I love packing and no holiday preparation feels quite as exciting as getting our Go Box down from the loft and installing the contents in panniers. Our solo parent cycle touring equipment has been refined over the last few years, mainly by trial and excessive error, so we’ve learnt something about the fundamentals. High quality, well researched, expedition comparisons of all cycle touring, camping and adventure activity equipment are available on the brilliant Next Challenge website but our solo parent experiences have led us on the following journey.
An evolution in tents (Picture 1, right to left)
We started out with what we had, which was my Eurohike 2-man tent bought 15 years ago. Weighting in at 3.5kg it wasn’t the lightest tent on the market but when you are hauling a four year old with it in a trailer an excess kg or two really makes little difference. Two Ortleib dry bags have been a good investment for containing soaking tents and dry sleeping bags (separately, if you can manage it).
In 2015 the Vango Banshee series was highly rated by the crowds at the first and fabulous Cycle Touring Festival and was purchased in great excitement, but going for the 2.75kg 3-person ‘300’ without regularly taking a 3rd person to carry it turned out to be a serious flaw. It performed well on our Orkney tour last year, but I opted to post it home before our final ride to reduce bulk on my overloaded Dawes.
Our brand new Alpkit Ordos 2 weighs 1.3kg but at twice the price of the Banshee it was only purchased after a particularly difficult day, which is when most of my impulsive financial decisions are made. Hardly bigger than the 1.5l bottle of ginger beer my son insisted on cycling around Tiree this year, it survived 25mph winds in Coll and a serious downpour in Oban.
A revolution in mats (Picture 2) but let sleeping bags lie (Picture 3)
Self inflating mats – what are they good for? Bulky and not cheap, I’ve used both Vango (orange bag) and Mountain Warehouse (black bag) ones over the last few years, not knowing that a child-inflating selection of mats was available. Looking for small and light mats that didn’t cost a fortune, I found Decathalon stock a helpfully short version, chosen by my son after a good roll around on all of them in store. Refusing to splash the £100 needed for a Thermarest that Twitter told my pal Claire was best, I went online for the Alpkit Cloudbase for my mat needs and had to fight my son off it every night during our recent adventure to Tiree and Coll.
Our sleeping bags are now the bulkiest part of our kit: I’ve got a Vango Ultralight 600 and my son has a Mountain Warehouse 3 season bag that’s in need of a thorough wash and new compression sack. They do the job April through to October, but a large cash investment would be needed to take us winter camping in Scotland as far as I can see at the moment.
Sharing the load: the kitchen sink and cupboards (Picture 4)
My son’s bike was transformed into a work horse by our local bike shop so this year he was able to take his share of the load, with our Ortleib front rollers taking the strain of the kitchen equipment, cycling spares, tools and Mr Elephant on the back of his little bike.
I took the advice of Travelling Two a few years ago and invested in an Ortleib folding bowl and have found it invaluable for washing cooking equipment, clothes, a child, carrying water and dirty dishes. Equally helpful for the solo parent is the Platypus wine carrier, allowing you to ditch the glass bottle and still transport an entire bottle of wine.
The kitchen pannier also contains: a tiny Vango stove and gas cannister, Alpkit titaniumum pots (another difficult day purchase), headtorches, matches, Ikea plastic bowls, a few sporks, tea towel, small sharp knife, chopping board, a Tupperware pot or two, mugs, two plates and some pegs. (Note to self: the washing up sponge and washing up liquid bottle need replacing)
Clean clothes have been the first casualty of solo parent cycling equipment refinement, along with washing. We managed one shower between us over 5 days on our last trip and, as far as I’m aware, no-one died because of it. Wearing wool is my first (only, to be honest) line of defence, and if you can see or smell anything untoward then you are too close to me and should move away. One spare set of clothes plus waterproofs and swimming gear is all I’m prepared to carry now unless I’m expecting to present myself to civilised company.
Don’t forget dragon capacity
Small children have the most incredible acquisitive powers – we cannot go for a walk without obtaining sticks, shells and random bits of grotty plastic. Feeling the weight of unspent pocket money, a substantial dragon was found and purchased to add to our load in Oban. Like the 1.5l of ginger beer, the smiles were worth the weight. You just don’t get that with spare pants.