Need some reassurance - kit for family cycle touring

TwoInTow

Active Member
I've been dreaming for a while about camping cycle touring with the family, and am looking to do either the River Weser or the Donaueschingen - Passau tours in Germany in mid-late July.

We are a family of 4: 8 year old and me on a tandem, 10 year old and husband by themselves, with husband pulling a Bob trailer.

I'm really seeking reassurance about kit. I suppose it will pay off to camp, but getting lightweight gear is sooooo expensive, and it feels kind of scary to be investing so much money up-front when we've never done this before. I'm pretty sure this is something we want to do (we did do a 4-day cycle trip - staying in hotels - about 18 months ago and we just loved it), but it would be an expensive mistake.

A few questions:
1. Tents: Everyone recommends Hilleberg and we would need a 4-man, so pretty big. I think this will be £800+ and it's still over 5kg... Is that right?!! It seems so much - but that's probably because I haven't done this before!

2. Sleeping mats: I'm happy to invest in this because I value my sleep. Exped for the grown-ups seems to be the advice on here. Does anyone have experience with kids - can I get away with less quality for them? I'd appreciate any recommendations.

3. Sleeping bags: With young-ish kids, there is no way we will be doing touring in the colder seasons. And in a few years' time it is likely we will be living in Australia. So am I right that there is no point getting more than a 2-season bag? Can anyone recommend brands and sellers? What is a good weight to aim for? What do you think of getting junior size bags to reduce price/weight?

4. Panniers: Ortlieb gets mentioned a lot. I'm willing to invest in the right stuff, but don't have money to burn. Is this the right brand for us?

I realise this all sounds pathetic - I really am looking for reassurance after reading a lot on these forums. It has been really helpful to read the threads, but I'm nervous about the money involved when I have little personal experience. And buying for 4 quadruples the costs of any mistake!

Thanks for any help you can offer.
 

Tony

New Member
Location
Surrey
Cheaper panniers and wrap your stuff in plastic bags.

Sleepmats: yup, kids will sleepon anything,and they are lighter so cheaper will work.

Tents: there are many,many cheaper tents out there. My mega lightweight tent, for me alone, comes in at 2kg. So 5kg for a four man is not huge.

Bags: two season with meraklon liner. That is a stretchy "sheet liner" made from thermal underwear material.
 

Cathryn

Legendary Member
It doesn't sound pathetic at all - what's pathetic about trying something new and being slightly nervous about how it'll pan out???? I think you're fab for giving it a go.

I wonder if it might be worth youth hostelling this trip instead of camping? If you're trying out cycle touring, don't try out camping at the same time...maybe make your life a bit easier (and lighter) and see if you like it??

Also, ref panniers...Tony's right. Any cheap panniers will do as long as you wrap your stuff securely in thick bin liners. I have ortlilebs and love them but my husband tours alongside me in cheapo Halfords ones lined with bin liners...and they do equally as well as my flashy ones.

When are you going? It'll be fabulous.
 

Andy in Sig

Vice President in Exile
Two season bags are about right as even on summer nights a one season can be inadequate. I would recommend that you take a pair of winter socks and a woolly hat in case the nights do get cool as they make all the difference.

Both the routes you are proposing are excellent although the Donaueschingen-Passau one is the scenicly more spectacular. Consider also the Romantische Strasse route (south to north).
 

summerdays

Cycling in the sun
Location
Bristol
TwoInTow said:
A few questions:
1. Tents: Everyone recommends Hilleberg and we would need a 4-man, so pretty big. I think this will be £800+ and it's still over 5kg... Is that right?!! It seems so much - but that's probably because I haven't done this before!

2. Sleeping mats: I'm happy to invest in this because I value my sleep. Exped for the grown-ups seems to be the advice on here. Does anyone have experience with kids - can I get away with less quality for them? I'd appreciate any recommendations.

4. Panniers: Ortlieb gets mentioned a lot. I'm willing to invest in the right stuff, but don't have money to burn. Is this the right brand for us?
I wouldn't bother with getting junior sized bags for the kids - if they are 8 and 10 then they are going to be at the point that they would swap over to adult sized bags anyway so the bags would have a limited use. For my children on camping (non cycling) trips we have used old ok bags but these are very bulky and this year we are thinking about upgrading to get much smaller pack size. There is no way I would take any of their current bags on a cycling trip.

Can't comment on that specific tent size ... but often a 4 man tent is actually a better fit for 3... I would try to find that tent up in a display somewhere or a tent of similar dimensions. The fact that they are children will probably offset that but if you are going for a good tent then you want it to last a few years.

Me - I like having waterproof bags and use my Ortlieb's on a daily basis. Maybe don't buy all the pannier bags in a good quality and just put the most important stuff in those ones. Before my Ortlieb's I did have a non-waterproof bag and it was always really annoying having to stop and put covers on - that weren't that waterproof anyway, and the rain got in anyway.

Good luck - sounds a nice trip to look forward to.
 
Location
Midlands
I was in Passau last summer - as I was packing up my tent in the morning there was a group of Dutch cyclists arriving off the train - two couples with seven (I think it was 7 they keep moving about) children of between about 3 and 12 with them - they had 4 smallish cheap tents and two tandems, two trailers and a small fleet of bicycles - the older kids all had their own panniers - even one of the smallest had two little pink panniers - they had rigged the back of one of the kiddie trailers so that they could carry the bike on the back

As others have said cheap sleeping bags - I have a Tesco one that I got for £5 and used in France for a couple of weeks in the middle of summer - foam mats are very cheap and light - cut them to size for the kids, roll them up and put them on the older childs bike with a couple of small cheap panniers lined with rubble sacs

Just go for it - It will be wicked
 

Fandango

Well-Known Member
I have just returned to cycle camping after 30 years not riding a bike, and I love it. I am trying to persuade my wife to love it too, and I think she is coming around :angry:

I have tended to take more weight as I like certain luxuries, like toast for breakfast, so I take a Gelert toaster http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gelert-CUT118-Folding-Camping-Toaster/dp/B000QH2V40/ref=cm_cr_pr_sims_t which works well and I love my Thermarest seat. I also decided on a larger tent as when I tried a "lightweight" tent it felt like laying in a coffin. As I weight over 18 stone I don't reckon the extra weight makes that much difference. Mine weighs 4.3kg and I carry it fine. http://www.singersoutdoors.co.uk/showproduct.asp?id=2414&pgid=0&r=0/0/0/0 It is fine for two people, lovely for one, and the height means you can sit up comfortably. Oh, and it's cheap as chips :sad:

I originally had cheap panniers of the all in one sort, but I have now bought some http://www.evanscycles.com/products/altura/orkney-56-pannier-ec008425?utm which are miles better, you can get so much more in them. Not sure how waterproof they are as if it rains I will be in the pub, that's my kind of cycling :biggrin:

I am tempted by the Exped as I have had comfort issues with my Thermarest, even though it is a thick one, but I would have to take that as well for the chair!

My tip, from my experience, is not to set too hard a target. If all is going well, and you are camping, you can go on to the next town, but if the kids are tired you are better not to push them to the point where they start to hate cycling. I hope you have lots of fun!
 

HelenD123

Guru
Location
York
Fandango said:
My tip, from my experience, is not to set too hard a target. If all is going well, and you are camping, you can go on to the next town, but if the kids are tired you are better not to push them to the point where they start to hate cycling. I hope you have lots of fun!
The advantage of camping is that it gives you more flexibility so you can stop rather than having to push on to pre-booked accommodation if the kids are tired.
 

Cathryn

Legendary Member
Very true...but a warm, soft, matressy bed at the end of the day is generally worth the extra hassle in my opinion. Or you could not pre-book but just have loose plans.
 

willem

Über Member
We have done just this for many years, and really loved it. See: http://www.tandemclub.nl/Kinderen_verhalen.html We had a Hilleberg Keron 4 GT, and it was great. However, with kids of 8 and 10, they will want to have their own tent(s). So my suggestion would be a tent like the Hilleberg Nammatj 3 GT for the two of you, plus something smaller for the kids. The large tent will still be large enough for your stuff, and the small one for the kids can be a bit cheaper, so you can let them pitch their own tent and not get too worried if it suffers as a result (but it will not). If it is a boy and a girl, they will each want their own tent sooner rather than later. Hellsport do tents of similar quality as Hilleberg, but for sometimes a bit less money. Look carefully at their sizes, however, since they are a bit optimistic about the number of people that will fit into a particular tent. The MSR Hubba HP series may be another interesting range.
As for panniers, we love the Ortlieb ones. Their new City Line is a quarter cheaper and a quarter lighter because it omits some frillls. But don't take too much.
Mattresses. You want them to be light, compact and warm. The new Exped Synmat Basic meets all those criteria. It is lighter, more compact, warm enough and a lot cheaper. For the kids, get cheap Alpkit down bags. Volume matters as much as weight, and down is far more compact (and lasts much longer). For yourselves, get a two persons top bag. You do not need insulation at the bottom (modern mattresses take care of that), so what you can do is take a two person cotton bag liner, sew on the appropriate zipper, and zip a quilt style bag to it. See http://www.westernmountaineering.com/index.cfm?section=Products&page=Accessories for an expensive ready made solution. A really neat version is the integrated topbag that I recently designed for us together with a small Dutch custom sleeping bag maker: http://www.tatteljee.nl/twee persoons.html It weighs only 1200-1500 grams for a two person bag system (depending on temperature range), plus two mattresses (e.g 2x660 gram for the Synmat basic).
It is true that all this is quite an investment, and we took a couple of years to put it all together. On the other hand, you save a small fortune on hotels and restaurants that your kids will not like very much in any case. My hunch is that you can recoup even an investment in pretty high quality gear in one or two three week holidays. Something like 2000 pounds will buy you two great tents, sleeping stuff for four, some panniers, and a stove. Try spending less than 100 pounds a day on hotels plus the extra cost of restaurants meals for a family! If you don't like it, you can always sell some of the gear (but your kids will love it if you don't, if not now then later when they go it alone, which is sooner than you think).
Finally, here is a link to the site of the Dutch club for cycle touring with children (Fietsen met kinderen): http://www.fietsenmetkinderen.info/ The site is in Dutch, but if you ask a question in English, you will get an answer in English.
Willem
 

Jugular

Well-Known Member
Location
Manchester
First of all good luck with it! I'm sure you'll have a great time.

The things you list are the best of the best cycle touring kit. They'll last you years and offer an excellent balance of comfort and weight. Sure you could probably spend double again to get even fancier kit but at which point all your saving is grams and reducing your comfort. Perhaps more pertinently you could spend less on some pieces of kit that need only last a couple of tours and will give just as good, or nearly as good, service for alot less.

If you have the money to buy all that with the risk that this is a one off trip then well done. Otherwise I'd advise cutting a corner or two here and there. I'd spend the time to look into tent alternatives, Hilleberg is expensive and excellent but unless you're planning on camping in some really extreme weather they're perhaps a little bit overkill. I have a Vango Spirit 200+ that has received great reviews in the past which cost only £170, that's less than a quarter of the price of your Hilleberg suggestion. Buy two and you're still at half the price. If you do this you can use some of the savings to buy some better quality cycle wear, perhaps some merino wool items. Clothes that are easily washable (and quick drying!) are invaluable, it will reduce weight and massively reduce bulk, which will reduce your need for ortlieb panniers (another saving in money AND weight!). Take a look at velohobo.wordpress.com for some tips on really lightweight touring. Obviously you wont be able to take it all to heart due to the family aspect, but the ideas will help.

As for mats I agree with the above, get yourselves Exped (+ Exped ChairKits btw!) and the children some cut down foam mats. Sleeping bags are a tough one, I don't know enough about them but as usual layering is very handy, so try Jagbags (either from eBay, Spanish distributors or NZ headquarters) silk liners for some help with that.

If you find you need extra capacity to carry things that already have waterproof covers, then buy some cheap panniers and put plastic bags in them. Another altrernative if you want to keep trusting Ortlieb (I do!) is to get some dry bags and strap that to the top of your rack (they can be as little £10 and just as waterproof though slightly less hardwearing as the panniers).

For Ortlieb stuff take a look around for good prices, Wiggle is good but not the best price out there. There's someone who frequents these forums who sells them "privately" for a good deal apparently.
 
OP
T

TwoInTow

Active Member
Wow! Thanks for all the good advice and the encouragement. Had to laugh, Jugular, when you said I'd listed 'the best of the best'... It's only because I have been carefully studying all the hints and threads on here, and I'm picking up the best advice!

Can I ask a few questions, going on what you've all said?

1. Tents - One of the reasons my research pushed me towards Hilleberg is that it was the only 4-man tent I could find that was also lightweight. I think you're right that it's overkill in terms of coping with our conditions! I was kind of surprised that Willem suggested that an 8 and 10 year old could go in their own tent... Do you really think so? I like this idea, but had been assuming they were too little so I'd really appreciate any views on that. Or if we do it, are there any tips for making it safer and keeping an eye on them?

So exploring options, can anyone suggest a lightweight 4-man tent? Otherwise I'll explore the smaller options you mention.

2. Mats - sounds like Exped Synmat is about right for me and my husband. And foam for the kids. Any advice on a good online retailer? Our small town is not big on camping shops. (And how good are the chair-rest things?!!)

3. Sleeping bags - I really like the topbag idea. I think that with a bit of layering, we are really unlikely to get cold - for one thing my husband's metabolism goes through the roof when he exercises every day so he will keep me warm! So I will look around for some options like that, although I haven't seen them around much on the websites I've looked at. Willem, is it worth investigating your Dutch site to get something like that, do you think?

4. Panniers - it sounds like one or two waterproof Ortlieb are a good idea, but not necessary to do it for the lot. I have none, though, so I'm going to have to start from scratch. Any recommendations?

I'm getting more confident about this idea now, and following Andy's comments, I've bought the book on Donaueschingen - Passau, and will probably book Eurostar and City Sleeper tickets to Munich in the next few days for the last week or so of July. I thought about Catherine's comments about hostelling, and I think that would be the right thing if it were just me and my husband. But with the kids, I'm worried that locks us into achieving a certain number of miles per day; and at that time of year, I'm scared that if we don't book we won't get a room. All those things which are an unpleasant change of plan for adults become catastrophes with kids, so I think I'd rather go for the camping option - even if it does seem daunting.

Thanks so much to you all for your advice so far. It's really helping me shape our holiday - and giving me the confidence to make sure we just get out and do it, too!
 
OP
T

TwoInTow

Active Member
Oh, and...

Willem - I saw a picture of the Hase Pino on your website, but couldn't read the Dutch. We have one! I bought it last year because I needed a family vehicle, and because I had cycle touring in mind. (We tried a few days of cycling longer distances 3 years ago with a tagalong and it was horrible... and my daughter is not yet big enough for a bike with much in the way of gears, as she's quite small.) So do you have one??!!
 

Norm

Guest
On the subject of two kids sharing a tent, I think that only you will know what your kids are like (mine would be fine) although there is always the concern of the security against someone else getting in rather than the kids getting out. Anyway, might it be easier to share the kids between you, so you and your partner are in separate tents with a Small each?

You could get the benefits from the smaller tents, from having a package that you can spread between two bikes easier but still have the security of a 4 man.

I would definitely consider hostels. If you take details with you, once you get into the groove, you can figure out how far you can comfortably travel in a day so maybe just book one day in advance. At least you'd know what sort of bed you had for the night ahead, which might put some impetus into the little legs. :laugh:

I blew a lot of money on a decent sleeping bag a few years ago. It has definitely paid dividends. The layering thing works very well - but you don't need to get a separate liner. If you are cool at night, wearing an extra layer of clothes can be just as effective and you could wear clobber that you'll be riding in the next day.

Ortlieb is fantastic and it seals the contents completely against the outside world. That can be a bad thing, though, as anything which goes in wet (towel, flannel, sweaty clothes) will not only stay wet but may inject an "aroma" into the rest of the contents. I agree that the idea of a couple of Ortlieb's for the stuff that really mustn't get wet is the way to go.
 

willem

Über Member
OK, here some more suggestions from me. But first, the page from the site of the Dutch tandemclub has two reports from two different families: we are the ones on the Thorn childback, not the family with the Pino. Anyway, it does not matter. We bought the Keron 4 GT as a four person tent because we bought it when the kids were very small indeed (1 and 3). It died a year ago, when my daughter had it on a field hockey tournament. Not to blame my daughter, the material had just disintegrated from a decade of UV damage. We would have preferred to strech its life another year or two, because it is convenient to have a large family tent even if the kids each now sleep in their own little tents (and did so from the ages of eight and ten, I think). I have never regretted to have such a high quality tent. It was utterly practical, and we did have really ghastly weather at times. With kids it is really reassuring to know that your tent will be the last to collapse (or not ever, of course). As I said, we bought cheaper tents for the kids, but to be honest I never liked them that much. They were not as convenient, and not as 100% waterproof as the Hilleberg.
As for young kids sleeping in their own tent, compared to other Dutch parents we felt extremely protective. Don't forget that they may be in a different tent, but you can still easily hear every sound. Anyway, if you feel better with one large tent the Keron 4 GT is a stunning tent and for years to come you will not regret the space. If your children have never camped before, being together in one tent is perhaps also reassuring to them. Perhaps your older child can sleep in his or her own tent, and the younger with you. In that case a smaller tent is quite feasible. Anyway, the Keron is one of the few of its kind and it is a marvelous tent also suitable to camping very early or very late in the season, or at freezing temperatures at Alpine altitudes, as we did. The smaller Hilleberg Nallo 4 GT would be too small in my view. In any case, I would hesitate to use the Hillberg lightweights such as the Nallo or the Kaitum, given the rough treatment they wil get. Hellsport also do good large tents -you should really have a look.
I have no idea about online traders for Exped mattresses in the UK. Foam for the kids is cheaper indeed, and lighter, but also bulkier. A Synmat basic would probably be about 60 pounds each.
As for sleeping bags, the topbag works fine. Ours has different quantities of down for myself and my wife (she sleeps much colder than I do) and that is one of the advantages of a custom bag. The Dutch workshop will gladly make you one and send it to you, I am sure (just give them a ring), if you give them your dimensions, and preferences for fill weight. They can also sell you the mattresses, and they are quite competitive with those as well. They have a great reputation among backpackers and touring cyclists in my country. The weights and prices on their site are for relatively short bags, but with expensive ultralight shell material. I am sure they can make the same style bag with cheaper shell material. For the top of the mattress sleeve we chose lightweight cotton for comfort instead of nylon and we also have a fitted silk top sheet. Each bag is a custom design.
We never take chairs or chairkits. We just sat on an old shower curtain (the grass is often wet). This year I am getting a sheet of the much lighter Tyvek.
If you have no panniers at all, I suggest you only get Ortliebs. The city line is a real bargain, and not much more expensive than pretty crappy stuff. They will last half a lifetime. Our first ones are now thirteen years old and have been in daily use for shopping and work. They look battered, but they sure have another five years of life in them, or more. If you want to save money, just take less with you. Some shops have cheaper Ortlieb bags with their shop logo, if you don't mind. Try Globetrotter and Roseversand in Germany.
Eurostar sounds like an expensive way to go to Germany. How about the Harwich Hook of Holland ferry, and the Intercity Nightline trains in Germany? If you book them (both of them) enough in advance they are amazingly cheap and comfortable. We often take the Intercity Nightline to take us and our bikes to Switzerland, but they serve many other destinations. German railroads have a UK office and a good website. THe Harwich Hook ferry is very convenient for bikes, and there is a train station at either end.
Enjoy, and please ask more questions.
Willem
 
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