I have been using the HMG Echo 1 (full production, non prototype) for a couple of months now. It has been used for about 45 nights here in the Redwood region of Northern California. The longest I have had it setup 24/7 was 11 days, in which it rained for all eleven days non-stop. On day 9 the tarp finally began to saturate. For comparison, a Zpacks cf tarp setup along side of it saturated on day 10 and a SpinnUL tarp saturated on day four.
As was mentioned by the reviewer, the head-height of the insert is an issue. I am 6'1 and my head hits the net just sitting up in it. After I inflate my NeoAir pad I am totally unable to sit up and am forced to crawl into/outof it. This will be the #1 reason (and only reason) why I will sell it once it gets back from a buddy who is trying it out. There is a point where I am willing to accept "cons" on the good/bad list and than there is a point where no matter how light or nice the rest of a product is, that one thing makes it unacceptable for thru-hikers or just those going out for a week or two. Most of you understand what I mean by this. Hitting your head every time you try to sit up, for me, is one of those things that makes me never want to use it.
I also had a serious issue with the zipper. The first day out it got stuck in one spot. I was able to get it loose but a few days later it got stuck again. To be clear: there was no pressure on the zipper the first time it got stuck. The insert was not staked down and it was not compressed in any way. However, there is an angle on the zipper path right where it makes the turn down/up and that is right where it got stuck the first time. The second time around I was in the insert and was totally stuck. I really was about five seconds away from ripping the insert in order to get out (had to water a tree, bad). Finally, I thought to myself "Ok, give it one really hard tug, it will either unzip or rip". Thankfully, it pushed past the stuck part and unzipped. It was the last night on-trail so once I got back home I started working with the zipper and after awhile I have gotten it almost working, but it still does gets stuck at times. Sadly, a small bit of the bug netting right where the original zipper-stuck area was, has split and now I have a couple of small holes in the insert. That really sucks. Clearly was an issue with either the development at that one spot (HMG has indicated to me they have not had any other zipper failures) or it was just plan bad luck on my part.
I did contact HMG about this and they agreed to do a swap for my broken insert for a brand new one. I also contacted HMG about a missing tie-out that was not included for the beak, which they sent out the next day.
My thoughts on the tarp:
Very nice. I do not understand why the reviewer said he had "flapping" issues. I have been able to get this tarp setup amazing tight so that there is zero flapping and zero material that is loose. Yes, it can consume a bit more ground-space than what one might expect, but after a few times you come to realize you do not need (and I have found it is actually better) to put your tie-out stakes far away from the tarp. I end up putting my stakes almost directly where the tie-outs connect to the tarp, maybe an inch or two away. Remember though that I live in the middle of a rain forest. Overall, this is one of the nicest tarps I have encountered.
My thoughts on the beak:
I like the beak. I wonder if the snap-buttons are really all that necessary. Could use clips instead and save a bit of weight. Been doing it that way on tarp beaks for a long time, so not sure why the snap-buttons are there. As many others (including myself) have said in the past, we/I do not care how much HMG says water will not get into the foot-end of the setup, this setup *needs* to be designed with a foot-beak. For the record, yes, I have got horizontal rain into the foot of the insert. Just once, and just a handful of drops. That was even when it was setup in the direction the wind was coming from at time of setup (hellish storm caused the weather to go back the direction it came from - oh boy, more rain, sigh). Other thing with the beak, it's a wee-bit hard to reach all the way out to the end of the zipper. That said, it does provide a great deal of room for storage. I can easily get my HMG Windrider, my shoes, and a few other small things within the vestibule area. Not an issue for myself, but the lack of a foot-beak also makes some be concerned about privacy. Totally understandable.
My thoughts on the insert:
As indicated above, and by the author of this review, it is just too low in head-height. That said - the #1 reason I bought this was because of the bathtub side-wall height. I wanted (actually, needed) something with 8-12 inch sidewalls (rain, rain, rain = always soaked and muddy soil). The HMG Echo 1 Insert has the highest bathtub sidewalls I have found of any insert. I beyond love this aspect of this setup!! But because of the lack of head-room I just cannot see me keeping this for any of my thru-hikes over the next few years (~3500 miles). As for the durability of the bathtub, it is very very tough. Unless I was somewhere that the ground was nothing but a bunch of very sharp rocks I would have no issue with setting up this system anywhere. Suppose if you really were worried the GG Polycryo ground cloth could be an option (and HMG has indicating they are planning on releasing their own CF ground cloth for the Echo 1) but I just do not see a need for it. I have also used the insert as a stand-alone. You do have to take something off the tarp and slap it onto the insert, but it is easy enough to do. Would make sense if they just put a grommet for your pole right onto the insert cord though.
My thoughts on setup time:
My first time setting it up took about three minutes. My time now for setting it up takes around 45-60 seconds depending on soil/stake issues and learning its tricks - no different than any other setup.
If you know you will be in an area where there will be a need for the insert day-after-day you can leave your insert attached to the tarp (and your beaks for that fact) and that saves about 30-45 seconds on setup time and makes packing it up all the much easier.
My thoughts on quality:
The decisions they made to use different weight cuben fibers in all of the different places are dead-on perfect. The seams are done the right way and not the wrong way when it comes to working with cf. HMG is one of the few that do it the right way and it shows in their quality and durability. Except for the small tear in my bug-net due to the zipper-getting-stuck-issue the bug netting is perfect.
So to summarize my own thoughts on this setup:
If you are under 5'9 and do not use an inflatable air pad this is one of the finest sub-2 pound setups I have encountered (and I have tried my share of them over the last few years, including the ones mentioned by the reviewer) and very likely is the finest. Yes, there are things you can do to shave a couple of ounces off of it, but I understand why it is shipped the way it is with those extra few ounces. Additionally, if you value your privacy or encounter horizontal rain the lack of a footer beak will be an issue. Setup time on this is very quick - especially if you leave everything attached to the tarp.
I would 100% recommend this tent setup for anybody in a 3-season situation, provided you are under 6-feet and do not use an inflatable sleeping bad. The price might seem a bit high but with the exception of a foot beak you are getting a whole lot of high quality cuben fiber for that price tag.
(Jan 16, 2011: I have updated this post to reflect updated details and fix typos)