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Hands-on Gear Review
Cons: Relatively small tarp creates low peak height, beak attaches with snaps that can come undone in high winds
Manufacturer: Hyperlight Mountain Gear
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo II Shelter System is the lightest modular ultraight shelter we tested and provides class-leading weather protection when using all three component parts. The catenary cut, Cuben fiber A-frame Tarp weighs in at 9 ounces. The removable 4.5 ounces Beak (front vestibule) greatly increases the protected covered area. Add the 14.5 ounce Mesh Insert with waterproof Cuben floor for complete weather and bug protection. The three modular parts of this system provide the most mix and match versatility for three-season backpacking of any ultralight shelter we've tested. The Echo II has been an award winner in our past reviews, and remains one of the highest scoring models overall.
The only significant drawback to the Echo II System is the small size of its tarp, which is less protective and less comfortable when used alone than either the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp or Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Tarp Duo. Our tests found that these larger 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 due to the small tarp. If you want the lightest, highest performing shelter with integral bug protection, the ZPacks Hexamid Twin Tent (our Editors' Choice winner) is the best we've tested.
RELATED: Our complete review of ultralight tents
OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
When we tested all three modular components of the Echo II Shelter together, we found class-leading weather protection. It protects you from blowing rain nearly as well as the Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 Platinum, and handles strong winds better. These two tents received our highest ratings for weather protection. Hyperlite Mountain Gear does not compromise on materials and construction quality, and this model earned a top score for durability as well.
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo II Shelter is available online and typically ships within a few days of ordering. Compare the prices here.
The HMG Echo II Shelter's low-profile design, catenary cut, and materials make it capable of withstanding serious three-season storms. With three LineLocs along each side and very little stretch in the Cuben material, the walls can be pitched very taut. Additionally, the beak does an excellent job sealing off the front, but the rear end of the tarp is always open. The insert's solid rear wall blocks most horizontally blown rain though, even if you aren't able to find a site that protects the foot end. Overall, using all three modular components provides weather protection that matches or exceeds any other product in this 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 and a spacious vestibule.
but less so in practice
Unfortunately, the Echo II's versatility is 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 an additional ounce or two. Other tarps realize this trade-off and opt for more covered area; the Mountain Laurel Designs' Grace Tarp Duo is much more functional as a stand-alone tarp.
The Echo II Tarp, the most important part of the system, doesn't perform as well on its own as other two-person tarps due to its small dimensions. Consequently, we highly recommend using the insert and/or beak for foul weather use.
This is the lightest two-person double wall tent we've tested if you do not count the weight of the required adjustable trekking poles. The complete package we tested weighs 1 pound 12.3 ounces, without the weight of stakes (you need to add your own or add them to your HMG order). That's less than one pound per person. Although this weight may appear impressive if you are coming from a backpacking tent background, other ultralight shelters weigh much less and perform similarly well. The most notable example is the ZPacks Hexamid Twin Tent, with a minimum weight of 14.5 ounces.
Weight Bottom Line:
Tarp + guy lines = 9.0 oz
Mesh Insert = 14.5 oz
Beak = 4.5 oz
Stuff Sack = .3 oz
When all components are stuffed into the Cuben stuff sack, this tent measures 12" x 7" x 6".
The full Echo II System is fully enclosed and moderately comfortable. The insert's 24 sq ft floor has just enough room for two sleeping pads, and the 8.5 square foot vestibule created by the beak has room for shoes and packs. The insert has a relatively short peak height and the ceiling tapers off dramatically towards the foot. There's just barely enough room to sit up by the front pole for some folks. When our 5'11" tester pitched the tarp close to the ground for maximum weather protection, the inner tent was about 2" too short for him to sit up. Two features are lacking that also limit the Echo's livability score. First, rather than toggles and loops for tying back the beak and inner tent door, small lengths of string are sewn in. While it saves a tiny bit of weight, it's a pain in the butt to tie a bow with the short strings, especially with cold or wet hands. Finally, the insert tent has no pockets. Livability is not one of the strong points of this shelter; it earned one of the lowest ratings.
The Echo II earned the second highest rating for adaptabilty along with the Six Moon Designs Haven Tarp. Modular components are a big plus, and use with the tarp + beak makes a protective, light system when you don't need the insert for bugs or blowing rain. Like all tarps, the sides can be brought in for a steeper pitch if your campsite is narrow – but this can make use of the beak less than ideal. Flat tarps define adaptability, and if you want the shelter with the most pitching options for rough terrain or rough weather, HMG's Square Flat Tarp is our favorite by far. When pitching the flat tarp in A-frame mode, it can also be supplemented with the same inner tent insert.
The finer points of construction on the Echo II are where the shelter really shines. Unlike many 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. The white CF8 Cuben fiber used on the Echo II tarp and on the sides and rear of the insert is heavier and more puncture resistant than the Cuben used by Zpacks on their shelters. The bottom of the Echo II insert is made of a heavier, more durable, and stronger type of Cuben fiber (CF 11). Additionally, 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. All told, we feel the Echo II is overbuilt. We would pass on the heavier floor of the insert tent to add some square footage to the tarp.
Ease of Set-up
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. Overall, out of all the models we tested, the Echo II System is one of the most time consuming shelters to pitch all parts.
Our first trial set-up in the backyard took 5 minutes for the tarp, 3 minutes to add the insert, and 5 more minutes to attach the beak. While the mesh insert fits inside fine with variation in the steepness of the tarps wall and height of the front trekking pole, the beak needs a very constrained pitching geometry to fit well and zip closed. The beak fits best when the tarp is set-up just so, you have to learn this pitch. That's 13 minutes total first go. Eight and a half minutes total second go round once we were familiar with the process. No stakes are included: 8 are necessary, 13 is ideal so that you have 4 for the inner tent and another for the beak. Strings came cut and pre-threaded through the LineLocs. The metal rings sewn into the webbing at the ends of the ridge for trekking pole tips accepted all of our poles, new and old. The beak snaps to the tarp at the corners, wraps with velcro around the pole at top. No instructions are included.
Like all A-frame and flat tarps, the Echo II can be hung between two trees, but we usually find this takes longer than set up with trekking poles.
Three-season backpacking and winter use in areas where you don't expect more than a few inches of snow overnight. The main attraction of this system is its versatility, although as we mentioned above, this is better in theory than in practice. It is a popular thru-hiking shelter; bounce boxing or sending the insert tent home after buggy season leaves you with a very light shelter comprised of the tarp and beak. Because of it's small size, we do not recommend the tarp alone except for shorter and smaller couples. If the Echo II interests you and you don't need extra adaptability, we strongly recommend checking out the ZPacks Hexamid Twin, which won our Editors' Choice Award, instead.
At $675 for the complete system and another $37 for the ultralight stake set, this is the most expensive shelter we've tested. Add another $100 to $150 for a nice set of adjustable trekking poles if you don't already have a pair and it's really expensive. We believe the ZPacks Hexamid Twin Tent is a better value (it cost $145 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 or bivy sack for buggy areas.
The Echo II System is a fantastic double-wall shelter that is limited by the relatively small size of its tarp. If you seek the most durable ultralight two-person shelter with the best weather protection, and livability is less important to you, this modular A-frame system is for you.
Other Versions & Accessories
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Square Flat Tarp
HMG Ultralight Stakes
— Brandon Lampley & Max Neale
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Most recent review: June 23, 2015
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