Six Moon Designs Deschutes Review: modular minimalism
Keen to try a tarp but fearful of critters, ticks and things that go bump in the night? The Six Moon Designs Deschutes is an ultralight solo tarp that’s easily transformed into a more conventional tent, courtesy of an optional bug net. We take one into the wilds and live to tell the tale…
Two-skin, geodesic tents have long established themselves as the go-to setup for many bikepackers and hikers, especially those who view tarps with an air of suspicion. But the reality is that shifting away from a traditional camping setup to a more minimal shelter is a fantastic opportunity to save space, weight, and often money too.
For those who remain undecided, Six Moon Designs’ Deschutes is an option that effectively straddles both worlds. Its ‘mid-style design offers easier pitching and better protection from the elements than a flat tarp. And its optional Serenity Net can be quickly clipped in, lulling arachnophobes into a restful night’s sleep. What’s more, the complete package weighs in at around 670g (counting the non-included pole and tent stakes) and at $285 in cost, translates into good value for money – though you’ll need to factor in the cost of a pole and tent stakes too if you don’t have them.
Note that the Deschutes reviewed in this post has since been modified to include a longer front zipper and a top vent. And note too that there’s a 450g Deschutes Plus available, the same tarp with mesh skirt sewn in around its perimeter.
Described as a ‘lean, mean, no frills, down and dirty shelter for ultralight hikers on the move’, the Deschutes was never designed to be a luxurious enclave. Still, at 6’1″, I was pleasantly surprised by the space inside; there’s ample room to sit up straight, which is always a personal requirement after a long day in the saddle, and there’s room for stowing gear too, particularly in the cheese-shaped corners. The latest incarnation of the Deschutes also features a longer zip than the one pictured, which will no doubt make entering and exiting less of a hands-on-knees affair. Keen to enjoy the view? The door can also be tucked out of the way when not required. As for durability, the fact the zipper runs in a straight line bodes well for its longevity and makes it easier replace than the ones in curved geodesic designs, should it wear out.
In terms of water resistance, the tarp comes either non-seam sealed, with instructions on how to do so yourself, or ready to tackle the elements, for an additional $20. Although mine has stood up well to rainstorms, its 30D silnylon construction means that you’ll need to take care not to press anything against its internal walls if they wet out, unless you’re running the Serenity NetTent too, or a minimal bivy bag. Silnylon also has a tendency to sag – unlike its more expensive counterpart, Cuben Fiber – so benefits from being adjusted once in a while to keep the pitch taut. There’s two attachment guy points to the rear, which help open the tarp up internally, as well as providing more stability during blustery winds. These really help; it’s a shame there’s no third guy point in the middle of the rear panel to do the same.
Once well versed with its ways, the Deschutes is quick and easy to pitch. It’s a process that takes no more than a few minutes, achieved by first pitching it loosely to the ground, then pressing the pole into its apex to provide height and structure. At the front, a slip knot system either allows the Deschutes to have a ‘beak’, or to be pitched all the way down. Not that I’ve had any problems so far but for extended durability, I’d like to have seen a reinforcing patch where the pole presses into the fabric. The pole itself can be positioned in such a way as to lower or raise the whole tent. Lower is good for high winds, higher is good for extra ventilation and space. I tend to pitch mine low in New Mexico, as wind rather than condensation are the issues. Hikers can, of course, make use of their trekking poles. I used an Easton tent pole I already owned, but 6 Moon Designs will sell you a carbon one for $30 (49″/124 cm, 1.9 oz/54 g). At around 40cm, pole segment length is reasonable too for packing.
As for the Serenity NetTent, I found its canopy design more spacious and airy than I expected, despite that fact that it consumes internal real estate. Once the tarp is pitched it’s straightforward to add in, snapping into five corners and hanging from the top. There’s a bathtub style floor that keeps water a bay, though I’d have preferred the zipper to run higher off the ground, to lessen the chance of tracking in dirt and dust. Whether or not you feel cramped inside the Serenity NetTent depends on how high you pitch the Deschutes and how thick a sleeping mat you use. Given that it has vertical walls that extend 9in in height, it’s not an insert that’s especially well suited to thick air mattresses. It’s 7′ long, so I didn’t find any issues in terms of length.
Really though, it’s the versatility that this modular system will bring to your adventures that stands out most. In northern New Mexico, for instance, I generally just pack the tarp and a piece of Tyvek as a groundsheet, to protect me from wind or unexpected rain. I’ll add in the Serenity NetTet for peace of mind if I’m headed further south – where rattlesnakes and scorpions may lurk, imaginary or otherwise – or if I’m headed to damp locales where I’m expecting condensation, as it provides a nice barrier between the foot of my down sleeping bag and the wall of the tarp. If I’m promised clear, starry nights but I’m feeling distrustful of ticks, then pitching the Serenity NetTent alone if a great option, as it guarantees fabulous nighttime vistas. And, being so light and packing down so small, I don’t begrudge carrying the weight of either, should I decide to simply roll out a piece of Tyvek and sleep on that.
So what the catch? Really, there isn’t much. As a system, I could argue it offers less cosiness than the likes of a more cocoon-like Big Agnes. As intuitive as it is, fitting the net insert takes some scrabbling around in the dirt to clip in all the points. And given all the mesh, I’d certainly consider the Deschutes and Serenity NetTent combo to be a three season setup. Being non-freestanding, it also benefits from a taut pitch in high winds. But even on hard ground, I’ve never had a situation where I haven’t been able to pitch it securely, as long as there are bushes, rocks, or my bike to hand.
In damper climates, care needs to be taken not to press your sleeping bag or your clothes against the walls of the tarp. If you’re expecting a lot of condensation, you could also pair the Deschutes with a minimal bivy bag. This would provide a different take on a modular setup, one more suited to Northern Europe, perhaps.
- Packs super small and weighs little
- Good 360 degree protection from the elements
- Lots of internal height, even with Serenity NetTent
- A great way to substantially decrease the bulk of your camping setup without breaking the bank
- Modularity = Versatility
- Not quite as cosy as a traditional two skin design in foul weather
- Would benefit from a guy point on the rear panel.
- Care needs to be taken not to press your clothes or sleeping bag against the walls when there is condensation.
- Price (Deschutes Tarp) $165 (excluding pole, stakes and seamsealing)
- Weight (Deschutes Tarp) 370g (13oz)
- Pack size (Deschutes Tarp) 10″ X 5″
- Price (Serenity NetTent)$120
- Pack size (Serenity NetTent) 10″ X 5″
- Weight (Serenity NetTent) 200g (11oz)
- Colors Grey
- Place of manufacture China
- Contact SixMoonDesigns.com
Unless I’m expecting especially heavy weather, the Deschutes has been my go-to shelter for weekend campouts, especially if I’m undecided as to whether I’ll sleep out under the stars, or need extra protection from the elements, should the wind pick up or rain start to fall. Concerned about critters? When conditions dictate, just snap the Serenity NetTent in and sleep worry free. Once sampled, I expect many solo bikepackers would find camping in open floor tarps a very enjoyable outdoor experience and a change from a more claustrophobic, two-skin counterpart. Call it a stronger connection to Mother Earth…
Unlike flat tarps, the Deschutes provides 360-degree protection from the elements. Internal space and height are also very appealing for taller folk – despite its minimal weight, the Deschutes is no coffin. My niggles are relatively small; I’d like a reinforced patch of material where the tent pole presses the top of the tarp, as well as an extra guy point at the back.
All in, the Deschutes/Serenity NetTent combo is an affordable, modular setup that I’d highly recommend, especially with its recent updates over the model I own. It’s certainly a great way of shedding much of the packing bulk of a geodesic design, with fewer compromises than you might expect.
Do you have a Deschutes? Let us know where you’ve used it and if you like it. Or tell us about other equivalents you’d recommend!