Thursday, October 3, 2013

Mid-Life is Wonderful

 HMG UltaMid, Spanish Peaks 

The basic design of a tipi or mid-style tent has been around for millennia. For good reason: they are easy to set up, remarkably durable, and use space efficiently.

Chief Washakie and family, 1870
photo by Henry Jackson

For centuries nomadic people around the world have used the tipi or pyramid style shelters.  Their widespread use by North American Indians, especially on the Great Plains, is well known. Their use (even today) by nomads in Central Asia is lesser known.

Dukha Ortz, Mongolia
photo by Rebecca Watters

For more than a century a variation of this basic tipi design has been used for polar expeditions especially in Antarctica. Known as the Polar Pyramid or “Scott Tent” these tents have proven incredibly sturdy structures designed to withstand winds in excess of 120 miles per hour. Like the traditional tipi, the Polar Pyramid has multiple poles along the walls. Unlike the cylindrical Indian tipi, the Polar Pyramid has a square foot print that requires only four poles—one for each corner.

Polar Pyramid, Antarctica

After one epic Antarctic storm, in which 800-pound snowmobiles blew away, our 80-pound Polar Pyramids, secured with climbing ropes and belay strength anchors, were the only tents left standing.

In 1983 Chouinard Equipment created the 2-person Chouinard Pyramid Tent for skiers, backpackers, climbers, paddlers and other weight conscious backcountry enthusiasts. To save significant bulk and weight the Chouinard Pyramid utilized a single center pole. Today, Black Diamond sells a modern version of this proven 4-season shelter called the Mega Light Tent. Made of SilNylon, the Mega Light provides 51 square feet of space, weighs 37 ounces (without a pole) and costs $270.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear (HMG) recently created a 4-season mid-shelter made from ultra-light yet durable Cuben Fiber (CTF³). HMG improved upon the simple time tested design by, among other things, enlarging it and adding tie-on points to three of the walls. The 2-man UltaMid weighs just 17 ounces, provides 63 square feet and costs $650. The UltaMid is also available as a 4-man that weighs 21 ounces, provides 85 square feet of living space, and costs $800.

Mid-Life, Mongolia

Several gear blogs, including Hike It. Like It, have written detailed reviews of the UltaMid and testify to HMG’s impressive craftsmanship. I will not elaborate other than to emphasize the wonders of mid-life for the uninitiated:
  • Mids are dryer than floored tents; mids ventilate better and moisture is absorbed into the ground not your sleeping bag. A lightweight ground cloth is recommended.
  • Mids are safer: good ventilation and a high peaked ceiling create a relatively safe place to cook without worrying about asphyxiating or melting a hole through the ceiling or floor.
  • Mids are light and spacious: with no floor, single walls and no extra poles, mids can weigh as little as a pound. And there’s plenty of room to spread out gear and even stand up. 
  • Mids are 4-season tents: set up properly mid shelters can handle snow, wind, and rain. Unlike other 4-season shelters designed for winter conditions, mids do not overheat during warm summer weather.

A quick Google Search will reveal additional manufactures of mid-style shelters. Notable ones include Kifaru and Titanium Goat who market tipi-style shelters with compatible lightweight wood stovesa good chose for a base camp when hunting or backcountry skiing.

UltaMid Secured to a Tree Branch, Wind River Range

Sometimes you get lucky when erecting a mid -- secure the top of the shelter to a tree branch and no center pole is needed. More often trekking poles, ski poles, or paddles are used. With larger mids, however, this does require fastening two poles or paddles together. 

Ski Poles Fastened with Voile Ski Straps

Using Two Packrafting Paddles for the Center Pole

Fastened Together with Accessory Straps

 Anchoring a GoLite Shangri-La with Skis, Mongolia

In the summer I rely on large rocks and logs to anchor my mid and in the winter I anchor skis, poles, or branches into the snow. I start with the four corners secured in a perfect square. Next I insert a center pole and adjust its length as needed. And finally, if required, secure additional guidelines and berm the edges with snow. 

The first time setting up a mid can be confusing. Yet, with a little practice you can learn to set one up in just a few minutes and enjoy the wonders of mid-life.


  1. An interesting design. And under this tent stove prepared at once, or we need to finish yourself?

    1. The stoves come with all the pieces but you need to assemble them. Otherwise they would be to large to transport.

  2. At this point, I don't know what I would do without a mid. Great article, Forrest.

  3. My biggest fear with a single wall shelter is midges and mosquitoes...
    How does a mid cope with threats of that kind?

    1. I just bring a head. I also know folks who have sewn a skirt of mosquito netting around the base of their mid.

  4. Very nice article, Forrest. It's hard not to love a good tipi / mid. I'm going to reference this on my write up of the Ultamid, I have a small update in the works. Cheers!

    Jacob D

  5. Small correction: The Black Diamond Megalight does not actually boast 81 sq feet of space, Their own site suggests: "Usable Floor Space : 4.7 m², 50.7 sq ft". The dimensions cited (86 x 86 inches) are consistent with 7.17 ft by 7.17 ft, or 51.4 square feet. The 81 sq feet might be square feet of silnylon.

    The UltaMid 2P is 83 x107 inches, or 6.92 x 8.92 ft, or 61.7 square feet, moderately bigger than the Black Diamond Megalight. Curiously, the Megalight is marketed as a 4-person mid.

    1. Craig, Thanks for pointing that out. I will edit my post accordingly.

  6. Thanks for the article Forrest. I enjoyed the hidden humor.

  7. I am simply jonsing for one of these cuben fiber mids. But, WOW are they expensive. I have been a constant user of mids starting with a BD megamid, then a Mountain Hardware Kiva, and finally several Golite Hex3 and Shangri-La. As a wilderness manager and backpacker I spent many nights in a mid in MT and WY. Simply can't beat the ratio of room to weight. More importantly, the bottomless design left the border collie fir and trail dirt and/or the horse/mule hair from the saddle blankets on the ground and not in the tent for morning pack up. Two tips: I fixed a nylon ribbon across the hex bottom in an equilateral triangle for a fast perfect layout and setup; Avoid pitching over vegetation like in the video because plant transpiration will add to the condensation, i.e. find a bare spot and you will have less condensation in these single walls.

  8. Great article, as always. Are your personal UltaMid pics above the 2 or 4 or a mix of both? I'm trying to get a feel for the appropriate size for a couple of different situations: 1) as a sleep shelter for a couple and a 55 lb. dog, and 2) as a group shelter for 3-4 people in which to play cards/eat/wait out the rain. Any thoughts?

    1. Let me be more specific, is the pic with your dog in the Lee Metcalf the 2 or the 4? Sorry to be a pest, but I'm getting close to pulling the trigger on one and want to make sure I get it right. Thanks!

    2. I like the 4-person UltaMid. The few extra ounces add a lot of room. Perfect for two adults and a dog.

  9. Awesome, thanks for your feedback!

  10. Really appreciate your article forrest. Just curious what type of bivy you use with this mid. Thanks!