Stake Out: Our Interview With Hilleberg The TentmakerNovember 6, 2019
When we close our eyes to think about camping, we can hear the clink and clanks of our tent poles and feel the dirt under our nails from clearing a floor to set it up. And soon, we can even smell the campfire crackling, and our mouths start to water for pinnbröd and roasted marshmallows.
With cooler temperatures in our midst, we’re in planning mode for our next trip into the woods. And one of the most important elements to camping (well, aside from water), is the tent. That’s where Hilleberg the Tentmaker comes in.
The family-owned and -operated company has been making tents of all shapes and sizes for almost 50 years, and it all started when Bo Hilleberg got frustrated with setting up his own tents.
Pitching the tent
In 1971, Bo Hilleberg — a forester and outdoor enthusiast — started his own company to focus on forestry equipment with the hopes that he would also get into tentmaking. You see, Hilleberg was fed up with the tents he used year in and year out. According to Hilleberg the Tentmaker’s website, a lot of tents at that time required pitching an inner tent first, then covering it with a rain fly. Hilleberg envisioned something more efficient, something that allowed campers to pitch both the inner and outer tent at the same time. He had the vision, but he needed help with the execution.
His wife, Renate, pitched in.
“When I was little, I remember my mom and dad working up in our attic,” recalled Petra Hilleberg, CEO and president of Hilleberg the Tentmaker. “Dad would draw, making a little drawing on a piece of paper, and mom would make the prototypes. They always worked together, all the way up until mom retired 15 years ago.”
The familial bond for a love of camping was passed down from Bo and Renate to their daughter Petra and son Rolf.
“One of my first camping memories was the first time my brother and I slept in a tent by ourselves without our parents; I was three or four,” Petra said. “We lived in the forest, so our parents walked us out a few kilometers from our house, we set up our tent, we went to bed and they went back home. We talked and slept. We woke up and ate the breakfast we packed then headed back home. It was only 4 a.m. Northern Sweden in the middle of the summer is lighter, so it was hard to know what time it was. That was fun.”
Over the years, Bo and Renate would collaborate on design and production, and the family company continued to grow. It wasn’t expected of Petra and Rolf to join the family business, but at a very young age, Petra saw the potential.
“There was never a requirement to be involved in the business,” she said. “It was always something I wanted. But when I was 12, I told my parents that I wanted to sell tents in the U.S.”
We only wish we knew what we wanted to do with our lives at 12.
Petra made her way to the United States to attend Seattle University. She graduated on a Friday in June 2000, and by the next Wednesday, she started Hilleberg’s U.S. operation and sold her first tent. Today, Hilleberg the Tentmaker’s operation has expanded to a global scale, selling its products online and throughout the U.S., Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
And while Renate has put away her sewing machine, she and Bo are still actively involved on the board, and Bo continues to help with the company’s innovation through its product development group.
Establishing a framework
Hilleberg the Tentmaker has a relatively narrow product line compared to its competitors. It focuses on its namesake — tents — and continuously works on the enhancement and development of its existing product lines while launching new tents as its customers’ needs and tent technology evolve. The company knows it’s not the cheapest tent on the market but its quality and durability make it a smart investment for anyone looking to spend a night outdoors.
The fabric used for its tents is a silicone-coated material. Hilleberg the Tentmaker has been working with the same supplier for decades and the material is so strong, even a professional body builder couldn’t rip a test strip.
“We’ve had a version of this material for a long time,” Petra said. “It was 1975 and dad worked with our fabric supplier who sent over a new coating that was more waterproof. My dad couldn’t rip it, so he called the guy, and said, ‘No, no. It’s a lot stronger, too.’”
“We have some of the most high-tech material on the market, but we don’t jump on the new things without having a lot of extensive testing,” Petra said. “We have our own factory, and we’re probably the only company that has the whole chain from development to finished product in house. This has allowed us to be really experts in what we do.”
Doing what they do best
The Hilleberg family does what they do because they’re passionate about outdoor living and creating a quality product that results in a quality experience. Bo Hilleberg started the business because there was an opportunity to make a better product, for himself, his family and his friends. That philosophy is still a guiding light for operations today.
“We’re making tents we use ourselves, or that our friends and family use,” Petra said. “Our customers are in environments where the tent really matters. They have to be safe in there. That’s why we do things the way we do them.”
Next year will mark 20 years in business in the United States and, in 2021, Hilleberg the Tentmaker will turn 50.
We’re guessing a family camping trip to celebrate may be in the future.