A few folk have been asking me questions about the gear I've been taking with me on my Bikepacking trips this winter so I thought I'd spend a little time going over it all. This is nothing like an in-depth review, just some comments on my experiences and some reasoning for why it is in my bags. Technology in lightweight camping gear (in the form of materials and design) seems to be in a high state of change at the moment with many old favourites now regarded as a bit old-hat. It's fair to say that I haven't moved on so quickly and there are many developments I've not yet explored for one reason or another. Anyone who wants to track down some of these could do a lot worse than investigate the Bear Bones Bikepacking website and forum.
First of all, here's everything laid out.
The sleeping bag is a Mountain Hardware Lamina 0. It's synthetic, which has been a big change for me as I've always used down bags in the past. It's heavier (1,681g) and more bulky for its warmth rating but I'm less worried about getting it damp or dirty so it's been a fair compromise.
On the bag is my sleeping mat, a Hyalite Peak Elite AC. This is a full length, inflatable mat with raised chambers running the full length to help prevent rolling off in the middle of the night. It's surprisingly compact, lightweight (367g) and has done the job despite minus 10C nights.
Also on the bag is my tent. This is a Tarptent Scarp 1 that I bought secondhand. It weighs 1,488g with poles, pegs etc and has a very flexible pitching system that makes finding a spot easier. Great ventilation and two porches make it possible to store wet gear under one whilst cooking under the other and having the option to use the most sheltered porch for cooking or simply for the best view.
The three drybags are from Exped and are used to keep some clothing dry and for keeping some bits and pieces together (and therefore easier to locate).
For cooking, I'm still using gas. It's clean, quick and feels safest when under cover.
The stove is an Optimus Crux. It folds so that it can be stored in the concave underside of a 250g gas cartridge. It seems to be very efficient but suffers from not having a great simmer. If set low it will often go out altogether.
For lighting the stove I have a Light My Fire Swedish Firesteel. This works in all conditions so I'm less worried about trying to keep matches dry or having a lighter simply fail on me.
I have a windshield that clamps onto the gas cartridge. It's made by Primus and I reckon it pays for itself in fuel saved in windy conditions.
The Titanium Spork is handy as a single eating implement and, being foldable, stores in the pans. However, the wire handle collects bits of food and eating off titanium isn't the most pleasant sensation (or maybe that's just me).
The wee sponge scourer is handy for getting the remnants of last nights meal off before breakfast and also for mopping up any spills and leaks.
The pans are the Optimus Terra Weekend HE cook-set (271g). I find some of the smaller "solo" options a bit small for decent portions sometimes. The Terra Weekend is large enough to take all the items I've mentioned above.
The pot cosy is home-made from silver "bubble wrap" and duct tape. It's an efficient way of cooking whilst using less gas as it keeps everything hot. Even cook in the bag meals work better as they remain warm while rehydrating.
The Lifeventure Titanium 450 mug is great for just having a brew or a soup when awaiting the main course. It gets a bit hot on the stove and can burn your lips so I've put a "charity wristband" around the lip.
You can never travel without a knife and a wee Swiss Army knife is simple enough.
The hipflask is a true morale booster as there's nothing like a wee dram when you're sitting watching the sun go down.
The clothing choice is fairly simple - it's mostly whatever I'm wearing to cycle. However, it's important to have something dry to put on in your bag if you get soaked - even if only for morale.
The Montane Prism jacket is just one of the best things ever. It's usually the first thing I reach for when I stop. It folds into its own pocket and provides an amazing amount of warmth.
The Rab Aeon Tee-shirt is "silk-weight". It's enough to give a bit of comfort and warmth but is also a great baselayer under cycle clothing in warmer weather.
Ronhill Tracksters might be very old-school but they are light enough to take anywhere and who cares about fashion when you are miles from anywhere?
I had a couple of trips with cold hands. The winter bike gloves can be a bit bulky around the campsite, especially when fiddling about with the stove. These Decathlon silk liner gloves provide just enough of an insulation layer to keep the worst of the chills off.
A spare pair of lightweight socks are great in the sleeping bag and a buff acts as a scarf, hat or even a towel when necessary.
If you've never read the book "How to Shit in the Woods", then you can skip to the next section....
Toileting is taken care of with a small gardening trowel, a bit of toilet tissue and some nappy sacks (if "packing out" becomes necessary).
Yes - I've cut my toothbrush down. This isn't to save weight you understand, just so it will fit in a wee bag. A travel-sized tube of toothpaste is enough for a few nights and it makes such a difference having a fresh mouth. Anti-bacterial hand gel is a clean and effective way of ensuring a level of hygiene.
I'm not a massive gadget fan when bikepacking. The coming of the Smartphone seems to have given us most of our needs in one device but mine usually stays in Airplane mode or switched off. That way the battery is still going to work in an emergency.
The green Petzl headtorch is used around the campsite. It has a couple of power settings and also a red LED that sounds great in theory as you can read a map at night without ruining your night vision. But have you tried looking at contours on an OS map when under a red light?
The Panasonic TZ7 camera has given me some great shots and is usually carried on the bike so it's always at hand.
The little black box contains a set of JVC earbuds in the event I want some music at night. they are rarely used as I prefer to listen to what's going on around me.
The Powermonkey Explorer is a charger and a solar panel. The latter is pretty much useless in Scotland in winter but you never know.... If I've used the phone at all, I'll usually top it up overnight.
A headlamp and tail-light are really for emergency use only. Unless conditions change for the (much) worse or I have some other mis-calculated event I prefer to pitch before nightfall, even on the short winter days.
The Garmin Dakota GPS is a bit of an upgrade from the old Geko 301 I was using previously. It has the OS 1:50K maps built in and a set of AA batteries will last for around 10 hours. However, I still print off a map of my route as I like to have a backup.
Finally, here's where it all goes.
The bag on the right is a Revelate Sweet Roll. It holds the tent, mat, cookset (and contents), mug, spare clothing, gadgets and any food I need overnight.The Pocket on the front is handy for some ready-to-grab bits like hand gel, wallet, maps.
The other large bag is a Revelate Viscacha saddle bag. For winter, I can just fit the big sleeping bag and a couple of other small items in here.
The little bag is a Revelate Jerry Can. It fits on the top tube of the bike, just in front of the saddle, and holds the bike toolkit.
You can now buy the Revelate bags in the UK from Backcountrybiking in Aviemore.
Bottles, pump and GPS all fit directly onto the bike.
Well, that's about it. I weighed all the gear above (but not the bags) and got a weight of 8Kg. Onto that, there's any food I'm carrying, water and the bike clothing I'm wearing plus a waterproof jacket. I'm hoping to get that down a wee bit now that "summer" has arrived and a future blog post will show how I'm doing that.
In the mean time, here's a photo of the bike fully loaded on the Rob Roy Way above Strathtay.