Glen’s Whisper: An Ultralight Shelter’s Journey From Ideation to Execution
By: Glen Van Peski
I’ve always said the Wedge—my custom, handmade, DCF shelter—is the perfect shelter to take when you don’t expect rain. I’ve endured rainstorms in it, but it’s not optimal for these conditions. So, in 2020, as I prepared for a 1,000-mile bikepacking trip on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR), I knew I needed another option. Our trip was assured a schedule governed by snow in the passes, late-day thunderstorms, and plenty of bugs.
From this, the Whisper was born—a minimalist, ultralight shelter that’s now available through Gossamer Gear for other lightweight obsessives to enjoy with me. Below, I’ll walk you through how this perfected piece of gear came to be.
Prototyping Designs for the Whisper Ultralight Shelter
I had been toying with a new tent design for a couple of years. I started with a one-offset-pole configuration, since I would mostly be using it while backpacking with LT5 trekking poles. Obviously, I was looking for as light as possible (my initial target was 8 oz). I decided on a mesh skirt, as this would be lighter than a full mesh wall and zipper while still providing refuge from flying insects. Since the shelter floor gets the most wear, it either has to be constructed of more durable (read: heavy) fabric, or protected by an additional groundsheet. I decided on a shelter with no floor, where I would simply use a polycryo groundsheet instead.
Since DCF material is expensive, I started prototyping in Tyvek. I created a 3D model of the shelter using Rhino3D, then unfurled the panels and used AutoCad for the patterning, since I have familiarity with that program through my career in civil engineering. I started by seeing if I could get what I wanted with one pole. I did about six Tyvek versions before giving up on that and moving to a two-pole design. Since I was building a single-wall shelter, moisture on the interior is a given in some conditions. I wanted a design that provided plenty of space at my feet, so my sleeping bag didn’t brush against the walls and pick up that moisture.
After a couple more Tyvek prototypes using a second, shorter pole at the foot of the shelter, I was ready to create a DCF version. When you’re using really light fabric, the weight of reinforcements, pull-outs, lines, and zippers becomes consequential. I tried a couple alternatives for the vestibule closure, attempting to eliminate the zipper weight. I couldn’t come up with a solution I was happy with, so ended up using a waterproof zipper. In spite of this addition, my final prototype for our Great Divide trip came in at 6 oz.
Testing and Refining the Whisper Ultralight Shelter for Gossamer Gear
That GDMBR trip was a great test, and the shelter proved itself. I have videos of a raging thunderstorm from inside the shelter at Coopers Lake in Montana. We also endured buggy conditions throughout the trip, and I was glad to have the netting’s protection.
However, given the materials I used, the zipper was worn out by the end of the trip. We also went to bed early when the sun was still up, and I found that the 0.3 oz DCF material felt like lying down inside a greenhouse. Additionally, the fine mesh I used ended up not allowing as much airflow. When it’s cold out, it’s a nice feature. But when it’s hot, this is suboptimal.
When I returned from the GDMBR, we talked at Gossamer Gear about bringing the new shelter to market. Whenever I come up with a new product, the next question is always: Are there more than five people in the world besides Glen who would use this? I still get grief at quarterly meetings about how few Murmur backpacks we sell compared to our other models. Luckily, however, we recently organized our gear into product lines. This includes the GVP Collection, which we recognize won’t appeal to as wide of an audience, but which gives a nod to my history founding Gossamer Gear and those in our community forever committed to an obsessive pursuit of ultralight travel. Many products in this line—including the Whisper—bear a tag with an added warning: “If you’re unsure this is the right one for you, it probably isn’t. And that’s cool.”
After putting the shelter through our design review process, we decided to go ahead with a small run and started the design tweaking process with our trusted manufacturer. After several rounds of samples, and rigorous testing with brand ambassadors and personal friends, we authorized a run of 100 shelters. The final sample came in at 9.8 oz, due to using heavier DCF, reinforcing, and a more robust zipper. We named it the Whisper in homage to our past 3.5 oz pack by the same name—and as a loving companion to the Murmur, of course.
Meet Gossamer Gear’s New Ultralight Shelter: The Whisper
While the shelter admittedly isn’t for everyone, the initial response to the Whisper from testers has been remarkable. One experienced guide said it was the perfect ultralight shelter for all his use cases, instead of the several shelters he previously employed for different seasons and conditions. Another said, “I am blown away by the thoughtfulness and design that have gone into the Whisper.”
If you’re an ultralighter looking for a spacious, storm- and bug-proof shelter weighing only 9.8 oz, then my go-to, the Whisper, is for you. Catenary-cut panels and seven stakes provide great stability. Meticulously designed with 0.51-oz DCF, the Whisper sets up with two trekking poles for sufficient headroom and toe box clearance. The generous mesh skirt keeps bugs at bay and offers ventilation, while the waterproof zipper and taped seams keep you dry. The vestibule supplies space to stow gear and is raised to maintain visual contact with your surroundings.
Now, if you’ve gotten to this point and you’re still wondering if the Whisper is the right shelter for you, well—it probably isn’t. However, if you’re sure it is, know that this is a limited run product, so you might want to get on it!
Glen Van Peski is the founder of Gossamer Gear and a leading proponent of lightweight backpacking.