Top 5 bits of gear
Having been on the road for nearly 9 months, I have come to know my equipment pretty well. A few bits have come and gone, while others have made it the whole distance so far. But there are a few things that I have come to truly love and depend on. Here are my top five!
1. Sleeping Bag and Mat – Rab Ascent 500 XL and Thermarest Neoair
One of the key things in order to keep going each day is to get enough sleep. I’m usually pretty exhausted by the end of a long day cycling and need to recover each night ready for the new challenges to come. A good night’s sleep is pretty essential and I have a couple of great bits of kit which usually make this possible. A sleeping mat has two key purposes; make the ground comfortable enough to sleep on and insulate you from the cold of the earth. This one is an absolute beauty. It packs down incredibly small and weighs hardly anything. You have to blow it up yourself but this just means that there is less to go wrong. So far it has proven to be very tough and softens even the most uncomfortable surface. Fully inflated it is about 4 inches thick and provides excellent insulation from the ground. It took a bit of practice to get the right pressure for it to be perfectly comfortable, but these days I always look forward to laying down on it. To compliment this, you need a good sleeping bag. There were times, mainly in Australia, when I didn’t even need one. This is great, but it is very important to have something that will keep you warm when it does get extremely cold. This is a down sleeping bag from Rab and it is rated to be comfortable down to about 0 degrees. There are a few times it has really been tested, most notably in the Haast Pass in New Zealand and in Northern California, but it has come through with flying colours. It is only on these very extreme occasions when I have had to sleep with anything more than shorts and a t shirt on. Being a down bag, it is extremely light and small, though I did need the larger version which makes it slightly heavier. The one drawback with a down bag is that it is very important not to get it wet, but overall, the benefits have far outweighed this one negative.
2. Tent – MSR Hubba Hubba
I’ve reviewed this on here before. If you have read that then you will know I’m a big fan of this tent for plenty of practical reasons. But the most important thing for me, is that it has become home. Wherever I pitch it, it provides a safe haven from the rain and wind. It also keeps the thousands of biting insects away from me as I sleep. A trip like this takes you back to some very basic requirements. Primarily food and shelter. It is essential to know that anything under the fly of the tent will stay dry. This means I can always get warm and I can protect my other stuff. I also love the colour. Wild camping is becoming a more regular option as I cross Canada. The green blends in very well and allows me to avoid drawing attention to myself. Wild camping is legal on a lot of Canadian land but it makes it much easier if people just never know that you are there. I also appreciate the space of the two man version. The one man would be very tight for someone my size. Just don’t forget to remove all food when you’re in bear country; it won’t keep those out!!
3. Clothes – Berghaus and Icebreaker kit. Louis Garneau and Pearl Izumi Cycling shorts
I’m cheating and lumping a lot of stuff together here, but I really do have some great bits of clothing. Berghaus are a British outdoor brand. I already owned quite a lot of stuff from them but I was also lucky enough to be given some kit as a result of writing some articles for them last year. I have cycled in a Berghaus shirt almost every day for the past 8 months. These shirts have been subjected to every kind of weather imaginable and soaked in sweat, sunscreen grease and occasionally even blood. They are still going strong. They have barely faded and the anti-odour technology is remarkable. Among other pieces of Berghaus kit that I own is my waterproof jacket. It too has been through some pretty stern product testing and has also performed brilliantly. It is about as breathable as it can be but the main positive is that it is seriously waterproof. The one problem is that there needs to be a hole for my head!
Icebreaker are a New Zealand brand and they make an amazing range of Merino wool clothing. The performance of this kit is just superb. It is lightweight, incredibly warm, fast drying and resists odour. My favourite bits of kit from them are a long-sleeve and a short-sleeve baselayer. These are great to cycle in and are perfect to go under any clothes that I put on at the end of the day. They add an extra layer of warmth for minimal weight and don’t smell no matter how much I sweat. I also own a hoodie, long-sleeve t-shirt, leggings and some boxer shorts from Icebreaker and they all stack up equally well.
It doesn’t bear thinking about what these cycling shorts have been put through. The thousands of kilometres covered and gallons of sweat absorbed by these short is just amazing. They have faded slightly and have frayed a little in places but their main purpose – keeping me comfortable – has been met with flying colours at every turn. In combination with my saddle (see point 4), I have barely had any problems. Skin irritation can occur at the end of a long day, but with proper hygiene and regular washing, I am yet to suffer a proper saddle sore of chafing in nearly 15000 km with some pretty extreme conditions thrown in.
4. Saddle – Brooks B17
There are an almost infinite number of saddles out there, but the more I read about cycle touring, the more I kept coming back to a design that has been around for over 100 years. The Brooks B17 is the grandaddy of saddles and long-distance cycle tourers love it for good reason. At first appearances, it doesn’t look comfy (it does look great though!). It is a very simple, hard leather design, and the number of times I’ve been asked “how can that be comfy?” is amazing. The key thing is, that the leather wears in with time. My saddle now has two distinct dimples where the leather has stretched, that correspond perfectly with my sit bones. There are no gel pads to squeeze and put pressure elsewhere, just leather that is uniquely molded to me. It just gets more and more comfortable. With proper treatment, it is also very weather resistant, and another advantage of the leather is that it doesn’t absorb sweat which could then become unhygienic and cause infection. This is an absolute no-brainer of a choice for anybody wanting to do a serious cycle tour.
5. Panniers – Ortlieb back and front roller plus
Similar to the Brooks saddle, the more research I did into Panniers, the more I kept coming back to Ortlieb. There are some other brands out there that would probably do a good job. The difference with Ortlieb; you know they are going to do a good job, simply because they have been used by thousands before you. The clip on system is pretty simple and secure, but the main thing about them is that they are tough and waterproof. End of. If something is in my panniers, and I have done the roll top closure up properly, then it stays dry. I have been through some pretty biblical rain, but when I unpack in my tent at the end of the day, my food, electricals and clothes are all still dry. I couldn’t ask for anything more than this. A small bonus is that the incorporated reflectors add a very good extra bit of visibility, even though the panniers themselves are black. I did actually manage to rip one of them. This was my own fault though, as I crashed into a wall. The fact that the tear was so small was a minor miracle. It also turned out to be pretty straightforward to repair, using a pre-glued tyre patch and some nylon tent glue. Again, like the Brooks, I would never consider doing a tour with any panniers other than Ortliebs. You just know they are going to do the job they were designed for.