Bo Hilleberg

Reflections of a Tentmaker


Hilleberg the Tentmaker is known for making tents for all conditions and all seasons. But before our company made tents, when I was working as a forester, I often used a simple piece of waterproof fabric as my only shelter. And before that, during my military service, I was issued a basic, triangular tarp which could be used individually or could be connected to other such pieces. While such “shelters” offer simple protection from bad weather – rain in particular – they are no substitute for a true tent, which provides a real refuge in truly inclement weather, and is essential for trips in exposed or above tree line terrain. At the same time, however, a tarp is both simple and lightweight, and it offers a singularly “up close and personal” ­experience of your surroundings. In addition, a well-designed tarp can be a very useful complement to a tent, and it makes a great outdoor gathering place for groups. On some trips, especially in the forest, I even prefer using a tarp instead of a tent as my primary shelter.

Some years ago, I went on a canoe trip in Canada with some friends. Because of bears, we knew we would have to keep our sleeping and dining areas separate, so I brought a large tarp made from our Kerlon fabric. Some distance away from our tents we built a fire, where we cooked our meals, and right next to it we rigged the tarp. This outdoor “dining hall” was perfect for socializing, and it kept both us and our equipment well protected. It worked so well that we decided to add Tarps to our tent line, and they have proved very popular.

And we ourselves often use tarps on our own trips. They are an outstanding choice for traveling very light, and, with their unrivalled viewing opportunities, they provide the ideal way to be truly “involved” in your surroundings. I have been experimenting with combining a tarp and one of our new Mesh Inner Tents, which keeps bugs away without changing the breezy comfort or panoramic viewing qualities of the tarp.

When camping with a tarp, it’s a good idea to use some kind of sleeping bag cover. I use our Bivanorak, since it can accommodate both my sleeping bag and sleeping pad, and because I can use it to get out of the wind (or bad weather) during short breaks when I am hiking. I find the Bivanorak essential for winter tarp camping, both to keep moisture off my sleeping bag, and to keep snow from getting between my bag and pad.

While I nearly always use a tent for winter trips, tarps do offer some unique opportunities. One of my favorites is called “nying” in Swedish. You make a fire and build it so it will burn all night long. Behind it, a short distance away, you rig your tarp, on a slant. Between the two and under the tarp, you lay out your pad and sleeping bag. The tarp acts as a kind of heat reflector, so you sleep warm and snug even on very cold nights. A tarp is also handy for sealing up cracks between snow blocks in a snow cave or as a protective roof over smaller snow holes.

I also find that tarps are a wonderful accessory for tent camping. They are indispensable in bear country, where they provide both “kitchen” and “dining room” facilities away from your tent. They make delightful socializing spots on any group trip – rigged between two tents, they act as an open “living room” – and during breaks on a long day of hiking, they can be set up quickly to serve as wind or rain protection. Tarps are also a simple way to enlarge your vestibule space or to create a covered “patio” for your tent. And when rigged over your tent, they offer extra protection against UV rays, increasing your tent’s longevity.

Of course, tarps do have their limitations, especially in windy conditions, and I definitively would not recommend them for overnighting above tree line or in other exposed areas. But even here, while a tarp isn’t the best choice, it is better than nothing. Once, when I was young, a Sami elder and I hiked into the mountains for a fishing trip on a remote lake. He didn’t think we’d need a tent as there was “protection” at the lake. This turned out to be a couple of pieces of plastic sheeting, and he explained that the “protection” came from lying in the plastic, grabbing one edge, and rolling into it, like a burrito. While waterproof and warm, this “system” left quite a bit to be desired in the condensation department. But it was indeed better than nothing!

Bo Hilleberg
Founder & Chairman of the Board, Hilleberg the Tentmaker

Bo Hilleberg received the award "OutDoor Celebrity of the Year 2010" at the OutDoor show in Germany in July 2010. Read more here.