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Five tents and shelters to call home while on a cycling trip

Alia Parker's picture
Macpac Minatret. A great two-person tent for bikepacking. Cycle Traveller review.
If you are planning to hit the road on your bike for an extended period of time, you are likely going to need a shelter that's durable, lightweight, waterproof, comfortable and easy to set up and pack away, over and over again. You will need a few bits of reliable material to call home. There is an enormous range of shelters suited to different types of cycle tourists and conditions, from full tents to simple hammocks.
 
My favourite tent manufacturer is New Zealand company Macpac. This company earned my respect with the Macpac Stellar tunnel tent (no longer available), which I bought six years ago and have put through absolute torture over thousands of kilometers of cycle travelling and hiking ­­– from burning sun, torrential rain and flooding, gale-force winds, ice-cold conditions and even volcanic eruptions. After all this abuse, I'm still using this tent to this day, but on my recent bike trip over the Christmas period, the zipper on the entrance started to show signs of wear, so after many years I'm in the market for a new 'home'.

Naturally given my positive experience with Macpac, they're the first manufacturer I checked out in my research (and I've heard it from the horse's mouth that they'll be expanding their presence in Australia in a major way in 2013). However, they're not the only good tent manufacturer on the planet and their products may not be to everyone's taste, so I've come up with a list of five options to suit different needs.

Two person tent

If you're like me and generally travel with a partner, the two-person Macpac Minaret (pictured above) is a great quality tent. It weighs 2.4kg (you can always split this weight between two people by separating the tent, poles and pegs). The fabric used is second to none and provides both great breathability and waterproofing. Like most good tents, the base has a tub-floor design, meaning the stitching is elevated from the base to prevent water leakage (tip: don't buy a cheap tent that doesn't have a tub-floor base because you'll regret this decision on your first night of rain). The tunnel design also makes it stable in windy conditions. I also like the length provided in this tent, with one side as long as 2.5m, giving extra tall people a little more wriggle room. This tent is currently on sale at Macpac for $449.95 (normally $749.95). For a similar, but cheaper style, you can get the Macpac Nautilus for $199.95 (normally $399.95), if you don't mind the bright blue colour rather than the dark green of Macpac's trekking range. The colour is really only an issue if you'll be camping in areas in which you'd prefer to be inconspicuous (handy if you're in a situation where you're not able to camp in a designated camp site).

Other good options:
Black Diamond Mesa Tent
MSR Hubba Hubba V6 Tent

MSR Carbon Reflex 1 Tent, a good tent for solo bicycle travellers.One person tent

The MSR Carbon Reflex 1 is a great little tent for solo travellers, weighing in at just 1.14kg. It's made from hardy rip-stop nylon and has good weatherproofness based on user reviews. I've used an MSR tarp for some time now and have been very impressed with its performance. The vestibule area of this tent is also generous for such a light option. A number of retail outlets stock MSR in Australia, however, I wasn't able to find a stockist for this model online (let us know if you do). You can order it for about US$399.95 from REI in the United States. Mountain Equipment in Sydney stock the similar but slightly heavier MSR Hubba for $429. This freestanding model weighs in at 1.47kg, which is still pretty light all things considered.

Other good options:
Macpac Microlight
Mountain Hard Wear Sprite 1

GoLite Shangri-La 5 Tent, a good tent for space and groups cycle touring.Group tents

GoLite tents use an old-fashioned but tried and true single-pole pyramid design, and their space to weight ratio is unbeatable. The GoLite Shangri-La 5 Tent weighs just 2.52kg and sleeps up to five people! The vestibule is large and high, meaning you can even store your bike in it (unfortunately, you won't get five bikes in there though). And unlike many large tents, it's very quick to put up and take down, with only one pole to worry about. The manufacturer says that this tent holds up well in all weather conditions, even strong winds. Given that it's light-weight, this tent makes a good option for a couple who would like a bit more space and shelter for their gear or for a group of three or four. But like I said, if you're really friendly with your companions, it will sleep five. This tent has a recommended retail price of US$600, but has recently sold on the manufacturer's website for US$300. GoLite also make a similar three-person pyramid tent.

Bivouacs

Exped Bivybag, a light-weight shelter for bicycle travellers. Cycle Traveller review.

The Exped Bivybag eVENT PU is for serious ultralite cyclists, weighing in at just 575g. It packs down to 18cm by 11cm, easily fitting into any pannier. Bivouacs are light-weight options for single travellers or group travellers who don't want to get too up close and personal with their companions. They're basically a waterproof and mosquito proof sleeping sack that can zip up over the face, with breathable mesh and usually a support of some sort to keep the material off your face. They're suited to those who don't mind being exposed to the great outdoors or having animals come up and sniff them in the night. The Exped Bivybag has a generous length at 240cm and is designed to fit both a sleeping mat and sleeping bag inside. While not much cheaper than a tent at about $349, this bivvy will earn its keep.

Other good options:
Roman Centurion Bivvy

Hennessy Hammock Expedition, light-weight option for bikepacking. Cycle Traveller review.Hammocks

Hammocks are an alternative option for solo travellers who aren't so keen on a bivvy. Hennessy Hammocks' Expedition Zip Asym weigs in at a light 1.16kg – more than a bivvy, but when you consider that you won't need a sleeping mat, it's not a bad comparison. Hammocks are also very comfortable and can easily be stuffed into a bicycle pannier. The Expedition Zip Asym will hold anyone up to a height of 183cm and weight of 113.6kg. It also keeps the rain off and the bugs away. The downside to a hammock, of course, is that you need somewhere to hang it, so it won't be a practical option if you're riding out in exposed open areas.

Have you got a favourite tent, bivvy or hammock that's served you well over extended use? Let us all know about it below.

Comments

Tsuny's picture

On my previous tour I used the Outer Limits Pro Bike Tent. Loved the extra space of the large Vestabule area. Heaps of room for gear and cooking. I'm a big guy and living in a small one person tent for days if caught in bad weather (which I was) twice made me glad of my decision. Maybe a little heavy at 3.5 Kilo, but it folds to 44cm x 17cm which fit nicely accross the front panier rack and the weight improved the bike's handling, which was a pleasent surprise! The only thing I did not like was that the vestabule (like most small tents) had no floor which became very messy during torrential rain firstly on the Gold Coast and then at Tully, despite the groundsheet I used.

On my next tour I am taking a Vango Omega 250 which is a little heavier at 3.8 kilo and a litle larger (packed ) 47cm x 18 cm... But it does have a riser groundsheet in the vestabule.. When touring it is important to plan for the conditions you will face, and my next tour will take me accross the outback where the last two wet seasons have been almost non existant... An unseasonal sandstorm (which are on the cards because it is so dry) could see me (and my foldable tryke) holded up for a few days trying to keep sand out of the mechanics... Besides the weight I lost on the last tour more than compensated for an extra o on the tent!

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