The ‘mid I’ve been looking for

Disclaimer: Seek Outside gave me the shelter discussed below for free in exchange for feedback.

[12/2016 update: the BT2 is now the Silvertip, with modest but significant revisions which make it more friendly to taller folks, and more likely to pitch with one long trekking pole.]

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It’s illustrative to think back to the first “cottage” shelter I purchased, one of the first MLD Trailstars, in September of 2009. I was still so little initiated in the ultralight world that I emailed Ron Bell about making one of 70D sil, to which he in essence replied “what the hell for?”  That shelter hung around the closet for a long time, eventually going down the road some time in 2011 or 2012, mostly due to the large footprint, awkward pitch, and modest interior space.

The Trailstar made it’s name with an unmatched weight to wind resistance ratio, and it survived what is still the windiest night I’ve ever spent outside remarkably quietly once I had it well staked.  That windproofing doesn’t just come from good construction, though that it a big part of it, but from a low and aerodynamic shape.  The conundrum is how to approach that degree of windproofing while also having good snow shedding abilities, traits which in ‘mids and tarp shelters seem to be at odds, especially when you introduce the further contradictory requirements of having a relatively small footprint and at the same time decent interior living space.  Oh, and it’d be nice to seal out those pesky drafts along the bottom, while still keeping the ability to raise the hem and vent as needed.

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Thankfully, it is now 2015, and Seek Outside managed to balance all of the above in the Beyond Timberline 2 person tipi, more simply known as the BT2.

The BT2 is as simple and stripped down as possible.  Seek Outside calls it “a purpose built ultralight, storm worthy, backpacking  shelter to help you to go lighter and go further in difficult terrain” and this is a good starting point for analysis.  It’s made of 30D silnylon, which has rightfully become the standard modern shelter fabric.  It’s a symmetrical hexagon, 64 inches (162cm) tall at the peak when pitched tight to the ground.  It is 108 inches wide zipper to zipper (or corner to corner), and 96 inches side to side.  It has a double-reinforced apex cone of DX40 (read: massively puncture resistant) with interior and exterior hang loops, dual doors which open via #8 non-waterproof metal YKK zippers (read: the smoothest, strongest zipper made), with sliders at both the top and bottom.  The zipper flap is a piece of 2″ grosgrain webbing with three velcro patches to keep it closed.

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The tieouts on the BT2 are worth mentioning.  They’re basic loops of 1/2″ webbing, sewn into cordura reinforcement patches on both the inside and outside, and you’ll find a loop on both the inside and outside of the tent.  You’ll also find them places 4″ up from the bottom edge of the shelter.

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This feature is significant for two reasons.   If you stake the BT2 down with the exterior loops, as is most natural, and especially if you use all twelve of the loops, the extra 4″ of silnylon will be tucked under into the interior of the shelter, forming a sod cloth or snow flap which is totally effective in sealing out all wind, as well as almost all flying insects.  Every other mid I’ve owned was cursed by massive drafts in cold winds when there was not enough snow on the ground to pile up over the bottom edge.  Seek Outside has solved this problem in a simple fashion which adds almost no weight to the shelter, and almost no complexity (read: $$) to the production process.  If you want ventilation, stake the shelter using the interior loops, and raise the pole a bit.  If you want more ventilation, extent some of the loops with a bit of cord.

Kevin Timm of Seek Outside also told me, a while ago, that the sod cloth feature helped solve another problem with silnylon shelters; sagging when wet.  Because the tie points are not loaded along a sewn and stretch-less seam, a greater degree of elasticity is preserved within the shelter system, and sagging after a night of rain is much reduced.  It is not eliminated, but I’d estimate that it is reduced by around 50%.  After a night of hard rain a further 1/2″ or so of height in the center pole brings the BT2 back up to ideal tautness.

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Pitching the BT2 is not as fast as with a square or rectangular mid, but it is darn close.  The basic hexagonal pitch shown above is the default, and good for any sort of “normal” weather.  Stakes the non-zippered corner points in a rectangle with a hair of slack between each point, insert pole and tension, stakes zipper corners, then bring pole to complete tension, and done.  A ~1 minute solo pitch is easily done after the first few attempts.

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The BT2 has mid-panel stake points throughout, and by using each of theses and pulling them tight after the initial pitching 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.  It equals the MLD Solomid in this area, and comes darn close to the Trailstar, while providing a lot more interior space.  Thus far the winter of 2014-15 has not cooperated and given me a big snowstorm on a trip, but I’m confident the BT2 will do just fine in that area.

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All that said, it’s important to bear in mind that the BT2 is not a large shelter, nor designed to be a palace for playing cards and waiting out weather.  For one comparison, see the above photo and know that I’m 5’11”. For another, consider that the 108″ corner to corner length of the BT2 is equal to the actual width of the BD Megalight (BD still modestly claims 86″, which accurately reflects the useable width), the length of the MLD Solomid, and is just shy of the 103″ length of the old Golite Shangrila 2.  It’s well shy of the 110-140″ length of the Trailstar.  The BT2 is in it’s 96″ functional length shorter than almost all other comparable mids, a feat it accomplishes by keeping the walls steep.  I have plenty of space to avoid the walls with both the head and foot of my sleeping bag, but again I’m 5’11”.  If you are 6’5″ and sleep atop a 3″ air mat you might push the available length pretty close.

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At 25 ounces for the canopy, the BT2 is light enough and small enough to be a reasonable solo shelter in bad weather.  It fits two no problem, though with only modest room to spare.  Seek Outside makes a nice nest for the BT2 in case of serious bug pressure, but with the sod clothes most won’t need it.  A nice side benefit of the nest is that the walls are high enough, and set far enough from the shelter canopy, that you’re protected from condensation.

Condensation deserves a word, as it’s an inevitable fact of life in single wall shelters.  Vent properly, and anticipate conditions, and you should be able to avoid the worst of it.  The camp pictured immediately above was cold and close to a river, ideal moisture conditions.  It was also blowing 30-40 mph and gusting a bit of snow all night, so fully battening down the hatches and just venting the bottom of the down wind door about 8 inches kept it to a minimum.  The night before, pictured further up, was also close to a lot of water, had more modest winds, and a few torrential rain showers in the early morning.  I left both doors 1/3 open for most of the night, which gave me enough shelter when the rain came up and plenty of ventilation.  Proactive, thoughtful technique works much better than built in vents, which unless they’re really big (Shagrila 2, Seek Outside’s LBO) do just about nothing.

The BT2 is a backpackers shelter, not a campers tent.  It prioritizes function and has just enough convenience to not impede useability.  Beyond the foul weather performance, which I’ve found simply exceptional, I find the minimalist aesthetic hugely appealing.  Based on the first four months of use, I’d say that the BT2 is perfect, and haven’t found a single improvement to suggest to Seek Outside.  And that is a rare thing.

The downsides are minimal and inherent: it’s a floorless shelter, which some folks don’t like.  It requires a pole height which is taller than almost all trekking poles, thus requiring a paddle, specialized pole, or two poles lashed together.  It does not offer an excess of space or feel-good features.  It just offers function, and if that is what you like, you’ll probably want a BT2.  For 230 bucks and a bomber, made in the USA shelter, that is a bargain.

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40 thoughts on “The ‘mid I’ve been looking for

  1. Great timing. I almost snagged a used one of these yesterday, but I was too slow. Love the sod cloth/snow flap feature. How did the pitch work with the paddle? Been looking at taller mids for the some mountain packrafting trips and was planning to do the same.

  2. So you are using it as a solo-shelter, instead Solomid?
    Had long thoughts about BT2, but seems that for two people (in bad weather) it is too small, and for one it is too heavy.

    And the lack of top vent is a little confusing.

    1. I sold the Solomid because I found hitting my head on the tent difficult to avoid. In sil it may be lighter than the BT2, but it certainly doesn’t take up less space in the pack. Too heavy? Not for me.

  3. Interesting review.

    Almost snagged a BT2 myself last year, but went with Locus Gear instead. Although, I am considering picking up one of these just for the sole purpose of hot-tenting. Seek Outside has some of the best barigns around.

  4. Looks a simple and high function Mid dave. I sold my SL3 as the 15d material was suspect for me (had holes) and at times a faff pitching. So on a air mat at 6’2 will I be ok in this ? Been looking at my options to replace the SL3. Great insight and review post. Thanks.

      1. I was good all the way across Scotland. 2 weeks, lots of strong winds and rain. It took it all. Space so welcome. Fast to pitch, and so stable. One person using another mid was stunned by the stability of the BT2 vs his when we pitched up on a high glen in bad weather. This shelter is all you claimed and more.

  5. Dave – question regarding ventilation. Should there be heavy flying bug pressure and your are using the sod cloth (battening the ends down), how do you ensure there is enough ventilation without a top vent?

  6. I’ve been thinking about this shelter a lot since you reviewed, especially as a replacement for my Duomid. I love that shelter, but the one flaw that has been driving me crazy is the draftiness on a cool evening. So that (and a little extra space now that I’m inevitably packing lots of fishing gear), has me seriously looking at the BT-2.

    One concern: What are your thoughts on the lack of tie-outs mid-way up the height of the panels? I’m pretty comfortable letting go of a vent (especially when getting a second door), but those tie-outs seem like they’d be really useful–less in three-season conditions but definitely in the snow.

    Thanks Dave.

    1. I just don’t think the midpanels will add much snow shedding ability with walls this steep. For something like the Duo or Megalight they make more sense.

      You’re welcome to borrow it whenever you like.

  7. Bringing this thread back to life for an mid-term report.
    I was out with my several years old duomidish-sized shelter. At the time I had catenary curves all over my brain and added them to all sides of the panels. I.e. curved ground to apex seams – good for panel tension – and curved bottom edge – which may help with panel tension, but leaves a 20 cm gap between the ground and fabric center edge.

    Now, most of the time I don’t mind this at all, I often camp in wooden areas and when I’m out alone, with a really small flat tarp. So if there is wind-draft, I don’t mind – some of my friends though, do. As a sidenote, I’ve had zero problems with condensation with this shelter.

    Now I’m planning on adding tieout-points ~20 cm up from the corners to a tight seal against the ground. That would obviously minimize draft and also give me a snowpanel. The mid already has a huge top vent which should continue to cope with condensation.
    I aim to attach the tieout along the seam, Inside the tent, as that will only result in shear stress, instead of peel if placed on the outside. I will also leave the original tieouts as an alternative. Mid panel (low and center of panel) will stay the same.

    Question
    Any durability issues with the tieouts of the BT2 / your similar experiences? Comment on the idea? The seam is flat felled, but no extra material i present, unlike the original tieout, where I have a double or triple fabric triangle.

      1. Then I’d probably do best reinforcing them as well.

        I wrote my post yesterday based on memory, but when I re-read your text closely I noticed SO placed tieouts both inside and out. Do you still use only the outside one, keeping the sod cloth or snow flap inside the tent? I only intend to make either one. Original plan was on the inside based on stress direction, but in practice that might make be a minor positive compared to the practical aspect of having them on the outside.
        Also, most of the snow flaps I’ve seen on the major manufacturers tents are on the outside, but I have no experience on which will work better. I imagine unnecessary fabric wet out if the sod cloth is on the outside..

  8. Dave – Hope you’re getting along well. I can’t decide between this BT and the Cimarron. I’m 5’9″ 160lb when my hair is dry, and hunt primarily solo. I plan to run an 18″ Kifaru cyclinder stove. My concern is the BT is just too small for wood, stove, drying off clothes, laying out my gear, etc. It would also be nice to stand while I put my pants on in the Cimarron. I’m hesitant to add 14-16oz?? above the BT because I need to stay mobile. A camp chair like the Helinox is coming along and as you can see the weight is adding up. Which shelter would you recommend? If you could add your thoughts on camp chairs, that would also be appreciated.

    1. Mark, you certainly could fit all that in the BT2, but it’d be tight. You’d be sitting in the sleeping bag area, for instance, and definitely no standing. The LBO would definitely be big enough for chair, stove, and sleeping area to all be a bit separate. Not tall enough to stand, but a fair bit lighter than the Cimarron.

      I know almost nothing about camp chairs. I’m usually content sitting half lotus on the ground. When I worked wilderness therapy and spent a lot of time sitting I ran a thermarest chair kit with a thick CCF mat inside, which was a nice rig and doubled, under a thermarest, as a sleeping pad.

  9. Hi DaveC, hope all is fine! Your review is very helpful! However, Seek Outside stopped selling the BT2 and now ships a Silvertip. Would you consider it the same mid? And how would you compare the BT2 with a MLD supermid?

    Thanks!
    Sven

    1. The Silvertip is the new version of the BT2, I suggested the name. Changes were meant to improve living space and venting (needed) and even further improve windproofing (somewhat superfluous). MLD and SO compare well; they both sew at a high level and pay close attention to orienting fabric bias in a way that improves performance. Major difference b/t Silvertip and Supermid (which Ive never used) are the shape (square faster to pitch, less weatherproof) and sod skirt. Sod skirt is really nice for sealing out weather, but makes venting a bit less simple.

      1. Thanks Dave. I am a bit worried about the top ventilation. Let’s say there’s snowfall, and the bottom of the BT2 has been covered by snow, so there’s no ventilation possible from the underside. Will the ventilation be suboptimal? Would a duomid do better since it has a large top-vent? How would you ventilate the BT2 in this case? What are the worst winter conditions you would prefer this shelter for?

        You talk about a canopy of 25 oz. Is this including seam sealer? Would the Silvertip be a bit heavier? Seek Outside has emailed me the Silvertip probably weighs 27 oz including seam sealer.

        1. Venting in such a case was indeed problematic with the BT2; the added top vents on the Silvertip is meant to address exactly that.

          The Silvertip will stand up to winter weather a fair bit better than the Duomid. Taller so it sheds snow better, more ground level peg points, smaller panels for better wind shedding, and sod clothes for sealing out spindrift and gusts.

          1. Correction to my previous post, the Silvertip would weigh 26 to 27 oz without seam sealer (according to Kevin).
            Dave, I have the option to pick either a BT2 or a Silvertip. My height is 5’8”. Which one would you take? Weight is important to me, as is proper venting.

  10. Hey Dave, recently snagged a leftover BT2 on sale from Seek Outside based on the strength of your original review. Coming back to the post now for pitching tips, I see you’re leaning more toward the ST with its improved top vent. How important is that top vent if I’m mostly going out in 3 seasons, would you say?

    1. Venting can be important in the shelter like the BT2/Silvertip. Condensation will always be a concern in smaller singlewall shelters. We added the top vent to make this a bit easier in situations where you might not anticipate the need when you pitch it.

      For example, condensation is most problematic during rain or warm snow, when you can’t leave the doors open at all. In these situations it’s ideal to use cord (or the lineloc kit) to pitch the whole perimeter up a few inches for airflow, but sometimes the rain comes in the middle of the night when repitching higher is not practical. The vent is nice here, but not obligatory. When you have windy rain or snow, the BT2/Silvertips strength, venting is much less acutely needed.

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