Everybody's equipment lists differ, but in many ways they are almost similar. It's the finer points that I like to wheedle out of someone else's list - just in case I've forgotten something!
The temptation is to take the proverbial kitchen sink, especially if you have the room; trailers are a good example where over-packing can occur! The thing to keep in mind is that you're going to have to haul all that stuff up every little hill and mountain pass.
What's the ideal weight? Who knows? But a general consensus of touring cyclists is that somewhere between 35lbs and 55lbs is the average load for extended touring. For weekend jaunts some items could be skipped, but I seem to find that I need almost as much for three days as for three weeks! Nonetheless, a small penalty for the freedom of camping rather than motelling and hanging out someplace like a casino! Certainly some cyclists travel with minimum standards and are still fully self-contained with tent, sleeping bag etc., although they probably divest themselves of any "luxury" items. I feel that some items, even though they add weight to my load, are more beneficial for their comfort factor; e.g. a book to read, a tent light, a small radio for weather reports/news, a thicker sleeping pad, a roomier tent etc.
So, below is my list for you to peruse and discover those little items that you just can't live without!
The above items are basically my checklist, and although I generally carry a large part of the items listed above, I do alter my kit according to where, when and how long I will be touring.
Now you, may need all, some or more!
Packing up all your gear with some semblance of order can be very useful if you need to find something in a hurry. Packing up your raingear in the bottom of a pannier is tempting the fate of the rain gods!
I found that with using a BOB single wheel trailer, my packing was somewhat easier than when I travel with panniers.One catch though - with the cavernous Ortlieb bag that rides on my BOB - is that I have to pack everything in stuff sacks, or I end up with a jumbled pile of camping gear. But most of the stuff is easy to recognize and I use different coloured sacks for the smaller items so that I can distinguish the contents at a glance.The stuff sacks are also useful when packing for a trip with just panniers.
Another issue with the single large bag, is that once packed and bungeed down to the trailer, it is difficult to get into for any items that I may require in a hurry. Especially so if it starts to rain and I don't want to expose all the contents to the elements. That's why I still end up using two small panniers on the rack of my bike - one for food and supplies, and the other contains my tools, spares, raingear and first aid kit. The food supplies could go into the trailer bag, but I don't like to contaminate my clothes and sleeping gear with food smells. Bears and other wild animals have keen senses of smell and I don't want to tempt fate and be mistaken for a tasty morsel whilst I sleep! I never cook or eat in the tent either. Hence I use a separate Ursack Kevlar bag inside my front pannier, that I can deposit all my food and "smellies" (toothpaste, deodorant etc.) into, and hang from a tree branch for the evening.For this purpose, I carry a very small stuff sack with approximately 50 feet of light nylon line tied to the pull cord of the sack. I can then put a small rock into the sack, which makes for lobbing over a tree branch much easier. Once the line is set up, I can tie one end of the line to the Ursack, hoist away, and then secure the other end to a convenient place. I've also used the Ursack as recommended on their website, but found that raccoons enjoy hanging off it! So I use the tried and trusted method and try to keep the foodstuffs out of reach of these scavengers.
I originally travelled with these two small panniers on the rear rack when using my BOB trailer, but I discovered that having the panniers there, led to the front end being quite light and "twitchy," which transferred to a slight fishtailing of the trailer. When I mounted the panniers on my front low-rider rack, the steering was stiffer, and I found that I needed less effort or concentration to maintain a straight line, especially when it was necessary to look back etc. Although I have the added weight of the front rack, mounting the panniers on the front rack has resulted in improved handling and a much better balanced bike.
Nevertheless, due to my preference to touring with four panniers rather than a trailer, I no longer own a BOB, In fact I sold the BOB and bought a two-wheeled Burley Nomad. I only use use the Nomad for local errands and for short overnight camp tours (see my Trailers v Panniers Page). Using the two-wheeled Nomad eliminates the handling benefit of small front panniers on the bike.
Now for touring, I've upgraded from Serratus panniers to Ortlieb Bike Packer Plus (20 litres each) panniers on the rear rack and Ortlieb Front Roller Plus (12.5 litres each), or Ortlieb Sport Packers (15 litres each) panniers on the front rack . The inner tent, sleeping bag and pad reside inside my rear right pannier; the outer tent (inside a waterproof stuff-sack) and tent poles are carried on top of the rear rack. Most of my heavier gear such as spares, tools, raingear etc. is carried in my right front pannier - food and cooking equipment are in left front pannier. Clothing, bulky lighter items and other personal gear (mostly stuff required in the tent overnight) are stored in the left rear pannier. Using this method the weight is distributed approximately 40% rear and 60% forward. Hence, a lot of load has been taken off the rear wheel by judiciously packing those heavier items "up front." Just as when I use the BOB trailer, the front panniers provide extra stability for the front end of the bike. I find that the steering feels much more more solid, unlike a bike that has all ones equipment mounted on the rear rack only, or a very high percentage of the total equipment's weight on the rear rack.
I also carry a small plastic tarp (5ft. x 7ft.); in dirty conditions it comes in handy to spread this tarp out to sit on (with my Thermarest chair) and set up up my stove within reach in the event that there are no picnic tables at my campsite. This tarp rides on my rear rack (under the tent bag). The tarp is also useful to cover my bike with if necessary.
In addition to the plastic tarp, I also carry a SilTarp (also 5ft. x 7ft. and extremely lightweight). During inclement weather, I can attach my SilTarp to my tent for an impromptu awning to cook or rest under. In the event that there is nowhere to attach the front of the SilTarp, I have a method figured out that uses the bike to support the front of the awning; that way the bike is under cover too!
Personal effects, such as my camera, wallet, passport, maps, meds, sunscreen, a snack or two etc., all travel in my Serratus Aquanot (waterproof) handlebar bag for easy access whilst I'm on the road. The bag is also easily removed and always taken with me when I go into a store, restaurant, washrooms/showers etc., in other words, I never let this bag out of my sight and/or reach! That way, if my bike disappears, God forbid!, then at least I'll have my ID, money, meds etc.
One good point to bear in mind, when packing panniers or any type of trailer, is to pack the heavier items at the bottom, this will lower the centre of gravity of the bike and/or trailer, which will result in a much more stable ride. Packing too much weight high up, on racks or a trailer, will result in shimmy of the bike and/or fish-tailing of the trailer. Also with trailer loading, it is important to pack heavier items at the front of the trailer. A trailer that is light on "tongue weight" will fishtail very easily and uncontrollably.
As far as cooking is concerned I switched from a Camping Gaz stove to a Trangia alcohol stove. Alcohol fuel is much easier to find than the correct gas canister. Also, I found that I ended up with canisters that still contained some fuel, but not enough to take anywhere! I use a Trangia T27 cookset which has the burner, two non-stick 1 litre saucepans and a small non-stick fry pan, all packaged neatly into the windshield. I generally only take one of the 1 litre saucepans and the fry pan/lid with me on tour. I also pack along the Trangia aluminium mini-kettle which weighs very little and fits neatly into the saucepan for packing. The burner and a small plastic measuring cup fit inside the kettle - very compact and easily packed.
At one time the T27 cookset was not available in North America and I had to ship mine in from the UK, but demand for these simple and efficient stoves has prompted Canadian and American retailers of outdoor equipment to now carry various configurations and accessories of the Trangia products. The T25 cookset has the same burner as the T27 (in fact, all Trangias use the same burner), but the T25 cookset itself is a bulkier and heavier unit; although perhaps fine for two or more people who are willing to share their creations. Using a comparison of time to boil water... The Trangia is a little slower than a butane or white gas (naphtha) stove, but simple to use with no moving parts to break down or clog up, and it is very quiet... read: silent! Moreover, I'm not in a hurry when I'm cooking in camp, as there are usually other chores to do while I wait for my kettle or pot to heat up.
The original non-stick coating on my T27 cookware was getting quite worn, so in 2008 I replaced one of my pots and the fry pan/lid with the newer hard anodized versions now available from Trangia dealers.
Be mindful of the water being used while cooking. Having a good supply of fresh water on hand is very important when it comes to camping. There are several types of coolers and water filters available to fill up bottles or containers with fresh water before making a camping trip. Whether it is for cooking or for drinking, water is essential to having a safe and enjoyable camping trip.
Tents and Sleeping Bags
I've used a Tarn 2 - made by Mountain Equipment Co-Op - for quite a few years now, and I can honestly say that I am very pleased with the tent. It has kept me warm and dry in some very inclement weather and has never leaked. It has a nice large vestibule, great for a touring cyclist's baggage, and is a free standing unit; the vestibule does need to be pegged out. The tent weighs a little over 5 lbs, which is a tolerable weight for a single person tent. The Tarn 2 is advertised as a two-person, three-season tent; three season, yes, but it would certainly be cozy with two bodies in that small space! There are tents that weigh less, and after seeing them I decided that I didn't want to spend my night in a tube! Some are no more than glorified bivvy bags, but each to their own. My preference is a little more comfort, with space to sit up, and also some room to get dressed in with the least of difficulty.
In 2005 I upgraded my tent to a Sierra Designs Lightning. Not that I was displeased with the Tarn 2, but the new tent would be easier to set up in the event of rain - something that seems inevitable no matter where I seem to tour! The Lightning's fly can be easily be set up first with a footprint, and then the inner tent can be installed from the inside. Also the Lightning is about 1 lb lighter and, surprisingly for less weight, there is much more room inside - the tent will sleep two people comfortably or in other words, me and all my panniers/load with no problem. The only down side that I have found with the tent is that the fly really needs to be secured to the carbon fibre poles with the Velcro straps at the corners. Normally it's ok to neglect that step, but in high winds the tent will try to fold down without having the very bendy carbon fibre poles secured to the fly, which should always be guyed out as well. I noticed in 2006 that Sierra Designs were selling their newer Lightnings with aluminium poles, so ordered a set of those from the distributor for peace of mind, as I feel that the aluminium poles will fare better in windy conditions. Nevertheless, it is still prudent to fasten the Velcro straps at the corners of the fly if any wind is expected.
Another complaint would be that the zipper on the fly is only one way - opens from bottom to top. I found this counter-intuitive, as often, with a two way zipper, it is nice to have the fly unzipped at the top for a short distance to provide better ventilation. After using the tent a couple of times, I actually took my tent fly to a tentmaker and had them sew in a two-way zipper - that cost an extra $40.00, but a worthwhile modification to prevent excessive condensation.
I also found that the inner tent zipper was not intuitive, as is had to be opened from the top of the tent all the way round to the bottom - this meant having the door wide open just to reach into the vestibule for something - in heavy bug areas, this is not too smart a move! I changed the zippers around and now they meet in the middle at the bottom of the door opening. Last issue was the stupid way that the vestibule door ties back; I don't really see a way of improving it, but the tie-back only just catches the material at the bottom, comes undone a lot and is just basically a pain to use.
Otherwise it can be a very comfortable free standing tent in non-windy conditions.
Still not 100% happy with the SD Lightning, so I sold it in early 2008 and bought an REI Quarter Dome T2 tent - at that time a new addition to the REI line-up of tents.
This is another very nice freestanding, lightweight (sub 4 lbs) and roomy tent that served me well for my tours in 2008. The QD T2 is also a clip model and can be set up with just the fly and footprint for the same reasons and conditions that I mentioned above for the SD Lightning. The QD T2 is really a two person tent, but with its lightweight it is not a hardship to give myself that extra room for my gear and also for personal comfort. I found the QD T2 to be an excellent tent and very stable in any windy conditions when pegged down properly - much more so than the SD Lightning. The QD T2 also has the advantage of two doors and two vestibules - the extra vestibule is great for storing wet gear and shoes while keeping the "real" entrance clear. Two decent roof vents and an ingenious pole system that gives one a spacious high roof area in the tent and over the vestibules make this a great little addition to my kit.
After using a full length ultra light Thermarest sleeping pad for a while, I decided that, for my bones, it was a little on the thin side. To remedy this situation, I've opted for the comfort factor with a full length Thermarest LE (Luxury Edition) and it certainly is a lot more comfort for not too much weight gain, although it is a bit bulkier. With the thicker Thermarest pads it's wise not to try and inflate them too much, as you may end up rolling off to the side. I usually just let the mattress self inflate without adding any extra air.
Recently I tested Thermarest's Prolite 4 sleeping pad, and I was very impressed at the comfort and compactness of the much lighter new materials used. The Prolites are made in a few different length and thickness configurations. All are narrowed in the leg area to save weight and roll up much smaller than the previous versions of full size pads. Once inflated, the Prolite is almost as thick as my LE and certainly as comfortable. One caveat is that the material of the Prolites is thinner than the previous era of Thermarests; not a problem for tent campers, but one would have to be careful using these lighter pads on bare ground, where small rocks etc. could easily penetrate the fabric. Nevertheless, the Prolite 4 has replaced the LE in my inventory of touring equipment. (Now replaced with a Big Agnes insulated Aircore mattress - see below...).
Also, after using a minimal (too minimal!) sleeping bag - a 0ºC light-loft bag with 3M's Thinsulate fill - I've changed tack now and am using a North Face Cat's Meow, a -7ºC (+20°F) bag with Polarguard 3D fill. I found that the light-loft bag just didn't keep me as warm a I'd like in all situations, but the bag was very compact and compressed into a very small sack. I mulled over purchasing a down filled bag, but opted in the end for the synthetic fill. Polarguard 3D is possibly the next best thing to down and almost as compressible. It is much more forgiving when compressed in a compression sack, unlike down whose lofting ability can be compromised with repeated excess compression. On the other hand, down is much easier to compress and compresses smaller, hence would not require aggressive compression to be equal in packed size to a synthetic bag. Synthetic fills have inherent "warm when wet" properties, unlike down, which loses it's warmth when damp. Uncoated sleeping bags very often can get damp from the sleeper's body and breath vapour; also when bike camping in damper climates it may not be possible to dry the bag as thoroughly as required on a daily basis. Nevertheless, the choice is there and one must decide which fill is most suitable/affordable for one's needs/budget. I also opted for a warmer bag as I can unzip the bag or lay on top of it if the weather is warm, but I still have the advantage of a warm bag if I'm camping in cooler climate at higher elevations.
Another update... I splashed out on a Big Agnes sleep system. Which basically comprises of an insulated "Aircore" air mattress which fits into a sleeve of one of their proprietary bags. I'm a person who likes to turn over inside a bag and not with the bag, so this mattress always on the bottom idea is great for me. I purchased their Zirkel down bag with an insulated mummy pad and can honestly say that I find this method the most comfortable over all my previous nights tent camping sleeping arrangements. I had a little problem with the pad on my Scotland tour - the valve has a very sharp corner where it is bonded inside the seam of the pad. Probably the way that it was packed tight in my luggage when flying over there, was when a tiny pin hole developed. Anyway, I noticed that I was losing a little air overnight the first couple of nights camping, and then found a tiny leak after soaking the pad in water - actually a hostel bathtub - very handy! Needless to say, I am always very careful how fold the pad for packing - I make sure that the valve is not bent over tightly over its sharp edges. I've heard that BA have changed the design of the valve and the material - lifetime warranty too! Otherwise as I've implied, a truly great system. [I contacted Big Agnes about the leak that I had and they shipped me a new pad at no charge- exemplary customer service. The valve corners are less pointed on the new pad, so I don't see it being a problem in the future.]
Depending on your choice of a touring destination, you have a possibility of encountering any manner of hazards. Probably, here in North America, one of the foremost concerns, when camping, can be from a chance encounter with wild animals. There are many animals in the wild and many of them are relatively harmless; they may eat through your pannier to steal your food, but otherwise are non-threatening. Cougars, wolves and bears are another story...
ears are one of the most common visitors to campsites and it is very prudent to follow basic clean camp rules and not present oneself as a food morsel! There are many good books written on bear-safe issues and I can highly recommend "Backcountry Bear Basics
, by David Smith" - for an easy reading and informative guide. I will not try to repeat everything that I have learned, but would still advise anyone camping in bear country to follow some very basic guidelines...
If camping in the bush, check around your intended campsite for bear scat or a food cache that an animal may return to.
Don't cook in your tent, the material of the tent will absorb cooking odours and attract wildlife.
Don't store food in your tent, bears have an amazing sense of smell and are very curious.
Don't store toothpaste, deodorant or other fragrant items in your tent, bears don't know the difference, until they've tasted it. You don't want them that close!
Load all your food and other fragrant items in a stuff sack or pannier, and hang them at least 10ft high off a tree branch and 6ft to 8ft away from the trunk if possible. Hang the items as far away from your tent as practicable. If the campground has bear-proof containers, use them.
If the bear threat is high, consider cooking and eating items of low odour, e.g. beans or lentils instead of tuna or meat. Or perhaps plan for a cold meal, thereby not producing any cooking aromas at all.
Carry your food, on the bike, in a separate sealed bag or pannier, that way clothing etc. will not retain any food odours.
Don't dispose of your cooking waste and dishwater close to camp, even if you are leaving; think of the next person that may want to set-up camp there. Take it a good distance away and bury it.
The above are just a few tips, but the best advise is to use common sense!
With regards to Cougars, be very vigilant when travelling at dusk or dawn in cougar country, as that is when they are the most active. They will attack from behind and sometimes from above overhanging tree branches. Cougar attacks on full-grown humans are very rare, but have occurred here in British Columbia, Canada (amongst other locations); on two occasions the attacks were on cyclists at dusk! Fighting off a cougar would be no mean feat if you were on your own, and I can only imagine that it could be a very harrowing, if not fatal experience.
A wolf attack on a human would be even more uncommon, however I have read a report of a pair of wolves stalking a cyclist alongside a road in Northern Ontario, Canada. And, by all accounts, that is unusual behaviour for wolves, but certainly shows that one should strive to be prepared for the unexpected!
Other items of basic camp safety and common sense...
Be careful with stove fuel, don't try to refuel a stove when it's hot.
If you have a campfire make sure that it's extinguished properly, when you leave, don't start a forest fire!
Don't cut down living trees or saplings, use dead-falls and branches from the ground for a campfire.
Don't build a bigger campfire than you really need, remember it's a campfire, not a bonfire!
Carry a first-aid kit and know how to use it; study up on some basic first-aid before a trip. You won't have time to read the manual when you really need to use contents of the kit.
Use garbage containers at campsites and recycle what you can if a procedure is available. If you bush-camp, use "no-trace" procedures; pack out everything that you pack in. If you find that you have something you don't want, don't leave it for someone else, they probably don't want it either!
Happy and Safe Camping!