Categories
Equipment Gear Reviews

The Hennessy Deep Jungle Camping Hammock: Long-Term Review & Photos

I love hammock camping on bike trips. It’s convenient, comfortable, and a lot easier to find a pitch than people tend to think.

Rather than hammock camping in general, which I’ve written about in the past along with other alternative sleeping systems, in this piece I will be taking a closer look at my own camping hammock of choice: the Hennessy Hammock Deep Jungle Zip.

Since mid-2013 I’ve been using this hammock regularly on bike trips and hikes (as well as at basecamps and festivals), so it’s definitely due a thorough writeup.

Shall we begin?


The Hennessy Hammock Deep Jungle: In Brief

The Deep Jungle camping hammock, designed by North American hammock specialist Tom Hennessy and available under the Hennessy Hammock brand, is among the most versatile, weatherproof and full-featured models in the company’s range.

In spite of its serious-sounding name, it’s highly suited to the variable conditions found in temperate zones, as well as the tropics.

Optional extras extend its versatility yet further, and, as with all outdoor gear, knowing how to get the best out of it will make your time with the Deep Jungle all the more enjoyable. (Keep reading for few of my own pro tips.)

The Long View on the Hennessy Hammock Deep Jungle

Over many years of using the Hennessy Hammock Deep Jungle in a range of environments (mainly from Europe through to West Asia), I’ve always been most impressed by two things: the quality of the manufacturing, and a deeply thoughtful design which really maximises the rig’s versatility.

Professional-grade camping hammocks are the kind of product for which sheer quality – not competitive pricing or sales volume or clever marketing – is the key to long-term success, as customers in such a tiny, specialised niche tend to be quite vocal when they come across good gear that works well.

As I write, it’s exactly 20 years since the first Hennessy Hammock went on sale. Given they essentially sell a single product, the fact that they’re still around is a strong indicator that Hennessy hammocks are more than fit for purpose.

An In-Depth Tour of the Hennessy Hammock Deep Jungle

The body of the Deep Jungle hammock is a double-layered sling of lightweight, mosquito-proof 30D nylon. Over the top is a permanently-attached insect mesh. This unzips fully along one side to allow entry and exit, as well as for the mesh to be fully folded back.

When rigged, a ridge-line of taut paracord allows the sling below to slacken while suspending the mesh above you, creating the floating cocoon shape with which users of gathered-end hammocks will be familiar. The big difference lies in that the ridge-line ensures an identically-shaped rig every time – something few other hammocks can boast, and a genuine plus point for the Hennessy system, given the relatively long learning curve inherent to hammock camping.

Some people find the gathered-end style a little claustrophobic, but all of the Hennessy models differ in another way from standard gathered-end hammocks in that they’re asymmetrical.

The result is that you will find yourself lying on a diagonal to the ridge-line, with your head slightly to the left and your feet slightly to the right (from the point of view of the user).

This has two noticeable effects. Firstly, it creates more living space in the sling. Secondly, it allows you to lie more or less flat, with your hips resting on the taut centreline of the sling and your extremities out in the slacker side areas. From this position you can easily pull down the edges of the mesh and see out, further reducing any feeling of claustrophobia.

Importantly, when fully zipped up, the hammock as a whole is claimed to be impermeable to the biting insects generally associated with a forest environment. I’ve found this to be true in practice, too.

Thick paracord is used for the two 3m-long suspending ropes, which, together with the webbing straps you’ll wrap around the trees or posts, allows for ample adjustment for the many different situations in which hammocks tend to be rigged.

(If you’re not used to ultralight hammocks, you’ll no doubt be nervous as you lower yourself into the sling for the first time, but those cords can support more than half a tonne, and the webbing straps are made of the same stuff as car seatbelts. Fear not!)

The standard rainfly supplied with the Deep Jungle is a slightly skewed diamond-shaped sheet of lightweight silicone-coated nylon with a taped seam down the middle. The corners of the longer diagonal of the rainfly clip onto two sliding anchors which are knotted to the suspending ropes, just beyond each gathered end of the sling. By sliding these anchors you can precisely tension the rainfly each time you rig the hammock.

Across the shorter diagonal, the corners of the fly are designed to be tied off with guy-lines to suitable anchors (branches, ground stakes, etc), creating a doublet of triangular awnings sloping down and away from each side of the hammock.

The asymmetry of the fly is deliberate: once you lie down diagonally, you’ll see how the shape provides more coverage for your head and feet (it also makes it easier to enter and exit). The guy-lines are several metres long, allowing a lot of flexibility in finding anchor points for the rainfly.

All of this stuffs into a compact, breathable drawstring sack, which comes emblazoned with setup instructions – particularly useful while you’re still new to the system.

Options When Ordering the Hennessy Hammock Deep Jungle

When you order the Deep Jungle, you’ll have the option to choose from a variety of rainflies, including the larger Hex model which, as the name suggests, sports six anchor points instead of four. As well as the silicone-coated nylon version of the Hex, you can also choose from a range of cheaper, heavier and tougher 70D polyester rainflies in a variety of colours.

If you’re expecting really wet weather, or you’re not concerned about minimising weight and pack size and would prefer a more substantial awning under which to stow all of your gear (and your bike), you might opt for one of the Hex rainflies.

The Hennessy Deep Jungle Hammock rigged with a Hex fly The Hennessy Deep Jungle Hammock rigged with a Hex fly

At the other end of the scale, you can upgrade to a ‘hyperlight’ 20D silnylon version of the standard rainfly and shave a few grams more off the complete package.

The standard 42-inch (107cm) webbing straps can be swapped out for longer 72-inch (183cm) or 96-inch (244cm) straps at no extra cost. I originally got the regular straps, and on a fair few occasions I’ve been wishing I had the longer ones. Unless you really need to save weight – in which case you can compensate by a certain amount with clever rigging – I would suggest going with at least the 72-inch straps, which will allow more flexibility in terms of tree-trunk diameter and spacing. For full flexibility, get the 96-inch straps (and wrap them a couple of extra times if you need them to be shorter).

The optional insulation system for the Deep Jungle is essentially a reflective sheet of bubble-wrap designed to be inserted between the two bottom layers of fabric and held there with a couple of elasticated snap hooks and grommets.

It makes considerably more difference to your comfort than you might imagine – if you’ve ever slept on the ground without a camping mat, you’ll be aware of how much body heat is lost to the surface you’re sleeping on, and the same is true with hammocks and the cold air below. For anything other than the hottest climates, I would highly recommend adding one to your order, or using your own camping mat (see below for some tips on this).

Finally, if you’re particularly tall and/or heavy – the standard Deep Jungle is rated for users up to 180cm/6′ tall and 115kg/250lbs in weight – consider the XL model, which is rated for users up to 213cm/7′ and 136kg/300lbs.

Rigging & Usage: Getting the Most Out Of the Hennessy Hammock Deep Jungle

Between the Hennessy Hammock website and Youtube there are more than enough tutorials on basic rigging techniques for all Hennessy Hammock models.

Rather than regurgitate the process, I will offer some ‘pro tips’ from personal experience to help cycle tourers and bikepackers get the most out of using the Deep Jungle.

Tips for Packing & Preparation

Firstly, when preparing for your trip, there are a few things I’d suggest you add to your packing list – and to your skill set:

  • In case of a lack of suitable anchors for the rainfly and/or side elastics, I would suggest carrying at least two lightweight ground stakes. You can use your bike as one of the anchors too – I sometimes lie mine on the ground and tie one guy-line off to the frame or rear rack – but if it’s very windy or gusty it’s better to have a secure ground stake than something that might get dislodged and slacken your rainfly in a storm.
  • Learning how to tie a suitable slide-and-grip knot will make adjustment of the rainfly a cinch (no pun intended), as well as making you feel like a proper bushcraft pro. The rainfly fabric tends to slacken a little when it gets wet, and you won’t always get it shedding water perfectly until you’ve built up some experience, so adjustability comes in useful throughout the duration of a pitch, not just at the time of initial setup.
  • The Deep Jungle is supplied with a couple of plastic snap hooks and a hanging mesh pocket for storing bits and bobs inside the hammock, but I find a couple of suitably-rated carabiners come in useful for hanging panniers, shoes, etc, from the suspension ropes beneath the ends of the rainfly, especially when the ground is wet.

Tips for Insulation

The Hennessy Double Bubble insulation mat is extremely light but does add a fair bit of bulk. It’s also far from comfortable when used as a ground mat.

If you want a more versatile (and more packable) system, you might prefer to experiment with modifying a regular inflatable sleeping pad for use with the hammock instead. On this topic:

  • The optimal solution is to permanently affix two elasticated snap hooks to your sleeping pad in the same configuration as the Double Bubble, perhaps making use of the fabric patches and adhesive supplied with your pad’s puncture repair kit. (As a reminder, these hooks attach to grommets between the two layers of the hammock sling, ensuring your mat doesn’t slide around during the night.)
  • I’ve had best results with lower-profile ‘self-inflating’ mats which have a little foam in the core, as they provide more insulation when slightly under-inflated. Doing this allows the pad to wrap around you better when you’re lying in the hammock.
  • Wider pads also work better than regular-width pads for the same reason. Conversely, narrow and minimal ultralight mats are next to useless.
  • Needless to say, expect a little trial and error with all of this!

Tips for Rigging

When rigging the hammock, and especially if you’re new to hammock camping, here are a few points to bear in mind:

  • Think carefully about height. Too low and you won’t be able to stash your bike and gear beneath the rig, you’ll have less flexibility in finding guy-line anchors for the rainfly, and it’ll be harder to enter/exit. Too high and you won’t be able to reach your shoes in the morning or fire up the stove you thought you’d left within reach.
  • There’s a steeper learning curve to hammock rigging than with tent pitching, as you get used to the shape the hammock takes when you’re lying in it, how much tension you should apply to the suspension ropes to compensate for when the hammock is loaded, and other such nuances. As with all such skills, best to practice before you need it!
  • If you want to feel less enclosed, and suitable anchors are available, you can rig the rainfly guy-line higher on the zip side of the hammock to allow a better view. Make sure the roof is still slanted, though, so that if it does rain unexpectedly the fly will still shed water rather than collecting it.
  • In dry weather you might be tempted not to bother with the rainfly. However, remember that sleeping under a tree canopy means that leaves, seeds, insects and other things are likely to gently fall on you throughout the night. The rainfly is therefore for protection from solids as well as liquids!
  • Conversely, in wet weather, it’s better to steepen the sides of the rainfly. Not only will there be less chance of water pooling but you’ll also have more side protection (from wind, wind-blown rain, and water splashing up from the ground). It’s a bit trickier to enter and exit the hammock, but far less inconvenient than not being able to sleep because you’re wet!

Tips for Usage

When you’ve rigged the hammock and have your camp set up, I’d offer the following tips for getting the most out of the system:

  • When entering or exiting the hammock, resist the temptation to only partially unzip the door. Instead, unzip the whole way, as instructed. There’s a good reason for this: you’ll put a huge strain on the zip slider during entry and exit if you don’t. If you want the hammock to last, get into the habit of fully unzipping it each time.
  • If you’re in a relatively bug-free spot and want to use the hammock for sitting or lounging, it’s possible to unzip and pull the mesh all the way back over the ridgeline. In this configuration you can sit on the perpendicular of the sling, either cross-legged or with your legs hanging over. There’s full back support in this position and it’s an excellent way to relax, meditate, cook, read, write blog posts about hammocks, or do whatever it is you like to do when you’re not cycling or sleeping.

Tips for Worst-Case Scenarios

In the situation every hammock camper seems to dread – being unable to find two suitable trees or poles – here’s my advice with the Deep Jungle:

  • Using your bike as an upright support can allow you to rig the system as a makeshift tarp shelter. First, attach the rainfly to the suspending ropes. Next, stand the (unloaded) bike at the head end of the hammock, then pass the suspending rope over the top tube and stake it out on the far side of the bike. Finally, stake out the suspending rope at the foot end, followed by the sides of the rainfly. Ta-da – instant tarp and bivvy!
  • If your bike doesn’t have a stand, you can clove-hitch the suspending rope to the frame before you stake it out.
  • Alternatively, flip your bike upside down and stand it on its handlebars for stability (remembering to protect your expensive Brooks saddle from whatever’s on the ground).
  • Again, learning a slide-and-grip knot for the ropes and guy-lines will make such a rig infinitely easier to adjust.
  • Place your sleeping pad or insulation sheet directly on the ground to protect the delicate hammock fabric. A space blanket* works in a pinch.
  • There is a whole page on the Hennessy website about setting the hammock up on the ground (though it assumes you have trekking poles).

If you think this might be a regular-case scenario, rather than a worst-case one, it might be better to bring a waterproof bivvy bag and a length of paracord instead, then use the tarp alone for a shelter – or, of course, to reconsider whether a hammock is appropriate in the first place if there are that few trees around!

The Hennessy Hammock Deep Jungle: In Summary

Camping hammocks seem to have become somewhat en vogue in recent years, with most of the usual big outdoor brands now selling them. Most seem to be designed for casual use at best, and none, in my opinion, come close to the balance struck by the Hennessy between lightweight portability, adaptability to a huge range of conditions, and proven durability over time.

The Deep Jungle model in particular is one of the most versatile hammocks in the range, and that versatility can be extended further with the options available when you’re ordering it, by developing your rigging skills, and by knowing how to get the best out of a product with a relatively long learning curve.

In short, if you’re looking for a professional-grade camping hammock for a cycle tour or bikepacking trip that can deal with more or less any situation you could reasonably throw at it, you’ll find little more respected a hammock on offer than this.


Base pricing for Hennessy Hammock Deep Jungle Zip at the time of writing is USD $289.95 / GBP £249.95 / EUR €279.95 / CAD $339.95. You can order them direct from Hennessy’s UK, USA, EU and Canada websites, where you can access the full range of buying options and take advantage of seasonal discounts.

Categories
Equipment Gear Reviews

Terra Nova Starlite 2 Bikepacking Tunnel Tent: Long-Term Review & Photos

Full disclosure: Terra Nova sent me this tent on long-term loan for review on my blog. I agreed on the basis that I would return it after the testing period was over. I’ve received no payments or other benefits for this.

For the last 12 months I’ve been road-testing a relatively new tent from veteran British tent-maker Terra Nova. The Starlite range is aimed squarely at bikepackers and cycle tourists and comes in 1‑, 2- and 3‑berth options.

I’ve been using the 2‑berth version – the Starlite 2 – on all my cycling, hiking and road trips since April 2018, and with summer approaching fast, it’s about time for a detailed write-up after a year of thorough and varied testing. You tend to form a close relationship with your ‘mobile home’ on extended bike trips. So how did we get on?

The Terra Nova Starlite 2: In Context

British tent maker Terra Nova has a long track record of producing highly regarded, award-winning, ultralight tents. The Voyager, a heavy-duty all-rounder, has been a favourite among long-distance cycle tourists from the UK for over two decades. The 1‑berth Laser Comp was the first sub-1kg tent in its class when it launched 15 years ago and remains an ultralight backpackers’ classic today. So why launch something new?

Well, with the explosion of bikepacking, its associated packing style, and a trend towards touring with lighter loads, I think Terra Nova saw an opportunity for a tent tailored to this niche.

Thus, the Starlite series aims to strike a balance between the low weight of the Laser Comp and the liveability of the Voyager, paying specific attention to the packing considerations of the bikepacker while retaining the excellent all-weather performance this British tent maker is known for.

Have they succeeded? I think so – as long as you can live with the relatively fiddly process of pitching a tunnel tent. But whether or not you’ll buy one will also be a question of where and when you plan to use it. More on that later…

First Impressions

Out of the box, the appeal of the Starlite 2 to bikepackers is instantly clear. It’s short – the poles are just 29cm long when collapsed – and the storage bag is not a flimsy tube of ultralight fly material but a tough canvas sack with multiple rows of webbing loops.

In other words, it’s off-the-shelf ready to strap to your handlebars, hang off the back of your saddle, slide into a seatpack, or throw into a small pannier.

Pitching for the first time, I recognised the signature features of Terra Nova tents: the all-in-one pitching style, the underfloor reinforcement straps taking the strain off the floor material, the colour-coded poles and sleeves, and the wild-camping friendly colours of pine-needle green flysheet and bright yellow inner.

Working my way through the pitch, I was reassured by the clear attention to detail and the seemingly sturdy materials and build. It felt like a quality product. (And I’ve spent a lot of nights in a lot of tents!)

Intended Usage

This is a somewhat specialised tent. As noted above, accepted wisdom in bikepacking and cycle touring circles is that freestanding tents are generally more versatile than tents that require staking out. As a tunnel tent, the Starlite is in the latter camp, requiring a minimum of 7 stakes to properly erect, and all 11 for the most robust pitch.

Terra Nova’s aim with the Starlite, however, is not maximum global versatility (that’s what the Voyager is for) but top performance for its intended type of user: bikepackers and ultralight cycle tourists from the UK.

As a rule of thumb, a tent’s design reflects its place of origin; thus British tents tend towards all-weather performance, prioritising waterproofing and stability in changeable weather and on soft, damp ground.

Happily, these design priorities remain relevant in many other temperate-zone locations you might consider for overseas touring.

If, on the other hand, you’re setting out across the tropics or the desert and want a freestanding mesh inner, the Starlite probably won’t be for you.

Liveability

Tunnel tents can sometimes feel a little claustrophobic as there’s only so much headroom such a structure can offer, especially with the smallest models.

The Starlite 2 strikes a good balance in this respect. It offers more headspace than the ultra-minimal shelters favoured by some bikepackers, though it doesn’t quite compete with the cavernous Hubba Hubba NX (86cm vs 100cm of headroom, and one entrance/porch instead of two). It sounds like a small point, but it is nice to be able to sit upright inside your tent while you’re changing your clothes in the evening or pulling on layers in the morning. The Starlite 2 just manages this for me (I’m 5 foot 11).

The Starlite 2 has a generous porch (or awning) area for gear storage. If you buy the optional footprint (ie: floor protector), this will extend to cover the whole porch area. Because it has quite a long floor (220cm), there’s a little space for additional gear (or particularly tall people!) in the slightly tapered foot end too, even if both berths are occupied.

While the most minimally-minded of solo bikepackers will go straight for the 1‑berth version of the Starlite, I’ve always felt that taking a 2‑berth tent on solo trips pays off every night in comfort and convenience. I’ll notice this much more than the extra weight, because pedalling is just pedalling, but I want my camps to be a time to relax and enjoy.

Pitching The Starlite 2

I initially found the pitching process to be more fiddly than the various free-standing and wedge-shaped tents I’ve previously lived in. In my circumstances this would have been true of any tunnel tent, a design style in which the structure is provided as much by the stakes and guylines as by the poles.

After a few pitches, of course, it became second nature, and I feel the extra faffing at the end of the day is compensated for by the extra stability, weather resistance and reduced overall weight of the design.

In terms of venting, it’s possible to adjust the awning zippers to allow air in beneath a ribbed hood, or to roll up the door completely in fine weather, either way allowing the half-mesh door of the inner tent to breathe. At the foot end, another mesh panel and an external hooded vent allow a reasonable through-flow of air. I wouldn’t want to spend a whole day in a Starlite in the heat of summer, but I don’t expect many riders would have that in mind anyway.

One thing I did notice during multi-day pitches – and this is fairly typical of ultralight fabrics – was the tendency of the flysheet to sag a little when wet and then to contract again when dry. On a couple of occasions when the tent was completely soaked, this resulted in some contact (and therefore dripping) between the inner and outer layers.

To combat this, the adjustable cinch straps by the pole attachment points allow the fly to be tightened or slackened, and together with the adjustable guylines I found I could easily tweak my pitch to compensate.

All-Weather Performance

Only a prolonged period of real-world use can demonstrate how a product deals with being used over time and in the full range of conditions it’s designed for.

(That’s why I’ll never review a piece of gear unless I’ve used it on a long-term basis.)

Given that the Starlite is pitched (sorry) as a three-season tent, its priorities should be to keep the occupant(s) dry in a downpour and on sodden ground, while also venting condensation in cool, damp conditions, and allowing adequate air through on hot summer nights. This is actually quite a tall order.

I had a particularly good opportunity to test the Starlite’s performance in the extremes of weather during a week-long trail maintenance camp in the Greater Caucasus range of northern Georgia, where I had the tent pitched in the same spot for a week. The weather was typical of summers in this mountain region: hot, sunny days and cold nights (ie: big temperature gradients), with sudden and violent lightning storms rolling through almost every day.

Even when it felt like all the water and electricity in the known universe was being dumped upon our camp, the Starlite didn’t leak a drop. With a hydrostatic head rating of 5000/6000mm for the fly and floor fabric respectively, the waterproof materials here are – on paper – among the most heavy-duty of tents in this class (compare to 1200/3000mm for the Hubba NX range).

And it barely flinched during a particularly vicious hailstorm which literally punched holes in the flysheet of my friend’s ageing Marmot next door.

In short (and always assuming you choose a good site and pitch correctly), I’m pleased to report typical solid Terra Nova performance on the all-weather front.

Weight, Size & Packability

The Starlite touts itself as a bikepackers’ tent, and this seems to be mainly about portability when packed down. Terra Nova have achieved this by shortening the collapsible pole sections down to 29cm each and packing the result into a sack about the size and shape of a summer synthetic sleeping bag.

(It’s arguable that the increased number of pole sections introduces more potential points of failure. My experience is that aluminium poles fail either because of general fatigue over years of use, or because someone clumsy trips over or treads on them – not because a telescopic-section design is inherently weak.)

Having spent years strapping tents to the top of my rear rack, I’ve found the packed-down Starlite no longer occupies the role of that annoyingly unwieldy piece of luggage I have to find a home for, fitting into a small pannier as happily as on my handlebar harness or in my seatpack. This is actually really nice.

And when weighed against other tents favoured by bikepackers and cycle tourists – disciplines in which packed weight/size and liveability are often equally important – the Starlite 2 fares impressively, rated by the manufacturer at 1.53kg off the shelf (compare with 1.76kg for the Hubba Hubba NX), with the solo Starlite 1 just 1.12kg.

The Terra Nova Starlite 2: In Summary

The Terra Nova Starlite 2 is a premium-quality 2‑berth tunnel tent which is generously liveable and will stand up to the worst temperate-zone weather you’d ever choose to ride through. It also happens to be extremely light and practically sized for the various ways you might pack it on a bikepacking rig.

At a list price of £595, it’s hardly cheap, and therefore it’s likely to be a purchase many will spend a long time pondering. Whether – when it comes to opening your wallet – the selling point of packability would tip the balance in the Starlite’s favour is for you to judge, but I will say that, after a year of road-testing, it’s made such a difference to my bikepacking routine that I’m surprisingly reluctant to send it back.

Order the Terra Nova Starlite 2 direct from the manufacturer, or find it at Amazon*, Wiggle*, AlpineTrek.co.uk*, Trekitt or UltralightOutdoorGear.co.uk.

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Bikes Equipment Gear Reviews

Kona Sutra 2015 Touring Bike: A Preview

[UPDATE: Kona’s updated 2016 Sutra has recently been announced. Check out my preview here.]

The Kona Sutra has been my short-haul road tourer of choice for the last few years, ever since I rode a 2012 model of the Kona Sutra down the Pacific Coast of America in 2012.

When I reviewed the 2014 Sutra, it seemed to me that Kona had moved it away from road touring towards more adventurous back-road and rough-road tours.

This was probably a good move, as there are many well-established touring bikes to compete with, but not so many in the field of short-haul, mixed-terrain touring. It wasn’t perfect, however, and I noted as such in my detailed review.

What’s changed for the 2015 Sutra?

This week, Kona have unveiled their 2015 bike range, which includes (of course) an updated Sutra.

Here’s the current 2014 model, for comparison:

sutra (1)

And here’s the upcoming 2015 version:

 

sutra

The frameset is the same as last year, sharing its geometry with the Rove. But there are some welcome improvements in terms of specification, which appear to bring the bike into clearer focus regarding what it actually wants to do.

Most obvious (besides the new paint job) is the presence of a Brooks B17 expedition touring saddle and a pair of 35C Schwalbe Marathon Tour Plus tyres as stock. The brake levers have also been upgraded. In short, the contact points have been improved. Comfort being critical on tour, this makes sense.

These are Schwalbe’s premier all-terrain expedition tyres, cementing the Sutra’s reinvention as a mixed-terrain adventure bike with luggage-carrying capabilities. And the B17 needs no introduction as the saddle of choice for 90% of serious tourers on all kinds of rides. It’s a definite statement of intent.

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6 (1)

It’s difficult to tell from the press release photos whether or not the 2014’s mudguard clearance issue has been fixed, but at least the front derailleur clearance appears to have been addressed and the third bottle cage mount has been reinstated.

The rear rack has been changed since Blackburn discontinued the one used on the 2014 model, and the new Sutra now sports a Chinese model from Bor Yeuh bearing more than a passing resemblance to the Tubus Cosmo. It’ll get you going; more demanding riders will probably swap out this budget rack for something more reassuring.

The front rack has been removed altogether for 2015. More and more short-haul tourers are going lightweight, so this is little surprise. (There are still mounts for fitting aftermarket racks, of course.)

Aside from a couple of other minor component swaps, all else appears to be very similar to the Sutra’s current incarnation.

7 (1)

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5

7

The Kona Sutra 2015 is sub-optimal as a true round-the-world heavy-duty touring bike, for reasons stated in the original review, but as a developed-world adventure bike with a much broader terrain range than your standard road tourer, it’s got a lot going for it.

As always, I’ll reserve further judgement until I’ve taken one for a test-ride, the experience of which says far more about a bike than photos and specifications ever could.

The Kona Sutra 2015 is available online in the UK from Evans*, Wiggle* and Cyclestore.co.uk*, the latter of whom will give you £120 of free accessories into the bargain — a pretty good deal. Only order online if you’re 100% sure of sizing and fit; if you aren’t, it’s really worth spending a few extra quid down the local bike shop.
Categories
Bikes Equipment Gear Reviews

Ridgeback Expedition Touring Bike Review & Detailed Photos

Disclosure: I was eager to test-ride the Ridgeback Expedition, as it looked on paper like a brave and welcome entry at the lower end of the 26-inch wheel expedition bike market in the UK. It was returned to Ridgeback after the testing period was over. I’m not affiliated with Ridgeback in any way.

Overview

Released in 2014, the Ridgeback Expedition is a 26-inch wheel equipped touring bike at the low-middle of the pricing scale. It’s one of their World series of bikes, which also includes the well-regarded Panorama (reviewed here last week).

Ridgeback Expedition: overview 2

The bike’s build and specification orients it strongly towards long-haul expedition-style touring in the developing world with a big lean towards journeys incorporating plenty of unpaved roads.

These qualities, of course, make it an attractive proposition for those looking for a round-the-world tourer; a bike that can be depended upon in the long term, easily maintained and repaired the world over, and taken comfortably across a variety of terrain with a full complement of luggage.

While most new bikes built for the demands of world touring cost upwards of £1,200 (and regularly approach and sometimes exceed £2,000), the Expedition’s RRP of just £850 is an attention grabber. Though still a pretty decent wedge of cash, it’s notably less than the sticker price of most competing 26-inch wheel equipped expedition bikes.

Ridgeback Expedition: head tube branding

Given that you generally get what you pay for with bikes in this price bracket, I was interested to find out where Ridgeback had compromised to bring the price down, and whether those compromises were likely to make sense in the long run.

Categories
Equipment Gear Reviews

Crosso Dry, Twist & Expert Pannier Review & Detailed Photos

Disclosure: The Dry and Expert panniers reviewed here were originally supplied by Extrawheel during my testing of their prototype Voyager trailer. I then bought a pair of Twists on the strength of their performance, and use them to this day.

Crosso are a Polish manufacturer of waterproof drybags and bicycle panniers. I’ve used their panniers and drybags for 7 years, riding thousands of miles with them in a huge range of climates and conditions. While my recommendation comes with some caveats, I’ve become a big fan of their simplicity and functionality — not to mention their very affordable price-tags.

Their panniers come in four models; I’ll be reviewing the rear (large) versions of the ‘Dry’, ‘Twist’ and ‘Expert’ lines in this article.

Lake Crescent

Overview

The three models of Crosso rear pannier reviewed here have a lot in common, all being fully waterproof and sharing the same basic shape, attachment system, roll-top closure and reflective patches.

They’re some of the biggest-capacity waterproof panniers on the market, outdoing the more ubiquitous brands by a large margin at around 60 litres per pair, and costing less into the bargain. Though shipping costs push up the price for those outside Poland and especially outside the EU, they’re attractive to tourers who are looking for flexibility with available packing volume.

The main compartment of all the panniers is a simplistic drybag with hooks on it; there are no internal pockets or features, so it’s up to you to organise your gear within them. Some like this method, others prefer lots of inner pockets. I prefer simplicity, using smaller drybags inside the pannier for organisation and just-in-case additional waterproofing.

The lack of thorough English-language reviews puts many potential buyers off the idea of importing them — hence, in part, the existence of the detailed review you’re reading now that I’ve penned in the name of good and proper buying advice.

What’s the difference between Crosso Dry, Crosso Twist and Crosso Expert?

The most basic and cheapest of the range are the Dry panniers, constructed from wipe-clean PVC-coated fabric. They’re fully waterproof when the closure is rolled down properly, and as good as any other high-quality waterproof roll-top pannier in this respect.

Crosso Dry panniers on a trailer 3

However, cheaper construction materials inevitably lead to durability issues in the long run, and I’ve found that the Dry panniers are significantly more susceptible to abrasion-related damage than the Twist or Expert panniers. I’ve also encountered issues with the welded seams beginning to come slightly apart at the corners, although not until after many months of fully-loaded use, and this has never actually affected their usefulness.

The Twist panniers are identical to the Dry panniers except for the reverse-laminated Cordura fabric used in their construction, which makes them far more abrasion-resistant than the Dry panniers and makes them the better choice for the long haul if you can afford the extra cost.

Crosso Twist panniers packed in use

It makes no difference whatsoever to their waterproofness. Some might speculate that when submerged the weave would eventually wick moisture through the rolled top faster than the PVC of the Dry panniers, but your bag would have to have been floating down a river for some time before this really became an issue.

Unlike the Dry panniers, the Twist panniers also feature a pair of horizontal cinch-straps with buckles on the rear-facing portion of the bags, which in theory allow the user to (carefully) strap suitable items to the outside of the bag. (I’ve never found a use for them myself.)

The Expert panniers are identical to the Twist panniers in almost every way, with the addition of a lid with a zipped mesh pocket on the underside, plus relevant webbing to allow it to be secured to the bag; and a removable roll-top pocket on the reverse of the bag (also available separately), secured by the same straps present on the Twist.

Crosso Expert rear pockets in use

Together, these additions increase the overall capacity of a pair of panniers considerably above the already-generous capacity of the Dry and Twist models.

Crosso Expert panniers on an Extrawheel in Mongolia

The lid allows for the panniers to be over-filled and fewer rolls of fabric to be used to close the bag while remaining rainproof. The reverse pockets allow for separation of items you may not want to keep in the main compartment, such as greasy rags and tools, or stoves and fuel.

Crosso Expert rear pocket detail

The straps that attach the rear pockets are somewhat fiddly, however, particularly if the pockets themselves are not completely full, which leads to the contents being shaken about.

Waterproofing

Having carried my worldly possessions along the Black Sea Coast of Turkey for two months in winter, during which rarely a day passed without rain, I can safely say that the Crosso Dry panniers are 100% waterproof — IF you close them correctly. (The same statement could be made, of course, for every decent quality roll-top drybag in existence.)

Crosso Dry panniers on a trailer 2

Three or ideally four rolls of fabric are necessary to achieve full waterproofing in prolonged rain, followed by folding the two buckles towards each other and clipping them together. Though a separate handle is fitted, the buckles themselves make for a good carry handle too.

Crosso Dry panniers on an Extrawheel in Mongolia 3

Where the Crosso Dry panniers fall down in the waterproofing department is not in the closure but in the durability of the fabric over time. After a few months of being mounted, dismounted, dragged, dropped, leant up against things, and generally abused in the way that all gear is abused over the course of a long-term tour, they were in need of several repairs, particularly to the edge and corners of the bottom of the back face, where the fabric had been damaged by being caught between the rigid internal back-board and the external object in question.

(It’s for this reason that the more expensive Ortliebs, for example, have solid external reinforcement on these particular corners and edges.)

Puncture holes were also present in the fabric of the main part of the bag, and in several places the PVC coating had been scraped and grazed. This is all typical of a PVC waterproof pannier of this type and price, and no such pannier will stay waterproof forever. You’ll need to bring something to make repairs with, whether that’s a self-adhesive puncture patch*, something more specialised like McNett Tenacious Tape*, or good old Gaffa Tape.

Crosso panniers: bottom corner damage

The Crosso Twist and Crosso Expert panniers suffer far less from abrasion-related punctures to the fabric because of the Cordura material used in their construction, but are still susceptible to the bottom-rear-corner damage due to the vulnerability mentioned above. It’s worth being aware of this and avoiding dropping or dumping the bags on these corners, which is how the damage is done, though, again, this is something that’s easy enough to repair given a little handiwork and the supplies to do so.

Crosso panniers: external bottom corner fabric damage

While the lid of the Crosso Expert panniers adds a layer of rain protection to a very full pannier, I’ve never managed to cram enough stuff into mine for this to really come into play. In fact, I came to view the lid as a hindrance and eventually removed it, because of the time taken to open and close it and because of the various straps involved (which is why I’ve ended up keeping the Twists for long-term use).

Crosso Twist and Expert panniers in deep winter 2

In short; these panniers are waterproof until punctured — at which point, you can fix them. In this way they are the same as all waterproof panniers, regardless of price. The Drys are cheap but will need attention sooner, and the Twists and Experts are pricier but significantly more hard-wearing in the long run.

Rack Attachment & Compatibility

The attachment system used by all of the Crosso panniers is the same: two chunky metal hooks along the top edge of the rear of the pannier, and a single elasticated hook on the bottom.

Crosso panniers: rear face and attachment

While it might sound insecure, it isn’t: the tensioning strap is super-strong and the position of the bottom hook is suitably adjustable. Mine have come loose on only one or two occasions over the last 7 years, and only when riding on extremely challenging off-road terrain in Mongolia.

Crosso panniers: lower attachment hook

There’s no adjustment possible for the position of the top hooks. While this means that the fixtures can be made extremely strong by using metal rivets for attachment, you’ll need to be sure that they’re compatible with your racks or lowriders. I’ve used mine successfully with a Tubus Logo, a Blackburn TRX‑1, and a variety of cheap, anonymous rear racks.

Crosso panniers: Carry handle wear & tear

(For reference, the distance between the two hooks is 182mm with a couple of millimetres’ flexibility. Each hook is 16mm in width and will fit a rack with tubing of up to 14mm diameter.)

Crosso pannier rack attachment hooks

Because the hooks are metal and therefore fairly unforgiving, it’s worth protecting any rack tubing’s coating or paintwork from being damaged over time by movement and abrasion between the hooks and the tubing. Crosso apparently now supply protective patches for just this purpose.

Crosso pannier rack attachment hooks 2

Restriction of fore-aft movement of the panniers, accomplished on other panniers via a catch on the rear side of the pannier that fits over one of the vertical tubes of the rack, is not catered for by Crosso; instead you have to rely upon the position of the top hooks between the rack tubing and the limited range of movement allowed by the bottom hook. I’ve never found this an issue, though I have had to modify my Tubus Logo with the addition of some cable-ties between parts of the rear tubing to prevent the pannier from being pushed back too far back and falling off.

Crosso Twist rear panniers

Not every rack has an appropriate point onto which to clip the bottom hook, so Crosso now supply a pair of adapters with their rear panniers which are designed to be mounted to the same bolt used to mount the rack itself to the bike’s rear dropouts. (Thanks to Panu in Finland for the photo.)

crosso-hook-adapter

(This wasn’t available when I bought mine, so I angle-grinded the lower hooks into a taper in order to attach them to the rack that came with one of my touring bikes.)

Crosso panniers: lower attachment hook detail

In short, there are more adjustable mounting systems on the market, but Crosso’s mount is strong, durable and effective — as long as your racks are compatible. Check before buying.

Build Quality

The quality of these bags is generally very good — particularly the Cordura models, which give you a heck of a lot of fully-waterproofed capacity for a very reasonable sum of money. I’ve already mentioned the limited longevity of the PVC material used for the Crosso Dry panniers, so I’ll not repeat it here.

Crosso Twist pannier close-up

The Crosso panniers are a lower-budget option than the top-end German waterproof pannier brands, however, and this does show in some minor areas. Specifically, I’ve noticed that on every Crosso pannier I’ve owned (of every model), the plastic caps on the rear surface of the inside of the pannier have a habit of coming off.

Crosso panniers: Missing rivet cap

These glued caps cover the heads of the rivets fastening the back-board to the attachment hooks, and while it’s not an issue from a structural point of view, it does leave nasty little metal rivet-heads exposed and waiting to do damage to the contents of the panniers. Like so many things on a bike tour, I solved the issue with a little Gaffa Tape. (Is there nothing it won’t fix?)

Crosso panniers: Field repairs

My only other quality-related gripe has to do with the removable rear pocket of the Expert model. Its plastic attachment hooks over a webbing strap sewn to the pannier, before being fastened with two additional straps round the pocket itself. On my panniers, this plastic attachment hook had a rather sharp edge to it, and via bumping and vibrations when in motion, this slowly cut into the webbing strap until after two months of (admittedly pretty hardcore) use in Outer Mongolia. The front straps would have retained the pocket, but there’s still room for improvement here — simply smoothing off the edges of the plastic hook would do it.

In short, the quality is as good as most waterproof panniers, and the few minor potential issues won’t unduly affect you when you’re actually on the road.

Summary

Crosso Dry panniers in use

The Crosso Dry 60-litre rear panniers are for those on a budget: roll-top panniers with a big capacity and which will last well on a short trip if looked-after. They’ll need an increasing amount of attention as time goes on due to the damage-prone fabric.

Crosso Twist panniers in use

The Crosso Twist 52-litre rear panniers are a happy medium: large-capacity fully-waterproof drybags for bikes, constructed of tough, abrasion-resistant fabric, and at a very good price, even with shipping on top.

Crosso Expert panniers on an Extrawheel in Mongolia

The Crosso Expert 60-litre rear panniers are similar to the Twists but with bells and whistles, introducing a lid (of limited utility) and a handy rear pocket (also available separately to be used with the Twists).

Crosso Twist and Expert panniers in deep winter plus drybag

All of these lines have matching front (small) pannier sets available, at 35 litres per pair for the Dry and Twist and 40 litres for the Expert. Crosso also manufacture drybags from the same lines, should you be looking for a rack-top bag to match.

Conclusions

The biggest selling point of the whole range is their capacity. I’ve toured for months using just a pair of Crosso Twist panniers and a handlebar bag, and found that this was all the capacity I needed for my long-term touring gear; infinitely preferable in my view to the ubiquitous but heavy and difficult-to-manoeuvre four-pannier setup.

Crosso Twist panniers on a Kona Sutra

In my view, the Twist panniers represent the best compromise of functionality, durability, capacity and value for money from the range of Crosso panniers I’ve used.

When I’m not touring, I can happily fit my weekly groceries into a pair of large Crosso Twists, leaving the tops unrolled if I need the additional space.

Crosso Twist panniers on a road bike

On the downside, the attachment system is more limited than some in terms of rack compatibility, and there’s a question mark over the build quality in some minor areas — though thankfully nothing mission-critical.

You’ll have to prepare for repairs in the long run, as with all waterproof panniers — but assuming you’re happy with this and with the other compromises detailed above, Crosso’s range is very good value for money and very much a pannier range to consider for an adventurous bicycle journey of any length.

Crosso’s panniers are available to order worldwide via their webstore, www.crosso.net. In the UK, they’re available to order direct from EMK Cycles in Weston-Super-Mare via their Amazon Storefront* and their eBay store*.