Camping at Cycle Adirondacks was the first time in my adult life that I slept outside with a tent and a sleeping bag. When I was a kid, we had a standard, multi-room car camping tent and I had a standard, massive sleeping bag. My parents and I didn’t even know that being insulated from the ground is a critical element in sleeping outside. The cold I experienced on those few nights in our front yard explains why I always thought camping was terrible.

But in adulthood, I started doing more things outside. I started cycling, and later, visiting national parks and reading about wilderness backpacking. Now, I’m enamoured by both the simplicity of getting away from it all and the complexity of managing basic life functions while out of civilization.

This tour was a good introduction to camping. Now, camping in a town park with hundreds of people, dozens of portapotties, and a trailer full of showers is a long way from wilderness camping, but at least it solidified my packing ideas. I’ll be visiting Grand Teton National Park again in a few weeks and eagerly await sleeping under the stars.

But actually, there are two real differences between camping in civilization for a bike tour and camping in the backwoods: food and cycling gear.

For this tour, I didn’t need to bring any food or food preparation tools. But, I did need to bring a crap ton of cycling gear, things like clothes, shoes, a helmet, gloves, chamois cream, tools, spare parts, etc. I think the volume and weight of the cycling gear far outweighs the food stuff I’d take on a weekend trip.

Ultimately, here are the lessons I learned about camping on the Cycle Adirondacks tour:

  • Bring earplugs: Even though one of the campsites was adjacent to a waterfall, dampened silence was a wonderful thing. Having tried them all via a sampler pack years ago, I like the Howard Leight Laser Lite the best.

  • Sleeping warmth: I brought a 20°F Enlightened Equipment Revelation, based on opinions from Outdoor Gear Lab and /r/ultralight and a Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor, mostly to keep my bag clean and partially out of a fear that the 20° bag would be too warm for the summer weather.

    My fear was mostly realized, with the bag being useful only just at the lowest low at 50°F, but it was still a great choice because it opens into a full quilt. I would have had to choose between boiling or freezing if I chose a 20°F mummy bag that doesn’t open. Paired with my sleeping bag liner, I was able to vary my warmth needs very comfortably. Despite being literally see through, I was able to sleep comfortably in just the sleeping bag liner until the temperature got down to the mid-50°s.

  • Tent: I’m pretty happy about my choice of tent. The MSR Hubba Hubba NX two-person tent was perfect for the 5'11" of me plus gear. Out of all the tents I saw in use, it was by far the easiest to set up due to its single pole design. I like that the fly can be pitched first, on its own, and then the body can be attached, which is useful when it rains. The one-person version would have been fine; were I to do it over again, I would probably get that and save a full pound.

  • Hammocks: However, having now understood the disadvantages of sleeping on the ground with a thin tent, hammocking is much more attractive. (Hammocking would have been impossible in Cycle ADK, however.)

  • Tent footprint: Contrary to the general sentiment of ULers, I actually like the purpose-built groundsheet and I’m happy I didn’t stress out over making my own out of Tyvek. If you’re handy and have the time and space, by all means make your own, but if you live in a New York City apartment, feel free to disregard the naysayers and trade time for money instead.

  • Organization: Think about what you’ll need and when. Keep items used together stored together. Keep things you’ll need first, like rain protection, at the top of your pack. Keep as much crap outside under the vestibules of the tent and in your backpack as possible; this makes life simpler inside the tent and makes packing up easier.

  • Neck support: A pillow is a great accessory. Sleeping just on my pad would have been doable, but uncomfortable. I used the REI stuff sack that turns inside-out into a pillow, stuffed with my extra clothes, and it worked great. I think I might try out the Sea to Summit Aeros pillow since I probably won’t have extra clothes on my next trip.

  • Laundry: Washing clothing that won’t be immediately worn or dried out is a bad idea. If you wash a piece of synthetic clothing, you can wear it and it will dry relatively quickly just from your body heat. Even in direct sunlight, clothing can take quite a while to dry fully. If it doesn’t dry, it’s going to start smelling really, really bad. Err on the side of not washing, I’d say.

  • Camp clothing: Bring long wool baselayer tops and bottoms to sleep in, even if you don’t think you’ll need them. Not having them when they’d be useful sucks, and they also help your sleeping gear from getting dirty with sweat.

  • Minimize toiletries: Lots of weight could be shed by measuring out toiletries into smaller containers that only hold what is needed for the duration of the trip. I plan on getting small, refillable containers that will hold just a few days of each substance.

  • Backpack: I can definitely live out of my Osprey Atmos AG 50L backpack comfortably for a few days. Without my cycling gear, my backpack had a ton of room. I’m glad I didn’t buy the 65L version. The bag was super comfortable, though I really only ever had to transport it across a football field.

  • Avoiding water penetration: Trash compactor bags for water protection are far, far superior to using a pack cover. In this tour’s case, my luggage was dropped off in a field, moved by truck, and dropped off in another field before I picked it up. The trash compactor bags were always in place, ready to protect my gear, and can’t be as easily removed and lost as a pack cover.

  • Stuff sacks: Compression and stuff sacks are useless for the most part: loose items fill in pack space better. But small items outside of sacks do become disorganized. I ditched the stuff sacks for my sleeping bag and pad and didn’t miss them. The sleeping bag was stuffed inside of a trash compactor bag, which was stuffed in the bottom compartment of my backpack. Then, my rolled up sleeping pad, loose bag liner, and sleeping clothes were stuffed into the compressed sleeping bag.

  • Beware of the sun: Camping on tour is done in fields with no tree cover. I wore long pants and a long-sleeved shirt when the sun was out. I’m ordering a shemagh because additional coverage beyond what my hat provides would have been nice.

  • Water is heavy: Tighten the rain fly guy lines if condensation causes the fly to touch the tent body. (This might be kind of obvious, but I have never seen this mentioned in literature).

  • Plan, execute, observe: Use to plan everything you will take with you. Then, use your list as a packing checklist. When you’re done with your trip, note what you didn’t use, and don’t bring it next time. I have lighterpack lists for both what I brought on this tour and what I plan to bring for my backpacking trip.

Here are cycle tour-specific lessons:

  • Tent privacy: Pitching a rain fly is necessary just for visual privacy, even if it doesn’t rain. Sadly, this limits ventilation.
  • Entertainment: I didn’t use my Kindle at all and I shouldn’t have brought it. Instead, I rather enjoyed the tour entertainment, meeting people, or even just lying in my tent.
  • Bike storage: I should have brought some sort of cover for my bike to keep it out of the rain when stored in the communal bike rack. This could have been as simple as a strapped-down, oversized trash bag.
  • Bladder management: Don’t have a beer just before going to bed. You’ll need to get up out of your tent to pee in a dark porta-potty. One person on tour had a pee container for just this purpose, but I won’t recommend this practice. Instead, actively manage your bladder.
  • Relax in the morning: There’s no need to rush in the morning; this isn’t a race. Other people set their alarms to before sunrise and immediately started breaking down camp. Instead, I had very leisurely mornings, and still got on the course in good temperatures. I woke up when the sun came up, put on normal clothes, did my morning routine, had breakfast, and then got dressed and packed up, all with plenty of time to spare.
  • Avoid chafing: Definitely bring chamois cream. My favorite is Chamois Butt’r Her’: it works well and smells better than the original version.
  • Repel rain and wind: Bring a packable rain jacket for on the bike, which is also useful for chilly mountainous descents.
  • Off-bike footwear: Bringing sandals (specifically, Made-in-the-USA Chacos) was a good idea: they’re more versatile than shoes. Pair with wool socks, when needed, for best results.
  • On-bike food: Bring your favorite snacks and water additives. This is useful if you want to deviate from the prescribed route, if you miss a rest stop, or the stops don’t have the fuel you want.