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Hilleberg Akto Tent

Hilleberg Atko in Scotland
Hilleberg Akto in Scotland

The Hilleberg Akto is one of the lightest weight, single person, 4 season tents ever made. First introduced in 1995, Akto was the gold standard by which lightweight ( 3 pounds 8 ounces) expedition class solo tents were judged for more than a decade.

I first saw the Akto up close when I hiked across Scotland in 2010 in the TGO Challenge and it seemed that half of the participating hikers had one. I got to try one this winter when Hilleberg USA loaned me one to review.

The original motivation behind the Akto’s design was to let a backpacker pitch their tent in the rain without the inner tent getting wet. Hilleberg made it possible to pitch the outer first and then hang the inner tent inside it. It was a brilliant solution to a very real issue, but few American manufacturers have followed suit with the exception of Tarptent (Scarp 1.)

The Akto also incorporates some of the most revolutionary venting options available to defeat internal condensation, which together with a large vestibule, make this a very comfortable shelter to take on extended trips provided that there are intermittent sunny days to dry out the entire system.

Tent Design

The first thing you should know about the Akto is that it’s a double walled tent with an inner tent and an outer fly. The inner hangs from loops inside the outer fly so that the two can be pitched together at the same time or you can pitch the outer and hang the inner separately.

Optional Inner Tent
Inner Tent

The inner tent has a five sided floor, providing ample space to stretch out and store a considerable amount of gear. Additionally, the right hand side of the can also be completely unzipped and rolled back (see top photo) or left closed, creating a barrier between the open space in the side vestibule and the inner tent. There’s also a triangular mesh window in the side wall of the inner which can be unzipped to provide ventilatation or closed to retain heat.

The middle apex of the inner is just barely high enough to sit upright. From there the front and back ends of the inner tent slope down like a triangle with the fabric hovering just over your face (if you’re lying in your back) and feet. It’s surprisingly close feeling and makes the inner tent feel like more like a bivy. In fact, Hilleberg also sells an additional kit that lets you just set up the inner without the outer fly.

Hilleberg Atko in the White Mountains, New Hampshire
Hilleberg Atko in the White Mountains, New Hampshire

One of the delights of the Akto is the large side vestibule running along the right side of the inner which provides ample space for gear storage, provides a good wind break,  and is large enough to cook in with a carefully controlled compressed gas flame. The extra space is also welcome if you need to spend a day indoors to sit out poor weather or to keep wet or snow covered gear out of the inner tent to reduce internal condensation.

Bi-directional Zipper on Vestibule Door
Bi-directional Zipper on Vestibule Door (Vent Open)

The vestibule zipper is bi-directional which is very convenient when inside the tent because you can fine tune ventilation you want to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning if you are cooking, retain heat, or increase ventilation to counter internal condensation. There’s also a small beaked window in the vestibule to provide ventilation in the event of external precipitation, such as rain or snow.

Vestibule - Inside View
Vestibule Vent - Inside View

In addition, the Akto has vents on the front and back end of the tent that let you regulate airflow between the outer fly and inner tent, again to combat internal condensation, particularly useful in the event of a long stay to sit out foul weather or if you boil water inside the vestibule.

Exterior Vent - Open
Exterior Vent - Open

The outside fly overhangs the vent opening and helps prevent blowing rain from wetting the inner tent.

Exterior Vent - Interior View
Exterior Vent - Interior View

Pitching The Tent

The Akto is a bit tricky to set up in 3-season weather and you need to practice it a few times to get the hang of it. Doing it on snow is less straightforward and a little prep before your trip can be helpful.

While the minimum pitch requires 4 stakes and the collapsible center pole, you’ll usually want to guy out the two ends of the tent which require two stakes each. Staking the two sides of the center pole is optional, but also helpful – so figure 10 stakes in all. While Hilleberg provides a set of lightweight v-stakes with the Akto, my advice is to replace them with  longer beefier 6″ or 8″ Easton stakes, especially if you’re going to be pitching in windy conditions. For snow, you’ll want to bring some aluminum deadmen or snow anchors.

End Stake System
End Stake System

Each of the 4 end corners of the Akto has a mental ring instead of a guy loop, so you want a stake with some kind of lip on it to prevent the ring from popping off of the stake. In the end, I just tied a loop of paracord to each ring, which provides a little more flexibility for in snow camping, making it easier to stake down using a snow stake, a snow anchor or a dead man.

After anchoring the corners, insert the collapsible pole into the center sleeve: the sleeve is reinforced to prevent tearing and quite robust, although the pole has an annoying tendency to “pull apart” when you take the tent down and extract it.

Finally anchor the top ends of the tent, making sure the rear of the tent is pointed into the wind for better ventilation and aerodynamic performance.  Two thin fiberglass rods are sewn into the outer fly on either side of the end vents: the guy lines effectively pull the top of these rods over the vent, creating a rain shelf and stabilizing the pitch in windy conditions. The taughtness of the guy lines is regulated using line loc tensioners, which you’ll quickly get the hang of using with a little practice.

End Guylines
End Guylines

There are also side guy lines, again using line loc tensioners, on either side of the center pole which you can anchor for further security. In snow, I found it best to use my poles, snowshoes, and crampons as snow anchors for the guylines and deadman stakes for the 4 corners, especially if you’re too lazy to wait for deadmen or snow anchors to scinter (harden).

Suitability for Winter

When I field tested the Akto, I was primarily interested in it’s usability in winter conditions, at or near treeline. There are always trade-offs between space, weight, robustness, and comfort in winter conditions and I wanted to see where the Akto ranked along these dimensions. Here are some of my main observations:

  • The “feature to weight ratio” on the Akto is simply amazing. At 3 pounds 8 ounces, the comfort level of this tent is extremely good. While it’s probably too heavy for a one night trip or team summit attempt, it’d make a fine shelter for a multi-day trip, particularly if you’re alone and need to sit out bad weather.
  • While the Akto’s wind resistance is quite good when it’s staked down and doesn’t flap much, the tent paints a pretty big wind target and is probably best used below treeline or behind a wind break.
  • The outer fly walls are not steep enough to shed a heavy snow load. I’d avoid using this tent if heavy or deep snow was forecast.
  • It is possible to eliminate nearly all internal condensation using the vestibule vent, end vents, and by opening the screen window on the inner tent. The Akto did well on relatively deep snow and zero degree (F) weather; I admittedly did not test it in sustained rain or mist.
  • The vestibule provides an excellent wind break if you need to cook behind it. Extreme caution must be taken of course, to avoid setting the tent on fire, particularly if using a white gas stove.
  • The Akto is can be tricky to set up in winter and in wind because you need to sink dead men or snow anchors for the corners and let them harden before putting load on them.
  • The yellow inner tent lets a lot of day light into the tent so you can see well in the morning.
  • Build quality is absolutely top notch.

Conclusions

While the Hilleberg Akto Tent has a host of impressive features and is relatively lightweight for a winter tent, it doesn’t really suit my style of winter backpacking very well. I tend to take shorter 1-2 night trips and I prefer a free standing tent which pitches quickly without any campsite preparation. After setting up a tent, my goal is to get out of the weather and into a dry base layer as quickly as possible, so I can start melting snow for water, cook dinner, and go to sleep.  I plan my trips carefully to avoid bad weather and I don’t need a shelter comfortable enough wait out a day time storm.

Although I love the ventilation options available on the Akto and found them to work very well on snow and in zero degree (F) weather, I can get by without them by cracking the door of my conventional tent open when I sleep at night. If I took longer trips, or longer trips in mixed conditions with rain and snow, I think the Akto would be a better tent for me.

That said, I really like the design elements in the Atko and believe that they’ve had a profound influence on the lexicon of design patterns in use by tent manufacturers’ today. For a tent that was first manufactured in 1995, the Akto design has stood the test of time and still remains a classic. But no tent is perfect in all conditions and for all styles of backpacking, so before you choose an Akto, carefully consider what your needs are and whether the Akto is right for you.

Likes

  • Fantastic ventilation options
  • Roomy interior space
  • Center hoop provides an excellent wind break
  • Inner vestibule is quite nice in winter to protect gear

Dislikes

  • Requires fair amount of practice to set up
  • Not freestanding
  • Vestibule door does not stay open – need to use a clothes pin to keep it rolled up
  • Vestibule fabric gets caught in zipper and is easy to holed

Manufacturer Specifications

  • Packed Weight, including stakes: 3 pounds 8 ounces
  • Inner Tent Area: 18.3 square feet
  • Vestibule Area: 8.6 square feet
  • Pole: 1 x 115.4 inches (9mm)
  • Stakes: 10
  • Inner tent length: 87 inches
  • Height at center pole: 36 inches
  • Inner tent width: 30 inches (max)
  • Vestibule width: 36 (max)
  • Fabric: Nylon (Kerlon)
  • Inner Mesh Tent, also available
  • MSRP ($465 USD)

Disclosure: Hilleberg loaned SectionHiker.com (Philip Werner) an Akto Tent for this review. 

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23 comments

  1. This and another tent (Exped Serius, now Aeres Mesh) are my two favorite winter tents. Both are industructable little tents (1 and 2 person tents) with LOTS of extra space for gear.
    Well Done!

  2. I thought a lot about the weather you guys get in the UK and reckon ours (in winter) is much colder/drier (like 50 degrees colder in F) which may explain the different performance on snow. As for fantastic ventilation options – I stand by that – as long as you open up the doors and vents the Akto vents fine. If you keep them closed and expect the “breathable” inner to work – you’re going to get wet. It’s the same in any tent.

    The trekking pole picture was taken from a funny angle. I had to dig the tent into the side of a hill and bury the poles. The guys are raised in that picture to accentuate the vents which are otherwise difficult to photo. You’d obviously want to drop the guys more to reduce the profile of the vent to the wind and prevent the tent from being blown off the hill.

    I’m not surprised if I made a hash of the guyline system (the photo was from a practice run), but the concept is pretty clear I think. There are guy-lines with a complicated pully /line loc system to stretch the fly taught.

  3. I have never owned an Akto, but I would suggest that the Trailstar with an oooknest and also the new Scarp are contenders as well, as is the Stephenson 2C and also 2R if you add the extra support guys to the end of the 2R as I now have.

    In fact the 2R with additional guys, still comes in at less weight than the Akto,
    and I think has better venting to reduce condensation.
    It is also bigger and is palace like on the inside.

    The Scarp is probably the tent that the Akto could have been, had they developed it a bit more over the years.

    Nothing against your review here, just chucking in another couple of Contenders.

    Tents are personal things at the end of the day, like boots and shoes and jackets.
    If they work for you, then that is the one.

    • Have to agree with you there – very personal and even more so in winter.
      I use to own a Scarp 1 and hated Henry’s pitch lock end-stake system, especially in winter. I like the Akto’s better although still a bit cumbersome. Free standing winter tents are so much easier to deal with.

  4. Seems like a nice tent, and ventilation is always a necessity. Personally I would prefer a single person tent that you could at least sit upright in without hitting your head on the roof, just one of those luxuries that I like to have is a bit taller tent, it makes things feel a bit more spacious. Having a large vestibule is great for storing your gear in. My BA tents all have very large vestibules and they have become a feature that I always look for when looking for a new tent.

  5. I used a Akto for three and half years. Crossed Scotland with one a few times. Lot’s nights out in it. I hate it. One long trip I ended up under it a lot more than normal sitting out rain in camp while mooping the damp squib down to manage condensation.

    Something snapped in me and it had to go. I got a TN Laser and then a Laser Competition. Akto owners will be along saying how great it is I am sure but here is the truth as I see it.

    Condensation is an issue. I have seen the tent shake in storms and a mist shower cover all my kit in the porch, and the inner soaked. Ventilation does not work. Some have had modes added to them to make it better and gave up and sold them on. Its good at getting wet this tent.

    The porch is hailed as so big and so good. Ok lets look at the facts. Its deep in the middle and cuts back at a sharp angle eliminating that depth fast. The door opens one side and if the rain changes direction it pours in the opening.

    Where a Laser Comp has a little less depth but the porch goes the same depth along the whole tent length. Much better tent porch.

    Akto hight wise has 90cm inner hight – which is too cramped.

    Next is the myth it’s so good in the wind. If I had a choice I would use the Laser anytime. Having used both I know what tent I would want in bad weather. I have photos of the Akto getting based about and it was well pitched.

    Durability wise the Akto is claimed to be so durable unlike the flimsy Laser. Yet they have the same weight per foot of fly material. No difference. Proved that way back on BPL.

    Yet I found the TN Laser flysheet did not soak out like the Akto which I found became a damp squib. Maz from JT blog got a Akto. Told him it was a damp squib and he soon found out it was and sold it on. Its heavy for a one man tent now. Lacks the Scarps stability, versatility and scalability with the cross over poles. The Akto lacks the tight compact design of a Laser Competition. The Laser has better head room and a better porch. The Akto is just too expensive and too old a design for me.

    Pitch wise there are some flaws in those photos but check any Challenge post photos and see lots of others getting it wrong. Why is simple, it’s not a great design.

    Over rated, over priced and one tent that should not be over here, or over there.

    Scarp 1 is way better. Trailstar even more. Wont use an inner with the Trailstar as the versatility in pitch options is what makes it so good. Better a bivy and ground sheet. But a Trailstar wipes the floor with a Akto and cost a lot less, and weight is a lot less.

    If I can think of anything good to say about the Akto it is well built in terms of workmanship. Thats it.

    • I read the entire discussion on Maz’s blog about how you guys dislike this tent. Yep, the design is dated, yep, it probably sucks in the rain (as does any double walled tent), yep it probably can’t stand high winds or heavy snow load (as I suggest), but I’ve slept remarkably well in winter using this tent without hardly frost forming inside the inner tent after some trial and error tinkering with the ventilation. I can’t say that about **ANY**of double or single walled winter tents I own or have tried. Yep, there are lighter options, Yep there are cheaper options. I wouldn’t carry a tent like this in any other season except the cold of winter, but it did ok by me then.

      So what was your experience using it in winter? Do you ever get the cold drier weather (reckon it’s -17 to -30 Celsius) that we get?

    • Can’t stand high winds?? See more recent you tube clips of Akto coping with VERIFIED 85mph winds in the UK. And hard to pitch? For G’s sake, it’s as hard as pegging out a rectangle and then adding some tensioning with guy lines.

  6. -17! We stop play in the UK at -10 I have you know. My winter walks are few and far between. Yes, I have used it in cold. Had ice forming on the inside and the like. Why? moisture build up turns to ice. But as we talk about in the UK – we get those damp insidious cold nights.

    Damp cold and not a dry cold. -30 is beyond my comfort zone.

    • Now we are getting somewhere – I reviewed this from the perspective of a New Hampshire winter peakbagger/backpacker. I was sleeping with a -31 C sleeping bag when I slept in the Akto. I don’t even bother to go winter camping if it’s above -17 Celsius at night. Too warm for me. Now take everything I wrote and re-evaluate it in light of what I consider tolerably cold conditions. Testing this in rain was never worth my time. I wanted to see how it was as a (US) winter tent.

  7. Well, I’ve found the Akto one of the best solo tents for UK conditions – and I’ve tested dozens over the years, including just about every single hoop Akto-type ones. I used it for a 41/2 month walk over all the 3000 foot summits in Scotland during a wet and windy summer and have used it on several TGO Challenge crossings and numerous other trips, including one very damp two-week autumn one in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I’ve never found the condensation problem any worse than with other small two-skin tents and better than in most as few have as good ventilation options – and the ventilation works fine as long as it’s breezy. I find the porch more usable than in similar tents (all basically Akto copies) because of the depth – the main things I want in a porch is space for my pack and wet gear and a safe enclosed cooking area, which the Akto has and most similar tents don’t have. I do like the Scarp, especially the larger inner, crossover poles and lower weight, but I’d rather have one large porch than two small ones and I’m quite sure the heavier materials of the Akto means it will be more durable. I’ve also found the Akto better in strong winds than other single hoop tents other than the Scarp – it moves less and is less noisy, which is not to say that it’s comfortable in really strong winds, just better than most.

    Overall I think it’s a brilliant design and that only Tarptent with the Scarp has come up with a variation that has any advantages. If I was choosing a single hoop tent it would be between the Akto and the Scarp – the former for durability, ventilation and porch size, the latter for inner size and crossover poles. I wouldn’t seriously consider any of the others.

    The Trailstar, which I’ve only tried briefly so far, seems excellent but a tarp is very different from a tent and will not suit everyone. The big advantages of the tarp over small tents are the space for the weight, the versatility and the wind resistance. Unless you get an inner there’s no protection from condensation drips though (or bugs – I wouldn’t use a Trailstar in Scotland between late May and October without an inner). Yes, ventilation can be excellent when the wind blows but in dead calm weather with high humidity no amount of ventilation prevents condensation (I’ve been woken by drips falling on my face from a flat tarp pitched as a lean-to with the lower end a foot off the ground – you can’t have more ventilation than that). Most tarps aren’t wind resistant enough for comfortable camping in the Highlands – I’ve used several but only on short trips and had too many disturbed nights – but the Trailstar is an exception. I think for people who like the openness it’s great. The Akto and Scarp are for those who prefer the security of a two-skin tent.

    Good review by the way!

    • Chris – thanks for chiming in. I wanted to try this tent based largely on your experiences with it. Despite what others have said, I still think it’s a great tent, very comfortable and great at keeping the wild outdoors at bay when you want a quite night in a luxurious but fairly lightweight tent.

      • I use the Akto in the High Sierra where the ground is rocky and the tentable real estate sparse, perfect for free standing tents. But I still use the Akto, no seam sealing and absolutely bomb proof. It took me several nights to discover the genius of the design, when all is perfect and tight, it’s a real beauty. I pitch two ways: in the Sierra, only the outer with the foot print, for the Channel Islands and locations where rain is not a factor, only the mesh inner. I think both inner and outer together is over kill for my needs.

  8. Philip – good review there. I have not used the AKto before, but as you realise there are still many satisfied users in the UK. I have the Soulo, which is heavier, but I think it would be better in the snow see my experience of the snow loading after a foot and half two winters ago. It is also good in the wind and like the Akto it is quality workmanship.

    http://markswalkingblog.wordpress.com/2010/12/01/hilleberg-soulo-and-snow/

  9. With regard to the Akto’s outer door, there is a way to roll it up without needing a clothes-pin!

    Most people roll it up from the bottom upwards then wonder why there are lots of sagging bits.

    The key to doing it, is to roll it up vertically from the side (the bit with the zip). As you roll it up, it will pivot around the top left corner. In this config all you need is the toggle on the end to hold the whole thing up!

    This should have been in the manual as I can see why many people roll it from the bottom and get it wrong! :)

  10. If it rains I tend to get water running down the inside of the tent from the apex and dripping onto my inner which eventually starts to drip inside the tent, maybe this is a design fault of the Akto

  11. not yet am not sure which seam it will be coming from

  12. I Am sure the seams are so designed that it does or should not need sealant, I think some problems occur because the tents have been stored in a hot environment for some time in the shops.

  13. my voyager by terra nova is far superior to my akto never has had a problem with condensation never has had a problem with water coming into the tent

  14. I just got my Atko in. The bag is big. Any recommendations on what else to carry it in? I also heard some carry it in a separate waterproof bag for when it is damp or wet? Is it a good tent for 6-7 night trip ?

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