Back in the not so dim and distant past, I penned a piece about getting into bikepacking for this esteemed publication. You can find the piece here. Having long enjoyed wild camping and mountain biking, the opportunity to take a detailed look at the phenomenon and to try the very latest lightweight kit was hard to resist. As someone who still uses a North Face Westwind tent ( a design that is over 30 years old and a build that can kindly be described as bombproof hefty), I was like a sugar addict at the Haribo factory when I was told by Hannah that I was going to test Hilleberg’s latest 3 season lightweight two man tent, the Niak. Excited? Hell yeah!
A reputation for quality.
For those who are unfamiliar with the brand, Hilleberg are a family owned Scandinavian company who are widely regarded as producing products that combine simple but proven design with high quality materials and a harsh test regime to make some of most sought after and well regarded tents on the market. They are very much a premium brand with an enviable reputation in the outdoor world.
With the Niak, Hilleberg have sought to bring to market a two man tent that builds on their strengths but in a lighter weight package than previous offerings which should appeal squarely to bikepackers looking for a two man tent that can withstand multiple day trips and shrug off the worst that the weather has to offer. So does the Niak live up the Hilleberg reputation and should it be on your short list? Dear reader, I spent many nights out in it from Spring to Autumn to try and answer that very question.
What you get for your hard earned?
So for not inconsiderable sum of £699, what exactly are you getting for your hard earned cash? Design wise, the Niak is exceptionally simple. Two crossover poles allow for it to be freestanding without resort to pegging it out when erecting it. The poles are constructed from shock corded, 9mm aluminium and slip easily into the full length housing on the outside of the tent. To make things easy, there is a tough plastic housing for each pole that has a built in tensioner. It is a small detail but one that I found made set up a breeze. From opening the supplied stuff sack to erecting the tent, with a bit of practice, I was able to do it in around a minute. That is exceptionally fast. In the pouring [politely edited – Ed] rain, every second counts and can mean the difference between joy and wet sleeping bag misery.
Sensibly, Hilleberg have opted not to go for the false weight saving that other manufacturers do, by supplying light but strong Easton aluminium anodised pegs with small loops tied onto the end. There are no 1g titanium toothpicks here, no siree! If you have ever used the latter, unless you are obsessive about weight (and probably measure your own poo!), superlight pegs have all the qualities of a chocolate fireguard and are best avoided. The small loops on the end make removing the pegs a snap.
No getting into a flap.
Once erected, there are multiple guying and pegging points which enable you to cinch things down when the wind gets up. I hate flappy tents and have spent too many nights in wafer thin, ultralight tents which are touted as the next big thing only to endure a night of nylon being pressed against my face. The Niak has a reassuring stability on exposed sites with flapping noticeably absent. For me, that is a real win.
In terms of accommodation, the Niak features a single entrance with a full mesh door which aids ventilation and helps minimise condensation. The sleeping area is 220cm long and 120 cm wide. This is a little narrower than some of its competitors but will take two adults in comfort. For one, it is positively palatial. I never found it an issue with there being only one entrance, while the steeply sloping ends make for proper headroom. No contortion skills required here! Of course, if your partner has a habit of nocturnal excursions to visit the small room after one too many libations, you may want to give them the outer bunk. The inner floor is a deep bathtub design which has withstood pitching on rain soaked ground with no water ingress whatsoever.
Hilleberg Niak 1, Faff 0.
Perhaps my favourite feature other than the ease and speed of pitching is that the Niak can be pitched inner and outer together. I was glad of this on several occasions. When the midges come to visit for their all they can eat buffet, main course you, there is no faffing with inners and outers, while pitching in the rain is nothing like the trauma it can often be. I suspect that of the 250 days Hilleberg spend testing the design, the time spent in the Cairngorms had a real impact on the final design.
Weight wise, the Niak doesn’t break any records but at 1.73 kg (which includes a pole repair kit) on my home scales, it is definitely on the lighter end of the scale for what is a very robust piece of kit. After many nights of use, it still looks like new. Sure, you can go sub 1kg for a tent but you are sacrificing space and fabric durability.
Testing from one extreme to the other.
Over the course of the test, I subjected it to all manner of conditions from a balmy 35 degrees (centigrade!!!!!!) camp in the Lake District to a chilly, exposed mountain summit camp where the overnight temperature was well below zero and the outer tent froze. Add in torrential UK rain and wind and it has seen all manner of conditions. All that is missing is a camp out in the snow and ice. Every time I have used it, I’ve grown to like it more and more.
From the ease of pitching to the available space and the complete lack of condensation on the inner tent, the Niak has just gone about its job and worked very well indeed. The mesh inner door does an excellent job of heat control without allowing any unwelcome chilling breeze through, while the vestibule is large enough to store two sets of gear. Packing down, I found the poles fitted perfectly into my frame bag while the tent itself was swallowed up by my handlebar roll bag. It’s definitely an easy tent to live with and to carry.
So should you buy one? Well that all depends on your priorities. I have to hold my hand up and admit that I baulked at the price of it when I first received it. “£699 for a tent? You could buy a car/bike/a solitary croissant in a post Brexit Parisian café for that kind of money!” When you can buy really good tents for a third of the price or less, you are going to have to make a very strong case to your long haired/short haired (delete as appropriate) Finance Director to buy one. That being said, the Niak is a truly exceptional piece of kit.
Although I would like to see it a little lighter and the inclusion of a footprint for the cost would be a welcome addition, it ticks all boxes as far as I am concerned. I would have no hesitation in using it beyond its three season recommended rating. The feeling of quality is tangible. I now understand why several of my friends who are long term Hilleberg owners are almost evangelical in their praise for them. I’ll be very sorry to have to give the Niak back. Fingers crossed I may get to use it for a little longer into the winter months.
Overall: An unapologetically expensive but brilliant piece of kit that should provide years of service over many adventures. If you can see beyond the price tag, you won’t be disappointed.
|Tested:||by David "Sanny" Gould for 7 months|