Once upon a time, when I was a naïve youth, I wrote a blog post about what I was planning to bring with me on my bike adventure. The sheen of innocence disappeared after a weekend or two of galavanting about with my bike fully loaded, and I realized that coming back from those trips would shed little light on what was actually useful when on a bike tour of any length, be it a weekend or several months.
Now that a few thousand miles have passed, things are different. Now that I've inspected dozens of other packing configurations and my tent materializes on flat(ish) surfaces with a glance, I am ready to talk about gear.
For those of you reading this and planning your own bike tour packing list, take a deep breath and relax: as long as you can transport it safely, there is no wrong way to do it.
In theory, you can bring whatever you want.
In practice, if your gear weighs half what you do, you've likely overdone it, but don't fret—you can (and likely will) ship the extras home, or give them away.
Here's what I've learned:
1. Weight matters, but only for some things
The total load you're carrying is going to affect you, whether you're carrying a camp chair or wheeling your armchair behind you, so to an extent, the total weight doesn't really matter. You'll get where you want to go, eventually, and you will be fine.
Some things, like having enough spare tubes, socks, a book, and maybe a speaker, are worth their weight in gold. The enjoyment-per-ounce makes the number of ounces immaterial. But when you're considering what weight to shed, after a few weeks, there seems to be a general consensus that a lightweight tent or hammock setup is the way to go.
For me, the lightweight list includes:
- Tent/sleeping vestibule
- Sleeping bag
- Down jacket (bonus: it's extra compact when it's extra lightweight)
- Cooking gear, if you're bringing it
2. Size matters for everything
Were you thinking of bringing a 3-man tent so that you and your bike could cuddle at night? Even if it weighs 200 grams, it'll take up more space than a 1-man or a hammock setup, which means you'll have to pack it in every day with all the rest of your stuff. The less space your things take up, the fewer bags you'll need to ride with, and the less time you'll spend fighting your gear into them in the morning. Trust me on this one: do not bring a bigger tent than you need. Riding with your one and only? Bring a 2 person vestibule. I know they seem small, but it really is all the space you need.
3. Pack two pairs of shorts, and two jerseys
Especially if you're a female (for practical reasons, not nonsense societal ones), but in general this is a reasonable number of articles of on-bike clothes. It gives you enough to do laundry without having to be militant about it, so it's not stressful if you have a long day that sees you at camp after dark.
More than that, and they'll sit in your bags without pulling their weight. Less than that, and you'll have issues that I can't mention in polite company.
4. Bring a knife and a multitool
Ideally, one with a bottle opener and a corkscrew ;)
There are few things I grew to have a strong affinity for the way that I did for my knife and multitool. You will use them more frequently and for more things than you might imagine at the outset of your trip.
5. Cookware is mostly optional
I thought I would cook every day, and that I'd for sure need a pot and a stove for all of the food I'd be making, until my friend accidentally set my pot on fire and discovered that I got on just fine with a roll of aluminum foil and a camp fire. And when it rained or there was a fire ban in effect, I was surprised at how many combinations of cold foods worked out just fine.
6. Get a map
I set out hilariously unprepared on this front, and basically assumed that everything would work itself out. It did, in the form of friends who had books and maps on the route that we found ourselves mutually on, but had it not been for those friends, I would have seriously regretted not having one.
The ACA has maps that are a godsend, and I strongly recommend investing some time in them. Google Maps will only get you so far, and will occasionally lead you astray. Like that one time it told me to take this road:
7. Wear sunscreen
Wear all of it, all of the time. Every two hours, kids, mmmkay?
In the end, here's the packing list that I was happiest with:
- Two pairs of shorts
- Two jerseys
- Two sports bras
- 4 pairs of socks (small. Worth it. Worth it every time)
- 2 bandanas
- Patch kit
- 2 spare tubes
- 4 CO2 cartridges
- Bike multitool (anyone who doesn't have one will end up borrowing one at least once. Don't get caught with your pants down.)
- Bike lights, front and rear (You think there's no way you're going to ride so long that you're riding in the dark, until you find yourself riding in the dark, and you reeeeeallllyyy do not want to do that without lights. Also, fog is a thing that's easy to forget about but can be hazardous without lights)
- Two water bottles
- Gas tank pouch
- Riding shoes (not everyone bothers with this. I met many cyclists who just wore regular shoes and had toe cages instead, which saved them the weight and bother of carrying extra shoes)
- Trauma kit, which you will hopefully never need
Off bike gear:
- Two shirts
- Compressions tights
- Running knickers
- Two bras (I almost exclusively wear sports bras. I brought what effectively could be called training bras, and they were perfect.)
- Flip flops
- Running shoes (great for hiking around and stuff)
- Down jacket (featherweight. Pricey, but oh so worth it)
- Tent (one man, featherweight)
- Sleeping bag (ultra lightweight)
- Sleeping pad (ultra lightweight)
A brief aside here: I got the lightest weight one on the market, and it was so loud that it woke me up every time I moved, and even occasionally woke other riders up at night. Maybe consider that when selecting a sleeping pad.
- Travel pillow
- Aluminum foil (For cooking on a campfire. Amazing for vegetables, quesadillas, grilled cheese, and garlic bread. If you want pasta, coffee, etc., get a pot!)
- Waterproof matches
- Battery pack (there will be days where you have no electricity and want that phone for directions or photos or maybe, just maybe, placing a phone call)
- Charging cord & wall plug
- Head lamp
- Conditioner (I tried living without it and won't make that mistake again, but my friend Sabrina found she had no use for hers.)
- Body wash, which I also used as face wash
- Eye cream (totally no regrets on that front. Your skin and hair take a beating; why make it worse than it needs to be?)
- More sunscreen
- Contact solution
- Contacts, plus a few extra pairs, just in case
- Nail clippers
- Carabiner (these always come in handy in unexpected ways)
- Monies—cash as well as credit card/debit card