Hanging out in the woods

Don’t forget your Thermos!

If you’re cycling in cold weather a simple flask is a friend to the day rider, mini adventurer, weight weenie and biker on a budget alike!

Long maligned as a tell-tale sign of an anoraked-trainspotter, the humble thermos flask is now enjoying something of a revival.

Alec's thermos setup

Winter is coming…

With shorter days and worse weather looming, cycling in cold weather requires a little more preparation. Carrying some hot food or drink is a great way to extend your adventures and make the most of the daylight hours.

Even if you’re not interested in all-day rides, something hot while out riding can be big morale boost.

As a quick note, I shall use ‘Thermos’ to refer to the brand and ‘flask’ for everything else.

I have and regularly use two flasks. One is a 500ml fluid flask that I use for coffee and hot chocolate. The other is a 470ml wide-neck flask by Thermos, which I use for meals.

Forget your preconceptions, here are five reasons to take a flask on your next bike ride.

#1 COVID Cafes

The realities of COVID mean coffee stops for the cyclist are not what they once were. If you’re lucky, your favourite cafe is still open but possibly offering a take out service only. Unfortunately, more venues are operating restricted hours, which may not coincide with your window to ride. Worse still, some are being forced to close their doors permanently.

One solution, at least for you as the rider, is to take your hot drink with you. Become your own barista; no more waiting behind the most indecisive customer with more questions than Jeremy Paxman. Your favourite coffee, exactly as you like it, right when you need it most.

independence is great, but please don’t abandon your local independent coffee shop entirely, you’ll miss them when they’re gone

Enjoying a gravel ride in the woods with

#2 Share with a mate and make coffee an adventure all of its own

The coffee stop has always been a social event, a chance to kick tyres and talk bikes. A flask lets you do that whenever, and wherever you want along your ride.

If you’re out for the whole day chances are each rider will want their own flask. If it’s a shorter ride, then someone might get away with just carrying their tin mug! Take it in turns to be ‘flask-r’ (rider in charge of the flask). Try different coffees, maybe even add some wobble….go crazy, the world’s your mollusc!

#3 Extend your adventures

Mini and micro-adventures are quite the thing at the moment. There’s a lot of focus on overnighters, but that still requires a fair bit of planning, permission (from long-suffering loved ones) and kit. Why not head out for a sunrise breakfast or sunset dinner? Riding half your journey at night makes for its own adventure, and even regular routes can be unfamiliar with a shroud of darkness.

Remember that lovely hilltop in the middle of nowhere? That sheltered spot with a view? Now that’s your destination. You don’t need a cafe or chip shop – you’ve brought your reason to stop with you.

#4 Minimise the fuss

Micro cooking options are all the rage at the moment, but honestly, I’d only take one if I was going away for a couple of days.

Not only are they a pain to carry, but they’re also a faff to use. Inevitably, half your food ends up burned to the pan while the other half is still stone cold and then you end up with dirty pots to bring back.

To make matters worse, as you’ve patiently squatted next to this precarious tower of pots, vainly trying to protect the micro flame from gusts of wind, you’ve got chilled to the bone. Its a major risk when cycling in cold weather. All-in-all, it’s a bit counterproductive.

Taking a break on a bike ride

In the time it takes your mate to realise they’ve forgotten to pack a lighter, you’ve unscrewed the lid on your flask and tucked into the piping hot sausage and beans made in the comfort of a warm kitchen before setting out. When you’ve done dining like a King (or Queen), lid back on, no mess. Couldn’t be simpler.

Even the weight weenies might want to consider a flask.

Cookset Thermos
Titanium Mug and Lid -98g Thermos – 350g
Stove – 45g Spork – 11g *
Lighter (clipper) – 16g
Gas Cylinder – 200g
Spork – 11g
Total – 370g Total – 361g

* instead of the folding metal spoon that comes with the flask

a selection of camping spoons

spork in the middle at a skimpy 11g

#5 Save money

I suspect that most people are tightening belts and looking for savings. Whether you’re looking to take food or drink a flask is an excellent option for those on a budget.

Starting with flasks meant for fluids.

I found a range of good Thermos flasks of varying sizes for between £13 and £22. Alpkit stock one for under £10, so it’s worth shopping around.

Let’s do some maths.

A plain Americano from a generic chain brand is around £1.95. The exact same coffee made at home will set you back between 15-30p depending how strong you like it. In other words, you only need to buy coffee in ‘bucks’ 6 times before you’re better of buying a flask and filling it at home.

Let’s do the same with a food flask.

Even assuming you have a pot and stove already. A simple camp meal, for example, Wayfarer sausage and beans, will set you back £4 for a 300g serving.

cost effective food solutions

cost effective solutions

Prepared at home, the same meal using a can of Heinz beans (70p) and veggie sausages (73p -for two) is £1.43 for 500g. If you’re not a vegetarian, then it’s even more straightforward. A can of Heinz sausage and beans costs £1.25 for 415g.

Wayfarer Sausage and Beans £1.33 per 100g
Veggie Sausage and beans 29p per 100g
Heinz Sausage and beans 30p per 100g

In other words, buy a flask and eat homemade sausage and beans and you’ve not only covered your initial outlay, but you’ve also saved £2.84 in just eight servings.

The final word

As you may have noticed, I’m a big fan of the humble flask. I think they make all the difference when cycling in the cold.

If you’re not planning to go out overnight – a flask might meet all of your needs and while I would never say ‘buy a flask instead of a stove’, I will say if you can afford one, they make a great addition to your adventure arsenal.

Not all flasks are created equally though, so its worth taking a little time deciding what’s right for you and what features you’re looking for – features like, a wide neck thats better for food storage, or a technical lid so you can pour coffee quickly and easily?

Alec is a serial biker, having dabbled in road, TT, mountain biking and gravel. If he's not riding, or dreaming of riding, he can be found in the shed tinkering…

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