For us, camping, bivouacking and sleeping outside is the basis of any adventure. After a day of pedalling, walking or climbing looking for a place to put up the tent is always a highlight. Our camp spots are rarely perfect, choosing them sometimes creates conflict and we do not count the bad surprises (ants infestation, flash floods, stray dogs …) but having the chance to choose your garden and neighbours each day is still exhilarating.
The main thing is to sleep well. Any experienced camper knows that a small piece of paradise with breathtaking views can quickly turn to hell if the stones destroy your back and you have to fight against gravity all night. At the same time, having a tent that doesn’t collapse at the first sight of a storm and a mattress that remains inflated overnight is vital for both physical and psychological health. After 19 months of intensive use, it’s time to tell you how we chose our home and our bed and take stock of the equipment.
To choose our tent, we made a list of essential criteria based on the strengths and weaknesses of our previous tents. We wanted it to be:
- Durable, able to survive several years of intensive use especially the poles and fabric.
- Three or four seasons. Even if we try to avoid harsh winters, tents made for snowy environments are generally the most able to withstand any extreme weather conditions.
- Totally freestanding to install on any type of terrain.
- With two doors. To avoid family crises, it seemed important to us to each have our space in addition to the extra comfort in terms of ventilation.
Our first certitude was about the brand: we wanted a Hilleberg, known for making the strongest tents on the market. At first, we favoured weight by sacrificing two of our criteria mentioned above. We opted for a 3kg Jannu that only had one door and was not totally freestanding. After trying it out during our tour of Mont Blanc in June 2016 (to see the video of this epic adventure, click here), we regretted not having followed our first instinct. We contacted the brand to swap it for an Allak, a freestanding two-door dome. After many email exchanges, they offered to exchange our Jannu not for an Allak but for a Staika. It’s the same shape and size as the Allak but stronger with 10mm poles, heavier at 4kg and more expensive. Convinced that this tent was the one that best suited our trip, they sent it to us forgetting the difference in price in exchange for some photos.
So here we are on the road for 19 months with our Staika. In 572 days of travel, we have spent exactly 365 nights in our tent. No broken poles, no tears in the fabric nor leaks. We have replaced two zipper sliders that were worn and no longer worked and we recently applied a UV protective product to reactivate the water repellency of the fabric. Here it is again as new, ready for the next 19 months and beyond. It’s worth everygram and every penny (dividing by the number of nights spent in it, it’s cost us €3 a night so far).
In addition to all the criteria mentioned above, the biggest advantage of the Staika is its double roof attached to the inner chamber. Once the 3 poles are slipped into the sleeves you simply attach the outer with heavy duty clips. It takes no more than 2 minutes and you can then move it to put it where you want and even in the rain the interior stays dry. We can’t thank Hilleberg enough for their wise advice, psyche for our trip and their impeccable customer service.
We both have a Thermarest Prolite Plus self-inflating mattress that we’ve used intensively for five years. There have been a few puncture repairs and we try to be careful not to lie them neither thorns nor stony ground. Noémie’s began to delaminate last August in Uzbekistan, forming a very uncomfortable bubble. With Thermarest guaranteeing their mattresses for life, we contacted the brand and they sent a new one to Adam’s parents for them to bring later in the trip. In our experience, brands are often reluctant to send new products outside the European Union due to import taxes. The easiest thing to do to replace a Thermarest is to go to a shop selling the brand.
Adam mocked my inflatable pillow for a long time until he tried it and quickly admitted the error of his ways. We both have Quechua pillows that are the size of a smart phone and sold for €5 at Decathlon. The first ones lasted a year but the quality seems to be constantly deteriorating and we are on our third pair. Given the price, we can’t complain even if it is always difficult to replace them quickly when they explode. Of course, a dry bag with some clothes inside is a worthy alternative when the inflatable one is out of action.
We both have Alpkit Pipedream 600 bags, comfortable for temperatures as low as -10C and weighing 1kg. Synthetic bags are of course an option, but down is lighter for the same warmth and packs down smaller. Of course you’ve got to keep it dry, but with a bit of care it’s manageable. Our bags have zips on opposing sides – we can zip them together to make one big bag (with the hoods in the normal orientation).
Adam’s sleeping bag has had more than 7 years of intense use and it’s getting tired. It lost a lot of feathers and is not as warm as before. Noémie’s is only two years old and it’s still in good condition. We only washed them once in 19 months, which is certainly not enough but finding a washing machine big enough and a dryer that wont’ damage them is not so easy. However, we do not feel that they are particularly dirty – or we are so used to our own smell that it does not bother us anymore!
You may wonder why have sleeping bag so warm despite the fact that we try to avoid harsh winters. It is true that during our 5 months in South-East Asia, as well as last summer in the desert regions of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, our sleeping bags were left at the bottom of the bags and we only used a large piece of cotton cloth as a sheet. But as soon as we get higher in altitude we are glad to never be cold. During our first winter in Europe, we camped in -15C and although we slept fully dressed with down jackets, we were also happy to be relatively well protected from the cold. When the temperatures are intermediate we leave our sleeping bags open using them as a blanket, which is normally enough to not be too hot.
Extras for comfort
After a year on the road, Noémie had a sudden desire for more comfort. As a birthday present for her 29th birthday, Adam’s parents gave her an Alite Mayfly chair that weighs 720g. It is a real plus that is appreciated. We are however a little disappointed with the quality. One of the poles is already cracked and the waterproof lining of the fabric is coming off.
It may seem anecdotal but having an additional light source to our head torches is really nice. Hanging from a tree or in the tent, this allows us to enjoy a more diffuse light. Our lantern Luci spends her days hanging on a pannier to recharge thanks to the sun. After we got it stolen in a hotel in Uzbekistan, we contacted MPowerd the manufacturer who agreed to send us a new one in exchange for photos.
Adam could not imagine going away for so long without an instrument. So we bought a Yamaha guitalele, small and relatively light. Unfortunately she ended up crushed by a cow in Laos. While visiting Thailand, his parents bought him a small mango wood guitar handmade by a craftsman from Chiang Mai for his 30th birthday, lucky boy!