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12 Crucial Qualities Of A Bicycle Traveller’s Perfect Tent

Interested in why bicycle travellers tend to prefer certain types of tent? Let’s explore in detail a few of the key criteria – I’ve identified twelve, to be precise – that might cause a cycle tourer or bikepacker to choose one tent over another in this overly crowded market.

The perfect tent, of course, does not exist, because there is no such thing as perfection! But if it did, it would probably…

1. Weigh as little as possible

The less weight you’re carrying, the nimbler and more enjoyable to ride your bike will be while you’re on it, and the more manageable it’ll be while you’re off it.

In the old days, tents were built of heavy canvas, wood and steel, and weighed as much as a bicycle. Modern tents, by contrast, are now absurdly light. 

The ideal touring tent would, therefore, weigh as little as possible when packed – particularly important for bikepackers.

The Terra Nova Starlite 2 tunnel tent manages to sleep two people in a compact, lightweight package.

2. Last as long as possible

The importance of durability increases in parallel with the length of your journey. Modern tents do have a limited lifespan and on an ultra-long tour can almost be considered a consumable item, most multi-year journeys involving a series of tents. 

Common points of failure include zip sliders wearing out, floors losing waterproofness, poles fatiguing and snapping under stress, and flysheets shrinking through prolonged UV exposure. 

Long-term riders especially therefore tend to choose tents whose durability has proven itself over time.

This Vaude Hogan UL 2P wedge tent has been through two sets of poles and zippers but is going strong.

3. Pitch anywhere

Especially when wild-camping, perfect pitching conditions can never be guaranteed. As well as this, a long tour may well incorporate a variety of environments.

The perfect tent would go up anywhere, regardless of the availability of flat, level ground, and with or without the ability to use pegs/stakes.

That is, rather simplistically, why cyclists tend to choose freestanding tents, in which the poles support the whole structure, or tents requiring minimal staking out.

Even a £20 tent from Tesco can satisfy many of a cyclist’s needs.

4. Blend into the background

Successful wild-camping is largely about avoiding detection. Part of this is having a tent that does not stick out like a sore thumb in a landscape.

The ideal tent, therefore, would exhibit chameleon-like properties, blending perfectly into the surroundings. Tents with green or neutral-coloured flysheets are therefore a good bet, while bright orange or yellow mountaineering tents are less than preferable in this regard.

Stealth-camping with neutral green tents in a park on the outskirts of Huntingdon.

5. Go up quickly

Once a suitable pitch has been found, the last thing a cycle traveller wants is to waste time pitching or tweaking an overly complicated tent, particularly in bad weather or when stealth-camping under cover of darkness.

This, again, is one of the reasons why cyclists tend to prefer freestanding tents with simple, ideally one-piece, pole structures, which are pitched in a few seconds, all stakes and guy lines being optional.

The 1‑berth MSR Hubba’s inner tent could barely be simpler to pitch.

6. Keep you dry in a monsoon

Any tent worth its salt will keep its occupants dry. The best tents will do so in a torrential downpour and on waterlogged ground, and many riders will have to anticipate such conditions. 

In practice, this means choosing a tent with an additional footprint to provide extra waterproofing to the floor, an adjustable fly sheet that can be cinched down closer to the ground to avoid splashback, and a good level of protection around the edges of the inner tent as well. It might also mean a footprint that extends to cover the space beneath the awning where your gear is being stowed.

The wedge design of the Vaude Hogan UL was adept at shedding water in even the heaviest of Mongolian thunderstorms.

7. Stand up in a hurricane

Extreme weather, by definition, is the exception rather than the norm. But the longer the trip, the higher the chances of being exposed to it. 

The ideal tent would take stormy weather in its stride, remaining firmly planted even whilst houses, pets and automobiles are being blown clean away.

So-called ‘geodesic’ and tunnel tents tend to do well in strong winds when properly pitched and oriented, while wedge-shaped tents are among the worst performers in this sense.

The tunnel design of the Terra Nova Starlite holds up well in high winds, even if a few more stakes and guylines are required.

8. Ventilate in all climates

Climate control is a perpetual concern for the camper. Condensation in particular can contribute far more to a soggy night’s sleep than rainfall itself.

The ideal tent would feature adjustable ventilation options for all circumstances, including plentiful mesh panels on the inner so it can be pitched alone in hot weather and allow a good breeze to come through.

Even the best-ventilated tent will never perform as well as a good camping hammock such as the Hennessy.

9. Provide a view when you want it

Tents are enclosed and often claustrophobic spaces designed to isolate and protect from the elements. But when the elements are at their most desirable, the ideal tent will provide a viewing platform from which to drink all that natural beauty up. 

This usually means choosing a tent with an awning that can be tied right back and a mesh panel on the inner door to look through, if not a full mesh inner tent.

Some tents provide better views than others, though it also depends on where you pitch them!

10. Give you privacy when you need it

Sometimes, after a long day on the road, all you’ll want to do is retreat to a save haven. The ideal tent will feel as secure, safe and impermeable as a padded cell. 

If you think it’ll be warm and dry enough to pitch only the inner tent without the rainfly, a full mesh inner will afford no privacy whatsoever. A tent with a combination of mesh and fabric panels, on the other hand, may strike a better balance.

The MSR Mutha Hubba HP strikes a good balance of visibility, ventilation and privacy for a couple on tour.

11. Allow room for all your luggage

Tents being necessarily restricted in size for practical reasons, it’s usually possible to bring some of your belongings inside, but often it’ll be necessary to leave at the very least your bicycle to brave the elements overnight. 

The ideal tent provides space for everything to be brought inside or stowed in the awning – perhaps even the bike.

Interior view of a folding bike and luggage inside the awning of an MSR Hubba 1-berth tent
Perhaps it’s cheating to use a folding bike, but even a minimal solo tent like the MSR Hubba can provide ample storage space in the awning.

12. Provide space to live

In a similar vein to the above, tents are more or less well designed for doing anything other than sleeping. 

The ideal tent will exhibit Tardis-like qualities, providing space to unpack, rearrange, work, play, get changed, entertain guests, repair bicycles and more, in addition to simply sleeping.

Even ultralight shelters like the Zpacks Duplex can provide a surprising amount of living space.

In reality, there is no single tent that ticks all of the above boxes. Choosing the right tent for your bike trip is about knowing what compromises you can safely make, and when you should stick to your guns.

Many of these compromises are common to a lot of riders, which is why a small handful of tents have emerged as long-time favourites among cycle tourers and bikepackers.

Anything I’ve missed? Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.

One reply on “12 Crucial Qualities Of A Bicycle Traveller’s Perfect Tent”

Good list. But like you said, it’s practically impossible to find that perfect tent you described.

My list of preferences would be:
— large door (or two) on the side(s)
— enough headroom
— whole inner tent made of fabric and mesh option on the door(s) for views and ventilation
— spacy
— reasonable weight (bigger tents are usually lighter per person than solo options)
— durability

The reason I dont like mesh inner tents is that you loose the possibility to adjust the temperature and air flow. Extra fabric and zippers do add some weight, but who cares. Fabric inner tents use to be the standard. Now you can only find them on four season tents. It’s like the manufacturers forgot that one of the basic functions of a tent is to keep you warm.

Any tips on how to find good maps of Russia? Google only shows the main roads.

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