Why bother camping?

I thought the same, but I discovered something new, though I just couldn't put my finger on it. I suppose one appreciates the quality of things we take for granted. When I was thirsty most drinks tasted like nectar. When I was hungry after a ride, mild food tasted exquisite, and when I came home I valued the roof over my head, and yet being home lacked something; the views, new experiences, and meeting new people. It goes around in a restless circle of yearning, but its clear simple pleasures bring the most joy.

I enjoy the high life and when it comes to food and accommodation, I’m a bit of a snob. When I started cycle touring a few years ago with my best mate, we stayed in nice hotels that had nice food, but this was expensive. A colleague in work suggested I try camping, carrying all the kit I needed on the bike. At first I dismissed the idea, but then, maybe, why not. I’ll give it a try, if I don’t like it I could always sell everything.

I originally opted for the most light weight equipment available. The sleeping bag was duck down and weighed four pounds and was too small (for a portly chap), but even in the summer, I was bloody freezing. Bit by bit, I discarded the lightweight stuff in favour of comfort; it was cheaper, but heavier. I’m already three stone overweight, if I want the combined weight of me and the bike down, I’ll just have to lose some weight. So here it is; a summary of the kit I use to go cycle camping. Just click the highlighted words to see an image.

cycle camping The bike; it’s a Trek hybrid with frame eyes in place to mount forward and rear panniers. The rear rack is a Madison bought on Ebay, the front rack is an adjustable Ostand Alloy from ‘Practical cycles’. Each bike will have different characteristics so it’s best to ask your local cycle dealer what will fit your bike. Panniers can cost the earth, the expensive ones are Ortlieb and can be hundreds of pounds, but I went for the cheapest ones I could get (after all, at first I was just trying it out) from Ebay. Panniers They were Pedalpro double panniers, but I believe ‘ETC’ do a similar one, both around £10. Once they’re on, they’re on, but they enable me to strap the tent over the top. I bought some ‘SmartStraps’ (bungee toggles) to replace the Velcro, this offers the fixings a little more give on rough ground. Are they waterproof? Mine are water resistant, but enough with some adjustments. I bought some cheap rucksack covers for them to help to repel the water. They were expensive, now you can one up for a fiver (Lumopod, Yoko, BTR), there are loads available. Some panniers are single and can easily be lifted on and off, but there’s a caution here! My front pannier was a single rear Avenir, but I changed this to a double after it dislodged on a ride and caught in the front wheel throwing me over the bars (click here to read what happened). The internal capacity may be a big factor, the ones I have are quite small, but big enough for a week’s trip. Remember the larger the capacity, the more stuff you’ll carry and the more weight.

Now you need lights (though most cyclists in Bristol think they don’t need any); you can’t go wrong with ‘Cateye’, though they’re expensive. The only cheap ones I’d buy are 'Smart' or ‘Torch’ front and rear (good back up lamps). I also have a ‘Cree’ headlight to use in the day or off road at night, the second back light I have is for daylight only, from 'C&Bseen', they have a good range. Some people use these high powered lights in town at night, they don’t make you safer, and they’re likely to annoy motorists by blinding them. I have a third front light which is just one those cheap 5 LED aluminium lights, easy to take off as my camping light.

Kitchen sink Some people like to get close to nature, but I like my creature comforts. Theres a great mp3/ radio that fits snug on the bars, called 'Sport music'. It doubles up as a speaker if you wish to play your smart phone music. It was fiddly and the instructions aren’t clear, but persevere, they’re brilliant. Call me paranoid but I have cameras, back and front. ‘GoPro’ are the market leaders but I feel they’re too large, I use Mini-HDVR. Brand new they’re £150, but you can pick them up on Ebay quite cheap, I bought both sets for under £60. I use a small crossbar bag to store the recorders in (there’s loads available), mines from Roswheel. I have a Garmin Edge 605 as a 'sat nav', you may prefer maps, or you can use your smart phone, but they will use more battery. You'll need a lock, there's loads available and some are pricey, you have to come to terms with; if someone wants your bike they'll have it, but a cheap lock stops the opportunist thief. For a little extra peice of mind I bought a Gallob bike alarm. They're no good if you're inside a building and the bike is outside, but if you're inside a tent yards away from your bike; they're great, they go for under a fiver on Ebay. A pump is essential, but believe me, buy a cheap one and you’ll regret it first puncher. I use the Topeak's mini G, the handle turns at ninety degrees and there’s a foot hold, they’re expensive around £28. Some of the newer ones have the ability to fit the CO2 gas cyclinders. To go with it you’ll need a spare inner tube and levers, Continental put one in a small bag for under a tenner. Last accessory is a little bell, you can pick them up from Ebay for £1.

Now the sleepy bit- The tent; Do your research and see if you can actually fit in it, decide if you want to sit in it when it’s raining. Generally, one man tents are for leprechauns, and some two man tents aren’t much bigger either. I use the 'Vango Banshee 200' two man tent, it’s just about big enough (I wish I’d bought the Banshee 300). It has survived torrential downpours and not a drop inside. If you’re going to buy a second hand one, buy a good condition one even if you pay more. This item may be well over the top, but it’s supposed to keep little beasties at bay (rats, mice, spiders); does it work? I’m not sure, but I’ve never had any issues with the battery powered ultrasonic pest repellent. My sleeping bag is the XL Urban Escape Garda Envelope Sleeping Bag from Halfords, it’s heavy, but it’s warm and massive, I can’t stand being tied up. Now for the bed, I’ve tried camp beds and roll mats, I had a Skandika self inflating mattress, but was too wide for the bike (restricting access through trains). What I’ve settled on is the Outwell Reel Airbed, it’s not cheap (don’t buy a cheap flock one), but it is really is good. The horizontal channels ensure even weight distribution that delivers stability and night-long comfort. I use a tiny battery powered blower to inflate it. They can puncture, but can easily be repaired. What about a pillow, there are loads out there, mine is self-inflating from one of those cheap shops and cost a couple of quid

Cooking- I started off with a Ghillie kettle, they’re good but a pain when you’re wet and so is the fuel. I choose a small Vango remote camping stove, you’re going to need a shield and pots. My pots were £8.58 on Ebay, the little Vango stove fits inside the pots. You’re going to need somewhere to sit, I bought a host of chairs and found them all crap except one; the Helinox chair. It's a superlight weight, compact and the most comfortable backpacking chair that you can carry anywhere. It’s a bit pricey at around £80, but it’s worth it for the comfort. And the rest (nice to have)- a Bike parker cover, it’s not one hundred percent necessary, but it makes life easier; I can leave the panniers and the cameras on, away from prying eyes. I bought a PortaPow solar powered USB charger from Amazon for £36. Cycle camping It’s expensive, but brilliant and folds up like a small book, I can charge anything that needs a USB charger, I can even charge stuff on the go. If you’re going to get a small one (the same size as a phone), don’t bother, they don’t work (I’ve tried them). I’ve few more nick-nacks and hopefully they’re covered in the list at the end

I can sleep in comfort, warm and dry. I can sit in comfort and read my books on my iPad (knowing I won’t run out of battery) or I can listen to the radio or play songs, I can cook or make tea, I can lock the bike up and cover it. I’ll re-quote a sentence from the N Wales ride- "I opened the outer flap of my tent and saw lightening striking the mountain range in the distance. I lay there for quite some time marvelling at this free show, I’ve never seen anything quite like it, it was fantastic."

Here's a comprehensive list of stuff (it's quite alot)

Bicycle Accessories (mounted to bike)

  • Front & Rear Rack & Panniers (with rain Covers).
  • Seat/ Frame Bag.
  • Water Bottles + Cages & Hydration Pack.
  • LCD Cycle Computer (with new battery, mines the Polar CS200).
  • LED Flashing Tail Light (and or rear daylight lamp).
  • LED Head Light (and or cree headlamp).
  • Front & Rear mudguards.
  • Bungie Cords.
  • Garmin edge 605.
  • Sport radio/ mp3 player.
  • Bike Lock/ alarm (key or combo cable is sufficient, U-Locks are heavy).

Camping Gear

  • Tent (poles, stakes, Patch Kit, ground sheet).
  • Sleeping Bag (in sealed polythene bag) & Compression Sack.
  • Sleeping Bag Liner (for mild/cold camping or hostel use).
  • Air Mattress (and blower).
  • Air Pillow (or use extra clothes in stuff sack).
  • Backpacking Stove (in stuff bag or cook pot) & gas.
  • Utensils: Travel Mug, Spork.
  • Chemical Water Purifier
  • Water Tank (on my mountain bike)
  • Portable Camp Chair & table.
  • Bike Cover.

Cycling Clothes (weather dependant)

  • Helmet (proper size & fit) & glasses.
  • Base layers (merino or synthetic).
  • Cycling Jersey (long sleeve or short)
  • Cycling Shorts (2 pairs maybe 3 for long tours).
  • Cycling Gloves.
  • Cycling Socks (Synthetic / Wool; 2-3 pr. i.e. Coolmax).
  • Clipless Cycling Shoes.

Foul-Weather Cycling Clothes

  • Long-Sleeve Jersey / Light-Mid Synthetic/Wool Zip Shirt.
  • Cycling Long-Tights (roubaix).
  • Rain Jacket (waterproof nylon / Gore-Tex ).
  • Fall/ Winter Gloves.
  • Helmet Liner / Skull Cap / Fleece or Wool Hat.
  • Waterproof Socks (i.e. Sealskinz/ Gore-Tex )
  • Waterproof Rain Booties/ Gaiters.
  • Helmet Cover (shower cap)

Camp + Town Clothes (in nylon stuff sack)

  • Cotton T-Shirt / Collared Travel Shirt.
  • Fleece Jacket/Vest or Pullover.
  • Synthetic trousers.
  • Underwear.
  • Flip-Flops/ Running Shoes.

Food Bag (in zip-lock bags inside nylon stuff sack)

  • Meals & Snacks
  • Sports/ Energy Drink Mixes (i.e. zipfit powder).

Personal Items

  • Credit Card(s)/ money.
  • Sunglasses (case; extra lenses; neck strap; cleaning cloth).
  • Sunscreen (SPF 30+; sweatproof; spray is more convenient).
  • Insect Repellent (25% DEET or alternative).
  • Lip Balm (i.e. Chapstick / Blistex).
  • Mobile Phone & Charger.
  • Digital Camera; Memory Cards; Charger; Case (+ accessories).
  • iPod / mp3 Player (Radio; Recorder + Earphones; Charger).
  • Maps.
  • Tablet/ iPad.

Bike Tools + Spare Parts

  • Air Pump/ Co2 cylinders.
  • Patch Kit & Tyre Levers.
  • Spare Tubes.
  • Presta/ Schrader Valve Adapter.
  • Chain oil & chain splitter.
  • Spokes & key.
  • Bicycle Multi-Tool (i.e. Topeak Alien II ).
  • Duct Tape.
  • Plastic Zip Ties (various sizes)

Toiletries (in polar watch cary case)

  • Travel Towel (i.e. MSR Pack/Towl or chamois)
  • Soap/ Shampoo (In tiny bottles)
  • Deodorant (travel size)
  • Toothbrush & Toothpaste
  • Some Handy/Baby Wipes
  • Disposible Razor (shaving cream)
  • Ear Plugs (for sound sleeping in woods, hostels, etc.)
  • Prescription Medication
  • Moleskin/ Blister Bandages
  • Alcohol Wipes
  • Ibroprophen/ Paracetamol
  • Anti-Chafing Balm/ nappy rash cream (for saddle sores)
  • Anti-Diahearreal Tabs (i.e. Imodium)
  • Antihistimine Tablets (i.e. Benadryl )

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