Camping Equipment

Camping equipment for cycling is a major subject in its own right and indeed you could build whole website about, just as Mel has done at her site Camping Know How. Take a look at some of the cool stuff she has there.  Here we try to give you the benefit of our own experience of equipment that we use or have used as well seen others using.

Camping - Tent

Tents

Our first touring tent was made by a small UK company based in Leeds, Lightwave. The specific model was the t2 trek xt. The current equivalent is the G20 Trek xt.  The current version weighs only 2.89 Kilograms (6.35lbs) complete. It is a tunnel design, two man tent with a spacious awning for such a light package and head room in the awning of 1200mm (47 inches). We used the tent on our Outer Hebrides trip and it stood up to a force 8 gale. It is a great tent for short tours.

For our round the World trip though we decided that, as we would be spending so much time in our tent, we wanted something a little bigger, even if it meant carrying more weight. Specifically we wanted a camping tent that was robust, but high enough to allow us to actually sit on a stool inside the tent. We researched the market and were tempted by the Hilleberg range and the Wechsel range. Both offered tunnel tents with higher profiles, but they attached an equally high profile price.

Finally we alighted upon the good old British standby, Vango.

The Equinox 350 is a roomy three man tent with a very generous head clearance of 1350mm (53 inches) and weighing only 5.3kg (11.66lbs). OK it's nearly double the weight of our last tent, but hey we are getting old and need a bit of comfort at least - even if it does mean harder pedaling.

What has been our experience of it so far? Broadly speaking very good. Despite its height, the internal stays give it good rigidity and it is still quite stable in high winds. There a few issues with it. Firstly due to its larger footprint, it is more difficult to find a good flat pitch and this does not suit it to wild camping very well. It is not very tolerant of being pitched on anything other than flat ground. There is also quite a large gap between the ground the edge of the fly sheet, which can make it very draughty.

Vango Equinox 350

On cold nights it suffers from condensation on the inside of the fly sheet, which drips onto the inner tent. However we have found that this is a common problem with every man made fibre tent we have seen. When there is also dew on the outside, it means you are packing a soaking wet tent. This is no good when you have to pitch later in the day.

The door zips on the fly sheet tend to jam due to the fabric getting caught in the zip, which is an annoying inconvenience. Another annoyance is that when there is water on the outside of the tent and you undo the fly sheet zip water drips onto the ground sheet in the tent awning.

All of these are minor inconveniences and to date we have yet to find a tunnel tent that doesn't suffer the same problems.

The following year, we decided that we could do with a smaller camping tent. This would allow us more flexibility for wild camping and would save us some weight. We researched the market and yet again came back to Vango which offered the best value for money.

We chose the Spirit 300+. It is a tunnel tent and uses poles that are connected and angled slightly at the apex. This means that you still get a generous 110mm head height. Otherwise the construction is similar to the Equinox 350.

Vango Spirit 300+

During 2010/2011 we camped in this tent almost everyday for 7 months, and it took everything that we could throw at it. We had a slight problem with the zip pull opening up slightly resulting in the zip not properly meshing coming open. This could be resolved by carefully crimping the puller with a pair of pliers.

As with much of our gear, the effects of UV on the tent were noticeable. Particularly where the poles threaded through. The fabric became thin and worn, resulting in the pole going through the fabric easily. This just required more care. We also broke a pole due to carelessness.

We will be replacing our tent again this year and would like to go for the new Vango Titan 300. This has a lower skirt around the base to stop draughts and has three door entries compared to the one on the Spirit range. However, it is nearly double the price so we may have to stick with the Spirit.

Groundsheet

The ground sheet that Vango sell for the Equinox 350 is very heavy. Almost as much as the tent again, so we looked for an alternative. There appeared to be two suitable ground sheet materials in the blogs that people were talking about. One was Silicon Impregnated Nylon (SilNylon) and the other was a plastic material. SilNylon is nice and flexible, easy to work with and does not make any noise when you move around on it. However the material that we were using was not 100 percent waterproof. The other material however is 100 percent waterproof, very light but also very noisy when you move around on it.

We decided that we could probably put up with the ground sheet not being quite waterproof. We bought a couple of lengths of the material and made our own ground sheet. However, several weeks of camping in wet UK conditions showed us that the ground sheet was not really waterproof enough. Several times we woke up to puddles on the ground sheet. Before we left the UK we looked for an alternative. We found a material in a local army surplus store in Plymouth. It weighs about the same as the SilNylon, but has proved to be 100% waterproof. It is a little more noisy and quite slippery as it has a waxy feel to it. So we bought three lengths and over the winter we will make it up into a ground sheet to fit the tent. We are not sure what the material actually was.

This ground sheet worked well and lasted right through until we reached Tasmania which was again a very wet area. On our first really wet night it was clear that the waterproofing had broken down again. This time we bought a bog standard PVC ground sheet at a local hardware store, cut it to size and it worked fine.

We have come to the conclusion that it is not worth spending a lot of money on special materials, as the wear and tear they suffer causes the waterproofing to breakdown. The best idea is to just buy a cheap PVC replacement when you need one.

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Camping - Cooking

Stove

As we would be travelling through some remote spots, where getting gas cylinders may prove difficult, we decided to go for a multi-fuel camping stove.

Again, having researched the market we chose the Primus Omnifuel stove. It is light and compared to some of the high speed, high altitude stoves it is relatively controllable. We do like to cook reasonable food rather than just eating pot-noodles or soup, so some control of the stove burner is necessary.

Primus Omni Fuel Stove

As standard the camping stove comes with two different jets enabling use of Gas, White Fuel and Petrol. We have been pleased with the use of fuel and the speed of cooking. It's as good as the old Primus stove that I used as a lad when I used to go camping. Getting petrol proved to be problematical only in the UK. The major service station chains and supermarkets only allow a minimum delivery of 2 litres and even then some will not allow you to fill anything other than their approved containers, the Primus bottle not being one. Unfortunately, the UK is full of "jobs worths" like this, everywhere else it isn’t a problem at all.

Our camping stove is still going strong after four years of regular use. A word of warning when travelling by air or sea. We had our fuel bottle confiscated at Christchurch airport as we hadn't thoroughly washed it out. getting on board the Melbourne to Tasmania ferry, they were stopping and searching for fuel / gas bottles, so we had to empty and wash the fuel out.

Cooking Pans

We have not been impressed by any of the pan sets we have seen. They are generally made for backpackers who just want to boil water or cook pot noodles, or so it seems. Believe it or not, you manufacturers out there, bicycle tourists actually do want to eat reasonable food and therefore need a decent set of pans. In the end we opted for the MSR Blacklite set, which has a frying pan, one small and one large saucepan. They are aluminium, about 2mm thick and Teflon coated. As with most non-stick pans, the coating is wearing off, particularly around the rims, where the clamp handle fits. I mean, which bright engineer at MSR designs a pan with Teflon coating up to the rim and then designs a clamp handle to scratch it off again? Duh!

MSR Blacklite Pan Set

Three years down the line and we are still using our battered, Teflon uncoated pans, having found nothing any better and being reluctant to spend good money on a compromise product, (which most pan sets seem to be).

It is amazing what culinary delights we manage to serve up using just three pans.

Camp Kitchen

To accompany our MSR pans we bought the MSR Camp Kitchen it comes with 1 x 3-ounce plastic bottles, 2 x 2-ounce plastic bottle, 1 x 0.75-ounce plastic bottles, 1 x 0.75-ounce squeeze bottle, 1 x 1-ounce squeeze bottle, Scrub pad, Plastic cutting board, Salt and pepper shaker, 3 x Ziplock bags, nylon zippered pouch, plastic organizer bowl and a lid.

MSR Alpine Camp Kitchen

There is also a really useful folding utensil set which can also be purchased separately. The whole weighs just 15 oz/425 g. The plastic organizer bowl and lid also double as useful bowls for food preparation.

MSR Folding Utensils

Cutlery


Do you hate those plastic knives and forks like we do and steel ones are so heavy. Try the same ones that we use, Lifeventure titanium. The weigh in at just 55g and measure at 190 x 50 x 20 mm. Each set comes in its own protective cover. These are great products. They last forever, but keep your eye on them. They are very desirable.

Lifeventure cutlery set

Camping - Sleeping

Its really important to be able to sleep well, particularly as you get older. So the selection of good quality sleeping bags and mats is important and worth paying a bit more for the best.

Sleeping Bags

With down sleeping bags you run the risk that if they get wet they are useless and take forever to dry out again, but they are the lightest, warmest and most comfortable sleeping bags money can buy. In our view it is better to buy good quality down sleeping bags that pack up small and light and take extra precautions to keep them dry.

After researching the market we chose Cumulus a small specialist manufacturer from Altrincham, Cheshire in the UK. They have been producing high quality outdoor equipment for over 18 years. Their down filled sleeping bags and jackets have been tested during extreme climbing expeditions in the Himalayas, Andes, Alps, Pamir and Atlas mountains. We were not planning to go to those extremes, but we still wanted something that was light, warm and comfortable.

Cumulus - Mysterious Trveller 500

We opted for Cumulus' three season sleeping bag, the Mysterious Traveller 500. These are specified down to -7° and weigh in at just a little over 1 kilogram.

They also pack down nice and small. We protect them during travelling by packing them in Lifeventure roll top bags.

Mysterious Traveller Pack Size

Sleeping Bag Liners

Made from 100% silk, these luxurious sleepers are compact, light and comfortable to use. They can be used on their own as an ultra light travel sleeping bag in warm climates or as a liner to a sleeping bag. These have the added benefit of Lifeventure's EX3 treatment. Thus it will provide some protection the build up of bacteria, act as a barrier against bed bugs as well as containing a mosquito repellent.

When its too warm not scorchio, we put our sleeping mats inside the liner and use it as an outer sheet. We then unzip our sleeping bags and use them like a duvet on the top.

Mattresses

A good sleeping bag is only as good as the mat that lies underneath it. When you mention to people that you camp and sleep on an "air bed", they look at you like you have just arrived from another planet. Li-lo™ is to air beds as Hoover™ is to vacuum cleaners. The Li-lo was developed for the military during the 1930s by Stefan Mangold and despite the name being adopted by many as a general term for air beds, it is still a registered brand.

Air beds or air mattresses have come on a long way since those early days,and today there are numerous companies making a range of types, including foam, self inflating, and pump inflating. For travelling by bicycle weight, pack size, comfort, durability and ease of deployment and packing are all key factors.

Following their recommendation, we bought our original mattresses from a small family run outdoor shop, Crag and Moor in Scarborough, North Yorkshire. They said that the Artiach Skin Mat was by far the best on the market for both performance and weight. We trusted their judgement and those mats lasted us well over 5 years.

Artiach was taken over by the Spanish company Trango a few years ago. Trango have re branded the mats which are now sold as the TrangoWorld Skin Micro Lite. They come in mummy or rectangular and in short or full length. The great thing abut them is that they are very warm, only about 25mm thick when inflated and weigh only 540 grams.

They pack down small as well.

SkinLite Pack Size

Whilst in Australia our warm and comfy Skin Lite beds suddenly started to develop a bulge in the middle of the main body area, one first then the other. The outer skin was separating from inner foam material. The bulge got bigger until we realised that we would have to replace them. Despite this problem, we liked them so much that we wanted to buy the same again, but couldn't find any dealers in Melbourne.

So a change was necessary. Again lightness and small size were important. We looked at Thermorest™ and others before choosing what some might feel is more like the traditional Li-lo™. Our selection was the Ultra light air mattress from the Swiss company Exped.

The Synmat 7UL is filled with synthetic fibre making comfortable, warm and lightweight. The mats pack down small thanks to the highly compressible microfibre.

Synmat
  • Size (cm)           183 x 52 x 7
  • Weight (g)          460 +9 sack
  • Packed (cm)       24 x 9.5
  • Warmth ° C        -4
  • R-Value              3.1

Camping - Other Items

As we planned to spend a lot of time in our tent, we bought two lightweight, three legged stools and a small aluminium folding table. It does help to have a level surface on which to place things.

We also bought an Ortlieb folding wash bowl and collapsible water carrier.

We use a small LED lantern powered by four AAA batteries for light.

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