Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: $595
Pros: Superlight, ultra-compact, spacious inside, top quality cuben fiber, excellent construction quality, high quality guy lines, line adjusters, strong reinforced points.
Cons: Vestibule attaches with snaps that can come undone in high winds, low peak height, rear of tarp is not protected from wind.
Best Uses: Three-season adventures.
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo II Shelter System is the lightest two-person double wall tent we've ever tested. For a modest 28.3 oz., or 1 lb. 12.3 oz., the Echo II System provides three modular components (Tarp, Insert, and Beak) that create a versatile setup for three-season backpacking. This tent previously won our Editor's Choice Award, but after a second year of testing, and rethinking our weighting system, it does considerably less well in our rankings.
The only significant drawback to the Echo II System is the small size of its Tarp, which is less protective and less comfortable than the average two-person flat or A-frame tarp we've tested. It performs relatively poorly when used without the Beak or Insert because its short, curved walls become very steep when you pitch it close to the ground, or the peak is very low, resulting in little room to sit up. Our tests show that the increased comfort of larger A-frame tarps (like the Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Tarp Duo) or square flat tarps provide much more comfort and weather protection when used without an insert, and they weigh as little as one ounce more. When traveling with two people we almost always bring the entire Echo II System; the shelter's modularity is more useful in theory than in practice. Because of this drawback, our scoring assesses the Echo II when used with all components. Then, the tent performs better than any dedicated pole supported backpacking tent we've tested (for ultralight backpacking), but not as well as some other "world's best" ultralight shelters.
The Echo II is only available online directly from Hyperlite Mountain Gear. For a shelter that is less expensive and easier to find at a discount consider the Black Diamond Beta Light which scored high in many of our tests.
If you want the most versatile and lightest shelter consider the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp, which is much more comfortable, more versatile, and more weather resistant than HMG's Echo II Tarp.
If you want the lightest possible high functioning tent with bug protection, the ZPacks Hexamid Twin Tent is the best we've tested. Check out our comprehensive Ultralight Tent Review to compare all of the models described here, and others.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Modular A-frame Tarp
Fantastic in theory
The Echo II Shelter includes a tarp, beak, and bug insert. Each part is designed to work with the others. The insert clips to the tarp with elastic cords and the beak attaches to the top of the front pole and fastens to the sides in four places. You can also use the individual components by themselves: pitch the tarp in insect free conditions or the insert alone for bug protection and views of the stars. The beak adds significant weather protection to the tarp.
Less so in practice
Unfortunately, the Echo II's modularity is severely limited by the relatively small size of its tarp. We would much prefer if its walls were longer so that it could pitch tighter to the ground, create more space, and shed wind and precipitation better. We feel the benefits of more covered space would be well worth the minor weight penalty. For example increasing the size of the tarp with an additional square yard of material might only add 1 oz. Other tarps realize this trade-off and opt for more covered area: HMG's Square Flat Tarp, Mountain Laurel Designs' Grace Tarp Duo, and ZPacks Square Flat Tarp are all larger and more protective than the HMG Echo II Tarp.
Our point here is that the Echo II Tarp, the most important part of the system, doesn't perform as well as other two-person tarps, and, consequently, requires the additional use of the Insert and/or Beak for foul weather.
The white cuben fiber used on the Echo II tarp, and on the sides and rear of the Insert, (HMG calls this CF8) has a ludicrously strong warp break strength of 105 lb/in. In comparison, the 15D polyurethane/ silnylon fabric used on the Brooks Range Foray breaks at 7 lb/in, the SilNylon used on all Mountain Laurel Designs tarp shelters breaks at 15 lb/in, and the strongest silnylon used on any backpacking tent tested (Hilleberg Rogen and Anjan) breaks at 22 lb/in. Bonus: the bottom of the Echo II insert is made of a heavier, more durable, and stronger type of cuben fiber (CF 11). Double bonus: all seams are bonded (which means, unlike silnylon, you don't need to seam seal them) and test stronger than the material itself, and all corners on the Tarp are reinforced with two layers of CF11. We believe the Echo II is overbuilt.
The tent's low profile design, catenary cut, and materials make it capable of withstanding serious three-season storms. The walls can be pitched much tighter than any tent found in our backpacking tent review. The rear end of the tent is open, but the Insert's solid rear wall blocks most horizontally blown rain, if you weren't able to find a site that protected the end.
Weight and Packed Size
This is the lightest two-person double wall tent we've tested. With guylines attached the tarp weighs (on our scale) 8.8 oz., the vestibule 4.7 oz., and the insert 14.8 oz.; a total of 28.3 ounces! That's less than one pound per person. All three parts of the Echo II pack down to the equivalent of two Nalgene water bottles.
Although this weight may appear impressive if you are coming from a backpacking tent background, other ultralight tents weight much less and perform similarly well. The most obvious example is the ZPacks Hexamid Twin Tent, which only weigh 17 oz. The lightest two-person tarp we've tested weighs only 6.1 oz. or, 7.8 oz. with guylines while being larger and more protective than the Echo II Tarp!!
Ease of Setup
The Echo II can be a pain in the butt to pitch. The tarp goes up first, then the insert clips in, and then the beak goes on the front. It takes a while to get the poles to the appropriate height and we usually end up going some adjusting after the first iteration. The insert clips in many different places, which also takes time and adjustment. Overall, out of all ultralight tents tested the Echo II System is the most time consuming shelter to pitch. BUT this isn't a serious drawback; we only weigh Ease of Setup as 5% of each tent's total score.
Like all A-frame and flat tarps the Echo II can be hung between two trees, pitched with a bicycle or be pitched with optional carbon fiber poles.
The System is fully enclosed and moderately comfortable. The insert has a relatively short peak height and the ceiling tapers off dramatically towards the feet, unlike the Yama Mountain Gear Cirriform SW. There's just barely enough room to sit up by the front pole and you need to crouch everywhere else.
The finer points of the Echo II are where the shelter really shines. Unlike all ultralight backpacking tents, the Echo II doesn't skip on strength and durability enhancing features. The attention to detail is remarkable; even the corners of the insert have burlier stitching than the inner tents of other double wall tents. Our testers have been using the Echo II since August of 2011 and we suspect that it will last far far longer than any self-supporting backpacking tent under 60 ounces (twice the weight of the Echo II). The Echo II is also considerably more durable than the ZPacks Hexamid Twin Tent.
We would much prefer if the tarp was larger and more protective so it would perform better when used without the insert.
We've found that the snaps that attach the beak to the bottom front corners of the tarp can come undone in high winds or if the beak isn't pitched just right. We suggest significantly stronger snaps or a type of static clip. For comparison purposes, the snaps found on the neck closure on Katabatic Gear sleeping bags appear to be stronger than those found on the Echo II. When camping in high winds we often back up the snaps with a trucker's hitch or similar knot to keep the beak roughly in place if the snap comes undone.
The Echo II is viable for use in light snow, or for winter camping in protected areas if it's not snow and not windy, but flat tarps and pyramids are better for winter.
The Echo II System is a fantastic tent that's limited by the relatively small size of its Tarp.
The ZPacks Hexamid Twin Tent is a better value (it cost $90 less) and performs better for ultralight backpacking. If you travel in exposed terrain or would benefit from a more versatile tarp the best value is arguably the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp with an insert for backpacking in buggy areas.
How to Get It
The Echo II is not sold by major online retailers or carried by large outdoor stores like REI. Buy it from www.hyperlitemountaingear.com/
This set sold by HMG work well. Our favorite ultralight stake is the Ruta Locura 9" Carbon Stake.
— Chris McNamara and Max Neale
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Most recent review: September 12, 2013
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