The Echo I (left) and Echo II (right) are modular shelter systems consisting of a tarp, mesh insert, and front beak. The total weights are just 23.6 and 29.9 ounces (669 and 848 g), respectively.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear expanded a niche in the ultralight shelter category - they created an ultralight modular shelter system in which the components can be used separately or together. The components are: a catenary tarp, a mesh insert, and a front beak. The complete shelter adds up to a well-ventilated double-wall tent with full weather protection, or you can use the mesh insert or tarp separately when conditions allow. And HMG went to the extreme on the materials - Cuben Fiber - so these shelters are extremely light. The Echo I (one person) weighs just 23.6 ounces (669 g), and the Echo II (two people) weighs 29.9 ounces (848 g), with guylines but without stakes. An ultralight modular shelter system is a wonderful idea, as long as the components fit and function well together and separately; so how well do these shelters perform in the real world?
|Year/Manufacturer/Model||2010 Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo I and Echo II (hyperlitemountaingear.com)|
|Style||Three-season, one- and two-person, non-freestanding shelter with floor, front entry with vestibule. Trekking pole support|
|Included||Tarp, mesh insert, front beak, guylines, storage bag|
|Fabrics||Tarp and beak are Cuben Fiber CF8 0.78 oz/yd2 (26.4 g/m2); insert side panels are CF8, floor is Cuben Fiber CF15 1.48 oz/yd2 (50.2 g/m2), canopy is no-see-um mesh|
|Poles and Stakes||Adjustable trekking poles required, stakes not included|
|Floor Dimensions||Echo I specified: 82 in (208 cm) long x 32 in (81 cm) wide at head end x 20 in (51 cm) wide at foot end, front height 38 in (97 cm)
Echo I measured: 82 in (208 cm) long x 32.5 in (83 cm) wide at head end x 19.5 (50 cm) wide at foot end, front height 36.5 in (93 cm)
Echo II specified: 84 in (213 cm) long x 52 in (132 cm) wide at head end x 45 in (cm) wide at foot end, front height 41 in (104 cm)
Echo II measured: 84 in (213 cm) long x 51 in (130 cm) wide at head end x 44.5 in (113 cm) wide at foot end, front height 36.5 in (93 cm)
|Features||Modular design, lightweight fabrics, catenary ridgeline and Spectra core guylines with line-locks on tarp, full-width zippered entry door on insert, full-height water-resistant zipper with two pulls on beak|
|Packed Size||Echo I: 12 in x 10 in x 3 in (30 x 25 x 8 cm)
Echo II: 12 in x 10 in x 4 in (30 x 25 x 10 cm)
|Total Weight||Echo I measured weight 23.6 oz (669 g) manufacturer specification 23.7 oz (672 g)
Echo II measured weight 29.9 oz (848 g), manufacturer specification 29.5 oz (836 g), excludes stakes
|Trail Weight||Echo I 22.9 oz (649 g)
Echo II 29.4 oz (833 g), excludes stuff sack
|Protected Area||Echo I floor area 18 ft2 ( 1.67m2), vestibule area 6.1 ft2 (0.57 m2), total protected area 24.1 ft2 (2.24 m2)
Echo II floor area 24 ft2 (2.23 m2), vestibule area 9.2 ft2 (0.85 m2), total protected area 33.2 ft2 (3.08 m2)
|Protected Area/Trail Weight Ratio||Echo I 16.85 ft2/lb (3.45 m2/kg)
Echo II 18.04 ft2/lb (3.69 m2/kg)
|MSRP||Echo I US$490
Echo II US$595
|Options||Components can be purchased separately, several stake packages available, carbon fiber tarp poles available|
Design and Features
The design of the Echo I and Echo II shelter systems are identical; they only differ in size (see specifications above). Both consist of a catenary tarp with Spectra core guylines, a mesh insert, and a front beak. Adjustable trekking poles are required for setup; optional carbon fiber tarp poles available from HMG. I will briefly describe each component separately:
- Tarp - This is a full-fledged Cuben Fiber catenary tarp with fully bonded and reinforced ridgeline and tieouts. HMG uses a stronger weight of Cuben Fiber (CF8), which is 0.78 oz/yd2 (26.4 g/m2). The Echo 1 Tarp provides 51 ft2 (4.74 m2) of protected area and weighs 8.1 ounces (230 g, measured weight) with guylines, and the Echo II Tarp provides 68 ft2 (6.32 m2) of protection and weighs 9.3 ounces (264 g). The Echo II tarp can be used with the Echo I Mesh Insert (but not the reverse).
- Mesh Insert - The mesh insert has elastic cords (three at each end) that connect to rings on the tarp. It’s easy to install after the tarp is set up, or it can be left connected and set up as a unit. The lower sidewalls are Cuben Fiber CF8 and the bathtub floor is heavier Cuben Fiber CF15 (1.48 oz/yd2/50.2 g/m2) for extra durability. The Echo I insert weighs 11 ounces (312 g, measured) and provides 18 ft2 (1.67 m2) of floor area, and the Echo II weighs 15.4 ounces (437 g) and provides 24 ft2 (2.23 m2) of floor area.
- Front Beak - The front beak provides a vestibule-protected entry for the shelter. It’s also made of Cuben Fiber CF8 and has a full-height water-resistant zipper with two pulls. The weight is 3.9 ounces (111 g, measured) for the Echo I, and 4.7 ounces (133 g) for the Echo II.
There are five useful configurations possible with the Echo shelter system:
- Tarp only
- Tarp plus Front Beak
- Tarp plus Mesh Insert
- Tarp plus Mesh Insert plus Front Beak
- Mesh Insert only
Views of the Echo II: The front entry (top left) is protected by a beak that also provides vestibule space for gear storage. The foot end (top right) is lower; note that the shelter has lots of ventilation space between the insert and the tarp, and the end of the mesh insert is Cuben Fiber for rain protection. The side view (bottom left) shows the shelter’s long length and Cuben Fiber bathtub sidewalls of the insert. The top view shows the shelter’s overall shape and proportions.
Inside view of the Echo I (left) and Echo II (right) with standard 20-inch (51-cm) wide sleeping pad(s). Each shelter has about 5 inches (12.7 cm) of space between the pad and outside wall of the mesh insert.
Video tour of the Echo II.
As a solo tent (left), the Echo II provides loads of room. The Echo II Tarp used as a solo shelter (right) at 12,450 feet (3,795 m) at a beautiful alpine lake.
Set-up is fairly fast, but not as fast and easy as some single-wall shelters. I set up the Echo I in the rain one time and it required a long five minutes! The mesh insert and beak can be left attached to the tarp and set up as a unit. Simply spread the shelter on the ground, loosely stake the four corners of the tarp, set trekking poles to 45 inches (114 cm) for the front end and 36 inches (91 cm) for the rear end, insert tips of the poles into rings on the tarp ridgeline, tighten the guylines, and stake down the corners of the mesh insert. The beak is the hardest part to set up because the geometry needs to be just right for it to fit properly. The process becomes easier after you have done it a few times.
The livability of the Echo I and Echo II is very good as far as floor space. I used the Echo II both solo and with my wife and had adequate room for people plus gear. As expected, the Echo II is heaven for one person, with loads of room inside.
I found headroom to be an issue with both the Echo I and Echo II. I’m 6 feet (1.83 m) tall and did not find either tent tall enough for me at the head end; my head pressed against the mesh ceiling as shown in the photos. I measured the height at the front peak at 36.5 inches (93 cm) for both tents. And that’s the maximum headroom; it diminishes to 32-33 inches (81-84 cm) just 12 inches inside the tent.
According to manufacturer specifications, the Echo II provides 3 inches (7.6 cm) more headroom, but I measured it to be the same as the Echo I. The actual headroom will vary a bit depending on how the tent is pitched, but nevertheless it’s inadequate for a taller person. The mesh inner tent stretches when you press against it with your head, so that’s basically the situation for taller people. My wife commented: “It looks like there is more headroom than there really is, because you see the underside of the tarp”.
The vestibule (front beak) provides some space for wet gear or a canine friend. Although the shelter floor is a heavier weight of Cuben Fiber, I would be reluctant to allow a dog with sharp claws inside. The floor is durable enough to lay directly on many surfaces without a groundsheet, but it is vulnerable to punctures from sharp objects. Cuben Fiber has very high tear strength, but it’s vulnerable to punctures. I would say the risk is about the same as a tent with a silnylon floor.
I encountered rain, heavy at times, on nearly every one of the six backpacking trips I took with the Echo shelters. I found both the Echo I and Echo II, with the front beak, to be very storm worthy in heavy rains, not a drop came inside. One nighttime thunderstorm while camping at 12,000 feet (3,658 m) produced heavy rain and strong winds hitting the rear of the shelter. The tarp flapped quite a bit but it stayed completely dry inside. The mesh insert has tall bathtub walls and foot end, which really helps to intercept any splash or spindrift. However, the Echo tarp and mesh inner tent combination (without the front beak) is vulnerable to wind-driven rain from the front. I used the front beak on trips where I expected rain because the mesh entry door is not as well protected from wind-driven rain as the rear of the tent.
Inside the HMG Echo I during a heavy thunderstorm.
I used the Echo II Tarp by itself on one trip (photo above, under "Performance" heading). A larger tarp like this provides lots of sheltered area for one person plus gear, eliminating the need to carry a sleeping bag cover. It was breezy most of the night, causing the tarp to flap a bit and overall making it more difficult to get a good night’s sleep compared to sleeping in a tent. In contrast, using the tarp plus the mesh insert provides much better protection from wind and nighttime breezes.
Other modular shelter systems similar to the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo I and Echo II are the Alpinlite Gear (www.alpinlitegear.com) Bug Shelter and tarp system and the Mountain Laurel Designs (www.mountainlaureldesigns.com) Serenity Shelter plus a tarp, and their pyramid-type shelters plus a mesh InnerNet.
The Alpinlite Bug Shelter is available in several sizes. It’s made of silnylon and mesh; for example, the two-person version weighs 32.1 ounces (910 g), costs US$455, and has more floor area and headroom. The Bug Shelter does not have a bathtub floor for end and side protection, but one is being developed. An alternative system is to pair the Alpinlite Bug Shelter with the Gossamer Gear SpinnTwinn spinnaker tarp; that system for two people weighs about 23.8 ounces (675 g) and costs US$330, significantly less than the Echo II but it does not have a front beak.
The MLD Serenity Shelter plus a Cuben Solo Pro Tarp weighs 11.8 ounces (335 g) and costs US$294. The MLD Grace Duo Spinntex tarp plus Duo InnerNet mesh interior weighs 24.7 ounces (700 g) and costs US$350. The DuoMid plus the Duo InnerNet weighs 26.5 ounces (751 g) and costs US$370. These combinations weigh less than the HMG Echo Shelters, but they lack a beak to protect the front entry. The headroom in the Serenity Shelter is about the same as the Echo Shelters, but the mid-type shelters have a lot more headroom.
My thanks to reader Dan Durston for information used in this section; for more details, read his full reader review of the HMG Echo I Shelter in the Backpacking Light forums.
The systems described above have their pros and cons. They cost less than the HMG Echo Modular Shelter System, have a bit more floor area (and headroom in some cases), but the lack of a bathtub floor in the Alpinlite shelters is a serious drawback, and there is no beak/front vestibule to protect the entry (except for the MLD Mids).
This HMG Echo Modular Shelter System really makes a lot of sense because it has five useful combinations. And it’s very lightweight, equivalent to the weight of many lightweight single-wall solo tents.
It’s important to note that the Echo shelters are intended for the experienced ultralight backpacker. These shelters do not have the convenience features that most lightweight backpackers prefer, like a dedicated pole set, two doors with vestibules, storage pockets, and extra interior space. They will be best liked by the minimalist backpacker, one who wants things simplest and lightest.
Thru-hikers should especially like this shelter system. It keeps weight to a minimum and offers shelter options, depending on the conditions. A solo backpacker can carry a shelter system that weighs less than 1.5 pounds (680 g) and have the choice of sleeping under a tarp, in a mesh tent, in an open-ended double-wall shelter, or in a fully protected double-wall shelter with vestibule. That’s a lot of options for the weight! A thru-hiker is less concerned about convenience features because they typically hike late into the day, then set-up their shelter and go to sleep.
For hikers who appreciate a little more room and comfort, the Echo II is probably the best choice. For 6.3 ounces (179 g) more, one gets a whole lot more floor space, and the shelter can be used solo or with a partner. Also the Echo II Tarp provides a lot more protected area when tarp camping.
The only significant drawback of the Echo shelters is their low headroom for taller hikers. By the numbers, the Echo II has 3 more inches (7.6 cm) of headroom, but the difference is moot because the inner mesh tent tapers down to only 32-33 inches (81-84 cm) of headroom only 12 inches (30 cm) inside the tent. For shorter hikers, the shelters’ headroom is likely to be less of an issue.
Overall, the Echo modular shelter system is one of the nicest shelters I have tested. Its choice of materials balances lightweight and durability, it's well designed and constructed, the components are designed to work together, it’s wonderfully versatile, it’s very storm worthy, and it will last a long time.
- Extremely lightweight
- Highly versatile
- Quite durable
- Excellent construction
- Plenty of floor space for one or two people
- Excellent ventilation and condensation resistance
- Mesh insert provides full bug protection
- Very storm worthy
- Gear in the entry vestibule can easily be reached from inside the tent
What’s Not So Good
- Limited headroom
- Requires a fairly large area to set up
- Full system takes longer to set up compared to many tents
- Does not provide as much wind protection as a tent
- Front trekking pole support blocks entry
Recommendations for Improvement
- Increase headroom