Thursday, 13 January 2011

Lightweight Cycle Camping

Background

In 2009, I decided I would like to try cycle camping and arranged a three night test cycle camping trip with two mates around Suffolk. Being my first trip I didn't want to invest too much money and decided to work within the limits of my existing bike, panniers and rack.

My MTB ready for touring.
Slicks tyres, seatpost rack, panniers and tent.

The limits I had to work within were:
  • A weight limit around 12kg due to my seat post panner rack.
  • A volume limit of 32 Litres using my two 16L Altura Arran panniers.

I've seen plenty of forum posts from people trying to go lightweight or trim down so they can use their road or audax bike for cycle touring and camping. I'd taken photographs of my kit to remind me of what I took for the three night trip so I thought it would be useful to publish these to give an idea of what 14kg of cycle camping kit means. 


Lightweight Philosophy. How light can you go ?

You will no doubt be starting from the position of wanting to take the lightest weight kit for the smallest amount of money and you quickly find that all the best kit costs a lot of money. This is where you start the compromise. You may have a physical weight limit like me or perhaps are trying to keep as light as possible so you can tour on your road bike. Beyond that, you need an approach to kit selection.

I found that many walking magazines cover reviews of ultralight tents and cooking equipment and it was in Trail August 2008 issue that I found an article "Think Light" by Simon Ingram. This is an inspiring article that sums up what I was trying to achieve beyond the weight limit - maximum enjoyment.
Lighter means you can go further with less pain but if you can't sleep at night because you took the 1cm roll matt to save 200 grams you are going to have a bad holiday. Maybe you need the 20cm inflatable bed to sleep at night. You'll be cursing at the extra weight whilst ascending Hardknott Pass. Of course, you can travel less distance and take your time or you could come to the Fens to avoid hills entirely.

You need to choose what you are prepared to compromise on and what is going to give you a great holiday.

I'll show you what I took and to give you an idea of what 12kg means.
Before you become a total weight weenie... it is very easy to spend more money to save grams here and there. What ever you do, when you are looking to spend money to save grams, consider that filling your water bottle will cost you 750g. Keep the total weight in mind and the end game - maximum enjoyment. You could spend that £100 on saving 300g or a new seat or a lot of beer, a luxury hotel midway through your trip.


Cook, Eat, Sleep. Pannier 1 of 2.


The biggest items you are going to be carrying are likely to be for sleeping and cooking. That's what separates you from the credit card tourer who can travel with an under seat pouch. A tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat and cooker are going to be big on weight and - easily forgotten until you pack - big on volume.


  • Panniers Altura Arran 16L x2 - 1430g
  • Tent: Vaude Taurus UL 1 - 2000g
  • Sleeping Bag - Vango Venom 225. - 22x14cm packed - 740g
  • Sleeping Mat - Thermarest Prolite4 regular - 28x10cm packed - 460g
  • Stove - Trangia 27 UL1 - 19x10cm packed. (fuel not incl) - 720g
  • Fuel - Meths / Denatured Alcohol - (5 days) 500g
  • Cutlery. Sharp knifes, fork, spoon, spatula, pen knife; lighter - 600g
  • Toiletries - Toothbrush, paste and floss; razor, shave soap; shower gel - 250g
  • Travel towel - 200g
  • Misc other - washing line and pegs; mug; sun glasses in a hard case, Plastic container with raw cooking ingredients - 600g
Volume Check: What is most surprising is that these items took up 80% of one 16 litre pannier. I can easily fill one of those with a change of clothes and shoes on a commute to work. In the end, volume became more of an issue than weight.

Items stored inside the Trangia

Clothing. Pannier 2 of 2
Clothing is definitely the area I compromised on most of all. If I got it wrong I could survive short term with what I had and go on a shopping spree. My trip was only three nights but for a longer trip I would definitely take more.

My clothing consisted of a spare set of cycling clothes; clothes to sleep in, with the merino top doubling as an evening top; one set of civilian underwear; a pair of zip off trousers; and waterproofs.

To me, getting wet is so uncomfortable and with so few clothes I made sure I had a full set of waterproofs just in case. The shoes I cycled in were my only pair of shoes and not waterproof so I took overshoes too. Late in the season, we had very little drying time off the bikes so you may want to choose fast drying clothes in case of a downpour.

Contents of second 16L pannier. Warm, dry, clothes.

  • Warm Layer Wollen hat; Zipped fleece; (gloves) ~650g
  • Waterproof Layer PVC Waterproof coat; Waterproof trousers; Overshoes; 776g 
  • Coat is not light but is 100% waterproof.
  • Nightime Silk liner; Pillow case; Merino top; Long Johns; Warm socks; 787g 
  • Pillowcase stuffed with clothes to make a pillow.
  • Puncture repair and tools Inner tube; Puncture repair kit; (tools carried by others) 300g
  • More cycle clothes Running shorts; Long tracksters; (fleece jumper) 622g Not even a spare cycle top.
  • Evening clothes Zip-off walking trousers; underwear; 517g Using same top for sleeping.


Do not under-estimate the amount of calories you will consume.

On day two of our test trip we had a breakfast, fish and chips for lunch and a three course meal in a pub for dinner. Eating out could get very expensive. If on a tight budget you will soon be searching out the most calories per £££ such as doughnuts and fig rolls - 700 calories for 34p - but at some point your body will start to crave real nutrients.

What would I do different next time ?

Definitely more clothes ! 

Spare spokes - after seeing how easily they can snap with all that weight an how difficult it can be to get the right length from a bike shop.

More storage for food.

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