Bear Paw PyraTent 2 Review: minimal shelter, big on space
Bear Paw Wilderness Designs’ PyraTent 2 is an ultralight, two person pyramid-style tarp, that doubles as a solo shelter with palatial space for stashing gear.
For those unfamiliar with the name, Bear Paw Wilderness Designs is one of several small scale, ‘cottage industry’ tarp manufacturers that populate the internet, companies that have long been popular amongst thru-hiking circles – the driving force behind the ultralight movement. More recently, these brands – including Z Packs, Hyperlite, 6 Moon Designs, Mountain Laurel Designs and Tarptent – have begun to percolate into the consciousness of weight-saving bikepackers. The PyraTent 2 is just one of a number of minimal shelters BPWD offers, this model being a variation of a traditional ‘pyramid’ shaped tarp, with a wider footprint and a slightly lower stance for improved wind protection.
Similar to most of the other brands listed, the PyraTent comes in a choices of two materials. The one I tried was made from a .74 oz, mid weight Cuben Fiber, considered more hardwearing than lighter gauges. In case you haven’t come across it, Cuben (or Dyneema, as it’s now officially called) is an ultralight, largely tear-proof material first developed in the early 90s for sailcloths. It’s also extremely expensive – BPWD also offers the exact same design in silnylon for a little over half the price, a good indication of just how much the fabric itself costs.
So why spend the extra $170? For a start, Cuben packs down incredibly small, and is crazy light – at 16oz (.45kg), the Cuben PyraTent weighs a whole 8oz (227g) less than the silnylon version. Even better – especially given that single skin tents are always prone to condensation – Cuben doesn’t retain water, so it won’t sag at night, or wet out. A quick flap of the tarp is generally enough to flick off most of the moisture in the morning. The material itself is non-woven, and completely waterproof once seams are taped. Cuben is also far easier to repair than silnylon. The melting point is lower, however, so don’t cook inside unless you have a stove jack.
Price wise, you’ll also need to factor in the cost of an adjustable pole, which will set you back an additional $55, plus eight to twelve stakes. I used a shortened version of a carbon pole from a Black Diamond Mega Light I already owned. BearPaw’s produce two of their own – a lightweight .625″ (16mm) diameter pole (9oz/255g), or a burlier .742″ (19mm) diameter pole (11oz/312g) for extreme conditions. Both have a 6″ adjustment tube that uses a push button for fine tuning the height. Of course, hikers can use their trecking poles and if you’re camping in forests, you can always save some weight by hanging the top from a branch.
In terms of pitching, ‘mid style tarps are remarkably quick and easy to set up. First, peg out all four corners – the closer you can get to right angles, the better. Then, zip the tarp open and hook in the pole. If it’s adjustable, which I’d recommend, you can then fine tune the PyraTent to the height you’re after. A lower stance is best for windier conditions or cooler temps, while a higher one promotes more airflow, and creates extra internal space. The rest of the pitching points can then be pegged down and adjusted using the 8 Line-Locs. If need be, the center panels can be tied out too, both adding to the internal space, and offering more stability in high winds.
Aside from the easy pitch, another of my favorite aspects of a pyramid shelter is its palatial space. Once you’re used to it, it’s hard to go back to a standard two skin, coffin-style tent, especially given a ‘mid’s tiny pack size and minimal weight. Granted, the low angled walls limits usable space – the sides themselves are best used for stowing gear. But still, you’ll be amazed by how much room there is.
Despite its height and generous headroom (up to 60in/152cm at its highest point), the PyraTent is amply stable in blustery conditions, thanks to both the pyramid shape, which shrugs off wind, and the extra guy points half way up each panel. I expect it would shed snow well too, meaning 4 season camping is within its abilities. The main downside, like all tarps, is that it can’t be set up free standing. Compared to a standalone tent, you’ll need to peg it down firmly to create the necessary tension required for a good pitch. Only on rocky terrain can this be an issue – tying it off with rocks, shrubs and overhead branches works in a pinch. Also, as a general observation, single skin tarps aren’t as warm as traditional two skin tents, though I camped in it down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18c), with a 10 degree bag and a bunch of layers.
In keeping with its minimal ethos, the PyraTent is floorless – making, in my opinion, for a richer outdoor experience. To protect my air mattress, I use a piece of cheap and lightweight Tyvek, cut to size. If you’re expecting prolonged camping on soggy ground, a bathtub floor could certainly be useful – BPWD offers various models. The PyraTent I tested included the addition of a mesh skirt ($50), which proved very effective at keeping mozzies at bay. Other options include a fully enclosed bug net that can be hung inside ($125), if critters are a concern. Although this adds to the overall weight (10-18oz, or 280-510g depending on chosen material), the fact that it’s modular means it can be left at home when not required. Personally, I’ve never felt the need for one; a mesh skirt has always been fine, with minimal extra weight and increase in pack size.
Also worth noting is that Bear Paw Wilderness Designs can place the entry zipper on the side, rather than at the front, as pictured. Although this is undoubtedly better for accessibility – tent dwellers don’t have to climb over each other to get out – I have to admit to appreciating the widescreen panorama a ‘front door’ affords.
As if these possibilities weren’t enough, BPWD has an exhaustive list of extra options, allowing you to tweak the PyraTent 2 to the exact spec you’re after, including a snow skirt and a stove jack for winter camping. The company’s owner, John Stulz, is always open to custom mods too.
- WEIGHT (WITHOUT POLE and STAKES)20.5oz (590g) with perimeter netting /16oz (454g) without
- PACKED SIZEApprox 10x6in (25x15cm)
- PITCHED SIZE80″(L) x 106″(D) x 54″ to 60″(H) (203x269x137 to 152cm)
- PRICE $430 (+$50 for perimeter netting)
- PLACE OF MANUFACTURE Colorado, USA
- CONTACT BearPaw Wilderness Designs
The world of tarps is dizzyingly large and varied; within it, I’d consider the PyraTent to be amongst my favourites. Personally, I favor pyramid style designs over flat tarps – they’re easier to pitch, and they offer better protection from the elements, even if the wind changes. Compared to freestanding, traditional tents, there are inevitable compromises to be considered. But given a Mid’s simplicity, durability, spaciousness, and low weight, it’s an exchange I’ll willingly make. And remember, this is effectively four season-worthy too, unlike the majority of ultralight two skin contenders.
In terms of interior space, there’s no shortage of headroom – claustrophobics will breathe a sigh of relief – and plenty of length too. At 6’1”, I didn’t come close to grazing either end with my head or the bottom of my sleeping bag. As such, the PyraTent 2 is a compelling option for both the solo bikepacker who wants a tonne of room for gear, or for a couple seeking a perfectly spacious yet minimal setup.
As for pricing, $430 for a simple, single skin tarp doesn’t sound cheap by any means – and that’s before you even factor in possible additions. In reality, it’s actually good value, given Cuben’s extremely high cost – Bear Paw’s pricing jumped up this year to reflect its unfortunate increase. Don’t forget though, there’s a more affordable $260 silnylon version too, which at 24oz (680g) for the base model, is still very light.
The PyraTent 2 was borrowed from a friend for this review; it was used in New Mexico and winter camping in Minnesota.
Please pass it along...