Hilleberg Winter Tour
A taste of winter touring with the finest tent company on the planet.
In the first week of March, the temperatures at home (Melbourne) generally hover between 26C and 35C. Instead of barbecues, t-shirts and shorts, I found myself frantically gathering equipment to prepare myself for temperatures of negative 35C for a week of snow shoeing and camping in the Swedish backcountry. Needless to say, my thermostat was not prepared for what Hilleberg had in store for me.
So who are Hilleberg? Hilleberg make tents. Very good tents. The best tents, one might say.
The little Swedish tent company has been a player in the tent game since the early 1970’s. Founder Bo Hilleberg gained success with his first model, the Keb, which was the first tent that allowed the inner tent and outer flysheet to be pitched as one (a feature we now know and appreciate as ‘integral pitch’). Hilleberg was also one of the first to recognise the increased tear strength characteristics of a silicon-coated nylon – thus the signature ‘Kerlon’ fabric found in all of Hilleberg’s models was born. Today, Hilleberg products are some of the highest-performing backcountry shelters available and have a reputation for innovation, strength, reliability and comfort.
Back to Sweden Run by the Hilleberg Outdoor Academy, these tours offer retail partners a hands-on, real-world experience with Hilleberg products and how they perform in the backcountry. Our trip was set to take place in the Vålådalen Nature Reserve, providing us as participants an in-depth taste of winter touring in the Swedish mountains. The location is significant; this is the environment in which Hilleberg’s products were conceived and designed – it’s what they were made for, and it felt humbling to be invited into what felt like their home and experience their product ‘on home turf’.
The experience began with a very warm welcome from the Hilleberg staff and a tour of the tentmaker’s Headquarters on the island of Frösön. Well, I say warm…it was -22C outside. The building itself is an old hospital and is where all of the tents are designed, prototyped and tested. Hilleberg staff were incredibly passionate and proud of their product (and judging by the amount of personal kit about the place, are no strangers to actually getting out there and using it!)
The plan for the tour was fairly straightforward; snow shoe between campsites, take in the gorgeous scenery, nerd out over tents and have a good time. Clinics and hands-on workshops were run by the instructors at various points throughout the day in order for us to gain a greater understanding of the product. These clinics ranged from discussing the design principles behind the different models, demonstrations of pitching techniques (both in inclement weather and improvised scenarios without pegs) as well as managing field repairs to name a few.
Hilleberg tents are grouped into ‘Labels’, largely based on their components and construction. Tents provided for use on the trip were predominantly from their Black Label series; models which boast the greatest strength, reliability and ease of use and comfort.
Nammatj 2GT Our first night was spent in the ever excellent Nammatj 2GT. Intended as an ‘all-rounder’ with an exceptional strength to weight ratio, this two person tunnel tent benefited from the additional space of the extended vestibule as well as massive vents at each end to aid in ventilation. Despite a still night with temperatures dropping to -24C, it provided for comfortable night sleep though I made sure to cover the foot box of my sleeping bag with my waterproof jacket to prevent any contact with the sloping rear end of the inner tent. Condensation this night was minimal as the tent is incredibly well ventilated but I awoke covered in a fine layer of ice across my sleeping bag from my breath throughout the night, something, I would grow used to over the coming nights.
Keron 3GT Our palace for Night Two was the Keron 3GT, Hilleberg’s signature tent. The Keron 3GT was an absolute treat and ended up being a group favourite, simply due to how much space the shelter provided, allowing one to really spread out. Like the Nammatj 2GT, it offered a massive extended vestibule and excellent ventilation with the added benefit of entrances at both ends. These tents have become somewhat of a standard for polar expeditions due to their superb durability and excellent stability in inclement weather. At 5kg, I would have previously turned my nose at such a tent simply based on the weight but with the pulk making light work of carrying things, I can’t think of a better shelter for this sort of exploration! We took the time to excavate the vestibule area to the point where one could stand without crouching in the entrance.
Staika The Staika was initially conceived as a 2-person, fully free-standing, pitch-anywhere shelter for kayakers in the early 1990’s. It’s since gained a particularly large following even with solo backpackers due to its strength and the capacity to pitch it without pegs (though we were careful to make sure ours was thoroughly anchored to the ground!) After being spoilt by the space of the Keron 3GT the previous night, spending night three in the little 2-person dome was rather cosy in comparison, especially with massive expedition sleeping bags and down jackets taking up so much space within the interior. With slightly lower entrances and less interior volume than the big tunnels, one couldn’t help but bump snow off the door into the interior of the tent during ingress and egress. The benefits however of the of the cross-pole dome architecture were not fully realised until the wind picked up and whilst the Nammatj and Keron parked beside us flapped about, the little Staika remained solid.
The Saivo was genuinely one of the most solid shelters I have ever slept in. Whilst the conditions didn’t even close to testing this 3-person, free-standing dome, you could quickly see how much more favourable the geodesic cross-pole design would be for handling seriously foul conditions over the likes of the tunnel tents we’d been using earlier on the tour. The Saivo benefits from drawing inspiration from many of the classic North American geodesic designs, with the added benefit of Hilleberg’s ‘nordic touch’ by way of integrated inner/outer pitching, a simple clip and sleeve retention for the poles and ventilation options (including two large roof vents accessible from the inside). Like the Keron 3GT, one was spoilt for room in the 3-person Saivo, permitting ample space to spread out and organise equipment.
Altai The yurt-inspired Altai tents were welcome additions to the tour and served as our group shelters for cooking, meals and some of our clinics with three carried between the tour party. The rather unique design employs trekking poles at the sides and once snow was excavated from the interior, provided a sufficient amount of space to stand. With sufficient snow depth, one could fashion a ‘bench seat’ against the walls with a sort of ‘table’ in the centre. With several stoves going at once, it quickly became a rather comfortable environment to sit down and relax in the evenings!
Challenges in the Cold The figure of -35C Hilleberg advised us to prepare for was certainly colder than anything I’d experienced in the Australian backcountry. Factoring in the strenuous level of activity we would be partaking in during the daytime, having the appropriate equipment to keep warm enough when stationary but comfortable when moving and generating body heat was critical. Moisture and sweat can be a big challenge in these environments as the body cools down incredibly fast – even a 5-minute pause on the side of the trail is enough to freeze sweat trapped in the base layer.
Footwear was a rather big concern of mine before setting out as, quite simply, having cold feet sucks. Thankfully, I was able to procure a set of Hanwag’s Fjäll Extreme boots which feature a separate insulated liner boot to help keep the toes warm. These boots, along with several pairs of Vicuna Antartica socks would form an incredibly comfortable combination for the duration of the tour. In fact, a lot of the equipment I brought with me was conceived in this very region.
With most water sources frozen during the winter, meals and hydration were not without their challenges. During the evenings, once tents were all pitched, the air was filled with the sound of participants melting snow their hike stoves.
Whilst the cold conditions can present a challenge, snow makes for such an amazing resource for camping. You can shape ledges and platforms to sit and cook upon, create walls to shelter your tent from the wind, dig out the vestibule of your tent for greater internal space and, provided you have enough fuel for your stove, you have a source of water right at your fingertips. At these latitudes, show is much drier than what is experienced in Australia or the UK which make managing and packing up your equipment a lot easier than in the wet.
So there you have it! A pictorial review of my time in Sweden with Hilleberg. If you like camping, you'll LOVE winter in Sweden.