Friday, 5 November 2010

The Hilleberg Akto - Initial Analysis and Review

The Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 is the perfect 3 Season tent for me. It's likely I'll experiment with tarps and bivys next year but I am also looking at doing some high level winter camping over the coming years. I am not convinced that the Fly Creek is suitable for the sort of conditions I would expect to experience as I detailed in an earlier post on my Winter Overnight System. Looking at All-Season solo tents, the Hilleberg Akto has a reputation as an indomitable character and a timeless classic. It has been updated several times in its lifetime and is due another one but still remains a proven All-Season shelter. Several other shelters compete with it, but I see problems with all of them, and consequently I was persuaded by the Akto. I purchased this one on eBay for £235. It arrived in very good condition indeed and I pitched in the garden as soon as I had the chance.

  • Weight of fly and inner (in stuffsack): 1196g
  • Flysheet: Kerlon 1200 silicone-coated nylon, HH: 2000mm
  • Inner: 30D, 42g/m high tenacity ripstop nylon
  • Groundsheet: 70D, 90g/m high tenacity ripstop nylon, HH: 5000mm
  • Pole: DAC Featherlite NSL
  • Poleset (including stuffsack): 216g
  • 10 Vargo Titanium Pegs (in poleset stuffsack): 50g
  • Total: 1462g
  • Floor space of inner: 220cm x 90cm/60cm, 1.70sqm
  • Floor space of porch: 220cm x 75cm, 0.83sqm

Fabric information can be found here. I didn't like the Vaude Power Lizard so, the Akto being the forerunner of this now much-plagiarised blueprint, it might seem odd that I would consider it. My reasons are simple - I wanted a tested, formidable, winter shelter. That is, without doubt, the Hilleberg Akto. Consequently, I thought I would give the single-hoop format another chance if, as I suspected, the other shortcomings of the Power Lizard were absent in the Akto. Manufacturing is clearly superb - there is not a stitch out of place and everything about the Akto screams quality and design intelligence. On initial scrutiny, it deserved its awesome reputation. It's only after using it in anger that the shortcomings become all too apparent.

Pitching is elementary and I achieved a relatively taut pitch in about 5-10 minutes of experimenting. The unique guyline systems are what really provide this shelter with both an uncomplicated and strong frame. Concluding adjustments and fine-tuning are also relatively painless. I may well replace the guylines, with a thinner, stronger, 1.5mm dyneema (1.3g/m) or 2mm dyneema (3g/m) which would extend the weight-loss from first mod I have made (and make to all my tents - Vargo titanium pegs with stronger V-pegs for pivotal guys if necessary - which will probably be the case in winter conditions) as well as making the guys stronger than the guys provided. The dyneema will also not soak up water as the current guys will. I might have a chat to Hilleberg about this first to see what they think but it seems feasible and effective.

The pole - the ubiquitous DAC 9mm - inserts into the pole-sleeve at the porch side and ends its journey in a convenient, durable cordura/kevlar pocket. The porch end is then placed into a plastic cup and then adjusted tight via a brass double tension lock. This is simple effortlessness and far more straightforward a set-up to manage alone in high wind. It's a very neat and effective innovation.

The guylines, 8 at either end joined together to be grounded via only 4 pegs (another clever design), are all separately adjustable through line-loks which I prefer to traditional tent guylines. This makes the Akto taut and, I would imagine both from looking at it, and from reviews, very robust in strong wind. The bottom corners of the fly also peg out, increasing the tautness of the overall pitch and security. They are not necessary, according to Hilleberg, but I would almost certainly use them.

There is a vent hood above the porch with a malleable wire strip (think hood peak on a jacket) to adjust the angle of the cover. If the weather is poor, the fly can therefore be vented without water ingress. Another great idea - we'll see how well it works in strong wind and spindrift. The clasps to hold the fly back, and the inner for that matter, are small pieces of elastic shock-cord which loop over a small hook. They are far easier to use than the loop-and-toggle system I've seen on the Fly Creek UL1, the Seedhouse SL1 and the Power Lizard UL but probably less likely to withstand inclement weather - this is not so much of a concern for me as I won't have the porch/inner open in inclement weather. Again, points to Hilleberg.

The size of the porch is also a genuinely positive feature of the Akto. I could cook in the porch in complete safety, such is the angle at which the fly heads upwards, as well as the space, which would be crucial to me. It means I do not need a windshield for my Primus Express Spider. More weight saved and less fuel used. The fly does seem slightly loose along the bottom and I have seen this moves in high wind - I can always put a boot there when cooking.

Rather like the Power Lizard, the Akto's inner is attached to the fly but, unlike the Power Lizard (one of the reasons I did not get on with it) a taut pitch on the fly achieves a taut pitch on the inner. The inner follows, on the side away from the porch, the line of the fly giving a small, alcove area within the inner within which to stash extra kit - not that there is any worry about space - I am 6' tall and there is no chance of my head or feet ever touching the ends of this 220cm long inner and width is no issue. The primary reason to choose the Power Lizard was the palatial space it offered for such a low pack weight - the Akto really does not feel that much smaller until you are in a storm when the movement of the fly and the inner mean the sides end up shifting noticeably. This has a knock-on effect in terms of the inner above my head coming constrictively close to my face during the night - a significant problem for me in the TN Laser Competition and also in the Akto. On that note, much has been said about the head-height in the Akto being marginally on the dwarfish side - the Laser Competition is without doubt blessed with slightly more head-room (5cm to be precise) but at 6' tall, I did not find the Akto to be too low. I can sit, in fine weather, with my head brushing the inner, and do porch chores without irritation. However, atop a mat, with a storm raging outside, things are different.

The inner and fly ends are held high and taut by small rods - I could replace these with carbon-fibre but the weight saved would not be justified in terms of potential strength reduction. The bathtub groundsheet - 90g/msq, 70 Denier, 5000mm Hydrostatic Head ripstop nylon does not need a footprint in my view. Compared to the Fly Creek (I don't use a footprint for that either) - it's concrete. Sympathetic pitching is all that is required.

Condensation is, depending on which review one reads, either a wicked problem or not much of an irritation at all. To minimise condensation, the Akto has various vents and the inner fabric is 'breathable'. One vent, on the fly above the porch, I have alluded to, but it also corresponds to an area of mesh on the inner which can also be covered if desirable. The other vents are at the foot and head end of the fly and are unzipped when outside. They cannot be accessed from inside without in-porch contortionist behaviour. I know of a mod done by Geoff at v-g where he replaced the nylon with mesh at the corresponding ends of the inner to assist ventilation. It's a nice idea but I'll see how the Akto handles winter first. There is a small pocket in the inner by the door as well. Probably big enough to take my specs, my Vector (which I take off so I can check ambient temperature) and my iPhone - maybe even my e+Lite too. There are small loops at the top of the inner to which a gear loft could be fastened - that's seriously optimistic, Hilleberg.

The Akto was intended to be my winter shelter - it needed to be able to cope with high wind, serious rainfall, snow and other violently inclement weather. I needed to be able to cook in the porch and store more kit than I would in 3-season shelters. It needed to shut out the cold as much as possible. It needed to pitch in a way which was quick, kept the inner dry and meant I was out of bad weather as soon as possible. It also needed to be durable. For all of those successes, the Akto was, on the face of it, perfect and I am willing to put up with its weight - that said, a few mods and it's not quite the porker it seems...

Looks can be deceiving. Reviews are not always what they seem. Reputation is not necessarily deserved. The Akto simply does not do what I had hoped it would do and legend does not always mean best.

It is heavy - 1.5kg for a solo shelter is serious weight. The proprietary fabrics Hilleberg have used are superb in terms of waterproofness and durability - about that there can be no doubt - and it is a solid shelter in a storm. However, even when venting, the condensation build up on the interior of the fly, and the exterior of the inner, is incredible. In fact, so much so, that it dripped constantly onto the exterior of my WM Summerlite. The inner itself is so cramped for a 6ft person that, particularly in wind, the inner is prone to rub against a bag and that itself, given the condensation, causes serious problems for a down bag.

I found the height to be a problem when using a winter mat which is, inevitably, thicker than summer mats. I had to stoop even in the middle of the shelter where the apex is located.

I sold the Akto after three nights in it. Condensation is a major issue. Inner space is not enough, in my view. It's too heavy. In short - there are better options in winter. I'll let you know when I've tested them all...


  1. It's worth sealing the loop that secures the fly door, both the elastic and the patch on the underside of the fly as they both leak. Apart from that it's bomb proof. The only problem you may have is heavy snow as it can collect on the flat roof and unlike the Scarp there's no crossing poles to support it. Personally, I prefer the Scarp, but the Akto is still a very good tent.

  2. Thanks for the tip, Robin. I have some seam seal of course so I'll get that done soon. Hydrostatic Head is something that have been looking at recently (I am going to post my analysis of HH ratings shortly) and the rating (and durability) of Kerlon 1200 compared to Silnylon and the materials used by Tarptent was something that featured in my decision. It's a personal decision. By now, you know that I can be a little bit sentimental and there was something about the Akto that persuaded me. Maybe it's the Scandinavian roots and Mrs M's background getting to me...

  3. A good choice of tent there Maz. I brought an Akto when it first came out and it served me well for a decade. It was a bit heavier than the current incarnation though. I like the way that even though the seams are not sealed the pole hood on mine has never leaked, they use some innervative stitching techniques instead.
    I managed to buy that modified tent off of Geoff at v-g for a very amazing price (thanks Geoff). I have found that the end vents he had put in makes it much less stuffy.

    The only downside is the condensation, if you spend 16 hours in a small tent it is going to happen anyway!

    The pitch is not as tight as a Scarp1 and it does flap and deform a bit in high winds put mine never collapsed on me. That included a night where it was so windy I found it difficult to stand!

    Robin is right about the loop on the fly door, although it drips into the porch so I have never had an issue with it.

  4. Might be worth using a porch groundsheet in winter to keep down condensation and extend the useable area of the tent. I used an Akto footprint from Hilleberg cut in half. Team IO also do one but there's been some negative comment about customer service on OM recently.

  5. Maybe someone should come up with a vent simular to what you get on tumble dryers? Something that goes over your mouth with tubing to take your breath outside where it can evaporate? I sometimes wonder why I am not a millionaire!

  6. My brother in law can get me some off-cuts of cuben fibre - may use some of that if I find it is a problem. He is a sailmaker so can sew it himself. Looking at using the Akto in Snowdonia in January - Beddgelert up to Moel Hebog, then Moel yr Ogof, Moel Lefn then up to the Nantlle Ridge, head west to camping just off Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd, back east the next day across the Nantlle Ridge and down to Rhyd Ddu. Should be a good two-dayer.

  7. Maz - good technical post. I can appreciate it more as some of the good features on the Akto are on the Soulo. I will continue with the Power Lizard in the calmer months of the year, but it needs some shelter,which is not a problem with Hillebergs :)
    Looks a good route in January, I did some of the route in the summer as a day hike.

  8. James: you're not a millionaire because you post your genius ideas on peoples' blogs and they get stolen...

  9. Mark: I know, I saw it on your blog. I also rather liked the motorhome. You've seen our 'Van I take it...?

  10. When getting in or out, operate the inner's lower, horizontal zip with the diagonal, upper zip closed, otherwise you could (I have) snag the door in the lower zip. As that is the only damage my Akto has sustained in quite a few nights, I suspect your Akto will last. And last.

  11. Maz, yes Hymers are great. The motorhome which is a Geist is built in Germany by LMC - (which I think is owned by Hymer) for the British market. Has all the bells and whistles like yours - air blown heating, Grade 3 winter insulation, inside water tank etc. Went out the other week for a couple of nights in the heavy frost (-5C). Sheer luxury:)

  12. John: thanks for the tip - I noticed it seemed a little difficult to open without two hands, unlike the Fly Creek.

    Mark: we've been out in the winter and it really is wonderful to go back inside and crack open a bottle of red with blown air heating on. Guilty pleasures.

  13. Team IO are lousy. I have had it with them. On the Akto. Too heavy, old design, cramped if six foot and over, and over rated. Used mine for over three years so know it well. Not so good in the wind when it blows the sides in on you. Condensation is terrible with it. The porch is deep in the middle but cuts back at a very sharp angle so offers just enough space. Laser porch width goes the whole length of the porch in comparison. Then there is Hassle of separation of the inner and outer if mopping wet with condensation. Where on a Laser it easy to lean over it and mop up condensation with a cloth to pack it away. The four season argument is only valued low down and the poles can break under heavy snow loading. Well, made for sure. For winter Hilleberg make better tents and for backpacking there are better options. So to me the Akto is history and I hope the new version has something to offer in a competitive market. Hence why I sold mine years ago and many others have done the same. I will get my coat before I get lynched by Akto lovers.

  14. Run, Martin, run...

    I delight in your comments and cannot wait to use it now!! Will let you know what I think - at least I am happy to admit if I don't like something or paid for.

  15. For a night or two you'll be happy. For a fortnight with rain four days straight you'll hate it.

  16. I wondered what you were going to get. I thought you might have gone for the TT Moment. But i was wrong wasn't i.
    Hope you like the Atko when you get on the hill with it.

  17. Martin: will let you know in the Spring!

    Alan: just not that impressed with Tarptent at the moment for various reasons so the Moment was not on my radar either. I know the Scarp has its supporters but I'll let you know what I think of the Akto after a freezing night on the Nantlle Ridge in January 2011.

  18. I loved my Akto (did over ten years with her) but my current Squeeze is Wanda - a Stephenson's Warmlite 2C.

    This little honey outperforms the Akto in every respect. She is bombproof and incredibly spacious. She is the perfect gurl for a chap on his own in the Big Wild Wilderness, regardless of the Weather.

    She is a sprightly 1205 grams sealed, in her bag with heavy duty titanium V Pegs.

  19. Very interesting Alan. Had a quick look, not knowing Wanda as well as you, and I have to say I'd be somewhat circumspect about cooking in the 'porch'! Also - and I know this is very odd - I don't like too much space. It's a very interesting design but I am surprised it is more robust than the Akto. I'll keep an eye on it. Thanks for the heads up and I like your LEJOG journey - exactly the sort of thing I wish I could get the time to do - maybe in the US...

  20. I sold my Akto and bought a Hilleberg Unna. Yes, it's heavier but it gives me so much extra space inside. Other pluses: self-standing so easy to move the tent around to find that perfect spot, whole door zips open to enjoy the sun, new black inner mesh to make the Unna somewhat modular and fits two regular sleeping mats (granted, this leaves no space for gear). Downside: almost 2 kilo's, no real porch although you can improvise one. For UL I have a Tarptent Moment but the Unna deserves some attention.

  21. I sold my Akto and bought a Hilleberg Unna. Yes, it's heavier but it gives me so much extra space inside. Other pluses: self-standing so easy to move the tent around to find that perfect spot, whole door zips open to enjoy the sun, new black inner mesh to make the Unna somewhat modular and fits two regular sleeping mats (granted, this leaves no space for gear). Downside: almost 2 kilo's, no real porch although you can improvise one. For UL I have a Tarptent Moment but the Unna deserves some attention.

  22. For a night or two you'll be happy. For a fortnight with rain four days straight you'll hate it.

  23. I am with Martin on this one. Had an Akto a few years ago and felt it was a compromise on too many fronts. Bit too low on headroom, not strong enough for heavy snow. not lightweight compared to similar tents, not bombproof for exposed pitches and to be honest isnt the prettiest tent out there :) and expensive for what it is
    I think we try to get a does it all tent but in the end I believe that you need 2 or 3 shelters that are the best for the set of conditions you find youeself in at any given time.
    Tarp/bivvy for fast and light or 3 season milder conditions
    lightweight tent such as the Laser Comp or Scarp for 3+season camping in all but the worst conditions
    heavy duty tent such as the Soulo or Unna for full on 4season conditions

  24. Backpackbrewer - like your blog so it's nice to receive a comment from you! I liked the Akto a lot but not enough to keep it. It is too heavy for what it achieves (I start with a 1kg benchmark for a winter shelter so 500g out of my 5kg base weight is too great a percentage). I don't necessarily agree that it's too expensive however - it's superbly made and worth the cash for someone who can accept its shortcomings. It doesn't suit what we (the UL brigade) take to be important but others may disagree where their priorities are different. Also, it had to deal with some extremely nasty weather this winter and did so excellently so I would argue it is as robust as any other shelter out there that competes with it. That said, I do not think the Laser Comp is any less robust/sturdy in that sort of weather and it's 500g lighter (and taller). Anyhow, it went on eBay recently and went for a bit more than what I paid for it. The condensation was also an issue for me.

    I intend to alternate between the Fly Creek and the Trailstar for 3 season camping this year and use the Trailstar for winter camping. So much has been said about its stability and that is frankly the only issue I am concerned with for winter camping so I am intrigued and always like to push the envelope a bit. We have a Trailstar en route with a couple of Superlight Bivvys so we'll be sharing a shelter between us. That's 1kg for both of us rather than 1kg each. The bivvy will be large enough to take a winter mat and a winter bag (although I would still like to see how a Summerlite with a Reactor liner and PHD Yukon react to -8C but that will have to wait until November/December...

  25. I sold my Akto. This winter, the Trailstar will see some use especially as 2 of us can sleep under it and be happy. Instead of carrying two tents (at 2.5kg between them), we carry one tarp and two bivy's weighing 1kg in total. This also solves the problems we had relating to wet bags which you can see in another post.

  26. wouldn't trade the trustworthyness for anything lighter. though i'm into light stuff, the time o year i'm out in makes the akto ultralight. finnmarksvidda in october is wet, cold, windy, frosty n snowy. all in one. i'll drown in condens - gust in a lighter tent - it does it all