Just as we finished digging the snow cave, dark clouds began streaming over the peaks to the west, casting a pall over our base camp. Snow flurries whipped across the glacier as we tied a pair of skis together to bridge the top of our cave and erected the Ultamid 4 shelter. This pyramid-style tarp tent, held aloft by two trekking poles lashed together and anchored into the snow, created a storm-proof roof above our snow cave. We cinched the walls tight to snow anchors as the storm mounted, and then we settled in–our cozy cave would be home for the next three days.
The Ultamid 4 shelter proved to be a crucial piece of gear during a four-week climbing and pack-rafting expedition in Alaska’s Aleutian Range. The Ultamid 4 provided a spacious shelter where we could stand up and cook during the storm, and the pyramid-style tent is light enough that we carried it with us on multiday climbs.
This shelter is straightforward to set up. On the glacier, we would anchor it to ice axes, skis and pickets; then we would erect the tent using two trekking poles. The resulting shelter is 75 inches high. The tent includes 3-foot ultralight guylines on the corners and sides to facilitate easy pitching, and comes with an additional 100 feet of cord to stake out the reinforced tie-points on the center panels. Properly staked out, this shelter held up to strong winds whipping across the glacier, even when supported by skis bridging the roof of a snow cave.
Weighing only 22 oz (including guylines), the Ultamid 4 shelter also packs down smaller than a sleeping bag; yet it covers 85 square feet, enough room for four people to sleep comfortably. This shelter is both lighter and larger than the popular Black Diamond Mega Light, which is 15 ounces heavier and only covers 81 square feet. Unlike its competitors, Hyperlite Mountain Gear uses Dyneema fabric (the same material as the white fibers in climbing slings), which is lighter than nylon.
The Hyperlite 4 is also durable. After we had spent four weeks on glaciers and gravel bars in Alaska, the tent had only one small tear from a sharp axe point. We even used the Ultamid 4 as a makeshift bivy sack on an attempt of the northwest face of The Citadel (8,305′) by wrapping the tent around us on a narrow ledge that we hacked out of snow. Despite meltwater dripping off the rock that overhung our bivouac, we stayed dry because of the water-repellent qualities of the Dyneema fabric. When we broke camp in the rain, we were able to shake the water off the tarp.
Tarp tents don’t keep out mosquitos on their own. For camping in bug-heavy areas, you can purchase a mesh insert ($160) that drapes from the ceiling to the ground and weighs 16 ounces. The no-see-um netting panels are tapered so they don’t touch the tent walls, which reduces drips from morning condensation. If you really want a waterproof floor, you can buy a bug netting insert that includes a floor ($475, 27 ounces); however, it’s not really necessary. I’ve stayed dry during intense storms by simply folding a ground tarp inside the tent so the edges hang back from the tent perimeter by a few inches.
The Ultamid 4 is currently the lightest option for a spacious, four-person shelter that can adapt to just about any conditions. The floorless, pyramid-style design can be pitched over uneven terrain, and is ideal for snow camping where it’s possible to dig down to increase head-room. It’s a great shelter for backcountry pursuits where versatility and light weight are necessary. And it’s made right here in the USA.
Pros: The lightest 4-person pyramid tent on the market, durable, doesn’t absorb water.