TOP 10 AMAZON BUYS

Amazon, that ever growing burden on our wallets! Below I outline what I think are the top 10 most useful things you can buy from amazon for your touring. Whilst most of these items aren’t top of the range, they will work and enable you to get out there!

If you think I should add something else to this list, please email me with a link to the item and I will consider it!

In no particular order;

Hammock

A hammock is something that I have always wanted to bring with me on a tour. It means that you can sleep on just about any surface, as long as there are trees! This year, I plan on cycling through North – Eastern Europe, where boggy ground are forests are the norm, so I decided to make the plunge! I then found this on amazon and decided to try it as its so cheap (£13 at time of writing)! When I puled it out of the bag, I was pleasantly surprised! it didn’t take long at all for me to set it up the first time. The only thing I would recommend changing is the carabiners. The ones that come stock on it make the climber in me shiver in fear.

This hammock can be found here.

Light weight sleeping bag

It is very easy to get overwhelmed when researching sleeping bags, especially with some of the price tags associated with the light weight one! After a while of trawling through amazon, I found this sleeping bag. It is rated to 8 degrees, but with a thermal liner and a bivi bag, I reckon it would be able to reach about 0 degrees centigrade quite easily! As you can see in the image below, it packs super small and is the perfect sleeping bag to introduce you into the world of lightweight camping!

This sleeping bag can be found here

Sleeping mat

Just like the sleeping bags, finding a good quality sleeping mat can be exhausting, with everyone having a different point of view. After years of sleeping on an expensive self inflating Thermarest, I decided to give an inflatable mat a go. I found this mat (just re-branded), and decided to give it a go. And boy am I glad I did! It packs very small and light, but is perfect to sleep on in any condition. Many people will say that they are too cold for winter camping, and that may be so when there is snow on the ground (the only condition I haven’t tested), I have slept on this in temperatures below 0 degrees centigrade and not had any issues.

The sleeping mat can be found here.

Micro-fibre towels

Micro-fibre towels are a godsend for anyone who needs to pack small and light! You can get them in all different sizes, ranging from a face towel to a full beach towel. As you can see in the image below, they pack considerably smaller than a standard towel, and they also dry much faster! When I tour, I take 2 micro-fibre towels with me. One is a large towel for me to use after a shower or a swim, the other is a small hand towel which I use to dry my pots and cutlery after cooking. I decided to keep these separate as it got surprisingly dirty after cleaning my, clearly not as clean as I thought, pots!

The towels can be found here

Gas and Stove

A decent camping stove is essential to enjoy life outdoors. Small, very portable, and usually very powerful. I have cooked a full array of food on mine ranging from noodles to chilli con carne from scratch. Many people will tell you that you need to spend £50 or more to buy a good quality stove, but I have not found that to be true! I bought the older version of this from a hughstreet retailer, and have found it to be flawless. Mine doesn’t have the inbuilt lighter, so I can’t testify for the longevity of that, but if that fails all it takes is a flick of your lighter or a match and you’ve got it going. I recommend this stove and paired with this gas. Always check the laws of the country when traveling with gas canisters.

The only downside of gas stoves like this, is their dependance on gas canisters being available! In certain parts of the world, they are not easily found. In that situation you would be better off with a duel fuel stove like this. The benefit of this over a gas stove is that you can burn both white spirit, which is found in most DIY stores around the world, and for those really remote stretches you can even use unleaded petrol. Its for the same reason I Use a Zippo Lighter instead of a regular one.

Cooking pot

To cook on a stove like the one above, you need to have a specialist camping stove – the ones that you can buy for home use are generally very thick, which means it takes a long time for the stove to heat the for or water up. I have something similar to the pot below. It allows me to cook a simple meal of pasta, noodles, rice… basically anything that you cook by boiling water! You can use it on a stove, or in a fire if you need to. I would also recommend bringing a pan, which will allow you to cook meat, eggs etc much easier.

Wind breaker

Following on the cooking theme, sometimes in windy conditions a pile of panniers isn’t enough to keep the wind away from your stove. A wind break like this is perfect to be able to cook your food in just about any conditions. Simply wrap it around the stove, protecting it from the wind. Just be carful that the gas canister itself doesn’t get too hot.

The Cheapest Ground sheet going

I have always used a tarpaulin as a ground sheet for my bivis. In the UK, it means that my sleeping mat doesn’t get punctured or excessively muddy. Abroad, where animals are a real danger, a large tarpaulin like the one linked here when fully spread out will stop animals getting too close to you. When the animal steps on the tarp, it makes an unnatural noise so they go the other way.

A Large tarp like this is also useful if you are bike packing and don’t have access to a tent. You can set this up as a shelter with 2 bungees and a handful or tent pegs.

Stool

I am yet to tour with a stool, but at the end of my tour down the west coast of France, I bought one. It is so much better than sitting on the ground! You can cook from it, or sit back and relax after a long day on the bike. In areas where you may not want to sit on the floor directly because of the conditions (rain, mud, excessive tree sap.. . don’t ask about that last one!) or insects, a stool is the perfect way to camp.

Get the stool here

Panniers

I couldn’t decide whether to mention panniers in this list or not, as I will be dedicating an entire post to the panniers, but I decided to as they are such an important aspect and they are available from amazon! I use Ortleib Back and front roller classics. I won’t go too in depth about why I chose them, but they are amazing! I know that they are completely waterproof, whether I am caught out in the rain or I have to cross a stream. They are also incredibly tough, meaning that they won’t wear out quickly, even if you do have an off or two.

You can find the rear panniers here

and the front panniers here

A full range of colours are available for both front and rear.


Always be aware of local rules and regulations when camping and touring. It is also important to be aware of any wildlife you should avoid attracted and how to do so for the area you’re in.

For every item linked here I get a small amount of money, so if this list helped you make the decision to buy something, please use my link!

The Bike

One of the questions I see most often is “What bike should I use?” or “Is my old bike OK?”, so I thought I would address this question here!

The main thing you need to know before you choose you’re bike – what terrain are you riding over? Are you purely going to be on silky smooth roads in Europe, or are you going to be fighting through mud and dirt in the lonely roads of eastern europe? Are you going to be on single track? These all depend on what kind of bike you need.

Ultimately anything that is mechanically sound will work, but using the most appropriate bike will make your life much easier and comfortable. A perfect example of this, is Tristan in the west coast of France. Not having the money to buy a new bike, he rode his road bike. However; his bike did not have any mount for a rack, so he managed to find a special rack that didn’t need the fixtures. Whilst this worked and enabled him to go touring, he had a much tougher job riding the bike down some of the dirt trails that we went along and sand completely messed everything up, as you can see if you read the West Coast of France blog series.

Road Bike

My Road bike set up for a short bike-packing trip

The photo above is an example fo a road bike. This bike is suitable for going fast, on road. You may be able to use it on smooth gravel roads, but you won’t be very comfortable. If you want to go for multi day rides and all you have is a road bike, Whilst you can go for the same approach that Tristan did in France, I would strongly recommend getting bike packing bags! This set up allows you to go fast, and because its lighter you will be able to climb and travel much further in a day than you would on a traditional touring set up. There will be a separate blog which discusses the difference between a touring set up and a bike packing set up.

Mountain Bike

A mountain Bike is the type of bike that most people are likely to have.

Carrera Vengeance Mens Mountain Bike 2020 - Green - XS, S, M, L ...
An example of a Mountain bike. (Halfords)

The Carrera Mountain bike above retails at £325 (correct at time of writing), and has mount on the rear for racks. A mountain bike like this can be used both as a traditional touring bike (although I would advise against traditional front panniers with suspension forks), and a bike packing set up.

A bike packing set up is more suited to lots of off-road single track, where the balance and agility of the bike remains important.

Gravel / Cyclocross Bike

Whilst there are noticeable differences between the two, for the purpose of this list I will bunch them together. This style of bike in my opinion, is the most versatile. You can load it up with bike packing bags and disappear into the woods on non-technical single track, or you can load it up with a full set of panniers and tour around Europe.

Possibly one of my favourite photos of the bike from the trip! The bike I took to France is actually a Cyclocross bike (Giant TCX)

On a cyclocross or gravel bike you can fit large tyres, racks and mudguards. It generally has a more upright seated position meaning that it is comfortable for longer days in the saddle. If you are looking to buy a cyclocross bike to also use as a touring bike, don’t go for a full spec racing bike – they are usually made of carbon, or designed to be lighter (and therefore weaker when it comes to total load capacity) . They will also be missing mounts for racks and possibly even water bottles!

Touring bikes

Photo from SJS cycles

Dedicated touring bikes, such as this Thorn Nomad available from SJS cycles for around £3000, are purely designed to carry unbelievable weights and go over any conditions of road or tracks. Whilst you would be able to fit bike packing bags to it, I would advise against it. The bike itself is heavy, and designed to carry weight – the website claims it can carry up to 60kg of luggage. riding such a bike with bike packing bags simply doesn’t do it justice.

These bikes usually come with racks and mudguards already fitted, and will often have a dynamo as an optional extra. 26″ wheels aren’t uncommon, due to them being stronger and spares are easily available in remote areas of the world, where 700cc wheeled bikes are very rare.

Summary

That bike that you have lying around in your shed will definitely work, assuming it is mechanically sound. You don’t even need to invest in panniers, just strap a backpack to the rack and go!

However, there are plenty of reasons why, where possible, you should use the right bike for the job. Below is a break down of the bikes mentioned above

Bike packingTouringSmooth roadTechnical single trackAlmost anywhere?
Road bikesCheck, circle, correct, mark, success, tick, yes iconCircle Icon clipart - Red, Product, Circle, transparent clip artCheck, circle, correct, mark, success, tick, yes iconCircle Icon clipart - Red, Product, Circle, transparent clip artCircle Icon clipart - Red, Product, Circle, transparent clip art
Mountain bikesCheck, circle, correct, mark, success, tick, yes iconCircle Icon clipart - Red, Product, Circle, transparent clip artCheck, circle, correct, mark, success, tick, yes iconCheck, circle, correct, mark, success, tick, yes iconCheck, circle, correct, mark, success, tick, yes icon
Gravel / adventure Check, circle, correct, mark, success, tick, yes iconCheck, circle, correct, mark, success, tick, yes iconCheck, circle, correct, mark, success, tick, yes iconCircle Icon clipart - Red, Product, Circle, transparent clip artCircle Icon clipart - Red, Product, Circle, transparent clip art
TouringCircle Icon clipart - Red, Product, Circle, transparent clip artCheck, circle, correct, mark, success, tick, yes iconCheck, circle, correct, mark, success, tick, yes iconCircle Icon clipart - Red, Product, Circle, transparent clip artCheck, circle, correct, mark, success, tick, yes icon
This Table shows what the bikes are best suited to. It doesn’t mean that you can’t take a mountain bike touring!

If you are looking at getting a bike that you will use for touring, it is worth bearing in mind the materials. A carbon bike isn’t suitable to heavy loaded touring. An aluminium is fine for a short trip, Aluminium work hardens (meaning that it gets harder as you heat it up). as you ride, the whole bike flexes and you will form weak spots caused by the metal getting harder, which then will lead to cracking. A Steel bike is the most suitable, due to its toughness and the ease of which it can be fixed – just about anyone can weld steel, but it is very hard to weld aluminium, and even harder to repair carbon.

On the Road Maintenance

As you will have seen in my previous post, Time to strip, Maintaining your bike is very important. In an ideal world you would do a quick service your bike every 500km or so, which when you have a work stand and a full set of tools, is easy! But when you’re on the road everyday, it’s not as easy. You won’t have access to a work stand, nor a full set of tools – but you still need to keep on top of any issues, in order to make your ride as safe and enjoyable as possible. I strongly suggest that you learn how to do the simple jobs, such as replace cables, set up gears and brakes before you head out.

What are the main things you need to look after when touring?

Tyres.

Your tyres are subject to huge forces every day, so you need to look after them. In very hot country you will find that you actually pick up bits of tar in your tyre treads. Removing these and small stones that dig into your tyres is the main source of tyre maintenance, with the exception of pumping them up every week or so.

Chain

Keeping your chain in good condition will not only give you a trouble free ride, but it will actually make your riding more pleasant! A chain should be lubed every week, or more if riding in exceptionally wet conditions. This was actually one of the biggest mistakes I made when doing my first long-distance tour – I actually forgot to bring any lube with me! After a few hundred Km on rough, dusty roads my chain had started to squeak. This was fixed by squirting some water on the chain, but that’s usually a very short term fix.

It is important to keep an eye on how much your chain stretches, this will happen at different speeds due to riding styles, weight on the bike, conditions and so much more! I would recommend taking a chain checker, such as this one with you, so you can check the chain frequently (I would advise checking every 500 miles, more frequently as you get closer to the 75% worn mark). When a chain is 75% worn or more, its time to replace the chain. This can be done very easily with just a chain tool, which you should have with you anyway. If you are unsure how to do it, it is definitely worth learning – there are plenty of videos on youtube explaining how to do it.

When you put a new chain on, you may find that the chain is skipping. This means that the cassette (the sprockets on the back wheel) have worn out. Replacing one of these is a more involved job, requiring a chain whip, a cassette tool and a large spanner. There are other tools which make it possible to do this without any of those – definitely worth a look. Having a cassette remover is very important because it allows you to replace a spoke on the drive side of the rear wheel, which brings me onto my next point.

Spokes and Rims

Many people overlook this, but these parts get a real beating when touring. It is not uncommon for wheels to come out of true, spokes to snap and in extreme cases for rims to crack.

Whilst you won’t be able to prevent any of these, you can help yourself mitigate them by checking your spokes regularly, checking the wheel is still in true and see if you can find any damage to the rim. On old Rims it is also worth checking the braking surface, as this does wear down over time.

Learning how to true a wheel using the frame as a guide and replacing snapped spokes if you need to can potentially save your life one day on a remote tour, so it is definitely worth learning how to do! Top Tip: To stop your spare spokes getting damaged when you store them tape then to a part of the frame, such as the forks.

Brakes

Arguably one of the most important aspect of your bike, especially when safety is concerned. Your brakes! Brake pads wear down over time. Depending on different conditions, you may wear through a single set of brake pads in a matter of days, or a matter of months. Because of this, it is important to have at least one spare set of brake pads, and the knowledge of how to set them up – Look it up on youtube for your specific set of brakes before you go.

I use V Brakes, and I also bring 4 brake shoes (the metal bit that the pads attach to). It is very unlikely that these break, but it does happen occasionally!

It is very simple to check the state of your brakes. When you ride, can you stop safely? Can you feel a definite bite where the pads dig into the disc or the rim to stop you? Do the brakes sound healthy? If you answered No to any of those questions, then your brakes need work.

  1. Identify what brake is causing the issue. If it is both, then take them one at a time.
  2. Check that nothing is obstructing the brake – sometime a small stone or twig can get caught in the mechanism. Now follow the cable (or hose) from the calliper to the lever — you are looking to see if they have been trapped by a bag, zip-tie or anything similar. If it is an obstruction, remove the obstruction and try again.
  3. Check the brake pads – you should still be able to see some of the rubber / resin (depending on what type of pads you have). If you are unsure, compare them to a new pad. If you think that you need new pads, replace the pads then try again.
  4. Check how the cable runs through the outer. Dirt can accumulate in there seizing the cable up. If you see a large amount of dirt on the cable, wipe it clean with a cloth then drip a small amount of lube (Wet chain lube works if you have nothing else). Ignore this step if you have hydraulic brakes.

If you have followed the steps above and still have issues with your brakes, you may need to replace the cable or re-bleed them. I carry spare cables with me, as they do fray or snap from time to time. It is important to learn how to replace your cables in an emergency, but if you are unsure and are able to, its worth dropping into a bike shop.

Nuts and Bolts

The final thing you should check on your bike on a regular basis is all the nuts and bolts. I strongly recommend that before you leave you work your way through the bike and put some blue thread lock on all the bolts. This stops the bolts vibrating loose as your ride.

Ensuring that all your bolts are tight will prevent not only an irritating rattle as you bounce your way down the road, but also reduce the risk of bits falling off or breaking! I was guilty of this in France – one of the bolts that hold the rack in place had come loose. Luckily there were another 3 bolts in that area (Yay for redundancy!), so this didn’t affect me at all! It is also worth carrying a few spare bolts and glue with you, incase any do come loose and you loose them. If you have a particularly troublesome bolt, and you know you won’t have to undo the bolt on a regular basis, you can glue it in.

What Spares should I take with me?

Below is a list of what I think of as crucial spares. This is not an exhaustive list, and you will need to modify what you bring based on your location (availability of spares) and your bike.

  • Spare Brake Pads + shoes (where appropriate)
  • Brake and gear cables
    • A minimum of one gear cable and one brake cable. Thats what I bring, and if I use one I head to the nearest bike shop to ensure I always have a spare.
  • Chain Lube
    • Not a spare, but very important!
  • Spare spokes
    • Make sure that they fit your wheel! You will probably need several different length spokes
  • Chain and Cassette
    • If you are going into very remote areas then this may be crucial. I don’t carry either, but for longer rides where I will be going to undeveloped regions I will definitely bring them!
  • Inner tubes
    • I personally carry 3 spares with me. I would have to have a really bad day to get more than one puncture, but it can happen! I also have some patches.
  • Tyres
    • This is dependant on location. I never carry a spare tyre with me, as I run Shwalbe Marathon Plus tyres which are in good condition and I will always be close to a bike shop. When I go through an undeveloped country I will definitely bring a spare folding tyre.

What tools do I need to bring with me?

I will go through what tools I bring with me in a later post, but below is a quick list of what I would bring.

  • A Multi Tool, with all the Allen keys and types of screw driver that you need for your bike.
  • A Small adjustable spanner
  • Zip TIES!
    • Not a tool per se, but will definitely get you out of a tricky situation.
  • spoke key
  • cassette tool.
  • chain tool
  • chain checker
  • tyre levers
    • I carry 3. It is very rare that you need 3 at the same time, but they do occasionally snap. if you get really stuck you can use the handle of your cutlery

Ultimately, you need a tool for every bolt or fixing on your bike. If it Comes loose or breaks you need to be able to be able to remove it or tighten it up!

Time to Strip

Due to University commitments, I only have time to go on an extended tour once year – summer time. This leaves me the rest of the year to drool over maps, other blogs and facebooks posts whilst dreaming of places to tour. Starting out with the ‘dream tour’ then working my way down to a realistic length/ price! During this time off from touring, I also make the most of this time off to improve my kit, and refine my kit list. Throughout the next few posts I will talk about exactly what I do to maintain my kit and to prepare myself for the next tour. 

In this post I will talk about the mechanical side of things: how to look after your bike, and nurture it back to health after a long tour. I will be publishing a post on how to look after your bike on the road shortly, however, no matter how well you look after the bike on the road, it will get damaged, scratched, slightly rusted – all depending on the conditions that you ride in! As you will recall from my blog series following my tour down France, my bike performed flawlessly throughout, with the exception on my bottom bracket. This became a source of amusement for us whilst riding, but after around 500km, it became tedious. 

Maintaining your bike can be tedious and dull, but sadly for some, it is a necessary part of owning a bike – especially when touring! Luckily though, most jobs on a bike are all very simple to do! If you are unsure about something which I have mentioned here please don’t hesitate to contact me, or have a look on youtube- there are some great videos about anything you would want to do! The important thing about self maintenance is knowing what you are able to do, and knowing where to draw the line. If you are unsure about something, even after having looked it up, then I suggest that you leave it. If it is a thing that can be easily removed, such as bar tape, then by all means have a go at it yourself, but then if you mess it up, take it off and bring your bike to a local bike shop. They may allow you to watch them work, but I wouldn’t pester them with questions, as it will annoy a normally-friendly mechanic no-end!

Maintaining a bike is not like maintaining a car, where you can buy it, then use it for 6 months, before thinking of adding more washer fluid. On a bike every few days you should be checking the bike over to ensure that everything is working fine- after all, a brake failure on your bike is a bit more serious than running out of washing fluid.. What do I mean by this quick check? Simply pulling on the brakes, and clicking through the gears, checking that everything feels right. You should get into the habit of checking these things as you leave the campsite everyday. You can, and probably should do these checks whilst actually riding the bike, so the start of every ride is a good way to remember it. This isn’t just for touring – if you ride for fun, race or anywhere in between you should always do some basic safety checks on your bike before riding. Some people are very keen on the ‘M” check. Personally I think that it’s a bit of a gimmick, but if it helps you remember and makes you feel safer, go for it! Head over to the Sustrans website for a break down on the M-Check.

1706_jameslucas_01_0
Image courtesy of Sustrans Website (www.sustrans.org.uk)

Unfortunately bike maintenance is much more than just a brake check. You should aim to get your bike up into your stand and have a thorough check of everything on your bike every 500km or so when not touring. When touring this becomes slightly harder! Whilst in France I gave my bike a full once over twice – and both of these were in the mountains where a failure could be catastrophic.

In an ideal world you would have the following tools to work on your bike after a tour. Personally, I strip my bike all the way down to a bare frame and then re-build it up, cleaning everything and replacing components as and where they are needed . In my opinion this is by far the best way of doing things, as it allows you to inspect everything properly. This means that when you set off on your next tour you can be 100% confident that your bike will last more than the first few days! 

tools20needed

However, in this page I will not go through how to strip a bike and re-build it in detail – there are plenty of other blogs and videos that explain how to do all that. With that said, I will be briefly covering how to do some of the easier adjustments, that can easily be done both on the road and in your workshop. One of the easiest way to know what needs to be worked on is to ride the bike. Do there seem to be any problems? 

  • Do your brakes underperform? 
    •  You should check your brake pads- do you still have plenty of rubber in contact with the rim? If not change them! You should also give your rim a good scrub with a brush and some soapy water (and then rinse them…). If you are still having problems after doing both of these things, then you need to check you cable- it may be fraying under a piece of outer, which stretches when you pull on the brakes. If this is the problem I suggest that you drop it off to your LBS and get them to fix it. Or find some videos online (The Global Cycling Network have some great information available) about how to do it yourself. 
  • Do your gears not shift smoothly? 
    •  Try adjusting your barrel adjuster. You can find it on the cable just before you reach the derailleur. Some models have several along the length of a cable. my touring bike has them on both the derailleur and the down tube. Give it a it a few turns ( remember how many you have turned it) and try to change gears again. If it has made the problem worse, turn it back the other way and try again. Has this not solved your problem? Then I suggest you take it down to your local bike shop ( AKA LBS). 

The barrel adjuster is a very small, but very important bit of the bike to get to know! it will save you hours of headaches trying to work out why your bike that used to be silent now sounds like it’s screaming in pain! 

If you ever get to the stage where you think something is going badly wrong, then simply move back a step and see if that has helped. If it hasn’t then bring it to your LBS, it is much better to do this than to potentially ruined a piece of kit! 

How to check your chain for wear;

STEP 1 (optional) ; Place youre bike in a work stand. Althoguh this isn’t necessary, i would strongly recommend it. 

STEP 2; Take the tool out and check that it is still all moving smoothly. Sometimes a small stone can get in the way and jam it.

STEP 3; now you have the tool out and ready, place it on the chain, ensuring that the metal spikes sticking out underneath slot into the chain. 

STEP 4;

Now you have the tool balanced on the chain, simply push the black dial towards you until you feel it stop. Don’t keep forcing it, as you can fake the reading by doing that. 

STEP 5; Once you have done this, have a look through the slot to the numbers onto the black dial. 

 

These numbers will tell you whether the chain is as new, needs replacing, or in the middle. If the number is bigger than 1, then you need to replace your chain, if it is about 0.75 then you need to start thinking about changing chain, and if it is between 0.25 and 0.5 then you don’t need to worry about your chain at all! Even though the scale goes down to 0, i have yet to see a chain with 0 stretch, even if it’s new!  

Other chain stretch tools are available – this is simply what I had in my garage.

Hoepfully this has been a useful post – please do let me know if you would like to see more of these, or if you would prefer me to keep this blog as purely my expereinces whilst travelling.

Camping

The biggest concern people have when they start to plan their first long distance tour is camping.

“Where do I sleep?”

“What happens if I can’t find a suitable place to sleep?”

“What if it rains?”

These, any many others are all very real concern that people have when they first start camping during a bike tour. In this section of the blog I will talk about what I do when I go camping, and how you might start to get over your fears. What I CAN’T do, is get over them for you! This only scratches the surface of everything you need to do and think about. Head over to my Kit Blog, where I go through everything that I brought with me on my first Long distance Tour in France.

The Prep.

As you may have noticed, everything about touring is to do with preparation, or prep for short. The more experienced you are, and the bigger risks you are willing to take, the less preparation you need – I, and many other people are able to pack our bags and go for a long weekend at a moments notice.

I will break the prep down into the key things that you need to decide upon.

1) Location

  • Where will you be camping?
    • Is it a campsite or will you be wild camping? 
  • Weather
    • Hot or cold?
    • Will it Rain?

This is arguably one of the most important things to know before you start to pack your kit, as a beginner. If you know that you will be in the mountains and it is a warm summers night with no rain, then go for a bivi bag. But if you know its going to rain and its cold, bring your tent.

An example of one of my many biviing locations!

Knowing this means that you can be prepared for what will happen, putting your mind at rest. Having said that, don’t get complacent! Just because the weather forecast doesn’t show rain, You should still bring your waterproofs!

2) Time

  • How long are you away for?

Remember, whilst camping is a great way of resting during a long distance tour, there is nothing stopping you going for an overnight trip

The longer you are away, the more you need to carry – for an overnighter you don’t need anything besides your sleeping kit. For a month long trip, you will want soap, a change of clothes, different shoes, stove… the list goes on and on!

3) Experience

  • How comfortable are you camping?

If you are reading this blog, my assumption would be not very – that will impact what kit you bring.

I have already alluded to when you may want to use a bivvy bag Vs a Tent in point 1, but your experience also plays a massive part in it! If you don’t feel comfortable in a bivvy bag, then use a tent, there is no shame in using a tent. Many people who have been camping for many years still only use a tent.

4) Food

This is a simple one!

Do you want to cook your own food, or do you want to buy pre-cooked?

If you want to cook your own food, then you will need a stove, the food itself, a pan of sorts and an eating utensil, at a minimum.

What I have listed above is the 4 basic things you need to think of when you are preparing a camping trip. By no means are these the only things you need to think of, but these are the most important things to have an answer to when you head out for a camp.

Safety when Camping

Safety is, quite rightly, a concern for everyone who is going camping. These concerns vary from being scared of an axe murderer walking through the woods in the dead of night (if you think rationally how unlikely it is, you will realise it’s not worth being scared about it!) to the much more serious matter of what to do in an emergency.

I would suggest everyone who goes camping or bike touring to have a basic understanding of first aid – going on a course not only gives you great knowledge about how to help yourself and your friends if one of you get hurt, but you also get a qualification out of it! You should also have access to emergency phone number for the area you are in – If you are in the UK call 999 and explain your issue. They will then asses what help they need to send to you.

The final main safety issue which I don’t think is spoken about enough is tent fires. Having been stuck in one myself when I was younger, I was saved by a bit of knowledge that my dad told me.

ALWAYS HAVE A KNIFE TO HAND WHEN IN A TENT.

Why? Not only is a knife super useful for cutting up your cheese and peeling your fruit, but it will also allow you to cut your way out of a tent. If your tent has caught fire, one of the first things that will happen is the tent will fill up with black smoke, blinding and choking you. the next thing that will happen is that the plastic zip will melt itself together. Having a knife means you can cut your way through the nearest wall and get out of the tent. Obviously you wouldn’t d this unless your life is in danger, as tents are expensive, but it is always worth having on you. I always have a small folding knife in my pocket when I sleep – I reassures me that if something happens, I will be ok. And if I do meet that axe murderer? well I might stand a bit of a better chance with that penknife!

Day 10: 18/7/18

Just south of Soulac sur Mer to Carcan  63.9km

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After a lazy morning of phone charging, admin and just general laziness we got on the bikes and headed down towards the bike paths. Which quickly became a boring, straight monotonous, dull (I think you get the image) road. If only one of us had a working MPS player or radio! We managed to avoid the heavy showers in the morning before turning off the Vélodyssée path, in Tristans case for the last time, to find a shop. once we were at the shop the heavens opened, and together with about 8 other bike tourists, we decided to have lunch (at 1700) in-front of the shop whilst we waited for the rain to stop.

Outside the shop. If your bike is in the pic and your reading this drop me a message!

After that, it was a relaxing ride along amazingly well drained roads to Carcan. Once we got there we initially stopped at a very dodgy campsite, but decided to carry onto the next (slightly less dodgy) campsite.

Authors note: As a whole we had fairly pleasant experiences at campsites – the bathrooms were generally like you would expect at a cheap campsite. All the owners were very kind, and we got many questions from others staying there with regards to what we were doing, where we were going etc! The one campsite where both Tristan and I were slightly disappointed was this one in Carcan – it was very grubby, and the toilets were absolutely rank. and it cost more than some of the nicest campsites we stayed at!

 

 

Day 9: 17/7/18

Tonray Charente to just south of Soulac sur mer 85.3km

If yesterday was a day plagued by strong winds, today was plagued by bumpy roads! it’s cooled down slightly, as temperatures were originally predicted in excess of 35 degrees! today the aim was to get to Royan and get the ferry over to le Verdon sur mer.

A very informal ferry crossing! It felt great to be able to get on the boat, knowing that another major leg of the tour had been done! It was slightly sad knowing that it was only a matter of days until Tristan would have to leave.

After a gentle few hours on nice gravel roads, we reached the coast where sand started encroaching on the bike paths! Generally this was fine, but  it did cause a few issues. Tristan hit the deck twice, both times because off the sand! On his first foray onto the floor, he managed to shove loads of sand into his rear brake calliper, which seized the whole thing up – requiring a good half an hour of fiddling to even get the brake working again! The second crash he managed to bend his hood in. He was very lucky the car driver way paying attention as he crashed directly in front of her! she leapt out the car and gave him a hand up whilst I put my bike away (not an easy task!).

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At this point my Garmin ran out of battery! This is why it is incredibly important to have a paper map with your route marked on it, and more importantly be able to use it! For me, my map became my best friend and I was slightly sad when I put it away as I reached the limit of that map!

My bottom bracket has started creaking / clicking, which is incredibly annoying…..

Day 8: 16/7/18

La Rochelle to Tonray Charente 78Km

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After a nice touristy morning and an amazing croissant (I recommend that you try one!), we left la Rochelle and pootled down the bike path. Today was a very relaxed day, with the aim to reach Rochefort. However, once we got there all the campsites were either full, or too expensive!  We decided to go back to the original plan of biviing – we rode for a couple more hours, until we found a suitably large bush to hide behind, mere metres from the path!

After a surprisingly pleasant supper of pasta (again) and tinned mackerel in mustard sauce, we crawled into out sleeping bags, although at this stage it is starting to get too warm for sleeping bags. It was at this point that I realised I was under a particularly large, prickly bush.

Tristan’s take on the whole affair.

Tristan, holding our bike waiting for the very over to the Isle of wight. This would be the test of our kit and how to live on the bikes!

A while ago I asked Tristan to write something just to summarise his time touring. This was his reply.

Here I was, stuffed under a bush, sticks poking in my back and a pannier for a pillow, with the sound of the sea crashing in the near distance, when only that morning I’d opened the zip of the tent and seen ducks paddling on the river at the edge of our pitch. It was the end of the second day of riding about 100km, and little did I know, the next day I would be doing the same again.

It was Bastile day, and myself and a friend had just finished day six of our tour having covered about 430km. We had just had dinner on a beach near Jard Sur Mer watching the fireworks from five or six different towns across the sea. You could tell where the large towns like La Rochelle were by the larger fireworks displays.

We had had our normal tea of pasta with a pasta sauce, I cannot remember which flavour but it could only come from a choice of about three. I had been cooking mine on my stand up gas burner in my mess tins as I did every night, when I caught the handle and knocked my freshly cooked pasta into the sand. Against the recommendation of my friend, I decided not to rinse the sand off and eat it, but instead cooked a much smaller amount. Our pudding would have been the usual of probably stale bread with jam.

We looked around the beach for somewhere to sleep, deciding on the top of a large pile of rocks a good three or four meters tall that acted as protection for the hill behind against the waves until we realised that firstly, it would have been a pain to carry bikes and panniers up, secondly that there was only space for one person amongst the vegetation and thirdly, although we had roll mats, they would do nothing against the large gaps in the rocks which would have made it impossible to sleep. We decided to retreat from the beach, however we had to navigate our bikes up quite a steep path, that was more steps than path, in the pitch black (It definately had been easier in the light). We retreated back along the grassy costal path that we had taken earlier in the evening looking for a place to sleep in some woodland.

When we had ridden past it earlier it had looked ok and there were a couple of places to sleep, however in the dark these same woods gave both my friend and I the ‘heebie-jeebies’, but we needed a place to sleep and didn’t really want to be woken up horrendously early by someone shouting at us for sleeping somewhere that we shouldn’t be as wild camping isn’t particularly legal in France. As I stood on the path to check if anyone was coming or if a possible sleeping spot could be seen my friend looked for one. He chose a spot that when it was pitch black looked very good, however in the morning we realised that it was quite visible. As we piled all of our stuff through a tiny hole and lay stuff out we realised that the reflectors on our panniers were very visible as the moon was very bright that night. We tried to pile them all together or cover them in leaves. We had decided before we started not to tape them over because, although it would be difficult to cover them at night, if we did end up riding at night they were extreamly effective at showing that we were there.

I lay out my ground sheet, my roll mat, then put my sleeping bag inside my bivi bag, got changed and got into bed. I lay there looking up through the low wooded canopy at the bright moon, the waves crashing on the beach mere tens of metres away thinking how good everything was. Yes, I had felt pretty down at the whole pasta incident but I remembered how I had felt sitting on the hill, looking out over Portsmouth, trying to eat lunch but not being able to. Wanting to say thanks but no thanks I really don’t want to do this but cracking on anyway. I felt extremely happy that I hadn’t thrown the towel in and how I had enjoyed the entire journey so far and in hindsight enjoying the whole journey.

The next morning we woke automatically, as we had trained ourselves to wake up early when we were wild camping so we wouldn’t get caught. I looked around as I rubbed my eyes and noticed that our spot was about a metre away from the path when it had looked about five in the dark. We quickly packed everything up and piled out from the bush gaining some particularly interesting looks from some early morning runners

Day 7 : 15/7/2018

Jard sur mer  – La Rochelle 91.5km

[It] was meant to be a relaxed day today, but due to not getting as far south as we planned to yesterday, we had another long day. Our aim today was to get to a campsite in La Rochelle and watch the match ( Football World Cup France Vs Croatia).

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After a pleasant but hot day of riding on the bike path, we finally got to a buzzing La Rochelle, mere minutes before the match started. We quickly set up our tent, threw all the panniers in and walked into town to catch the second half. We found a spot at the back of a brand watched the game through a forest of arms waving and heads bobbing around – even if we couldn’t see the game very clearly, it was *very* clear when France scored! Cheers Erupted everywhere, people pulled trumpets and drums and anything that can make a sound out of nowhere and starting bashing away, dancing and shouting. it was a truly awesome atmosphere, which didn’t stop until the small hours of the night with people driving around honking their horns!

Tristan struggling with the 40 Degrees + weather we had!

After the match we decided to have an ice-cream. It worked wonders for waking us up and removing the taste of grit from our mouths!

In the campsite we hand washed as much as we could today, and will charge everything up before we leave tomorrow.

In the campsite we also met a Swiss couple who had touring from Switzerland all the way down, and were heading back home the next day – they gave us some great tips on how to get good food cheap! and how to make sure we didn’t get ill from drinking dodgy water.

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