As I said in yesterday’s post, I decided to camp out in our field, giving me a opportunity to do some preliminary testing prior to my next trip. It was forecasted to be -5/6C overnight, but turned out much colder at -10C. I set up my Hilleborg Soulo in the late afternoon and laid out my newly purchased Exped Downmat 7 and Alpkit Pipedream 400 The mat has a R value of 5.9 and a minimum temperature rating of -24C . In the tent I had my Primus Express Spider Stove – which I have used on several trips so far but not in temperatures lower than 5 C. I also had a Primus Power canister.
By the time I got into the tent, it was -7C and I settled down quickly into my bag wearing a merino top and leggings, Smartwool socks and the hood from my PHD down jacket. After a little while it was clear to me that the mat was comfortable and warm, with no hint of cold coming from the groundsheet, whether on my back, front or side. I drifted off to sleep and woke around 2.30am, with a very cold nose, the only part of me exposed to the chill. After that I buried my head deep into the sleeping bag to warm it up.
I woke up at 7.30 am and fired up the stove with no problem and quickly boiled water for tea.
Despite the temperature dropping to -10C, the coldest I think I have camped, I kept warm and comfortable. The Alpkit sleeping bag is rated at -3C, but I was cosy and warm and the Exped Down mat was excellent in keeping any cold out.
After such a cold night, it was not unsurprising that the roads and paths in our village were sheet ice. I set off to the village shop, a 2 mile round trip, using the Kahtoola microspikes. First outing with these. Within a few minutes, I declared these brilliant, the spikes grip ice superbly, so much so I could run on ice with complete safety !
So whilst this was not adventurous testing, it was testing in pretty extreme temperatures for the UK, and all three pieces of kit worked well, giving me confidence, when out for real .
When I got back, I saw the weather report it was -17C in Powys overnight, I wonder how my mat would have performed in that temperature, pretty good I imagine: )
Very interesting that you were warm in the Pipedream, rated as it is at -3C – I think this is as much a function of the way you sleep as anything else – but clearly the mat made a big difference. Glad to see the faith we put in the Spider paid off…
Nice post, thanks.
Maz, I was quite surprised as well. I must be what is called a “warm sleeper”. I think you are right the mat made a great difference. I guess I could try a night with a summer mat to test this theory – but then again , I think I will believe that it was the Downmat ! I am glad that the Spider performed well. I am using Primus Power 4 season mixture and a nearly full canister, so I think both of these elements help.
Being able to invert the canister and the preheat tube will help when the canister is low.
It seems to be very wintry and exceptionally cold both in the UK and in Finland, considering it’s only November! I think it’s a very good idea to test the new gear in safe conditions, when you can actually flee to the warmth of your own bed if needed.
The Exped Downmat 7 sounds really good, as do the Kahtoola microspikes. I use the Petzl Spiky Plus (and they are for everyday use, the streets of Helsinki are very icy!), but would like to have something more robust for more serious use. Full scale crampons are a bit of an overkill in southern Finland.
Maria – I don’t know whether this means another hard winter like last year – I love the snow, so I am looking forward to it 🙂 The micro spikes seem great on their first outing, no reason why they won’t do well on the hills.
I agree with testing gear in a safe environment first if you can.
I had problems with my gas stove as i will post shortly. However i do like the spider due to the fact that you can insulate the gas cylinder at the same time as you use it. Makes it more reliable.
Glad you found the mat worked although they are a bit heavy, but ideal at these temperatures. Just what they were designed for.
Any issues with the tent?
Alan – some condensation turning into ice crystals on the inside of the inner, despite the vent being open. It was so still last night, I think it would be a problem with any one man tent. When I have used it in windy conditions is was not an issue. Downmat is a bit heavy, but kept me v. warm and comfortable, so probably worth the weight.
What a lot of people sometimes forget (not here though 🙂 ) is that no matter how good your bag is, if you dont prepare for the night properly you can still get cold. A good mat is essential for winter camping and to a certain extent more so than the sleeping bag (beyond a minus deg C rating that is). Also going to bed warm and fed is a big help. Dont forget insulation only insulates what is coming off of you. If you go to bed cold you are not likely to get uber toasty or it may take a while
I still use my Golite down quilt for winter and it has done me well for -9deg C (worst temp I have camped in). Having said that I used my Alpkit PD400 on a trip a few years ago and it was -7deg C and I was toasty all night
You are so right, I did all those things and had a good night’s sleep.
Good to hear from you backpackbrewer !
Good to read about others’ experiences with the Soulo.
I have one too and I’ve found that, if I zip up the inner, it’s a good few deal warmer inside than out. However there is a trade off in terms of extra condensation generated. Condensation which forms on the inside of the fly and the outside of the inner can move back through the fabric of the inner if it comes into contact with anything inside. This was a problem for me as I was camping in a moisture laden environment and spending over 12 hours a night in the tent due to rain and darkness on a trip that lasted 5 days.
After the first night I left the inner open to encourage air flow, and fortunately my bag was warm enough that the decrease in temperature didn’t matter. I was a bit concerned that the performance of my bag would decrease due to condensation that that was coming through the inner as I brushed against it while sleeping and moving about. We had no opportunity to dry kit, so each night the bag was a bit damper. Next time in these conditions I will use a new bag with a dryshell outer.
I took the footprint, which was really useful. After the first night I kept the inner packed separately and tried to keep it as dry as possible. In the morning I would detach and pack the inner without leaving the tent, get clothes and boots on and cook breakfast in the tent. Then nip out at the last minute and take down and pack the fly and poles. One morning we had 3 of us breakfasting under the fly as it snowed outside. None of us are particularly large though.
I like the oversized stuff sack. Others were trying to squeeze wet tents into small stuff sacks, and having no fun. Of course the wet Soulo is noticeably heavier than the dry one.
I’m glad I went for the Soulo, rather than the Unna, which had been on my list. If I’d had the Unna I would have spent every night rolling back the inner. I guess the Unna has room for 2 but what about their gear in wet conditions? I got the Soulo for foul weather camping so it makes more sense to me to have the porch. Others may have a different take on it of course.
Keels, thanks for your comments and your observations on the Soulo. I think the issue of condensation is a problem in most tents of this size, but the Soulo has better ventilation options. I went for the Soulo over Unna for the same reasons as you.
Keels and Mark,
Very interesting remarks on the Soulo and winter camping.
I used to have an Akto and I do have the Unna now but am always thinking about the Soulo too!
It’s an interesting question re wet gear storage in the Unna. But here’s one reason why the Unna is better in winter: there is no question of brushing against the inner while sleeping or moving about like it seems to happen with the Soulo.
I’ve never been inside the Soulo but all the pictures I’ve seen on the web seems to suggest that it is *very* narrow at the ends. You end up sleeping with your head enclosed by fabric on all sides. It seems unavoidable that you’ll end up touching the inner and getting dampness on your bag. I tend to use the Rab superlite bag cover in winter which seems to be sufficiently breathable. But still I do remember how hard it was in the Akto to do anything inside the tent without touching the inner.
In the Unna there is SO much space in the inner that a long winter night never gets claustrophobic and it takes some effort to touch the inner.
So, in that respect it seems to me the Unna wins hands down.
I’d be interested to hear real life experiences with the Soulo in terms of brushing the inner, but from what Keels says, it seems inevitable?
Yes, the permanent porch on the Soulo is an advantage in winter, but look, in winter wet gear ain’t got to get dry if left in the porch. What makes a difference is fly + inner in terms of insulation and dryness. Under the fly stuff will freeze up overnight just as much as if it was outside, and it will end up touching the fly and inner and get further dampness. So you will have to store stuff in plastic bags anyway and there’s enough space in the Unna between inner and outer to leave boots stored there. Breakfast can be cooked inside by simply detaching the inner, so again I’m not sure that counts against the Unna. Summer might be different, because space in the porch is usable for storage against rain and the like. But I can’t see much advantage in a porch in winter. That’s why so many winter tents don’t have a porch anyway (apart from structural stability issues).
There’s still the question of the extra pole and additional stability. Extra guys and Scandium poles can make the Unna just as strong though.
But still, I’d be interested to hear reports about liveability inside the Soulo in winter, guys, any info much appreciated indeed!
Hi Andy, thanks for stopping by. I would like to take a bit of time to answer your questions . It is quite late now and I will reply to your comments tomorrow if that is OK.
Andy, thanks for commenting. I have only had 7 nights so far in the Soulo, but I cannot say that I personally felt that my head was buried in fabric. I have not noticed a lot of condensation in the tent during the autumn and winter and when there has been some, it has frozen into ice crystals. You make some good points regarding winter kit storage. In general I bring most of my kit into the inner tent and put it at the bottom of the tent. I am only 5 foot 8 so that may help. Have you seen Backpackbrewers website ? Dave has owned both tents and a comparison can be found using this link
Cheers, Mark, that’s good to know. Well, I’m 5’8″ myself, so that’s a perfect match! Yep, I’ve seen Dave’s blog and commented on his experiences with the Unna. I think we agreed that we’re both still in two minds about the two tents (which means: one should own both!).
I last used my Akto 4 years ago, so by now the memory is a bit fuzzy. I seem to remember that it was hard to avoid brushing against the inner when moving about in the tent. The Soulo seems wider though so that might be less of an issue.
I think I’ve looked at every picture that is available on the ‘net, including on Japanese and Finnish websites (the magic of Google Translate!). It probably depends on the lens, because sometimes I think it looks nice and wide and sometimes it seems as if there isn’t much space in the corners.
It’d be great if next time you go camping you could take the size of the end corners. On the Hilleberg website the widest point in the inner seems to be what, 106cm? The standard Exped downmat is 52cm wide. I don’t think the corner ends can be much wider than 60cm? Obviously one can push the mat at the foot end, protecting the bag with a jacket or a bag cover, so that the end is as far away from the end fabric as possible. But it’s good to know you didn’t feel too constrained inside (i’ve read quite a few people did feel the inside was too narrow, but they were probably big blokes anyway).
Should toddle along to a shop and see if they can put it up for me!
I’m happy with the storm worthiness of the Unna and I value its palatial inner, but I think the Soulo has got the upper hand in that it is safer to build in a real howlie. It can be staked out on all sides and the poles go up first while the fly is still on the ground. With the Unna you can only stake one side and when you push the first pole the tent goes up and flies around wildly. It’s a tense minute or so until everything is staked down securely!
Thanks for the info, very useful indeed, Mark. The agonising continue!
Andy, if I get chance tomorrow, I will put up the tent and measure for you – will not take long . Maybe it would be a good idea to see one in a shop. From what you say it seems quicker to pitch the Soulo. I understand your concerns, this is not a cheap tent to purchase so you need to get it right 🙂
Mark, it’s very kind of you to offer but please do not go to any trouble on my behalf. I’ll email Hilleberg on Monday and ask for the data, they’ll have it on their files. Thanks very much for offering! I may also give a buzz to one of the local shops that might stock the Soulo. And yes, it’s a lot of money and I must make sure it makes sense to fork it out (and past the wife too…!). Thanks for all the info!