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what to bring

Packing for a tour is an art. It not only involves identifying what you want to take with you but also what you are willing, or able, to carry. There is a fine line between carrying enough gear and too much. Many folks tend to bring way too much stuff and are then surprised at the weight of their load and by how long it takes to pack in the morning. To do it well requires research, discipline and tough decisions. In this article we’re going to talk about how to pack light and pack right.

Let me confess early on that I am guilty of taking way too much stuff. I really don’t mind the weight and totally appreciate the luxury of sleeping under the stars on a futon each night. Just kidding, but I do allow myself a few luxuries that some would consider extravagant. My philosophy is that as long as I’m carrying everything necessary to eat, sleep and stay warm and safe, whatever I pack beyond that is on me, both figuratively and literally.

Let’s begin with the basics. The following is a list derived from conventional wisdom, experience and common sense. It represents the minimum needed to tour. Think of it like making a cake. Use the basic list as the first layer of the cake. Next you’ll add a second layer by including things that are needed for your specific tour and then you can frost it with items you simply can’t live without.

Basic list:
-First aid kit. Small and light. Don’t forget the vitamin I! (ibuprofen)
-Emergency contact wrist band (don’t ride without it)
-Helmet or glasses mounted rear view mirror (essential!)
-Cell phone and charger (for safety and sanity)
-Tooth brush and paste
-Dental floss
-Body soap
-Deodorant (please?)
-Comb and/or brush
-Razor + shave cream (optional for some)
-Shower shoes (double as light weight sandals)
-Small package of tissue (doubles as TP in emergencies)
-Towel (light travel specific towel approx. 2’ X 3’)
-3 pairs of cycling socks.
-3 poly tee shirts (or cycling jerseys)
-Cycling gloves (short and long finger).
-Light stocking hat (thin so can be worn under helmet)
-Synthetic pants with zip off legs.
-2 pair underwear
-3 pairs cycling shorts (you can get by with 2 pair if you wash 1 pair each night)
-Rain pants. (double as leg warmers when cold)
-Helmet rain cover (if rain is inevitable and likely sustained)
-Leg warmers (if you cannot stand to ride in sweaty rain pants to stay warm)
-Light rain jacket. (doubles as wind shirt)
-Lightweight synthetic running shorts (doubles as swim suit and “modesty shorts)
-Touring shoes. (may, or may not be fitted with cleats)
-Long sleeve wool button down shirt
-Velcro leg reflector (use for night visibility and to keep you pants leg out of the chain)
-Hand pump
-Tools and spare parts
-Chain tool (don’t count on the ones that are on multi tool)
-Multi tool (make sure all the fasteners on the bike are covered)
-Small “leatherman” too (essential)
-Chain lube
-Small rag
-Tire irons
-Tube patch kit (6 + patches + 2 tubes of glue)
-Latex gloves
-Derailleur and brake cables.
-Pair of brake pads
-Tie wraps (a few of various lengths)
-Tire boot (essential if not carrying a spare tire)
-Light weight spare tire. (many consider this unnecessary if running heavy duty tires)
-Couple of spare spokes and nipples
-2 spare tubes
-3’ duct tape wrapped around pencil
-4” length of chain + 4 chain pins
-2’ bailing wire (for emergency repairs)
-Heavy duty garbage bags (cut to fit and line panniers)
-Bike headlight and taillight
-3 water bottles (2 mounted on bike)
-Sun hat (crushable)
-Sun glasses (prescription if needed)
-Clear glasses (prescription if needed)
-Variety of spare nuts and bolts. (Be sure to include rack mounting hardware and cleat screws, if using)
-Lip balm
-Insect repellent
-Watch, with alarm (could be a bike computer)
-Address book (for all those post cards you are going to write!)
-Headband flashlight. (hands free light for cooking, eating and reading)
-Light weight cable lock. (at least 6’ long)
-Prescription medications
-Zip lock bags (variety of small and medium)
-Small notebook and pen.
-Spare batteries.
-Camera + memory cards.
-4 Bungee cords (light weight and approx. 8” long.

Add for camping + light cooking:
-Sleeping bag (rated appropriately for expected tour weather)
-Sleeping pad (I recommend inflatable)
-Light weight tent and footprint (6 lbs total or less)
-50’ thin nylon rope (great for clothes line + many other uses)
-Down vest (is light, packs small & can be stuffed in pillow case to make a fine pillow!)
-Food for at least one day + calorie dense emergency food
-Lightweight backpacking pot (approx. 1.5 quarts, doubles as fry pan)
-Small plastic spatula
-Camp plastic spoon/fork/knife combo
-Camp cup
-Camp bowl (the collapsible ones are great)
-Can opener
-6” X 8” flexible cutting board (light, very handy, takes up no room)
-Few spices (salt, pepper, sugar, +?)
-Vegetable oil (4 oz container)
-Drug delivery system (coffee funnel + filters)
-Flex fuel camp stove + maintenance kit
-Stove fuel
-4 oz container of dish soap and ½ kitchen sponge
Note: You can omit the stove, fuel, pot, oil, and funnel/filter if you are not cooking. The rest of the food related items allow you to eat at the campground.

Add for off –road touring:
-Water purifier
-Bear bag
-Rear derailleur and hanger
-Shock pump (if using an air shock)

Other items to consider bringing (if you have room, need, or desire):
-Reflective vest (safety counts)
-Small fry pan
-Sink stopper
-Arm warmers
-Butt butter (chamois lube)
-Button down “sport shirt”
-Cassette tool + 6” crescent wrench (to remove rear cluster)
-Pillow case (stuff clothes inside to make a pillow)
-Waterproof glove covers (for cold and rain)
-Very small/light radio (it can get lonely out there)
-Sewing kit (some consider essential)
-Thin wind vest (a very functional piece of clothing)
-Coffee French press (now you’re talking!)
-Small hose clamp (fixes many things)
-Light weight walking/hiking shoes (good idea but heavy and bulky)
-Neoprene booties (for cold/wet weather)
-Hammock (for sleeping in or just relaxing)
-Small musical instrument (haven’t you always wanted to learn the harmonica?)
-Camp pad (for cold, hard camp seating)
-Smart phone (to blog/email)
-Pannier rain covers (if your bags are not waterproof)
-Light weight binoculars

Supported (sagged) tours:
All the same things have to be taken when being sagged so start with the basic list and then add whatever else floats your boat. After all, you don’t have to schlep it! What you actually carry on the bike depends on the level of support during the day. At a minimum you should bring on the bike what you would normally carry on an all day local training ride with appropriate items for weather and terrain.

Affects of over packing:
By definition, if you over pack you have too much stuff! If you don’t care about weight and would rather ensure that you are prepared and comfortable, by all means bring it if it fits. But be sure to leave room for extra food, water and the road kill picked up along the way. It will make packing much easier and will avoiding stressing your bags seams and zippers.

Weight also affects bike handling. If you distribute the weight correctly this is no big deal but keep it in mind when considering bringing the laptop. Also know that every extra pound you carry increases wear and tear on your legs, bike, racks and bags. It all adds up.

Is more really better?
One last thought about what to bring. I’ve often sent unused items home during a tour buy rarely have I added anything significant. It is simply amazing how little one needs to exist comfortably. So when you are going through your “want to bring” pile in an effort to turn it into the “have to bring” pile and are not sure whether to take something or toss it, definitely toss it.

How to pack
Pack logically so that you can easily find and access things during the day. For example, your rain gear should always be near the top or in an outside pocket. Pack with approx. 40% of the weight in the front if you are running front panniers. Pack the heaviest items as low as possible. Load all the tools, spare parts and cooking stuff in separate bags and put them on the bottom of your front panniers. If your panniers are not 100% waterproof, line the main compartment of each pannier with a heavy duty garbage bag that is tall enough to roll the top up.

Do not load much weight in your handlebar bag. Mass too high up can affect bike handling and the mount may fail. Also know that most HB bags are not designed to carry much weight. Limit the contents to wallet, camera, sunscreen, lip balm, map and snacks.

If you are pulling a trailer the same packing rules apply except for the front/rear weight distribution. Consult the manufacturer of the trailer to determine the distribution the trailer is designed for. One other note about trailers; do not fall into the trap of taking full advantage of the cavernous capacity of most trailers. The old adage of “load expands to fill all room available” applies to trailers so show some self control!

Don’t forget to practice packing to prepare for the trip. It’ll help you determine where to put things and whether you have enough room. Always have a specific place for each item to make repacking easier and to help you find it when needed.