An incomplete treatise on ‘mid selection

IMG_0480BD Megalight with aftermarket guy points resisting the wind.

A pyramid shelter is the most versatile shelter for outdoor adventure.  There are many reasons to not have a quiver of tarps and tents, and the best one is that having one shelter suitable for all conditions allows you to grab and go.  A ‘mid fits this role well.  Terminology should be here noted: shelter is used instead of tent for reasons beyond the mere lack of a floor.  That a tent is fully enclosed inherently brings with it the expectation that you’ll be consistently insulated from the outside world.  This expectation is only realistic in mild conditions, and the separation it promotes from the environment at hand defeats the purpose of multi-day backcountry adventure.  As will be discussed below, there are select circumstances where some manner of protection from the ground and/or environment is desirable, however those circumstances are quite limited for most users.  98% of user objections to non-fully enclosed shelters are mental problems only, and those folks owe it themselves to get over them.

IMG_8080The Megalight pitched in the snow.

The first consideration in mid selection is size.  Capacity is a good starting point here, but just as important is a pragmatic assessment of space per person desired and the 3D floorplan of the mid in question.  The Black Diamond Megalight shown above is a good example.  The company claims a width of 86 inches and a height of 57.  When pitched to the ground, the actual width is 104 inches and the actual height is 68 inches.  Due to the slope of the walls, much of that 104 inches is not useable for human habitation, but it is useable for gear.  In practice, there is sleeping room only for four in the Megalight.  Three is a sustainable capacity for extended trips in varied weather, while two is very comfortable and allows for plentiful gear organization, cooking, and even a small wood stove.  It’s overkill for one, but light enough to constitute reasonable luxury.  Mid capacity requires critical thinking, as floor dimensions do not tell the whole story.

Mids can be usefully separated into three categories: unipolar rectangular mids (which include square mids), bipolar rectangular mids, and tipis.  Each has virtues and downsides, and these are the second criterion after capacity which should drive mid selection.

Unipolar rectangular mids are the classic version, and remain the most common and popular for good reason.  There’s quite a bit of variation in size and height, which not only determines capacity but also performance.  For example, imagine the Megalight with a lower center height.  Lower angled walls would provide for better wind shedding, but reduce functional space as well as the ability of the mid to shed snow.  A higher peak height would steepen the walls, causing the opposite, as well as a slight increase in weight (and most likely, cost as well).  Smaller mids, the MLD Duomid being the most well known example, attempt to win more functional space with minimal material and center height by being very rectangular.  This does the job, but at the expense of creating unequal surface area on the sides.  All things being equal, such mids do less well in wind when broad side.

IMG_3907Golite Shangrila 2.

Bipolar mids attempt to take this expansion of functional floor space further by using two poles rather than one.  What this achieves, in shelters like the Golite Shangrila 2 above, is a useable mid-height approaching that of a unipolar mid while having a much smaller footprint.  The extended, steep ridgeline of such shelters also tends to shed snow well, at the expense of considerably weakened wind resistance when broad side.  Most of these mids are not simple rectangles.  The Shangrila 2 is an extended hexagon, with the middle of the long side being wider than the ends, which provides more interior space and improves the slickness against the wind.

Wind resistance is achieved by having small facets for wind to grab, and this being the case, the slickest shelter is the one which is most curved (a fact which helps explain the popularity of tunnel tents for arctic and montane expeditions).  Tipis are mids which try to take this to an extreme by being conical.

1307028329_44207Photo by Seek Outside, via BPL.  This is their six person tipi.

This is an effective solution, but comes with the expense of weight and complexity.  A round or oval floor plan is a bit less efficient than a square or rectangular one, but a more serious objection is the large number of stake points this design requires, and the consequent increase in time when pitching it.

There is a class of hybrid mid-pis, who use five or six sides to gain increased wind resistance over standard square mids. The chief cost, as with tipis, is in the ease of pitching.

IMG_9212MLD Trailstar.

I’ve assembled a representative range of mids, and the accompanying specs, here.

The one thing not represented in that chart, and the last and in many ways most important factor in selecting a mid, is construction quality.  Not all silnylons are created equal, and simple dimensions do not capture things like the amount of caternary cut, things which have enormous influence on wind stability, snow shedding, and general longevity.  This is why this treatise is incomplete.  I’ve only owned a few of the mids in the chart, and therefore there are just too many important things I cannot speak on.  Do your research.

That said, here are a few things to consider.

Rectangular and square mids are the easiest and quickest shelters to pitch, period.  They’re probably best for folks who move camp every day, do big miles, and want things quick and easy as darkness falls.

The single v. duo pole debate will largely come down to personal preference.  yes the former does better in the wind and the later better in the snow, but all the shelters listed will do fine in each under 95% of circumstances encountered by those who don’t camp in dumb places at foolish times.

Mid stability is dependent on stakes holding.  Bring the proper stakes for the terrain, and lots of them.  Having the wind rip your shelter off you in the middle of the night is quite exciting.

It can be difficult to find enough space for the big mids, even though they can be pitched over some rocks and bushes.  Two pole shelters can be useful in these situations.

Numbers do not tell the whole story.  The Megalight, as discussed above, has very conservative factory dimensions.  The MLD Supermid, on the other hand, is known for having pretty aggressive cat cut edges, and pitching it to the ground significantly reduces the factory dimensions.  Seeking out user testimonials is a very good idea.

In my mind the cost/benefit for cuben doesn’t make much sense, perhaps why we’ve yet to see a large cuben mid stay on the market for any length of time.

A wood stove doesn’t make sense for most backpackers most of the time, even in winter.  In really crap weather, and for hunters who move through the landscape differently and have different needs, a wood stove can facilitate huge gains in moral and mental efficiency.

There are times when a mid isn’t ideal, or when a bugproof inner and/or groundsheet is a good idea.  During moderate mosquito pressure bugs tend to fly up to the peak, hang out, and not be too much of a nuisance.  During bad skeeter conditions you’ll want an inner.  Camping in nasty tick or chigger country would be another situation.  It’s conceivable that in some places you might have a hard time finding flat ground that isn’t saturated, and thus need a groundsheet.  I never use one, and have never needed one.  Lastly, cold wind can make mids quite drafty if there isn’t snow around to seal the edges.  Sod/snow flaps are a partial solution, as is site selection, but an inner could be handy here.

Condensation can also be an issue in mids, as in any single wall shelter.  There are some circumstances when mids, because they envelope a large area of wet ground and have limited air circulation, can be quite bad in this regard.  Site selection is key.  If it’s a damp night close to freezing, you might actually choose a more exposed sight to promote wind exposure and thus reduce condensation.  If the wind is too bad, it will shake condensation loose down on you, and thus a calm site should be sought.  On this trip I tucked the mid back in the trees to avoid the wind, but should have brought it out a bit more because snow clods bombed us all night, knocked loose every drop of condensation, and we got quite wet.  In the end, no shelter will be condensation free in all circumstances, and to a certain extent dealing with it is back of backcountry life.

Get yourself a mid.  Go use it.  Have fun.


24 responses to “An incomplete treatise on ‘mid selection”

  1. I also have a Megalight. It replaced a 6 pound, 2 person tent that I used to lug around. I tend to use it with an inner net to deal with the summer long bug pressure where I hike. I have thought about going net-less on a trip to the Canadian Rockies in August. Do you use a bivy sack to deal with drafts?

    1. I almost never bring a bivy.

  2. Any thoughts on duomid vs solomid as a sole year-round single-person setup?

    1. The DuoMid is so much nicer for just a couple extra ounces. The big advantage is that you sleep in the rear half, leaving the front as a vestibule. With the SoloMid you occupy all of the floor area with your bed, so rain falling in the door lands on your pad and you’ve got minimal space for spreading gear. It’s do-able, but the extra space of the DuoMid is extremely nice in winter, rafting trips and tough weather. My cuben Duomid (a prototype) weighs 11.6oz, or 20oz with a solo net tent in the back. The DuoMid isn’t that big (I wouldn’t want to be in there with two).

  3. SoloMid I found more stable than the DuoMid as it utilises an inverted v pole to support it. Mids for me come in two forms: Single apex, double apex and all have varied floor size dimensions. DuoMids suffer from a long side and short side that brings one side up flat facing into the wind ( I very quickly sold mine on). SoloMid’s v pole helps and my advice is to do the same V pole set up for the DuoMid with a extension set up like the one Locus Gear make.

    Good stuff here Dave, and for me Mids are simply the best shelter. MLD ones have too much of a cat cut and the doors cant be put tight to the ground. For me I have moved on from MLD shelters and the ones by Locus Gear appeal more. My current mid is a Golite SL3 and its very good. Downside is the material is of concern durability wise. The adjustment straps are too smooth of a material and could slip under tension in bad weather (need a courser material) and the mid panel tie-outs are in the wrong place. The single biggest myth is usable space with them. Only if they have height. Otherwise the angle of the shelter makes access to that space problematic and quickly reduces the usable inner space (i,e Trailstar at 95cm pitch hight). Lots on the market and there is Bearpaw designs as well, and I am sure many more to come. A while back Grant from Gossamer Gear had one in use on a trip report I read. Lets hope Gossamer Gear get some good mids to the market and get your insight on Mids into Grant and the team.

    1. I made extensions for my poles and use the V setup for the Duomid. Wind aside it seems like a better use of the space. I would like to get a Solomid off gear swap to compare side by side.

    2. Apart from dimensions and build quality, I have a hard time seeing what functional differences the various manufacturers’ rectangular mids have, i.e. I have looked at Locus Gear but think that for most people the difference between Khufu and Duomid would be only the brand name.

  4. I would say there is a difference in the cat cut and how that enables it to pitch tight to the ground etc. But yes basically the same.

    1. An oft overlooked but very significant difference. The Megalight is good in that you can get it down on the ground well. It probably needs a bit more cat cut to the vertical seams to make it quieter in the wind.

  5. Great article. I agree with the one shelter philosophy, as I really appreciate the simplicity and grab-and-go factor. I have tried mids in the past, and while they do well in the colder months around here, in tick/bug season, adding an inner tends to really ramp-up the weight. Not to mention the fact then if you are using the inner in a rain storm, they are difficult to vent (i.e. open a door) without filling them full of water. I have decided to settle on a tunnel design as my go-to shelter, but mids are second on my list :-)

  6. Nice post, Dave. I really enjoyed it even though my go-to shelter is a tunnel tent at the moment. I’ve had the Golite SL3 but never really liked it that much. I find a tent more simple and straight-forward to use but mids are appealing because of the very low weight (compared to tents) and especially for aesthetic simplicity. Will give them a go again at some point. Just need to decide which model to try (light, fits two + gear, can take an occasional “camp in dumb places at foolish times”) and then find the money for it…

  7. Best spreadsheet footnote ever: “If I didn’t include it bite me.”

    1. Full marks for in-depth perusal. A pet peeve is absolutely the why didn’t you review __ (insert pet gear), it’s the best!

      On that note, the Locus Gear mids look amazing, but the expense puts me off. Many of the close ups of tieouts and stitching on Bear Paw stuff is just frightening. Then again, all the Ultamids hitting the market seem to suffer from sloppy (if perfectly functional) sewing.

  8. […] A pretty good post by Dave over at Bedrock & Paradox. An incomplete treatise on ‘mid selection. […]

  9. I have used the SL 2 and BD Betalight on several trips and agree with your observations. I am now playing with a Megalight (and wish I had taken it to Norway in the past 2 weeks.) Regrading your BD Megalight, I like the addition of the mid panel tie outs along with the tie outs on the corners, what distance are they from the base? If you had your time over would you change the distance from the base? My reason for asking is I want to set mine up for future trips in the Scandinavian Mountains, as I am not happy with what I currently use. I anticipate using a Oookworks inner as bugs (mossies) in summer can be problematic to say the least. Thanks

    1. The midpanel ones are just short of half height, the side ones are a bit lower. The mid ones work well for wind, and I’d put them in the same location again. The side ones are primarily for snow, and might work a bit better higher up.

      1. nielsenbrownoutdoors Avatar

        Thanks Dave, for your quick response, off to do some sewing.

  10. Nice post Dave. I’m going to tag this in something I put together recently. I’m also a fan of mids and have been relying on a Locus Gear Khufu when solo, and a GoLite SL5 when with my family (4 of us). I spent a couple of nights in some very bad winds/snow with the Khufu earlier this year; it was rock solid, my nerves were not! Neat stitching doesn’t trump poor design, I’m happy to say the Khufu is top notch in both departments.

    1. Thanks Jacob. Cost is the only thing holding me back from a Locus mid.

  11. […] Chenault wrote a nice essay on his blog regarding shelters (mostly mids) and shared his thoughts about tents and isolation from the […]

  12. Dave, Have you ever used a wood stove in one? I think it has several advantages in winter. Warmth is huge, but also being able to dry you clothing, I can pack less emergence layers if i know i can dry out in the evenings. Cooking on it is great, melt all the snow you want, have that 5th cup of tea, or warm up a tortilla! Also it works well to dry you tent quickly in the morning. It does not work well to get you out of the tent in the morning, unless you run out of wood. In addition they fit well on packrafts.

    Do you remember what they said about pyramid tent in The Complete Walker, I think it was something about Hippies or Rasta’s.


  13. […] the shape become aggressively conical and the BT2 becomes miniature tipi shelter.  As I wrote a few years ago this lack of vertical corners facilitates windproofing, something the BT2 does exceedingly well.  […]

  14. […] This post from three years ago has proven to be one of my most popular, all time, and due to the volume of correspondence I receive on it and what I’ve learned since it is due for the an update.  What follows is the text of that post, amended and altered as needed.  There are still some gaps in my experience when it comes to this subject, but a number of most significant open questions or guesses I had back then have been answered definitively since. […]

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