The Black Diamond Mega Light Pyramid tent is a floorless, single pole, non-freestanding shelter. Providing enough room for four adults at a weight of 7.35 ounces per person (including stakes and trekking pole connector), the Mega Light is lighter per person than most silnylon tarps, and offers better weather protection thanks to fully protected sides. I tested the Mega Light with and without the separate Black Diamond Mega Bug liner while backpacking with my two daughters in 2006 and 2007. Rather than review these two items as a single shelter, the bulk of the article focuses on the Mega Light. Most lightweight backpackers will prefer this shelter by itself, so the overweight Mega Bug inner tent is discussed separately at the end of this review.
- Very light weight per person of 7.35 ounces (Mega Light, stakes, and trekking pole connector, the minimum setup with supplied accessories)
- Excellent headroom in the center
- Full perimeter venting
- No-see-um lined top vent (allows an easy modification for full bug protection for do-it-yourselfers)
- Quick setup using supplied carbon pole or trekking pole adapter
- That colorful circus tent flair!
What’s Not So Good
- Lacks full bug protection without the 2 lb 10.2 oz Black Diamond Mega Bug or a do-it-yourself modification
- Large footprint requires adequate space to set up
- Not free-standing
- Non-adjustable tie-outs require repositioning stakes to tauten pitch
- Optional bug liner is heavy (the good news…it’s not really necessary)
|2006 Black Diamond Mega Light and Mega Bug|
|Four-person pyramid tent|
|1.3 oz/yd2 (44 g/m2) silnylon, 1.0 oz/yd2 (34 g/m2) no-see-um mesh|
Poles and Stakes
|One 18 mm (OD) carbon fiber shock-corded center pole; 65 to 75 inches long|
|Measured outside width 104 inches (264 cm) square, 66 inches (168 cm) high at apex; tapered edges and peak reduces the usable width and height|
|9 in x 5 in x 5 in (23 x 13 x 13 cm)|
|Measured weight 2 lb 9.7 oz (1.18 kg), manufacturer specification 2 lb 13 oz (1.27 kg)|
|Measured weight 1 lb 13.4 oz (0.83 kg), includes tent body, trekking pole connector, and 8 stakes|
|Total covered area 72.3 ft2 (6.7 m2)|
Floor Area/Trail Weight Ratio
|39.5 ft2/lb based on 72.3 ft2 floor area and weight of 1.83 lb|
|Mega Bug bug liner with floor ($224.95, 3 lb 6 oz (1.53 kg)|
Pyramid tents have always been a favorite of mine for backpacking with my family because of their enormous space to weight ratio. I have used pyramids from Dana Design and GoLite, and finally made one out of 1.1 ounce silnylon. The Black Diamond Mega Light is an excellent, lightweight pyramid option, weighing 1 pound 13.4 ounces (with trekking pole adapter and 8 stakes).
The Black Diamond Mega Light has a square footprint and sleeps 4 adults. The door can be opened wide and tied back for expansive views and to let in the breeze.
The Black Diamond Mega Light is fairly quick and easy to set up. Step one, stake the four corners (with the door shut), keeping the shelter as square as possible. Step two, insert the single center pole inside and adjust the pole’s height until the pitch is taut. Step three, stake the four side midpoints tightly, and readjust the center pole if necessary.
This shelter requires a relatively large footprint. I have had to pitch it with a small bush or large rock on the inside because the campsite was too small, a work-around that won’t work with four adult occupants. Also, pyramids require stakes for support, and rocky or shallow ground can sometimes compromise the pitch. It can be necessary to tie onto large rocks or the base of a nearby tree to augment poor staking conditions.
Getting the shape square is more important than you might think. Shy of square, the shelter looses significant headroom along the closer corners. More often than not, you will need to adjust a few of the stakes after setup to square the pitch. Other pyramids I have used have adjustable ladder locks on every tie out for this purpose. The Mega Light lacks this feature, presumably to save weight, and setup is a bit more involved as a result, especially in rocky or shallow soils.
The eight tie outs are finished with a short piece of flat cording. In other pyramids I have used, the tie outs were individually adjustable and setup was easier as a result. With the non-adjustable extension cord, the stakes must be repositioned to adjust individual stake tensions.
The Mega Light’s 1.3 ounce silnylon stretches some during the night. Because the adjustable center pole is on the inside, it’s an easy stay-in-your-sleeping-bag maneuver to tauten the pitch by slightly raising the pole.
The “center pole” can be any number of long items, including the supplied carbon pole, two connected trekking poles, a long stick found in the woods, or a kayak paddle. You can also suspend the Mega Light by running a cord from the webbing loop in the apex to a horizontal tree branch overhead (the location on the branch where the cording attaches must be directly over the apex to attain a taut pitch).
Black Diamond includes an 18 millimeter diameter, four-section carbon fiber pole with the Mega Light. Their carbon pole is super stiff (the same diameter as a Leki trekking pole top section) for only an 11 ounce penalty.
The Mega Light comes with an 11-ounce, four section carbon fiber pole (left). The top section telescopes to adjust the shelter’s height. The section locks as the large flat washer wedges against the beveled aluminum (right).
If you are accustomed to carrying trekking poles, you can leave the supplied carbon pole at home. Black Diamond includes a fabric and webbing trekking pole adapter (1.0 ounces) to join two trekking poles together into one long pole. The adapter has two “bags” on either end of a webbing strap. Your trekking pole grips fit into these “bags” such that they overlap each other and are secured together with integrated Velcro straps.
Black Diamond’s trekking pole adapter for the Mega Light is a lightweight option for connecting two trekking poles together into a suitable center pole.
You can take the supplied carbon pole apart combine them with your two adjustable trekking poles to create an excellent center pole. Black Diamond manufactured their carbon center pole using standard trekking pole tubing sizes. With a 16mm inside diameter, the carbon sections will fit over the middle section of most aluminum trekking poles. By removing the handle section of two trekking poles, the lower pole sections are inserted into the carbon piece (1.8 ounces) such that the carbide tips are pointing away from each other. Adjustability is handled by the trekking poles adjustable lower section.
If you have carbon poles, you might be able to construct a similar arrangement with the aluminum adjustable section from the supplied carbon pole (I shortened this section by 8 inches, saving 0.8 ounces). I own MSR Overland Carbon trekking poles that fit into this piece perfectly. Linking your trekking poles in this manner is stiffer than using the supplied fabric trekking pole adapter, but not as stiff as using the dedicated carbon center pole.
The supplied carbon center pole can be disassembled into several pieces useful in combination with a pair of telescoping trekking poles. In the left picture, the aluminum top piece from the supplied carbon pole works in conjunction with my MSR Overland Carbon pole lower sections (top) and one of the carbon sections works with my Komperdell Compact Ultralights (bottom). The photo on the right shows my cut down aluminum piece connecting the lowers of my MSR Overland Carbon poles.
Black Diamond constructed the Mega Light out of 1.3 ounce/square yard silicone impregnated nylon. The eight grosgrain tie outs points are reinforced with a double layer of silnylon along the tent body’s edge. The inside top of the apex is reinforced with nylon webbing and nylon packcloth. This prevents the center pole from shredding the lightweight silnylon. For ventilation, there is a single no-see-um backed mesh vent at the top of the main zipper (more on ventilation and bug protection to follow). The seams must be sealed for the shelter to be waterproof; allow several hours for this task as there are a lot of seams on this shelter. The main front zipper is a YKK #5 double tab coil. The zipper is protected by a full-length storm flap. At the very bottom of the front opening, a side release buckle secures the storm flap and prevents the zipper from self-opening in high winds.
The inside top has two webbing straps arranged in an X shape with a grommet placed in the center. When using trekking poles, the top pole’s tip fits into this grommet placing all the tension on the nylon webbing and thus preventing damage to the lightweight fabrics.
Black Diamond seals the main opening with a double rain flap. The outer flap wraps up and around the top vent (top). The inside flap has a rain gutter to redirect water from the #5 YKK zipper (middle). The bottom secures with a side release buckle to prevent high winds from penetrating the flap (bottom).
The Mega Light held up well under heavy use over the 10-month testing period. I have used other 1.3-ounce silnylon pyramids over 5 or 6 years without degradation in the fabric’s water resistance or integrity.
Set up properly, pyramid tents are very stable in high winds, and the Black Diamond is no exception. Wind stability is enhanced because the pyramid’s shape leaves very little surface area up high where wind can have the most leverage on a shelter. Pyramids also have a wide stance, and when staked properly, are very stable shelters. However, unlike free-standing shelters, pyramids rely heavily on stake placement for tautness and stability. When backpacking in sandy bottom canyons or rocky areas, I found it sometimes frustrating to achieve a solid anchor. It was necessary to dig down past the loose sandy surface or use rocks to anchor some of the corners in a few cases. Since the Mega Light has eight tie outs it remained stable even if one or two were poorly secured, though this could cause problems in very high winds.
The Mega Light has full perimeter ground-level ventilation and a top roof vent above the door. The top vent is held open by a thin wire sewn into the vent’s rim, and can be “shut” by folding the wire in towards the shelter. We never experienced any serious condensation problems using the Mega Light. Occasionally we would notice slight moisture on the inside of the shelter walls in the morning, but never enough to drip or otherwise wet our gear significantly.
The vent is backed with no-see-um mesh, allowing you to pitch the tent closer to the ground in buggy conditions by staking directly to the grosgrain tie outs rather than the nylon cord extensions. The tie outs will not allow the Mega Light to pitch flush against the ground. Some insects can find their way in. However, the mesh-backed top vent makes it easy to convert the Mega Light to full-bug protection. Following this review, I intend to sew a 15-inch high piece of no-see-um netting around the perimeter. This will be a simple and inexpensive modification that will not add excessive weight.
The top vent is backed with mesh, allowing you to pitch the Mega Light close to the ground in buggy conditions to better seal the lower edge.
Black Diamond Mega Bug (optional bug liner for the Mega Light)
For full bug protection, Black Diamond offers the Mega Bug to convert the Mega Light into a more typical double wall tent with floor and full bug lining. The Mega Bug was designed to work flawlessly with the Mega Light and Mega Mid shelters, and while it is a perfect fit, it unfortunately adds 2 pounds 8.5 ounces to the total weight and brings the minimum trail weight to 4 pounds 5.9 ounces or 1 pound 1.5 ounces per person. This minimum trail weight per person is comparable to that of a Tarptent Squall 2, assuming full occupancy. The added cost of purchasing the Mega Bug (Mega Light + Mega Bug = $459.90) is roughly equivalent to purchasing two, 2-person Squall 2s ($450).
Setup is slightly more complicated when using the Mega Bug. I found it easiest to stake out the Mega Light canopy, raise the canopy with the Mega Bug in position (by matching the apexes), and then attach the Mega Bug’s shock corded tie outs to the previously positioned Mega Light stakes. It was more difficult to achieve proper tension on the Mega Light when staking and raising the Mega Bug first.
The Mega Bug is overkill. A better add-on product would be a no-see-um mesh skirt with an attached floor that attaches to the perimeter of the Mega Light with Velcro. In this way it would convert the Mega Light into a fully enclosed single-walled shelter with all the protection of the Mega Bug without the weight. In its current configuration, most lightweight backpackers will choose the leave the Mega Bug in the store, opting instead to alter the pitch or sew mesh onto the perimeter to ward off insects.
The Mega Bug is an optional bug liner, which converts the Black Diamond Mega Light into a double wall tent. It also adds 2 pounds 8.5 ounces to the minimum trail weight and complicates setup. With four occupants, the weight per person is comparable to carrying two Tarptent Squalls.
Two things make the Black Diamond Mega Light unique. It has a mesh-backed top vent, which allows you to pitch the shelter against the ground to limit bug entry. It also comes with a very nice, 11-ounce carbon fiber center pole, a lighter option than that offered by competitors.
Recommendations for Improvement
The Mega Light is a very well designed lightweight pyramid shelter. I would recommend changing a few small details to bring this shelter to perfection. Black Diamond should add adjustability to the tie outs, especially the corners, using very small webbing or even smaller cord-style ladder locks. The cost could be reduced by offering the carbon center pole as an additional option. Ultralight backpackers accustomed to carrying trekking poles are more likely to use the trekking pole adapter to save weight. The side-release buckle at the bottom of the zipper should be replaced with a smaller 1/4-inch buckle to reduce weight as well.
The fully enclosed Mega Bug is overkill. Instead, Black Diamond could reduce the Mega Bug down to a 15-inch high bug netting skirt and a waterproof floor that attaches with Velcro to the bottom perimeter of the Mega Light, offering much lighter weight and cost. This would have much greater appeal to lightweight backpackers looking for the greatest function to weight ratio.