Camping Gear For Bicycle Touring

These are some of our favourite camping accessories for bicycle touring.

1. PHD Minim Sleeping Bag

This is the sleeping bag we’ve used for over 4 years. It’s a down-filled bag that retails for about $400 U.S. and is made by UK company PHD. You may not end up buying this particular bag (there are many good bags to choose from), but here are a couple things we particularly like about this bag, so you can bear them in mind when you’re shopping around.

PHD Minim
PHD Minim sleeping bag: with no zipper, there’s no way for a draft to get in.

First of all, we prefer down-filled bags because they’re warmer and lighter for the size than synthetic fillings. On the other hand, a disadvantage of down is that it won’t keep you warm when wet whereas synthetic fillings will. We have never found it difficult to keep our bags dry. They are packed in a dry bag when we’re on the road so the only moisture we’ve ever noticed is a little condensation on the surface from morning dew. This dries very quickly.

Also, our particular sleeping bag has one unique feature: there’s no zipper. You just slide yourself inside. This means no draft coming in from one side of the bag and no rolling onto an uncomfortable zipper in the middle of the night. It also shaves a few grams off the overall weight of the bag and removes one of the few things that can break on a sleeping bag.

On the other hand, you can’t open a zipless bag if you’re too hot. For couples, it also rules out the possibility of zipping the bags together. If you do get a sleeping bag with a zipper (by far the more common design), choose a bag with a ‘zip baffle’ or ‘draft tube’ that helps seal out cold air. The zipper should also be heavy duty. It’s the one item on your sleeping bag that gets used over and over, and will almost certainly be the first to wear out.

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2. Thermarest Prolite Mat

Among bike tourists, Thermarest Prolite sleeping mat is one of the most popular choices. It’s light, super compact and should keep you warm as long as the temperature doesn’t dip too far below freezing. Like all inflatable mats, however, it is prone to punctures and – after several months of constant use – can fail entirely.

Thermarest have a great lifetime warranty on these mats, so if you’re doing shorter trips and can get the mat replaced easily enough, then go for it. On an extended world trip, however, we prefer a solid foam mat like the Thermarest Z Lite.

Exped SynMat

3. Exped DownMat & SynMat

For the ultimate in comfort and warmth, Swiss-based Exped make a DownMat 7 (with down feather filling) and SynMat 7 (synthetic filling). They’re both worth considering. The thick profile of these mats will keep you cozy, even in temperatures well below freezing.On the downside, they take longer to inflate than thinner mats and can be noisy when you toss and turn during the night. Read our review of Exped mats.

Thermarest Zlite

4. Thermarest Z Lite

If your priority is an indestructible sleeping mat, try the Thermarest Z Lite. It’s a closed-cell foam mat. This means you never have to worry about damage to the mattress. You can throw it on top of a bed of thorns, and the mat will be just fine. It’s also half the price of an inflatable mat!

What’s not to like? Some people find it too thin and uncomfortable, although we slept just fine on it. It’s also relatively bulky. We carried our Z Lite mats in a bag, on top of the back luggage rack.

If you’re debating between the Z Lite or the Prolite sleeping mat, see our comparison of the two.

5. Petzl Headlamp

We’ve had our Petzl Tikka 2 Headlamps for 6 years now and they’re still going strong – even though they’re well past the 3-year warranty period. We’ve dropped them, thrown them in our panniers with no special care and lugged them all around the world and they haven’t yet developed a fault. You get up to 120 hours of burn time on 3 AAA batteries and they’re very light: just 85g, including the batteries.

Petzl Tikka Headlamps
The same Petzl Tikka 2 headlamps have worked well for us for over 6 years now.

Thermarest Pillow

6. Thermarest Pillow

A pillow is a luxury camping accessory that’s not carried by most bike tourists. Many people simply create a pillow under their heads every night by stuffing clothes together in a sleeping bag sack. We did that for several years as well but in 2010 we decided that we needed a bit more cushioning.

We picked the Thermarest Compressible Pillow because it’s compact, washable, lightweight and reasonably priced. For us, the foam filling also felt the most like a real pillow and we liked the fact that didn’t need to be inflated every night.

Finding the pillow that feels ‘just right’ is obviously highly individual so this is one item which we would highly recommend buying from your local camping store. You definitely want to test out the various options before deciding which one to buy.

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  1. Andrew Priest
    22nd September 2012 at 1:01 pm #

    I am looking at a PHD Minim 400 at the moment. Are you still using yours? Does it pack down small?


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