Attach the term ‘lightweight’ to any kit associated with camping or cycling and it usually means two things: One, you’ll enjoy yourself considerably more, and two, there’ll be a hefty price tag attached to it. This article asks the reader to identify what it is they need in a cycle touring tent, it maybe available without the painful price tag.
‘Lightweight’ is probably the hottest key word for a tent manufacturer but how light does a tent for cycle touring need to be? Take a look at ‘Terra Nova Tents’ for instance, they make great quality tents for a range of different applications. What I really like is ‘Terra Nova’ offer several different versions of the same design, each with varying specifications and pack weights. If you have a budget of £400 put aside for your tent, the ‘Terra Nova Laser Competition 2’ is definitely worth taking a closer look at. On the other hand if you have an additional £50 to spend, you have the option of the ‘Terra Nova Laser Photon 2’. The ‘Laser Photon’ differs from the ‘Laser Competition’ by having a shorter pack length (by 4cm), lower diameter poles (by 1.29mm) and will lighten your load by 315 grams. Although a touch lighter there’s a substantial downside with the ‘Laser Photon’, you only get one door. The pack weight and size savings are so minimal with this more expensive model, I’d personally go for the ‘Laser Competition’ and the practicality of having a second door.
Spend some time comparing tent specifications and you soon realise that weight saving after a certain point just becomes a series of compromises. Work out what you need and expect from your tent and then look for the lightest model that suits your needs without compromising your requirements. I know both hikers and tourers that have gone straight out and bought the lightest tent money can buy when the less expensive, but slightly heavier two doored version would have been far more practical for them.
What do you need from your cycle touring tent? Are you solo touring or travelling as a couple? Will you mainly be travelling solo but occasionally have someone join you for a trip? When and where are you planning to use it? Will you be wild camping or using camp sites? Do you plan to use this tent for hiking trips as well as cycle tours? There are plenty of questions to be asked and answered. Take a pen and paper and make a note of how you intend to use the tent. Imagine a trip, picture where all your gear will be stored and where you’ll cook a meal whilst it’s raining outside. Is your tent purely a shelter for sleeping or is the comfort of some additional headroom a necessity? Try to imagine a complete camp from pitch to pack up.
So weight saving comes at a price. It’s understandable; the development and production of thinner, lighter, slimmer, more technical materials adds time and cost to the manufacturing process but how light does a tent suitable for cycle touring need to be? It could be suggested the weight of a cycle touring tent isn’t as important a consideration as it is to a walker. After all, the tent will likely be on top of your rack. I agree, weight saving ranks second after practicality for me as a cycle tourist where if I was purchasing a tent purely for walking, weight saving would be equally as important as any other feature. As a cycle tourist it would be a mistake to adopt a casual attitude to weight just because our gear isn’t on our back. Any cycle tourer who has had a ‘gear cull’ by cutting back and swapping kit for lighter equivalents will tell you the difference it makes to the feel of your bike, the freshness of your legs and the overall enjoyment of a trip.
As with a lot of things in life the key is to find the ‘middle ground’. Even if you find everything you’re looking for in an ultra light expedition tent and you have money spare to burn my advice would be to leave them well alone. They are simply over-kill for the average bicycle tour and dare I say it “not as reliable as their heavier, bulkier and cheaper counterparts”. I would also avoid the other end of the price range, ironically for the same reason – reliability.
If you are a seasoned cycle tourer you may have a make and model of tent that you swear by or you may have used a ‘middle ground’ tent that has all the features you require and you’re now looking for the lighter upgraded version of that tent. My advice to anyone planning their first tour would be to start with a mid weight, mid cost offering, before you start considering spending in excess of four hundred pounds.
I never moved on from my mid range tent, I bought a Vango Banshee 200 some years ago and I’m still putting it through it’s paces today. I’ve camped in far more expensive tents of differing shapes and size but I simply don’t need anything more than what the Banshee has to offer. Tents in the four hundred pound bracket is what I consider the top line of cycle touring tents, in my opinion, this is where the compromise between build quality and weight balance out. I’ve been really impressed with the likes of the MSR Hubba Hubba and the forementioned Terra Nova Laser Competition 2 and when my trusty Banshee eventually dies I’ll give serious consideration to a tent in this division. Thanks to the Banshee, I know what I need. I also know that I’ll be bicycle touring some way in to the future so I can be confident in making such a financial commitment.
Proven Cycle Touring Tents
Mid Range (£200 or less)
Top Line (around £400)
See my article on how to lighten your tent weight here
I’d love to hear your thoughts and recommendations of tents for cycle touring. Please leave your comments below.