There are many different ways to conduct a bicycle tour. You can camp, stay in hotels and hostels, or simply stay with friends. If you’re planning to do any camping though, you’re going to need a good tent. And selecting the right tent for your long distance bicycle tour is of top importance.
Your tent is your home out on the road and you want to be comfortable inside your home. For that reason, you need to find a tent you are going to be comfortable living in for the duration of your tour. For this reason, I recommend that you select whatever tent is going to make your feel most at home.
There are a number of things to keep in mind when selecting a tent:
1). First of all, you need to keep the size of the tent in mind. Before buying a tent, be sure that it is small enough to fit on the back of your bike or inside one of your panniers. My MSR Zoid 2 Two-Person Tent fits inside my rear pannier and takes up just a little more than half of the bag. If you are carrying a 3-man tent or even something larger, your tent will obviously take up much more space.
2). Secondly, you need to select a tent that is lightweight. As with every piece of gear that you bring with you on your long distance bicycle tour, you need to find the lightest instruments possible… and your tent is no different. Be sure to look at the weight of every tent you investigate and do everything in your power to make your tent as light as it can be.
How do you do that? Well, I’ll tell you!
First of all, cut off all extraneous straps or cloth that you don’t or won’t need on your tour. Secondly, leave any extra poles or parts at home. Many tents contain “extras” that you “might” need, and while it’s nice of the tentmakers to include these extra materials, leave these extraneous parts at home.
The biggest and easiest way to remove weight from your tent is to eliminate as many tent stakes as possible. For example: My tent is supposed to need a minimum of nine (9) different stakes in order to function, but I only carry five (5) stakes with me on my tours. Here is how I do that:
Below is a diagram of my tent, showing where the tent stakes are supposed to be driven into the ground. As you can see, my tent supposedly needs eight (8) stakes just to hold it into the ground, and one (1) additional stake that is used to mount the rain fly.
The way that I eliminate the number of stakes I carry with me on my tour is by simply not using stakes number 3,4,7, or 8. The reason I don’t need these stakes is because stakes 1,2,5, and 6 are the ones that really hold the tent to the ground. Stakes 3,4,7, and 8 only help to make the tent wider, and for this reason, I feel they are quite unnecessary. If you are using a different tent, you may not be able to use this same technique, but it’s worth looking into before you leave home, as you will be able to eliminate a small amount of weight.
Note: Breaking a tent stake is a possibility and for this reason I recommend you carry one (1) extra stake with you in the event of a break. If, however, you break more than one stake, I recommend you improvise by using a stick or wire… and you should also consider practicing your hammering skills. Never use your foot to drive your stakes. This is a surefire way to break or bend your tent stakes. Use a rock, a stick, your Leatherman, or other nearby objects to drive your stakes into the ground. DO NOT bring a hammer with you for the sole purpose of using it to drive your tent stakes at night!
3). Color can also be very important when selecting your tent – especially if you plan to do any sort of stealth camping. When doing this type of camping, you want to do your best to hide yourself amongst your surroundings, and in most cases, your surroundings are going to be a combination of green and brown colors.
You’ll note that the rain fly on my tent is mainly brown and I selected this tent largely for the reason that it would allow me to hide in bushes and branches if so desired. The photo below is a good example of how you can disappear into your surroundings with the use of an earth toned tent.
The last thing to note about the color of your tent is that you may want a bright colored tent (or at least a partly bright colored tent) if you get into an emergency situation and you want to signal for help. While I have yet to find a tent that is camouflage on one side and bright red or orange on the other, I’ve resolved this problem by touring with bright red panniers and wearing bright red clothing and then using my brown tent to hide in. This allows me to hide in my tent at night and when so desired… and if needed, I could use my bright colored panniers and clothing to signal for help.
4). The final point I want to make about selecting a tent is that your tent should be well ventilated. On my first bicycle tour I bought a tent for $30 and thought it would do me just fine, but I quickly learned that the reason this tent was so cheap was because it was totally unventilated – meaning there was no way for air to get into or escape from the tent.
The main problem with having a tent that is poorly ventilated is that during the night, condensation builds inside the tent, and by morning, there will be a large amount of water hanging to the top of your tent. Then, as soon as you move or hit the tent’s fabric siding, this condensation will instantly fall onto you and everything inside your tent – instantly soaking you and your gear.
This is a bad thing because it gets you and your things wet, but it’s even worse because it’s simply a horrible way to wake up every morning. The last thing you need on your bike tour is to wake up and be instantly drenched in your own condensation – a horrible start to any day on the road!