Kit review: Lightweight tent and sleeping bag
Cycling and walking trips come in all shapes and sizes. For many people, it's the chance to truly escape the routines and familiar territories that appeals. Some people also like the independence of carrying their own accommodation with them. (Of course, if you like cycle or walk tours with accommodation booked in B&Bs or hotels, you can check out the many trips on offer on our website, too!). Cycling tourer Nick G enjoys heading off for adventures on his bike. He is a cyclist who prefers to take his accommodation with him. Here he reviews the Jack Wolfskin Exolight II tent and Vango Venom 300 sleeping bag during a trip to the Scottish western isles. The tent and sleeping bag would also be a great solution for lighter-weight walking trips.
On test: Jack Wolfskin Exolight II tent
Nick writes: It is a treat to be offered outdoor gear to test. However, with the upstairs cupboard already holding six tents of varying sizes, I could not conceive that the Exolight II was going to have much to offer me as a new camping experience. The sleeping bag corner of the cupboard was not quite so embarrassingly full with three or four bags that I could make out in the semi darkness, but again I was happy that I had all possible bases covered. The test trip was to be a cycle tour up through the Outer Hebrides and back down through Skye and the West Coast. Five days of adventure starting in a spell of settled, warm, dry weather so the gear could hopefully be kept light at the expense of some warmth. The Exolight tent arrived the day before I was off to catch the ferry so there was only a brief opportunity in the back garden to practise pitching. The four corners of the combined fly sheet/inner are pegged down and the rather weird spider-like frame sits over it with a pole end at each corner. And, well, that's it really. A proper two-man tent with inner and outer, two porches and a very sturdy frame all erected within two minutes. I was impressed. The Vango sleeping bag got even less attention before departure. The two very small stuff sacks containing tent and bag were jammed into a pannier, not to be seen until the first Hebridean beach. Of course, it being Scotland, the weather came up trumps for gear testing, giving me two days of sunshine followed by three of gales and rain, but the Exolight took everything in its stride and continued to impress. Almost within seconds of stopping the bike I had my shelter in place, standing up firmly against the summer winds. The two porches would, I imagine, be great for ventilation in hot weather, but provided plenty space for gear storage on one side and cookery on the other. The angle of the flysheet was a little low over the cooker so some care was required. There’s not much to report to the detriment of the tent. I did take a sheet of Tyvek builders’ membrane to reinforce the lightweight groundsheet against tears, but this was negligible extra weight. It was also responsible for almost knocking my teeth out one morning as I released the tension in the poles to pack up. Bent in the strong wind, the pole sprang free with some force and hit me in the mouth, I guess because the frame is not retained in a sleeve in the flysheet. It was my fault though and easily avoided with some common sense.
On test: Vango Venom 300 sleeping bag
The Vango Venom 300 also performed very well for its small size and weight although I doubt temperatures were ever below 10C or so. I find a 4 or 5 season bag intolerable unless I am somewhere properly cold. At other times I would love to be sleeping in a down bag but don't want anything like that level of warmth. The Vango seemed a good compromise. It is suggested you use it at 0 to 20C (2/3 season), which seems entirely reasonable. I would even use it in winter in a hut or similar situation. The 700 down fill and box construction give it a cosy all-round feel without being suffocating, which is just what you want in summer. It has a half zip, which is adequate, a shoulder baffle, hood and zip baffle. This is everything that I would expect from a good quality sleeping bag, but lighter. I have a very slight reservation in that, for my height (1.90m), the hood was a little constrictive when done up tight because of the overall length of the bag but this is not something I would be doing to sleep. The width offered plenty of sleeping space. By all means buy six tents and four sleeping bags if you haven't already, but that might be harder to justify if you had two such versatile bits of kit as these. Specs (Nick’s measurements) Jack Wolfskin Exolight II Tent Weight 2.2kg Packed size 47 x 13cm RRP £400. To buy see Jack Wolfskin. Vango Venom 300 Sleeping Bag Weight 0.8kg Packed size 25 x 16cm Costs: £119.99 from Silverfox Travel Outdoors.