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 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.

Now I've done it, here are some stats demonstrating the usefulness of using the bike to support a tarp, over about 2 years:

Setup No of nights Notes
Tarp between trees 2 Of which one sharing
Tarp over bike, campsite 5 Campsites wouldn't allow me to tie anything to their trees (if present). Includes one on my flat-bar hybrid, which worked equally well
Tarp over bike, wild (or my garden) 7 Of which one sharing, over a smaller bike than mine. Often no trees available, or where there are suitable trees, the ground is very uneven
Tarp between bike, bush, and rocks 1 Beach rocks were too big to insert pegs between, but too small to use as weights
Tent carried by bike, campsite 6 For comparison. Requires rack and panniers
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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
    Commented Nov 12, 2018 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
    Commented Nov 12, 2018 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
    Commented Nov 12, 2018 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. Commented Nov 12, 2018 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
    Commented Nov 13, 2018 at 8:47

6 Answers 6


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! 😉 Commented Nov 12, 2018 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
    Commented Nov 12, 2018 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? Commented Nov 12, 2018 at 11:32
  • i think this method is bad, wont the nuts on the bike rust? Commented Nov 12, 2018 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
    Commented Nov 12, 2018 at 15:13

In the current situation I have time on my hands to try things, but only at home (hence the cramped pictures below, with garden toys in). An injury meant last year's trip didn't happen as planned, but I bought the tarp anyway. As I commented before, keeping the bike upright with guy ropes should work, and it does. Here they're attached to the drops. To protect the bar tape I'd use a small loop of webbing in the future as the cords dig in.

Touring bike held up by guy ropes

This position also makes loading and unloading the bike easy. The aero bars (bought since I asked the question) and phone mount are a significant reason to keep the bike upright. It's very stable. I can give the saddle or back wheel a good hard smack , or lift the back wheel to one side, and it's in no danger of falling.

Then I put a cheap lightweight 3m (10ft) tarp over the top. The aero bars form the apex of the tent. One corner is pegged down nearly 2 metres in front of the bike, and two are pegged down near the end of the guy ropes.

tarp over bike

The 4th corner is pegged behind the bike with a short length of cord. The saddle and saddlebag are covered. The midpoints of the sides are pegged down, with cord if necessary. Unhitching the cord at the front centre of this photo allows easy access.

bike under tarp, rear view

It's pretty spacious inside, and provides enough cover to get changed without offending anyone, unlike a tarp slung between trees. I'd be happy to use it on a campsite, which was one of my goals.

inside the tarp tent

I had a comfortable night in there, admittedly in very benign weather. I pitched it with the bike facing into the slight breeze, so the upwind end of the tarp was pegged to the ground. In this orientation, using a length of cord to prevent flapping fabric, it would be possible to shelter from the elements while cooking on a small stove (another project) just outside.

A tip from a friend - sleep on the non-drive side, in case your sleeping bag brushes up against the bike. That said you could actually fit a short person on the other side of the bike

And this is it on Dartmoor a few months later. I pitched in the dark and fog after a day that was hillier (i.e. slower, also with a record 3 punctures) and much wetter than expected. It did a good job of keeping the rain off but the fog made everything damp. Various lessons have been learned about what to pack where for accessibility, and I need to pick a bigger spot next time (the tarp only extended onto the path while I cooked breakfast under it, but still it was a bit tight). One change was fitting the guy ropes to the aero-bar armrests, which was easier with my bar bag fitted. One thing I might consider is protecting the tarp from the strain caused by the aerobars, perhaps just by using one of my existing bags.

Tarp tent on Dartmoor A kickstand would make setup slightly easier on level ground, but if anything would make the structure less stable, if it touched the ground.

  • 1
    @Criggie the white cord is actually very close to the tarp and parallel to it. The angles of the photos are slightly different and deceptive. I may be able to get it closer to the tarp by tying it higher on the bars. Standing up a bike with guy ropes is a little fiddly but ok; with a tarp in the wind it would be harder, plus the guy ropes stowed accessibly. There was a heavy dew last night, and the ground wasn't bone dry to start with, so everything was a little damp. I could open up the foot end by propping my tool case under there for a through draught.
    – Chris H
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 13:01
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    ... I instinctively slept with my head to the opening (nearer the pedals than the wheel) because that's what I seem to do in tents. But it's easy enough to turn round in there so I've got the choice
    – Chris H
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 13:03
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    And my light double skin tent is nearly always wet on the inside of the outer; the tarp would be easier to dry (I just left it in the sun today as I wasn't going anywhere)
    – Chris H
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 13:04
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    Back on desktop I realise (@Criggie) that your guy rope cord comment probably referred to the last pic. I'd slightly adjusted the tarp by this point so it stayed open for the photo
    – Chris H
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 14:59
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    @Criggie this is coated fabric as would rest on poles in some tent designs, or over a rope in some tarp setups. It's not qoing to let water through from contact, unless the contact abrades the coating; that's why I might make the contact area bigger and softer. For comparison my uncoated nylon bags let a lot of water in while riding; in fact the tarp protected my sleeping bag. I'd packed for the forecast
    – Chris H
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 20:39

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
    Commented Nov 12, 2018 at 9:29
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    I want to see how the second arrangement fares in 20–30 m/s winds.
    – gerrit
    Commented Nov 12, 2018 at 10:40
  • @gerrit: At least the “poles” (i.e. the bike) won’t break ;)
    – Michael
    Commented Nov 12, 2018 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
    Commented Nov 13, 2018 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
    Commented Nov 13, 2018 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. Commented Nov 13, 2018 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
    Commented Nov 13, 2018 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
    Commented Nov 13, 2018 at 6:25

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
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 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
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 7:16

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.


Condensation, bugs, dew, can settle on your bag overnight, so one soluition there is a bivvy bag, essentially a waterproof cover for your sleeping bag.

from one local site and another example

These can be had as army surplus too for example

In fact, the military services have been doing this kind of "spontaneous" camping forever so army disposal services are a great place to look for what's available. Downside is there's a lot of camouflage, which may even be illegal to use depending where you camp.

Other words that could be useful include Basha (basically a single fly), Bivvy or Bivi (as above), Zeltbahn (German), Hoochie,

The Zeltbahn / Shelter-half / Poncho could be a dual-duty solution too - essentially two of these: enter image description here become a single cover, which could be dressed over your bike: From https://www.armyandoutdoors.co.nz/collections/tents-bashas/products/east-german-strichmuster-tarpaulin As a weight saving it is your waterproof outer layer, and will be large enough to cover your framebags, bars, hands, handlebar-bag, and perhaps even seatpost pannier. So if there were a pair of your riding, this could be an excellent weight saving.

There even exist outdoor hammocks, which would provide shelter and comfort, though would not use the bike at all. examples of outdoor camping hammocks

  • 2
    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
    Commented Nov 13, 2018 at 8:50
  • 1
    I'd also considered bivvy bags, or rather, if the tarp proves unsatisfactory, bivvy tents, which aren't much bigger than a sleeping bag but have a small pole at the head end (or use a cord from a branch to hold the head end up). They're be less good than a tarp tent if mixing campsites and wild camping, and get rather expensive. But for very similar cases they'd be perfect
    – Chris H
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 19:29
  • 1
    ... Similarly in my case the convertible poncho would be nice, except that rain always seems to come with a headwind which would be very heavy going in such a big waterproof. They'd be good if you could wait out the weather, or make very limited progress for a day.
    – Chris H
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 19:32
  • 1
    BTW your bugs comment prompted me to buy a sleeping bag with a built in mozzie net in the hood
    – Chris H
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 20:44

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