One of the good things about doing an overnight bike camping trip (or if you are that way, “s24o”) is it gives you the opportunity to try different things. You can bring more stuff than you normally would because it’s only an overnight ride. Or you can bring less for the same reason. Bike overnights are a good, low-risk reason to experiment with setup.
And I’ve been toying with this idea of “changing the setup” for awhile. Bike touring/camping is a constant process of change and flux. What might have worked for you two years ago doesn’t work now. Or you realize that you can go without certain things. Or you found newer things that are more lightweight than your old things or found an item that will do what two (or three, or four, etc) other items did. Generally the refinement process is towards finding better things and bringing less stuff* while still keeping a baseline of creature comforts and modest luxuries.
Now I am by no means a minimalist or ultralight bike tourer/camper. I don’t spend time shaving off keyfobs. Or going without a stove because it “weighs too much” (and then always hunting for a cup of hot coffee.) Or use bubble wrap as a camping pad. But certain aspects of this whole ultralight thing I find appealing. If I need to replace items, I try to upgrade to something lighter so long as I don’t compromise on strength or usability. And given the choice I would rather bring less than more.
I thought about this quite a bit on the Cross-Con Tour. We were loaded with a bunch of stuff because of the nature of our trip. We were going to be away for a long time and encounter a lot of different climates along the way. Plus we’d be going through areas with limited food choices so we needed to have capacity for that. Now our load wasn’t much of a problem…while we were riding. But it became a pain in the ass anytime we had to go multi-modal or fix a flat. Removing two sets of panniers, a handlebar bag, and whatever I had strapped to the rear rack got annoying. When I got back to Portland I knew we wouldn’t be attempting a tour of this nature anytime soon, so I could minimalize things.
The first thing that came off was the rear rack. I figured I can do what I needed to do with the front rack only. And I also picked up a larger Carradice saddle bag (a Nelson longflap). I tested this setup on our Cycle Wild New Year’s Trip, loading up the Carradice with bedding and using my two North St. Avenue B bags on the front, loaded with other stuff. This worked well. But this trip did not involve camping. So the Ainsworth camping trip last weekend would be the first test of the new setup for camping.
The Carradice held my “bedding”: sleeping bag, sleeping pad, bag liner, and inflatable pillow. Outside of the bag I strapped my bivy sack. Since April wasn’t coming, I didn’t need to bring the big tent. Everything fit, though tightly. If I had a bigger bag (Carradice Camper Longflap vs. Nelson Longflap) or a smaller sleeping pad it would be less tight, but it still works as it is now. And I think I could also manage to strap the tent to the back as well.
For the front rack, I used my small Route 7 panniers, also made by North St. If you remember from last month, I sold off my older larger set of Route 7 panniers. I felt that I didn’t need bags this large any more since I had the set of Avenue B bags which were around the same size as the larger Route 7s. Smaller bags means the likelihood of overpacking is lessened. In one bag went my camp kitchen and food, the other bag went clothing. toiletries, and sundries like a sketchbook and book. I found that this pannier setup worked well, especially for one night. If I went for a longer trip I would want to bring some more clothes so this could be dealt with by using the Avenue B bags…or a handlebar bag.
Before I talk about camp kitchen stuff, let me go back to the bivy sack. For those of you who don’t know, a bivy is a weatherproof sleeping bag cover. Mine is made by Outdoor Research and comes with stakes, a “loop” in order to keep the material away from the bag, and a mesh screen and “door” over the head so one can be protected from bugs and/or rain. For extra protection one can hang a lightweight tarp over the whole thing, but since my trip was an overnighter without a chance of rain, I skipped it. (It’s nice to be able to look up at the starry night sky if it’s not cloudy!) I like my bivy sack but don’t get much opportunity to use it since 95% of my camping these days is done with April. I’ve only used it for one or two night adventures and would probably use it for trips a couple days longer. But if I was going to do longer solo tours I’d want to have a small one-person tent. If it’s particularly wet or cold it’s nice to have somewhere to “go”, somewhere where you can sit up. A bivy doesn’t offer this opportunity.
As for the kitchen, I brought my Esbit Coffee Maker, the one I talked about last week. For the cooking stove, it was of course a Trangia. But a new Trangia set! I picked up a Mini Trangia 28-T Backpacking Stove from REI. I’ve been eyeing this particular set for awhile, and when we got our REI dividend I went ahead and ordered it. (Side rant: why can’t REI keep Trangia stoves consistently in stock?) It includes the burner, windscreen/stand, 0.8L pot, small non-stick frying pan/pot lid, and pot grabber. It’s the perfect size for a solo trip and packs down quite well. I found it worked good. My only two issues with it is the pot is bare aluminum which is never that great for actual cooking (I just used it to boil water) and the pot grabber feels light and flimsy so I worried about dropping the pot or frying pan.
I’ll be definitely playing around with setup in the months to come. Hopefully there will be more windows of good weather in the next couple months because I’m itching to get out there on the bike!
*Unless you are Matt Picio, then you try to figure out ways of bringing more stuff on your next tour.