For What It's Worth

10,000 miles of Thru-Hiking:Gear; Deschutes Zero-G

10,000 miles of Thru-Hiking:Gear; Deschutes Zero-G
Without much practice or knowledge of free-standing tarp-style shelters, I brought what amounted to a thin sheet of fabric on my thru-hike of the infamously grueling Continental Divide Trail, a 3,000-mile hike from
Canada to Mexico. It was my first foray into the ultralight textile known as Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF), also known as cuben fiber, but the lightweight fabric proved to be the best piece of thru-hiking gear I used in 2020. DCF is quickly becoming an essential item on any thru-hiking gear list, and as the popularity of the trails grow, the use of ultralight backpacking gear has also increased. Prior to my hike on the CDT, I was dubious of the practicality of such an expensive fabric. But within the first week of using it, I was a convert.
After a grueling day in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, with over 17,000 ft of elevation gain and 37 miles of tough trail, I settled in for the night, completely spent. It wasn’t my intention to go so far in a single day, especially since I was less than a week into my thru-hike of the CDT. But circumstances dictated I push on, as a majority of the day’s walk was spent above tree-line in very exposed terrain.

The southern end of the Bob Marshall Wilderness aka “The Bob” one of the most remote places in the contiguous US
Just as the day was ending a thunderstorm began to brew overhead. This was a signal it was time to get somewhere relatively safe.

As the blue skies turned to an angry gray, my hiking partner and I quickly descended from the exposed ridge to the relative calm of the lower elevations.
A small seasonal alpine tarn near Caribou Peak provided the first tree-cover for miles in any direction. The relief of being under some sort of cover for the first time during the moody weather I had come to expect from Montana was definitely welcomed.

We had just enough time to crawl into our shelters before the skies began to unload on us. Quarter sized bullets of hail and ear-shattering thunder had me in a fetal position most of the night as frequent and terrifyingly close lightning lit up the interior of my tarp. The barrage lasted several hours and the fear of getting hit by lightning, having my shelter torn to shreds by hail and wind, or having a tree collapse on me all but ensured a sleepless night.

In the morning we awoke to a calm, cloudless sky and my hiking partner Vortex looked at me perplexed. There were shards of glass around both of our shelters. A particularly large piece was near where my head had laid the previous night. We had cleared the site prior to putting our tarps down, which had become our thru-hiking ritual, and were dumbfounded to find the glass in our respective sites. Could we really have missed these sharp pieces of glass? We would later find out that the lightning strikes had hit the sandy beach of the small lake we slept beside, fusing the sand into silica glass.

From that day forward, I knew my shelter was bomb-proof!

The Deschutes Zero-G is a DCF shelter with a stated weight of 8 oz (226 grams) although my scale read 222 grams or about 7.8 oz (including the stuff sack but excluding stakes and pole).

Six Moons Design Deschutes Zero-G Shelter

The set-up is pretty intuitive as the shelter only uses a single pole, which was a major draw for me (I have a tendency to snap trekking poles). Even with no real tarp experience, my first time setting it up took ~5 minutes to get a taught pitch.

Six Moons Design Deschutes Zero-G Shelter
Quick, easy, and taut pitch, everytime!   by Dahn Pratt
Six Moons Design Deschutes Zero-G Shelter
Deschutes Zero-G + SerenityNet inner. A fully enclosed double-walled shelter at 19 oz.    Photo by Dahn Pratt

Using a piece of Tyvek as a groundsheet and a SMD Serenity Net provided me with a fully enclosed double-walled shelter. The added benefit being the modular nature of having a detachable inner for clear nights or just the Deschutes for bugless nights.

One of the reasons I absolutely loved the Deschutes was its ability to pitch in precarious spots. With its tiny footprint, most sites that would otherwise be off-limits to other hikers were perfect “nests” for me.

Six Moons Design Deschutes Zero-G Shelter
After crossing the Wyoming/Colorado border the deadfalls limited safe camping areas, but it had no material impact on the small footprint my Deschutes took up
Photo by Dahn Pratt
Six Moons Design Deschutes Zero-G Shelter
With nowhere flat and plantless to set up in the Great Divide Basin, I had to set up shop on a seemingly endless dirt road.
Photo by Dahn Pratt

After proving its worth in the berserk weather of the Divide, I spent the next ten months across seven countries and 5,000 miles with the Deschutes Zero-G as my roof. Completing a year of back-to-back thru-hikes made me more comfortable and well versed in the outdoors than ever before. With this new-found sense of confidence and the Deschutes in my pack, I never doubted its ability in any condition. The increasingly precarious and outright ridiculous places where it was able to perform exceptionally well warranted its new nickname as my “all-terrain vestibule”.

Six Moons Design Deschutes Zero-G Shelter
The Deschutes Zero-G in an epic off-trail campsite in sub-Antarctic Patagonia.
Photo by Dahn Pratt
Six Moons Design Deschutes Zero-G Shelter
Even with furious winds and constant rain I always stayed dry and cozy inside my “hiker’s nest”.    Photo by Dahn Pratt


Words and photos by Dahn Pratt. This article was originally written for Atlas Guides and can be found here.

Reading next

Ultralight Backpacking 101 by Leanne Hennessy and Peter Romain
Getting Nature Therapy During Uncertain Times, by Whitney "Allgood" La Ruffa

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