MSR Thru-Hiker Mesh House 1 Review

MSR Thru-Hiker Mesh House 1 Review

The MSR Thru-Hiker Mesh House 1 is a bug shelter that splits the difference between a bivy sack and a net tent, with trekking pole-supported height at the head end, tapering down to the ground at your feet.

Specs at a Glance

  • Minimum weight (shelter only): 10.0 ounces (manufacturer and measured)
  • Packaged weight:
    • 14 ounces (manufacturer)
    • 12.2 ounces (measured with stuff sack, stakes and stake stuff sack, without bottle of seam sealant)
    • 15.1 ounces as packaged with bottle of seam sealant.
  • Stuff sack: 0.4 ounces
  • Each stake: 0.4 ounces (1.7 ounces total for 5)
  • Stake stuff sack: 0.1 ounces
  • Floor dimensions: 88” x 33”
  • Peak height: 38”
  • Packed size: 8” x 4”
  • Entry: One zippered side-entry door (right-hand side)
  • Materials: 10D (denier) polyester micro-mesh, 15D ?ripstop nylon 1200mm Xtreme ShieldTM polyurethane & DWR
  • Included: Gear Aid Fast Cure Seam Sealant, 5 MSR aluminum Needle Stakes

Construction

The Thru-Hiker Mesh House is primarily made of two materials: a 10 denier polyester micro mesh to keep out bugs, and a 15 denier waterproof nylon. The nylon fabric feels more robust than its specs, likely due to its microgrid of ripstop threads. Fixed stake loops are attached to a heavy-duty triangle of fabric that makes a wing at each corner. There is a rectangular mesh gear pocket on the left inside the shelter, near the head end, good for holding a headlamp or other small essentials. I appreciated that the weight of the shelter was right on spec: 10.0 ounces.

There is enough room for me to sit up in the shelter.
There is barely enough room for me to sit up in the shelter….and I’m not a tall guy. 

Sizable, stowable door

There is a single door on the right-hand side that follows where the mesh and waterproof nylon meet. The door is big and it’s easy for both a person and their gear to get in and out. The zipper is smooth-running one-handed until you get to the switchback curve, and then I often needed to use one hand to stabilize the zipper and another to pull the slider. The door can be rolled back and captured with a toggle so you can reach out and make your coffee or tea in the morning under the cover of your tarp while still in your sleeping bag.

Stakes

The Mesh House comes with five of MSR’s famous needle stakes which people who own other MSR tents will be familiar with. They are nice to use in rocky soil as they slip between the rocks easier than a V or Y stake, and they pack up very compactly in their stuff sack, which also fits into the shelter stuff sack. The hook in the head end is tiny, and you need to make sure the guyline is well-captured inside it, as opposed to a shepherd’s hook stake with a bigger line-capture area.

Color

The Mesh House is made in MSR’s signature shelter red, which is more of a deep wine or burgundy color as opposed to the bright red of their fuel bottles. Some people hate this color and see it as unnatural, but I’ve been using it in the Northeast US and I think it fits in nicely with the rich hues of our fall foliage.

It is nice to have a large side door under a tarp

Ease of Setup

The Mesh House is very easy to pitch. Lay it out in a rectangle, put one stake in a corner loop, pull the other side taut and put the other stake in, and repeat on the other side. The head end gets its height from the peak guyline, which goes through a line-lock adjuster and has a simple bar tensioner at one end and a mitten hook at the other end.

If your tarp has an attachment loop on the underside of the ridgeline, clip the mitten hook to it and adjust the tension with the line-lock. If you are pitching the Mesh House by itself, pull the cord through the line-lock so the mitten hook is flush against it like a stopper knot, run the cord over the top of your trekking pole handle, and guy it out with the fifth stake, using the bar tensioner to tighten things up. I also employed this method when using the Mesh House with a tarp that didn’t have an attachment loop, tying the head end of the tarp to a tree and pitching the head end of the Mesh House with the trekking pole.

The stuff sack is quite tight if you try to stuff the Mesh House. I had much better success rolling it tightly before putting it in the stuff sack.

The footbox ceiling extends halfway up the shelter, and causes a lot of condensation
The footbox ceiling extends halfway up the shelter, and causes a lot of condensation

Non-breathable footbox

The footbox of the Mesh House extends almost halfway up the length of the shelter, and it is made of the same polyurethane-coated nylon as the floor. This encircles your lower half with non-breathable fabric and traps condensation, leaving it with nowhere to go but onto your sleeping bag. In use, I woke up with the lower half of my sleeping bag soaked. I’m not sure why the footbox was designed this way: any time there is precipitation you’d use it under a tarp, so there’s no need for the lower half of the shelter to be waterproof on its ceiling.

Not quite enough headroom for sitting up

Lying down in the Mesh House, the spaciousness around your head and torso is a breath of fresh air over a bivy. The extra height is smartly placed where you’ll most appreciate it through the night. From the design, I imagined that it would be a great shelter to have headroom to sit up and change clothes or read maps while still being protected from biting insects while saving weight over a full net tent that maintains its height over its whole length.

Lying down, the mesh is far from your face and the extra breathing space is welcome
Lying down, the mesh is far from your face and the extra breathing space is welcome

In use, however, I found that while I could sit up, the peak was too low to be comfortable for any prolonged period of time. When I sat up on my 3-inch thick sleeping pad, my head pushed into the mesh peak, with the mesh on either side close to my face and I’m only 5’4”. You can, however, prop yourself up on your elbows for reading, which you couldn’t in a bivy sack.

Ultralight Bug Bivies and Shelters

Assessment

The MSR Thru-Hiker Mesh House 1 is solidly-built and a good concept but it needs some modifications. I would love for the Mesh House 1 to have a taller headwall. But perhaps this is a case of managing expectations. If I think of the Mesh House as a sit-up shelter, I’m disappointed. But if I think of it functionally as a bivy sack, with ample headroom for sleeping, I think of it much more highly. However, a much more pressing issue is the need for the mesh to extend over the top of the footbox to prevent condensation. If you can do some basic sewing and are willing, it’s an easy modification. If not, I would look elsewhere for a bug shelter.

Disclosure: MSR provided the author with a sample for this review.

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Last updated: 2020-10-28 15:07:43

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About the author

Greg Pehrson is an ultralight backpacker who was bitten hard by the MYOG (make-your-own-gear) bug. He repairs, tinkers, and builds gear, often seeking to upcycle throwaway items or repurpose things from outside the backpacking world.

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