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Shoulder/Winter tent advice
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Susan D
(susand) - M

Locale: montana
Shoulder/Winter tent advice on 04/15/2014 19:59:59 MDT Print View

I've been accumulating winter camping gear with the idea of getting out year round. From what I've read at BPL, I figured I should test it car camping. So, two weeks ago I went on an overnight trip to a dispersed camping area at about 6k feet. Not quite mid-winter conditions, more like shoulder, but it did snow 4-6 inches overnight, giving me a good opportunity to see how things worked out. I usually learn by trial and error - lots and lots of error. This short trip was no exception.

A few of my obvious mistakes were not setting up this particular tent before going out (despite having it for a couple of years) and forgetting my snowshoes, which I'd set out to take. There were other problems, and I thought I'd ask for advice about them on the forum.

1. I couldn't get stakes very far into the ground (maybe 2-3 inches). Is this likely because it was frozen? Does the ground freeze from the bottom up? I ask because my garden hasn't frozen over this year, despite it having been the snowiest winter on record. Would the top few inches not be frozen because it was starting to thaw out? Or is it more likely that I just kept hitting rocks?

2. I ended up putting large rocks in front of the stakes (see pic below). I'd found bare ground to pitch on, so deadmen weren't an option. What should I have done? I have wrapped guylines around rocks when camping in sand before - would this have been an better option? It was really windy when setting up, so I finally dropped rocks on the lines out of frustration when I couldn't get stakes to stay in the ground.

3. Temps were approx 28-32 at night. I've camped up to about 10 degrees colder, but not while its been snowing. In the past, so problems with condensation (I did usee different tents-all had partial mesh sides). I didn't vent this tent (not smart-didn't think about it) and the condensation was terrible! Soaking wet all around the inside of the tent, which dampened one entire side of my sleeping bag. Would venting alone have solved this, and how much should I have unzipped the fly? (Tent is Hilleberg Soulo.) It wasn't pitched particularly well and was rather droopy (see pic) - could the fly sagging onto the inner made the condensation worse? Should I have guyed out the entire tent (12 stakes/rocks)? I only did the six stakes on the base of the tent, and the two on the sides around the door.

4. The snow was 2-3 feet deep around most of the rest of the area I camped and hiked in. When I went hiking in my boots, I postholed up to my knees about every other step or so when I wandered for a while off the ski/snowshoe trail. If I hadn't have found bare ground to pitch on, what would have been tenting options? Try and stomp down a tent-sized area? Would this have been easier had I brought my snowshoes?

I know I need to figure things out better before heading backcountry, but I don't know the best way to do this. I won't (can't) pay the kind of money Ryan charges for his courses, and there aren't really any other options where I live (south-central Montana). No Meetups or REI training sessions or anything else I know of in this area.

Anyone have suggestions? Keep car camping and trying things out? Find some YouTube vids? Buy a book?

I'm possibly heading out again this weekend, as I've got a few extra days off work. I'd be car camping again. Any advice would be hugely appreciated!



tent am

Kenda Willey
Reply to 3) on 04/15/2014 22:21:38 MDT Print View

This reply is based on my experience with my two Hilleberg tents (and one that wasn't mine but that was forty years ago). I don't have the Soulo, but I have the Unna and the Stalon, both 4-season Hillies, as is the Soulo. Any tent is subject to some condensation when closed up, and Hillies (especially the 4-season ones) are worse than most. It's just a fact of life, and I think it's worth it to be able to close out the harsh elements.
Many's the time that I've closed up the Unna against howling wind (I live in southern New Mexico, so rain/snow's not a problem, but the wind sure is), and woken up with condensation on the fabric of the inner tent--this in spite of low humidity. Once I open up the tent and shake out the sleeping bag, it quickly disappears. Same with the Stalon--case in point: Last December, my son, dog and I camped in the Gallinas Mountains--a high of 27F that day, and I'm sure it got down to 0F that night. We even brought the dog (GSD) into the inner tent, so we had three warm bodies in there with everything zipped up. The next morning, there was a sheen of condensation over everything inside the inner tent, but the temp was well into the 40's. Reluctant as we were to let the cold in, we opened it up, shook out the sleeping bags and all was well. Once again: Worth it!
I've read advice on wiping down the tent walls, and I'm sure that would help though I've never done it. What else helps is a taut pitch, and your photos don't show a taut pitch. I know you were at a a disadvantage, setting up in wind and having to deal with hard ground, but you'll simply have to do better than that. Those rocks you used as anchors look good and heavy, but as someone who fairly regularly deals with 60 mph winds, that wind can drag the lines right out from under those rocks--or maybe you were sick and tired of trying to tension the lines and just wanted to get back in the shelter of your Soulo? Next time, dig holes and bury them if you can't get stakes in. Most nylon tentmakers advise re-tensioning after half an hour--I do that with the Unna and it helps. The Stalon doesn't need it, and I don't know if the Soulo does.
Are you using Hilleberg's V-stakes? They're excellent, but maybe some of those nail stakes might be better on hard ground? I'm currently experimenting with titanium shepherd's hook stakes: Lawson's stakes UL stakes have bent on me, but Lawson has informed me that he'll be offering sturdier ti stakes soon--you might consider that.
Hillebergs are absolutely the best in wind and snow. Bar none. As someone who's lain cozy inside of a tautly-pitched Hillie, listening to the wind howl around the tent, it makes me think that the $600 (for the Unna--don't even ask me what the Stalon cost!) was maybe worth it, even if the Unna does make quite a bit of noise in high wind. I've heard that the Soulo is less noisy, and I know that the Stalon, be it huge, heavy, bulky and a mistake dating from back when I thought that the whole family would go camping with me if I just got a nice, comfortable tent..but I digress--suffice it to say that it's the consummate Hillie: solid and bombproof to a fault, unmoved by wind and weather.
In short, go out there and get some practice with setting up your Soulo. You have a fantastic tent for all sorts of inclement weather, and you have a tent subject to condensation. It'll get better!

Andy F
(AndyF) - M

Locale: Midwest/Midatlantic
Re: Shoulder/Winter tent advice on 04/16/2014 10:42:04 MDT Print View

1. Did you try driving the stakes with a rock or baton (wood club)? Maybe there were frequent large rocks under the soil? Try repositioning the stakes a few inches. If the stakes won't go in, you could use large rocks or logs as anchors. See this excellent article:

For simplicity and speed in winter, I use a 3 foot length of cord (such as Kelty Triptease) with a bowline loop tied on each end for each anchor. I use a #1 Niteize S-biner to clip both ends of the cord together after wrapping around the anchor, and then the other side of the biner to the loop at the end of the tent guyline. Let snow anchors setup for at least 20 minutes before tensioning. If the snow is very dry and powdery, you might have to sprinkle some water on top to get the snow to consolidate enough to hold the anchor. I camp in forested areas and generally use a solid (not water-logged or decayed) stick about thumb diameter or greater and a foot long as an anchor. I use the stick itself to dig an 8-12 inch trench for it in the snow.

You probably don't need to stake out most of those guylines unless you're expecting significant wind or snowfall.

2. I probably would've chosen snow over bare ground. Snow is softer and provides some insulation. Frozen bare ground often requires a pad with more insulation than in snow.

3. Those are perfect condensation conditions. Other than not camping in a low area like a valley or near water, there's not much you can do to avoid it in a tent. Venting so that you can feel at least a slight breeze will help some. Throw a breathable rain jacket or other gear between the bag and the tent wall where contact seems likely to occur. Keep wet gear out of the tent if possible.

4. Stomp down a tent platform and wait at least 20 minutes, then anchor the tent as described in the article. Bring xc skis, snowshoes, or learn to improvise some. :) Don't forget waterproof footwear and gaiters.

Edited by AndyF on 04/16/2014 10:45:04 MDT.

Michael Wainfeld
(Adox) - M

Locale: EastCoast
Winter tent. on 04/16/2014 17:45:02 MDT Print View

First season winter backpacker here; I also have a Soulo which saw 4 night out this season. Here's what I found out:
Always bring snowshoes unless you know for sure that the whole trail is well packed down. On one trip I was with folks who didn't bring them, and while the first half of the trail was packed, the 2nd half wasn't, and they post holed the whole way-no fun.
The snowshoes will help you tromp down a nice flat tentsite in the snow. Much easier than trying to pitch on frozen ground. Also bring a snow shovel, for help leveling the tentsite, and to dig holes for the deadmen. I used small sticks, and they were remarkably effective. I dug down about a foot, looped the guyline around, shoved the sticks down, and tamped the snow back down. I then used my sitpad to kneel on top. Guy out all the lines, then have dinner, or attend to any other chores. When you come back and tighten the lines, you'll find they hold real tight.


Keep the vent open, should not be a problem with a warm bag. The time I didn't open the vent was the time I had condensation.

Susan D
(susand) - M

Locale: montana
Re: Winter tent. on 04/16/2014 19:46:15 MDT Print View

Thanks for the information, everyone!

Yeah, the tent is sagging, and you're right, Kendra - I did get fed up when the wind kept blowing the tent around, pulling the stakes out, so I finally gave up. I was using Hilleberg stakes. I guess the ground was frozen, because I went at each stake from about six or more angles and just couldn't get any fully in the ground. Great idea about digging a hole in the dirt - didn't think about that. I probably could have buried the stakes a couple inches.

Thanks for the snow advice. I picked the bare ground because I am familiar with it - I've only camped on snow once. I guess I'll just have to try camping on snow in different conditions. Next time, I won't forget my snowshoes. I still don't quite understand what happens when you use snowshoes to tamp down a platform. When you walk off the perimeter of the "platform" to, say, answer the call of nature, do you wear your snowshoes, or just posthole your way around? I suppose I'll go for some more trial and error learning.

As to condensation, early morning, I tried to wipe the walls down, but it seemed to make the situation worse. It sounds like venting would have helped, but not eliminated the problem. I probably should have left the vents mostly open, as my sleeping bag ended up being too warm (I usually sleep very cold, so I brought a 0* bag…Maybe that made things worse.) I guess I'll just have to expect some condensation in those conditions and with that tent - its good to know it isn't completely due to my ignorance.

Great photo of your Soulo, Michael! Much better pitch than I had!

Andy - thanks for the link to the great article by Mike!!! I think a local outdoor shop sells his winter ski guide - I might go pick it up.

Richard Lyon
(richardglyon) - MLife

Locale: Bridger Mountains
Hilleberg in winter on 04/16/2014 20:53:38 MDT Print View


As a very satisfied Unna owner I agree with the earlier comments on Hilleberg tents to a point. If all zippers are closed there will be significant condensation fro body heat at any temperature below 20 F or so. It vanishes in half an hour in the morning once I'm outside doing chores. Venting at night helps. The more you vent, the less the problem. Of course more venting means colder inside.

I use titanium stakes if I can drive them into the ground, otherwise snow stakes.

Cheers, Richard

peter vacco

Locale: no. california
Re: Shoulder/Winter tent advice on 04/16/2014 23:22:43 MDT Print View

" I ended up putting large rocks in front of the stakes "

yeah .. well.. that's how it's done.
you done good !

you went out there in what are guaranteed crappy conditions. it's not cold enough to lock everything up, and it's too chilly for stuff to dry out. crikey, it's going to be a cold wet mess of a night. so be it.
bet you had the place to yourself though .. didn't ya ?

it was cold, and wet, and a bit miserable, and it put you goodness knows how many yards ahead of the pack.
keep doing it. you are winning.
did you have enough hot rum ?
that seems to help me a great deal.
as a multiple Hilleberg owner. i can assure you that they are both excellent tents, and desperately need a better window.
a real window helps quite a Bunch.

you can be quite toasty all night with the vents open in most conditions. the time to close them is in the morning when you get up. the sleeping bag heat explodes out, and warms up (for a few minutes) the tent quite nicely.

the sloppy pitch sort of let the outer fly drag on the inner tent. this probably negates most of the inner's breathing ability.

unless stuff is blowing in, i generally keep the vestibule flaps open always.


Stuart .
(lotuseater) - F

Locale: Mountains
Soulo on 04/17/2014 04:53:33 MDT Print View

Hi Susan, good to see that you're posting your experiences - I wondered how you were getting on with the Soulo I sold you.

If you watched the same YouTube review of the Soulo that I did (crawling road), you were probably under the impression that the inner should be zipped up all the way to help keep you warmer. But in conditions like those you described above, it prevented effective ventilation.

Next time make sure the roof vent is open all the way, and at a minimum, unzip the fabric on the door to expose the mesh. In some conditions it may be necessary to leave the inner tent door open all the way during the night.

I now use a Nammatj 2 and a Kaitum 3 in winter conditions. Both have double vents that help greatly, but on windless nights they still experience condensation and I rely on many of the techniques listed in this thread to help mitigate it.

Whenever possible I do stomp out a snow platform rather than pitching directly on frozen ground. The snow helps even out the terrain, it acts as an insulator, and once consolidated it's much easier to get stakes to hold. Be aware that you will probably need to dig the stakes out in the morning, especially if you use them deadman style. On my last trip I bent a beefy looking Hilleberg snow / sand stake trying to remove it by hand.

Andy F
(AndyF) - M

Locale: Midwest/Midatlantic
digging anchors on 04/17/2014 07:57:20 MDT Print View

If you use sticks as anchors with a cord going around them and both ends of the cord above ground, there's no need to dig the sticks out. That's why I use the lengths of cord with bowlines at each end clipped together with the end of the tent guylines. Just give one end of the anchor cord a yank when breaking camp, and you're done.

<-- I did this in the photo on the left in 4 feet of snow for two nights at separate campsites, and it worked great!

Edited by AndyF on 04/17/2014 07:58:28 MDT.

kristen buckland
(buckie06) - F

Locale: Colorado
Snowshoes on 04/17/2014 12:30:04 MDT Print View

This is my process for setting up a campsite:

1 - stomp out the tent platform (do not pitch tent yet, you want to let the newly stomped snow harden )

2 - with your snowshoes on stomp out your path to the bathroom

3 - with snowshoes stomp out the kitchen area

4 - setup tent

5 - build seats and table in kitchen

6 - cook dinner!

bringing a shovel really helps moving the snow around.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Snowshoes on 04/17/2014 12:35:34 MDT Print View

"2 - with your snowshoes on stomp out your path to the bathroom

3 - with snowshoes stomp out the kitchen area"

The conventional wisdom is to place #3 uphill from your tent, and place #2 downhill from your tent.

All of that gets reduced a bit when it is stormy weather, and you cook inside the tent. Well, other things also.


kristen buckland
(buckie06) - F

Locale: Colorado
snow on 04/17/2014 21:24:56 MDT Print View

good point Bob.

Also, I like to dig out my vestibule about two feet deep so I can sit in the tent opening and put my boots on/off easily.

You can use the snow to build walls around your tent to protect from the wind.

Susan D
(susand) - M

Locale: montana
Thanks on 04/18/2014 00:06:38 MDT Print View

So, it definitely sounds like venting will help. Also pitching on snow. The advice about kitchen and bathroom is just what I was looking for. Unfortunately, Bob, I haven't mastered the "other things" in the tent yet, so at least one path is necessary…. Men have an anatomical advantage there… Kristin, digging out the vestibule is a great idea I never would have come up with on my own - thanks.

Peter, yep - I had the place to myself, although there were some skiers there during the day, before the storm blew in. Stuart - it sure took me long enough to try the tent out, but I finally did. I'm really glad I bought it. I did watch a video after I bought the tent nearly two years ago, but I couldn't remember any of it, except that it was extremely windy yet the tent was set up very quickly. Nothing like my experience…

Thanks, everyone, for the suggestions. I'm probably heading to Yellowstone this weekend for another go. I figure I'll car camp to be on the sensible side, with the goal of testing and practicing some things from the forum. A couple of roads in Yellowstone open tomorrow, and the ranger said there is still many feet of snow down by Old Faithful, so I'm going to snowshoe a few trails and scout out where I could try a one or two night backcountry trip in early May.