Hilleberg training is no classroom lesson, it is five days hiking and camping in temperatures as low as -35 degrees C.
I had never been to Sweden.
I had never been camping in winter or snow.
I had certainly never even contemplated the idea of sleeping out in a sleeping bag when temperatures could be as low as -35 degrees C.
Nevertheless, when the opportunity came knocking to conquer all of these firsts I didn’t hesitate.
Vålådalens Nature Reserve is a beautiful area of forest, rivers, lakes and mountains in mid Sweden, approximately 100 km west of Hilleberg’s office on the island of Frösön and only a short distance from the Norwegian border.
The Hilleberg Winter Academy is one half of the company’s ongoing annual commitment to training retailers from across Europe in its products.
Participants were divided into smaller groups of between 6 and 8 people. Each team were then allocated 3 or 4 different Hilleberg tent models which were rotated between pairs each night. Each group were also given a Hilleberg Altai group shelter which would be our dining room and class room for the next 5 days. A pulka sled was provided for each pair to aid in the transportation of their kit, food and shelters.
The weather for the trip was quite obliging. Day time temperatures fluctuated between around -6 and -12 degrees C. Clear blue skies and zero wind greeted us on our first day, with night time temperatures dipping below -20 degrees C. Day 2 brought light snow as we wound our way through beautiful snow clad Spruce tree forest. For days 3 and 4 as we ascended above the tree line, the wind picked up to give us a small taste of how Hilleberg tents perform against the elements. For the final push back to Vålådalens Fjällstation on Day 5, the wind eased and the sun tried once more to show its face through the clouds. The hiking route itself was reasonably sympathetic to all fitness levels and abilities, covering around 40 kilometres over the five days. Day one and two followed relatively level and well trodden winter trails, giving everyone time to familiarise themselves with their snowshoes and pulkas.
Days three and four were a little more strenuous with a bit more ascent and descent, often off trail through much deeper snow.
Snowshoes are reasonably easy to get to grips with. You just need to try and walk with a slightly wider gait than you normally would. Pulka’s again are fairly straight forward and simple bits of kit, although initially on compacted snow you get this repeated sensation of the sled dragging you back for a second only to then shunt you in the back moments later.
The Winter Academy focuses on the Black Label and Red Label models only.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with the labelling on Hilleberg tents, the Black Label models represent the ultimate in 2, 3 and 4 person tents, utilising the very best materials and design to offer uncompromised strength, comfort and durability.
The Red Label models are cleverly designed to find a middle ground between everything offered of Black Label tents but lighter in weight. Very small modifications have been made in a number of areas across the tent, slight enough so as not to impact too greatly on the tents performance. For example, the flysheet, inner tent and groundsheet fabrics are all lighter in weight on the Red label tents. Poles are 9mm in diameter rather than 10mm on the Black Label tents. Poles at the toe end of the tent are shorter. Lighter weight V pegs instead of Y pegs (although on the winter academy all pegs are replaced with Snow pegs). All small alterations on their own, but combined they achieve a considerable weight saving.
Many of the Hilleberg Designs are represented across the different Label’s. For example:
- The Kaitum is the Red Label version of the Keron.
- The Nallo is the Red Label version of the Nammatj.
- The Allak is the Red Label version of the Staika.
Tents on Test
For our team of 6 we had three Black Label models. The Keron 3 GT, the Staika and the Nammatj 2 GT.
Keron 3 GT (5kg)
A 4 pole tunnel tent with 2 doors and 2 vestibules. The unrivalled favourite among the whole group. Being the only 3 person model on test the Keron 3GT was the most generously sized tent anyway, but add to that the extended front vestibule and rear vestibule, you really do have a huge internal area for pretty much anything you need to do. It is easy to see why this model is so popular for expedition use the world over. The generous internal size of the Keron 3GT means that it can also work very well as a group shelter. On the final day we pitched it for our lunch break and with the inner tent removed and the snow dug out from the inside, it accommodated 8 of us comfortably.
Staika 2p (4kg)
From the palace like quarters of the Keron we next moved on to the Staika. In terms of overall internal space the Staika is the baby of the three. A 3 pole, 2 person Dome tent with 2 doors and 2 vestibules. The main advantage of a dome design is that it is a free standing structure and not reliant on anchors to hold its shape. This is a great advantage if using the tent in rocky areas where pegging out is difficult. It also makes for an incredibly strong frame, very capable of coping with extreme weather and huge volumes of snow.
I really liked the Staika. Yes you do have considerably smaller vestibules compared to some of the other models but the symmetrical design does divide the space well, giving 2 people equal portions of the tent to work in. The two inner tent doors are big and run parallel to your sleeping position which makes it much easy to manoeuvre inside the tent.
One point I would make is that the vestibule entrances are fixed so for the best shelter you always want to orientate the pitching of the tent so that the closed side of the porch faces the wind. We failed to do this and as a result as you opened the doors you had wind and snow coming into the inner tent.
Nammatj 2GT (3.7kg)
The Nammatj 2GT is again a tunnel design with an extended front vestibule similar to the Keron 3GT, but with modified features to create a lightweight 4 season tent. The key difference is that the Nammatj 2GT is only a 3 pole tunnel. Its design is a single large front vestibule only. There is only one entrance into the tent with the toe end of the inner tent tapering down with the angle of the flysheet at the back. This does mean that your internal space is smaller than in the Keron but there is a considerable weight saving to be made. The tent we tested was the 2 person model but as an example, The weight of the Nammatj 3GT is 4.1 kg. That’s 900g lighter than the Keron 3GT. It maintains the same large vents at either end of the tent as featured on the Keron so ventilation is still very good.
The Nammatj 2GT is without doubt a great tent, but for me personally the Nammatj 3GT would be better. Two person tents are cosy for 2 at the best of times let alone for the likes of Oli and myself who are both around 6ft 3” in height. If you are going to use a tent of this size, having 2 doors and 2 vestibules makes it so much easier to use and manage the space (as with the Staika). Having the Nammatj 3GT version would just provide that extra bit of width and height to make it so much easier for 2 people to manoeuvre and even sit side by side in the entrance to cook. I feel the upgrade would be worth the extra 200g in weight per person.
Best in Test!
So what was my personal favourite of these 3 models? This is difficult. Each of these tents excels for different reasons. The Keron 3GT for unrivalled overall usable space and comfort. The Staika for best use of space in a compact and super strong structure and the Nammatj 2GT for achieving a generous living space whilst saving on weight.
They are all fantastic tents. What model is best is always going to depend on its use. For this trip I would have to say the Keron 3GT. Winter camping in Northern Sweden requires a lot of kit. There is also always the threat of some pretty crazy weather, so having all that extra space for cooking, dressing, packing, etc, comes in really handy. Also, travelling with a Pulka in winter means that the weight is less of an issue as it can be dragged on that. If this were a summer trip in a warmer climate then the Keron 3GT would be a less practical option.
I’m not really one to obsess on ultra light kit, and would personally always be happy to compromise on a slightly heavier tent if it meant for increased living and sleeping area inside. For that reason I would always consider a 3 person tent for 2 people and a 4 person tent for 3. Once the weight of the tent is distributed between the whole group, the extra additional weight becomes a much more subtle difference. For example, for 2 people, a Nammatj 2GT weighs 3.7 kg. A Nammatj 3GT weighs 4.1kg. That’s only an extra 200g per person. Hilleberg tents are not a cheap investment, but considering the extra space you gain from the 3GT you are only actually talking about a price difference of £45 between the two sizes. It’s worth remembering that when you upsize on a tent model it is not just extra width you gain but height as well.
This is only my opinion of course and what works for me is not necessarily going to suit the next person, but the beauty of it is that no matter who you are, what you’re doing and where you’re going, Hilleberg have you covered.
Advice to anyone thinking of going on this trip
My advise to anyone presented with the opportunity to do this trip is not to be put off by the cold. There is a lot of very good kit out there, some of which has been conceived in this very region. Take good kit you can trust and you will have no issues with cold.
Snow is such an amazingly versatile natural resource for camping. You can dig out the inside of your tent porch for greater internal space. You can create seats, tables, walls to shelter your tent from the wind, and with a stove and sufficient fuel you have all the water you could ever need right at the end of your finger tips. Also the snow at this latitude is so much dryer than we are a custom to in the UK. Things do not get wet from snow as long as they remain cold. If you were to leave your pack outside, any snow that might gather on it can easily be shaken or brushed off. This makes managing and packing up your kit so much easier than in the wet.
If you like camping, you’ll love winter camping in Sweden.
Below is a summary of the key bits of kit I used for the trip.
- Pack – Osprey Xenith 88
- Sleeping Bag – Rab Andes 800
- Sleep Mat – Thermarest Neoair 4 season
- Stove – MSR Windburner
- Baselayer – Icebreaker 260 leggings and 260 LS zip neck
- Midlayer – Arcteryx Proton LT Hoody
- Shell – Arcteryx Zeta AR Jacket
- Insulated Jacket – Rab Infinity Jacket
- Trousers – Fjallraven Vidda Pro Trouser
- Insulated Trousers – Rab Photon Pants
- Gloves 1 – Haleth Mereklon Liner Glove
- Gloves 2 – Rab Powerstretch Contact Grip Glove
- Gloves 3 – Mountain Equipment Guide Glove
- Hat – Mountain Equipment Powerstretch Beanie
- Socks 1 – Smartwool Trekking Heavy Crew
- Socks 2 – Bridgedale Thermal Liner
- Boots – Lundhags Polar Quest
Favourite piece of kit
The prize for my favourite piece of kit will have to go to the Fjallraven Vidda Pro Trousers. This product really came into its own in its native country. Super durable, relatively wind resistant and the best arrangement of pockets you’ll probably ever find on a pair of trousers. The beautifully designed gaiter attachments on the legs worked perfectly in the snow and meant I could cross Gaiters off the kit list. Easy to adjust and fasten even with gloves on.
Ian is the Warehouse Manager at Taunton Leisure and has been with the Company for over 17 years. He is a keen cyclist, has a lust for travel, and enjoys exploring new places with his wife and 3 girls. He has cycle toured around both islands of New Zealand with his wife Dawn. He has also completed the Devon Coast to Coast cycle route on a tandem with his 11 year old daughter Evie.