Over the past two years, I have used the Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid XL in a wide range of environments around the world. Testing grounds have included Bolivia’s Altiplano and Cordillera Real, multiple trips in Tasmania’s rugged Southwest Wilderness, Wyoming’s Wind River range, and Colorado’s Rocky mountains. Here are my impressions of the shelter:
Specs (as per Mountain Laurel Designs Website)
Weight: 13.5 oz (Note: This is the weight of the current SoloMid XL. My model is a few years old, and weighs in at just under 12 oz).
- 9.2′ x 4’5″ / 2.85 m x 1.37 m (Note: My older version is 2 inches shorter at 9′ even)
- 40 + sq ft | 3.7 sq m
- 0.75 Cuben Fiber (Note: MLD also offer a 0.5 cuben version, which saves about an ounce and a half. However, in my opinion, the neglible weight saving is not worth the sacrifice in durability. Go with the 0.75 cuben or the very affordable silynylon version ($265)).
- Innernet: I also own the SoloMid Silnylon Innernet (10 oz / 283 gr) which I’ve used on a bunch of overnight hikes, but have yet to take on a multi-week trip. It would be a good sanity saving option for places like Scotland, Alaska and New Zealand during bug season. Otherwise, I prefer the significant weight saving of a simple polycro or tyvek groundsheet (1.5 oz). Alternatively, if I’m hiking in an environment which is quite exposed, windy, cold and/or the possibility exists to do a lot of cowboy camping, I will often combine the SoloMid XL with a lightweight bivy (7 oz – MLD Superlight or Katabatic Bristlecone).
I like the small footprint of the Solomid XL, and have found the setup to be easy and fast, (less than a minute); a real boon when hiking in inclement conditions. Other points of note:
- Top Peak Vent: I always keep this open. But I’m not really sure it makes that much difference in regards to minimizing condensation. Speaking of which……
- Condensation – Like all single wall shelters, condensation can be an issue with the SoloMid XL in certain environments. This can be mitigated to varying degrees by savvy campsite selection and leaving some space under the sides of the tent for increased ventilation (see Pitching below). In three season conditions when rain is unlikely, I’ll often leave the doors either partially, half or fully open. This can be done either by rolling up the sides and/or guying out the corner of one of the doors.
- Head Room – I’m 6’1″ and can sit up with head room to spare, though if I’m coming from a lying down position, my head does touch the sides of the shelter on the way up. This particularly holds true if I am using an inflatable mat such as the Therm-a-rest NeoAir Xlite or XTherm.
- Overhead gear hang loops: Very handy for extra head space when you are using a bivy.
- Dimensions: I’ve found the SoloMid XL to be an ideal size for both me and my gear. However, despite the “XL” at the end of the name, the SoloMid XL is not a big shelter. Indeed, personally speaking I wouldn’t want to go any smaller (i.e. the regular sized version). On that note, I can’t agree with MLD’s claim about the regular SoloMid being big enough “for you and all your gear…..even if you’re ‘6’5″.” Sure it would all fit, but for taller folks it would be a little on the tight side. Unless you are shorter than 5’9″, I would recommend going with the XL over the Regular size. It’s only 1 oz heavier and costs $10 more.
(Note: As mentioned in the Specs section, the new Solomid XL is 9’2″, as opposed to my older model which is 9′ even. This is a good move by MLD, and in my opinion the extra space/length is worth the slight weight increase).
In most conditions, I’ll set it up with short 6 in /15 cm adjustable guylines on the corners and side tie-out points. If high winds are on the cards, I’ll batten down the hatches, and peg the corners directly to the ground.
One or Two Pole setup?: The majority of the time I’ll use the one trekking pole setup referenced on the MLD website. However, when hiking in extreme conditions, I’ve found that the two pole inverted V configuration provides notably more stability in high winds. This was definitely the case during my recent 400 mile (643 km) route across Bolivia’s Altiplano, and despite not usually being a “trekking pole hiker”, I was glad I made the decision to take a couple of poles along, instead of the usual one.
Pole Size?: If using one pole, I’ve found a 140 cm model slightly offset at maximum extension does the trick. However, if you are employing the two pole set up, you will want to carry the 0.4 oz, six inch pole jacks as well (included with the shelter).
Thumbs up. Since early 2015, I have taken the SoloMid XL into some challenging environments (e.g. West Coast and Arthur Range in Tasmania; Fall trip in Wyoming’s Wind River Range; Bolivia’s Altiplano and Cordillera Real) and have consistently found it to shed high wind and heavy rain very effectively.
In regards to snow loading, as with any Pyramid tent, snow will eventually accumulate on the perimeter of the shelter, thereby decreasing the amount of space around the ends where your face and feet are situated. If it becomes an issue, there is nothing for it but to give it a periodic taptap when necessary.
After more than two years of usage, the 0.75 cuben material is still in great shape. The one thing I would note is the zipper, which on my most recent hike on the Altiplano in Bolivia, was periodically getting stuck. I attribute this to a combination of the sandstorms I was regularly encountering (i.e. dirt and grit caught between the zippers teeth), as well as the cumulative stress on the materials from many nights out in the boonies. Upon returning home I gave it a clean and applied some zipper care lube, which seems like it did the trick.
Value for Money
Anything made of cuben fiber is not going to be cheap. That said, compared to other cuben shelters on the market, the $440 MLD SoloMid XL (0.75 cuben) is relatively affordable. It is well constructed, sports quality materials, is made in the US, and most importantly, does what it is supposed to out in the field. I would say that it represents good value for money. However, if the price tag still seems a bit steep, consider opting for the $265 silnylon version, which is only 3.5 oz heavier than the cuben version.
The Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid XL is an excellent option for minimalist hikers that enjoy venturing into challenging environments. The materials, design and workmanship are all top notch, and it holds up like a champ when the elements are raging. Indeed, in regards to storm worthiness-to-weight ratio, I don’t think there are many shelters to match it. I expect I’ll continue to use it for the foreseeable future, however, I’ll probably upsize to the more spacious MLD DuoMid for future winter excursions.
Disclosure: I was given the MLD SoloMid XL free of charge in exchange for feedback from the field. I was under no obligation to do a review of the product, and the opinions expressed are my own.