See how this shelter rates with others in our Comparison Review of Tarps and Other Floorless Shelters
Table of Contents
- Product Performance
- Final Grade
Manufacturer’s Website: www.golite.com
*Minimum configuration tested by BPL.com:
GoLite’s Hex shelter is a two- to three-person floorless silnylon shelter. The 32 oz Hex withstood a night of rain, sleet, hail and 40-50 mph wind gusts, completely exposed on a ridge at over 12,000 feet. Our reviewers woke up in the morning warm and completely dry. They then cooked breakfast*, dressed, and packed up their gear, all inside the shelter of the Hex, before taking it down last thing before they left camp. We can’t think of another shelter as versatile, roomy, light, and weather-resistant as the Hex. It may be the ultimate three- or even four-season shelter for minimalist backpackers or climbers.
At $249 for the basic configuration, the Hex is similar in price to most two- and three-person tents and costs much less than most if not all of the fancier freestanding three- and four-season tents.
*Note: Silnylon is extremely flammable. Cooking took place in the shelter at our reviewer’s discretion. GoLite and BackpackingLight.com do not recommend or endorse cooking inside a silnylon shelter.
Weight and Interior Room
The Hex, at 2 lb in its minimum configurations, is about four to six times lighter than a conventional double-wall tent with a similar floor area. (A three-person conventional tent with approximately 50 sq ft of area usually weighs around 9-12 lb).
At 58 sq ft, the Hex is huge inside. It accommodates two backpackers and all their gear with plenty of room to spare. With its 5 ½ft ceiling you can, with a only a slight stoop, put your pants on standing up. Three people can fit inside the Hex comfortably but some gear may need to go outside.
The Hex uses GoLite’s 1.76 oz/sq yd (finished weight) SilLite™ silicone-impregnated ripstop nylon. This fabric is a bit heavier than the usual 1.1 to 1.3 oz/sq yd silnylon used in many ultralight shelters. GoLite claims that the1.76 oz fabric has considerably more tear strength than the lighter silnylon and almost double the tear strength of a high-quality polyurethane-coated rainfly. It also has greater water resistance (3500 mm of hydrostatic head). We found the SilLite fabric to pitch a bit tauter and to be less prone to stretching and flapping than lighter silnylon. Since the tent has a higher profile and therefore a bit more surface area exposed to the wind, the stronger fabric is probably a good idea.
GoLite claims that there is no reason to seal seams on the Hex. The thread on the Hex swells when wet and self-seals. Our field tests corroborate this. In six days of rain, the shelter never leaked.
The webbing tie-out straps on the Hex are excellent. We found them easy to adjust from both inside and outside the tent. When pitching the tent, we were enabled by the variable- length tie-out straps to move a stake around a rock or root. At night in the rain, if the tent started to lose tension we easily reached under the edge of the tent and tightened the tie-out straps. Because you can tension all six tent vertices and the center pole from inside the tent, you can keep a taught pitch in an all-night rain without getting wet. The tie-out straps have reflective tape on them which makes it a lot easier to avoid stepping on them in the dark.
The Hex comes with an adjustable 12 oz, four-section aluminum center pole. The pole works fine but we opted to use the tent with a linked pair of Leki Ultralight Ti trekking poles. Since we would have brought the poles anyway we saved 12 oz on the tent’s weight. The linked poles supported the Hex firmly in 40-50 mph wind gusts. Others have used a short length of aluminum tubing attached to end of a single trekking pole, a ski, or a canoe paddle, or they have just tied the top of the Hex to an overhanging branch.
GoLite ships the Hex with nine aluminum “Y” stakes. These are great when you use a rock to pound them into recalcitrant soil. They are certainly solid and do an excellent job of anchoring the shelter. We found the stakes to be a bit on the heavy side and sturdier than necessary for most soil types we’ve encountered. Also, the tops of the stakes are small and sharp so they aren’t very palm-friendly if you are pushing the stakes in by hand. We opted to use six 0.4 oz titanium stakes for the tent vertices and five 0.25 oz stakes for the additional tie-out loops between the vertices.
Our Hex also came with a 20 oz urethane coated nylon floor. The floor is waterproof and cleverly links to loops on the shelter’s walls to support the sides of the bathtub. GoLite intends the floor for use in very wet environments where you may not find any dry ground to camp on. For most North American hiking, we feel the floor is overkill. Usually you can find a reasonably drained campsite. We would recommend using a lighter ground sheet, cutting some Tyvek to shape, or using a light bivy sack instead.
The Hex has two self-opening top vents. These combined with a slight gap between the bottom of the shelter and the ground create a chimney effect for ventilation. GoLite provides two tie-out cords with plastic adjusters. These are for pitching the lee side of the shelter higher and further improve ventilation.
Another option for the Hex is an inner tent of bug netting. GoLite was out of stock on the bug netting so we did not test this option.
We tested the Hex on a 90-mile section of the Continental Divide Trail in Southwestern Colorado. The weather was a tent tester’s (if not a hiker’s) dream. It rained, sleeted and hailed every day and every night but one. Most times we camped in high winds above treeline and above 12,000 feet. The Hex provided excellent wind and precipitation protection in a fairly hostile environment. At no time did we have a problem with the tent leaking or precipitation blowing in under the sides of the shelter.
In most ways, the floorless Hex works better in the rain than a conventional tent. Because of its simplicity, we found that we could easily pitch a Hex in less than two minutes. The fast setup time of the shelter allowed us hike until the last minute before a thunderstorm rolled in. A couple of times this gave us critical extra minutes to carry on over a 12,000+ foot pass before a storm hit and then find a lower, safer, more protected place to pitch the shelter.
We usually ended up pitching the Hex just as a storm started to let loose on us (don’t we all?). In this situation we kept our gear dry under the shelter of the body fabric, while we pitched the Hex. When pitching a conventional tent in the rain, your gear and the whole tent body are exposed to the rain while you stake the body out, put in the poles and then finally cover the whole thing with a rainfly. Both tent and gear can get pretty wet in the process.
Also since the Hex has no floor, lots of room, and is over 5 ft high in the middle, even if it’s pouring rain in the morning, you can get dressed, put on your shoes and pack up all your gear under the protection of the shelter. The last thing you do is walk out of the Hex, pull up the stakes, fold the shelter up, and put it in the mesh back pocket of your pack. Try that with a conventional tent.
Ventilation and Condensation
We only had one night of serious condensation inside the Hex. It was a night of almost constant rain. We were camped in a deep lake basin. The cool and extremely humid microclimate of the basin made for some very damp conditions. Absolutely everything in the basin was dripping when we woke up. Small droplets of condensation covered the walls of the Hex but we were completely dry. Not a single drop fell onto our bivy sacks during the night. We believe this is for four reasons. First, the walls or the Hex are steep enough that condensation slides down the walls instead of falling off and hitting the occupants. Second, because the Hex is palatial inside there was plenty of room to sleep and move about without risk of hitting the walls. In our experience, inadvertent brushes with shelter walls are a great way to get wet. Third, the relatively large volume inside the Hex helps keep inside humidity lower. Fourth, the chimney ventilation created by the gap between the bottom of the Hex and the ground and then the two top vents provide enough air movement to reduce humidity inside the shelter.
Pitching the Hex
Once we figured out the trick, we found the Hex easy to pitch in less than two minutes. The first thing to do is to put the center pole aside and forget about it for a while. Zip the door shut and stake out the six vertices into a regular hexagon. Just eyeball it and get it as close as you can. Make sure there is some tension between the vertices. Now you can get the pole, unzip the door and insert it into the cup in the top of the shelter. We adjusted our linked trekking poles to eye level. At this point, you may need to adjust a few of the tie-outs. (Note: After one try we found that we could stake out the Hex body by eye and didn’t have to do any subsequent adjustment*.)Finally, stake out all five additional tie-out loops. This step is optional but we recommend it.
GoLite gives you nine stakes. After you use six for the vertices, they recommend that you use the three extra ones to secure the windward side of the tent. They also suggest that you use the tie-out cord to raise the leeward side of the tent for better ventilation. In our field testing, the wind swirled and changed direction quite a bit. We could never decide which side was windward and which was leeward so we staked out all five additional tie-out loops. This made for a quieter and more stable pitch. (The first night we were lazy and staked out only the six vertices. When the wind picked up at night and the shelter started to flap, we regretted not having taken the extra thirty seconds to secure the secondary tie-outs.) Except for one night, staking out all nine tie-out points close to the ground didn’t impair tent ventilation.
*If you are still having problems staking out the tent, GoLite suggests using a cord the right length to inscribe on the ground a circle that has the same diameter as the vertices.
GoLite states that the Hex is for “three- or four- season backpacking, winter camping, and mountaineering. ” In our field testing we experienced all but the winter camping. Yet we’re pretty sure that dug into the snow and well staked out the Hex would make an excellent winter shelter. In the future, look for an update on using the Hex in winter. Just because the Hex works well in difficult conditions does not mean that is it not well suited to more ordinary backpacking situations. The Hex is a palatial shelter and would give luxurious comfort to two backpackers doing the normal trail thing.
Recommendations for Improvement
The Hex is nearly perfect. We wish that GoLite would ship it with a set of titanium stakes of a more conventional shape, though the user can fix this for about $30. It would also be desirable if GoLite offered a lighter floor for the Hex for those of us who frequent better drained campsites. Again this can be remedied with a few dollars’ worth of Tyvek. The instructions for the Hex could use some improvement as well. We pretty much had to learn how to pitch it ourselves. Although we didn’t test the Hex’s bug-netting enclosure, the Nest, the weight as listed on GoLite’s website is quite heavy. If you need mosquito protection in your shelter there may be lighter choices than this. (Our reviewers used 2 oz mosquito head nets while they slept). If you have a low insect tolerance, and camp in very humid climates with heavy bug pressure, a tarp with some sort of light mosquito netting (e.g. a Shires Tarptent) may be a better choice.
Sometimes when its not too wet and windy we like to sleep with a shelter door open. It keeps condensation low and we can look at the stars. The Hex loses some tautness of pitch with the front door open and flaps much more in the wind. Another manifestation of this is that it is hard to zip the last 6inches of the door shut if the Hex is properly tensioned. GoLite might want to investigate some way to hold tension on the shelter body when the door is open.
Final Grade; Basic Shelter A
The basic Hex is an excellent shelter with few flaws. It might be the only 2 lb, three-person shelter in production that is suitable for the rigors of light mountaineering and winter camping. The Hex is by no means only for hardcores. We believe that casual backpackers will love this shelter too. It is an ideal shelter for two to share. The Hex is as almost as warm and weather- resistant as a conventional tent, but it is a lot roomier, easier to pitch, and pleasanter to live in. The final A grade is for the shelter as we tested it.
As we noted in our recommendations for improvement, the accessories for the Hex, the center pole, stakes, optional floor, and bug netting are not quite up to the standard of the basic design. The grade for the accessories is a B.