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M Lil' Bugout Shelter Review

by David Chenault

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Article Summary:

Pyramid shelters have been classics of ultralight hiking since long before the term ultralight existed. They are simple, fast, strong, and provide lots of protected space for the weight; all attributes desirable in any UL gear. When done well, pyramid shelters provide excellent protection from both precipitation and wind. However, doing a pyramid shelter well depends on the proper execution of several basic yet subtle principles. This article will discuss these principles in the context of reviewing the Lil' Bug Out (LBO) base shelter with 3 piece vestibule, made by the American cottage company Seek Outside.

Classic mids have a square or rectangular footprint, with ground level lengths between eight and ten feet, and center pole heights between four and six feet. The geometry provided by these dimensions works well, and balances wind resistance, the ability to withstand snowloading, and livable interior space for 2 or 3 people, with sleeping four possible in a pinch. Smaller mids can work for 1-2 people. Larger mids provide more space, but begin to run into constraints finding large enough campsites, and present larger flat panels which are potentially less weather resistant. Center heights much lower than 4.5 feet severely restrict liveable space: witness the Mountain Laurel Designs Speedmid and Trailstar, which have footprints as big as 3-4 person mids, but only provide room for two when pitched to the ground. Mids taller than six feet add fabric weight, and as likely need a much stronger pole to support such a span. In summary, there is a good reason why the most popular mids share a fairly narrow dimensional range.

It is important to note the lack of uniformity in factory claimed dimensions. Black Diamond quotes useable interior space, which is admirably conservative if somewhat confusing. Other mids are known for having claimed heights with only the corners just kissing the ground. This height criteria is most useful as users will want to pitch the hem as close to the ground as possible in bad weather. Buyers should be a bit skeptical of these figures, and seek out user provided measurements.

Much though the category is revered, mids have inherent limitations. By far the most commonly cited is the limited headroom caused by steeply sloped walls, as well as the presence of a pole right in the center of the living area. For instance, the Black Diamond Megalight is a square with 8.6 ft long sides, when pitched to the ground. This provides 74 ft2 of protected area, a veritable palace for two hikers, given that two person backpacking tents average around 30-35 ft222

This is a less than ideal state of affairs, and a problem which to a certain extent. In the simplest terms, weatherproofing a tent has to do with angles. Provided the material is waterproof enough, shedding wind and snow consists of a canopy whose angles provide a slick footprint. A good example is the aforementioned Trailstar (reviewed by Colin Ibbotson) whose wind resistance is perhaps unmatched, gram for gram. When pitched to the ground, the Trailstar is nearly 11 ft in diameter, and barely 3.5 ft tall in the center. It is a good shape to foil wind, assisted by pitch-perfect curves on all seams, but it's not much of a liveable space. A Trailstar pitched low in this manner is also easy prey for snow, and prone to be well and truly flattened unless the door panel is raised which in turn creates increased wind exposure. This is another reason for most mids having dimensions similar to that of the Megalight With approximately 45 degree angled walls, the shelter has a good balance of wind resistance from all five directions and snow shedding ability, unfortunately this comes at the expense of ideal headroom.

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