Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New bikepacking gear: A 'Layered' Shelter approach

I wanted to re-do my shelter for the next season, so I have been spending tons of time on the inner-web trying to come to terms with what I wanted to end up with.  Right now I have a very nice REI single person UL tent that is very good at what it does....keeping me out of the elements without weighing too much.  It is a very secure, quite comfy (but not expansive), 3 season tent.  It has an inner wall section of mostly mesh that clips/hangs under a pole arrangement, and a storm fly goes over that combo.  But, there are some things that bug me.
  • If I want to have any sense of full protection from precipitation, I needed to pack the storm fly.  In fact, even if I want much wind buffering, I need to do the same.  So, even though it seems tempting to just pack the inner layer (mostly netting with a floor) and the tent poles, I tend to hesitate for high mountain trips, even in summer.  In the spring and fall, the winds can really rip down our local canyons.  So I end up with the whole shebang, even if I do not end up needing the storm fly.
  • The same amount of insulation from the elements also insulates me from the outdoors I chose to spend time in.  How could I get to more of an 'open' feeling without just laying out in the open?
  • I would like to trim weight and gain some overall packing efficiency.   That whole tent deal nearly takes up my entire CDW seat bag and part of my bar bag.
  • I wanted to add some flexibility.  You know how the concept of layering works so well for clothing?  Well, I wanted to have that kind of layering kit for shelter as well.  From a desert summer night to a high mtn spring day, I wanted to be able to tailor the kit to meet the needs of the ride.
So, I thought and read and compared and thought and came to a four piece arrangement that hopefully will do what I want for nearly any situation while bikepacking.
  1. Tarp
  2. Bivy sack
  3. Bug Net
  4. My current 50 degree UL bag and a warmer option I am still working on, perhaps a UL quilt to be homemade one way or another.
The tarp as a shelter is as old as fabric, I bet, and is a very smart way to get out of the elements.  The new silnylon, caternary cut tarps are light, tight, and versatile.  The best thing about a tarp, besides the light weight, is the ability to remain connected with the outdoors yet still be covered up a bit.  They ventilate well and can be lowered to be storm friendly if need be.  They are roomy, too.  The bad things?  Well, there are no floors or complete protection from the elements, so crawly things can get ya'.  You can pitch them against the wind, as long as the wind does not shift around and blow into the opening that tarps typically have.  You need to stake them out and tie them down effectively or they will suck.  My tent is the same every time...no brainer to set up, even without tent stakes.
Tarps are not cheap.  You can get a budget tent cheaper than a really good tarp.

A bivy sack is basically just a shell that looks like a sleeping bag without the insulation.  It is a barrier between you and the elements with your sleeping bag or quilt inside.  As simple as it gets, the appeal is in the minimal weight and complete protection for the crawlies and the elements without hauling a tent around.  Many racers, like in the Great Divide Race, will just roll out a bivy sack and sleeping bag and deal with the tight confines and potential for condensation.  You are not gonna' change clothes inside one very easily, so get used to baring your skivvies as you dress yourself.  If you are claustrophobic, it may not be for you.  They also tend to 'rain' inside with condensation build up, depending on how well they ventilate or what fabric they are made from.  Some of them are over 200 bucks as well.

A bug net works great with a tarp as either a drape or an enclosure.  I plan on making a net enclosure for use under the tarp for summer use in hotter weather and leaving the bivy at home.

I already have the 500gram UL bag that is pretty good down to 50-ish degrees (and below with clothing or a liner, etc).  I need to decide on whether a quilt is for me or not, and if so, I think I will make one, either from synthetic insulation and sewn fabric, or from taking a budget, down sleeping bag and converting it.  I want to get comfy into the mid to high 30s as far as temps.  No snow camping for me.

So far I have added two pieces of gear:

The Tarp - The Integral Designs Sil-Shelter.  It was on sale at REI for $99.00, regularly $140.00, so that was a good price.  It does require a pole on the inside to support it (unless you are under a tree...not likely for me in my area) but it is roomy and has a 'door' of sorts so I can get more windbreak out of this than most tarps.  We shall see.  I still need to get a ground tarp and some cord to stake it out, and then get a lightweight center pole.  That is one thing about tarps as well...they seem really light until you add the ground cloth, stakes, cord, etc, then they get close in weight and pack size to an UL tent.  Still, they offer a much more open camping feeling that no traditional tent can match and I think I will shed about a pound of overall weight with the bivy and tarp combo...even more with the bug net and no bivy.

The bivy was an REI product as well.  At $90.00, it seems to get good reviews and has a mesh panel over the face, preventing you from feeling toooo enclosed...I hope.  It comes in a 'tall' size and has two zippered vents on the sides.  If I really want to travel fast and light, I could use this and my 1 pound UL bag and it would all fit in a big hydration pack.

For now that is it.  I will look at making the bug net and the quilt (if I decide I want a quilt at all).  I think it is a good start on the path to a 'layered' approach to a bikepacking shelter system.  When I get it all figured out, I will highlight it here and on The Cyclist Site in the Bikepacking Series section, weigh things, etc.  Then, the best part....trying it out!


tobi said...

Hi grannygear,
no clue if you know this already, or are interested in it, or if the places you ride usually permit to use it cleverly, but something along the lines of http://www.hammockforums.net/forum/showthread.php?t=20115 might be interesting, maybe.

I started experimenting with a heavier, bulkier, but cheaper and readily available version from ddhammocks, a bivy/hammock and tarp, and had decent results. But then we usually also have lots of trees... ;)

my 2c, YMMV, HTH, greets, tobi. :)

grannygear said...

Hey, tobi. Yeah, I was very interested in hammocks a year or so back, but we really have tree issues here...not enough of them. Plus, keeping them insulated adds as much bulk as most ground based set-ups. But, I sure think they would be comfy!

Michael Meiser said...

FYI, this is the approach I use.

A 1LB 7OZ Golite Shangri-la 3 plus a gortex OR aurora bivy. It gives me tremendous versatility. In the fall and spring it's the bivy plus a small tarp. In the summer it's just a tarp, bug net, drop clothe.

DOing the Allegheny Passage and Blue Ridge parkway right now with the shangri-la + bivy combo. I have realized though the bivy can restrict loft if I sleep on my side creating a cold spot on my thigh and hip. I think I may in the future switch to a Frogg Togg Poncho as it's lighter, and more versatile then a bivy and won't restrict loft.

many pics of this set up on my flickr: flickr.com/photos/mmeiser2

dexey said...

I've been thinking along the same lines. I have upgraded my sleeping bag to Feathered Friends Winter Wren because I sleep real cold. I have a JRB down quilt I can add but won't need until late next Autumn because I'm not starting this until Spring. I've bought a Terra Nova Jupiter bivi bag and I'm going to use a US Army ponch as a tarp. The bag is Goretex so I don't need complete cover, I'm thinking. If I'm wrong I'll sew a bigger sheet of SilNylon into a rectangle.
Google Yeti Rides blog if you haven't seen it. Bivvying in the snow in Finland!