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Camping gear review: Wherever I pitch my tent...

Words: Harry Fisher | Photos: Harry Fisher, Cape Union & Outdoor Warehouse

The idea of being completely self-sufficient while on a motorcycling or bicycle trip is very alluring for many people, as it allows you to really get away from it all. And finding kit that is small and light enough to carry on a bike, which is not going to break the bank, isn’t as hard as it may seem.

Being properly prepared is one of the greatest joys of undertaking a journey. Not only is there the fun of all the gadgets you have at your disposal but they free you up from having to rely too much on civilisation and enable you to get to grips with nature. This, of course, means camping. However, the problem can often be one of space and/or weight. Tents and sleeping bags are not necessarily the most compact items and other gear, such as cooking equipment, can be bulky and heavy.

A little research into this challenge revealed that light and compact while performing well, are remarkably easy to achieve. What is not so easy is the affordability, as not all of us need or have the budget for Everest-expedition-quality equipment. The good news for our latter group is that going down-market does not necessarily mean down-grading on any of the essential criteria. So let’s take a look at the equipment needed, in order of importance.

Tents - There are plenty of tents on the market, but very few with the weight and dimensions suitable for bikes. I found three that fit the bill perfectly.

• Outdoor Warehouse has the 360 Degree Lightweight 2, a 2-person tent that comes in at an amazing 1.8 kg and measures 50 x 17 cm (length x diameter) when packed. It offers a 2.3 m long sleeping compartment and all materials used are fire retardant and UV resistant. The inner is mesh, for perfect ventilation! *Priced at R1,099.

• Outdoor Warehouse also has the 360 Degree Trek 3, a 3-person tent. Why three person? Well, the extra space takes into consideration that while camping in the middle of nowhere, you might need or want to store your luggage and belongings in the tent with you. This tent caters for this while still having enough room for two people to sleep comfortably. It comes in at a very reasonable 3 kg and has a 2.1 m inner length. Packed, dimensions are 42 x 20 cm. *Priced at R1,599.

• Last, but not least, is the K-Way Nerolite 2-man tent from Cape Union Mart. This sits in-between the other two in terms of weight - 2.4 kg - but has roughly the same dimensions as the Trek 3 when packed. An aerodynamic shape allows it to remain stable even in high winds. It’s not the biggest tent in the world, so the two people sharing it would need to be quite good friends. It comes with a roll-top, waterproof carry bag and repair kit. The outer flysheet is made from ripstop nylon. *Priced at R1,499.

All three tents are dead easy to pitch and strike and, needless to say, they are all totally waterproof and have a built-in ground sheet. They all work on the bendy-pole concept and have aluminium poles. As a way of carrying your castle with you, you can’t go wrong with any of these tents.

Sleeping bags - Usually the bulkiest of all equipment, there is actually a way round this that also gives you great flexibility, no matter the temperature.

• The K-Way Extreme Light from Cape Union Mart is a goose down filled bag, with a temperature comfort rating of +10°C. If you are thinking that 10°C is not very cold, you would be right. However, living in sunny South Africa and camping in summer, you would rarely need anything more. For cooler conditions though, couple this with a thermal liner, which packs down to half the size of the sleeping bag, and you get incredible warmth and flexibility. It weighs a paltry 470 g and packs down to a tiny 25 x 13 cm easy strap-to-bike, two-part package. It's still smaller than one super-thermal sleeping bag that would also cost a lot more and would be horrible in high summer. *Priced at R1,199.

• Coming in slightly cheaper is the First Ascent Pack Lite bag from Outdoor Warehouse. It weighs 800 g and is only slightly larger than the K-Way when packed. It’s rated for comfort to 5°C. *Priced at R899.

Mat - It’s no good being warm if you’re lying on rock-hard ground and are terribly uncomfortable.

• The best mat I could find was the Thermal Comfort Backpacker Standard 3.8 at Cape Union. It weighs 690 g, but more importantly, it packs down to 28 x 15 cm. It is one of those self-inflating mats that only need a few breaths to inflate it fully. It is really comfortable and comes with a stuff sack, velcro strap and repair kit. *Priced at R550.

For a maximum of R4,000 (including a thermal liner for the sleeping bag), and weighing in at only 4.5 kg across the three small packages, you can sleep snugly and comfortably, and it's hardly going to break the panniers!

Then you’ve got to eat. South African men are well accustomed to making a fire and braaing a bit of meat or boerie, but a fire is not always possible so you need to have an alternative.

Stoves - Cape Union Mart has some astounding multi-fuel stoves that I would choose over stoves that use only gas canisters any day, simply because they are so much more flexible and fuel can be found anywhere. Of course, if you’re on a motorbike, your fuel source travels with you. There are many really small, compact and cheap stove units out there, but for ultimate performance, there are two that stand out above the rest. They might not be the cheapest (or anywhere near cheap, come to that), but you get what you pay for.

• The Kovea Booster +1 is actually remarkable value for money. It comes with the burner, fuel bottle and pump, as well as a servicing tool kit, spares and canvas zip bag to hold it all. The burner is really sturdy, and the legs and pan holders fold in together to make it very compact. *Priced at R1,199.

• The MSR Dragonfly is already legendary and has to be the ultimate combination of performance, lightweight and features. It’ not cheap (and you have to buy a fuel bottle separately), but it is the big daddy of stoves. Where it wins is that it will support pots of up to 9 inches in diameter, making it perfect for a one-pot-feeds-all meal. *Priced at R2,500.

So, there you have it; eat, sleep and shelter in the smallest package possible. What more could you want?

For more information on the products mentioned, visit www.capeunionmart.co.za and www.outdoorwarehouse.co.za.
* Prices at time of going to print.