Light Weight Cycle Touring Tent Alternatives

Tarp for cycle touring
Ultra lightweight tarp for cycle touring

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.

Tarp and hammock combined
Tarp and hammock combined to suit any terrain

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.

large camping space using tarp
Loads of space for rainy days, leg room and sharing

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.

3 thoughts on “Light Weight Cycle Touring Tent Alternatives”

  1. Hi John,

    Thanks for your comment. Yes, I have heard great things about the Hennessy Hammocks. I must try and find one I can take for a test ride. That Tyvek idea sounds great too, I could do with something like that underneath my bivy. Does it last very long?

    1. Yes, Tyvek is tough and seems to last a long time. It is very light. Not sure what ya’ll have over there, but here the US post office uses Tyvek for priority mail envelopes.

      Another good feature of the Hennessy Hammock is that it includes a mosquito net. Even if there are no trees or anything else to tie off to, you can still use it to keep the bugs off you. This is especially nice when some of the bugs are scorpions.

      They also sell an under layer for cold weather. I have one, but have not yet tested it. I have found that below freezing you are better off sleeping on the ground than in HH without that extra layer.

  2. A Hennessy Hammock is well worth it. I get a better night sleep in mine than I do at home in my own bed. They also now sell an over sized tarp, and I often just use that.

    For a groundcloth, get a 3×7 sheet of Tyvek, the stuff they use to build houses with. Crumple it up and machine wash it on a cold water cycle. It is super light, waterproof and folds down to a very small volume.

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