Camping Gear!

Mr. Coffee

Well-Known Member
I was just going to post some thoughts on camping gear.

The big thing is that there is an amazing cornucopia of lightweight camping gear available that is well-suited to bicycle touring. Depending on how much you want to spend and what kind of system you want you can build up a system that might weigh as little as 2kg and provide quite adequate shelter and comfort. In the end as much depends on what you think you need and your camping skillset as it does on what you want to spend.

Tents

There are an amazing assortment of tents available that are well-suited to the bicycle tourist. Some popular examples include:
In general, tents provide good bug protection, weatherproofness, and privacy (not a trivial consideration if you are staying in crowded hiker-biker camps). They usually provide mediocre to poor ventilation and are heavier, more complex (meaning more parts to break), and generally more expensive.

Bivy Sacks

Bivy Sacks are basically very lightweight miniature tents. The provide minimal stormproofness and bug protection and poor ventilation, but are extremely light and compact. I also find them to be claustrophobic. Also, trying to undress or change clothes in a bivy is almost always more embarrassing than skinning out in semi-public.
Hammocks

There is a whole camping subculture built around hammocks. Hammocks can prove very useful in conditions where there isn't any flat or reasonably dry ground to pitch a tent or tarp. All I can say is that the people who use them tend to like them.
Tarps

Tarp technology has really advanced in the last 20 years! There is a wide assortment of spectacularly light and stormproof tarps available today. In general, a tarp will require quite a bit of skill and judgement and some careful site selection to produce a stormproof pitch, but on the average I've found that you will stay drier in a tarp than in a tent, largely because whatever you lose in weather proofness you gain back in ventilation. Tarps are also effectively variable geometry, so you can vary how you set up the pitch depending on weather conditions (e.g., pitch the tarp low and tight for a storm and high and spacious on a humid rainy night). In addition, you get more protected area per gram with a tarp than with any other shelter.

There are various options for how you arrange yourself within a tarp, from various bug shelters that basically make the tarp a very simple tent to a ground sheet or a splatter-proof bivy sack. No one solution is right and one more advantage of a tarp is that you can change the configuration depending on the type of trip you are on.
It should be noted that with modern materials you are wise to be a little fussy when you set up your shelter. Modern materials like silnylon, spinnaker cloth, and cuben fiber are extremely light and extremely strong, but can fail spectacularly if abused or used improperly. All of these materials handle abrasion poorly, and all of them tend to stretch and sag a bit when wet. Worst of all, if your shelter is sagging or not pitched tightly and you encounter a heavy wind these lightweight materials can rip themselves to pieces in seconds. So it is important to make sure you keep the shelter pitch taut. Ideally you should be able to tighten guy lines (or at least most guy lines) from inside the shelter and preferably without getting out of bed.
 

rich c

Well-Known Member
I have a little trouble understanding the appeal of camping with bugs in the heat and humidity, after grinding out 75+ miles for the day. Give me an air conditioned room with an outlet to charge batteries any day of the week!
 

Mr. Coffee

Well-Known Member
One of the things you'll want to bring is a sleeping pad, which both insulates your body from the cold, cold ground and provides your old, tired bones some well-deserved padding.

On the average, various kinds of closed-cell foam provide the most insulation per ounce, while various kinds of air mattresses provide the most padding. A lot of "air mattresses" also have some amount of foam inside them that provides additional insulation, and some even have a small amount of down filling which can make them amazingly warm.

There are various closed-cell foam pads available, and in general they are the least expensive and lightest in weight. The downsides are that they typically do not provide as much padding and comfort and that they can be rather bulky -- it is rarely feasible to pack them in a pannier. You can save weight and bulk by cutting them down, usually the best comfort-to-bulk compromise is to have a pad that goes between your shoulders and your behind. You can use extra clothes and the like to pad your legs and improvise a pillow.
There are an amazing variety of self-inflating pads and air mattresses available. In general nearly all of them are too heavy and too bulky to be practical for a bicycle tourist. As a good rule of thumb try to find one that weighs less than 1 lb. The lightest of them pack amazingly small and can easily fit in your panniers or seat twinkie.
All of the self-inflating pads are prone to developing unfortunate leaks. A patch kit or repair kit will be a mandatory accessory. In general my experience has been that the older vintage Therm-a-rests from the early 1980s were of far higher quality than any made today.
 
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Mr. Coffee

Well-Known Member
Sleeping Bags

There are an amazing variety of sleeping bags and quilts available and well-suited for the bike tourist. While some synthetic-fill sleeping bags are suitable for bike touring, the lightest weight, most compact, and longest-lasting sleeping bags are going to use some kind of goose down insulation. While a down sleeping bag must be kept fussily dry a well-cared for down bag will easily last a dozen years, while a synthetic bag typically starts de-lofting in three to five years.

It is critically important that even if you are staying in a hotel for the night, you should un-stuff your sleeping bag and let it loft to avoid over-compression of the insulation. If you neglect to do this you will in effect convert the down to not-very-warm clumps in a very short period of time.

For most bike tourists, sleeping bags and quilts with a comfort rating of 30 degrees will be just fine. In fact you can possibly get by with a 40 degree bag if you have brought along some warm clothes. Even the most minimal shelter will be ten to fifteen degrees (F) warmer than the surrounding environment, so you should be able to get through the coldest summer night just fine with a very light sleeping bag.

Some excellent sleeping bags to consider:
  • Marmot Hydrogen
  • Western Mountaineering Megalite -- this is an awesome bag. It is generously cut which makes it easy to do things like change socks or even put on a pair of pants inside the sleeping bag. For all that it weighs about a pound and a half.
Since the insulation under you is crushed to nothing, a lot of distance hikers have taken to using quilts rather than a traditional sleeping bag. Quilts are on the average lighter and more flexible than a regular mummy bag and are an excellent choice for the bike tourist.
 
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Lots of great info, thanks!

Do you have any thoughts on protecting your bike from thieves and the elements while sleeping in your tent? Maybe just a fabric cover in case of rain and a lock?
 

Thomas Jaszewski

Well-Known Member
The last order I made by phone with REI was met with a youngster asking me to correct my member number. Chiding me and suggesting that 204554 was impossible, given the membership was in the millions. In fact I’m a 52 year customer. Still loyal still finding the best and loving the member benefits. My niece recently did an Electra eBike on members earned credits. Still the best coop ever!
 

Mr. Coffee

Well-Known Member
Do you have any thoughts on protecting your bike from thieves and the elements while sleeping in your tent? Maybe just a fabric cover in case of rain and a lock?
As for protecting the bike from the elements, my e-bike is reasonably waterproof and I can ride all day in the rain with it, so being in the rain overnight is unlikely to hurt it. I do wrap the saddle and display with plastic bags but other than that I don't worry too much. The bigger issue is that my bike is often quite grungy and I like to find a hose and clean it off from time to time.

There are really three camping situations for me.

The first is some form of "stealth" or "wild" camping where I just go off into the trees a few hundred feet or so off the road and set up camp (figuring out how to find great campsites this way is an actual skill that for reasons of brevity I will not cover here). In such situations i have no serious concern about my security or the security of my bike or other gear.

The second situation is camping at public campgrounds with hiker-biker campsites. Nearly all of these campgrounds are gated at night (typically 10pm to 5am) so it is unlikely people with nefarious intent will make there way into them at night. I usually lock my bike both with a cable lock and foldylock, and it is extremely unlikely any thief is going to be able to undo all of that at night without my noticing (unless they are a ninja bike thief with night vision). Other campers in hiker-biker sites usually have bikes of their own (or kayaks) and are unlikely to want to steal my bike. The bigger challenge in hiker-biker sites is finding a decent place to charge your bike overnight while still having the bike physically close enough to you to keep an eye on it. Depending on the campground this can vary between easy-peasy and impossible.

The third situation is that some private campgrounds and resorts will have accommodations for bikers. These are generally similar situations to public campgrounds (access is closed off at night) but usually your charging options are better.

I use a tarp and often use the bike to support one end or the other of the tarp setup (how you do that competently is a whole other story). Obviously when I do that I would very quickly notice if someone was futzing with my bike.

One thing to watch out for is that all too often either there will be inadequate current at the outlets to charge your bike or the power may be turned off at night. It is very demoralizing to realize at 8am that you have a 40 percent charge and sixty-five miles of riding ahead of you.

I am never too proud and if the situation at a campground is at all sketchy I will give it a miss and head for a Best Western.
 

Cowlitz

Well-Known Member
I have a little trouble understanding the appeal of camping with bugs in the heat and humidity, after grinding out 75+ miles for the day. Give me an air conditioned room with an outlet to charge batteries any day of the week!
It all depends on where you are at, or going. It doesn't get very humid around the inland PNW and bug conditions vary according to where you go, what time of year, and what the weather has been doing prior to the trip. I do not care for bug spray and use the walk and wave a hanky madly around, or wear a headnet when the bugs are in clouds. I try to avoid such places. Wind also helps keep bugs at bay, and when locating your camp, you might want to consider that, and other factors.

I haven't bike toured, but I have backpacked a little bit and I like to end up near some kind of water to cool off/rinse off in. A closed cell sleeping pad can be a flotation device. The blue ones will keep you partially submerged so you can bob around a bit. You can also wrap up in them for a bit of warmth whilst bobbing around in a lake fed by melting glaciers. However, being near water can mean the bugs are bad so you have to figure out which is the most important to you.

I tried a hammock on one overnighter. Even though it was a warm and dry time of year, I found I needed insulation between my sleeping bag and the hammock which is not unusual. This was on the west side of our Cascade Range. Otherwise, it was the most comfortable bed I've ever had on a backpack trip, but for some reason I could not sleep. I just lay in the hammock and watched the stars for most of the time, and dozed a bit. I think the hammock weighed more than my tent so there was no weight advantage. Also, not much privacy.
 

BBassett

Active Member
I have a little trouble understanding the appeal of camping with bugs in the heat and humidity, after grinding out 75+ miles for the day. Give me an air conditioned room with an outlet to charge batteries any day of the week!
A lot of the time when I set-up a base-camp I am 50 to 100 miles away from any power or motel convenience, even air conditioning. As for staying clean... I use a portable inflatable shower every other day or so, and finally, I use a 300W SunCapture folding solar panel to keep the batteries topped off to 80%. Give me a clean, unsoiled (at least by anyone else) place to sleep with no humans around... any day of the week.
 

BBassett

Active Member
Lots of great info, thanks!

Do you have any thoughts on protecting your bike from thieves and the elements while sleeping in your tent? Maybe just a fabric cover in case of rain and a lock?
I use a full cover anytime I park and lock my bike, especially with panniers on it. Lock everything, cover the bike fully, activate a motion detector that is not visible (hidden under the cover) and walk away. Then I feel like a parent with a kid somewhere out of sight until I get back to her.
 

BBassett

Active Member
I was just going to post some thoughts on camping gear.

The big thing is that there is an amazing cornucopia of lightweight camping gear available that is well-suited to bicycle touring.
I carry a Cubin Fiber bivy, Amok Hammock w/tarp (the only hammock I have ever found comfortable), a MLD TrailStar Dyneema tarp, Sansbug pop tent (fast and so easy), a HG Dyneema Palace Fiber Tarp (10 X 12'), 2 extendable tent poles, 2 trekking poles. 2 chairs, 2 insulated air mattresses, wood stove, gas stove, shower, solar oven (summer months), and lots of toys too. I like being clean and comfortable when riding out of base-camps. Camping gear is a more personal choice than your bike and can be even more expensive after a while.
 

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webcurl

Active Member
A lot of the time when I set-up a base-camp I am 50 to 100 miles away from any power or motel convenience, even air conditioning. As for staying clean... I use a portable inflatable shower every other day or so, and finally, I use a 300W SunCapture folding solar panel to keep the batteries topped off to 80%. Give me a clean, unsoiled (at least by anyone else) place to sleep with no humans around... any day of the week.
Wow, that panel is heavy! If you can afford it, look into P3Solar foldables: https://p3solar.com/portfolio/p3-125/
 

webcurl

Active Member
Yeah, it is 17 lbs. P3S only goes to 125W and that not even close to what I need.
3 x P3 125W in parallel will give you 375 watts (all panels are under quoted, in reality 340W in Aussie summer sun) and weigh 5.34kg (11.8 pounds), and use up approx 14 litres of volume.
 

BBassett

Active Member
3 x P3 125W in parallel will give you 375 watts (all panels are under quoted, in reality 340W in Aussie summer sun) and weigh 5.34kg (11.8 pounds), and use up approx 14 litres of volume.
Yeah, I understand how they could be hooked in parallel but using 3 light-weight panels designed to charge laptops and small electronics over a single panel designed to be durable and using full-size cells isn't the constant hassle I want to deal with.
 

webcurl

Active Member
Yeah, I understand how they could be hooked in parallel but using 3 light-weight panels designed to charge laptops and small electronics over a single panel designed to be durable and using full-size cells isn't the constant hassle I want to deal with.
I was only trying to suggest a lighter option to what you already have.
I appreciate you have researched a lot as to what you carry, and it seems like you carry a heck of a lot - tent, bivy, hammock, multiple tarps, 3 different cooking options, etc. which would lead one to believe why you defend so profusely the benefits of a super large battery or 2 which indeed in your case you seriously need.
However the solar panels i mentioned are hardly specifically "designed to charge laptops & small electronics" as their MPP voltage is 31V with an open circuit voltage of 39V and therefore require additional electronics to step up charging of an ebike battery or step down to charge "small electronics". As for full size cells, well i think that depends on the chemistry/design/construction.
I do however appreciate the fact that it would be much easier to just deal with one large heavy panel and not 2 or 3 but then again that would be like putting all your eggs in one basket. Not sure about the design of the panel you use and i hope it's like the P3 Solar ones in that if half of the panel is shaded you still get half of the rated output, this effect minus small losses via connecting via parallel (with closely matched panels) becomes less magnified.
Not sure how durable your panel is but it sounds like from your tone you have no idea how durable the P3 Solar panels are either!
But it's fantastic we all get to talk about this stuff, i'm a stubborn bastard but i like to know what's what with what.
 

BBassett

Active Member
Yes, when I am riding between base-camps I absolutely need assist unless I am descending the entire way... and I have never been to that place where ever it is. I only use the charged packs to run the motor, well, if the FuGoo XL runs out I will put a few hours charge in it with a dc to dc converter, I like riding with music. Large packs are just more beneficial and their advantages outweigh their disadvantages for most anyone that is riding long distances and/or many hours daily. If you are riding out of your garage everyday it doesn't really matter as much but the advantages are still all there. All your points are pretty much spot-on and have been thoroughly considered. I will say that using multiple panels would give a degree of back-up that I don't currently have.