From the day Hilleberg was established in 1971 to the release of the latest models in 2021 the Swedish tent specialists have remained true to their core values while still pushing the boundaries in what a tent can be. As the brand step into their 50th year the values they strive for have only become emboldened thanks to the experience and history they have developed over this time. Here at Nordic Outdoor we are passionate about the work Hilleberg do and the brands ethos which is unwavering despite the now global following they have and their status as one of the worlds most respected outdoor brands. In celebration of the brands incredible milestone we have taken a look back at the history of Hilleberg to help understand why they are seen as more than just another tent brand.
All Photos Courtesy of Hilleberg
The Early Days
Back in 1971 tents looked a lot different than what we have become accustomed to in 2021. A standard tent would consist of an inner tent which was pitched before being covered with a loose rain fly which offered little to no assistance in high wind and rain. It was this frustration along with his experience as a professional forester and avid outdoorsman that led Bo Hilleberg to establish Hilleberg AB. It was also in this year that Bo met Renate Neuner on a ski trip to Austria and over the next two years the couple would fall in love, marry and move back to Bo’s native Sweden.
While the initial focus of Hilleberg was on forestry equipment, the addition of Renate to the company with her advanced sewing skills allowed Hilleberg to finally tackle the daily frustrations they faced with tents of the age. In 1973 Hilleberg introduced their first tent, the Keb. This was the first ever commercial tent to feature a connected inner and outer tent which could be pitched simultaneously. The Keb was an instant success and allowed Hilleberg to move entirely away from forestry and focus on Bo’s lifelong passion; the outdoors. It is worth noting that the original Keb tent design was the basis for Hilleberg’s Anaris tent released in 2020 which shows that the brand remains true to their history while advancing the materials and construction of their tents.
In 1975 (a mere two years after introducing their first tent) Bo Hilleberg makes a discovery that would help propel Hilleberg to become one of the worlds most respected tent manufacturers. It was in this year that Bo was sent a sample of a brand new, waterproof fabric. When he cut through the edge of the sample and attempted to tear, it became clear that this was the next direction for Hilleberg. The difference between what would go on to become the Kerlon Fabric and the fabrics which were widely used at the time was that it was coated with silicone rather than the usual polyurethane. As Hilleberg began to introduce this lightweight, waterproof and tear resistant fabric into their production is marked the first time this silicone-coated fabric was used on a tent and marked the beginning of the brands ‘Kerlon’ family of fabrics.
Image Courtesy of Hilleberg
The next advancement in the Hilleberg story came in 1977 with the redesign of the inner and outer tent design. While Bo had initially focused on creating the opportunity to pitch both pieces simultaneously he now saw the opportunity to improve on this innovation by linking the two in a way which allows the two pieces to become disconnected. While this may seem like a small alteration it now a hallmark of the Hilleberg design. Separating the inner and the outer can allow you to create a one skin shelter for when the weather conditions allow or even pitch the two separately when you only require protection from bugs and insects. For warmer weather the inner can be replaced with a mesh inner which offers better breathability and comfort while still protecting from bugs and insects.
By 1977 the key innovations which still remain at the core of the Hilleberg story were all in place. Over the next 34 years Hilleberg expanded their range introducing a number of tents which been to the most remote and inaccessible parts of the globe and continue to innovate. In 1980 the brands signature Keron was introduced before being followed by the Nallo in 1987, the Akto in 1995, Allak and Soulo in 2008 and the four person Saitaris in 2011.
The modern day company of Hilleberg is an example of considered and steady growth. Now headed by Bo’s daughter Petra Hilleberg both founders still have an active role in the company while other family members make up the board of directors. This shared vision, passion and deep rooted understanding of the true meaning of Hilleberg means that even after fifty years the Hilleberg name is more than a brand, it is a legacy.
Image Courtesy of Hilleberg via Gunter Wamser (www.abenteuerreiter.de)
The Hilleberg Principals
In the modern retail environment where brands are constantly trying their hands at new products and looking to diversify into fresh markets it is almost unusual to see a company who focus so strongly on one single product.
Hilleberg the Tentmaker.
The name showcases what Hilleberg stand for and add credence to their expertise. Rather than try to tap into numerous markets the philosophy was simple; make the best quality tents.
Ever since those early days in the 1970’s Hilleberg were driven to solve problems rather than create them. To help solve these problems faced by users of other tents Hilleberg look for every tent to excel in six key areas; Reliability, Adaptability, Ease of Use, Durability, Comfort and Low Weight.
It is worth noting that these principals exist in every tent designed by Hilleberg whether it be yellow, red or black label. While these tents may be used in different environments and for different reasons they must match these six principals within their designed parameters. Low weight means something different when you talk of a Two man Black Label tent used for South Pole Expeditions than it means for a lightweight one man backpacking tent.
The beauty of Hilleberg tents exists in the details hidden throughout the design. While one may not think of comfort being an essential attribute in a tent used for extreme conditions it is what makes a tent truly useable and functional. The smallest details which run throughout Hilleberg models from the bright interior to the positioning of doors to allow for full and easy access are what set these tents apart. We will often speak with customers who struggle to understand the price of a Hilleberg tent in comparison to some other brands however by looking at the subtle details designed for pure functionality rather than for appearance and style. Bo Hilleberg perfectly sums up the companies approach to this when he told Wired For Adventure; “I have always believed that function comes before design, and that good function almost always looks really good.”
Image Courtesy of Hilleberg
The final piece in the Hilleberg puzzle which makes this a company worth celebrating is their approach to production. 50 years after designing his first tent Bo Hilleberg still heads up the brands design team and is intrinsically linked to every new model produced.
As the design team are all avid outdoors enthusiasts the problems faced in the ‘real world’ can be highlighted on trips meaning every model is effectively designed in the wild. From here the team look to solve a problem through designs which are sketched, drawn and digitized before being turned into useable prototypes. These prototypes will then undergo month (sometimes years) of testing to ensure the solve the problem for which they were created.
The production of a Hilleberg tent is core to their reputation and it is for this reason there is almost no outsourcing of production in the Hilleberg model. To this day each inner tent is sewed exclusively by one seamstress while each outer is sewed by only one seamstress. This model which was introduced by Renate in the early years of Hilleberg allows the brand to have complete control over the quality of their tents which is the foundation of the Hilleberg reputation.
In the late 1990’s Hilleberg looked to move their production outside of Sweden while still remaining in Europe and after much research settled on Estonia. Estonia is not only close to Sweden geographically but shares a similar culture and a history of textile manufacture. When looking for a base Bo met with Juta Heinvee who advised to set up the new base in Rapla which sits just south of Tallinn. Bo agreed to this move but only on the basis that Juta would manage the factory to which she agreed and to this day still runs the Hilleberg production factory in Estonia.
The history of Juta Heinvee with Hilleberg in Estonia perfectly encapsulates what makes this a truly special company. Family owned and operated in more ways that just blood relation this is a company who believe in what they do to the core of their being. While many may argue that they are ‘just tents’ many of us would understand the freedom, safety and freedom which can come from owning a Hilleberg tent.
Hilleberg at Nordic Outdoor
We started working with Hilleberg back in 2014 it was clear this was a relationship designed to last. Here at Nordic Outdoor our focus is on style, function and sustainability all of which are evident in every aspect of Hilleberg design.
We would usually use this space in our Blog to highlight our favourite tents and gently nudge our customers into upgrading their basecamp however today we simply want to applaud the work of the entire team at Hilleberg and appreciate the truly special brand that they have created.
We look forward to another 50 years of Hilleberg as both customers, retailers, and users.