Bike touring is all about freedom. There’s the freedom of movement that comes with self-powered transport – no waiting for buses or sticking to train timetables. You get to go where you want and when you want. While it’s great to stay in a hotel every now and then (nothing beats a hot shower after a tough day on the bike) sometimes it’s not always possible. Plus, if you’re going on a long tour, it can get costly.
All of which means that you’re probably going to be spending a few nights under canvas. If you can find a campsite then that’s a bonus. However, as many cycle tourists will tell you, wild camping is a really cheap way of seeing the world.
When you’re packing camping gear for a bike tour, there are two main considerations. Gear needs to be small and light. Since you’re pedalling it around yourself, every extra gram counts. If you carry two extra kilos, and travel 1,000 miles that’s a heck of a lot of energy exerted in the long run. And if your panniers are six inches bigger, that’s a whole lot more wind resistance you’ll be fighting against.
Depending on how many people are travelling with you, the smaller the tent the better – both when erected and in the bag. Something like the Vango Force 10 Helium is ideal. As the name might suggest, it’s light as a feather weighing in at just 1.30 kg, which is about as light as you’re going to get. The pack size is 40 cm by 12 cm, which also fits nicely in your panniers.
You can get very affordable two man tents but the general rule is, the tougher your camping is going to be, the more you need to spend on a tent. Wild camping in the wilds of Romania is slightly different to a camping for a couple of nights at a festival. Different tents for different occasions.
Again, the smaller the better, so a mummy-style bag with a tough compression sack is always a good idea. Depending on what kind of weather and temperatures you’ll be camping in (most bike tours tend to be summer affairs) you probably won’t need a thick winter bag. However, you need to do your research. The Snugpack Travelpack range offers affordable bags at good prices, and they compress small enough to transport easily too.
If you can find a small, and lightweight camping mat to keep you separated from the ground then that’s always recommended. They roll up nice and small and weigh very little so are easily transported on the bike.
A small, solid fuel stove is usually about the limit of what you can carry. Larger gas stoves are too bulky. As are the larger lantern style lights so a small, lightweight and powerful torch is essential. Maglites are always a good call as they’re relatively small and powerful.
Bike touring is all about efficiency. It’s about travelling far and wide on a small budget and under your own steam. There is little room for luxury and when you’re packing, if you’re unsure if you’ll need something then you almost certainly won’t. You’ll only have room for essentials and they need to be tough, good quality and effective. With some great gear out there, you can get everything you need for your trip that won’t slow you down.