Words by Alex Watts
With the dust settled from the recent adventures, I’m sat reflecting on the gear choices I’ve made so far for the big States trip next year.
The stand out bit of gear has been my first foray into tent city when bike packing. This is in the shape of the Terra Nova Laser Ultra.
I’ve always been an advocate when running, cycling or carrying out multi-day stuff to use a Bivy bag as I’ve always seen it as the lighter weight option. However, I’m now a changed man with the Laser weighing in at 560 grams (ish), so it’s not really much of a weight penalty (about 100gm over the hooped Bivy I’ve been using).
Something that was immediately apparent was the ease of getting in and out of the Laser with tired legs. With a hooped Bivy it is somewhat of a knack to getting in and out of it, and they feel like a bit of a coffin like when you’re in them. The other downside, and really the main one for me, is that you can’t help but drag the wet in with you, so on consecutive days no matter how hard I have tried I still end up with wet gear. With a down sleeping bag on cold nights, this is less than ideal. Some of the modern designs such as the Snugpack options make life a little easier but nowhere near as easy as the Laser.
At 5ft 9”, I found I have enough space to sleep stretched out with ample space just outside the inner tent to keep a burner ready for that coffee injection whilst still in bed in the morning. This was a level of luxury that I have not been used to and I can highly recommend it; this is indeed 4-star accommodation.
Over the next few trips, I will be covering some fairly decent mileages and even though the jury is still out on the benefit of stretching, there certainly is a place for me to be able to sit up, touch my toes and stretch out tight hamstrings after a long day in the saddle. Something that with a little squeeze I am able to do in the Laser. Bike Packing is a slightly different end use to the walking/climbing activities that it was no doubt designed for. However, despite the obvious, cycling is an inherently different activity that whilst pedalling, your leg never fully extends so your hamstrings, glutes and calves do get monster tight. So, any room to stretch or to rid that awful cramp that wakes you up in the night like a whimpering child who was refused their favourite set of Lego at Christmas is truly welcome.
The tent will pitch as an outer only, or an outer first, or all together. Knowing I am all thumbs when I’m tired, I went for the all-in-one option; I stopped checking weather forecasts a couple of years ago, so I tend to go for the belts and braces option.
The Laser also comes with a strange sleeve to fit over the pole for pitching in high winds. It seems like a bit of an afterthought and is fiddly to put on. I left it in the bag and didn’t bother with it. Instead, opting for the old thought of pitch the tent short side to the wind which seemed to work fine in the mild but windy weather.
There are two good sized vents at either end of the tent that are held open/supported by two small poles. With the hot weather, it was surprisingly cool, especially if you angled one end into the wind to aid the ventilation.
Due to the lightweight nature of the Laser, the material stretches under tension, so I found that it was imperative to shut all of the zips fully before packing it away so that when you pitched, it pitched straight. Failure to do this resulted in a bit of difficulty closing the zips from inside of the tent when bedding down.
With the bike packing phenomenon, being able to break down large bits of gear into smaller bite size chunks to distribute around the bike is really important. The main body of the tent packs into an XS Exped Drybag which leaves an easy to stash bag of pegs and poles suitable for a frame bag or tied onto a bar roll. For single nights when you know it’s going to be wet, the drybag is a good option; but on the multi-day stuff I have been packing it into a non-waterproof saddle bag so it has chance to drain and not rot for the whole day whilst riding.
Tents and gear will always be a personal choice and a very important one for the user depending on the activity you are doing. For instance, you wouldn’t use this on a porta ledge on El Cap but for bike packing, I think it's spot on. ROLL ON TOUR DIVIDE!