Hilleberg Akto Tent Review

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 as you need 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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3 comments

  1. 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!

  2. The one thing Hilleberg beats everyone else in is the incredible quality of their Kerlon fabrics: outrageous strength vs weight, very durable. If you rely on your tent for safe shelter in ugly conditions, this matters more than everything else.

  3. I have used an Atkp for many years from The Bob Marshall to the John Muir Trail, lots of Washington Cascades, Glacier and Yellowstone. Probably lived in it more than 6 months over time on the trail. Finally got kind of saggy and few repairs,now a rip after 20 years. Considering a new one. Tried a one layer no inner tarp tent last year,worked great on first 3-4 good weather good luck backpacks, finally got a high wind night and realized this will not do – recalling backpacking in the Atko 22 days in the Bob Marshall where it rained every day, all day in the middle week, and a Glacier National Park where the fine weather turned to 12 inches of snow for the middle days, and the Thunderstorms at high altitude in the California Sierra. The Atko held up, would have been soaked and cold in that tarp tent. Also I note the Atco can beset up without the inner and the sides of the shell batten down nice and tight to the ground. Pitch time once you got it down is minutes. Never used a tent floor protector, but always very picky about that set up spot.

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