by the Product Review Staff | 2003-09-29 03:00:00-06
See how this shelter rates with others in our Comparison Review of Tarps and Other Floorless Shelters
As the name implies, the Oware Alphamid is based on a pyramid tarp configuration. In fact, it is one-half of a typical four-sided pyramid tarp (which Oware also manufactures). Designed primarily for snow camping, the Alphamid's steep walls shed snow and provide luxurious space and headroom for one to two people. A zippered front door can be pitched open with the aid of guylines or stakes, or zipped shut for a full-coverage refuge from rain, wind, and snow.
The Alphamid gets its primary structure from a single pole, pitched at its apex, which rises approximately 63 inches off the ground surface. The apex pole can consist of a pair of trekking or ski poles linked together with a connector sleeve (e.g., aluminum tubing), a ski pole, or the Alphamid's custom aluminum pole. We tested stability with the option most likely to be used by lightweight backpackers and winter hikers: linked trekking poles.
Alternatively, one can also tie the apex to a high point, such as a tree limb or a chock lodged in a cliff crack; however, some stability is sacrificed using this technique.
The Alphamid is quite simple to pitch:
In short, the Alphamid requires only one eight-foot guyline and five stakes. For inclement weather pitches (and/or to stake out the doors), one should include two additional stakes and two three-foot guylines for the doors, and two additional stakes and one four-foot guyline for the rear panel. Thus, for maximum flexibility in pitching the Alphamid, nine stakes and about 18 feet of guyline cord are recommended.
The Alphamid is built for serious storm protection in winter conditions. Reinforced corners, a stout metal coil zipper, and a durable apex point add weight, but provide security in high winds.
Our only gripe is that when trekking poles are linked and used for the apex pole, they can slide out of the apex due to the absence of a "cup" like those used on Integral Designs' Sil Shelters that can be secured around the trekking pole handle to prevent its migration under tension.
A nice touch is a side release buckle at the bottom of the doors, to prevent the zipper from unzipping itself in a sustained wind.
We weighed the Alphamid on our scales at 19.0 ounces. An aluminum trekking pole connector weighs about 0.4 ounces. With nine titanium stakes and spectra guylines, one can achieve a package weight of less than 23 ounces. For snow camping, even using aluminum deadmen anchors (e.g., T-stakes from SMC, 1 oz ea), a package weight of less than two pounds provides excellent storm protection and headroom.
Pitched with trekking poles, the Alphamid is easily capable of shedding high winds without dramatic flapping, particularly if the shelter is pitched with one of its rear corners into the wind (ideal). Due to its high profile, however, the Alphamid is prone to wind stress, especially if the shelter is pitched with its vertically flat door facing the wind. Fortunately, when using a pole for stability, even this configuration does not pose significant problems at winds less than 25 mph.
Pitched without a pole (with the apex tied to a high point), the Alphamid suffers from excessive flapping and panel deflection in winds greater than 15 mph; thus, this pitch configuration is recommended only for below-the-treeline use when a pole is not available.
The Alphamid pitches with its perimeter to the ground, and offers a full zip door. Consequently, it provides complete protection from rain. Further, it sheds snow exceptionally well due to its steep walls, and there is little risk of snow accumulating on the tarp and causing the walls to sag.
When the Alphamid is pitched in its down-to-the-ground-and-fully-zipped mode, one can expect condensation to accumulate on the inside walls. However, the Alphamid offers enough flexibility in pitching to provide airflow: the doors can be pitched partially or completely open, and one or more of the five perimeter guyline points can be pitched off the ground with guylines. When the doors are completely zipped, a two-way zipper that is zipped down from the top of the door can allows a small amount of warm air to escape through the peak.
The Alphamid offers enough options for the astute tarp camper to control ventilation, storm protection, and wind stability, and thus, is entirely suitable for both dry and damp climates, above or below the treeline.
Since the Alphamid is floorless, it is not an ideal bug shelter, but since it can be pitched to the ground and zipped up, it provides adequate protection from swarms in most conditions, especially when paired with a ground cloth that is large enough to cover the entire floor of the shelter.
At $160, the Alphamid is priced higher than simple tarps. However, considering that (1) it's the only shelter of its kind on the market, (2) it's made in the USA, and (3) it offers significant flexibility in a package suitable for a wide range of conditions, and it's a great value.
"Oware Alphamid," by the Product Review Staff. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/00172.html, 2003-09-29 03:00:00-06.