Whether you’re planning a holiday or a full-on adventure, a tent has to be high on the list of things to strap to the back of the bike. We gathered advice from seasoned travellers and adventure bike shops specialists to shed some light on the dark world of sleeping under canvas.
Opinion is divided. A quick straw poll and there’s no doubt the subject of tents, and camping inside them, divides opinion like anchovies on pizzas. To many, the notion of sleeping on the ground outside with a very thin layer of nylon protecting you from the elements is simply pointless. Why would you if there’s a perfectly good hotel down the road? Well you might want the freedom it offers to sleep truly in the middle of nowhere. You might also have no choice, or prefer the outdoor vibe. You might also want to save money.
Times have changed in terms of design and practicality and it isn’t like camping was in the seventies when I was a small boy. Tents don’t generally leak anymore and they don’t need a civil engineering degree to construct them. It’s no surprise surely to say that tents can be literally thrown up in seconds these days. Even the more “complicated” larger tents have very well designed systems in place that allow you too build the tent, quickly and logically.
Having never seen the small Wild Country ‘Zephyros’ tent seen in the main feature image, I literally put it up without a glance at the instructions within five minutes. After a long day in the saddle, if you’re in a rush because it’s raining or even if you’re in a rush to get pitched and off down the pub for a beer, that amount of simplicity is priceless. There are quicker tents that that even, Quechua (among others) do a ‘throw-up’ tent which takes seconds to pitch. Major retailers and large-scale camping shops offer tents for a lot less money, but don’t go for the cheapest option unless you literally are going for a few nights and can afford to throw it away afterwards. Quality specialist shops like the Adventure Bike Shop will help you look at practical solutions and quality products designed with travellers, bike travellers in mind.
The larger of the two tents in the main image for this feature is Redverz ‘Atacama’ – the park your bike in the garage tent. It too took minutes but two of us tackled this one. Adventure Bike Shop’s owner Cliff Blatley points out despite the Atacama packing down quite small, this kind of tent is perhaps too much for world travel and favours holiday travel more. The times when you’re going to pitch it and leave it for a few days rather than keep moving on somewhere new each day.
There’s no need to limit your needs or indeed go too far the other way and carry a spare house with you – tents these day are many and variously designed to suit. With so much technology bouncing around from outdoor specialists who’re concerned with mountaineers, hikers as well as bikers we can shop around for a perfect solution.
Why buy a tent? It’s a good question and surely a bigger question if you are not travelling the globe on a journey of large proportions. In those circumstances the tent is arguably a must-have, an unavoidable accessory simply because sometimes you will need one and for sure camping adds to the experience.
There are also plenty of the reasons to go for the camping experience. Not least the freedom it offers to sleep more or less where you want. From the travelling perspective quite commonly people don’t solely use just a tent or just hotels. Having a tent gives you freedom but everyone likes a hot shower, right?
But who couldn’t resist the lure of a cold wash in the same stream water you just made a hot coffee from as the sun rises gently up through the trees, pinging sparkling shards of sunlight off the rippling water. Oh, alright, it’s not so clever in a cloud of midges, the pissing rain or when you’ve had to pitch-up 10 metres from the back of a stinking border control because they’re taking two days to give you your passport back. You get the gist, we hope, and for sure the beautiful moments can outweigh the crappy ones.
The fact that you can pitch and sleep anywhere is a huge draw. It’s cheap and convenient. At time of writing there are thousands of bikers pitched up in the Isle of Man for the annual TT Races for example. Although some of the campsites are certainly packed in and not likely to be too quiet, for many of them it’s part of the TT races experience to camp because of the camaraderie but also because it’s cheap accommodation.
We have a huge positive in our favour as bikers as opposed to the other major form of travelling camper and that is our bikes. Travellers on foot have to carry all their gear on their back of course but at least we have the iron horse to take the load. That’s not an excuse to pile on the kitchen sink but it does mean we can afford some space for things a backpacker can’t. Seasoned traveller (and GS Trophy finalist), John Small, tells us packing for him is important: “I always have the tent most accessible just in case it’s raining. Setting the tent up in the rain isn’t so bad but getting all your kit wet is! I always stow my tent in a waterproof bag, which also allows me to keep everything else dry when packing away.”
We also picked John’s brains for his type of tent preferences: “I prefer my Nordisk Oppland 2 which has a larger vestibule area that’s great for storing the panniers and also cooking under if the weather is against you. I also prefer a good ground sheet and also a good tarp which again provides rain and/or sun protection and offers extended living area.”
- Opt for a tent which houses one person more than you actually need. It’s an old campers mistake to make but as a rule the ‘person’ rating of a tent is based on hikers laying side by side. A one person tent is literally big enough for a person so if you want somewhere to put your riding kit/helmet/stuff for the night, you’ll need a two person tent.
- For that reason try and see the tent pitched before you buy. If it’s a smallish tent they’ll usually do it in the shop.
- Consider the packed size of a tent. For obvious reasons you don’t want a large and heavy tent packed on the back of your bike, so viewing tents before you buy helps and consider how and where you will attach it to your bike.
- Pitch it in your garden or local park before you travel. Quite simply the first time you need to pitch a tent ‘in anger’ could well be in the dark, the rain and after 10 hours of riding. Knowing what pole goes where will help!
- How high is it inside and how tall are you? If you’re travelling light with a throw-up tent this is less of an issue but if you spend three, four days or a week in the same tent you might get fed up being on your knees all the time and with nowhere to sit out of the rain.
- Modern nylon or synthetic tent material is usually rated with a ‘HH’ value to show how water resistant it is. Generally, consensus from tent experts seems to be anything above HH1500 is going to be a good enough rating but the higher the number the better the water resistance. Be sure you’re reading the HH rating of the flysheet and not the super-waterproof ground sheet.
- Consider the climate you’re camping in. A tent needs to be well ventilated as well as waterproof if you’re going to have comfortable night’s sleep in a hot climate. Some people swear by cotton or heavier non-synthetic materials because they offer greater temperature control, in hot or cold climates. But air in can be as important as rain or mosquitoes out.
An obvious point to make whether you’re camping out in the wilds because you want or need to, is you’ll obviously have more to carry on your bike than just a tent. It’ll help to also have a sleeping bag, some sort of mattress, food, water and some cooking equipment. All of which needs thought just the same as a tent does, and some of it will come down to personal preference for comfort and utensils.
You can argue you don’t need all these things and can make do with finding food locally/sleeping in your kit/pitching on soft ground/eating with a twig from a bean can but it helps to have most of the above.
The principle reason to have a tent is to have somewhere dry and relatively warm to sleep. Shelter in a word and humans have been constructing shelters to sleep under for millions of years so don’t knock it.
In many parts of the world pitching tents anywhere is acceptable, but in some places it is against the law. So know the rules wherever you plan to camp. As a general rule we’ve found through experience that pitching in a considerate place, out the way and clearing up after yourself to leave no mark, creates few problems. Being polite and considerate in more remote places helps to, not least if you want to buy a little food from locals.
Thanks kindly to Cliff at the Adventure Bike Shop for guidance and the loan of the tents for this feature.
To view more info on the tents featured click here.