of mids, looking at a tent as a complex system, looking beyond simple numbers as tear strength. For a very large mid, like the SuperMid or Ultamid 4, would you choose a DCF or Silnylon version mid for extreme high wind conditions? On paper, DCF is the strongest, but does that translate into the best extreme wind performance? Or does it just move the problem from the fabric, to guy line attachment, stakes ripping and line locks slipping? Does the DCF fabric result in higher loads on other parts of the system?
It’d be better to speak with the manufacturers about this. Ron at MLD is encyclopedic about fabrics, and he’s a great guy (e.g. guided for me in WV, and told me to give his wages to someone who needs them more).
I’d speculate that .7 DCF is stronger than premium 1.3 sil-nylon, but there’s a stretch factor that will somehow influence the actual performance of a shelter.
How does the New High Route compare to the original model?
Does it atill need at least 6 stakes to set up?
Is it cramped like most 1 person tents?
Need something to replace my Contrail.
This should answer most of your questions, https://andrewskurka.com/preview-sierra-designs-high-route-tent-updated/
I had a Contrail. it was my 1st Tarptent. Now I have a Moment DW, Notch Li and a SCARP 2.
I’d say the current Moment DW is an all-around 4 season tent and you should read the Backpacking light review or it if you have a membership. It lays out all the pros and cons of the tent.
Hello Eric, thank you for the response.
The Moment has always caught my eye.
How does the size inside feel compared to the Contrail?
Are you 300Winmag?
Hi Anthony, Yes, I’m “300Winmag”.
The Moment DW is, naturally, double walled and therefore a good 4 season tent which the Contrail is not (if you have the ripstop inner). Additionally the Moment design is much more wind-worthy than the Contrail and can be guyed out at the sides and both ends.
Yes it is smaller inside than the Contrail BUT it has two doors for great cross-ventilation and two decent vestibules, one for storage and one for cooking if necessary. And with the “Pitch Lock” end vents and the top vents it will resist condensation very well even when buttoned up in a storm.
Read the entire Moment DW article at Backpacking Light (if you are a member).
I’d jump on an HR 1 in a heartbeat IF they’d get some earth tone colors. The EU market has a nice blend. What gives ?
No idea. I’m no longer associated with SD.
No worries. I ordered the HR 3000 from the UK. Liking the green. Tracking shows delivery in a week. I also ordered the HR 1 from Amazon. Came today. Gotta like that two day shipping. Not liking the Blue. Yes. Yes. But I’m a guy. I’ll pay $2 for a $1 part because I want it. Once the HR 3000 gets here, I’ll have a mesh inner from the HR 1 as well as the fabric/mesh inner from the HR 3000. Best of both worlds. Setting up the HR 1 was fast and easy. It Is The Perfect Size. Hurts my head when I think of all the time and money spent looking for that go-to shelter. And now, peace has fallen upon the earth. ~RL