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I’ve added a set of panniers (luggage bags) to my trike. I hope to go off and do some camping/touring with it. Along with the bags, I picked up some camping gear.
The panniers are made by a company called Arkel. They’re in Quebec, but have a U.S. office in Vermont. I ordered them online and they arrived in just a few days. The model I chose are specifically tailored for recumbents and are lower and wider than traditional panniers. They are also angled to fit behind the slope of the recumbent seat. With only a couple minor adjustments, they fit perfectly and very securely on my rear rack on the trike.
I hated to have to buy them, but I got a tent and sleeping bag. I already have a tent and we have a closet full of sleeping bags. I have one I really like that I bought a number of years ago, but is still in great shape, but it’s just too big and heavy to put on the bike. Same thing goes for the tent, a 3 or 4 person tent that I’ve used both alone and along with the pop-up camper we have.
Touring on a bike, recumbent or regular, is like ultralight backpacking. There is a limit to how much you can carry. The backpacker just has a smaller number, but the same principles and a lot of the same equipment apply. I’ve been doing a lot of research and reading online about it in preparation.
So, I bought a 2-person tent that packs up into the tall, cylindrical bag on the back of the panniers. It detaches and is held on by velcro and straps. I took the tent right out of the bag that came with it and put it into the Arkel bag. Just to be sure, today I took the tent out, set it up, and then packed it back up to see how hard it would be to get it to fit back in the bag. It fit, no problem. Snug, but no more than the new tent was. I’d hate to go out the first time I used it and find out I couldn’t fit it back into the bag, or worse yet, find out I couldn’t figure out how to set it up. (It was really easy, similar to my other tent, but even easier and half the size.)
I bought a two-person size tent on the advice of articles I read. A two-person tent is pretty uncomfortable for two people, unless you’re really chummy. But it’s a perfect size for one person if they need to drag their gear inside out of the rain. I’ve been there with the bigger tent and even then the extra room was nice. I once spent a couple days camping in Ohio where I was in it while it rained. So, a camping gear tip – buy a tent one size bigger than the number of people you think you need.
The sleeping bag was similar, but instead of getting a bigger size, I went smaller. I opted for a lightweight, 30 degree, mummy style bag. I usually like a rectangular bag, but the mummy type is smaller. A 30 degree bag is warm enough for the spring/fall, but way lighter than a zero-degree winter bag. Most of my camping will probably be in the summer anyway and often, I end up laying on top on the bag anyway. Might as well save weight and size. The bag weighs only about 2 lbs. and rolls up really small. Once in it’s stuff sack, there are straps around it that you draw down on and it compresses it even more, squeezing air out until it’s about the size of a small watermelon, or smaller than a basketball. It fits inside the pannier main compartment easily with lots of room for more things around it.
While I was at it, I ordered some cooking equipment. I ordered a small ultralight multi-fuel stove – really a burner that you sit a pot on top of. It’s enough to heat canned food, or boil water. You can’t cook a steak on it, unless you cut it up into a stew or something. It’s intended to run on white gas mainly, but can work on unleaded gasoline, or even kerosene by changing it’s nozzle. It’s made by MSR and it’s kind of the standard stove of it’s type. I got two fuel bottles to go with it. One is probably enough, but I thought a spare might be good to have. They sell mainly two types of small stoves. One works on liquid fuel and is the type I got. The other works on canisters of gas (well it’s liquid inside, but boils off into vapor to burn) like propane or butane. The butane stoves are pretty common and popular, but I didn’t want to have to find a camping store every time I needed a refill. The canisters are garbage once they are empty and I didn’t like the idea of a non-reusable container as well.
Well, I had just as hard time finding the white gas camping fuel, commonly known as Coleman Fuel for the most common company that sells it. I was a little dismayed, after choosing this type of stove, that the camping stores didn’t have the fuel. I used to see it everywhere. Maybe it’s a fire hazard problem. Maybe they have it but keep in in a special place and you have to ask for it. I don’t know, but I was relieved to find it at Wal-Mart. There is a Wal-Mart almost anywhere you go. You might need to buy a gallon, but you’ll be able to get it. Of course, in a pinch, you can use unleaded gas, and maybe that’s what people do these days, but they caution you that that is not as clean as the white gas and will require maintenance of the stove sooner.
Of course, I had to try it out, so I filled my fuel bottles and set it up out on my deck. I read the instructions as I went and had no trouble getting it to work. I put a pan of water on it an brought it to a boil in just a few minutes. I think it actually worked better than my kitchen stove! Lighting it involves letting some liquid fuel run into a little cup with a wick in it at the bottom of the burner. You light the fuel in the wick and it flares up in a fireball! But it’s necessary, because the whole thing works by heating the liquid fuel before it comes out the nozzle so that it vaporizes and once heated, you are burning a gas. It quickly settles down and turns into a ring of flames coming out of a burner, much like a home gas stove. I wasn’t too surprised by this, as I have built and experimented with a small alcohol penny-stove recently and it works in a similar fashion. If you’ve ever seen a big, two-burner, Coleman camp stove that you prime the fuel tank by pumping it, you’ve seen the same principle.
Along with the stove, you need cookware. I know, it never ends… I bought a set of pans, dishes and cups also from MSR. I got a set for two people. Same principal as the tent, get one extra. Actually, a set for two people is no larger than the set for one. I can always leave parts of it home. But it all nests together and everything fits inside the larger pot and the handle folds and holds the lid on. I stuffed it all inside the stuff sack that the tent came in along with a few other things I picked up for my kitchen – a silverware set that locks together, a small salt/pepper/other shaker. I put onion powder in the “other” side. Even a couple small “GI” can openers. I have to remember to add a couple BIC lighters. It would be embarrassing not to have a way to light the stove!
The only thing I haven’t bought and plan to reuse is a mattress/cushion. I’ve found I’m not a pine needles/twigs person and can’t sleep on the hard ground without something. I have a nice self-inflating mattress with an inflating pillow on it that I plan on using. It’s a bit big. Actually, it’s bigger than the tent is, but I’m gonna roll it up and strap it on the back of the bike. I don’t care how big it is, or if it gets wet if it rains (it’s plastic, rain can’t hurt it.) I’m not going to compromise on my comfort! I have a couple eggshell-foam pads too, but they just don’t roll up and compress much, so they’re out. They’d also be big sponges in rain. I have a closed-cell foam backpacking pad that rolls pretty small that would be a better fit, but it’s just not enough.
So, I loaded all this into the panniers. I also have a rain jacket and pants inside as well as some empty dry sacks, some spare straps and things and a flashlight. I lifted it all and, Wow! – it was heavy. I still don’t have any clothes or food in there. But just to see how it would be, I put them on the bike and took it for a short spin. At first, it was a little harder to pedal, sort of like going up a hill, but actually, I was going up a hill, I live on one. Once I got a ways down my street, it seemed pretty normal. I didn’t have any trouble pedaling from a stop, or getting up to speed. Stopping did seem to take a little more pressure, but that’s to be expected. I’ll have to be a little careful going down hills, although I didn’t have any trouble going down the small hill I took going around a couple blocks near my home. Coming back up the hill on my street seemed no worse than it usually does, just shift to a lower gear and keep pedaling.
I did increase the pressure in the back tire to 100 lbs. I had been using 80 lbs. in all the tires. That has seemed to be a good pressure without a load, but I thought more would be a safe bet in the back. I’m considering a larger (wider) tire for the back as well.
So, that’s the status on that. I will have to plan a weekend or short overnight trip as a shakedown trip soon. It should be fun. It’ll definitely be a learning experience.