Monday, 18 February 2013

Hilleberg Akto tent - initial thoughts

As I have mentioned in the past, my reliable, 14-year old North Face Westwind tent is nearing the end of her life. Westie has been a faithful companion to me over many trips, and I have pitched her everywhere from mountains to shore. Westie has two large negatives: she's a heavy lady at three kilograms, and her bright yellow colour makes her very conspicuous when wild camping. Over the years I judged that I could live with these negatives in exchange for her friendly spaciousness  She is also a sturdy lady: in the hundreds of nights I have spent under her canvas, in all weathers, I have never once had to use the guy ropes.

But Westie is an elderly lady now. Creases are showing on her face, and her faded grandeur is visible to everyone. Like many elderly ladies, she is also suffering from periods of embarrassing dampness. Rather than keep punishing her, I have decided to put her into semi-retirement.

Changing partners is always difficult, especially after so many happy years together. So what could possibly replace such an old friend? I looked into many different tents, but one was always at the back of my mind: the Hilleberg Akto. It had several advantages: it is commonly available for a try-out, has a good reputation, and has a practical combination of weight versus features. There are tents which are apparently better for my purposes, but they are less available for a quick test in shop, and I did not want to buy unseen. Additionally, the Akto has maintained a very good reputation over a number of years.

So I went into Cambridge  where an assistant kindly set it up for me, so I could see if my 6'2" frame would fit easily within. Despite being a bit snug in height, I decided she would do.

The Akto, showing the big porch 
These are my first impressions after erecting it in the garden, and without having slept in it.

Positives:

  • The porch is massive. Westie had a tiny porch for a tent of its size; so small that my boots would often press against the interior material. In contrast, the Akto has enough space for me to even keep my 70-litre rucksack in, and still have enough room to cook.
  • Adjusting the guy ropes is simplicity itself, due to the sliding lock tensioners on each guy.
  • There is no doubt that the weight of the tent, at 1.7 kg, is much lighter than Westie, which weighs in at nearly 3kg. This will make a devil of a difference to my pack weight.
  • The ability to pitch the fly before the inner could be an advantage on multi-day trips and whilst pitching in rain.
  • The interior is spacious; it is longer than Westie with plenty of space at my head and feet, although it is also narrower and squatter. I expect the height issue will become more of a factor when I am lying on my NeoAir inflatable mattress rather than the groundsheet.

Negatives:

  • You always need to use the guy ropes on the Akto, and that gives it a surprisingly bigger footprint on the ground than my old faithful - and much larger - Westie.
  • It is fussy to erect. Westie was fairly simple to put up, even with its three poles, and once up, she remained up. Glaciers could not shift her. I found the Akto to be more complex, especially when adjusting the guy tensioners. I would not like to have to erect her in the dark until I have had much more experience. It is also much harder to erect than my smaller Jack Wolfskin Gossamer tent.
  • The interior height is not quite ideal for me, although liveable with.
  • Even using the tensioners, I had difficulty getting one corner taught. It will need much more practice  preferably in an area with more space.
  • Being used to Westie's lightweight traditional metal pegs, I found Akto's pegs to be fiddly and less practical. For this reason, I may try pitching her with some of Westie's spare pegs. The V-profile pegs also have a tendency to clog with mud. The mud has to be scraped off after disassembly, which can be a mucky business.
  • The only interior storage is a very small mesh pocket at one end.
  • For some unknown reason, there are fabric hoops on the inner's ceiling from which you could theoretically hang a mesh storage shelf. But that would lower the available interior height considerably. It would be interesting to know if anyone uses these loops.

A small tent needs a big garden
Another oddity I noted; when Sencan got in, static electricity attracted her long air to the inner. Later on, I noticed that the inner was pressing against the flysheet. An investigation showed that static appeared to be attracting the two together. Hopefully this artefact will disappear with use.

I will have to spend a few nights in the Akto before I see if there any problems with condensation, which was Westie's biggest problem towards the end. It certainly should be better - the ventilation options seem more practical to use. However no substantial tent can ever be condensation proof on a frosty, still night.

Weighing her on scales, I get a packed weight of 1.740 kg; a good 140 grams more than the advertised weight. This is hardly unusual, but annoying: I wish manufacturers could give a more realistic weight estimate. However it is well over a kilogram lighter than Westie, which will make a difference on the hills.

The big question is whether I will be brave enough to use this in anger for the first time on a backpacking trip, or whether I will go for a car-camp. That will depend on mood, weather and bravery.

3 comments:

Alan R said...

Hi David,
With the reputation of this home from home i think you can risk a backpack with it. I find it’s always better to discover the issues in a real situation rather than just a practice run. A short backpack i suggest.

I havn’t used this tent myself but i think it’s possible to keep the inner and outer as one piece and so the necessity of pitching outer first becomes irrelevant. Just a thought.

Have fun with it anyway.

Martin Rye said...

Its prone to condensation
Its way too heavy by current standards
Its not as good as a Scarp 1
Its not cheap
Its cramped for anyone over 6ft. I got fed up with it after three years. Found better and don’t rate the Akto at all now.

Hope you dont regret it later. Go enjoy.

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