Bivvy, Tent or Tarp?
Bikepackers typically have three main options when camping on a trip. First is a sleeping bag and bivvy; second is a sleeping bag, bivvy and tarp; and third, a lightweight tent.
“Bivvies are lightweight and faff-free, but aren’t the best in bad conditions as they leave you very exposed,” says Cunningham. “Tarps can be fiddly and inconvenient, but have many proponents due to the extra protection they offer for such little extra weight. A tent is super-comfortable but heavier and more difficult to fit into bikepacking bags.”
Related: Best One Man Tents
Related: Best Two Man Tents
All three setups have their pros and cons. The relative merits of each will depend on the demands of your ride and how inconspicuous you need to be. The importance you place on comfort, weight and ease of use will also be important factors. “If I’m doing a race I’ll take a bivvy, silk liner and inflatable mattress,” says Cunningham. “If I’m touring I’ll take a tent, sleeping bag and inflatable sleeping mat.”
“The ‘ideal’ tent will vary from one rider to another”
We’d normally recommend a lightweight tent for bikepacking trips of more than a night or two, unless you need to travel particularly light.
Related: Best Bikepacking Bikes
The ‘ideal’ tent will vary from one rider to another. But generally speaking, a bikepacking tent should weigh less than 2.5kg and fit inside a handlebar bag (some may require the poles to go inside the frame pack). It should also be an inconspicuous colour, offer sufficient space and, of course, be able to withstand the conditions you’re likely to encounter.
Finding The Perfect Wild Camping Spot
Wild camping can be an intimidating prospect for first-time bikepackers. Round-the-world bikepacker Joshua Cunningham, author of Escape by Bike: Adventure Cycling, Bikepacking and Touring Off-Road, offers five tips to find the perfect spot.
- Choose somewhere that has overhead cover for extra warmth and protection (bus stop, hedge, barn, rock, tree).
- Try to camp on flattish ground that’s elevated from bodies of water that may rise in the night.
- Don’t be scared to ask landowners for permission to camp: pub gardens, people’s gardens, churchyards, farmers’ fields… wherever it is and whoever you ask will almost always let you stay.
- Make your exit from the road quickly and confidently. Do it just before dark, when there’s nobody to see you setting up camp. Be gone before anybody discovers you.
- Leave no trace.
Bikepacking Bonus Tip
“Imagine a world where bikepackers are globally connected and look out for each other,” says Callum Nicklin, brand manager of Mason Cycles. “Well, it exists and it’s called warmshowers.org. Here you might just find a caring and generous person offering a fellow cyclist somewhere safe to put your tent, maybe even a bed and a meal. You’ll meet someone new, share a connection and probably get a good night’s sleep. Just try to return the favour when someone else needs it.”
If you’re after more general advice on bikepacking, including how to start out and what you need for it, take a look at our beginner’s guide to bikepacking.