“There’s no such thing as bad weather when you have the right gear” is an axiom common among hikers for whom a storm, snow, or tsunami aren’t a valid reason to cancel your plans. For those people, there is the Hilleberg Kaitum 2 GT – one of a line of “All-Season” tents that are just as at-home (and homey) on a sunny meadow in July as they are at Everest Base Camp (and they have been at both spots). I didn’t have an opportunity to go up Everest, so I just took it out into the snowiest spot in the continental United States – Mount Baker National Forest in Washington State.
Winter camping in the Pacific Northwest has a number of unique considerations, shelter primary among them. During a summer trip, many people would choose to simply bring a lightweight tarp to stave off an unexpected rainstorm and commune with the creepy crawly critters at night. Or, probably more common is the use of a “3-season” tent that prioritizes light weight, employing extensive mesh and providing minimal coverage. But as the nights grow longer, the temperatures plummet, and the ground is covered in enough snow that you’re snowshoeing through branches high above the summer trail, those will not only make for an uncomfortable trip, but likely a dangerous one.
Hilleberg creates 3 different classes of tent – Yellow, Red, and Black-label. Their Yellow-label are the aforementioned 3-season, lightweight options for a more fair-weather trek. The Kaitum 2 GT that I tested was in their Red-label line – a set of tents made for use in year-round conditions. All-season tents usually come in on the heavy end for backpacking, and this one was no different at 8lbs 3oz packed weight. The Black-label tents are very similar to the Red-label with even beefier materials and poles for the high-wind and snow-loading in extreme alpine environments. Hilleberg also has two different styles of tent available throughout their line – dome-style free-standing tents, and tube-style tents that require staking to stand up. The Kaitum line is a tube-style tent that comes in a 2- and 3-person size, and the GT variant includes an extra-large vestibule on one side.
The tents from Hilleberg don’t come cheap – this model retails for just north of $1000 – but stick with me. This one is worth it.
The most impressive feature of this tent before I even set it up is the silicon triple-coated fabric – it has the highest available tear strength of any tent in the market. On a tent that will spend much of its life around snowshoes and crampons, that will save a small puncture from immediately becoming a giant rip. Quality of the tent’s material is going to be the single biggest factor in the durability of your tent – so you don’t want to skimp here. Repeated stress and exposure to UV light will break down lesser fabrics much more quickly. If you stop by an authorized Hilleberg retailer, make sure to ask for the fabric samples. Just try to tear it. I couldn’t.
While packing for the trip, I unrolled the Kaitum to make sure everything was in order, and it struck me that the tent looks complex and messy when laying flat – there are guylines and supports running every which way, and the “outer tent” (basically a structural rainfly) and the “inner tent” stay attached. However, this tent will look and feel much more intentional and sophisticated once you start setting it up. Those two layers staying attached, for example, turned out to be a brilliant feature when we had to set up the tent while it was snowing, keeping the inside of the tent perfectly dry the whole time.
This is a big tent, and we may have had some trouble finding a suitable spot during the summer, but a great thing about winter camping is that you can dig out your flat camp in the snow without damaging the area around you. The tent is a snap to pitch, even compared to 3-season tents. The tube style allows you to stake out the upwind end of the tent to keep it in place, insert all of the poles into a flat tent, and then when you tug the other end to stake it out it just pops right up like magic! The poles are color-coded, and the pole sleeves use an ingenious one-way design that makes it super simple for one person to set up – they automatically seat on the far side, then you just put the loose end in a rubber cap and cinch it tight. This is one of the fastest and most satisfying winter mountaineering tents I’ve pitched.
Once up, there are a huge number of zippers and configurations for the fly according to conditions, and two large hooded vents to cut down on condensation. We brought a spare tarp as a floor for the giant vestibule (seriously, it was large enough to be a 2nd room to the tent), and our gear had a luxurious trip as well.
On the inside, there are pockets at every corner and a handy ridgeline to dry gear, hang a light, and take advantage of the generous headroom. Each end of the inner-tent has a large mesh door/window that can be zipped closed with a solid panel. Even the color of the inner tent was helpful – the outer tent can block a lot of light (already sometimes scarce in the winter), but the bright yellow inner tent makes good use of the light you have.
I am typically a 3-season camper, and I’ve somewhat recently gotten into the sleeping in the snow thing, but because of this tent we spent a dry and enjoyable winter night out (if a bit cold because we brought the wrong sleeping pad). We woke up to some condensation on the walls of the tent, but it wasn’t anything unexpected for this kind of tent and we could have opened the vents wider to cut down on it too. I looked for reasons to dislike this tent and I could find very few, so if you’re looking for a very high-quality all-season tent and you’re able to handle the price tag, make sure to put this one on your list.