Kit Review: First Month Top Five

Writing from Luchon on 12/09/18.

Luchon where clouds get trapped in trees and the atmospheric mountains of the Pyrenees envelop you and fill you with awe.

A month into the trip, cycling along, I asked Olly for his five favourite pieces of kit to date.  After having put everything through its paces for, now, almost six weeks, here are a couple of reflections.

N.B.  We are absolutely not sponsored by anyone and these opinions are entirely our own.  We only hope that said opinions may be of some use to anyone considering any of the below items or planning a trip and wondering about what gear to get.  Ultimately, we hope it may make for some light reading whilst on a coffee break.


1.     SP PD-8 Dynamo with B&M Light and Charger (Shutter Precision and Busch and Muller)

In a nutshell, really useful and stress-relieving.  There’s no need to worry about lights, charging them or having batteries for them and it’s the same for the Garmin and, on less urgent occasions, other electricals too (phone, camera, battery pack have all benefited from Olly’s pedal power).  However, you can’t take the dynamo hub apart to fix it meaning it would have to be sent away should the occasion arise – this is Olly’s only criticism so far.

2.       SmartWool approach socks

Very comfortable and because of the Merino wool component they don’t get too smelly, even after multiple wears sans washing.

3.       Helinox Chair Zero

So small and so light!  It is making a huge difference knowing that we always have a chair to (carefully) sink into at the end of the day.  Many campsites have offered tables and/or chairs, or if they haven’t we have, on occasion, borrowed from the communal supply, but when we haven’t been so lucky, or if we haven’t managed to find somewhere suitable to sit at lunchtime, the Helinox Chair Zero is perfect.  It packs down to about the size of a 1L water bottle and weighs only 500g.  It was an expensive, luxury buy, but one which we certainly don’t regret.

4.       DIY pot cosy

A pot cosy is an insulated blanket that you wrap around your pots to keep them warm (or, indeed, cold, but we’ve yet to use them for that reason) or to help with cooking.  You can buy pot cosies in specific sizes, but not the ones we needed and so Olly crafted his own which is working brilliantly, especially for morning porridge: we boil the water, add the oats, take the pot off the heat and put it into the cosy which does the rest.  As a result, the cosy helps us to conserve gas too.

5.       NeoAir Xlite Therm-a-Rest

Olly loves to sleep in a tent to the extent that one night, snuggled into various liners, bags and down items, he proclaimed that he thinks it’s almost as comfortable as sleeping in a bed!  This enthusiasm is in large part thanks to the Therm-a-Rest: an incredibly comfortable, inflatable, camping, air mattress.  The NeoAir Xlite is the lightest and most compact air mattress that Therm-a-Rest make (under 500g and about as big as a water bottle) which was an important consideration for the trip.  We have bought a pump sack for the Therm-a-Rests in a bid to reduce the hot air we would put into them were we to use our breath instead which, we hope, will reduce condensation and mould and thus make our mattresses last a little longer.

petit-déj prep featuring pot cosy, wooden spoon and MSR Whisperlite

dinner prep featuring MSR Whisperlite, Helinox Zero and broken Spork


My hands down, overall winner is my ism PR 1.0 saddle, but more on that in a future post to be called ‘Saddle S(t)ories’.  Until then, if you’re experiencing any discomfort while cycling, especially if you’re a lady and you’re having ‘soft tissue’ issues, consider looking into these saddles.  Huge props to Emily and the team at Stan’s Cycles in Shrewsbury for pointing us in this direction.

1.       Solotrekk Deluxe Travel Clothes Line

Practical and inexpensive.  Although, ultimately, a pimped up bungee cord, I’d buy it again – quite likely buy it as a gift – and recommend it.  There are three main perks for me: no pegs are needed, you just twist your clothes into the elastic; bungee hooks ends make it easy to fix on to all sorts (from tree branches, to fences, to the bikes if necessary) and they make it strong too; it’s three metres long and so there is room for a fair amount of washing.  When researching (!) a travel washing line, I was discouraged from buying anything with suckers!  I can concur. 

2.       dhb Classic Shorts

Of the three pairs of cycling shorts that I’ve brought with me on the trip, my dhb Classics are by far my favourite.  The Specialized shorts that I have are perhaps the most aesthetically flattering: they are very comfortable around the waist and around the thigh: none of the bulging that so often happens.  The dhb Aeron shorts that I have are the highest specification and were the most expensive, but the thigh bit bothers me (too clingy).  Although the dhb Classics are not the most flattering, some thigh bulging due to a tight elastic that requires you to run your finger underneath the it every so often to avoid serious skin indentations (which does lead to that same feeling of relief you get when you take a pony-tail out after it’s been in while), the chamois, I find, is by far the most comfortable.  The dhb Classics were my cheapest pair of shorts and I’m seriously considering buying two more pairs and then sending my others home.  I love them.

3.       Wooden spoon

I’m not entirely sure where I stand on wooden spoons: are they ever really clean again after the first use?  When I first moved to AH, I worked hard to keep cooking and baking spoons separate because I just never really fancied a curry-flavoured Victoria sponge.  Before too long though, my wooden spoons were multi-use: chicken fajitas, beef casserole, chocolate brownies…  As a vegetarian, especially yummy.  My tool of choice would be a silicon spatula – I also had one of those when I first moved to AH, but I think it split?!  Super non-stick, very easy to clean; looking back, I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t buy one of these in the first place.  (Environmental reasons?)  If anyone fancies sending one our way…  Regardless, we’ve used our humble, wooden spoon – with a short handle for weight-gain and packability purposes – every day, which is far more often than we’ve used any of the fancy MSR camp-cooking gear.  And it only cost 39p!  Recommended in the book Bike Camp Cook that Olly bought me for my birthday, I’d recommend a wooden spoon to a traveller too.  (Or, you know, a silicon version.)

4.       Cycling sandals

I love my Keen Women’s Commuter IV bike sandals and, I’m going to put it out there, I think they look good!  These SPD sandals are great for more efficient cycling, which is especially useful on any climb, and they are really easy to womble around in off the bike too.  The covered toe is a big plus point for me, as I too quickly and easily get cold extremities, and I love the elasticated, fit laces too.  The colour is great and they’re really comfortable too, the only negative, which I’m sure says more about me than the sandals, is that they have recently started to hum!

5.       Carradice Originals Keswick Handlebar bag

I love my handlebar bag because it is so accessible.  It is also very roomy and so I can get all sorts in it.  The map case on the top came in really handy when we first got to France and we were finding out feet with navigation, and it was useful too when Isabelle and Didier gave us a bespoke city map of Toulouse.  Also really practical is the shoulder strap, which means wandering off from the bike isn’t quite as daunting because you can easily take all of the important, handlebar bag worthy items (headtorch and lip balm) with you.

dhb Classics, Carradice handlebar bags, Keen sandals, mushroom helmet head

We currently have a love/hate relationship with our MSRWhisperlite Stove.  Here’s what we love:

·         Fuel so far has been cheap
·         It will burn anything!  (When I quizzed Olly on what he meant here, as I advised we were on the ‘love’ list, he means, fuel-wise.  This is the main reason we bought the stove: it is universal.)
·         Rapid boiling
·         It is easy to take apart, service and fix.

Here’s what we hate:

·         The best fuel can be hard to source (we started out in the UK with Coleman fuel – the best, and then stumbled across Essence C in E.Leclerc in Souillac – the best you can buy in France).
·         It will burn anything!  Even at a safe distance it feels like we’re running the risk of the tent going up in flames.  Talk to Climbing Tim if you want to hear an outright horror story involving an MSR Whisperlite, the front of his parents’ house and a fire extinguisher.
·         Rapid boiling means no simmer setting.  Thus, we are becoming quite efficient at preparing and stirring.
·         I am afraid to use it: pressuring the fuel, fitting all of the attachments correctly, listening to make sure you’ve let out the right amount of fuel for priming, using a cigarette lighter (despite Josh’s best efforts to educate me) to prime the stove and then letting it burn out just the right amount before you turn it on…  As a result, Olly, so far, has done all of the cooking (I provide meal ideas and do a lot of the preparation, occasionally I stir).  A renewed effort to overcome the MSR Whisperlite fear will commence tomorrow morning.  Since writing this post, I have cooked two supervised meals and one unsupervised round of hot drinks.

P.S.  Olly broke my Spork – again!  This time he completely disrespected any and all Laws of Physics when he tried to lever LOADS of peanut butter out of the jar and onto his baguette.  The Spork snapped in two.  I don’t blame Spork.  I loved my Spork.