Ben Horan is a freelance writer and sometimes-guide based in Missoula, Montana, and blogs at thegentlemanatlarge.com (instagram: @thegentlemanatlarge).
When covering ground is more important than creature comforts around camp, then light is definitely right. Nothing brings this up more than trying to pack for a bikepacking trip, and it’s refreshing to see that NEMO Equipment has stepped up, cut out the fluff, and brought a trail-ready solution for bikepacking camping to the table. It’s lightweight, it’s effective, it’s not the Ritz Carlton. It’s exactly what we’ve been waiting for. (Spoiler alert: you don’t need to ride your bike, it works great for backpacking too).
What is it?
So what’s in a bikepacking camping kit, anyway? It’s a modular system of just the essentials that allows you to tailor your needs to the conditions at hand, and leave any surplus at home. The full kit consists of:
Apollo 3P Bikepacking Tent – A no-nonsense single walled tarp shelter. No bug net. No floor. Just enough to keep the rain off you and your stuff.
Escape Pod 1P Bug Bivy – Just in case the bugs turn up, the Escape Pod Bug Bivy cinches around the sleeping bag to keep mosquitos out of your ears for the night.
Moonwalk Down Sleeping Bag – This 2.2lb down sleeping bag isn’t the lightest of the ultra-light sleep-sacks on the market, but it sure is warm. It’s also got nice features like a full length zipper and integrated pad pouch, so unless weight is absolutely the top priority, you probably won’t mind the extra few ounces.
Astro Insulated Lite 20R Sleeping Pad – Like the Moonwalk Sleeping Bag, this isn’t the lightest pad on the market. It is, however, the most comfortable and durable lightweight sleeping pad I’ve tested. It still packs pretty small, so bring it along. You won’t regret it.
Before the bikepacking kit arrived, I was most excited about the Apollo 3P tent. I’ve spent a few glorious nights in the Black Diamond Megamid, and I was eager to see how NEMO’s offering stacked up. At first blush: it’s smaller. Smaller, lighter, svelter. It’s not the bastion of comfort that some of the other floorless designs offer. It is, however, quite a bit lighter, and I was eager to get the whole sh’bang out on the trail.
The sleeping bag and pad didn’t strike me as particularly space age in their weight and bulk, although with a compression sack they do compress pretty well. I nearly threw away the bug bivy; it is so light and diminutive that it is easy to overlook. I was skeptical of the inflatable structure, but its small size really is impressive.
Apollo 3P Bikepacking Tent – The Apollo 3P is billed as a three person shelter. It should come as no surprise, then, that it is slightly smaller than Black Diamond’s Mega Light, which is a four person pyramid tent. For bikepacking, NEMO nailed the size for a single person (plus gear).
This style of pyramid-shaped tent don’t offer the vestibule space that more traditional tents sport, and which allow you to keep your things both dry and out of your living space. For me (6’3”), the Apollo was well-suited for me to have plenty of space to sleep and sit up, all while packing and arranging gear out of the elements. There was not, however, room for anyone else in there.
Furthermore, I found that when the center pole lands directly in the center of the shelter, I don’t quite have enough room to lie flat without either my head or my toes sticking out into the rain. Pushing the center pole slightly off-center allows for plenty of room for me to extend fully but severely restricts space for a second occupant, even without accounting for gear. NEMO’s sleeping chart indicates that three people can share the space in a head-to-toe, circular fashion; this is probably only feasible for shorter folks and kids.
But as far as lightweight shelters go, the Apollo 3P is at the top of the game. The nearest competitor is the Black Diamond Mega Light, which weighs in at nearly twice the weight for slightly more coverage. The Black Diamond Mega Light tips the scales at .47 ounces per square foot, while the Apollo comes in at .29 oz/ft2. The Black Diamond uses 30D sil-nylon, while the NEMO opts to save weight with 15D sil-nylon fabric. It will be interesting to see how the lighter material fares with regular use, but early in the testing I have not had any issues.
Escape Pod 1P Bug Bivy – It took me a couple of tries to set the bug bivy up right, but since I got it figured out the operation and fit have been straightforward. Don’t plan on sitting up or reading late into the night in this thing, it really provides just enough room to keep the bugs off of your face.
Moonwalk Down Sleeping Bag – On the taller end of humankind, I was skeptical that the mummiless Moonwalk Sleeping Bag would be long enough. It’s advertised as being a suitable fit for people up to 6’ tall, and I’ve found that even a few inches past that I’m comfortable in it.
The sleeping bag does not have a mummy hood, and so even taller folks can plan on packing a high volume pillow and a hat if they’re worried about hanging off the top of the sleeping bag/pad.
Astro Insulated Lite 20R Sleeping Pad – The Moonwalk Sleeping Bag is fitted with an integrated sleeve that fits the Astro Lite Sleeping Pad like a glove. After a couple of days of futzing with taking the pad in and out of the sleeping bag, I finally resigned to just leaving it in there. I’m glad to report that by stuffing the bag from the toe first, I never wound up with too much residual air in the compression sack and the system worked quite well.
Apollo 3P Bikepacking Tent – This is my new favorite one-person tent for fast-and-light endeavors when the forecast is iffy. It’s lightweight, sets up easily, and gives me tons of room inside for sitting upright and messing with gear, although it’s not a great fit for more than one tall person. It does require driving at least six stakes for its structural integrity, so it’s probably not the best call if you plan on encountering a lot of really rocky campsites. But it does a great job of keeping rain out, and at less than a pound and a half, it’s hard to argue with.
Escape Pod 1P Bug Bivy – My initial incredulity at the inflatable frame of the Escape Pod was dashed fairly early on. The system actually works reasonably well, as long as you’re not a particularly active sleeper. The Pod requires four stakes of its own, and the frame sometimes folds over if you roll around a lot. It also sits fairly close to the face, doesn’t allow for sitting up, and relies on the sleeping bag itself to keep bugs out of the bottom half of the body. It’s not a silver bullet for buggy camping, and is definitely not the tool for the job if you’re headed to the Boundary Waters or Alaska for the summer. It does, however, get the job done in a pinch if you find yourself in a buggy campsite unexpectedly. The beauty of the Escape Pod lies in the fact that it’s so small: there’s not really a reason not to bring it along. It weighs just a few ounces and packs to the size of a pack of cigarettes. For me, that’s definitely worth not having mosquitos in my ears all night.
Moonwalk Down Sleeping Bag – At 2.2 pounds, the Moonwalk Sleeping bag is no spring chicken in the extremely competitive field of ultra-light sleeping bags, where some contenders weigh in at less than a pound. With that said, the added weight comes with a few perks not afforded by the truly ultra-light bags. The Moonwalk has a wide footbox and a full length zipper, which really increase the comfort level.
It also utilizes Dryloft down and a DWR nylon case, which go a long way to making down more useful in a wet climate. The Apollo 3P does not have a floor, and it’s not out of the ordinary for a little bit of moisture to sneak in the sides during an all-out squall. My experience with Dryloft down has been overwhelmingly positive, and the DWR nylon doesn’t hurt to keep your toes dry if the weather turns south.
The Moonwalk also sports an integrated sleeping pad pouch which helps trim weight and bulk and keeps you centered on the pad. Whether you’re into this system or not is a matter of personal preference. I like that it keeps me from sliding off the pad and cuts down on ineffective fill, but it’s not great for sitting up or using the sleeping bag as a blanket on warm nights.
One thing worth noting, is that a 30 degree bag is pretty warm for summer use (for me anyway, if you sleep cold maybe it’s perfect)! It’d be interesting to see how a 40-degree Moonwalk would weigh in for lightweight summer bikepacking. As far as picking a versatile, three season bag goes, this is a good option if you care about weight more than having a mummy hood.
Astro Insulated Lite 20R Sleeping Pad – The Astro Insulated Pad is well matched to the Moonwalk Sleeping Bag. It’s not the lightest of the ultralight pads on the market, but its 3” thickness, full length, and primaloft insulation make it the warmest, most comfortable inflatable pad I’ve ever had the pleasure to sleep on.
Apollo 3P Bikepacking Tent – Light is right, except for when it comes to longevity. In this case, I’m actually pretty optimistic about the Apollo. The central support post is robust, solid aluminum, and in spite of the featherweight 15D sil-nylon material, the Apollo hasn’t shown any early signs of wear. The only thing to mention is that the light, triaxial aluminum stakes are liable to break if they’re used too hard. Given that they’re essential it’s worth packing an extra, and I’d love to see tents of this design come spec’d with a spare stake or two.
Escape Pod 1P Bug Bivy – Time will tell. Bug mesh has never been known for its resistance to holes, and the inflatable airframe is one pinhole from collapsing on your face. With that said, the frame should patch easily, and this piece of the puzzle isn’t subjected to particularly hard use. For what it’s worth, mine still holds air.
Moonwalk Down Sleeping Bag – So far, no troubles. The loft is still lofty, there’s no bunching in the fill, and the seams and stitching all still feel great. I’m looking forward to getting a lot of use out of this one. The Apollo doesn’t have a floor, and so if you make a habit of camping on rough terrain, a small patch of nylon to save the sleeping bag from abrasions wouldn’t hurt.
Astro Insulated Lite 20R Sleeping Pad – Again, this thing is awesome. I’m not sure that the Primaloft insulation adds puncture resistance or not, but this is the only inflatable sleeping pad with which I’ve never had leakage issues.
Apollo 3P Bikepacking Tent – Looking back on the review, it doesn’t look like I’m as excited about the Apollo 3P as I am. I simply disagree that it’s a three person shelter. It’s a lightest in its class, freestanding tarp shelter that doesn’t need a bunch of guylines and a tree to hang. The long and short of it is that for summer nights when the weather is a question, I won’t reach for anything else unless I need to share the space or I’m planning on camping on bedrock.
Escape Pod 1P Bug Bivy – It’s definitely not the first thing I find myself packing, but then again, I always seem to be able to find room for it at the end. You might carry it ten times and never break it out, but you’ll also never feel it in your pack and it’ll be a lifesaver the first night you really need it. There’s really no reason not to bring it along.
Moonwalk Down Sleeping Bag – It’s not the lightest lightweight bag in the lineup, but it’s comfortable, warm, and holds up well to overnight dew. Again, if weight is your number one priority, this probably isn’t the bag for you, but if you’re looking for a warm, versatile, and affordable sleeping bag that’s still respectably light, the Moonwalk is worth a look.
Astro Insulated Lite 20R Sleeping Pad – Buy it.
- Light weight
- Extremely light
- Lifesaver if you find yourself in bug country without a tent
- Taller than expected
- Not really a three person shelter
- Need to be able to drive stakes
- Finnicky setup
- Somewhat claustrophobic
- On the spendy side for something you may never actually use
- Probably insufficient for apocalyptic mosquito country
- Doesn’t work if the sleeping bag isn’t zipped completely (which gets hot)
- Not that light
- Integrated pad pouch isn’t for everyone
- Not the lightest pad in the game