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Tents & Sleeping: The gear you need to overnight outdoors while cycling

Published September 5, 2021

Cycling is freedom. Our bikes are capable of bringing us anywhere we are able to pedal. This (usually) means we can find a piece of crown land, set up camp, and sleep where we dam well please, thank you very much.

Getting started is easy. You don’t need to start with a month-long trip across the Andes. Hack together a sleeping roll, a shelter, strap it to your bike and do a local overnighter. All long-haul bikepackers and touring pros started by experimenting with small and local overnight trips.

There are many options for shelter, bags, and other gear to make your sleep peaceful out there.

Types of Sleeping Shelters

The biggest decision you’ll need to make before heading out overnight is shelter. We all need protection from the elements and rain, especially after a hard day in the saddle.

Lightweight Tents

Lightweight tents are small and packable tents that usually come in two weights: light and lighter. Ranging anywhere from 1-4 pounds, these tents are designed to be ultra-compact and be setup quickly. They come with minimal lightweight poles that can also fit into most bike bags. Before buying a lightweight tent, consider your capacity. Will you be doing the ride solo? With a significant other? Also, you will want to consider which season you plan on heading out in. Some great brands for lightweight tents are MSR, Big Agnes, REI and for you Canadians, MEC.

Hammock Tents

Hammock tents are a world unto themselves and need a bit more understanding than a lightweight tent. Hammocks have a bit of a weight penalty to them as they need more gear. You will need a decent set of suspension straps and an under-quilt. You will also need to find two trees at the right distance every time you set up camp. Once they are set up, however, they are a dream to sleep in.

Bivy Sacks

Short for ‘bivouac sack’, bivys are not for the faint of heart. At the core, bivys aren’t much more than a weatherproof slip for your sleeping bag. The beauty of bivys is that there is no setup. You can pull out your bivy roll, slide in and fall asleep where ever you are. Night night.

Inside the Shelter

Having the right sleeping bag can make all the difference. The most significant factor in deciding on a new sleeping bag is to get a down fill or synthetic fill.

Natural Fill Bags

Down fill, (natural fill) bags are filled with either duck or goose feathers. Natural bags generally last longer and are a better long-term investment if you plan on using them often. The downside is that they can be difficult to dry once wet and that’s a bummer in the middle of the night. Fill-power is the number you want to look at when purchasing. Anything above a fill-power of 600 is the main indicator of a quality sleeping bag.

Synthetic Fill Bags

Synthetic fill bags pack down smaller, are better at handling moisture than natural bags and are easier to care for. In the past, synthetic fill has been slightly heavier than natural down but this is changing as materials improve. Synthetics are a bit more pricey but worth every penny in our opinion.

Pillows

Do not skimp on buying yourself an inflatable pillow. They are cheap, reliable and nothing replaces a good night’s sleep. Buy one.

Sleeping Pads

Another necessary item for the tenting crowd. Sleeping pads provide comfort and cushioning from the hard, cold ground. There are a variety of sleeping pads out there but you most likely want to look at a lightweight, inflatable pad. Generally, inflatable pads can be packed down small and tucked away in your sleep roll.

Ground Footprint

A tent footprint is a cut of material or fabric that lays under your tent and acts as protection from rocky or wet ground. Depending on the terrain or season, a footprint can be a non-optional piece of gear.

How to Pack Your Sleeping Gear

While packing, you may be tempted to use the compressor bags that your tent, sleeping bag, tarps, etc come in. A super-easy way to store your sleep kit is to loose pack them in one bag. Put your tent poles in a handlebar bag then stuff in the tent, the bag, and the sleeping pad. Strap up your bag and get on with it. This may seem sloppy but loose packing this amount of material is actually more efficient than keeping them all in separate bags.

Product List

Click each list item to learn more about that product. Some products in this list have been fully reviewed by us and labeled with an asterisk (*).

Barry Lachapelle
Barry Lachapelle

Barry has been cycling and creating digital products around the world for 20+ years. He was a design leader at IDEO, IDEO.org and Nike’s Innovation Lab.