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  1. #1
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    Where to spend, where to scrimp, etc.

    So:

    I'm graduating college in Pittsburgh in May. I'm starting work in San Diego in August. I want to spend the summer going cross-country. Immediately out of college, I obviously won't have a lot of money to throw around, though I am putting in some work this summer and should be able to bring in something over a thousand dollars, plus I'll be selling several of the used bikes I've accumulated during college. If worst comes to worst, I can borrow from my parents, but I'd prefer to avoid that, and thus want to keep costs minimal.

    I'm a pretty decent self-taught mechanic and have access to my local bike coop, which makes for a pretty decent selection of random used parts, though most useful commuter-type equipment disappears pretty quickly.

    There's a lot of equipment that seems to be de rigueur for taking a trip of this length. None of the bikes I have now are to be too suitable for the trip. I'm watching the coop and Craiglist for suitably-sized old mountain bikes as well as keeping an eye on eBay. But where are likely points of failure where it's worth my while to spend money on new things?

    What about other equipment, like racks and panniers? How much of a risk would be using cheaper Axiom racks or such versus shiny handmade European things? What about panniers? Do more expensive ones just offer the convenience of easier-to-use connections and being able to keep things dry without garbage bags?

    Then there are tents and equipment in that direction. I don't know much about those. It sounds like any basic tent will do the trick in the summer, and that a pop-can stove will do fine. Is that true?

    ACA maps are also nontrivially expensive. Are they worth it? I should have access to an Android phone this summer, and thus will have access to Google maps and even without internet can keep a copy of OpenStreetMap data (which would probably be mostly US Census TIGER data in the countryside).

    Basically, where is it that buying pricy things means avoiding getting stuck or soaked in the middle of nowhere, and where does it just make things a little more convenient?
    Last edited by AlanKHG; 03-02-10 at 08:47 PM.

  2. #2
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    The strength of your rack/frame/wheels are the main things that can break. Their strength only comes into question as your weight comes into play. I would say that if you can keep the total weight of you and your gear below 200 lbs you can start cheaping out in the above 3 areas. Conveniently for you, the cheapest lightest gear you can get is no gear at all.

    Cycling in North America is where 0 is pretty much the only limit to how far you can cheap out. The weather is not extreme in the summer and there aren't many highways where you are ever far from help if you need it. I wouldn't say their is any one piece of equipment that is de rigeur for touring except for a bicycle. People have successfully crossed the nation on every possible combination of gear and equipment from the most expensive to free and home made.

    So what it comes down to is what your goals are? Do you want to go fast? Want to be comfortable? Want to have the most fun possible? Want to explore remote areas? Want to spend as little as possible?

  3. #3
    This user is a pipebomb brotherdan's Avatar
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    ACA maps are really nice, but not a necessity. I usually just use road maps.

    You don't need a stove at all. I often tour without one, sometimes for weeks at a time. A pop can stove works if you want to have a stove. Trangia stoves are a bit nicer, and still cheap. I traveled with a couple of guys that used a trangia and seemed to like it.

    Any tent will do, but try to focus on light weight. I wouldn't want a tent that weighed more than four pounds with poles and stakes. You should be able to find a small, inexpensive backpacking tent for less than 150. Tarps are really light, and not all that pricey

    Racks I would not skimp on, at least not on rear racks. I've broken two rear racks over the years. The first was a really cheap rack, cyclepro or some similar brand. It died after about forty miles of fully loaded touring. The second was a Jandd expedition rack, which is a fairly heavy duty rack. It died after about 10,000 miles of fully loaded touring. I wouldn't pay less than 80 dollars retail for any rear rack, even if I was trying to assemble a touring bike on the cheap.

    I'd go cheap on panniers. Don't buy waterproof unless you get a cheap set, like the nashbars. I always just line my panniers with garbage bags. Garbage bags don't leak. Backpackers have been using garbage bags in non-waterproof backpacks for decades. That's what they taught me to do in cub scouts twenty years ago, and that's still what they do at NOLS.

    You can tour on cheap tires, but make sure to carry a spare. Scwalbe marathons will last for 1 or 2 thousand miles longer than some cheapo tires at your local bike shop. But I'd recommend just getting the cheapo tires and carrying one spare folding tire. A set of marathons will set you back over 100 dollars, while three cheap tires will come in well under that price.

    Also, patch your tubes as much as possible when you get punctures, and don't use preglued patches! Carry spare tubes, but rely on the patch kits as much as possible.
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  4. #4
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    I've had good luck with inexpensive racks ($10) and panniers (~$30). Deficiencies are usually in the quality and convenience of the mounting hardware - so check this out and reinforce as desired. OTOH, I'd suggest not going for the cheapest tent - they frequently aren't designed as well to deal with strong winds and wind-driven rain. Waking up with the tent flapping loudly and some water getting it is no fun at all. And I also haven't been that happy with the soda-can stoves or other cheap sterno or pellet models. They work fine on a nice summer day, but not so well when the wind is blowing and the temperatures drop a bit.

    The most serious bike problems when touring tend to be wheel-related. Don't look for the minimal spoke count wheels where a single failure makes the bike unrideable.
    Last edited by prathmann; 03-02-10 at 09:26 PM.

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    Weight-wise I'm 6' and 155 now and probably will drop a few pounds once spring comes on, so staying under or very slightly above 200 lbs. shouldn't be a problem. I'd reckon my goals are:
    -pretty fast crossing, at least in unpopulated areas
    -comfortable in the sense of a bike that fits and a tent that keeps me dry enough
    -cheap enough, but not so cheap that I'll end up spending more to get out of a jam in the middle of nowhere

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by AlanKHG View Post
    Weight-wise I'm 6' and 155 now and probably will drop a few pounds once spring comes on, so staying under or very slightly above 200 lbs. shouldn't be a problem. I'd reckon my goals are:
    -pretty fast crossing, at least in unpopulated areas
    -comfortable in the sense of a bike that fits and a tent that keeps me dry enough
    -cheap enough, but not so cheap that I'll end up spending more to get out of a jam in the middle of nowhere
    I would spend my money on:

    1. A bike above $500
    2. Decent racks
    3. Good wheels

    Decent panniers will be a good investment if you plan to tour more in future, but for now you could make bucket panniers or some other DIY solution.
    We blog about bike touring, with reviews, tips and cycle touring podcasts at Travelling Two

  7. #7
    Senior Member Doug64's Avatar
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    avatarworf
    I would spend my money on:

    1. A bike above $500
    2. Decent racks
    3. Good wheels
    Seems like good advice.

    Some folks on this forum have had good luck with the "Windsor Tourist". If you have a good saddle now you'd be ready to go. http://www.bikesdirect.com/products/windsor/tourist.htm


    I've had good luck with Blackburn racks. The one on my touring bike, Blackburn Expedition (<$50), has about 6,000 loaded miles and is still going strong. I also have a 30 year old Jim Blackburn on my Mtn bike that is still ticking.

  8. #8
    Senior Member wheel's Avatar
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    Your a mechanic that's a huge plus. I would make a note of the coops along the way.

    Food and fun things are what you should be worried about.

    Everything else can be had for cheap if you don't mind weight and bulk.
    Lots of homeless people tour on bikes.

    You could buy a nashbar touring frame. Or just use an old ten speed.

    I got a Windsor and have done 9 tours on that. Including a 25oo mile tour.
    Last edited by wheel; 03-02-10 at 10:43 PM.
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  9. #9
    Senior Member Thulsadoom's Avatar
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    When it comes to cycling, less expensive=heavier. If you have plenty of time to get across the country, and it sounds like you do, then you can get some excellent gear for cheap but it will likely be a heavier load than some might recommend. You'll just go slower.

    Good idea to keep an eye on Craigslist and Ebay for a bike. You can sometimes pick up quality bikes for excellent prices. Try to find something with heavy duty wheels and tires already installed. Good quality wheels are a big one, but they must also be well built and true/tensioned. Better to have a well built, less expensive wheel than a high quality, expensive wheel that has been built by a hack. Make sure the bike fits you or can be modified to fit you, you don't want to take off on an ill-fitting bike. I'd advise looking for something with a good quality triple groupo. The Windsor tourist is also an excellent choice. DON'T cheap out on the saddle, find one that works for you and buy it, whatever it costs.

    You can get a one-burner Coleman propane stove for about $20 that works like a charm, but it's a little heavier than some others. You can get cooking gear for almost nothing at a thrift store or something.

    I'd suggest getting a decent sized tent and sleeping pad. You'll want to be comfortable and dry at night. Again, a few pounds heavier will often mean a large savings. If you have a roomy tent and comfortable sleeping arrangement at night you'll be far less likely to get motels and expensive campgrounds. If you're going to be stealth camping, it makes sense to get a green tent, it will blend in with the foilage and you'll be more stealty. You can probably cheap out on the sleeping bag, since you're traveling in the summer. Walmart practically gives them away.

    You can get good synthetic athletic wear at Walmart also that works very well.

    I'd say just get some pans(panniers) that are good sized, and then pack along some plastic bags to pack everything in. Don't worry about high-tech or waterproof. You might keep and eye on Craigslist/Ebay for pans too. I've seen some go for excellent prices. Of course, there's always the trailer option. A trailer might be cheaper than a set of racks/pans, and you can pull one with any bike. Solves a lot of problems.

    Racks shouldn't be a huge expense. Just get some that work. I know a guy who made his own racks out of light weight steel for almost nothing. They are heavy but if they break on the road he can get them welded almost anywhere. They've never broken though.

    Try to save enough money so that you can eat well on your trip. How well you ride, how good you feel, and how much fun you'll have is going to be directly proportional to how well you fuel and rest. You are going to want to eat, probably a lot, and you'll want to eat quality food.
    Last edited by Thulsadoom; 03-03-10 at 03:57 AM.

  10. #10
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thulsadoom View Post
    When it comes to cycling, less expensive=heavier.
    This may be true of road bikes and maybe touring bikes but not that much. It is definitely not true of a lot of touring items.

    Racks... People spend a bundle for Surly Nice Racks that weigh pounds heavier than the much cheaper alternatives. I'd recommend the Blackburn Ex-1 read rack and the Nashbar or Performance low rider clones for the front. You could go a bit cheaper on the back if you want, but the Blackburn is pretty good bang for the buck.

    Panniers, some of the most expensive are the heaviest. Beckman, Arkel, and others weigh pounds heavier than the Nashbar or Performance models. This is at least partly because they have pockets and other features. Personally I prefer to have one big compartment and organize my stuff using ziplocs.

    Saddle, the supposed gold standard the Brooks is both somewhat expensive and quite heavy.

    I am quite happy with Blackburn and Nashbar racks and Nashbar waterproof panniers along with an inexpensive saddle. All worked well and got me across the country just fine showing little or no wear.

  11. #11
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Personally I think that AC maps are worth it if they go where you want to go, but you can do without if you prefer. I think that if anything they saved us money by allowing us to better plane where we could stay for free. They listed a bunch of places to stay that we may or may not have found otherwise.

    Most stuff can be pretty inexpensive. Cooking isn't required, but a single pot and a home made pop can stove will get you by. Check out the Zen stoves website.

    You can get by with a fairly inexpensive tent and sleeping bag. Something like the Slumberjack Superguide bag and one of the Eureka tents will suffice and can be quite inexpensive. I would buy a comfortable sleeping pad though even if it costs a bit more.

    We managed to stay for free more than half the time and probably could have more than that with no need for stealth camping. Avoid the KOA type places if you can as they are expensive. Some states have great state parks and state forests with cheap camping. City/town parks are good options. Sometimes we stayed in churches which we usually only knew about because of the AC maps. In the middle of the country it is pretty easy to find free places to camp, but harder near the coasts.

    A frugal person can probably make the trip with $1000 to cover daily expenses if they watch their pennies. It would be a no frill way of going but could still be quite pleasant. On $1500 you would be able to relax with spending a bit more, but still need to watch your pennies. On $2000 you could just spend on what you felt like, even getting a motel room or splurging on other stuff once in a while, at least if you are a cheapskate like me.

    I figure that once I have the gear and plane tickets out of the way I spend close to the same when I am on tour as I do at home. I have to eat where ever I am and I am not putting gas in a car when on tour.

  12. #12
    Forever CLYDE ! cyberpep's Avatar
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    Almost any bike in good shape will work for you at your weight. You are not in some remote country, help will always be close at hand. The one thing that will make your trip a failure are breakdowns, service your bike before you start and also along the way. At least try to keep your chain and sprockets clean.
    Where to spend money on a touring bike? Be it new or old the #1 component on a touring bike for me are the WHEELS. Get the stongest wheel set you can afford and put a set of Schwable Marathon tires on them, that is a recipe for a successful tour.
    Last edited by cyberpep; 03-03-10 at 07:19 AM.
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  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by AlanKHG View Post
    Weight-wise I'm 6' and 155 now and probably will drop a few pounds once spring comes on, so staying under or very slightly above 200 lbs. shouldn't be a problem. I'd reckon my goals are:
    -pretty fast crossing, at least in unpopulated areas
    -comfortable in the sense of a bike that fits and a tent that keeps me dry enough
    -cheap enough, but not so cheap that I'll end up spending more to get out of a jam in the middle of nowhere
    Stove isn't absolutely necessary on the highway. If you want, get a Trangia cookset for $25 or a pop can stove and the smallest pot you can find with handle chopped off. Use aluminum foil for a lid.

    For a tent, you might like the Hennessy Hammock. It is around $150 or cheaper and weighs under 2 lbs. It has its advantages and disadvantages. Some people love them. There are lots of reviews around. I wrote one here

    For a bike, I would take whatever road frame fits you, is cheap, and has rack eyelets. Not many frames break on a paved road. The only problem with shorter road bikes is the clearance for your heals against panniers. If you ride a larger frame this will be less of a problem I think.

    Spokes are the most likely thing to break and biggest hassle to fix because they always break on the rear cassette side. Don't get the thin anodized spokes. Go for beefy and well trued.
    Last edited by Dan The Man; 03-03-10 at 09:48 AM.

  14. #14
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    For the maps, I just bought "The Complete Handlebar Guide to Bicycling the TransAm Virginia to Oregon/Washington". I haven't received it yet, and won't be biking the path until about the same time as you, but it's $20 at Amazon, so best case scenario it'll save me about $200 on maps. Worst case scenario I'll look at it and decide it's insufficient and end up just using it in addition to the maps, but we'll see. I'll let you know how it looks once I see it.

  15. #15
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by comictimes View Post
    For the maps, I just bought "The Complete Handlebar Guide to Bicycling the TransAm Virginia to Oregon/Washington". I haven't received it yet, and won't be biking the path until about the same time as you, but it's $20 at Amazon, so best case scenario it'll save me about $200 on maps. Worst case scenario I'll look at it and decide it's insufficient and end up just using it in addition to the maps, but we'll see. I'll let you know how it looks once I see it.
    That may work fine for you, but be aware that the book while still in print in 2008 has "Up-to-date 2004 Information". Because of that I would be sure to call ahead before counting on places being open as quite a few places are going out of business in these small towns.

    Personally I think the maps are well worth it. Between them and the online addenda the info is very up to date and complete. That said it is definitely possible to get by without them if $163 is not in the budget ($40 for individual AC membership + $123 for the member price on the maps). You can even get by with picking up state maps as you go if you want.

    Another option would be to pick up a used set of AC maps, but try to get ones not too far out of date. Also you can probably recoup half of the cost of the maps by reselling them when you finish the trip.

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    Quote Originally Posted by AlanKHG View Post
    What about other equipment, like racks and panniers? How much of a risk would be using cheaper Axiom racks or such versus shiny handmade European things?

    Then there are tents and equipment in that direction. I don't know much about those.
    Fancy handmade stuff isn't necessary. You want a solid rack that will hold up to reasonable use. There are a lot of racks that work well and are cheap. I've got a Blackburn style 3 leg rack on my bike, and the main disadvantage is the rear rack stay is straight. The one time it was an issue, I had about 10lbs of spare change in a pannier, and the load swayed ever so slightly into the wheel. There was a loud and disturbing noise, so I stopped immediately. Odds are, you won't be carrying 10lbs of spare change on tour . A bent stay like on the Jandd racks prevents the problem, but you pay a premium for it.

    For panniers, you want something decently water resistant. If you already have and use panniers, I'd stick with the ones you own. There's lots of advice around about how to deal with rain, and the most waterproof panniers aren't necessarily going to be an improvement. Often smaller is better, so you're less tempted to haul more stuff than you need.

    The basic principle with backpacking/camping gear (like bike gear) is the lighter the better. Within reason... but reason for you, reason for me, and reason for everyone else in the thread is gonna be different. I'm going to be adding a sleeping bag to my kit this year. The main goad is a regular "camping" trip up at a YMCA camp a few miles from Boundary Waters lake #1. I've been up there several times, usually in cold everyone insists is the worst in decades. If I consult with the National Weather Service, they're right. It normally doesn't freeze up there in August (or July). So I've seen the absolute worst... and since it's a pretty resort-like camp, even the worst conditions won't be that bad in terms of sleeping temperatures. If my bag has to deal with less than 40F at night, things have gone pretty badly wrong. You can use the same tricks to figure out what conditions you're likely to deal with. (and even in the worst case scenario for me, I'll be in a camp with ~200 other people, a good 20-40 cars, and a lot of bikes... and a town with multiple well equipped outfitters about 25 miles away)

    You'll make better judgement about gear that you use often. Don't jump for something new (or new-to-you) just because it's new. And if you must add something, examine it and how it fits in as if it is sure to be a waste of money. If you don't camp out a lot right now, it's easy to get tempted by the shiny and the bling... and most of it just isn't needed. The US often has towns about every 20 miles along major roads. It's *hard* to be so far from civilization that you can't rescue yourself.

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    Quote Originally Posted by AlanKHG View Post
    But where are likely points of failure where it's worth my while to spend money on new things?


    Basically, where is it that buying pricy things means avoiding getting stuck or soaked in the middle of nowhere, and where does it just make things a little more convenient?
    .

    You're light so a significant point of failure, the rear wheel, has been reduced assuming you aren't going to carry a huge load. I'd get a new rear wheel if you've acquired a used bike and the rear wheel is dodgy. Front wheels generally last a lot longer than rear wheels.

    I see no problem with low cost aluminum racks if you aren't carrying lots of weight. Some points of failure can be reduced with awareness and securing gear well, belts and suspenders type of thing. In other words if you have bags that can flop around you're more likely to develop points of failure than gear that is secured well.

    I don't think buying pricey things will compensate for good judgment or bad luck. You can get stuck and soaked anywhere. If it's a downpour and you don't find shelter quick enough, or put your tent in a protected place the pricey items won't help you.

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    You can scrimp on almost everything. I've used cheap broken racks zip-tied together, backpacks instead of panniers, a wool blanket instead of a sleeping bag, no stove, dumpstered food, images from Google Maps saved on my camera, a tarp instead of a tent, and a bike cobbled together at the bike co-op. None of it was the "best" but it was certainly "good enough" for me to have a great tour.

    I was in a similar situation as you last year and I'm glad I chose to outfit myself thriftily and save what money I had for the tour. Think about what you need to stay happy, healthy, warm, etc. and stay away from the fancy stuff.

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    Personally I wouldn't skimp on tyres. A standard Schwalbe marathon is probably the benchmark. You can go more expensive but Ive found them to be reliable and durable. Cheapie tyres dont have the puncture protection.
    You dont need high-end transmission; the entry-level Shimano stuff (eg Alivio) is amazingly good for the price.

  20. #20
    Senior Member Cyclebum's Avatar
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    Spend on the rear wheel, tires, and a sleeping pad. Skimp everywhere else.
    The bicycle is one of the great inventions of mankind. Delights children, challenges young men to feats of daring, and turns old men into boys again.--Me

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    How does a fellow tell a good sleeping pad?

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    Previous thread with a similar theme: http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread...t=#post9341266

  23. #23
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AlanKHG View Post
    How does a fellow tell a good sleeping pad?
    Four factors are key. Cost, comfort, weight, and adequate R-value for the conditions. All three are critical in my estimation.

    Comfort: Generally the thicker the better. I find the NeoAir to be wonderful. The Thermarest Prolite is ok and the Prolite Plus quite nice. I hear good things about the Big Agnes pads, but have not used them.

    Weight: The Neoair is tops here, as a bonus it also packs the size of a water bottle.

    R-value: The NeoAir, Prolite (regular), and the uninsulated Big Agnes pads might not be adequate in very cold weather, but are probably OK for three season use.

    Cost: The NeoAir is my top pick for most conditions and is even in the running for cold conditions if paired with a Thermarest Z-lite, but it is very expensive. The regular Prolite and Prolite Plus are a good bit cheaper. There are cheaper self inflating pads similar to the Prolite and the Plus that are cheaper, but I have no experience with them.

    Some add bulk as a factor, but I don't see it as critical since you can strap even the largest pad on top of the rear rack. That said the NeoAir and Big Agnes pads pack very small. I see it as a nice plus, but not critical that they can ride in a pannier and not take up much space.
    Last edited by staehpj1; 03-05-10 at 07:04 AM.

  24. #24
    Senior Member Thulsadoom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AlanKHG View Post
    How does a fellow tell a good sleeping pad?
    I like the Thermarest pads. I'm 6'2", and I move around a lot at night, so I use a larg-ish pad. The smaller ones are a pain in the butt. You wake up at night half off the pad all the time. So it's good to get one that's big enough for you and your sleeping habits.

    You want one that's durable and can be rolled up and stowed many times over without puncturing. I avoid the ones that are slippery and shiny. Your sleeping bag slips around on those too easily and you end up coming off it at night. You want one that has a somewhat rough surface that will hold onto your bag.

    Of course, thicker ones will be more comfortable. A pad that is one inch thick or thicker(inflated) is super comfortable at night, and much warmer if you're going to be camping on cold ground. The thinner ones work well also if you're on soft or flat ground.

    The difference between sleeping on a good pad, and sleeping on hard ground with no pad is huge. A good pad makes all the difference. Plus you can put the pad on hard picnic table benches when you are eating or whatever and it's a lot easier on aching buttocks.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Thulsadoom View Post
    Plus you can put the pad on hard picnic table benches when you are eating or whatever and it's a lot easier on aching buttocks.
    Good weather and no mossies, just lay it out on the table, floor, ground, and have a good night, or nap, whichever the case. I'm a Prolite fan but Big Agnes should be considered. My Prolite packs 8x10, just a few breaths to finish inflating, good R value, tough. I've repaired a pin hole leak with a dab of silicon, but they do have patch kits for $10.

    No doubt the Neoair is more comfortable and packs tighter, but at a higher price($170 for full length), more breaths, and probably not as durable. A number of reviewers on Amazon complain about it leaking and it's "fragile" feel. Best to use with a ground cover.
    The bicycle is one of the great inventions of mankind. Delights children, challenges young men to feats of daring, and turns old men into boys again.--Me

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