Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo II Shelter

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo II Shelter in the High Uintas Wilderness

1 pound, 12.5 ounces (tarp, inner tent, beak, and stuff sack.)

5.5 ounces (12 aluminum stakes and small stuff sack.)

Total packed weight of full tent with 12 stakes:  34 ounces (2 pounds, 2 ounces)

The Echo II from Hyperlite Mountain Gear is my latest backcountry shelter.  It’s a hybrid tarp/tent made mostly from lighweight Cuben fiber material.

I’ve been using the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo II shelter for a couple of months now.  I’ve slept in it for about 10 nights.  Not enough time for a long term test, but enough to have a pretty good feel for the qualities and limitations of this tent.  Durability so far has been very good.  I haven’t poked any holes in it or otherwise damaged it.  Signs of wear are minimal.

The Echo II is made of three pieces, a rectangular tarp, an inner tent with the top made from bug netting and the floor and lower sections made from solid material, and a “beak” which closes off the front, creating a vestibule and providing shelter from wind and rain.  You can pitch the tarp by itself, or along with the beak if you want to.  However, I have always used the three pieces together.    The tent is well constructed, with reinforced stress points and excellent stitching and quality throughout.  I’m especially happy that I don’t have to do any seam sealing myself, a task that I hate.  The Echo II is waterproof straight from the manufacturer.   Another plus is that the stuff sack supplied with the tent is sized large enough that it isn’t a struggle to get the tent packed away  (unlike some manufacturers, who provide a stuff sack that is just too small to be practical.)

Set up requires two trekking poles and 12 stakes.  That’s a lot of stakes compared with your typical free standing tent, but the overall weight of the Echo II is light enough that it doesn’t really matter.  Set up is relatively simple, particularly because I generally keep the inner net tent already hooked up to the tarp, which speeds assembly. Unlike a typical pyramid tarp, there’s a fair amount of lattitude with where you position the stakes.  So, if there’s a rock that prevents pounding a stake in where you put it initially, you can just place the stake a bit closer or nearer and add or take in slack by means of the guyline and tensioner.  As long as the stake is at the correct angle, the exact distance to the tarp is not critical.

I’ve found that the easiest way for me to erect the tent is to stake out the tarp first, then insert the trekking poles, then re-position and re-tension the stakes as necessary.  Getting the tent up in a high wind can be a bit of a challenge when working alone.  With two people working together, it’s not too bad.   The adjustable cord tensioners used to adjust the length of the guylines are simple to use and they don’t slip.

Living space is adequate for two people.  For one person, the Echo II is very spacious.  The “beak” vestibule provides adequate covered protection for shoes, backpack, etc.  The netting inner tent is attached to the outer tarp in such a way as to maximize interior space and minimize drooping.

I have only used the Echo II in summer conditions, although these were mountain summer conditions, which included a fair amount heavy rain, some sleet, and moderate winds.  I stayed completely dry throughout heavy rain, including one storm where it rained heavily for about 5 hours, accompanied by gusty winds.    I have not experienced really really high winds in the Echo II, but given the number of stakes holding it down, I’m optimistic that it would do at least as well as other lightweight tents I’ve used.  If I were expecting very heavy winds, I would pitch the tarp low to the ground to minimize wind getting underneath the tent as much as possible.

Condensation with the Echo II is minimal.  The ventilation afforded by the tarp design and all the netting fabric on the interior has meant that I haven’t really encountered any condensation issues at all.

One of the great things about Cuben fiber fabric (other than its light weight) is the fact that it doesn’t stretch out when it gets wet.  Syl nylon fabric tends to stretch quite a bit, which means that you need to re-tension a syl-nylon tent regularly, especially when it’s raining.  The Echo II, however, doesn’t have any stretch at all to the cuben fiber fabric, which is great, because a heavy rain is the time when you least feel like messing around with tensioning your tent guylines.  With the Echo II, you get the tent nice and taut when you pitch it, and then it stays nice and taut all night long.

One of the limitations of Cuben fiber is that it tends to be kind of bulky.  I think that this additional bulk is due primarily to the fact that Cuben fiber fabric has a fair amount of “memory” so it tends to keep its shape more than syl nylon or other lightweight fabrics.  This leads to additional bulk.  However, you can minimize this bulk by compressing the tent like you would a sleeping bag.  I fold the tent up, put it in the stuff sack, and then I sit on the tent for a minute or so, squashing it flat.  Sitting on the tent reduces the volume by about half, and because of the “memory” of the fabric, once compressed, it doesn’t really bulk up again, but rather stays flattened, taking up much less pack space.

Overall, the Echo II is the best 3 season shelter I’ve used.  There are some that are lighter.   A floorless pyramid tarp, for example, is lighter than the Echo II.  However, with a floorless pyramid, you sacrifice bug-resistance, and you give up the wet weather comfort of having a floor on the tent.  I tend to get significant condensation in most of the pyramid designs I’ve used too.  For me, the Echo II strikes the perfect balance between light weight, protection, and comfort.  For three season camping, it is my new favorite tent.

Note:  Hyperlite Mountain Gear has made me one of their “Ambassadors.”  I don’t get paid for this, but I do occasionally get prototype gear to test, and occasionally can buy gear at discounted prices.  The Echo II, however, I paid full retail price for.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ice Pack

Ice Pack in the Cascades

The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ice Pack is a lightweight alpine pack that I have been using lately for big days and light overnights in the mountains.

The ice pack is about 40 liters (2,400 cubic inches) in capacity, and can hold everything I need for a day of ice climbing or winter alpine climbing day trips. When packing carefully, I have used it on overnight climbs as well.

The Ice Pack is very light weight. In a size large frame, it weighs 2 pounds, 1.3 ounces. It is stripped down to the essentials, with a roll-top closure instead of a lid, and no useless frills.  The pack is made from a Cuben fiber material that keeps the weight down.

The suspension on this pack is simple, but very effective. The frame is made from two lightweight aluminum stays, coupled with a lightly padded back panel. The hip belt is also lightly padded, and does a good job of transferring weight to the hips.  The suspension allows me to carry loads in the 40 pound range comfortably, and I don’t have aching shoulders, back, or neck at the end of the day.

This pack is different from most in that it does not have “load lifter” straps that run from the shoulder straps to the top of the pack to keep the pack pulled into your back. The Ice Pack relies solely on the shoulder straps to keep the load in balance and snugged tightly to your back. Because of this, getting the right fit is critical. On most packs, the shoulder straps are designed to come a bit below your shoulders, and wrap around them. On this pack, however, you want the shoulder straps to be level with the crest of your shoulders. (Make sure that this is with the pack fully loaded, and with the aluminum frame stays bent to shape.)  The Ice Pack comes in 4 sizes to accommodate different back lengths.

With the proper fit, this pack carries really well. With the shoulder straps comfortably snug, the pack sticks to your back like glue, and I haven’t had any issues with the pack shifting around while climbing. I’ve climbed multi-pitch technical rock and ice routes in this pack, and I just forget I’m wearing it.   The pack has a couple of side compression straps, which allow for scrunching down the pack to adjust for smaller loads.  There is also a very effective top mounted compression strap system that allows you to compress the load from the top.  This top compression strap system can also be used for securing a climbing rope.  I also use it for strapping on my climbing helmet.

The pack has a number of climbing-specific features that distinguish it from the company’s other pack offerings, which are geared more towards ultralight backpacking.  There are well designed ice tool holders that will accept traditional or leashless tools.  There is also a crampon patch on the back of the pack, with an elastic bungee cord to hold the crampons on with.  I haven’t had good luck with this elastic bungee cord, however.  The clip buckles broke almost immediately, rendering the attachment insecure.  I eventually just cut off the elastic bungee cord, and replaced it with a couple of pieces of webbing and fastex side release buckles.   The pack’s waist belt has sewn on gear loops which are useful for racking gear.  You can also add ice screw clippers to the hipbelt for additional ice-screw racking options.  When you’re carrying a light load and don’t want the belt at all, you can also strip the waist belt off completely.

My biggest concern when I first got this pack was the lack of a traditional top pocket.  In lieu of a top pocket, the pack closes with a simple roll-top closure like that on a dry bag.    My habit has always been to store a bunch of stuff in the top pocket, to make it easier to get to during the climb.  Initially, I wasn’t sure whether I could live without a top pocket.   In actual use, however, I’ve found that I don’t really miss the top pocket.  I put stuff I may need while on the route in a separate lightweight ditty-bag that I just keep near the top of the pack.  This keeps me organized, and getting to this ditty bag doesn’t take significantly more time or effort than accessing a top pocket.

In actual use, the only feature I really miss on the Ice Pack is a hole in the pack to allow the tube on my hydration bladder to exit the pack.  However, I called the good folks at Hyperlite and explained my needs to them, and they agreed to add a hole in the pack above the shoulder strap to allow me easier use of my hydration bladder.  (This is one of the reasons I like gear from small companies.  They tend to have outstanding customer service and are often willing to go the extra mile to keep their customers happy.)

So far, the Ice Pack appears reasonably durable.  After several climbing trips, hikes, and cragging, the fabric shows no real signs of wear.  It seems quite well made, with well-constructed seams and reinforced stress points.

Ice Pack accommodates a 3 day load if you pack carefully

The obvious competitors for the Ice Pack are the non-woven dyneema worksacks from Cilogear.   I’ve owned and used Cilogear’s 45 liter NWD Worksack for several years now and it’s been my go-to alpine pack due to its light weight and excellent carrying qualities.  Some comparisons between the 45L Worksack and the Hyperlite Ice Pack follow:

I prefer the suspension and frame of the Ice Pack.  The twin aluminum stays are lighter than the plastic/aluminum frame sheet of the Cilo Gear pack, and still work very well to control the load and transfer the weight of the load to the hips.   I feel like the simple, no-load-lifter shoulder strap design of the Ice Pack makes the pack perform better when climbing, and it shifts around less when moving.

The Cilogear’s floating top lid design is more conducive to overstuffing the pack.  For times when you want to overload the pack on the approach, the Cilogear pack design allows for greater expansion of volume.  The Cilogear is also a larger pack all around (45 liters vs 40 liters nominal volume.)   You can overstuff the Cilogear pack to carry 60 liters of more, but this isn’t an option with the Ice Pack.

The Ice Pack is substantially lighter than the Cilo 45L NWD Worksack.  The Cilogear pack weighs 2 pounds 11..6 ounces for the  pack body, foam-pad, hip belt, lid, and 4 compression  straps.  The plastic/aluminum frame sheet adds another 16.2 ounces to that total.   In contrast, the Ice Pack weighs only 2 pounds, 1.3 ounces including the integral aluminum frame stays.

So, which is better?   Well, that depends on how much space I need.  If I can comfortably fit my gear into 35-40 liters of space, I prefer the Ice Pack.  I think it carries better both on the trail and on the climb and it is lighter.   It is the best pack I’ve used so far for light alpine climbing.  For day climbs and light overnights, the Ice Pack is my new first choice.

However, for those times when 40 liters isn’t quite enough, I will still be going to my Cilogear worksack.  Sometimes, I can’t squeeze all my stuff into 40 liters, and the Ice Pack’s limited expansion capability makes it suitable solely to light and fast endeavors.

One place where the Ice Pack clearly has the Cilogear NWD Worksacks beat is on price.  The Ice Pack retails for $260, which is significantly less than the comparable offerings from Cilogear.

Overall, I am extremely pleased with the Ice Pack.  For the kind of climbing I like to do, it’s pretty close to the ideal pack.

Note:   I initially received an Ice Pack for review free of charge.  However, I liked it so much, I went out and bought one with my own money (at retail price,) because I didn’t want to be without it in the event that I was asked to return my review pack.