Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: $835
Pros: Fortress-like strength, easy to setup, two gigantic vestibules, great ventilation, two color options, Spectra guy lines and camming adjusters, versatile stuff sack with extra pole section and pole splint built in.
Cons: Small metal zipper pulls are hard to grab with gloves and jingle in the wind.
Best Uses: Mountaineering and base camping in terrible conditions.
The Hilleberg Tarra is an exceptionally well-designed fortress-like two person mountaineering tent built for the worst conditions imaginable. Four 10.25 mm DAC Featherlite NSL Green poles, extremely strong Kerlon 1800 fly fabric, a burly seam taped bathtub floor, door bands, ground straps, and numerous Spectra guy lines with camming adjusters make the Tarra the strongest tent we’ve ever reviewed. We base camped in the Tarra for four days in 60+ mph winds while other tents collapsed, ripped, or blew away.
For it’s strength, the Tarra is surprisingly easy to setup. Unlike most other tents, the fly is linked to the inner tent. This makes pitching nearly as fast as a single wall shelter and, because the fly is always on top, the inner tent will remain dry even when pitching it in a downpour. The 30 sq. ft. interior, two doors, two 14 sq. ft. vestibules, four pockets and a built in adjustable clothesline make the Tarra a very livable tent. This castle weighs in at 9lbs even and costs $835. Our only complaint lies with its clunky metal zipper pulls. Otherwise, it’s without question our top choice for conditions that demand absolute strength.
A lesser quality, heavier, but strong and spacious mountaineering tent is the Mountain Hardwear Trango 2.1 ($525, 9 lb. 13 oz.). This will be sufficient for most adventures, but the Tarra is several orders of magnitude better.
The Tarra’s lighter cousin is the Jannu ($735, 6 lb. 6 oz.), our top rated all-purpose mountaineering tent. The Jannu is nearly as strong as the Tarra, less livable, but much lighter. We prefer it for mobile adventures where saving weight is a top priority. The budget alternative to the Jannu is the MSR Fury ($500, 7lb.), a weaker, heavier, and less livable, but still high quality tent.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Hillberg Tarra is the strongest and most livable two-person tent we’ve ever reviewed. It’s also incredibly easy to set up, even with one person, in high winds, while wearing gloves. From the pole design, to the materials, doors, ventilation, even the guy lines- this is a stunning tent.
Pole Design and Setup
The Hilleberg tarra is radically different and, in many ways, better than most other tents we’ve reviewed. The primary improvement lies in its pole design, but even the minute details, such as the guy lines and stakes are better, too.
Like some single wall tents, the Tarra sets up from the outside. After staking out the base of the tent, the poles insert into color-coded two-foot long sleeves, alternating plastic clips then attach to the poles. Stake out the vestibules and guy lines and you’re good to go.
Unlike most double wall tents, where the poles support the inner tent and the fly attaches on top, all Hilleberg tents have an inner tent built in. It connects to the fly with dozens of elasticized toggles. The inner tent can easily be removed and pitched by itself with an optional kit, or the outer tent (poles and all) can serve as a lightweight, but very strong single wall shelter.
The Tarra’s four 10.25mm DAC Featherlite NSL Green poles (the best and strongest available) create a large symmetrical dome from which two spacious (14 sq. ft. each) vestibules extend from either end. These are the largest vestibules of any tent we’ve ever reviewed. The total covered area is nearly as large as the tent’s interior floor area (30 sq. ft.). This extra space is ideal for base camping or for enduring a storm because one vestibule can provide shelter for gear while the other serves as an entrance and cooking area (two people can fit in the door and cook together). Furthermore, the vestibules are not supported by poles (unlike the Mountain Hardwear Trango and others). This saves weight and, because vestibule poles usually break first, makes the tent stronger.
Beyond its rigid poles, many other features contribute to the Tarra’s exceptional strength. The rainfly fabric, Kerlon 1800, is the strongest of any tent we’ve ever reviewed. It has a tear strength of 40 lbs., yet weighs only 1.91 oz/yd2. This is partially due to the fact that each side of the fabric is coated with three layers of 100% silicon, a coating far superior (and more expensive) than traditional polyurethane compounds used on most other tents. This is better because a stronger fabric is less likely to be punctured by a broken pole and less likely to tear if punctured. A better coating is more resistant to the sun’s harmful UV rays and therefore will remain its waterproofness for longer. Another important detail: the Tarra’s rain fly extends all the way to the ground. This reduces splashback (when driving rain bounces off the ground, spraying the inner tent with water and dirt), and blocks snow and wind; making the tent more stormproof and warmer.
The Tarra’s adaptable pole design is another reason for the tent’s superior strength. As is, the Tarra is the strongest tent we’ve ever reviewed. But it can get even stronger! The short sleeve-alternating clip combination allows you to insert not one, but two poles into each sleeve and clip both poles into the tent (alternating clips allows this, see photos). This system makes for an insanely strong tent. Double up on the poles if you’re pitching in extremely high winds. You can also opt for greater strength and less weight by adding just two additional poles- reinforcing the corner-to-corner poles would be best- an option that adds significant strength, but less weight than a second full set. While the Tarra is already very strong, we view the ability to add more poles as a key feature (unique to Hilleberg) that makes the tent worthy of being pitched anywhere in the world. Extra poles, available through Hilleberg, sell for $49 each.
The Tarra has a very simple yellow interior. The floor is 30 sq. ft. in area, proving ample space for two, and enough for three. The pole design creates steep walls that add an airy, spacious feel. The 42” peak height make it possible for people six feet or greater in height can sit up unencumbered. Four large pockets and a built-in adjustable clothesline allow you stash accessories and hang wet clothes.
The stakes, too, are high quality. The Tarra comes with eighteen strong Y-stakes. This is the exact number you need to stake out every point and line on the tent. (No other manufacturer includes the sufficient number.) Unlike all but the MSR Ground Hog stakes, these have cord loops at the top that make it easier to remove and less likely to loose. While these are great all-purpose durable stakes, those looking to save a little bit of weight could switch them out for the lighter V-stakes. When camping on snow or sand, larger and wider stakes are best. Hilleberg sells all three types of stakes.
Download the Tarra's Pitching Instructions here
The Tarra has an exceptional design and build. We have but a few minor suggestions to improve it. First, the Tarra uses clinky metal zipper pulls that are small, hard to grab with gloves, and knock against each other in the wind, creating a high-pitched jingle. Replacing these with cord would make it easier to open the doors and eliminate the noisy nighttime jingle.
The vestibule door zippers could be extended, too. As is, they curve just over half way around the door. Adding another eight inches would allow for better ventilation. The black flap that covers the vestibule zipper tends to get snagged in the zipper, making a quick open/close more time consuming than necessary. A thicker anti-snag strip would help prevent this.
While the Tarra has one reflective point on each side, it would greatly benefit from reflective guy lines. Reflective make the tent is easier to see at night. This is important because guy lines are notorious trip wires. Being able to see them at night reduces the probability of you, or a passing person, tripping over them. The North Face Mountain 25 uses a slightly thinner reflective Spectra cord. A thicker version of this would be ideal.
Two pockets in the ceiling would make the Tarra more comfortable when going light with three people. This would allow the middle person to use the ceiling pockets. As is, the clothesline is sufficient to girth hitch a headlamp to, but pockets at either end would be better. Several small loops in the ceiling would also allow you to rig a custom clothesline.
PRICE. The Tarra costs $835, a tremendous sum for a tent. The numerous points above suggest that it’s far better than the majority of its competition. However, do you need it?? The super strong fabric, ability to add extra poles, Spectra guy lines with camming adjusters, etc. all add extra strength and make life in the backcountry better, but can you make do with something a bit heavier and not as strong (Mountain Hardwear Trango)? For extended trips into remote areas we believe the Tarra is worth every penny.
Perhaps the time where the Tarra’s exceptional strength stood out most was during a rock climbing trip to Red Rocks, Nevada. We base camped with a group of 30+ in an exposed hillside location during a week of very high winds. The wind held steady at 20-30 mph during the day and gusted up to 70+ mph at night. During a four day period one tent blew off into the desert only to return ravaged and irreparable. Two collapsed, one partially, the other fully. Most people in the group slept poorly or not at all; all were covered with dust. The two testers in the Tarra, however, remained comfortable, slept well, and thanks to the solid nylon walls, remained almost dust free. During high speed gusts the Tarra remained steady while other tents bellowed and buckled. At night the Tarra became a refuge from the storm- providing a space for reading, conversation, and games for four people. Other people asked, “what kind of tent is that?” One tester, after the trip, declared that he would buy a Hilleberg.
Mountaineering and base camping in terrible weather.
The Tarra is an extremely expensive but very high quality tent. It’s worth every penny if your adventures demand the strength it provides.
Other versions and accessories
The Tarra is available in two colors!! (No other tent manufacturer gives you this option.) Choose either red or green. We prefer red for high visibility excursions, such as those on snow. The green, which is very successful at camouflaging the tent, is a color that abides by Leave No Trace principles.
Accessories include a footprint, extra stakes, snow and sand stakes, extra poles, and a pole holder kit that allows you to pitch the inner tent by itself.
— Max Neale
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Most recent review: August 30, 2012
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