In Solon Springs Wisconsin, Duane Lottig, a small winter tent builder, works out of a converted garage to make some of the finest winter stove-tents available. The Snowtrekker tent is used from Alaska to the Alps and beyond.MM: Let’s take it from the beginning. How did you start your business?DL: Initially I got started because I wanted to make canvas tents for heated camping in the winter. I had ideas in the back of my head for heated tents, but early on into the business, I realized I wasn’t a tent-maker yet. I didn’t have a background in sewing!. During this period I developed a natural fiber line of clothing under the name of Empire Canvas Works. I also made tents, but worked with a specialized tent maker. Over the years I achieved the point with the volume of tents where I could order specialty fabrics, which were a custom order. This allowed us to really customize and evolve our tents to get the weight down on the tent and the frame system. This past year I sold off the name Empire Canvas Works which is all of the clothing and accessory line. Snowtrekker has always been the trademarked name of our tents, so it was a natural progression for us to call the new business Snowtrekker tents. That’s how we got to where we are today. It’s been about a 12-14 year process.MM: You don’t just wake up one morning and decide you want to make a stove-tent. How did you get interested in designing these?DL: We did winter camping, snowshoeing and recreational mushing. I’ve always been a winter recreation enthusiast. When our sons were young, we did “cold” camping – nylon tents, and fueling your own furnace with food. I started looking at the alternative to that which is actually a traditional alternative. The wall tent and stove was a standard, yet not a very portable one. We developed it to be very portable by keeping the weight down and the set up simple, easy and quick. We now have a tent that is very easy to set up and break down, so you can choose to move your camp daily if you like. The tent is no longer a major project to erect and take down. The basic design of our tent has been set for a long time, but we do, however, make tweaks to the design every now and then. We have had two different styles of tents: our Hybrid, which has low vertical wall heights, and is more like a traditional wall tent than our second type which we call our Expedition. The latter is more like a modified wedge shape tent, which is lighter and faster than the Hybrid to set up. Both types have internal frames. Our newest style is the Base Camp. The Base Camp is designed just like its name. We found more and more of the hunting crowd coming to us, so we had to develop a new tent for them and their needs.We have 7 different sizes of tents among those three styles, everything from a single person (solo) tent with a 8′ x 7″ footprint, 6’4″ridge height which weighs only 13lbs, 5oz, to our largest size the Snowtrekker Base Camp, 9’8” x 12’9″, 6’9″ ridge height, weighs which 23lbs 4oz and will handle 5 people comfortably. These are some of the lighter winter camping tents available without going to Egyptian cotton, but with that fabric you need a fly for water repellency and you end up the same or heavier than our tents with more complexity in set up and take down. Our tents are the fastest and easiest tents to set up in their weight class. MM: What kind of fabric do you use to make the tents with?DL: We use 100% cotton fabric, similar to a cotton duck, and the uniqueness of it over regular canvas is that we use 6.5oz, with a higher thread count and a tighter weave vs. the 10oz canvas of the vast majority of wall tents. The tighter weave not only sheds water and wind well, but still stays breathable. that’s the big advantage of cotton canvas, it allows for the transfer of moisture through the fabric. We also treat our tents with Sunforger water repellency. It is a dry treatment that makes the fabric very water repellent, yet it doesn’t feel waxy. Our fabric is also treated to CPAI 84 flame retardant standards, which is the most stringent. Using these fabrics and treating them the way we do makes our tents light, strong, breathable, and water repellent. You don’t need a rain fly with our tents which saves weight also. MM: What stops condensation from forming inside a heated tent?DL: Well the fabric is important, but the shape and design of is important also. Our tents’ design is low volume along the ridge which allows it to get real warm up top on the inside. This concentration of heat really pushes the moisture out. With a more shallow design, and more space to heat the effect doesn’t work as well.We usually let the fire go out at night, and if it is cold, you will have some frozen condensation, but it evaporates and gets pushed through the fabric quickly once you fire up the stove in the morning. Also, we put in ridge vent tubes which we open up when we are cooking or if we have a lot of damp clothes hanging in the ridge. MM: Do you have floors in your tents?DL: No, we don’t put a floor in winter tents for a couple of reasons. It is best to put a ground tarp under the sleeping area. When you use a winter tent it is almost impossible to keep the snow off your feet when going in and out, and that accumulates in the tent if there is a sewn in floor. That makes a huge hassle when you have to break down camp. Also in the doorway when you are bringing wood in and out you always accumulate wood and stuff in the tent. A floor is not necessary, and life in the tent is much better without one.MM: What type of framework do you use? DL: We use Easton Aluminum tent poles joined together with cold rated bungee cord. They fold into a package about 28″ long.MM: Do you make the tents in your shop?DL: I work with an expert sewing operation in Michigan about 100 miles from me that sews them together. We do all the quality control, research and prototyping here. I’m in Solon Springs Wisconsin, about 30 miles south of Duluth. Our tents have a lot of use in the Boundary Waters canoe area in Minnesota. There are many mushing guides out there that use our product, but also a lot of manually hauled tobaggan guides also. MM: Did you design the tent around a particular stove?DL: No, our tents use a generic size stove pipe jack, which we manufacture, in the tent for a wide range of stoves. It is a matter of buying a stove that is sized appropriately for the tent you are using. You don’t have to have a stove picked out when you purchase our tents. I usually reccommend what type of stove you could use according to your tent and end use, and we sell some here, but there are a number of stove manufacturers out there doing a good job and you don’t have to buy it here with the tent. MM: What is the price range for your tents?DL: Our solo, the smallest tent is $740, and our largest, our Expedition is $1275, those prices include frames. You can find tents cheaper, but not with these quality materials, design, and manufacturing. We have a 100% lifetime warranty for materials and workmanship.
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