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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Picking a Tent for Bicycle Camping

This is a subject I don't know a whole lot about so the best I can do is relate my personal experience.

As I stated before, a tent isn't absolutely necessary to bike camp.  Some folks make do with what's called a bivy sack (basically a weather-resistant cocoon for your sleeping bag; it also covers your face so no part of you is exposed to the elements).  It seems a bivy sack would be ideal for stealth camping (sleeping in an area not designated for camping) because it's quick... and a quick getaway may be in order when stealth camping.

For longer, impromptu trips I'm thinking a tent plus a bivy sack would be the best way to go.  The tent is wonderful for when you're booked in a campground.  The bivy sack is useful for when you have no choice but to stealth camp.  Weight isn't an issue in carrying both the tent and the bivy sack because MSR makes a bivy sack that weighs next to nothing and fits into a soda-can sized stuff sack:  MSR E-Bivy

So much for bivy sacks.  Our discussion concerns picking a tent.

When I shopped for a tent for bicycle camping I used the following criteria:
  1. I'd be camping alone (my wife has no interest in bicycle camping) so I only required a single-person tent; plus, a single-person tent would logically stay warmer inside than a larger tent
  2. I needed something well-made, well-regarded, having lots of positive buyer reviews
  3. I wanted to avoid bright or colorful tents because, quite frankly, I don't like bright or colorful tents
  4. I wanted to keep the price reasonable
After a lot of research I arrived upon the Eureka Backcountry Solo 1 as the ideal bicycle camping tent.  I purchased it and I agree that this is a most excellent tent that suits bicycle camping to a "T."

Here's a terrible picture of me when I first received the tent via UPS; I set it up in the side-yard to try it out.  Yeah, works perfectly.

Here is the Eureka Backcountry Solo in it's natural habitat... so to speak.  Note the clever use of a large trash bag as my front door mat.
The Solo is 5' by 8'.  Just the right size for one person.  I'm 5'8" so I can even fit a few things in the tent with me.  There are 2 mesh storage pockets where I put my cell phone, wallet, bike lights, keys, etc.  Thus, things are easy to find when I need them (you wouldn't believe the amount of chaos that can occur in a closed tent... how do you lose something in a confined space?  Yes, it does happen).

I've never used the tent in a pouring rain although the reviews say it's watertight.  I have used it in misty weather with a light drizzle and have stayed nice and dry.  When enclosed the tent is small enough to capture and retain your body heat.  I stay plenty warm through the night.

Comfort is probably the most important issue because if you're uncomfortable you won't sleep well... and nothing ruins a camping trip like lack of sleep.  As the picture might indicate I am very comfortable in this tent.  I'm used to sleeping on the floor as my wife and I sleep on a futon - a real Okinawa futon, not one of those overstuffed sofa beds they palm off on Miramar Rd. as a futon.  Personally I don't like sleeping on mattresses; I like living the "bare and minimal" life.  

Camping in familiar things, I think, is a huge plus with regard to camping and comfort.  At home I sleep in the same exact sleeping bag that I use for camping.  I use the same little camping pillow, the same knit cap, and the same ridiculous "cush slippers" to keep my feet warm.  As you can see, I tend to take my home with me when I bicycle camp. 

The point of this little post is that I recommend the Eureka Backcountry Solo 1 as a tent excellently suited to bicycle camping.  It packs up small in the included stuff sack; it doesn't weigh much; set up is quick and easy - 2 tent poles, 1 fly and pole, 6 stakes... you're done; there are storage pockets inside the tent so you can stay organized; watertight (so I understand); stays warm and cozy.

Also please note this tent is free-standing, meaning that it can be set up without the stakes.  The stakes are basically to keep it in place in windy conditions.  They are not necessary if you need to setup quickly and can't be bothered pounding stakes into the ground. I use the stakes, though, because I set the tent up over a tarp which protects the floor from tearing and helps to keep it clean.  The stakes prevent the tent from sliding off.  My advice: use the stakes.

If you do choose to use stakes my suggestion is to get some MSR replacement aluminum "GroundHog" stakes which don't cost much and weigh a bit less than the steel stakes included.  Not a "biggie" weight-wise but if you have the cash to spare maybe not a bad idea.

A note about tarps: a great place to check out tarps is Harbor Freight  They're all around San Diego, there ought to be one near you.  They keep the tarps organized by size.  I got one that was 10 x 16; when folded in half it exactly fits the floor of the tent resulting in double protection against rips and tears.  I never set up that tent without the tarp.  Plus, the tarp is multi-purpose.  Very useful item.

I've noticed product reviewers complaining that there is no vestibule area in which to place shoes, backpacks, extra gear, etc. to keep them safe from the rain.  I agree it would be nice to have a small vestibule area... but at the Backcountry's price point I think this tent is pretty complete in spite of it.  In my opinion the Eureka Backcountry Solo 1 is a great product for around $130.00 which, if you've ever comparison shopped tents, ain't bad, people.  That ain't bad!

P.S.  If it happens that you - unlike me - camp with the significant other in your life, Eureka also makes the Backcountry 2, a two-person freestanding tent.

P.P.S.  Another tent that gets pretty good reviews is Eureka's Tetragon.
The Tetragon comes in various configurations that can sleep up to seven people.  The smallest is the model 5, referenced above.  At less than half the cost of the Backcountry Solo this might be an excellent, inexpensive way to introduce yourself to bicycle camping.  A few folks complain about the rain fly but more experienced campers respond it's all in which direction the tent faces to limit rain penetration.

I had originally considered getting the Tetragon but opted instead for the Backcountry Solo.  I do not regret my purchase... not one little bit.  But at least you know there are options.


  1. I use the solitaire tent I have been backpacking with it for over 10 years now, its been on 2 Philmont 2 week trips and a few week long in the high sierras. I also took it on my trip from Portland to SD on bicycle, its weighs under 5lbs, its easy to set up and iv stayed dry in heavy storms, as well as warm in the snow. This weekend i will be using my hammock witch is only 2lbs and about 1/5th the size of the tent!


  2. I know the Solitaire is the next step up from a bivy sack. Seems like it would be the perfect backpacking tent. I had considered buying it but I wanted something just a tad roomier. The Solo thus far has been good to me: nice and warm, even when it's wet outside.

    I've never tried sleeping in a hammock. I'm sure there's a learning curve in there. At my age, not wise for this slo' ol' dog to take on too many new tricks.