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Sunday, September 22, 2019

Gear - Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL1 Bikepack Tent

When starting to visualize longer bikepacking trips a few years ago, I dug out some ancient backpacking gear to see what had survived the decades. Not surprisingly, not much. Overnight and long weekend bikepack rides in the Black Hills of South Dakota confirmed that my gear needed serious updating. Early in the process, I found a sweet summer sleeping bag (Brooks Range Mountaineering Alpini Bag) and a blistering fast stove (JetBoil MiniMo Stove). Other gear took more time.

Like tents. About six years ago, I bought a Marmot Pulsar two person backpacking tent for car camping at races and events. I popped up that tent at gravel races all over the northern plains, such as Odin's Revenge, Gravel Worlds, Almanzo Royal, and Mother Lode, and continue to do so. It works great for that purpose. I also have taken it bikepacking on short trips, but it is a bulky 4 pound load to carry on a bicycle. Works OK. Not optimal.

After just a few bikepacks with the Marmot Pulsar, I jumped to the extreme with an 18 ounce Outdoor Research Helium bivy bag. It's basically a weather resistant bag to cover my sleeping bag. I like it for good weather, overnight bikepacks and maybe would take it for a good weather, two-night trip. Maybe. While certainly small and light, it's too cramped for me for anything longer.

Sunrise atop Bear Mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Little space required to disperse camp with the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL1 Bikepack.

For several years, I alternated between the Marmot Pulsar tent and the Outdoor Research Helium bivy bag, while researching other options. Nothing captured my imagination. 

I kept searching. Recognizing that I wanted plenty of room inside to sit up, change clothes and weather some weather, but likely would be bikepacking solo, I looked for relatively roomy, one person tents. I further narrowed my search to free-standing tents, primarily because they easily set up almost anywhere, including on a skillet hard desert floor, a solid rock alpine landing or even a concrete pad in a city park. Also, I prefer the wider access of a side entry design and the versatility of a good-sized vestibule. Designing the tent to be ultralight and relatively compact further reduced the options, but still left some contenders. With nothing compelling, I plugged along for several years with what worked OK.

Side entry with a good sized vestibule for a one person tent.

Then Big Agnes introduced the Copper Spur HV UL1 Bikepack earlier this year. Now, that's the ticket.

Big Agnes is a small Colorado company that designs innovative outdoor gear, including a series of popular ultralight backpacking tents. Recognizing a demand, Big Agnes adapted a couple of those tents specifically for bikepacking. For the Copper Spur HV UL1 Bikepack, that started with an existing one person, free-standing, ultralight tent with a side entry and extended vestibule. That's a great start for me. Big Agnes then shortened its pole sections to less than 12 inches, added a variety of creative storage straps and pockets inside and out, and included a tough, weatherproof compression stuff sack with daisy chain webbing and straps to attach directly to most any bike. Uffda.

This is a sweet package of thoughtful features that weighs all of 2 pounds, 5 ounces and packs almost as small as the Outdoor Research Helium bivy bag. This is a tent that I could live in for awhile.

Free standing design allows one to camp on solid rock,
here the floor of an abandoned lookout atop Flag Mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The side entry with sizable vestibule allows easy, clean access and some protected storage. I often sit inside the tent with my feet on the footprint in the vestibule to remove my muddy shoes, which stay right there overnight. I also keep a bottle of water in the vestibule, for access during the night without risk of spilling inside. Under the fly, one elastic strap holds a helmet and other straps can secure a number of things, including clothes to air out. There's a lot going on with this tent.

A variety of storage pockets are positioned all around the inside of the tent for small items, like glasses, camera, maps, light, journal, phone, etc., etc., etc. There's even a large mesh pocket to hold shorts, jerseys and gloves to dry. With so many pockets, I have left items inside only to find them when packing the tent. I imagine those with more electronic gadgets would enjoy those pockets even more.

Although smaller than the Marmot Pulsar, the inside is much roomier than I expected for an ultralight one person tent. It's definitely roomy enough for me to comfortably change clothes and store some gear inside. And I have spent several evenings lounging inside studying maps, reading and writing. It works well for me.

This tent packs small.
4 lb two person tent.  2 lb 5 oz one person tent.  1 lb 2 oz bivy bag.

The modifications directed to bikepacking, however, are why I bought this tent. Shrinking the pole sections to less than 12 inches dramatically reduces the packed length of the tent. It actually fits between the brake lever hoods of my 44 cm Salsa Cowbell handlebars on my Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross bike. And the weight penalty is a couple of ounces. No-brainer.

The tough, weather-proof compression stuff sack with daisy-chain webbing can be strapped directly to a bike. I'll experiment with that on the right trip. The tent, fly, poles and footprint all easily fit into the bag and the compression straps cinch it tight. No wrestling stuff into this stuff sack. It's a versatile, well-designed bag that far surpasses the typical tent stuff sack.

Although the option of independent, direct attachment is a big plus, I like sliding the entire package into the center of my Salty Roll bag that attaches to my Revelate Designs Harness. It occupies less than half the bag, leaving more than a quarter of the bag on each side to add items that I want to be easily accessible. In that application, the tough stuff sack is overkill and I may switch it out for long trips. However, I like its versatility and love the creativity behind it.

Before the bikepack modifications, the baseline Copper Spur HV UL1 was high on my list for a one person tent, but did not jump off the chart. After the bikepack modifications, the Copper Spur HV UL1 Bikepack shot straight to the top. Every time I use it, I find something more to like about it. My primary long term concern is durability, but that would be so for anything designed ultralight.

It's the right tent for me now.

Copper Spur HV UL1 Bikepack Tent, including poles, fly, fly stakes and footprint, easily fits
between the 44 cm Salsa Cowbell handlebars on my Black Mountain.

The Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL1 Bikepack occupies about half of that bag resting under those Jones handlebars.

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