As a seasoned traveler I have tried out a considerable number of sleeping bags. At the moment I have six of them, and a few more were stolen, lost or given away to homeless persons. Recently I was asked to do a review of a particular 2-season sleeping bag from sleepingbags|outlet. The bag in question is Yellowstone Ultralite 100.
|The bag can be squeezed to small volume.|
The first impression when I got this bag was very good. I was particularly impressed with the compression bag it is packed in. It has two nylon straps to cinch the bag down to rather small volume (20 cm x 15 cm or 3.5 L). My first thought was that I could use this compression bag as a main pack behind the seat on my ultralight bicycle tours (like the two ones in France in 2011 and 2012). The compression bag is very suitable for this as it can be expanded to hold all the clothes on a hot day or squeezed to almost nothing on a cold or rainy days when you wear all your stuff. If you use the compression bag for this purpose, the sleeping bag might be squeezed into another storage bag – about 3.5 L and 20 g - so the packed sleeping bag would not weigh much more then 700 g.
The sleeping bag itself looks nice. Black and red design is appealing, the material is soft, feels nice to the skin and has a tough-looking structure. When testing the bag I slept in what I would call “cycling underwear” - ultralight short sleeved jersey, cycling shorts and short socks. That is the way I usually sleep when I camp on a ultralight cycling tour. The minimal temperature during the test was 9 degrees C and I was rather comfortable in the bag. With a bit of additional clothing I think the temperature range of this bag could be extended to include most of spring and autumn. The bag has a mummy shape, but is reasonably big enough to move around in it, to turn around and to find the best sleeping position. I am 183 cm tall and slim (70 kg) and I had enough room to stretch almost any way I liked. The shape could be improved though, to be a bit narrower at the shoulder and wider at the hips to give more room for the arms there. The bag has a hood that fits very well around the face when it is cinched and stays in place even when you turn around. The bag has a long two-way zipper (with zipper baffle to retain heat) that can be unzipped so the bag can be used as a blanket when the temperature gets too high. Contrary to what is stated on its web-site, the bag doesn't have the shoulder baffle, although I didn't feel the need for one. The small inner pocket is strategically positioned right below your chin, which I found to be ingenious position, but it can be only partially closed with a small Velcro patch, so smaller or narrower items (like glasses for example) would fall out of it. It is suitable for bigger items, e.g. a passport.
As a conclusion I'd say that I was nicely surprised with this bag. For its price it has a lot of value: light weight and small volume, great looking desing, is nice to the touch and reasonably comfortable to sleep and turn in it and can be quickly packed and unpacked from a fantastic multi-purpose compression bag. I would recommend it for 2-season use (extended well into spring and autumn with additional clothing) to anyone who wants a small sleeping bag without the high-tech hype and price. However, it probably won't be suitable to hardcore weight weenies who are eager to spend 5 times as much money to save 200 grams.
Review of the equipment from the 2013 tour
I had my usual "far-away tour" bike, the #8 one. I did some modifications to reduce weight, most notably with a new, light set of road tires (240 g each, which reduced weight by -330 g), then two lighter tubes (-50 g), omission of second bottle cage (-25 g), Allen key squewers instead of QR (-100 g) and new seat-post and seat (-80 g). I also cut off the rear struts (legs) off the rear rack (-90 g). However, I was not very pleased with the bike. It did feel comfortable, maybe too comfortable. It seems that my two last tours in France - using road racing bikes - have shifted my preference to more performance-driven riding. The tires were a big mistake. They were Continental Grand Prix 4-season in dimension 28-622 (in reality more like 26-622). I thought that wider tires would be more appropriate for rougher surface, but I was wrong. The sidewalls were very soft and - lacking a high-pressure pump - I had a record number of snake bites. I lost confidence in tires and it resulted in over-prudent and worrisome riding.
Another thing that I was not pleased with was my outfit - I just didn't feel good in what I was wearing. The shorts were a bit too big (especially after I lost weight) and were hanging on me like diapers. The jersey was too tight, the socks weren't the right color, front cuts that I made in the crocs felt ridiculous and the long trousers for off-the-bike were too baggy. What I learned from all this is to go with the things that you feel good in - and to try that outfit at home first and get used to it.
Was there a thing that worked? Yes. My cue-sheets, as usual, were a fantastic navigation tool. More so after I added some upgrades like town names in Chinese and general riding directions between major points (e.g. N(orth), NE, ...). A small compass was invaluable in bigger towns, for example I found my way out of Chengdu to Dujiangyan easily, using only the compass. I replaced tent storage bag with a slightly bigger - but not heavier - dry bag (the orange one in the picture). This gave me the opportunity to distribute some of my stuff between two dry bags, with a bit easier access to some things.
Review of the equipment from the 2012 tour
I had the lightest bike so far: 7.3 kg. It had a compact double crankset (50/34) with lowest gearing ratio 34/28=1.21. The bike was performing just fine - I have no real complaints. I had two punctures and I replaced the pedals when the left pedal fell off, but those things were easy to sort out.
Containers. Everything was the same as the last year (see the review below), with just one little (but maybe notable) distinction: to reduce the contact of my thighs with the bag behind the seat, I used a plastic bracket (weighing 12 g) as a spacer. It was tied to the back of the seatpost with duct tape. I used the second bottle cage and bivy's storage bag as a carrier of the rain jacket, arm warmers and gloves.
Clothes. This time I had a very light (136 g) synthetic cycling top (jersey). It performed perfectly both in rain and in 12 days of heat wave. The best thing about it is that it could be fully unzipped, which I had a chance of appreciating during hard climbs at 40 degrees C. Cycling shorts with a bit thicker padding were great too. I had no problems with sore bottom. Those were "bib" shorts, i.e. with shoulder straps, which I don't particularly like, because my back stayed wet longer than usual after rain or after hard climbs. Next time I would use shorts without shoulder straps, with waist elastics only. The windproof and rain resistant jacket, that I liked the last time, somehow didn't perform well this time, maybe because its water-proofing had worn down. Fortunately I had arm warmers that kept my arms a bit warmer. I liked off-bike shorts as much as the last time, as well as the crocs.
Other items. Sleeping bag was a really positive surprise. Despite the fact that it's a very light summer down sleeping bag (472 g), it kept me warm and - when there were no mosquitoes - camping in it was a real pleasure. Beneath the sleeping bag I had just a thin nylon sheet (34 g) to protect the bag from dirt and humidity. I never rode during the night, so, the front light and reflective belts were not necessary. I navigated by the same cue cards as the last time. As I was riding in the opposite direction from the one on the cards, it was sometimes harder to find the route, but the worst that happened were 30 additional kilometers because of lost ways.
Review of the equipment from the 2011 tour
In july/august 2011 I cycled in France. It was a mix of two tasks: climbing over 100 French cols and completing Paris-Brest-Paris randonnée. It was also the weight record breaking tour, which is not surprising since I didn't take full camping gear. I had 3 kg of stuff and 11.9 kg including the bike. The list of things is published there. Here is the review of my stuff.
When reading this review bear in mind that this was a summer tour without the usual camping kit. I would take something different in other circumstances.
First, the bike. It had a compact double crankset (50/34) with lowest gearing ratio 34/27=1.26. It weighed 8.9 kg. On some climbs, when my lower back hurt, I wished I had lower gearing, maybe my usual touring bike with a triple (lowest gearing ratio 30/26=1.15), even if it is almost a kilo heavier. But then again, I remember that I sometimes have the same pains with any kind of bike. Stopping on a climb to rest is an option, but in France I was too stubborn to complete the climbs in one go, and besides, once you start stopping, you'll stop at every possible excuse. So the conclusion is: have a lighter bike and do exercises to strengthen (and maintain) your core muscles.
I had flat pedals with pins (4th picture in the pedal review below). They are great: good grip, wide, comfortable platform, no need to think what to do with your feet and at 260 g even lighter then most of the clipless pedals (even if you don't count in the clips). I found a 40 g multitool with 8 mm allen key to screw them on and off.
Containers. The little camera bag in front was excellent. I had camera, tools and skin cream in it. As a 40 g container carrying 340 g of content, it was the realization of the first axiom of ultralight cycling par excellence. It was simple to tie it to the handlebar with a nylon strip and once I tied it on, I never took it off. During the rain I'd just slip any plastic bag over it.
The compression bag behind the seat was good as well. It could be expanded to include food bought at the end of the day or shrunk when I wore all my clothes on. On my way home from the airport I even managed to ride with a big bottle of Sheridan's strapped to it. The bag could be strapped on and off relatively quickly, even though the items inside were not quickly accessible.
I used the second bottle cage and bivy's storage bag as a carrier of the rain jacket, arm warmers and coins - very handy and light.
Clothes. I had a cycling top (jersey) made of 50% merino wool. While it is stylishly designed, without obtrusive logos and can be worn on any occasion, it was just plain too hot. On every longer climb and no matter what temperature, I was soaked from the sweat. I ended up emptying everything from jersey's back pockets, and carried the things elsewhere. Conclusion: have a light, synthetic jersey which wicks away the sweat. The official 2011 PBP jersey, for example, is much better in this regard. Additional option for better ventilation: cut off the middle pocket, or replace it with a mesh.
I had a windproof and rain resistant jacket, which was just right to keep the chill out and wasn't too hot. A "+" to arm warmers too, they were good to keep me relatively warm in the rain. Leg warmers weren't exactly necessary. I wore them only on the three emergency nights when I slept in the bivy bag. They could have been easily replaced with winter nylon stockings. The second, thicker pair of merino socks weren't necessary either. A much better solution for the rain was to wrap my feet in cling foil.
For the time off-bike I replaced trousers with light shorts without pockets. I really liked them, even if sometimes I didn't know what to do with my hands.
The Crocs performed very well - see the separate review on crocs, with an update.
Bivy bag. I don't think that was a good choice. The bivy bag didn't keep me warm and I stayed relatively dry only because I wiped off the condensation from inside of it several times during the night. A "space foil" would probably perform just as well, if not better. Instead of emergency camping, I'd say it would had been better just to continue cycling throughout the night. That is why I'd recommend good lights. Instead of reflective vest, I'd take only reflective belts.
Navigation. Cue sheets that I made from the "100-cols" road book were excellent navigation tool, not least because they encouraged me to contact the residents and ask them about directions. People were very helpful without exception. I'm positive that I couldn't navigate better with any kind of paper or electronic map.
Sealskinz waterproof socks
If, after reading previous reviews on this page, you got the impression that everything's rosy in the UL-cycling world, then I'm afraid I've got some bad news: the day when I have to write a somewhat negative review has come. Not that I am particularly fond of it - my heart is bleeding in fact - but, other than lying, I can't do differently.
The item in question are "Sealskinz" waterproof socks. I ordered them few years ago, based mostly on great web reviews. I used them for the first time on the last African tour, when riding down the misty Sani Pass in cold and windy but relatively dry conditions. At that time the socks felt great, they were comfortable and my feet stayed dry and warm, even though I was wearing only crocs. In fact I was certain that I'd finally found the ideal wet-weather footwear combination: Crocs & Sealskinz.
However, after my second experience with Sealskinz, I am really sad to announce that they are not perfect. The occasion to test Sealskinz for the second time came on a PBP classification 400 km brevet. The weather forecast - mostly cloudy with occasional showers and storms - seemed ideal for the Sealskinz to show themselves in full glory. I'd chosen to ride in trainers, because they performed great on previous 200 km and 300 km brevets. Most of the time it was not raining, except a bit of drizzle in the morning, but in the afternoon there were a couple of storms which got me thoroughly soaked, although most of the water seeped into my shoes from the road spray - especially from the front wheel. I expected that Sealskinz could easily deal with it - after all I saw adds of a person standing in water for a couple of minutes with socks on, being happily dry. Well, maybe the socks work if you stand still in water, but they certainly don't work if you cycle in wet shoes. In about 15 km of riding in wet shoes, everything was soaked: the shoes, the socks and my feet. I can't say if the wet feet were a consequence of perspiration or leaking - but it doesn't matter because the result was the same: the socks didn't keep my feet warm. I still had about 180 km to go, most of it during the night, and the best solution was a flint-stone one: a plastic bag between the socks and the shoes assured that at least my feet didn't freeze. It would had been just the same if I had ordinary socks on.
Moreover, two additional questions arise. First, it is often said that no one is rich enough to buy cheap stuff. In this case, I'd rather say that it's a double misery if you buy expensive stuff that doesn't do what it's supposed to do. Secondly, I become highly suspicious of favorable web reviews.
After rims and spokes racks are the third most common piece of equipment of a cycle tourer which has a bad reputation of breaking down. Consequently many producers have done considerable amount of research in making a bomb-proof racks. Tubus racks are a notable example. They are supposedly very robust and strong, and being made of steel tubes instead of solid rods, they are claimed to be relatively light. Another advantage is that, being steel, they can be repaired (i.e. welded) easily. Incidentally, I find this a bit of a contradiction: if they are as robust as they claim to be, then reparability is not an issue, because they shouldn't fail in the first place.
|Evolution of the rack (right to left)|
Update: as a preparation for an upcoming trip, I finally did what I've been announcing for a while: to saw off the rear struts (legs) of a 414 g Bor Yueh. It saved me 90 g, so the rack is now 364 g, counting in also the mounting hardware. See the pics.
|A rack on a diet. It's unlikely that a sub-365 g frame bag could carry as much luggage as this rack.|
Tools - light multitools
You can find a more general discussion about the tools in the main blog, in the Other material tips post. Here I will only briefly review two light multitools that I got recently. For a start, however, let me repeat what I consider as a collection of necessary tools for an ultralight cycling tourist. The tools can be divided in three sets:
(1) pump, 2 tyre levers, hypercracker, 2 razor blades
(2) 2, 4, 5 and 6 mm allen keys, spoke key, small flat screwdriver, chain tool
(3) 15 mm pedal spanner (cut in half) or a 8 mm allen key or a 6 mm allen key, depending on what kind of pedals you have.
You won't usually find the set (1) as a part of a multitool, so you'll have to get them separately. This set weighs - in my case - 62 g. The second set can be a part of a multitool or a set of separate tools. So far I'd considered that the second option is better - not only because it is functionally better (e.g., allen keys in a multitool are sometimes too short to reach a nut), but also because it is lighter. My second set, as separate tools, weighs 104 g.
These multitools are not perfect. The 5 mm allen keys in Lifu tool is too short to be used practically and some allen keys are positioned so that you have very limited range of movement, making their use quite awkward. But, with a bit of patience, you will get your bolts screwed.
Therefore, I find these multitools suitable as a set (2). I would prefer the Lifu tool, as it has a chain cutter, but because its 5 mm key is questionable, I'd take both of the tools on a tour.
The set (3) weighs anything between 0 g and 58 g. And all three sets, in the worst case scenario, are 190 g. If you have pedals with 6 mm keyhole, then you don't need set (3) and the total weight is only 132 g. And if you are sure your chain won't break (as an example, it never happened to me in 100 000 km ***), then you can take the CPR-9 tool only and have a total tool weight of 88 g.
Update, 9 April 2013: My chain broke recently, so I had a chance of trying out the chain breaker of the Lifu J-Tool. I'm pleased to announce that it works perfectly. Better than any chain breaker I've used so far.¸
*** A great example of the Murphy Law is that I had an incident with a chain, just a couple of weeks after I wrote this. It happened while I was riding a 600 km PBP qualification brevet. I bent one chain link after the chain was thrown over the big chain ring and I would need a chain cutter to repair the chain properly. I managed to un-bend the link with a pair of borrowed pliers, and that was sufficient to complete the brevet, but from now on I think I will take the chain cutter on any serious tour.
In the Olden days of cycling I didn't care much about pedals. They were one of those natural things that you don't think of - you put your feet on them and turn and the bike moves and when you stop turning and moving your feet are on the ground again. Few years later I learned something new: that there are left pedals and right pedals. I was very proud at that time, since not many knew even that. I wish my evolution had stopped at that stage. But, the progress never stops, so I had a short episode with clipless type of pedals, which convinced me that they were no good and that I should stick to the classical type.
But, other than the danger of becoming a social outcast, crocs probably won't have any adverse effect on your cycling life - or life in general. On the contrary - despite everything that you've been tought about proper cycling footwear (i.e. special shoes with stiff soles and clipless pedals) you may find crocs to be perfectly suitable for cycle touring.
There are several good aspects of the crocs. First of all it's their weight: 284 g, FOR A PAIR, European size 44. It's 300 g less even if you compare them with most road-racing shoes. And remember that when you cycle, they represent "rotational weight" - just as if you had a lighter wheel. Next, being plastic shoes, they dry quickly, making them ideal for rainy weather or fording streams. In cold weather you'll have to complement them with some kind of waterproof socks - but in serious conditions you'll have to do that with most other kind of shoes anyway. Sealskin socks (80 g) work well with crocs. Next, the crocs provide good ventilation to your feet, thus reducing the need of frequent socks washings. They also have rather good pedal grip - of course we are talking flat pedals here, no clip-on pedals, no cages&straps, no Power Grips. Finaly, they cost 10 Eur (a Chinese copy, that is).
The disadvantages might be that you'll most likely have blisters if you wear them barefoot and that they are usually too loose for hiking.
|Riding Botswana in crocs.|
So, as a conclusion, I think crocs deserve a more serious consideration as the only footware for cycle touring.
|At the start of PBP 2011 in crocs.|
I wrote above about some of their disadvantages, and I will repeat here: the bigest one is that they are too wide (at the front) so your toes might hurt when they press against the front part. I solved this by choosing one size smaller crocs, by cutting holes in the front and by stuffing the plastic bags in the front. It's a pitty that they have such a shape, because, if theye were a bit narrower, they would be unbeatable footware for cycle touring. However, I know that they make "trail crocs", a sort of crocs for hiking, and these probably solve all the problems present with the ordinary type of crocs.
Tents - Minilite Single Wall
Let's start with bad news first: this tent costs 21 €. To those of you who believe that you get as much as you pay for, this fact alone will be enough to stop reading right here. The few remaining will probably go away after reading one particular review from Amazon.com: it's said that even an earthquake survivor would refuse to sleep in it. Well, I must be much more desperate than that, since I've spent 81 nights in this tent without much complaint of its function. Not only that: after I broke the tent's front pole, I didn't bother repairing it - I just bought another tent of the same brand.
Probably the worst thing about this tent are the steel pegs that come with it. I replaced them with superb V-section Al pegs that came with another, 200 € tent - the Big Agnes Seedhouse SL - the tent that I never used! (Big Agnes might be infinitely more comfortable, but it's also 400 g heavier, and for an ultralighter there shouldn't be any questions which one to choose). The Al pegs might cost you more then the tent itself, though - unless you make your own from Al profiles found in any bigger junkyard.
In short, I reccommend this tent. It's very light, suitable for cyclists of hikers with light luggage, who are not too picky about the comfort, and it will pay off in a night or two. I'd advice against it only if you are very big person, as the entrance is a bit tight.
Update December 2013.
|For a trip to Vietnam and China I reduced the weigh of this tent|
to 796 g by using lighter Alu tent poles instead of fiberglass ones.