Kit review #2
12 January, 2012 Leave a comment
After kit review #1 a few months ago, here’s the second in a series of blogs reviewing some of our best bits of equipment.
Camping is the norm for touring cyclists around the world, but in Southeast Asia the combination of wet days, hot nights, rice fields covering lots of the flat land, and an abundance of cheap guest houses meant we decided against carrying the weight of a tent, 2 sleeping mats and 2 sleeping bags (probably 7kgs worth and a couple of panniers full). We imagined we’d be finding guesthoues each night, but we also wanted to be able to sleep independently if needed.
So we decided to carry a pair of hammocks (Ultralight Hammocks from Lifeventure). They weight about 600 grams each, pack down very small and can be strung up between two trees in seconds.
Hammocks are commonplace in this part of the world, and we saw them hung up outside most cafes and village homes as we cycled along. The locals seem to agree – there aren’t many better ways to spend a hot afternoon than swinging in a shady hammock!
Most of the local hammocks were of the string net variety, but ours were made from solid black fabric – vital to keep the mosiquitoes out (when combined with a mosi net) whilst sleeping out. They’re also surprisingly long (another advantage over local hammocks) – I’m way over 6 foot tall but still had plenty of room to spare at each end.
Overall, we found the hammocks really comfy and are glad we carried them through Southeast Asia. Although it was almost too tempting to stop cycling and have a sneaky rest break swinging under a tree (or a hut, as pictured below)! Hammocks are so much smaller and lighter than the traditional tent & mat combination that people that like to travel ultralight really should consider taking one on their next trip.
2. Mosquito net
Mosiquitoes are an annoyance throughout most of Southeast Asia, and if they’re around then it’s guaranteed that at least one of the little buggers will find a way to eat you during the night. Cheap guesthouses rarely provided nets, so we strung our net up every night whilst in Southeast Asia, and now class them as essential kit for this part of the world.
We have one each, in case we’re in our hammocks or a guesthouse gives us two single beds, but one of them can stretch to cover a double bed if needed (Lifesystems BoxNet). The four hanging cords means it’s nice and roomy inside, and although we’ve had to be inventive, we’ve always been able to tie it up.
The other net (Lifesystems UltraNet) is lighter, smaller and simpler, with only one hanging cord. It goes up much quicker, but there’s much less room to manoeuvre inside – fine if you’re travelling light by yourself, but two people won’t fit.
We both have Brookes B17 saddles, a common choice amongst long-distance cyclists. Everyone who sees our bikes slaps the firm leather surface, wonders why we don’t have a massive soft seat and asks if we’re mad. The theory is that the wide leather part supports your sit bones, thereby keeping weight off other more delicate areas.
The theory seems to work, as we both find them comfortable – I don’t even wear padded shorts and my rear end has been fine all trip. However, Bex has some problems from time to time with the edges of the saddle rubbing as she pedals, causing some chaffing. We think the overall shape of the saddle perhaps doesn’t quite match her bum – everyone’s a different shape, so saddle choice is a very personal thing. Definitely something to test out before you leave on a big trip!
As an aside, leather stretches when wet (clearly bad news for a saddle), so put a cheap plastic seat cover (or shopping bag) over the saddle when it rains.
Basically a thin cotton tube that fits over your head, Buffs are great as a warm hat/face mask/bandana/neck warmer/balaclava/sweat band etc etc, depending on how you wear it. Back in the Central Asian winter we wore a couple balaclava-style to keep the ice out, but now we’re in hotter climates they’re good when dunked in water and left to drip down our necks as we cycle in the midday sun along with the mad dogs.
5. Silk sleeping bag liner
If you cycle all day and then dive straight into your sleeping bag, they can quicky get dirty and washing sleeping bags whilst on the road can be hard. Using a silk liner inside your bag to collect the dirt is a good idea as these can be washed much more easily. They also add a few degrees of warmth, so are useful when it’s cold. In hot countries they can be warm enough on their own, or if there are a few too many suspicious stains on the sheets in a budget guesthouse. A useful bit of kit at only 130 grams.
Next time in the 3rd and final instalment: tents, tyres and a few other bits