Review: Hilleberg Kaitum 3GT – zip frustration

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worn hilleberg zip

When we researched our tent which would be our home from home for 18 months we didn’t hear anyone complaining about the zips. So in good faith we settled for a Hilleberg Kaitum 3GT.

We have now been on the road and living in our tent since January. In that time we’ve talked to two other Hilleberg owners, both of whom have concerns about the zips. And they reported that they’d met others with the same problem.

hilleberg kaitum 3gt

First we spoke to a German couple who make their own clothing, backpacks and sleeping bags. They changed the zips in their Hilleberg Nallo tent even before they set out on their tour of Argentina and Chile. These two know about fabrics and, impressively, even made a vestibule extension for their Nallo out of their first Hilleberg tent. In their view, the Hilleberg is the best tent they’ve researched so far, but there’s a major area of improvement they highlighted: the zips. Improve the zips of the Hilleberg and you have your perfect tent, said the German couple.

broken hilleberg zipper ykk sliderThe Swiss family we met in Patagonia, http://www.wild-lights.com/travels, were also suffering from dodgy zips on their Hilleberg. A mum and dad with two kids, they have a Hilleberg model which has just one front entrance, therefore those zips get a lot of traffic. Nico told me that his old tent which he’d used and abused for years had zippers which were still going strong: they were much tougher and coarser, and easily took a good beating without needing to be cleaned. The Swiss family had only had their tent for six months or so and are now having to spend delicate minutes zipping up their tent, trying not to split the teeth open.

Since this problem has now happened to our tent – the zip opening up once the zip ‘slider’ has passed – I’ve searched around and see it’s a common problem with Hilleberg tents. It’s apparently caused by grit and sand gathering in the teeth and grinding away the metal of the zip ‘slider’ each time the zip is closed. I’ve also seen that Hilleberg recommend a way of avoiding the problem: clean the zippers’ teeth with a fine brush after every use. But, this is not easily done when you’re caught up in the other excitements and pressures of long-haul bicycle touring, moving camp every day. Another suggestion once the problem has occurred is to change the zip ‘slider’ (a 6mm YKK), if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on one while on the road.

While in Santa Barbara we have tried to get one and I can tell you it’s rather hard. I think I have called at least four shops and been to more asking if they had a 6mm YKK, or a Y2K Zipper as they tend to call it in the USA. No one sells the slider alone or a repair kit in the stores, so the only way around it is to get the smallest length of zipper you can find and take out the slider, which is just waste. We’re also wondering: how do you measure the size of the YKK zipper and does the slider have to be metal?

It would be far better if this problem didn’t occur in the first place. We certainly didn’t expect our zips to deteriorate quite so quickly on an expensive tent from such a reputable company: the first zip started to show signs of weakness after less than four months’ use.

worn hilleberg zipWhen buying the tent, we were very attracted to the Kaitum 3GT’s three doors, as we thought it would make it easier to live in the tent for up to 18 months. But, after only three months’ use we had to resort to using two exterior doors because one of the zips made it impossible to use that exit. This side front exit was also the zip which took the worst of the strain when the tent flexed in the heat and cold.

Our old tent was a Blacks Octane 3, a fraction of the price of the Hilleberg at only £150. With just one exit from the inner and outer tent it has much more traffic on the zippers than the Kaitum 3GT, which has two exits on the inner tent and three on the fly sheet. The Octane’s zips are still going strong after more than four months’ use.

I have looked at the zips closely and they look like new. They don’t appear to have any dirt or dust stuck in them. We and other Hilleberg owners are rather shocked that the zips are so flimsy and fine when you have that much flex/pull in the tent. As I wrote in my original review, the tent does put a lot of force into the zips when the temperature changes. So much so that it is a cause for concern. The holes from the stitching for the zips are stretched so much that you can see right through them and you wonder if the zips are going to pop at any minute.

So, we continue our hunt for replacement sliders in Santa Barbara. As we are presently on the road, getting replacements sent to us will be tricky, but we may need to resort to this if our search continues to be unsuccessful. With hindsight, we should have carried spares from the outset, but we were simply not aware that the zips would cause us problems (especially on a tent as pricy as Hilleberg).

We will report back when we have managed to find a slider and hopefully fixed our three damaged zips! We’ll also send this report to Hilleberg and see what they suggest.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Woollies, I sew and make my own tents as well as loads of other stuff. He is a place to try if you need to resort to getting stuff sent. http://Www.zprz.com sells lots of types of zippers and you can look on the website at the different types. Hope this helps . They have a phone number as they are in the US – 1-877-550-7100. You may need to look at having them replaced. Hope this helps.
    Brenda

  2. Hi,
    Just to let you know; we have exactly the same probblem with our Nammatj 3GT. I wrote to Hilleberg and they offered to send new sliders but indeed that’s tricky when you’re travelling. We hope we get them in time and in the right place. We have friends who also have this problem.

    • Hi, sorry for the long delay in replying, we are just back from our tour. We have meet quite a few tourers who had the same problem with their zips. I’ll try to collect all the details, of others with the same problem, and contact Hilleberg to see what they say.

  3. I have owned and used 10 different Hilleberg tents over the years and have never once had one of their zippers fail. I am always very careful with my equipment and am always keeping my tent zippers clean, and I always unzip them and zip them very carefully and slowly, using my finger as a guide to keep the fabric out of the way.

    I also know the Hilleberg family quite well and have had the opportunity to go backpacking with them in the Rocky Mountains. I have never found a family with more integrity than Petra and her family. I was amazed with their passion to produce tents with the absolute finest components available.

    I do not know who sold you your Kaitum, nor does it matter at this point. If you had dealt with us, and I had known what adverse long-term conditions that you were going to subject your tent to, I would have suggested selecting one of their black label tents. I would have never recommended the Kaitum for 12 months of daily use that you subjected it to. It sounds to me that you were expecting expedition-grade results with a tent that was not designed for the conditions that you apparently put it through.

    Hilleberg uses YKK zippers…the best in the industry. What else are they supposed to use? If they put the heavier zippers in to the Kaitum, then customers complain because it is too heavy.

    I also think that you should have exercised caution and restraint about broadcasting your grievances on the World Wide Web. If it were me, I would have privately handled my issues with Petra and your problems could have been solved without insulting and possibly causing hurt feelings. You lost my respect and your review has little merit in my opinion, due to the unprofessional manner in which you handled this problem.

    • Dear Mr. Charles Jennings,
      It sound to me that you should take your own advice. Maybe deal with this problem behind closed doors. In my world this is what we call a hypocrite. I am looking at Hilleberg tents now and I feel that this is very important information. He does not speak ill of the tent what soever, just commenting that there appears to be problems with the zippers. He also states how well the quality of the tent is despite the zipper problems. I’ve owned many tents over the years and only had zipper problems with the walmart department store quality tents. I’ve NEVER cleaned one off before and have been in every state other than Hawaii in tents and never had zipper issues and have been across the USA on a bicycle my self and slept out every night in the same tent and used that same tent for years after and never once had zipper problems let alone over and over again. I will re-concider a Hilleberg tent until they resolve the zipper problem. If I spend over $1000.00 on a tent, the last thing I need is problems with zippers!!! A very important key to keeping a tent together, don’t you think?

  4. @Charles: Thanks for your comment, I wrote a honest blog post about what have happen to us. As you can see there are others who have had the same problems with the Hilleberg, not just us, just read read the comments on this post – http://www.woollypigs.com/2013/05/review-when-hilleberg-zippers-fail-and-fail-again/ and if you read this post – http://www.woollypigs.com/2013/05/review-what-we-like-about-our-hilleberg/ you can see that we are not Hilleberg haters at all.

  5. I just want to add to my previous comment that we have received great service from Hilleberg and that we’re very content with how our problems have been solved.

  6. I feel like this article was quite rational and didn’t seem unprofessional at all, I’m glad I got to read this before buying my nammatj. The zipper issue is a legitimate grievance that was addressed with sincerity and not mean spirited in the slightest, keep up the good work guys!

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