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.



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!