Indefinitely Wild

Our Favorite Backcountry Shelter? A $1,500 Heated Tipi.

Winter camping doesn't have to suck if you carry this shelter from Seek Outside with you

Packing small and light, Seek Outside's Hot Tent is suitable for any mode of winter travel. (Seek Outside)

Say what you will about hunters, but we camp in some seriously awful weather and carry a ton of weight on our backs. This fall’s mule deer hunt in Idaho sucked a little less than usual, thanks to a Seek Outside Hot Tent. Composed of a floorless ripstop nylon tipi and wood-burning titanium stove, it’s a portable heated shelter for the backcountry.

Of course, a heated shelter won’t appeal just to hunters. Is a Hot Tent right for you?

What Is It?

The Hot Tent is a two-component system from Seek Outside, a small manufacturer based in Grand Junction, Colorado, that specializes in rugged, lightweight backcountry shelters and packs. You can configure one in a few different sizes and weights, depending on your needs, but the setup we tested is composed of the Eight-Person Tipi (7.5 pounds) and SXL Titanium Stove (3.6 pounds).

The 10x14x8-inch assembled stove knocks the tent’s sleeping capacity down to three or four adults. Dividing the total weight of 11.1 pounds between four people yields an individual burden of just 2.8 pounds. That’s seriously impressive for a shelter you can stand in—the interior height is 8.5 feet at the tipi’s peak. You can shave an extra 12 ounces by spending an extra $100 to replace the aluminum center pole with a carbon fiber version.

hot-tent-interior
We slept three men inside the eight-person tipi with plenty of room to store firewood out of the weather and move around freely. (Corey Hass and Stephen Miller)

Who’s It For?

Seek Outside makes its high-quality gear here in the United States and produces it in small batches. So prices are high: this Hot Tent combo retails for $1,500.

The company’s uniquely light, high-capacity tipis may appeal to group expeditions year-round, but the floorless design really comes into its own in winter when fitted with one of those stoves. In addition to backcountry hunters, dedicated skiers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers might find the shelters uniquely appealing. They’re also gaining traction in the overland world, where their light weights, small packed sizes, and warm interiors work well for people who take expensive 4x4s to faraway places.

Thinking about rafting or hiking in the Grand Canyon where fires aren’t permitted? Seek Outside has worked with the park to clear its Hot Tents for use there.

hot-tent-site
On second thought, an exposed hilltop might not have been the best place to erect an 8.5-foot shelter. (Corey Hass and Stephen Miller)

Design

Tall and spacious, these tipis are uniquely livable compared to other ultralight offerings. They also benefit from an array of clever details, further boosting comfort and ease of use.

A common complaint with floor-free backpacking tarps is that the gap around the bottom of the shelter creates pesky drafts. What’s annoying during summer could be a deal breaker in winter, so Seek Outside has fitted a “sod skirt”—a few extra inches of fabric around the tent’s perimeter, below the stake loops, that can be buried in turf, snow, or sand to seal out the wind. An extra set of loops inside the tipi body allow you to double stake the entire thing for added stability.

A silicone stove jack seals around the stove’s exhaust pipe to prevent rain or snow from entering. It includes a flap for closing that hole when the stove’s not in use.

The stove breaks down into a flat package that’s easily packed, while the chimney packs into a roll the size of a Nalgene. Because the stoves are made from titanium, they turn a different color with each burn—ours turned a deep sunset orange on this trip.

The Hot Tent combo includes a lightweight 20D tent liner, which transforms the single-wall tipi into a double-wall design that better prevents condensation buildup and traps heat better. It’s removable if you want to run as light as possible, which we did on this trip.

hot-tent-prints
Wolf prints. These Lowa Evo Extreme boots kept my feet warm and dry while hiking in cold, wet weather and helped support my ankles when I had to carry 120 pounds on my back. (Corey Hass and Stephen Miller)

Using It

Armed with stove and tipi, two friends and I hiked five miles into Idaho’s Salmon-Challis National Forest in pursuit of mule deer. There, for four days and three nights, the tipi provided a warm shelter in temperatures as low as 15 degrees.

Initially skeptical of the floorless design, I quickly warmed to the idea of being able to walk into a heated shelter without first taking off my boots or outerwear. To protect your sleeping pad and bag, all you need is a small piece of cut-to-size ground sheet.

The floorless design also meant we could stack firewood inside, out of the wet snow and freezing rain. And the stove’s flat top meant we could also cook on it, further reducing the weight and number of items we needed to carry.

Without adding fresh fuel, the stove will burn for about 45 minutes, so it and the tipi’s interior will cool down overnight. But it’s easy to get the fire going again in the morning from the safe confines of your sleeping bag. The tent takes only about ten minutes to warm up again.

Seek Outside packages decent MSR Groundhog stakes with the tipi, but the surface where we set up was composed of a loose topsoil over a rocky substrate that the Groundhogs couldn’t penetrate. Our setup wasn’t ideal. At 3 a.m., on the final night of the hunt, a 50 mph wind gust proved too much for the 8.5-foot-tall shelter, and I woke up with the (thankfully now-cold) exhaust pipe pinning me into my sleeping bag. Had we thought to bring longer, heavier-duty pegs and guylines, I don’t think that would have happened.

We couldn’t get the tipi back up in the high wind, so we just packed everything and set out for our final day of hunting. That early start paid dividends. As the sun rose, a single shot from my Weatherby Mark V stopped the heart of a buck. A few hours later, I completed quartering the deer, loaded 120 pounds onto my back, and set out on the five-mile hike back to the truck.

I’m sure you can see why hunters need to keep their gear as light as possible—packing out an entire animal is not easy.

hot-tent-stove
Made from thin titanium, the stove and exhaust pipe glow bright red when hot. You probably don't want to touch them! A Luminoodle provided nighttime illumination for cooking. (Corey Hass and Stephen Miller)

Like

  • Quick and easy setup; you just stake it and raise it.
  • Having a warm shelter to escape into transforms cold-weather camping from sufferfest to fun time.
  • The entire setup is extremely packable; it’s small, light, and easy to split between multiple people.
  • The stove replaces the campfire as the heart of your camp; your tent is no longer just a place to sleep.
  • Eliminates the need for a separate cook system.
  • Walk in, walk out, stand up, sit down, cook, sleep, store wood, hang out…all in the same sub-three pounds per-person shelter.

Dislike

  • Supplied stakes might not be adequate on looser surfaces.
  • Not sure I can ever go backpacking again without a heated tent.
  • Stove won’t burn all night; the tent will get cold as you sleep.
  • Very thin chimney material has sharp edges and will cut you if you’re not wearing gloves when rolling and unrolling it.

hot-tent-elk
Following the mule deer hunt, Stephen used the Hot Tent while chasing elk. (Stephen Miller)

Should You Buy One?

There’s no way around it: the $1,500 Hot Tent is not cheap. But what we thought would be a luxurious novelty has quickly become a camping essential. Our group of friends just spent half a day elaborately organizing our camping and hunting schedules around this Hot Tent’s availability.

Should you worry about its performance in high winds? Honestly, I attribute our blow-over more to user error than design. It’s a very tall shelter; spend time staking and guying, consider upgrading your stakes, and you’ll be fine.

The Hot Tent is so much more in total than its component parts. Sure, it’s a nice place to sleep, but it’s also a place to cook and hang out, and you can do both standing up if you want. All while keeping warm and dry. And bringing the fire inside really makes the tipi feel like a home. Getting all that for just 2.8 pounds per person makes this thing truly incredible.

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