Gearing up

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how I’m going to approach my gear needs for this trip. Given the choice between camping and a hotel, most of the time I’m going to choose the hotel because, let’s face it, I’m an old fart. Camping is an inevitability on the GDMBR, but since it won’t be an everyday thing, I’m going to try to go as lightly as possible.  If I can cut my travelling weight down enough, I might be able to get by without panniers or a trailer (more on this later).

This means I needed a new, lighter tent, and fortunately REI Outlet had the Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 on closeout.  After reading lots of enthusiastic reviews about this tent, including many from tall users, I decided to pull the trigger on it.  It arrived yesterday, and it’s perfect.  Just big enough for one 6’4″ person to stretch out in, enough headroom to sit up, and it tips the scales at 3lb 2.5oz including all stuff sacks, stakes, fly, and the optional footprint.

This got me in the mood to drag out all of my camping gear to see how much it really weighs.  I was pleased to find that my North Face Blue Kazoo down bag weighs only 2lb 9oz (vs. manufacturer’s claim of 2lb 12oz), but I was shocked to discover that the new pad I bought last summer — an Exped Synmat 9 — clocked in at 2lb 11oz (vs manufacturer’s claim of 2lb 9oz)!  I have a hard time rationalizing carrying a pad that weights more than my sleeping bag or my tent!  It makes me wonder about these superlight Klymit Inertia pads that I stumbled across the other day. The XL model is extra-long for us tall people and still weighs under 17oz.  Amazing!

Another way in which I intend to cut weight and space is by changing my meal philosophy.  When I’m staying in a hotel, I’m going to be eating in a restaurant.  So I will be cooking only a minority of my meals.  Because I’m not anxious to have a grizzly bear over for dinner, I’ve decided that on the nights that I cook I’ll just be rehydrating a freeze-dried meal. This means I don’t have to carry around a lot of fresh food, and also that the only thing that will ever touch my cooking gear is boiling water.  So my needs for stove and cook gear are very minimal, and all I’ll need is a superlight alcohol stove.

It might seem strange to count ounces when you’re riding a beast like a Pugsley (after all, a spare tire and tube weight as much as my tent and sleeping bag combined!).  But my main concern is compactness, not weight. I’d like to obviate the need to pull a trailer or carry panniers.  I’m inspired by the setups I see at I’ve already purchased the new Revelate Designs Pugsley full-frame bag (I’ll review this tomorrow, after I’ve used it on a ride).  The typical setup for the ultralight crowd is the full-frame bag, a giant seat bag like the Revelate Viscacha, and a handlebar sling to hold a bedroll.  Now I’m lucky in that my frame bag is gigantic because I ride the 22″ Pugs; but the flip side of this is, I don’t want to put a bunch of extra weight way up high.  I have a ton of room between my saddle and my rear tire (I’ll post pics when I review the frame bag), and between my bars and my front tire. So I’m thinking about lightweight front and rear racks with a drybag on top of each one. I believe this will keep the center or mass lower than the seat bag / bar bedroll.  It won’t be as low as panniers, but it won’t have the wind resistance of panniers either.  And it will encourage me to pack more minimally than if I were using panniers.

Whew!  These thoughts have been careening around in my head for a while now, it’s good to finally get them out of there!  I welcome comments and suggestions.

4 thoughts on “Gearing up

  1. Since you’re welcoming suggestions, I’ll take a stab at it.

    I’d elect to not use the footprint for the tent. As long as you take a minute when setting camp to remove sticks and rocks, you shouldn’t have a problem with wear or holes. Also, look into some titanium stakes(hopefully you can pitch with less than 9 stakes, too). This should get the overall weight down to about 2-1/2 pounds with no loss of function.

    I see your sleeping bag is rated for 15*. For a summer trip, you could easily save a full pound by using a bag rated at 30*. Even at higher elevations the low temps shouldn’t be below that. If you happen to have a cold night, just slip on a cap and/or your jacket during the night.

    I think you’re on the right track with your frame bag. Even the lightest rack with a dry bag will weigh more than a handlebar sling and large seat bag, though. And there’s always the possibility of the rack or hardware failing. I think there’s a big advantage to a rack-less packing system. Just load the bar and seat packs with the light weight gear/clothing and keep the heavier item(tools, spares, food, water) down low in the frame bag.

    Think about making a list or spreadsheet with EVERYTHING you plan on packing. Then, after some overnight test trips, you can easily see what was used and what wasn’t and what those items weighed. With a good hard look, it’s easy to see what you can leave behind and how much weight you’ll be saving.

    To me, half the trip is in the preparation. Have fun with it.

    • Thanks for the reply, these are all good points.

      Regarding the tent footprint, it’s a brand new tent, and for the extra 5 ounces i think it’s worth protecting the tent floor. Regarding the sleeping bag, I know from experience that this is the right bag for me in the summer. I’m a very cold sleeper — my resting pulse rate is in the high 40’s!

      I’m tempted by the Revelate Viscacha seat bag. Supposedly it expands to hold 14 liters, which is quite a bit. However, I’m not inclined to hang stuff from my handlebars — I just can’t believe that it doesn’t compromise bike handling. I’m not crazy about having a big blob on top of a front rack either, so I still haven’t made up my mind about where to put the stuff that doesn’t fit in the combination of the frame bag and the rear bag. Perhaps I’ll end up with the seat bag and the rear dry bag — I do have that much space below my seat! I’m not too concerned about rack failure. In all the years I’ve been bike touring and commuting, I think I lost one rack bolt due to vibration, and have never had a structural failure. And that’s with putting a lot of weight on the rack (fully loaded panniers), which I wouldn’t be doing this time. Everybody is concerned about rack failure, but how often does it really happen? I have heard plenty of stories of trailer failure however.

      I’d like to know if you have any pad recommendations too.

      • All valid points. It’s important to find a system that works for you and makes you comfortable. That is worth a few extra ounces.

        The most popular mattress among the lightweight crowd would be the Thermarest NeoAir. Aside from thin foam pads, it’s the lightest, smallest packing mattress available. Rather expensive, though.

  2. As opposed to the alternatives which are cheap. 🙂

    The NeoAir is a contender, however I’ve read a lot of reviews describing the internal baffles tearing loose. I’m going to do a lot more research before I decide on a pad.

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