In the grand scheme of things, you can certainly live without a tarp on a bike tour. But if we had to pick just one thing that improves our lives more than anything else on a long bike tour, it would be the tarp.
It’s hard to think of any other item we carry that is quite so versatile. We pull out our Hilleberg XP 10 tarp to:
- Cook in the rain – No more fighting about who has to leave the tent in bad weather to cook. The tarp provides a sheltered area, with plenty of ventilation, where we can make our dinner.
- Double our living space – During prolonged rainy periods, we have a space to read, play cards or do bike maintenance. We don’t have to be cramped in a tent together for hours on end.
- Create shade – In deserts, the tarp gets strung from
telephone poles, power pylons or anything else we can find to create instant shade for our lunch break. The same happens in campgrounds, especially those terrible “parking lot” style campgrounds you sometimes find in North America.
- Collect water – When it’s raining, nothing collects water faster than a tarp. All of a sudden, we have enough water for extra cups of tea and cooking supper. Because the water comes directly from the sky, it’s clean and doesn’t need to be purified.
- Protect our tent from damage – We’d rather expose our tarp to the sun’s UV rays than the much more expensive tent. A tarp also catches things like tree sap and bird droppings before they hit the tent.
- Sleep in hot weather – When it’s blistering hot, and if there are no mosquitos, nothing is nicer than just camping out under the tarp, with a fresh breeze constantly blowing past. It makes packing up very quick as well!
- Warm up in cold weather – If we have a meal outside in chilly weather, a tarp can be used as a blanket over our legs while we eat. Similarly, on really cold nights in the tent, the tarp can be laid over sleeping bags to keep extra warm.
You could argue that almost all of these needs and situations could be covered with other pieces of kit, or with a bit of pre-planning. But for us, having so much versatility in one item is fantastic. We love our tarp, and couldn’t imagine doing a long tour without it.
If you decide to get a tarp, here are a few pointers:
- Get one that doesn’t require poles to put up. Ours has long strings that we can tie to trees, picnic tables or any reasonably solid thing – even our bikes! Sometimes a pole would be nice to get extra height, but most of the time it’s not necessary.
- If you’re on a budget, consider making your own from Tyvek or buying silnylon fabric and sewing a tarp yourself.
- Go slightly larger than you think you’ll need. You’ll never regret having the extra space, to shelter under during a rainstorm. And a tarp is a great way to make friends with other tarp-less cyclists in terrible weather. Host a party underneath it!