Cycle touring with a tent

Posted BY Ian under camping-styles

Cycle touring with a tent is about freedom. With shelter and transport sorted you have the flexibility to roam almost at will. All you need to ensure is that you aren't so over-burdened with equipment that the cycling becomes slow and painful.

Choosing a suitable tent

A touring tent for a car trip can, pretty much, be of any size and weight. If you are going to carry it in panniers then it ought to be more compact, but need not be lightweight to the exclusion of other features.

A cycle touring trip would normally be for at least a week. In that case, you will want to ensure that you have some level of comfort. Comfort comes from having sufficient space to move around. Ensure that there is sufficient headroom for you to sit up. Knowing our lovely weather, you are likely to get at least one day's rain!

Check that the tent is big enough for you, and companion(s), especially if you are not standard-size. Look to see what storage areas you have; keeping your bikes under a porch gives considerable security. If they are out of sight then the temptation is removed, and any potential thief is going to think twice if they cannot be sure you are there and awake, or not.

Don't forget to check how small the tent packs down. The poles are probably going to be the hardest to pack, so look how short these become.

The structural strength of the tent you choose should reflect the sort of campsites you expect to frequent. Remember that coastal areas can get quite windy.

Packing your tent

Your tent will be one of the last things packed each morning, and probably the first thing you will get out on arrival at the campsite each afternoon. It is therefore worth planning where and how it will be carried such that the deployment and packing can proceed with the minimum of fuss. The last thing you want is a battle to cram your tent into a full pannier before you can set off each morning.

It pays to have a separate space for the tent. This need not be the original manufacturer's bag. In fact, since I would recommend you split the tent up into pieces, the manufacturer's bag is the least likely to be suitable. The inner and outer can be packed together, or separately depending upon the size of the tent and whether you usually deploy both. Since these are fabric they can take pretty much any shape. Tent pegs out to be nearby and can usually be rolled inside the tent outer.

The poles require the most imagination as their length becomes the most critical issue. If you have a bag that is long enough, then great. If not, think how you can bind them and strap to some part of you or your bike. Shock-corded poles are much better in that you are far less likely to lose a whole 'string' than an individual section. Any such loss would be a disaster.

If you carry spares or a tent repair kit (recommended) then these can be buried further into your bags.

A note on Quick-Pitch Tents

Quick pitch tents are ideal for some forms of touring, especially for those for whom the camping element is a necessary evil. For cycle touring you are unlikely to find a tent that packs down in a way that is easy for you to transport. You may only consider such tents then if you really do hate the idea of sorting out those poles and other pieces twice a day. If that's how you feel about camping, then you will probably make the effort required to find a suitable way of carrying the tent on your bike.