This page is long, scroll down for proper lists. And comments. Included are some items that won't be brought along on the next bike trip, in case you're wondering if you should...
Gear is key - we have put a lot of thought into what we bring with us. Without good gear, we wouldn't have made it as far as we have, and we would have been a lot less happy. We list our stuff as a general idea, but overall we have found that gear lists change based on what kind of bicycle tourist your are. Especially in the kitchen department. And tools and spare parts. Maybe you know how to fix your bike. Maybe you expect to go to bike mechanics when you have problems.
Touring cyclists tend to have one or two random items that not everyone will find important. For us it is a thin cotton blanket that we use as our picnic blanket and doorstep to the tent. It is relatively lightweight and easily washable. We used it every day - sometimes just for picnic lunches in grassy fields or in a small grove of trees. Most people wouldn't include such a large item in their final list.
blue and white blanket + tarp shelter = dry breakfasting
Some friends who have bicycled through Africa always carried a small, brass tea kettle. They said it was nice to have a second pot for hot water, so they could keep eating while boiling water for tea. They never regretted carrying their kettle and we never regretted the blanket - in fact, it made us very happy on many occasions.
So if you think you'll use it, don't worry about how weird it is or that it's not on the standard lists for touring. Maybe you will be happier having brought your weird stuff on your bike trip. And no matter what, your bike won't exactly be light.
A friend of ours who has been on bike tours both long and short gave us great packing advice. He says to start by packing everything you think you need. Then unpack, take out half, and re-pack again. Some touring cyclists prefer the lightest load possible. Others (like us) don't mind having so much weight if it means having things that keep us happy.
Read our list, and then go surf around and read a few other lists from other bicycle tourers to get an overall view of what you might bring. And remember that as long as you're not biking across vaste uninhabited spaces you will be able to buy the things you need. Don't stress about whether you have the right combination of toiletries, because most places sell toothbrushes. On the other side of things, you can always lighten your load along the way - and you will.
You can find lots of good advice on the blogs on our Links page, so we won't go into more here about how much weight to carry. We carry too much weight. Oops. We recommend going for test rides with your gear, even for just one night away. A few days in a row would be better, but you have to get out there. You will learn very quickly what you prefer, what you forgot, and what isn't worth the weight.
Notes on Clothing
This may seem obvious, but the most important thing is comfort. Ramona decided to wear skirts, with or without wool leggings and/or padded bicycle shorts. They also help with quick changes in public places. Joshua wore quick-drying, light weight shorts with or without a wool baselayer and/or bicycle shorts with padding.
We agree that wool is the best possible bicycling gear. We are practically an advertisement for Ibex. It doesn't come cheap, for sure, but the benefits are numerous. Wool dries fast, keeps you warm, but not too hot, and nothing breathes better. Also, we have found through experience that even when you don't wash it, it doesn't smell bad after days of riding. And even just hanging it out on a line for an hour will take a bad smell out! Amazing. Whereas synthetics smell so bad after one use that we would have had to carry three times the stuff we did. Or do a lot more laundry. Or just smell really bad.
If we could afford it, Ramona would buy only wool underwear. They are the only ones that dry fast on the back of the bike. Think about how often you want to be doing laundry (or will be able to do laundry) and take as many pairs of underwear as you want. It is personal taste, but wool can be worth the investment. You can find good stuff at ibex.com, and sometimes you can find good deals at teamestrogen.com or sierratradingpost.com.
Another important note: remember that the more variety on your butt, the better it will feel. Some days, a layer of jeans is comforting. Ramona often wears triathlon shorts with a cotton skirt. On other days wool leggings, bicycle shorts, and a bicycle skirt. Ramona: If I felt especially good or we anticipated a short day, I wore just yoga shorts (super thin but very light and quick to dry). Joshua sometimes wore his bicycle shorts, sometimes they weren't necessary. Each outfit/layer feels a little different, and you can count on your butt getting tired. Of everything.
Packing List for Two
fully loaded is right. Ramona's bike.
note the orange dry bag used for the tent, and the net holding the whole rear end together.
Bags, Tent, Sleeping Bag, etc
1. Ortlieb waterproof panniers
2. Handle-bar bag - we bought one for Ramona along the way. It is so nice to have a small bag with the gear you need all the time (camera, wallet, maps) right at the tips of your fingers. To get to your panniers you will have to find a good place to put your bike, get off, open bag, dig around... can't tell you how quickly that gets annoying.
3. Dry bag with the tent in it - which rode on the top of Ramona's rear rack. For the second summer, the tent went straight into a pannier, since Joshua now has four rear panniers.
4. Sleeping bags. Ramona has a 20 year old down bag that is a little on the heavy side, but she was never cold. Joshua has a little mummy bag that packs down tiny, but he sometimes had to wear more clothing to sleep. When these need replacing, we might go double.
5. Sleeping mat - we both have the self-inflating REI brand mats, but we hear that foam mats are better long-term. Ramona's is 3/4 length, not great for cold nights.
5.5 Travel Pillows - Good sleep is important, so get comfortable. Ramona combines her downy jacket, a large cotton scarf (as pillow cover) and a small feather filled pillow from REI, which is just too small on its own. Joshua used a combo of clothing and a blow-up pillow the first year. The second summer he tried the Exped Air Pillow, which has had some rave reviews. This pillow seemed a really good bet, but we brought it home, washed and dried it (as recommended) and it started to split. Also, it didn't dry properly, so it started to rot and smelled horrible even before we left the country. Gone before it had a chance...
6. Bungee net and LOTS of carabeeners - this kept Ramona's gear on the back of the bike from moving around. Bring lots of carabeeners whether you have a net or not, you will use them. The net made it easy to keep rain gear handy, very tuckable. It also doubled as a clothes drying line for small items. Dry while riding.
7. A lot of small bags - keeping things organized is hard in tall, open bags. Ramona has a small bag for each type of clothing (tops, bottoms, undergarments, dirty laundry) as well as small bags to keep misc small items like the knitting kit and lady things. It's nice to have a bag for your shower stuff - soap, towel, change of clothes, flip flops, so those are always in one place and ready for you when you need them. Opening and closing panniers and digging around because you're just not sure where things are = tiresome. We recommend marking your panniers, too, if you have more than one of the same size/color. We met a guy who named his bags after countries, just so he would keep them straight.
8. Toiletry and Kitchen organizers - After we had been on the road for over a month we went ahead and bought special bags with many little pockets for our kitchen stuff (utensils, soap, etc) and toiletries. Again, we preferred staying organized and being able to find things easily. Makes for happy bicycle campers.
Foul Weather Gear
We have learned that we can cycle all day in the rain if we know that the gear will be dry when we stop - because we will probably stop at a cafe or restaurant or campsite where it will be dry inside. Wind is awful, however, and for that you just need to learn songs you can sing to each other to keep you going.
1. Rain jacket, pants, and rain hat (sou'wester, also Ortlieb, can collect rainwater in a pinch) - it is nice to be dry underneath.
2. Very warm jacket
Ramona: I bought a fluffy polyester jacket, mostly because it's like having a sleeping bag to wear around, but packs into a tiny little ball. Something like this, but not exactly the same. It also doubles as a pillow. I brought a wool jacket, too, but wore it rarely. It has been left behind. Joshua has a heavier wool sweater and when layered with other things and his rain jacket, he's warm enough.
3. Gloves. Ramona: 3 pair. 1 half-finger cycling, 2 full finger cycling. Joshua: 3 pair, 1 full- and 1 half- finger cycling and one half-finger wool.
4. Shoe rain covers. Super dorky looking, but in a 20 minute downpour your feet will stay dry and warm. We bought ours in the Netherlands.
5. Wool cowl or silk scarf (okay, Ramona has a couple. Of both. One large cotton scarf doubles as a pillow case.)
6. Seat cover - even if your saddle is not leather like our fancy Brooks ones, a wet butt is no fun and a plastic bag will do. In fact, we use a combo of plastic bag, Brooks cover, and Swiss seat cover.
1. Cycling sandals (spd) - We could both go on long, loving tangents about the benefits of sandals. Feet stay relatively dry and cool, no problems with fungus, and less likely to smell. Wool socks can be added for warmth.
2. Comfortable closed toe shoes - for walking and being warm when not riding, or riding in for something different.
3. Ramona brought some Tom's wrap boots. "I thought I would want to dress up sometimes and wear something besides cycling shoes, and I found them on sale for half price. I wore them once, maybe twice. Not coming next time."
4. Flip flops! If you like 'em, there's nothing like taking off your shoes at the end of the day and putting on your flip flops. Get some rubber ones that are good in wet weather, so you can shower in them. Also, in the summer this is all we wear when not riding.
Ramona's list: Yes, I think I brought more than the average biker. Oh well.
1. Wool clothing
-3 pairs underwear
-3 pairs socks (this was way too many during summer. but when it got cold, boy was I happy).
-3 sports bra/tanktops with shelf
-2 pair leggings
-5 long-sleeve shirts (1 used as nightshirt when it was cold, 1 zip up)
2. Cotton clothing
-3 pairs socks
-8 pairs underwear
-2 loose-fitting, light-weight cotton long-sleeve shirts (for when it's really hot and sunny)
-1 pair jean shorts (awesome, but when they wear through I will toss them and lighten my load)
3. Synthetic clothing
- one skirt
-1 pair bicycle shorts
-1 pair triathlon shorts (less bulky than bicycle shorts, and they provide just that extra loving protection).
-1 pair yoga shorts (blend? not pure cotton, that's for sure)
2 pair quick-dry shorts (board shorts and more traditional swim trunks)
1 pair thin wool slacks
2 pair wool base layer long johns, one pair three quarter length
2 pair cycling underwear
2 long sleeve wool base layer shirts
2 wool t-shirts
2 cotton t-shirts
1 cotton button-down dress shirt
1 wool sweater
5 pair wool socks
2 wool cowls
1 pair wool bicycling sleeves
1 cycling cap
2 neck kerchiefs - protect neck from sun, soak in cold water to keep you cool, and look like a pirate.
A few pads, a half-roll of toilet paper, and a Diva cup.
Hot balls medication. That's right.
1. A small sewing kit - like the kind they give away at fancy hotels. Thread, needles, a couple of spare buttons, and LOTS of safety pins. Safety pins are awesome. Surprising how handy they were.
2. Spare hair ties. Useful for all kinds of things.
3. Carabiners - We used a lot of them. They keep stuff on your bike.
4. Handkerchiefs - 2 for Ramona, 4 for Joshua
5. Rags - Useful if your water bottle rattles in it's cage. Useful if you have to change a tire.
6. Safety triangles for the backs of the bikes. Making us visible. Very visible.
Other Gear We Recommend
1. Restaurant. That's a joke about the way we carried a tarp and always had a dry shelter to eat our meals under at the campsites. So, really, a light-weight tarp with all the loops to create a shelter. Put it up at night and you will have a dew-free spot to sit and eat breakfast in the morning.
2. Lots of extra rope/tent ties and tent stakes. For the tarp. And the rain fly. Figure out the maximum you might ever use at one time and bring at least that many, plus extra stakes for when they bend.
3. Alcohol burning stove. The fuel is cheap and is sold everywhere. It does get very hot, but it's not as fast as the fancy ones. Speed was never an issue for us.
4. Clothes Line and clothes pins. A long line. Trees are often few and far between in a campsite. We sometimes string it back and forth between the bikes three or four times so we can hang some clothes.
5. Language aids - and that means dictionaries. We used Joshua's iPhone as an iPod and downloaded some translation apps for the countries we would be in. Then again, we only used ours in the French countryside where we managed to be-friend some people who didn't understand a word of English. Or our version of French, for that matter.
6. Locks - we carry two small u-locks, and our skewers are locking skewers. So far, we leave them in the unlock position, because it's rare we find ourselves, and our bikes, in a place where we'd leave them if it was a risk. When we're loaded up, we almost never lock up. We like to have them, just in case.
7. Double Kickstands - acts as a bit of a thief deterrent, too. But mostly, your bike will stand up while you deal with bags and such.
We were blessed with a medical kit from our friend Emily, the ER nurse. You don't need what we brought, and luckily we didn't need it either. Here are the things we used the most:
1. Band-Aids - bring lots of band-aids. Blisters, small cuts from working on your bike, kicking your pedals, you name it. You will use band-aids.
2. Neosporin (with pain relief) (or something like it) - you can't always buy anti-biotic creme over the counter, it turns out. And you can use this stuff on everything, including heat rash, itchy bug bites, and zits. At least, I think you can. Being out in the world and getting dirty, it's always nice to have something to keep bacteria at bay in little wounds.
3. Ibuprofen - which you will use at first because you are sore and tired and have aches and pains you're not sure about. Then maybe sometimes you have a hangover. Although I have found that bicycle touring all day long is a great cure for a hangover.
To be truly prepared, it's also nice to have:
4. Larger bandages and gauze pads, for road rash
5. Medical tape
6. Wrap, the skin-tone stuff for a twisted ankle
1. Utensils - all summer long we used the biodegradable utensils from the first wedding. Now we have some bamboo sets Ramona's mom gave us as a gift, very light weight.
2. Cooking pot and nested alcohol burning stove - or maybe you want to make your own?
3. Packable sink
4. Wooden stirring spoon (Joshua cut off the long handle to save on space and weight - but don't cut it too short)
5. Small, thin wood cutting board (really small)
6. Tiny containers of salt, pepper, and olive oil (yum!)
7. A bowl (we used our pot as our second bowl)
8. Metal tea cup
9. Travel mug/thermos
10. Dishwashing rag
11. Small bottle of dish soap
12. Willingness to share
Toiletries - obvious stuff
Toothbrush, tooth powder (as opposed to paste), floss, little bottles of liquid soap and hair conditioner, you know what you like. Also, we had nail clippers, cleaners, file, and toe nail clippers. Tweezers are a good idea, too, in case of splinters/ticks. Bug dope for the skeeters and midges.
Tools and Spare parts
We actually had much more with us, but won't list it here. Bring a patch kit and know how to use it. Also a couple of spare tubes, in case of bad flats or if you want to get going again quickly. You can usually patch at the end of the day.
Beyond that, you know best what you will be willing and able to fix along the way. We go places where bike shops are available and the chances of every possible failure happening to our bikes are slim. Here are a few handy things that'll help get you to the next town. We had spare brake pads, and even installed them on both bikes. But we're bike mechanics, so we do this kind of thing for fun, too.
1. Multi-tool - we had two, and one broke with some heavy duty tweaking. It was cheap.
2. Skip a 15mm Box wrench - your allen wrench will work on the pedals. If you fly, you'll need to take those on and off.
3. Spare Spokes - but we had four different lengths of spoke. It might have made more sense for us to just carry a couple expandable kevlar spokes which can be purchased on this page, along with many useful tools for touring. However, many people will tell you to just invest in awesome wheels (which is what we did - no broken spokes). If you don't have a cassette extractor, you won't be able to replace spokes on your rear wheel, but I think at the link above you can find a mini, magical cassette extractor, too.