Next year I might find myself needing a lightweight touring/camping shelter, suitable for overnight stops at camspites and at the roadside. One option is a single-hoop bivvy tent (example) but many of these aren't much lighter than my hiking tent, and they're rather expensive. A hoopless bivvy bag seems more like emergency kit to me (with the exception of the Salewa which allows the hood to be lifted with a cord to a branch, fence, or bike). My choice is rather restricted by my height -I'm too tall for many of them. We can a assume a decent weather forecast before setting out for a few days, so some need for rain-proofing (and face cover) but not planning to be out in a storm.

As an alternative I wondered about getting a tarp, and using the bike itself (held up with guy ropes and possibly a kickstand) to lift the head end. This would have the advantage of no poles to carry, making packing very easy. Has this been done before? Are there any plans in existence? I've got reasonable DIY/craft skills and equipment but not really for working on fabric beyond minor modifications.

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    I honestly doubt it’s a good idea. If you plan to use a tarp (with all its disadvantages) the bike could serve as a last-resort anchor point/pole if you can’t find anything else. But I wouldn’t plan on using it regularly this way. Reliable 1-man, double walled tents with less than 1.5kg are readily available. – Michael Nov 12 '18 at 10:26
  • @Michael but (i) those tents are expensive (apart from a few junk ones) and (ii) I've already got an old 1 man 1.9kg tent, which I have used for bike camping and it's great. But it's bulky & inflexible to pack - there's no way I'd avoid panniers with it taking all the space behind the saddle. (iii) pitching a full tent at the side of the road is rather obviously a proper overnight stop which isn't allowed. A quick shelter (maybe using the bike, maybe not) is less obtrusive. Just (e.g.) wrapping the tarp round a sleeping bag would do on a clear night. I'd like a campsite every 2 nights min. – Chris H Nov 12 '18 at 10:38
  • BTW whatever I go for (assuming it's not just taking my existing tent), I'll be able to try at home overnight, and of course I'll take pictures – Chris H Nov 12 '18 at 14:11
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    I've used an old GoLite Cave tarp shelter for a lot of bike camping. You just find a stick to use for an upright, or two sticks if there's not a tree for one end. On a bike you presumably even have a few miles to find yourself a good stick if you're worried about trying to camp where there are none to be found. – Nathan Knutson Nov 12 '18 at 20:03
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    @Criggie in the UK that's highly restrictive. We don't have many sites with cabins or similar by the night, and they have to be pre-booked (in practice even if in theory you can just turn up). So you have to know when and where you're going to sleep in advance. You'd actually have more luck with B&Bs or cheap hotels. I'd certainly plan on having a list of proper campsites with hot showers not far off the route. – Chris H Nov 13 '18 at 8:47

Yes, its been done before, there are various configurations. Google for 'Bikepacking tarp shelter' for many ideas.

Good resources for this type of thing are bikepacking.net forums and in the UK Bear bones bikepacking.

Here are some examples:

enter image description here enter image description here

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    Butbutbut Rule Forty-Niiiiiiiiiine! 😉 – David Richerby Nov 12 '18 at 9:52
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    David’s joke has some truth in it. Putting your bike upside down on wet ground can damage your saddle or bar tape/grips. Scratches, mould etc. I’ve even had ants eating my leather saddle. – Michael Nov 12 '18 at 11:06
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    @Michael How dare you be serious! Hydraulic disk brakes don't like being turned upside-down, too, right? – David Richerby Nov 12 '18 at 11:32
  • i think this method is bad, wont the nuts on the bike rust? – Lam Munn Juan Nov 12 '18 at 12:44
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    I think with a decent pair of guys, the bike should be more stable the right way up plus my aerobars and navigation/phone mount on the stem would end up shoved into the mud. (@DavidRicherby etc.) – Chris H Nov 12 '18 at 15:13

Get a tarp, and use your bike to provide at least three mounting points for it.

Dozens of examples of how people do it: https://backpackinglight.com/forums/topic/54639/

My quick and dirty solution several years ago:

quick and dirty

If you want a fancier solution, there are "bike-specific tents" (google the phrase):

Topeak-Bikamper-One-Person-Bicycling-Tent image source

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    I particularly like the photo at your link showing the tarp as sleeping arrangment but a full-size moka pot on the stove. That would be perfect. There are some very good ideas there. – Chris H Nov 12 '18 at 9:29
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    I want to see how the second arrangement fares in 20–30 m/s winds. – gerrit Nov 12 '18 at 10:40
  • @gerrit: At least the “poles” (i.e. the bike) won’t break ;) – Michael Nov 12 '18 at 11:03
  • Maybe it's just teh angle of the photograph - but even if that is a 29er, comparison with the frame size makes me think the 'tent' is only about 1.5 m long. – Penguino Nov 13 '18 at 0:21
  • @Penguino they claim 200x70-90cm. So just about long enough for me. Probably a wide-angle lens close to the subject, assuming the geometry comes from a real photo. – Chris H Nov 13 '18 at 8:52

You don't mention where you will be riding so I have to use my own area as an example. Using your bike as part of a tarp/tent rig is a horrible example. I know your trying to keep weight down, but even a simple tarp/lean-to is better than using your bike.

This is opinion, but one of the few places to spend some extra weight is rest and food. For example, a too lightweight stove setup that can't cook and gives you food poisoning (or limits your foods too much) is not going to help you complete your trip. Likewise, a good night sleep can make carrying that extra weight worth it.

That said, you asked about lightweight solutions.

Option One Option Two Option Three

All without using your bike, and while providing ample cover and space. Of course, it really depends on whats about.

There are also a number of 1-2 person tents that come in under or close to the 2 lb mark.

  • Agree with coteyr that "a tarp is better than using your bike". Unless one travels in a desert, steppe, tundra or similar environments where there is not a single tree many kilometers around, one can always find a tree to attach a tent's highest mounting point. Then, there are always ground and some sticks or some rocks to to fasten the rest of the tent's mounting points. If you have a bike, you basically have your own "tree" with you. If you are 99% certain that there will be no rain and the trip is short, no need to even carry a tent — an emergency blanket will do. – Grigory Rechistov Nov 13 '18 at 6:04
  • The difference between what you have to carry for a tarp that can be used as you show, and one that can be supported on the bike, is very small. The fabric is the same, you might need a longer cord in one piece for the trees, and a couple of extra pegs for the bike. Knowing that a standard setup and a bike setup are both possible gives more options. – Chris H Nov 13 '18 at 6:23
  • @Grigory, I've had a couple of nights this year with just a sleeping bag on a groundsheet (in picnic areas while driving). But I wouldn't want to rely on the weather for this 4-5 days ahead. I also don't want to rely on hiking far away from the road to find a tree, probably in the dark – Chris H Nov 13 '18 at 6:25

I have spent the occasional night outdoors in nothing more than a sleeping bag with a groundsheet between the bag and the damp ground.

As long as you have something to break the wind and something keeping you off the ground, then you can get away with very little on a summers night.

Bugs can be more of a problem than you might expect, so aim to have some netting to cover yourself.

If the weather does break on you, it can get miserable quite quickly so you will still want to pack a waterproof jacket.

https://i2.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/REI-Magma-10.jpg?fit=640%2C434&ssl=1 Note, not me!

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    The downside of this approach in our climate is that you can very easily end up with no sleep and a load of wet kit, from one short, sharp shower. There are better bags than that pictured (for use over a sleeping bag in the cold, or on their own in the warm. They woudln't really be acceptable if I did find a campsite. – Chris H Nov 13 '18 at 8:50

I've often used my bike in combination with a tarp with a camo pattern as a shelter. Often I set the system up so that it starts compact: the tarp drawn close round the bike effectively concealing it--even among scant tracts of brush dappled with a few young trees. This allows more "pedestrian" activities such as hiking or supply gathering where a bike would limit your movement. Upon return to the bike basecamp, two corners of the tarp are disengaged, the tarp is unfurled and the two ends secured (via tether, rocks, or staking) to predetermined points. Varying essentially the heighth, and less often the breadth, of these two points allows the shelter to be flexible from lean-to to straight over-head to lean-to the opposite way. Each of these steps creates increasing amounts sheltered volume because the one constant side is the profile of the bike that is partially enrolled by and secures the tarps opposing edge. It's not dissimilar to the third pic above. Except I typically keep my bike upright and that side of the tarp entirely around the bike.
This set-up is good where true camping is discouraged or when attention to the bike or human activity is unwanted. I'm not promoting any shenanigans here...in fact where I come from, you'd likely come out better after a walk thru a bad part of any inner-city than if caught trespassing. Shelter and privacy, however, are necessary things. Couple of tid bits: To achieve a little more "standing room" find a linear depression --a narrow low run of ground within the woods, placing the tarp+bike side on one high side and secure the free ends on the opposite high side. Stand tall under the tarp in the low ground. Related to this, become virtually invisible by tarping over a low contour in the land. Under this you'll be sheltered and below the surrounding land's line of sight as if you'd disappeared over the horizon. Good technique for open land like prairies, pastures, deserts and such. Another advantage to this kind of laying low is that air temps are typically cooler in hot weather and warmer in cold temps.

  • Lots of good thoughts there, thank you. You must be somewhere drier than me though - a depression in the ground like you suggest would be likely to be damp here. When you say "above" I think you're referring to AndyP's answer, but I'm not sure because the display order isn't fixed, and for me your answer is just below my question. – Chris H Nov 28 '18 at 6:53
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    @Chris H Midwest, USA dominates my experiences. I thought I should note that these handy depressions in the land can be iffy to out & out perilous in wet weather but had to stick with my sense that some things are self-evident. And I say if a small flood washes out yer low-lying bed: well then yer bath is taken care of too! Yep. It's Andy P's pic I was referring to – Jeff Nov 28 '18 at 7:16

I've got a "beach shelter" which is a small half tent, uses three poles and looks like this:


Its not big enough to lie in sideways, but you can keep your head and shoulders in there, along with your bags. It will also act as a wind break should the wind pick up overnight.

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