Camping (p1 of 2): Tents
I learned long years past that I'm not from the minimalist school of touring and camping, though there are some shorter trips when I do pack very light. Kudos to those who manage with next to nothing, but I like my stove, meals, treats and comforts - they help me to enjoy my time in the outdoors.
I probably go a bit overboard on the 'be prepared' track, making sure, for example, that I always have enough food for at least an extra day on more remote trips. In winter, I carry extra footwear on remote trips becuase I've learned the hard way that you sometimes have to ride through creeks or flooded spots, and may not make it all the way through without having to put a foot down.
All the comforts of home ...
My purchase in early 2017 of a ECR 29" bikepacking bike and frame bags has pushed me to pare things down somewhat, as my new frame bags have considerably less capacity than my traditional rack and pannier setup (which I expect to still use for some rides). I like this new ECR so much (bloody fun!) that it's become my regular wheels for any local ride that gets off pavement.
For long years, I spent so much time camping that I traditionally have preferred to carry a 2 person tent (that's changed), particularly in nasty weather. If I planned to spend any time at a place, I'd also bring a light fly and poles to put up a cooking/hang-out shelter. I have a hip that sometimes acts up, so carry a lightweight camp chair (currently the Helinox Zero, under a pound and the size of a water bottle!).
But, with my ECR, I've mostly been camping with a solo tent, my trusty MSR Hubba (pic & write-up below).
Camping at Grant Bay, at the far NW of Vancouver Island, NW of Port Hardy, with a rough access track and trail. I had the whole bay to myself. Incredible. That's my Hubba solo tent.
I believe that on any ride of more than a day, the single most important thing in terms of staying healthy and having fun is to get good sleep. That means warm, dry and comfortable, which means a good tent. I'm willing to carry a little extra weight to ensure this. On short, overnight trips, this is not so important (dry the sleeping bag out once back home), but on longer trips where one needs to pack up and unpack gear every day, it really becomes more important.
I've tried ultralight tarp camping, but, unless it's summer, find that things can occasionally get wet (tarps have open ends and big winds sometimes blow sideways), bugs keep me awake and you still need some sort of ground sheet. So I want a solid tent, good sleeping bag (keeping it dry is the key to packing), and a good sleeping pad (higher R value for cold weather). The good news is that gear has been steadily getting smaller, lighter and better.
My thoughts on tents have been further influenced by a number of riding trips up into the far, far north and the high Himalayas (see pic below, and World Tours galleries for more). I've grown to really value tents that can handle serious winds, perhaps more than than is needed for most BC camping terrain.
Dusk, 14,000+ feet at Pensi La Pass, the road to Zanskar, Ladakh.
That's a Hilleberg Rogen, my go-to tent over recent years. Critically, it sheds wind very well. the Rogen is ~5lbs, with good sized vestibules.
It's impressive to watch tent design evolve. These days, there's lots of great options out there - lighter weight, less bulky and quite durable. Some ultra-light solo tents are now as light as bivy sacks, and even some tarps. That said, although I like lighter, I also want durable (particularly floors - ideally at least 30 denier), with excellent wind capability: thankfully , you can find lightweight tents to fit this bill (just not ultralight).
Unless you go high altitude, it's usually not critical to have a tent with serious snow bearing capability for winter camping on Vancouver Island.
Early morning at Mohun Lake, NW of Campbell River. This riding trip went to ~12 below zero, unusually cold for Vancouver Island. This is my trusty Mountain Hardwear Spire 2.1 tent - an older, fairly light (5 lbs) 4 season tent that has served me very well for many years.
More thoughts on choosing a tent ...
I like free standing tents, at least for the main tent body (not necessarily the vestibules), having been forced to put my tent up on loose sand, rock or concrete where pegs are a challenge. I like good vestibule space for panniers and gear, particularly when wet, and I like being able to put things out of view in public campgrounds. I prefer neutral colours that blend in: this is helpful when wild camping so you don't attract unwanted attention.
A few comments on the MSR Hubba. I like it. It's light and packs small, and has a reasonably tough floor (30 denier). It dries pretty quick. It's rather cramped, but that's the case for most all solos. A concern I have from years past, when I had an earlier Hubba, is that they are not good in high winds, and don't really even have the needed attachment points should you need to really get it guyed down. One can find lots of slightly lighter solo tents, but I just get uneasy about lighter floors, given sharp rocks or thorns or .....
Top left (above) - Hilleberg Rogen, wild camping at Little Lost Lake NW of Courtenay. Top right - Hilleberg Allak 4 season, at Rathtrevor Provincial Campground, south of Parksville. Bottom left is my original Hubba (solo) from years past, wild camping in the Taklamakan Desert, Xinjiang, far west China. Finally, bottom right is my very well-used (to this day) Mountain Hardwear Skyledge 2, 3 season, camping in the Dash-e-Kavir Desert in Central Iran.
My Hubba, wild camping just off the Nanaimo River, central Vancouver Island
In recent years, my go-to tent, aside from really cold winter and hot summer, has been my Hilleberg Rogen. It's a tough, wind-shedding 2 person tent, 5 lbs. I've taken this on my last last couple of rides in the high Himalayas. It's weathered some real ornery weather, and really earned my trust. It's 3 season, though I use it in winter on Vancouver Island.
I also have a Hilleberg Allak (2 person - pic above in collage), which is a heavier 4 season tent, fully free-standing, which I mostly use on easier winter riding trips, or if I'm heading somewhere to stay a while (or occasional car camping). It's a shade over 7 lbs. I find the 3 pole stability, with roomy vestibules, a real treat - luxurious by my usual standards.
The Hillebergs are expensive and sometimes just too much tent, in part as they are designed for more extreme conditions, and can have condensation issues (though not the Rogen). But they give one great confidence in their durability and performance.
Hillberg Rogen: camping in a farmer's field, in the high mountains of NE Ladakh, up near the Tibet border
From past years, I still have and use two sweet Mountain Hardwear tents: a Spire 2.1, which handles winter well (pic up above), and a Skyledge 2, 3 season, a full mesh inner tent for warmer weather. Both of these are 2 person tents, with good-sized vestibules. getting long in the tooth (and, I think, no longer sold), but have served me very well.
I've tried other tents over the years, including other MSR tents (always solid), a Big Agnes tent which I never really fully trusted (though lots of people like Big Agnes), and Kelty (more entry level, but reliable, and good value for money).
If you are also interested in camping stoves, water purification or staying dry & warm (on the bike or at the camp), check out the next page for some thoughts based on hard earned experience.
Campsites getting a little overcrowded?
This pic is from the overnight camping spot on the 2 day 'Ride to Conquer Cancer' from Vancouver to Seattle, a few years back. Thousands of riders join in and raise millions of dollars. That said, don't expect the best of sleeps when the tents get packed in like this - kinda like sleeping in a barnyard
Snug view from inside my Hilleberg Rogen, along the shores of remote Freda Lake, ~650m up, north of Powell River. I got spooked this night when I found fresh/recent bear tracks (huge) and bear turd (really huge), just down the lake from my tent - so I started a fire beside the shores to bring in the scent of smoke, which some believe is a bear deterrent.