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Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Choosing a Touring Tent

By Pico Triano
Photos: Pico Triano

The first tent I ever took bikepacking, I bought with my own money as a teenager. At that time no one was taking my cycling ambitions seriously and I don't think my family was in a position to give me sound advice on what to buy anyway. It ended up serving me for years even though in many ways it was hopelessly inadequate. The price was right though. Considering it only set me back about twenty dollars, I got a lot of mileage out of it. Using it, taught me a lot of lessons, the hard way.

This article isn't aimed at selling you a specific brand or model tent. I think it is more useful to talk about broad consideration and let the reader choose what will work for them. Everyone has different needs.

1)  First point I'll make is non-negotiable. If a tent cannot be erected without sticking tent pegs in the ground avoid it. This was the biggest failing of the tent I used for so many years. More often than not the ground was too hard or rocky for the tent pegs to penetrate without bending or breaking. When the ground was really soft and it got windy out, I would end up wrapped in my collapsed tent. A lot of nights my tent was really just a glorified ground sheet, an extra layer for the rain to soak through before I started getting wet. Trust me on this one. Get a pop-up or I'll have to tell you, “I told you so,” when you figure this out on your own.

2)  How many people will be using this tent? Riding solo is simpler than riding with a group. How much space do you need to be comfortable? How close together are you willing to sleep with your possibly sweaty tentmates (baby wipes are a great invention, when bathing, for whatever reason, isn't an option)? Do you want a vestibule where your bike can sleep inside as well? There are a lot of things to consider when determining the size and layout of the tent that will be right for you. I would consider a wide variety of tents before settling on the right one.

3)  How much weight can you carry? This is always a consideration when touring by bicycle. My recommendation is to choose a tent that is as light as possible and still fulfils your minimum needs. If you're looking for big time luxury, stay in a motel.

4)  One final consideration is quality. My little tent was a lot tougher than I expected it to be for the price. On the other hand I've used tents that were done in one season. Check the reputation of the manufacturer and try to find out as much as you can about the model you want to buy. With the Internet it is easy to find people with the experience and knowledge you need to make a good choice.

There are other on the road housing options. Some riders will travel with a credit card and carry next to nothing in the way of equipment. I've done a one week tour where I never set my tent up once. I stayed with friends or motel rooms for the entire trip.

Hammocks are a viable option although there are places where you might have trouble finding something adequate to tie to. They are a comfortable option. There are also all weather sleeping bags that are meant for use outdoors in the weather. They're expensive but you don't have to set them up.

However you choose. I hope this article has been useful and you have an enjoyable tour whenever you happen to be travelling.


  1. Replies
    1. Right now we're kind of broke. When riding with the whole family we use inexpensive pop ups from a discount store - three of them, one for the parents, one for my daughter and another for the boys. Equipment comes inside with the exception of the bikes themselves.