Two-thousand miles into a cross-country bike tour, I choose a tent and sleeping system completely new to me. But I also opt for two battle-worn pieces proven never to fail.
Once you’ve found the “perfect” kit for yourself, it can be hard to stray from that setup. Halfway through another five-month expedition, I’m convinced my perfect kit is evolving.
For this expedition, I’ve struck a middle ground, with new pieces and time-tested relics both among my go-to’s.
Below, I discuss two pieces of gear that I’ve fallen in love with during this year’s 5,000-mile bike tour. I also give praise to one item that has survived more than seven years and 9,500 miles of human-powered travel.
In my travels, I have slept outdoors with a plethora of sleep systems. From down and synthetic, to no sleeping bag at all (liner w/ emergency blanket). This year, I tried Sierra Designs’ Backcountry Quilt 700/ 30 degree. This has been one of the best additions to my kit in a long time.
Editor’s note: Sierra Designs is a sponsor of Packing It Out and this year’s bike tour.
The Backcountry Quilt 700 is rated to 30 degrees and weighs 1 lb. 9 oz. It fits users up to 6’4”. Yes, I know, there are definitely lighter quilt options for this temperature rating, but for this price point?
I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find as solid a quilt that provides the weight, warmth, function, and value that the Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt provides.
Sierra Designs changed the quilt game by adding a hideaway hood and including insulated hand pockets.
In testing, I’ve found it operates basically like a full-coverage sleeping bag, except it has the ability to effectively vent whenever I heat up too much. It has vents at specific hot points, so I don’t have to fumble with zippers or compromise my core temp.
With traditional sleeping bags, there seems to be a fine line between cozy and sweating my ass off.
Sierra Designs hit a sweet spot in the field of warmth/weight, function, and value with the backcountry quilt. Though it would be nice to see a version built with 10D nylon and 850 fill, I’m afraid the steep price tag attached to a bag like that would prevent many of us from getting on board.
With over 50 nights in this bag so far, I’m beginning to think it will be in my pack for a long time.
Though it appears similar to the Sierra Designs Tensegrity tent we used last year on the Pacific Crest Trail, the Divine Light 2 FL from Sierra Designs is a welcome addition to this year’s camp kit. In use, the Divine Light 2 strikes a balance between weight, versatility, and livability.
What stood out during this year’s tour is the Divine Light’s livability. Its straight-side walls and over 45”peak ceiling height lets me stretch out and sit up without a problem. Three entry points and a dedicated gear vestibule sweeten the deal.
With an advertised trail weight of 3 lbs. 15 oz., the Divine Light packs quite a punch for a two-person crew. Going solo? You’ll have plenty of room for a dog… or three.
Tried And True
After thousands of miles using denatured alcohol and canister stoves, I decided to re-acquaint myself with an old friend. I’m not going to ramble long on this legendary stove, but I think it’s worth explaining why I opted to carry this not-so-light stove with me during this year’s bike tour: Fuel.
The Whisperlite International has the most flexibility when it comes to fuel options. You can burn white gas, gasoline, and even kerosine. I’ve been using good ol’ fashion gasoline during this year’s tour. My last refill cost 24 cents, seriously.
This isn’t the lightest stove, but cheap fuel and reliability made it my choice for this year’s tour.
Sometimes a piece of gear comes along that never seems to leave your pack. For me, the Snow Peak Trek 1400 Titanium Pot has been that piece.
I bought this pot set back in 2009. Since then, I’ve carried it with me down the length of the Mississippi River, northbound on the Appalachian Trail, northbound on the Pacific Crest Trail, and now westbound 5,000 miles across the United States.
The Trek 1400 weighs in under 7.5 ounces. Though it is a tad heavy for a solo cook set, it excels for two- and sometimes three-person teams.
I’m fortunate enough for travel partners during these long journeys, and the Trek 1400 is a no-brainer for the team cooking vessel.
I’ve thought about other options, but after realizing how many trips I used the Trek 1400 on, I have a feeling it will be with me for a few thousand more miles.
Trail Knowledge: Mix Up Your Gear
As we continue to build and refine camp kits, I ask that you try out something new every once in awhile. Whether it’s a weekend trip or another thru-hike, mix it up.
At the end of the day, you will be more well-rounded with gear offerings, and that much closer to your perfect kit. Until next time…
See you up the trail,