mountain laurel designs

All posts tagged mountain laurel designs

I’ve been using Mountain Laurel Designs’ bug bivy for a little over a year now, and finding it to be an essential piece of my sleeping and shelter kit in spring and summer. I’ve used tarps for shelter for years, but it seems every year that the Maine black flies and mosquitoes have gotten worse and worse, making for several sleepless nights in the backcountry a few years ago. While the 7.3 oz (including cords) bivy offsets a lot of the weight savings from using an open tarp for shelter rather than an enclosed tent, I’ve found it well worth the extra weight.

The bug bivy in action in a Baxter State Park lean-to.

The bug bivy in action in a Baxter State Park lean-to.

The design is simple– a silnylon floor is connected to a no-see-um netting top, with a half-length zipper at the peak for entry. Grosgrain loops at the four corners allow for staking the bivy out, and two more loops at either end of the zipper can be used to hang the bivy from my tarp, or from lean-tos and shelters on the Appalachian Trail. There’s not much space in the bivy, but there’s enough that I can lay on my stomach, propped up on my elbows in order to read before going to sleep.

Setting up the bivy took some getting used to as well, but the learning curve is low. I stake out all the corners so the bivy is taut, then put my sleeping pad and sleeping bag in. I keep my little things (journal, headlamp, maps, and bag of extra things) next to my head inside the bivy. Once I’m ready to climb in for the night, I attach the hanging loops from the top of the bivy to hang loops on my tarp with a pair of stretch cords with plastic hooks (included with the bivy). I’ve placed cord locks at the bivy end of the stretch cord so that I can quickly adjust the tension of the hang before calling it a night. I still have to be careful when getting into the bivy, since it seems to attract dirt and leaves that I accidentally kick onto it, but you can avoid that with a little mindfulness.

The floor of the bivy is waterproof, but in cases where I expect very wet conditions, I’ll add 1.7 ounces with a Gossamer Gear polycryo ground cloth underneath the bivy.

In AT shelters, where staking the bivy to the ground would be a bad idea, I keep my heaviest items at the corners of the bivy in order to keep it weighted to the ground (not as sturdy as stakes, but it works well enough), and attach the hang cords to either hanging nails in the shelter, or I might gently wedge a stake between the logs of the shelter to make a hanging hook.

So far, the bivy has been worth its weight in gold, allowing me to sleep like a baby under my tarp or in shelters next to swampy ponds in Maine. Take that, mosquitoes and black flies!

MLD builds these to order, with wait times in the order of several weeks, so it might be too late to order yours for this year, but put it on your list for the next holiday season.

Disclosure: This bug bivy was a Christmas gift from a family member, purchased at full price from Mountain Laurel Designs.

Last summer I bought my first piece of Cuben Fiber, a ZPacks Blast Food Bag. Having never owned any Cuben Fiber gear, I just wanted to see what the stuff was like in person, rather than reading about it online. My end goal was to see if I wanted to try a shelter or tarp made of Cuben Fiber, which I’d been hoping to try for quite some time. My only real reservations were durability, since I’ve never met anyone with the lightest fabric for tents, and cost, since Cuben tents and tarps can be extremely pricey. The food bag from ZPacks is less than $30, so that seemed like a good investment. Judging by how many ZPacks Blast Food Bags I saw on the Appalachian Trail last month, it seems like almost every other hiker out there went this route as well.

This summer, a friend ordered some discounted Cuben Fiber from eBay and built a tarp for me to test out on the trail (named The Lupus, after his dog). That gave me even more time to observe the material in action, and I must say I’m nicely impressed with it.

The Lupus Tarp at work in the field.

The Lupus Tarp at work in the field.

First, the reasons I wanted to switch from a silnylon shelter (which I’ve been using for the past 8 years) to a Cuben Fiber shelter. Weight is actually not a part of the equation for me. Let me say that again, though, just to get that straight: even though a tarp with the same construction as my silnylon one would weigh about half as much in Cuben, that’s not at all why I wanted to upgrade.

Here are the reasons:
No Seam Sealing: Cuben Fiber sheets are glued together with an ultra-strong tape/glue rather than sewn. Sewn seams on silnylon leak over time, and silicone seam sealers break down over time. This was a problem for me on the Pacific Crest Trail, and has started to be a problem with my silnylon tarp. I’d rather never deal with seam sealing.
No Stretch: Silnylon is a stretchy material, which is actually kind of nice when trying to pitch the tarp very tightly. But the problem is that when the material gets cold, it stretches on its own, which means the nice, tight tent you pitched in the evening turns into a sagging, flapping mess when the temperature drops at night and the rain starts. Cuben Fiber has no stretch whatsoever, so the tight pitch stays tight.
Newer Construction: Okay, this isn’t actually a feature of Cuben Fiber, but I’ve been looking to get a new shelter to replace my trusty old tarp because I wanted newer features like Linelocks for better adjustments of guylines, a shaped tarp for more efficient set up, and catenary ridge line for a tighter pitch. I figured if I was going to get a new shelter, I might as well go with all the features I wanted.

ZPacks food bag, the most common piece of Cuben Fiber on the AT.

ZPacks food bag, the most common piece of Cuben Fiber on the AT.

The issue of durability, which is the major concern for most people, should be entirely laid to rest. The Blast Food Bag uses a very thick grade of Cuben (1.4 ounce/square yard) for maximum durability, and since the small bag doesn’t need to be incredibly light. The Lupus uses the lightest grade (0.5 oz/yd), the same that ZPacks uses for their shelters. The Lupus stood up to heavy winds without any issues with damage. I’m sure if a tree fell on it, there might be some issues, but then again I can think of more problems than the tent getting damaged in that case. After 8 years of using my silnylon tarp, there is no damage to that tarp, either, and the 0.5 ounce Cuben feels just as durable as the silnylon. If that doesn’t convince you, I’m a big fan of this video by Joe of ZPacks, demonstrating the puncture and tear resistance of silnylon and Cuben.

Note the lack of thread and stitching. Everything is glued, so there are no seams.

Note the lack of thread and stitching. Everything is glued, so there are no seams.

The Lupus, since it was Steve’s first attempt at making anything out of Cuben, isn’t a perfect shelter (I ended up reinforcing the tie-out loops by sewing them, which negates some of the benefit of the glued seams, but the major seams are still only glued), but it has been a wonderful experiment. It saved me almost $200 (the price of a similarly sized tarp from ZPacks) and has given me plenty of food for thought. In the future, I may pony up the high price of a professionally made Cuben shelter, either a larger tarp from Gossamer Gear, a tarp-tent like the Hexamid from ZPacks, or a Duomid from Mountain Laurel Designs. For now, though, I’m pretty happy with my Lupus tarp, which is likely to replace my old Silnylon Scout for general 3-season use.

Inside the Lupus.

Inside the Lupus.