One of the heaviest items when you are cycle-touring is your tent. Good tents will have a double lining and adequate leg room to keep you dry and allow you to stretch out. Of course you can manage with a single skin tent and leg room might not affect everyone but there’s a few alternatives worth mentioning. This is one of them.
This is my tarp. It’s a hugely versatile piece of kit and very light. It weighs 545 grams and comfortably covers an area big enough to sleep three people. Another one can be used on the ground if you wish, but a bivy works well to keep your sleeping bag dry if you’re on damp ground. I use the MSR AC Bivy or a second tarp just to protect the sleeping bag from the damp and any rocks and sticks, etc, from ripping it.
What I enjoy about this set up is that I can pull all my panniers and gear under the tarp with me and on rainy days it provides a spacious and comfortable area to rest, read and watch the rain come down. I can’t stand small tents and cramped feet. This setup gives maximum freedom and can become a good social space. If you’re touring with friends I’d recommend getting a tarp large enough for all of you to sit under. The one pictured here can get three of four people cosily playing cards.
The tarp also opens up a new possibly that tents can’t offer, it enables you to camp on uneven ground. Coupled with a hammock, I use a silk hammock that weighs a mere 510 grams (including ropes and attachments), you can pitch between trees over any terrain you find. You can also hang things from the tarp line, such as lights, drinks bottles and mosquito net. If you know you’re going to cycle through forest areas on your tour then this is a great solution to difficult pitch sites. The ground in the photo to the right looks flat but was actually very steep and uneven. Certainly no space suitable for a tent.
A large tarp can also serve as its own ground mat if you lay part of it on the floor and then use the rest to form a pitch over your head, so that the final shape is that of a triangular prism like a Toblerone bar. That way you have a super minimalist setup that will be very lightweight and very low volume.
Other bonuses include a built-in clothes line and place to hang food bags away from animals as well as a safe and dry place to cook out of the rain.