Gear Reviews - Sleeping System

When people who only car camp hear that I'm riding my bike out to the woods to sleep outside for one night there is typically one reaction - "Girl, you're nuts. That's way too much work just to sleep outside for one night."

And, I think in their minds, they envision that I'm hauling as much stuff as they would typically take car camping: a cooler, camp chairs, a large tent, shelter, and all sorts of gear. I can't even tell you how many times this contraption has been posted on my Facebook wall:

Nope, sorry mom, not taking this bike camping.

Nope, sorry mom, not taking this bike camping.

 

When I show them pictures of my fully loaded bicycle, then the questions really start to flow. 

And y'all- this was a crappy packing job. I brought a 2 person tent, 2 sleeping pads, a stove, didn't compress my sleeping bag, and brought way too much food. Also, note where my front sleeping pad is- I don't recommend this. But, it worked. So, onto my actual gear reviews and camping hacks.

This post is going to cover my sleeping system. I've gone through a few iterations, and below is what I've found to be the most comfortable by far. Also, when I'm riding or hiking, I like to sleep and wake up well rested. Tossing, turning, and shivering all night do no good for getting in the miles the next day.

This system works in both my 1 person and 2 person tent. When I take my hammock, I ditch the z-pad and just do the inflatable pad as a level of insulation.

My Favorite Sleep System

I'm a cold sleeper. Even in July when it's 60 degrees at night, I'm shivering. I've finally landed on the perfect system that keeps me snug as a bug, even down to 30 degrees (the coldest I've tested it), but I'm guessing it would work even colder, since it's all rated for lower temps.

Bottom level: Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol Sleeping Pad

This pad is the old staple of hikers and bikers. Super light weight, works as a seat rest for sitting on the ground too. This goes on the bottom of my setup and helps insulate the whole package. In the height of summer, I'll sometimes leave this behind (but not usually, as it's so light and perfect for sitting on the ground.) It can be strapped on top of the outside of your bike basically wherever.

Next level: Big Agnes Q Core Insulated SLX Pad

Inflate this bad boy about 90% of the way up and it's the best sleeping pad I've ever used. I'm a side sleeper and it provides awesome support for my hips. Love it. And it's rated down to 15 degrees.

Sleeping bag: REI Joule Women's Sleeping Bag

This is a women's specific down bag with a synthetic outer liner that is water-resistant. Helpful incase your bag gets wet (but I still always pack it in a dry bag just in case, as wet down is useless.) This bag is great as it's shorter so my feet stay warm, and the mummy hood is lovely for cold nights. This bag also accommodates my wide hips pretty well, as it is built for women! Nice job REI!

I also use a simple synthetic pillow, but sometimes depending on space, will just stuff some clothes up into the head space of my bag.

A Note on R-Values and Temperature Ratings

As you search for camping gear, you'll notice that sleeping pads have an R-Value and sleeping bags have a temperature rating on the spec page.

The R-Value will range from 0-10, and the temperature range will be indicated. This is a basically an indication of how warm it will keep you, with a base layer on. Scientifically, it's the capacity of an insulating material to resist heat flow. The higher the R-value, the greater the insulating power. 

You should pick one that meets your needs - consider weight, if you're willing to spend the time blowing up the pad, deflating, etc. And how much it weighs.  For me, I like being warm and toasty, and don't mind blowing up the pad to do so!

Next up: Cooking systems and coffee brewing while camping! 

 

My Bike Camping Essentials

I just got back from my 4th weekend camping in a row and while I was out this weekend I was thinking about my essential gear. Every trip I play with the gear I take, dialing in the system a little bit more each time.  Every time, however, there are those few pieces of gear that are absolutely essential.  So here are mine:

Etekcity Ultralight Backpacking Stove- I bought this for $10 last year and it's the best $10 I've every spent. lt has a built in ignition, packs up smaller than my cell phone, and has been super reliable. (I have it packed up next to a 2oz bottle of Dr. Bronner's for comparison.)

Revelate Mountain Feed Bag-  This is my all time favorite accessory on my bicycle. I use it ALL the time to store all sorts of things- keys, cell phone, camera, trash, beer, food, chapstick. It's so stinking handy. Mesh pockets for little things that you need to access right away, and a drawstring main compartment for keeping stuff in tight. For my longer trips I'll actually put snacks in here to grab while riding and my phone to pull out for photos on the go. When I'm riding around the neighborhood, this is where I keep my keys and cell phone. Love this bag.

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Black Diamond Head Lamp- Nothing fancy about it, but I regretted the first time I left home without it. Absolutely essential for camping.

REI Ditty Sacks- Such a simple concept but I hadn't ever practiced it before: keep yourself organized when you're camping and life is way easier! I use this little ditty sacks and it totally works. The tiny one is for my tools and gadgets (matches, stove, electronics), clothes go in the medium one, and food stuff goes in the big one.  All of those then get packed into my bike bags.  You look like an REI ad when it's all laid out, but, whatever. 

Klymit Static V Sleeping Pad- This is 3rd sleeping pad I've tried and I love it! Extremely small (while packed it's smaller than a nalgene bottle), quiet when sleeping, and pretty comfortable. It also blows up quickly- about 10 breaths and deflates quickly. My only complaint is that it's kind of slippery, but I think I can remedy that with a bit of silicone- just need a weekend off of camping to make that adjustment. At $54 (I got mine cheaper on ebay) it's also not very expensive, although with an R-value of 1.3, it's also not super insulated. Seems to be a pretty good summer sleeping pad so far. I also really appreciate that the stuff sack has a patch kit sewn into it for on-the-go repairs.

 

Paradox Merino Wool Base Layers - I bought two pairs of these a few years ago at Costco for $8 each and have never regretted it. Light, warm, breathable, and perfect for camping in every season. In the summer, I wear them with nothing else, in the winter, I throw on a few more layers and I stay toasty warm. They're absolutely essential. Plus, you can wear them as base layers when riding and they don't smell! Wool is the best!

In compiling all of this, I realized that technically, there's nothing "bike" about any of this gear, except for the Revelate Feedbag. The rest is just camping gear that's easily packable. Really hits home the point that anybody can bike camp- you just need a bike!

A Swing...and a Near Miss

Call it luck or perhaps good planning, but until this weekend all of my bike camping trips have gone off without a hitch. No major mechanical issues, getting lost, or unexpected difficulties. For the most part, I've known exactly what to expect in terms of ride difficulty, length, and weather and have prepared accordingly.

Well, for some reason, I royally screwed up this trip. And I feel really bad because it wasn't just me at stake this time. I took a bike camping virgin with me! GAHHHHH.

My plan was to ride out to Scenic Beach State Park as a way to test out the route for the upcoming Swift Campout and to take part in Adventure Cycling Association's National Bike Travel Weekend. In a few weeks I'll be leading the Bikery's group on this same ride, and since I've never been to this park, I figured it'd be a good idea to give it a whirl.

Holy hell it's a good thing I did. I missed one crucial turn about 5 miles into our ride which resulted in a whole lot of extra dumb climbing. Overall, the difference in elevation was only about 100ft between the two routes, but if you compare the elevation profiles, the route we took has a bunch of nasty big climbs vs. gentle long climbs.

The route we took: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/9322607

The route we meant to take: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/14232946

My bike felt wonky on the ride out there too, and I can't figure out if it's because the weight was distributed unevenly or I was just carrying too much stuff. My friend's bike wasn't a touring bike I was carrying most of the gear (cooking and sleeping stuff) and he just had a backpack and seat post rack. This, plus the heat made for a very slow going trip.

All the stupid climbing was availed when we pulled into camp and the rangers happily assured us that even though the sign said "Campground Full", the hiker/biker sites were still open. Winning on bikes, yet again!

We quickly set up camp and made the wise decision to not put the rain fly on the tent. With an overnight forecast of 60 degrees and no rain, we both were willing to risk a bit of dew for the rare opportunity to see towering pines and stars from the tent. Definitely a wise choice.

No rain fly, no problem.

The beach area at Scenic Beach is about a 5 minute walk from the campground. We grabbed a snack and a beer and headed down to check it out. The day area here is huge, with tons of picnic tables, bbq grills, and a few volleyball courts. Even though it was being well used, there was still lots of space and it didn't feel crowded. After checking it out, we headed back up to make dinner, eventually coming back down to the beach for the sunset.

 

In the morning, we enjoyed the requisite cup of coffee outside, a quick bowl of outmeal, and then headed out. We had a goal to be on the road before temperatures soared into the 90's, as nobody wants to ride in that.

Unsurprisingly, the ride back to town went a lot faster than the ride into camp. It's funny how riding the intended route works like that. 

#30daysofbiking - No big deal?

Fall is my absolute favorite season. Crisp mornings leading to sunny afternoons, crunchy leaves, vibrant colors all around. This year, it feels like it came on all of a sudden. I don't know if it's because of the drought, but seems like I got back from my solo tour on Labor Day weekend and boom!, fall is here! All the trees are suddenly in full on autumn, it's COLD in the mornings, and wool sweaters are a must on night time rides.

Cliche as it is, the lyrics to Green Day's stupid song, "Wake Me Up When September Ends" keep running through my head: 

"Summer has come and passed
The innocent can never last
Wake me up when September ends"

Well, either I slept through the whole month of September, or it flew by in a total flash. I think it was the latter, because I definitely did some serious riding. In fact, I think I did more miles than ever before (except maybe in May for Bike to Work month...not really sure, because I don't really keep track anymore.) Anyway, it was a bonus #30daysofbiking month. I'm not entirely sure who is the official issuer of this challenge, but I saw it come across Twitter a number of times, and thought, "Yep, it's happening."  With a multi-day solo tour and BikeMS happening during September, it was a perfect month to be intentional about riding for 30 straight days. Both of my previous efforts to participate in #30daysofbiking were derailed by injuries, so I was pretty excited about another attempt.

Day 3 of my solo bike tour found things to be a bit soggy.

 

I had so many intentions about writing up my adventures, including my tour (I swear, it's coming someday), but seriously, the month ran away from me. My weekends have been spent at The Bikery,  a non-profit bike kitchen where I've been wrenching and doing social media and week nights have been a flurry of riding and dating and all sorts of good things!

But, September is over, and success! I rode all month long, completed my first solo tour, my longest 1 day ride, and rode all 30 days! Here are my non-profound thoughts now that it's over:

  • Fenders: A+. We all need them. Yes, you too dude in front of me riding down Capitol Hill.
  • I don't have a need for speed anymore. I'm perfectly content letting the Cat 6 racers battle the cars in the morning (and each other) just to get to the next red light. 
  • There's a police officer at 2nd/Union in the afternoons who helps cars exit the parking garage so they don't hit cyclists in the bike lane. I love this guy. Thanks for being there and always giving us the right of way.
  • The sound of a car going over a center lane rumble strip is the best sound you can hear while riding down a highway. It means somebody is giving you lots of passing room.
  • It's ok to ride an 80 mile charity ride on 42mm tires and a touring bike with a front basket. It just means you'll be the most comfortable one out there all day.

And now it's time for #coffeeneuring. #rideallthebikes

 

 

Dinner with a view on Night 1 of my tour.

Bike Month 2015 Wrap Up

Holy Moley! May is over and what a month! I biked every single day of the month, which is definitely a record for me! For the first time ever, I tracked every single bike ride. Here are my #s for May:

92 trips

543 miles

34 commutes

3 camping trips

FAR TOO MUCH FUN TOO COUNT!

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Seriously though, this is WAY more than I've ever biked in one month. 2014 was the first year I'd ever seriously participated in Bike to Work month, and I did a decent job of biking to work. I got 42 miles in, which with a commute of 4 miles round trip, is pretty darn good! This year, however, I made an effort to Bike Everywhere, and it really paid off! My longest trip was 52 miles, which was to Ben Country, but other than that, most of my trips were 10 miles, 15 miles, or even shorter. Just lots and lots of short trips to here, there, and everywhere!

I wonder if I can rack up even more miles as the months go on?