I’ve planned my own cycling trips that have lasted from two days up to three months. Each trip you figure out what you really need and what ends up sitting in the bottom of your panniers and essentially taking up weight and space. One thing that I never go without is my trusty dusty tarp.
Yup, a simple tarp. In my opinion, the tarp is the most undervalued piece of equipment, here’s why.
There are two main uses for a tarp:
Your dinner table: nothing is worse than setting up your camp kitchen then accidentally kicking things over into the dirt. As someone who spills something every day of her life, this used to happen to me every night and it became incredibly frustrating. The last thing I want to do is wash dirt off dishes before I’ve even had a chance to use them. A tarp acts like a hardy picnic blanket. It provides a place to put all your food, kitchen supplies, plates, and a place to sit. If you spill, the plastic material makes it super easy to clean up at the end of your meal or clean up messes along the way.
Protect your stuff: rain happens, so does bird poop. Use your tarp to cover your bikes, equipment, or whatever else you need. Use your bike bungees or ropes to secure things down. I also pack my tarp by placing it directly on back tire rack before I put my roll bag down. As you ride through the day, any mud or debris off your tire will hit the bottom of your tarp and protect your bag from getting dirty. If your roll bag isn't totally waterproof, fold your tarp in half or thirds, then roll it around your bag like a burrito. This makes your roll bag water and dirt proof on all sides.
If you’re travelling with a partner, make sure he/she also brings a tarp, as a two-tarp squad means one can stay as the picnic table and the other will always be the dirtier one used as an equipment protector.