When Emily Chappell contacted us about her planned three-month solo snow bike expedition in Alaska, Yukon and British Columbia, we were suitably impressed. When we saw a history of her previous adventures, we were blown away!
Emily is a cyclist and award-winning travel blogger. For a day job, she is a cycle courier. In her own words: “I like bikes. A lot.”
Her recent trips include:
- 2011-13 cycling across Asia, from Wales to Japan.
- In February 2014 cycling across Iceland.
- 2015 cycling from Anchorage to Seattle.
- This summer, she’s due to compete in the Transcontinental Race, aiming to get from Belgium to Istanbul in about 15 days.
Emily was interested in a Hilleberg Soulo tent for her upcoming and future trips. We really like to help true adventurers when we can and we were happy to help her out. Emily has kindly written a couple of guest posts for us about the challenges of winter camping, with some great tips on how to survive camping in sub zero temperatures!
Review – Hilleberg Soulo
Emily Chappell – Award-winning travel blogger – http://thatemilychappell.com/
I used a Hilleberg Soulo tent during my three-month winter bike ride from Anchorage to Seattle, and was extremely happy with its performance.
The tent is reasonably (though not especially) lightweight and, more crucially, freestanding. This is essential for winter conditions, when the ground is frozen solid, and hammering in tent pegs is well nigh impossible. Luckily I didn’t experience too many windy nights – and for those I did suffer, the tent was pretty adequately stabilized using my panniers, and by burying the pegs under snow to stabilize them.
Another invaluable attribute was how quickly the tent went up and down. In my experience, the period between getting off my bike and getting into my sleeping bag is when I get the coldest, and I often lose a lot of my hard-won body heat in the mornings, gripping frozen poles to pull them apart and folding up an ice-covered tent.
The Soulo can be pitched in a minute or two – simply unroll the inner, assemble the poles, and clip them all together. The clips are large and easy to handle when wearing gloves (or when your hands are so cold you can barely feel them), and each one is mounted on a broad vinyl lip, which not only reinforces the seam, but gives you something else to hold onto.
Adequate ventilation is more important than ever at low temperatures, as your breath very quickly condenses and then freezes all over your sleeping bag and the inside of your tent. Seasoned winter campers will be well acquainted with the experience of sitting up in the morning and causing a miniature snowstorm as your head brushes against the ceiling. The Soulo’s inner door unzips along the full length of the tent, which helps with ventilation and also gives the sense of having a bit more space, which is always welcome in a lightweight one-person tent. It was also very easy to pick the tent up in the mornings and shake it out, in order to get rid of the worst of the ice that had built up during the night.
Size-wise the Soulo gives you everything you need – it’s tall enough for you to sit up, and long enough to store a pile of kit above your head (or at your feet) when you’re lying down. The vestibule, while too cramped for much more than storage, managed to accommodate a couple of panniers and my enormous winter boots, although the positioning of the vent cover over the door made getting in and out slightly awkward, especially when wrestling with frozen boots.
I have a couple of very minor gripes about the design, most of which relate to the clumsiness of the cold-fingered winter camper, and her need to make things as easy as possible for herself. The style of the toggle that holds the door flap open makes it impossible to close one-handed, and its positioning (behind my right shoulder when I was sitting in my sleeping bag) meant that, once I’d finished cooking, I would have to partially get out of my sleeping bag, turn all the way round and kneel with my head against the side of the tent in order to undo it two-handedly. And the strap that lies on the ground across the threshold of the vestibule ended up getting melted by my stove and snapping in two.
The tent survived for a few days without it, and a kind mountaineer repaired it for me when I got to Whitehorse – and of course, I should just have been more careful in the first place. Nevertheless, with all the added stress and difficulty of a cold-weather expedition, and the heightened potential for human error, it is best to eliminate as many of these minor kinks as possible.
Overall, I am very happy with the Hilleberg Soulo. It is strong and stable enough to cope with some of the most challenging conditions and, for the most part, extremely user-friendly. I’ll definitely be using it on future expeditions, especially the winter ones.