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Bike Touring Equipment

When Bike touring it is important to think carefully about what you take. There will always be a simple compromise between carrying less and enjoying your time on the bike more or carrying more and enjoying your time off the bike more. There will also be a compromise between paying more for lightweight gear, which does the same/better job for less weight but costs more. In the next few posts I’m going to talk about Lightweight Equipment.

Lightweight Equipment - Tents
If you're going to spend money on lightweight equipment it is better spent on certain items. Spending an extra £20/$30 on titanium mug isn’t cost effective in my opinion because it’s only going to save you a few grams. I would personally look at three areas: you tent, sleeping bag and clothes. Today we’ll look at tents.

In my opinion many cycle tourists and also hikers/backpackers carry tents that are unnecessarily heavy, often using a two man tents when a one man tent would suffice. Many cyclist and also hikers in the U.K. are sticking to traditional tent designs, which are much heavier than some innovate new tents on the market, many of them from the U.S.

Single Skin Options – Ultra Lightweight
Often single skin tents that are well ventilated provide the lightest solution and are normally cheaper than their heavier double skin counterparts. The main downside of single skin tent is you will be in direct contact with the outer layer of the tent, which will develop condensation in all but the driest climates. Condensation in most single skin tents is easily manageable and with a little care inside the tent you can prevent you and your sleeping bag getting wet and at the same time have a considerable weight saving. Here are some single skin tents that have received good reviews and that I would consider.
  • Golite Shangri-La 3(formerly Hex 3) - this lightweight 4-season pyramid style tent is extremely sturdy and when used with a lightweight ground sheet provides a single skin shelter with an extremely high space to weight ratio. It will probably be my choice for my coming Pan American tour. I would suggest the green version if you plan to wild camp.

  • Tarptent – as the name suggest these shelters provide the lightweight credentials of a tarp with the bug protection of a tent. I would personally use the Tarptent Cloudburst 2 for touring. At 1080g this shelter is extremely lightweight and would be provide twice the room of most one man double skin tents for only a fraction of the weight.

Double Skin Options - Lightweight
Double skin tents are by far the most popular kind of tent and there are many lightweight options available. A few year ago I toured around Europe with a friend from university and we used a double skin tunnel style tent made by Vango which they no longer make. By splitting the tent between us we carried just over a kilo worth of tent each, which is lightweight in my opinion, and we had a very comfortable trip.

Double skin tents are the ideal solution for a lot of people. They are ideal for people who don’t want to have to avoid touching the sides of their tents and also if people are sharing a single tent as it can be separated with each person carrying a different part. The downside of a double skin tent is that if will never provide the same weight to space ratio of a single skin tent. It is also liable to cost more but the selection of models is much greater and if you shop around, there are many lightweight double skin tent providing a lightweight solution. Recommended double skin tent:

  • Hilleberg Nallo 2 – This 2 person tent from Hilleberg is about as good as 2 person double skin tents come but it’s not cheap. It pitches fly first so the inner won’t get wet when you have to put it up in the rain and its extremely stable in high winds. Its probably one of the most versatile tents available, light enough for backpacking/touring but also stable enough for mountaineering.

Personally I would recommend a single skin tent but I don't like to carry very much. You can still save plenty of weight by using a lighter weight double skin tent and this will be a sensible option for a lot of people. Below is a table that shows the floor space and weight of some popular tents from some of the most popular tent manufacturers, the end column shows how much space you're getting per kilo, the higher the number the better. I have split the table into two sections, the first being single skin and the second double skin. From the table you can see that single skin tents are giving consistently higher space to weight ratio's, which isn't surprising. Only MSR buck the trend, I think they need to do some redesigning.

ManufacturerTentFloor Area incl
vestibule/sq ft
Weight/kgArea Volume Ratio
GoliteShangri-La 3591.2846.09
Sierra DesignsOrigami 2 UL521.33438.98
TarptentCloudburtst 2371.0834.26
MSRSkinny Too33.52.0616.26
Black DiamondBeta Light(no poles included)34.70.6851.03

Black DiamondMirage40220.00
Sierra DesignsClip Flashlight 2391.75722.20
Big AgnesSeedhouse SL2361.5323.53
MSRHubba Hubba462.1221.70