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.
Hyperlite Mountain Gearís Echo II Shelter is the lightest two-person double wall tent weíve ever tested. However, ordering it is not very convenient, since it is not available from major retailers, and only directly from the small manufacturer in ME (possibly made-to-order, involving potentially long delays in delivery). But, if you can get past the idea of ordering a custom-made item, it might be just what you're looking for. For a meager 28.3 oz., or 1 lb. 12.3 oz., the Echo II packs a spacious and well-designed punch that will turbo boost your next trip into the mountains, make a multi-month thru-hike more comfortable, and it could reduce your pack weight by four pounds if you have have a backpacking tent with dedicated poles.
The Echo II System includes three modular components: Echo II tarp (9 oz.), beak, a.k.a. vestibule (5 oz.) and bug insert (15.5 oz.). Our testers typically use all components on longer trips with two people, just the tarp and beak in exposed insect-free conditions, and the tarp alone in protected areas. All components are made of a super light and super strong cuben fiber (non-woven Dyneema), thatís significantly stronger, more durable and lighter than silnylon or other coated fabrics used in most backpacking tents.
Although the Echo II System is only 2.7 oz. lighter than the lightest two-person double wall tent with dedicated poles, the Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 Platinum, itís significantly more comfortable, stronger, more durable, more adaptable, and much safer in serious three-season storms. Comfort is also what separates the Echo II from many other two-person floorless shelters; we found the modular bug insert and vestibule to be more comfortable than a claustrophobic water resistant bivy sacks or other inserts we've tested.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Modular A-frame Tarp
Tarps are the lightest, most adaptable, and most condensation-resistant type of shelter for backpacking. With a catenary curve, the A-frame arguably offers the greatest performance for lightweight backpacking. If unprotected, an A-frame is unsuitable for use in very exposed high wind conditions, such as on the ice in Antarctica or on top of New Hampshireís Mount Washington. Yet the open ends allow the tarp to be pitched in many different ways: high up off the ground, over a picnic table, to cover a lean-to opening, to collect rain water, or you can use it as a ground cloth when the weather is nice. Modular inserts and beaks bolster the storm resistance of A-frame tarps and, on shorter trips, allow you to take only what you need for the conditions.
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 the tarp with elastic cords and the beak attaches to the top of primary 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 insect protection and views of the stars. The beak adds significant storm protection ó we bring it when we expect to camp in windy exposed terrain. The Echo II's multifunctional and adaptable design make it exceptionally well suited to backpacking, where weather conditions and terrain change frequently. Furthermore, no other tarp we tested is compatible with modular components that are as well designed as the Echo II's.
The Echo II is made of a 0.75 oz/yd cuben fiber thatís completely waterproof as well as suprememly strong and durable. Cuben fiber, also known as Non-Woven Dyneema (NWD) is the lightest and strongest waterproof material currently used in the outdoor industry. Cuben fiber laminates use unidirectional tapes of in-line plasma treated Dyneema fibers spread to mono-filament level mylar films with titanium UV protection. In other words, Dyneema threads (50-70 percent lighter and 400 percent+ stronger than Kevlar and stronger than steel per unit weight) are sandwiched between tough UV resistant Mylar. Unlike silnylon, cuben fiber doesnít stretch, can quickly be repaired with adhesive tape, and doesnít absorb water (your tent wonít get heavier). Itís also less than half the weight of most silnylon and is translucent, which means you can see the stars through it.
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 Echo IIís low profile design, catenary cut, and ludicrously strong 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 and donít stretch when they get wet. This is a huge advantage over silnylon and polyurethane coated fabrics because you donít have to get out of the tent to retighten guy points as frequently.
Itís useful to consider the worst-case scenario for camping in serious three-season storms. Weíve found that when a critical guy point fails on a self-supporting tent with pre-tensioned poles, the most likely result is a broken pole that shoots through the rainfly. Usually another pole will bend way out of shape, too. When a critical guy point fails in a trekking-pole-supported shelter, the most probable outcome is a torn fly (with silnylon) and no harm (with cuben fiber). In the worst-case scenario a trekking pole tip may puncture and tear the tarp. Most trekking poles are many times stronger than dinky 8mm or 9mm pre-tensioned poles; itís extremely unlikely theyíll break. We used the Echo II in high winds at elevation and during the night a stake pulled from the loose decomposed granite, causing the poles to flop over and the tarp and beak to flap wildly. Nothing was damaged. They key point here is that tarps are arguably the safest type of shelter in serious three-season storms.
Weight and Packed Size
This is the lightest two person double wall tent weíve 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! Thatís less than one pound per person. All three parts of the Echo II pack down to the equivalent of two Nalgene water bottles.
Ease of Setup
Pitching a tarp isn't as easy as a self-supporting tent or a pyramid tarp. You have to balance the trekking poles and stake the shelter down at the same time. No trekking poles? No problem. The Echo II can also be hung between two trees, pitched with a bicycle, or with optional carbon fiber poles.
The Echo II Tarp is slightly smaller than some other two-person tarps such as the Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Tarp. There is a little less space inside when itís storming hard. Adding the beak greatly increases the amount of useable area and weather resistance. Using the beak and the 28 sq. ft. insert is the most comfortable because the cuben rear wall, partial cuben sides, and mesh help to block wind, splashback, and spindrift. The insert is the defining feature of the Echo II. We don't know of any other company that offers anything that comes close to providing as much weather protection and comfort for the amount of weight. The insert is made of three different materials: the floor is cut from CF 11, the bottom six inches of the walls are made with CF 8 and mesh bug netting covers the remaining walls and roof. This is much more comfortable than a water resistant bivy sack and it weighs the same amount as two. In other words, we much prefer it to using the tarp with two bivis, especially in warmer weather or when there are lots of flying or crawling insects.
The finer points of the Echo II are where the shelter really shines. Unlike all ultralight backpacking tents, the Echo II doesnít 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 IIís greatest drawback is its exposed rear end. In variable direction high speed winds this is the Echo IIís most vulnerable area. In exposed areas it's important to choose a protected campsite that shelters the rear end. If none can be found, consider blocking the entrance with rocks, logs, snow, backpacks or other objects. This is more important when using the tarp without the insert, but is valuable in any exposed area with high winds.
The shelter's next greatest drawback is its snap closure mechanism that attaches the beak to the bottom front corners of the tarp. Weíve found that the snaps can come undone in high winds or if the beak isnít 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 truckerís hitch or similar knot to keep the beak roughly in place if the snap comes undone.
Pitching the Echo II close to the ground, where the wind speeds are lowest, leaves little space for sitting up. This is a storm-worthy tent that protects you while lying down. Itís not a 12-pound mountaineering dome tent for hanging out for days at a time.
The Echo IIís cuben fiber is not as slippery as silnylon. It's important to pitch the tarp with steep walls and pay attention to slow loading if using it in the winter. We believe silnylon pyramid tarps perform significantly better in winter conditions.
As with all tents, but more so with those made from cuben fiber, itís important to make sure that the stake points are rock solid. High winds put a lot of stress on the Echo IIís four corner and the two ridgeline points. We highly recommend carrying stakes and encourage you to consider those at the right side of the photo below or this set sold by Hyperlite.
The Echo II Shelter is a good value when compared to both backpacking tents and ulralight shelters. It offers the greatest performance for backpacking with two people in the widest range of conditions.
But is it worth $600?
This will depend on how often you use it. Entry-level backpackers may not find the Echo II's top tier performance to be worth the cost. For example, if you backpack 10 days per year for three years in a row, the Echo II will cost an extra $14 per day for the 60 ounce weight savings over the REI Half Dome 2 (our Best Buy award-wining backpacking tent). If you backpack an average of 30 days per year for 10 years, or do one or more long distance thru-hikes, the same 60 ounce weight savings would cost $1.50 per day. But weight is not the only variable to consider here. Compared to budget tents, the Echo II is not only lighter, but twice as compact, stronger, more durable, more adaptable, and more condensation resistant. We've never seen a budget tent that's lasted even close to 300 days in the field. Therefore, we believe the Echo II is a great value for anyone who wants to push the performance envelope, and has the cash to do it.
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/
— Max Neale
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Most recent review: January 23, 2013
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