Written by Dave
Disclaimer: While we are almost famous world trekkers – and I emphasize the word almost – all of the equipment reviewed here was paid for in full by us. We would never turn down free “schwag”, but for now, until the “almost” is eventually removed from our moniker, there is little chance of anything free coming our way. Some of the items below were gifts from our mothers (as noted). While we love our mothers dearly, their kind gifts did not influence the following reviews in any way – honest.
AeroPress coffee maker
This trip marked our first trip in a long time where we did not take one of our trusty mini espresso makers. Instead, we opted to try out a new (to us) product called an AeroPress. While we do enjoy our espresso coffees, there was always a trade-off in that a small espresso maker doesn’t make much coffee. We had to add hot water to make on pot stretch to two cups, diluting the nice espresso taste. Trying to make two pots was always a challenge, as it takes a while for the pot to cool down in order to get it ready for the next pot and in the meantime you are trying to make hot water for porridge. Additionally, virtually any model MSR stove needs an “espresso star” to prevent the espresso maker falling into the flame – always a bit fiddley first thing in the morning. We’d read other blogs and heard good things about the AeroPress so we tried it out.
The AeroPress is basically two plastic tubes that you put a filter, coffee and hot water in and with a bit of force, you plunge the water and air to make espresso. There are some advantages, the first being you just need one pan for hot water and no fiddley espresso maker. It is also faster to recycle for a second person’s coffee. The plastic does not retain heat and cleaning is easy. The coffee is pretty good as well. You need to use a little more coffee than the espresso maker which could be an issue if you are on a really long section with no chance of re-supply. It’s shape means it packs a bit easier – no handles or sharp edges poking out.
Nemo Duo Sleeping bag/quilt
In 1992 when we road across the US, we had a single sleeping bag, with a bottom sheet for sleeping pads. The bag opened all the way and was zipped to the bottom sheet. Overall, it was a pretty good design and worked well. It was however low-tech polyfill and very heavy. Over the years we upgraded to lightweight down sleeping bags. We liked the option of zipping them together so we bought left and right handed zippers. Trouble with this solution, the zippers were in the middle and as such didn’t let us individually adjust airflow, much less hang our legs out of the sleeping bag. We did a short trip last Easter where we took the old polyfill bag – it was still heavy but now it had a distinct 20 year old bag smell as well. But we realised how much we really like the single cover and side zippers.
We’d been eyeing a Nemo Duo sleeping quilt for some time. The Easter trip reaffirmed how much better this kind of system worked for us. The Nemo Duo is not as expensive as two sleeping bags but it’s not far off. Even with our new confidence in the system, we were concerned at the price. We waited for a sale, and took the plunge. Our Christmas trip was the Nemo’s maiden voyage.
The bag comes in three pieces. A bottom sheet, with pockets for sleeping pads, a small pillow top section and the over-body quilt section. We splurged on the trip by taking our old, but thicker sleeping pads – Nancy thinks they are nicer than the ultra-light ThermaRest we have now. A big plug for ThermaRest here – we used these old sleeping pads on our cross-country trip in 1992 and they are still going strong!
Back to the Nemo bag – the first thing you notice with the packed bag is that it really is about the size of one normal sleeping bag. This is great for both weight and space – two key points on a bike trip. Set-up is a little fiddley until you get the hang of it (Chief editor’s note – actually, it’s not really tricky if you pay attention to the instructions…). Inserting the sleeping pads into the bottom sheet is a three-hand, one person job, though I am sure it would be easier with our ultra-light 3/4 pads. After a few days I got better at this step – my skills improved rapidly when I eventually figured out that it was easier to assemble while Nancy was off in the shower (funny that). Set-up is still not as fast as two bags but I figured out it was easier to get the pads into the bottom sheet outside of the tent and then put it in the tent. That could be an issue if it’s raining with our smaller tent but would be fine in our bigger Hilleberg tent.
The first night, I pulled to quilt a little too low over the bottom/pads – this was the coolest night of the trip. We both woke feeling the bag was too short and were wondering if we’d made a mistake. The second night, I spotted my error and got the assembly right (Chief editor’s note – actually, I queried this set-up the first night but Dave said no, no this is the way to do it – see note about instructions above). Every night thereafter, we were snug when we needed to be and feet out cooling when otherwise.
By the end of the trip we were sold. I can’t see us going back to single bags anytime soon. The bottom bag is nylon on the sleeping side with a tougher fabric on the ground side, which is easy to wash. Nancy is planning on making a flannel version before our next long trip.
Hilleberg Tarp 10 (gift from Dave’s Mom)
We used this on our world trip, so it’s not new. But we’ll never do a trip without it. The tarp wraps up into itself, has supper strong built in guidelines and is made of very durable fabric. In a pinch, the tarp could be used as a shelter all by itself – we used it on this past trip when we were huddled in the bus shelter waiting out the Christmas Day downpour.
In camp, the tarp makes a fantastic shade cloth over your base tent on those super hot days. It makes a great vestibule extension on rainy days and gives a bit more privacy with the smaller tent. We were given a Hilleberg “tarp pole” because we had a slight issue with our new Hilleberg tent when we set out on our big trip (great customer service at Hilleberg). We didn’t think we’d need the pole but it comes in very hand with the tarp and is easily stored with the tent poles.
Overall it’s a real 4 vegemite product and we just had to mention it here.
Immersion heater (REI)
Years ago we read on a bicycle tourist’s blog that an immersion heater was a must have on a bike trip. We thought they were crazy – why would you need this when you have a stove? As we headed into SE Asia on our big trip we picked one up in Singapore as a bit of an afterthought. I was a bit indifferent, thinking that we were just adding to the bulk of the bags but it was a bit of comfort for Nancy so we added it to the pile.
And boy are we glad we did. We used it almost every day. If you can find a power plug – which is pretty easy unless wild camping, it is a lot less fuss than the stove for heating water. If you have an immersion heater and an AeroPress, you can have proper coffee almost anywhere. If we want a quick oatmeal in those mornings before you race to the ferry, just zap a Nalgene full of water and you’re off. And, staying in guest houses where it’s a bit difficult to start up the jet-engine MSR stove discreetly, the immersion heater was worth its weight in gold as we could make hot water for coffee, tea and porridge with ease.
We actually broke our cheapo heater on the world tour, bought one more, burnt that one out and bought a third. They must be super easy to manufacture so you find them in third world countries in almost every market – though the quality is sometimes suspect. We had one that basically melted the second time we used it. You can pay a lot more for them in western outdoor shops but there probably is a bit of difference in quality. We binned our $2 version at the end of the big trip and used one we picked up at REI in the US for this most recent trip – $15.50 (relatively spendy but good size and quality). If you get one, and expect to travel internationally (US and other), be sure to get one that handles 120 and 240 volts. The REI one fit the bill.
Camping chairs are heavily debated in our household. Before our world trip, a work colleague of mine commented that we’d better go while Nancy would still be willing to sleep in a tent. This particular colleague said his wife was reluctant to go below 4 stars. Yes, I am lucky when it comes to sleeping in tents. Chairs, on the on the other hand, are a bit of a point of contention. I’m ok searching out a rock, log or the like. Worst case the ground is fine.. Nancy likes a bit more civility, or at least a comfortable spot to relax at the end of a ride.
For the last few years, we carried Walkstools (http://www.walkstool.com/). They work pretty well but they are a three-leg stool and don’t have backs. You’re not sitting in the dirt but you can’t completely relax either. When camping in Europe, I almost always scoured the camp grounds for extra chairs. If this didn’t work, we used the stools.
Given that I don’t care so much either way, you can imagine how excited I was when Nancy started talking about camp chairs, bringing them up on a regular basis and showing me pictures on the web. She found lots of references online to Helinox chairs , including in several bike journals. To make a long story short, we ordered a pair. They weigh about the same as the Walkstools, but take up a little more space. They assemble in less than a minute. And boy are they nice. Even though they are made of aluminium and plastic, we know a couple other world touring cyclist using them and have not heard anything but good reviews. You’d probably leave them home if you were going “super lite” but on a long tour where you camp a lot, they are worth considering. I’d probably give them 4 vegemites if weight and bulk were no issue. (Chief Editor’s note – They deserve 4 Vegemites, no question about it. They are super comfortable – I think I could almost go to sleep in one. And really, they are easily packable, don’t take up much room, easily sit on the back rack and don’t add much weight – especially when they are on Dave’s bike!)
There’s more to review but it’s Australia Day eve and I’ve got to get the BBQ fired up. Bike review coming soon as well.