Despite the list of items on our packing list being too long, we did have to carry clothes for all seasons since we travel throught desert heat and high altitude frost. It can be difficult or expensive to find good quality cycling and camping equipment on the road so it’s best to bring the essentials with you.
Below some thoughts we had on our gear before we left, and a verdict after 7 months on the road, having survived all kinds of weather conditions, dirt and intensive use. Also, a list of things we brought but that we could have left at home. We are not sponsored by these brands, so these views are not coloured in any way but 100% our own.
In 2015 we invested in a Nigor Oriole 2 tent and have so far used it on our cycling trip to the USA. Nigor is a sub brand of Eureka, it specializes in lightweight high quality trekking tents. It has an excellent price/quality ratio. The Oriole is no longer made but the Didis is very similar: lightweight, a roomy porch with two doors where we can either keep all our stuff or hang out on our little camping chairs and make coffee when it rains. It takes all of 5 minutes to put up and holds out well in the rain.
If we had to shop for a tent again we would take two things into consideration: an inner (mosquito net) tent that can be set up separately and the possibility to set it up without pegs. We’ll see how we go with this one. So far, so happy with our lightweight villa.
Much of the above still holds: we love our Nigor tent and footprint. They are a bit dirtier after use in all kinds of weather, but it holds up really well, even if it is raining hard or very windy. The zips are still working well even though we never cleaned them, there is no damage to the fabric or poles or lines. It is light and very easy to put up and pack away, even by one person. Great!
Some notes to self:
- Yes, next time a freestanding tent with a separate inner tent to be used as a freestanding mosquito net. This would have saved us having to bring a separate mosquito net and given us more options to camp on concrete or wooden surfaces. The Nigor Great Auk pops up in our camping dreams.
- It is too big. We never needed the huge vestibule. If it is warm you sit outside, if it is cold you are in your sleeping bag. The only vestibule space you need is for the panniers, as you really don’t want your dirty bags in the sleeping compartment. A smaller tent gives you more camping options as well.
- The footprint is indispensable. It costs a bit more but lasts a lot longer than cheap plastic. It is light and a perfect fit which helps with putting up the tent.
- In the morning there can be condense in the tent. We usually get rid of the worst with sponge cloth, after setting it up in the evening again it will dry out whatever is left of the morning moistness.
Sleeping bags & liners
We have comfy down sleepingbags from reputable sleeping bag manufacturer Carl Denig and we’ll let you know as soon as we’ve tested them in -15 degrees. Vera is always cold so she got one that can go 5 degrees colder than Cyrils. We can zip them together and have a two person silk sleeping bag liner. Before we both had synthetic sleeping bags.
Down sleeping bags are the best even if they are a bit bulkier than synthetic sleeping bags. Vera was never cold, in fact she has been too warm on quite a few nights. Down has a way of warming you up very quickly and comfortably that synthetics will never manage. Cyril has had one -15 degree night in the Pamirs which was uncomfortably cold, but he survived. The stuff bags that came with the sleeping bags fell apart soon so we had to buy new ones on the road. We didn’t use the zipping together feature all that much, only when it was warm enough to use the sleeping bags as a duvet on top of us. Similarly we didn’t use the two person sleeping bag liner all that much as you either get sweatily tangled up or cold air seeps inside.
Vera’s Thermolite liner has been an indispensable layer. The soft and stretchy fabric is more comfortable than a silk sleeping bag liner, it packs away really small, it adds another few degrees insulation and can be used as a single layer if it is warm enough at night. I’ve used it as a cocoon on a long bus journey. I wouldn’t go on another trip without it.
Thermarest Neoair sleeping pads are great: small, lightweight, well insulated and very, very comfortable. A good sleep is invaluable on a big bike trip.
Our sleeping mats are much better than Chinese rock hard hotel beds, Iranian carpets, Tajik futons and European sagging hostel bed springs. We brought a tiny pump along so we only have to add a few puffs of air before going to bed. The mats are very comfortable and durable, meaning we haven’t had to use the supposedly excellent customer service of Thermarest producer Cascade Design as yet. Also the Thermarest couplers are a great accessory, there is never a cold gap between our mats and we can cuddle up like caterpillars in our sleeping bags.
I was sceptical about bringer chairs along on a long haul bicycle trip. I thought they would be too bulky and an unnecessary luxury. I was wrong.
Our camping chairs (Alite Mayfly and Helinox) weigh about 500 grams each but not once have we thought about leaving them behind. Unfortunately we are too old and too Western to sit comfortably in the lotus position or even cross legged for very long. So nothing is more relaxing at the end of a long hard day in the saddle than sinking back into our little folding fauteuils, watching the sunset with a cold one in our hands. Or cooking breakfast while being comfortably seated, without the cold from the ground creeping up our bum. Helinox’ slogan says it all: Sitting is believing.
Camping stove & cooking equipment
Our cooking gear consists of the MSR stainless steel pots and pans and the MSR expedition stove, a couple of enamel plates, two enamel cups, two sets of cutlery, a small rasp and a wooden spatula.
The MSR Expedition stove is a little bit more temperamental than we would have liked, but it has kept working in all conditions and with different kinds of fuel. It is a lot sturdier than the Whisperlite making it more suitable for our kind of long haul trip. We regret not bringing the full service kit, as eventually the rubber rings wear out and it is hard to find replacements on the road. We fixed a rubber plunger that we couldn’t replace with gaffer tape which worked well enough.
The pans are great. The enamel plates are cute but why bring plates when you can eat out of a pan? We donated them to a Tajik family we stayed with.
Our Bialetti mocha coffee maker plays an important part in our morning rituals. Cyril won’t cycle a kilometer without his daily fix, and even though Vera stopped drinking coffee in Iran she still enjoys the smell of coffee in the morning. We’ve made friends by being able to make a good cup of coffee on the road, for addicts who have gone without for a long time or for people who are new to the black gold.
Notes to self:
- if we had to look for a stove now we might consider one that will combine gas and liquid fuel, making for more flexibility in fuel options and problem fixing.
- Always bring gaffer tape.
- Always bring good quality ziplock bags. Great for herbs and other dry foods such as porridge and pasta.
We brought the Steripen along, which looks and works a little bit like a magic wand. Obvious advantages: it’s very small and light, it needs no batteries, it is very quick and easy to use, it kills more bad stuff than filter purifiers. We probably started using it too late (not until Armenia) and we still got sick as a dog.
There are some drawbacks however. The battery life is nowhere near as long as claimed, especially in cold weather. It wasn’t always working all that well, flashing worrying red lights, but then going back to working ok. In areas where there is no bottled water this is really stressful. You will get skeptical looks from locals (and sometimes other cyclists) when you wave your UV light-sabre thingy through crystal clear spring water.
We would definitely buy the Steripen again, for the ease of use. We have seen other cyclists busy with pumps and filters which seemed cumbersome and time-consuming. We would also bring a back-up of disinfecting drops, in case it stops working or if you cannot recharge it for a while.
We were very worried about evil dogs before we left. We found different solutions online and decided to buy pepper spray. Once we were on the road we found that most dogs are really quite sweet, and if they are not they are usually chained up (sad face). Some dogs were so friendly they accompanied us for a while, and one puppy snuck into our tent to spend the night sleeping on top of our ortliebs.
Still, most dogs know very well that you are different from the usual traffic and they will be on high alert when you pass by. If you speed up they will definitely want to give chase. One good trick is to slow down or stop, get off the bike and walk by with your bike between you and the dog. Don’t look at the dog as this might be considered a provocation.
In the end we have only been chased by really vicious dogs a few times, and those times we have been very grateful for the pepper spray. We kept it close by in the handlebar snack pocket and one little puff stops gnarling dogs dead in their tracks. Not nice, but we felt it was safer and more effective than hitting them with sticks or throwing stones.
Things we sent home or left behind
- The Ortlieb 10L folding bucket. Despite initially worrying about staying clean on the road we only used this maybe 5 times before deciding to send it back home. If there is water available we wash ourselves and our clothes directly in the river or lake or petrol station bathroom. If there is no water there is no water to carry in the bucket either. Also, a 1,5L bottle of water is enough for a lather and rinse for one person if the weather allows for an al fresco shower. If it is too cold to shower outside and you are too grimy for the sleeping bag, use wet wipes.
- The second Macbook. One is enough.
- Rapha’s winter tights. Usually my rain trousers provided a good extra layer on cold days. I never used the winter tights, also because the straps underneath all the layers of clothing making peeing without getting completely undressed very difficult. Great for road racing on cold days in The Netherlands,but not so useful for bike travel.
- I brought too many toiletries. I gave away my perfume. I stopped using make-up. I left behind the talcum powder and tea tree oil. I lost my comb. In the end you only need soap, tooth paste, shampoo and a simple cream you can use on your face, hands and body. Plus hand disinfectant, good sun screen, ear plugs and a nail clipper.