My kit list has slowly evolved and the current setup of front/rear panniers, stove and tent is a pretty typical. Possibly it is better suited to several people touring together and where the weight can be shared between riders. As a solo traveller it can be quite a burden to haul so much stuff. A conversion to a lighter, more user friendly, ‘bike packing‘ arrangement is probably overdue. But the existing arrangement works well and cannot yet justify the leap to a new fangled lightweight ‘expedition’ style set up.
Being a bit of a ‘cheapskate’ most of the gear I have used has been picked up second hand via eBay or classified ads on cycling forums. However, and occasionally, I have had to bite the bullet and buy new.
If you are a novice looking at kitting yourself out don’t buy cheaper brands that masquerade as up to the job. They just aren’t. Buy better gear and, if possible, the best you can afford.
Check out the product reviews and advice on the Crazy Guy with a Bike website.
Also check out the PriceSpy website which monitors prices and provides links to the main retailers.
Having used the Vango 200 Duke of Edinburgh award approved tent for some years I invested in a Mountain Equipment DragonFly 2XT tent. The Vango 200 was good… no complaints there. The Dragonfly has been even better. It proved to be a well designed and robust tent for a cycle tour of Denmark and Sweden in 2012. I have used it every year since and it continues to provide excellent service. However it has needed to be reproofed and repaired.
At around 2.5 kg it is hardly the lightest tent for backpacking or cycle touring. Its packed dimensions are good and fits well into a rear cycle pannier. Lengthy packed tent poles can be a problem for many bicycle panniers.
It’s geodesic design means that it stands well on its own without pegging. Usually it only needs two of the super light titanium pegs to stretch out the canopy or vestibule. Reflective strips on the tent and luminescent tabs on zip pulls are helpful at night. A big advantage to this tent is that the inner and outer can remain attached and packed together. I have never had any reason to detach them. Pitching the tent is quickly achieved in all conditions using the four lightweight poles.
The natural green colour is a big plus and the tent blends in well with natural surroundings.
The vestibule space provides a generous area for storage of panniers, cooking gear and boots or shoes.
Four internal pockets on the inner tent provide handy storage.
In two years of intensive use I have had no problems with ingress of water from the outer canopy.
Lastly the tent is well ventilated with three openings in the roof of the outer tent held open by strips with Velcro attachments.
It is categorised as a ‘three season tent’. I have no doubts about using this tent in all conditions. Occasionally I stored part of the bike flat on the ground in the vestibule.
The single side opening or flap doesn’t open quite wide enough towards the centre of the vestibule for my liking. I often found it necessary to use my stove close to the entrance to the tent. Naturally Mountain Equipment disapprove of cooking too close to the tent for safety reasons, but an inevitable necessity in poor weather conditions. As a compromise it is possible to stretch the door flap to maximise the opening by attaching it to a rear guy rope tab or stick in the ground. Thankfully the tent hasn’t gone up in flames or managed to suffocate myself! A close thing though when the stove decides to go into flame thrower mode. I don’t recommend it really.
Some of the zip pull attachments have come off and despite my efforts do not want to go back on.
Lastly the ‘bathtub’ floor of the tent survived well for quite some time despite being subject to some quite nasty, even spiky, ground conditions. A bit of gaffer tape underneath did provide a temporary fix for a largish hole.
Mountain Equipment do not undertake servicing nor repair of their products. As a ‘brand name’ company they have become an intermediary between manufacturers (in Asia) and retail outlets with little hands-on dealings with their products.
Scottish Mountain Gear in Musselburgh, East Lothian, undertake repairs for a number of such companies and are recommended by the product advisor at Mountain Equipment. During my trip to SE Asia in 2015 the floor of the tent became badly damaged. Jungle ants created dozens of little holes and which I temporarily repaired by gluing pieces of a rucksack rain cover. Sadly Mountain Equipment no longer sell tents. It was tempting to purchase a new tent (Hilleberg) but, and remarkably well done, Scottish Mountain Gear have completely replaced the ‘bathtub’ groundsheet for just over £80. Brilliant.
Nikwax waterproofer has worked well to reproof the outer flysheet.
The Mountain Equipment DragonFly 2XT provides a little home luxury for a long trip and I feel justified to have dragged it halfway around the world.
I have become a bit of a fan of Mountain Equipment gear including their jackets. In addition to the DragonFly tent I packed a Mountain Equipment Gore-tex bivouac for the odd occasion when pitching a tent was difficult. However it hardly got used and for the last few tours it has been left on the shelf next to a Hennessy expedition hammock.
Another bit of indispensable kit is my MSR DragonFly stove. Previously I had used a lightweight gas burner but opted for a multi-fuel burner for my cycle tour to Denmark and Sweden.
The DragonFly burns a wide range of liquid fuels including, apparently, jet fuel. I preferred to use paraffin (kerosene) but it will use diesel. I saw many of its larger cousins at work in roadside cafes and restaurants all over the Indian Subcontinent. Once its wick had been primed with fuel and lit, the crucible or cup quickly reaches a temperature at which pressurised fuel fed via a nozzle becomes vaporised. The resulting flame compares to that achieved with a typical gas burner. The beauty of the DragonFly is that the flame can be adjusted for lower temperature heating and sets it apart from other burners as a ‘gourmet cooking’ stove. It also works fine at high altitudes. The integral stand allows for much larger pots and pans than typical lightweight camping stoves.
The stove folds up fairly well into its own little bag together with the fuel pump for the fuel bottle. It is supplied with a field service kit to deal with flame nozzle and fuel line blockages.
For the duration of my 6 month trip across the Indian Subcontinent in 2013 the stove performed well.
I used it for making meals and hot drinks most days. However the build up of carbon in the fuel line close to the crucible meant that it did become unreliable. Often the problem was a simple blockage at the nozzle. The needle valve which adjusted the control of fuel was sometimes unreliable. A blocked fuel line would impede the flow of fuel and produce a retarded yellow flame which would further soot up the stove. Servicing the stove took some time and it was frustrating to find it still not working after a complete strip down and clean. It was a filthy job and requires some patience. In this sense I think that the MSR DragonFly is a fairly serious bit of expedition kit for the dedicated traveller. It will work and work very well but not suited to everyones requirements.
If all thats needed is a camping stove for a short trip to make a quick cuppa or cook some noodles then a lightweight gas burner (i.e. Pocket Rocket) and cylinder is probably the best option. There is a conversion kit available which will allow the DragonFly to be used with camping gas too.
The multi fuel aspect of the DragonFly has been a great advantage. Since paraffin (kerosene) has become more expensive in India, gas has become the current fuel of choice for many people living there. As a cheap alternative people use diesel mixed with a little salt for large liquid fuel pressurised stoves. It was occasionally an issue for me to obtain kerosene in India. Where it is available sale to the public is restricted by license. On a recent trip to Morocco I ran the stove on diesel or ‘Gasoil’ and worked very well even without any salt additives. In Tajikistan I was lucky and able to obtain paraffin.
For my part I really like the DragonFly stove. On the road it has provided countless cups of fresh coffee via a mocha coffee pot. It is fun to use, appeals to the technically minded and ideally suited for long term cycle touring or expeditions. The biggest drawback is the initial cost. It is too bloody expensive (£100+) for what it is. However the running costs are good in comparison to gas stoves. In time it did need a new wick and have replaced its ‘O’ rings. It remains very serviceable and my current stove.
MSR do a wide range of pots to suit every pocket. The MSR Alpine cookset has been useful.
For fresh drinking water I chose to use a proprietary water purification system.
The First Need XL water purifier made by General Ecology appeared to fit the bill. The company provide many of the water filtration systems used on boats and planes.
The XL provides potable water from any source except salt water and produce between ‘600-800 litres’ of untainted clean water from a single filter. [See update below]
For the first few weeks the filter worked very well. However it became increasingly difficult to pump water through the filter despite taking water from excellent sources. Servicing the filter requires ‘backflushing’ and this did improve the flow. By the second month of use it had , once again. become problematic. It was possible to obtain sufficient water but the time and effort involved to pump water through made it a bit of a pain. An alternative to using the pump is to slowly pass water through the filter by gravity. This procedure works quite well and can be done overnight. During my six month trip on the Indian Subcontinent I rarely bought bottled water. However free drinking water was provided at many places along the way and so I wasn’t totally dependant on the unit. As a (unused) backup I took along Oasis chlorine water purification tablets.
The First Need XL system is fairly robust and I had no major technical problems with it but after three months I ended up using the night time drip feed procedure on a regular basis to provide enough water for daily use. Being able to produce my own drinking water without too much trouble was great and saved money. That said the initial outlay is quite high. For short trips and where bottled water is available there is little advantage to using such an expensive system. The main disadvantage of the First Need XL is its size and weight particularly for a solo traveller. Unless a better system becomes available I will be using this one again. [One did….]
I used it in conjunction with a 4 litre capacity Ortlieb water bag and which proved to be a vital piece of kit for long distance cycling and camping in quite variable conditions.The bag conveniently screwed onto the bottom of the XL water filter.
[update] A new acquisition and replacement for the First Need system:
This has proved to be an excellent lightweight alternative to the cumbersome First Need filter and served well for a few trips. Unlike the popular SteriPEN it requires no batteries.
However the ‘squeezable’ bag on mine quickly needed replacing as it developed a tiny leak. The Ortlieb water bag also screws onto the Sawyer filter and, often in conjuntion with a tree for support, became an excellent and fairly effortless method for providing potable water.
For just over £20 the pocket sized Sawyer mini filter is an absolute bargain.
My choice of sleeping gear initially consisted of a two-thirds length Therm-a-Rest self inflating mattress and three season down filled Mountain Equipment Dreamcatcher 300 sleeping and silk liner.
On previous tours the Therm-a Rest was, without a doubt, an item which made sleeping on any type of ground comfortable. The two thirds length mattress folds lengthways and rolls up into a compact size. I had to repair mine using a cycle inner tube repair patch. It had been punctured by a thorn whilst camping on an thorny hillside in Jammu. Otherwise it performed perfectly in all conditions and essential kit.
During my trip to Viet Nam the mattress developed a large hernia and was thrown away. Maybe it was the intense humidity. Maybe it was just getting old. I understand that Cascade Designs provide excellent cystomer service and may have replaced it free of charge if contacted. However that was hardly convenient. I missed it badly for the rest of that trip.
I have since replaced it with the 2015 neoaire x-lite version. The neoaire appears less robust, too narrow (less comfortable) and a pain to inflate. But it is light and packs up small. A tiny pin prick sized leak created an inconvenience during the latter part of a tour to India in 2017. However an easy repair with an included patch put it right again for a trek into Eastern Nepal.
The Dreamcatcher 300 sleeping bag did not cope so well with the high altitude freezing temperatures that I experienced in Ladakh. I had to sleep fully clothed and wearing a down filled NorthFace jacket. As a three season bag it is only rated down to 0°C. However, and when used, it was great in tropical, sub-tropical and temperate climates. It packs down to a good size. The latest versions of the Dreamcatcher provide a comfort range better suited to lower temperatures.
My latest acquisition; the Mountain Equipment Xero 550 sleeping bag has proven its worth in cold conditions. It has a comfort zone of approx -1ºC to -8ºC. Without being too dramatic this sleeping bag was a real lifesaver (together with a Montane down jacket) during a blizzard at high altitude in the Pamirs.
The Xero 550 is a bit pricey but, and with most kit, its possible to pick one up for a lot less than RRP.
I would be lost without a head torch and the Petzl Tikka XP2 has been faultless.
It has a low light setting to save battery life and a flip down plastic filter that helps widen the beam. A red light option makes camping a bit more discreet.
Earlier efforts utilising small solar panels to provide electric power were very disappointing bordering on useless for long periods. However I am currently using a combination of twin Anker twin solar panels (6W output) and EC Technology 22,400 mAh ‘power bank’ battery pack. It is not ideal but seems to work quite well and provides enough juice to keep my iPod and iPhone/camera (often in power saving ‘airplane’ mode) happy.