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Four evolutions: Designing the High Route 1 FL Tent

After testing the second prototype of the High Route 1 FL Tent, we had settled on the core design. But to get all the small details right, which ultimately makes the difference between a promising concept and an iconic product, we burned through another two prototypes plus a handful of sample parts. Here’s our journey:

Gen 1

I first pitched Sierra Designs on what became the High Route Tent in August 2014. My goal was to develop a shelter that weighed and performed similarly to modular pyramids but avoided  pitfalls common to this design, such as low-angle walls, inconveniently positioned poles, and limited ability to ventilate without exposing the interior to falling precipitation.

With my crude sketch skills, I drafted a design that might fit the bill, below. The key feature is that the sleeping position is at a diagonal to the ridgeline.

Casey and I strung it up and sent the dimensions (for something slightly different) to our partner factory in Asia. A few weeks later this arrived:

This first attempt had two major flaws. First, it was very difficult to pitch due to the footprint’s odd angles. Most stakes had to be re-positioned at least once, which is annoying with good soil and a deal-breaker elsewhere. Second, because every wall was sloping downwards, it could not be vented well in rainy weather, when venting is needed most.

Gen 1.5

Before ordering another prototype, we made revisions in-house to Gen 1 in order to test two competing ideas. On one side we created a “pitch mode” using a side-release buckle. When the buckle was clasped, the vestibule volume was eliminated, giving the shelter a temporary rectangular footprint (assuming the other side would have the same feature); when the buckle was disengaged, the vestibule pleat could expand. This addressed the problematic pitch, but not ventilation.

On the other side of Gen 1, we cut out the vestibule entirely, creating a vertical side wall. This also created an easy-to-pitch rectangular footprint, but more cleanly. While we didn’t specifically solve the ventilation problem with Gen 1.5, we knew that we could on the next prototype, by adding peak vents.

Gen 2

After I returned from a multi-week test of Gen 1.5 in southern Utah, we ordered a second prototype, requesting that both sides have vertical walls and peak vents.

Product testing on the  Wind River High Route and in the Colorado Rockies, including a snowy big game hunt in mid-October, validated the vertical side door concept. The shelter was easy to pitch: stake out the four corners at 90-degree angles, insert the poles, and tension the ridgeline. And the ventilation was excellent: in mild conditions I could “porch” one or both doors; in high winds, ample ventilation was provided by the peak vents, footprint perimeter, and the upper half of the door (which could be opened with a double zipper and remain protected by the peak vent).

Alas, we were still not there yet. The shelter was just big enough for me, but lacked interior space for someone with a larger build, more gear, or crappier weather. My experience is that handkerchief-sized shelters look much better on paper than they perform in the field.

Gen 3

The dimensions of our final major prototype were palatial: a rectangular footprint measuring 4 x 9 feet and a maximum peak height of at least 4 feet. For comparison, many two-person “ultralight” tents have about the same amount of floor and vestibule area, and are not even as tall. It felt excessive, but the weight of the fly (about 20 oz) was acceptable, so it has remained this way.

We had speculated that Gen 3 might be almost final, so we also asked for a matching tent body (or bug nest, depending on your schooling). This component had its own issues that we would need to work through, like sizing, floor design, and materials.

The smaller details

Early in the process, our primary concern was the shape and size of the High Route Tent. But as those issues were settled, our attention shifted to the dozens of smaller details, many of which took a round or two of experimentation before it was designed or produced correctly.

The paneling had to be altered to get the tension right. The attachment system between the doors and the trekking poles required some ingenuity and problem-solving. And we deliberated between several peak vent options, like its size, angle, and tensioning system.

The final product

If you read or hear a claim that any shelter is “the best,” you should be immediately skeptical. No design is immune from tradeoffs: storm-worthiness, living space, ease of use, weight, and a handful of other qualities are often in direct conflict. In the High Route Tent, I think we accomplished my original goal with a very well thought-out design. We hope that it’s the right shelter for you.

Thumbnail Photo Credit: AJ Wells