Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Largest two-person pyramid tested, best shelter for winter mountaineering, snow skirt blocks spindrift, two doors increases comfort, included poles.
Cons: Heavy, lots of condensation when used in three-season conditions.
Best Uses: Winter expeditions.
The MSR Twin Sisters is a bombproof two-pole pyramid tarp for multi-day winter adventures. This is the only mid we've tested that has a snow skirt, for blocking spindrift, and dedicated poles. The shelter offers two people spacious, sturdy, and moderately lightweight protection from all that mother nature can dish out. This shelter is best for winter mountaineering. Though it can be used for three-season applications our tests show that other mids, specifically those that pitch with one pole, perform better as an all-purpose pyramid tarp. Specifically, consider the Mountain Laurel Designs SuperMid if you want something for year round use.
See our Ultralight Tent Review to compare all of the top-notch ultralight shelters we've tested.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Twin Sisters is the largest and most spacious two-person pyramid shelter we've tested. It provides two people tons of space to spread out and to store gear. The increased width compared to other 2 person mids tested is particularly useful in strong winds that blow the sidewalls in. With smaller shelters this reduces the amount of usable space to a tiny area that's not particularly comfortable. But the larger space in the Twin Sisters lets you be comfortable even in high winds. We spent a few nights in the Twin Sisters on 25" sleeping pads and were able to keep our sleeping bags dry in the rain; this isn't possible with many other mids. The shelter is long enough for six-foot tall people to sleep comfortably and store backpacks at one end. Two doors make it easier to enter and exit and each door flap can be rolled aside to create a large entrance. Luxurious!
The Twin Sisters uses a reasonably burly 30 denier ripstop nylon that's coated with silicone on the outside and polyurethane on the inside. The seams are taped in the factory, which is convenient. A full silnylon fabric would likely be stronger and more durable, and would increase cost.
The Twin Sisters' design has steep walls, a moderate catenary curve that makes it easy to apply a lot of tension to the walls. We found this mid to be easier to pitch properly than the GoLite Shangri-La and similarly easy as the Black Diamond Beta Light. The two-pole design catches more wind than the single pole Mountain Laurel Designs DuoMid and two poles are slightly more of a pain to maneuver around inside the shelter, but the Twin Sisters performs very well at what it's designed for: winter mountaineering. This is the only shelter we've tested that has a snow skirt that successfully blocks spindrift (and is very hard to dig out of the snow in the morning). It's steep walls shed snow better than unipolar mids.
The Twin Sisters has adjustable ground level tieouts! This is an excellent feature that's missing on the Black Diamond Beta Light, GoLite Shangri-La 2, and Rab Element 2. We found that these significantly increase ease of pitching and make it easier to adjust the fly tension without getting out of the tent (just reach a hand out from underneath if the snow skirt isn't buried).
Weight and Packed Size
The Twin Sisters tarp weighs 31.9 oz. on our scale. The poles weigh an additional 11.5 oz. and the stakes weigh 3.5 oz. Stuff sacks for the poles, stakes, and shelter add around 3 oz. (we didn't weigh them).
Even without the poles the Twin Sisters is the heaviest mid we've tested and the heaviest product in our Ultralight Tent Review. Other types of shelters, such as the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp also work well in winter but just require more technique to pitch and don't perform as well in heavy snow loading (you need to be more attentive to how much is accumulating).
Mids are the least adaptable type of shelter and the Twin Sisters is no exception. It must be pitched in the same way every time; it doesn't respond well to campsites that require a suboptimal pitch; you must hike on and find somewhere that can accommodate it. Not that this is very challenging in most environments…for many people this will not be a serious drawback. Long distance thru-hikers may prefer a more adaptable type of shelter, such as an A-frame or flat tarp, which provides more flexibility with campsite selection.
The snow skirt limits ventilation in three-season applications and requires you to open a door for any significant amount of ventilation if the snow skirts are locked into snow. The Twin Sisters is very prone to condensation, which is typical for winter mids. It's rather heavy for use anytime other than the winter.
Expedition mountaineering, backcountry skiing.
The Twin Sisters is a great value if you if want something for winter only.
Other Versions and Accessories
The Twin Sisters Footprint, $40, may provide increased protection for your tent.
If you're looking for a smaller shelter, consider the Fast Stash by MSR, $200. This ultralight shelter is cozy and perfect for two in a range of conditions.
If you're after a bigger shelter for your adventure, take a look at the Twin Brothers tent by MSR, $500, which allows up to six people to squeeze in this shelter that has a a six foot overhead clearance.
— Chris McNamara and Max Neale
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Most recent review: September 9, 2013
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