Packing List - Camping Gear
Discussions abound on what gear is actually required for camping, but three pieces are typically agreed on by all: tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad.
Tents are categorized by capacity (1-person, 2-person, etc.), style (freestanding or not), season (2, 3, or 4), and use (family/camping, or backpacking). There's also "ultralight", which can mean anything. For those companies that do produce high-quality, ultralight tents, such as Big Agnes and MSR, it means a tent that's a couple of pounds lighter, and several hundred dollars more expensive. If you have the bucks, go for it. Keep in mind that ultralights are not built to be extremely durable.
For bike touring, my favorite is a 2-person, freestanding, 3-season, backpacking tent. Let's break that down:
2-person. Unless you're shorter than 5'8" and weigh a scant 150 lbs, you'll feel cramped in a 1-person tent. Granted, at 6'6", I touch head and toes in a 1-person tent. More than that, there's simply no room for stashing gear in such a small space. I've even taken - on a solo trip - a 4-person tent because of predicted heavy rain that forced me to spend long hours in the tent. Save the 1-person model when you're doing minimalist, bikepacking rides.
Freestanding. This is your typical dome-style, two-pole tent. Easy to set up and doesn't require support by guy lines - hence, freestanding. This is great if you find yourself camping in a city park on a concrete slab, or ground so rocky or sandy as to not hold a stake. It was an absolute necessity when I pitched my tent on a not-surprisingly sandy beach. Note that most have guy lines for additional support during stormy weather and to leave air pockets between the rain fly and tent body.
3-season. This is pretty much your standard tent meant for fair weather. No winter camping in Montana.
Backpacking. A lighter-weight version of a tent. Family/Car Camping/Group tents may have heavier fiberglass poles, rather than aluminum, more poles, two or more doors (which adds weight), and heavier materials.
** Good Tents For Your Tour:
I've been using Eureka Tents for over 20 years and find they provide a solid price-to-performance ratio. In addition to the older Taron 2, the Midori 2 is also a good option at around $170.
Alps Mountaineering, based in the Alpine region of...Missouri, also makes a series of budget-friendly tents. The Lynx 2 can be had for around $150 and still packs in at less than 6 lbs.
Another reasonable bet is Kelty. Their excellent Salida 2 tent is no longer manufactured but may still be found in various retailers. The Grand Mesa 2 is a similar, 3-season, single-door tent that packs in under 5 lbs and sells for $130. I found their Mesa 4 to be a reliable, budget-minded tent.
In addition to selling tents from all the major players, REI has its own brand of reasonably priced tents. The REI Co-op Half Dome 2 Plus Tent retails at $229 (standard two-pole design with brow pole), while their higher-end Quarter Dome SL 2 Tent is $349 (arched poles to create more vertical sidewalls) and weighs almost 2 lbs less than the Half Dome.
At the higher end, the MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2-person 3-season tent consistently receives high ratings. Gone is the simple two-pole design, replaced with a branching structure meant to open the interior while providing solid protection from the elements. Greatness does come at a price; in this case $450.
Coming in at about the same price as the Hubba, is the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 tent. It has a trail weight of just over 3 lbs (UL stands for Ultra Light), and still provides two doors (many manufacturers sacrifice a door to reduce weight).
And last, Swedish tentmaker Hilleberg delivers high-end tents for expedition-type touring. Over the years I've noted how often adventure cyclists included these tents in their "round the world" expedition-style touring. Save your pennies for these; the Nallo 2 all-season tent is over $700.
Sleeping bags are temperature rated, ranging from below zero, to warm weather bags at 45-50 degrees. Fill material can be synthetic or down, with the lighter material coming at a higher cost. My preference is a synthetic-filled, 30-degree bag, with a target weight around 2 lbs, which runs about $160. I'll add a sleeping bag liner, such as the Thermarest Reactor, to give me a wider range of comfort with the same bag. For warm spring/summer nights, I'll take just the liner or my 50-degree bag.
Bag liners also extend the life of your sleeping bag. Frequent washings of a sleeping bag - besides being a major pain in the arse - bring about the risk of ripping seams, in addition to compressing the fill, reducing its warmth. A bag liner is much easier to clean and replace.
So what about this temperature rating? Is this what I can expect while out on the road? The simple answer is no. My article Sleeping Bag Rating - What's In A Number delves into this question and highlights important considerations. In short, it's why this category also includes thermal underwear, beanie, and wool socks. They're a must for any cool-weather camping.
** Good Sleeping Bags for Your Tour:
Marmot has been my go-to favorite for sleeping bags due to their durability and cost. The only issue in turns of recommendation is, like several manufacturers, they seem to change models every year. As of now I primarily use my Cloudbreak 30 or Electrum 30, each runs around $175 and is no longer sold. For warm weather, I also have a Nanowave 50 that sells for $79.
In the same price category as Marmot, is REI. Their Ambient 36 (no longer available) is a very nice lightweight bag that sold for around $160.
The colder weather, budget conscious, $180 Kelty Cosmic 20 weighs under 3 lbs and packs down to around 8 in. x 16 in.
Sleeping pads are key to a good night's sleep; in addition to cushion, they (can) provide insulation from the cold ground. In fact, one factor for the temperature rating of a sleeping bag is the assumption that you're on a 1-inch thick, insulated, sleeping pad. There are three basic types of pads: the simple foam roll, a self-inflating pad, and the standard air sleeping pad (blow-up mattress). In my earlier days of touring, I carried the classic Thermarest Trail Scout; self-inflating, 1 inch thick, with decent insulation. As the years rolled by and the hard ground started bothering my hips, I turned to a Thermarest Trail Pro (3-inch thick) self-inflating pad for cooler weather or the Thermarest NeoAir Venture (2-inch thick) blow-up mattress during summer.
Choosing a pad means balancing comfort, pack size, ease of use, insulation (usually measured as an R-Value), and cost. Here's a look at each type of sleeping pad:
Easy to replace
Easy to use
Won't spring a leak in the middle of the night
The thicker the pad, the bulkier it is
Low insulation; R-value from 0 to 3
Easy to use; unpack and let it self-inflate. A couple of breaths to get it firm.
Good insulation; R-Value range from 3 to 5.
More comfort than a foam roll
More expensive than a foam roll
Can lose air - although the foam interior keeps it from going completely flat
Small pack size - great for minimalist touring
Comfort; 2 - 5 inches thick, without greatly increasing pack size
Have to be blown up. Not fun at the end of a day's ride. Recommend buying pocket size, battery operated pump.
Normally low insulation. More insulation greatly increases cost.
If it springs a leak, you're sleeping on the cold, hard ground.
** Good Sleeping Pads for Your Tour:
As mentioned above, I'm partial to Therma-Rest. The Trail Scout is affordable ($70), theProLite is comfortable and lightweight ($115), and the NeoAir XLite is comfortable, lightweight, and warm (and pricey at $225). For the minimalist, there's also the 14 oz. closed-cell (foam) Z Lite for $45.
The Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core Deluxe sells for around $200, packs light (41 oz for the largest size), and is super comfortable, and warm.
GearLab covers the good stuff (feel free to ignore backpack recommendations) at Best Backpacking Gear of 2023
The excellent site Backpacking.com provides a series of articles for CAMPING GEAR: REVIEWS AND MUSINGS
Bikepackers can find the Best Bikepacking Tents of 2023 from Treeline Review
Bicycling.com has an assortment of camping gadgets with The Best Gear for Cyclists Who Love Camping by the Trails