When heading out for your first bikepacking adventure, the tendency is to over pack. You’ve got some new bikepacking bags on your handlebars and your saddle, and you feel as though you need to fill them. And maybe you do – but not always.
The best advice I’ve heard for people who are brand new to bikepacking, is to go and sleep wild somewhere really local first. Then, if you’ve forgotten something absolutely essential, you are not that far away from home to go and pick it up. But, likewise, you should be paying close attention to the things that you use and don’t use that night. If you didn’t need it on that first night, chances are you don’t need to pack it for your proper trip either.
Bikepacking is all about living adventurously and roughing it a little bit. Unless you’ve forgotten your bike, your tent or your food and water, chances are you’re going to be OK.
In this post we’re going to talk about a few of the basic options for sleeping on your bikepacking adventure and the pros and cons of each. But, it’s important to remember that every single bikepacking expedition is different and there is a huge variation between the gear you might need to carry for a week-long trip to Scotland in the winter compared to an overnight jaunt to the Peak District in summer.
Tent, Bivvy or Hammock?
If you’re new to bikepacking, where you are going to tuck yourself up for the night is really important. Typically, the main three options are a tent, a bivvy bag or a hammock. All three options have pros and cons and there is no right answer. It’s all about personal preference.
A tent will offer you the most protection from the wind, rain and cold weather, should you be caught out in bad conditions. And psychologically, many people feel much more safe and secure when there is a door to zip up and close, separating you from the night and anything your imagination might convince you is lurking around out there. The downside to having a tent is the weight and bulk. Unless you’re going to spend hundreds of pounds on a super-lightweight backpacking tent, you need to expect that even a one-man tent is going to add a bit of weight to your bike and the tent poles will add a bit of bulk too.
Some of the best options for tents include:
Bivvy bags are another option. A bivvy bag is essentially a waterproof bag that your sleeping bag goes inside. The big pro here is that they are very lightweight and fold down very easily. So if keeping your bike weight as low as possible is your priority, this is a great option. The downside to bivvy bags is that you are still somewhat exposed to the elements and you are essentially sleeping under the stars. Although a bivvy bag is waterproof and you’ll be absolutely fine if you’re just caught in a shower, but if there’s heavy, persistent rain you are going to start feeling miserable pretty quickly. To combat this, you could rig up a tarp too. With just a lightweight tarp and a few lengths of rope, you can build a rudimentary shelter over your bivvy and give yourself an added layer of protection.
Some of the best options for Bivvy Bags include:
A good low cost option is:
A hammock is another lightweight and really comfortable way to spend the night. Again, many people who use a hammock will also rig up a tarp above them to give some protection from rain, and this whole set up will weigh much less than the average tent. However, sleeping in a hammock can expose you to the cold more so than tents or bivvys. When you’re suspended in a hammock the cold air can get all around you, leaving you feeling pretty chilly on a cold night. Also, if you’re not a bushcrafty kind of person, you might find setting up a hammock and tarp and securing all of the ropes quite difficult. The last thing you want after a long and strenuous day of riding is a challenge to get your hammock to stay up.
Some of the best options for Hammocks include:
There are another couple of options for bikepackers, sleeping set ups that offer the best of both worlds.
Alpkit makes a hooped bivvy bag. This is a freestanding bag with head space, meaning that you have a little bit more protection from the elements than a standard bivvy, but less weight than a standard tent.
Topeak make the Bikamper tent. A tent specifically made for bikepacking that utilises your bike wheel instead of poles to keep the tent upright. A great option if you want the security of a tent but without the weight of the poles.