Some thoughts on lessons learned from two bike packing trips in variable weather:
A decent head lamp (miner’s lamp) works well as a lightweight option. Having one of these takes the place of a heavier hand held flashlight and frees up both hands for manual tasks (very important). I use an “Energizer” brand headlamp with multiple brightness settings and a red light option. This cost around $12 – $14 and serves the purpose well.
One of the most common problems you will have when bike packing is keeping a loaded bike parked upright. The weight of your gear will severely affect the ability of a kickstand to hold everything upright and there isn’t always a convenient place to lean a bike. This can be very frustrating, especially when you have expensive electronic gear attached to your handlebars (camera, GPS etc.). Many solutions have been tried with varying results, including the use of a walking stick with wrist lanyard wrapped around the nose of the bike seat and a double sided kickstand that acts similar to a motorcycle kickstand but folds away to one side when in the up position. See if you can invent something and add to our knowledge.
You may want to bring some of the following: Imodium, Tums, Pepto-Bismol tablets, Ibuprofen, Aleve, Benadryl. These items have proven to be invaluable when bike packing. The combination of riding a good portion of the day, eating the local fare and tent camping at night has a tendency to throw your body systems off a bit. Make sure to bring what works for you.
First Aid Kit
Always bring one – even if it’s just band aids and antibiotic cream.
Get a good set of panniers (waterproof or with a rain cover). Having extra pockets on the panniers is very helpful for organizing your equipment. There are many different manufacturers of panniers. I use “Axiom” brand panniers and found them to be rugged enough for the task and reasonably priced.
Get a good handlebar bag for keeping your most valuable personal items that you want easy access to (wallet, phone, camera, medicine, maps etc.). I found that a larger rigid-sided bag with a rigid mounting bracket has a distinct advantage in keeping your electronic devices from rubbing up against other hard items that may scratch them. Also, having a clip on shoulder strap turns it into a good “go bag” for short walking trips away from your bike.
Bring coffee singles, Tea bags, Cup O’Soup packets, Bullion cubes to make broth along with single serving creamers and sweeteners. These are very simple, lightweight items that make your time on the trail and at the campsite a little more comfortable. Pack some in a zip lock baggie.
Hot Drink Cup
A cheap, insulated coffee cup with a no-spill lid is a must.
For the type of riding done on these trips, adjusting your bicycle for a more upright riding position allows you to take in more of the scenery. Consider positioning your handlebars higher than your seat. You may also want a seat with more padding since riding upright puts more weight on your behind.
One spare each for your bike and trailer (if used) along with a simple patch kit.
Tire levers for fixing flats, hex wrenches for adjustments, a chain breaker tool to fix a broken chain and a small adjustable wrench. A multi-tool like a leatherman tool is also very useful.
These are always helpful for improvised solutions.
Same as bungie cords.
Plastic trash bags
Some of the sites you will camp in are strictly “carry in, carry out” affairs. Also, a heavy duty plastic bag can double as an easily portable, temporary food and drink cooler while at the camp site.
Zip Lock Bags
Bring some of all sizes. They come in handy for everything.
Chose this wisely. You need something lightweight and water proof with just enough room to sleep in. Having a vestibule is handy for keeping things dry but, stuffing your gear in plastic trash bags can do the same job if necessary. A hammock with a rain fly also works well for bike packing and has the advantage of being very light weight. The disadvantages of a hammock are that you need trees to hang it and it may not insulate you well in colder weather.
You will want one or more of these to use as a ground cloth for your tent, to cover your bike or to hang over your tent as an extra rain fly over the entrance. 6’x8’ or 8’x10’ are good sizes for this.
A decent sleeping pad of the right size is a must. Too small and you’ll have trouble sleeping, too large and you’ll have trouble packing it on your bike. I have been bringing an extra large, self inflating, sleeping pad that measures about 32” x 76”. This has proven to be comfortable but, way too large. Due to the size, it pretty much requires the use of a bike trailer. I will be changing this.
Choose wisely and don’t think you can do without it in hot weather. Depending on the time of year, you will need a bag that meets the temperature conditions. Even a fleece bag liner will keep you warm on a cold morning. You’ll regret not bringing one.
I don’t know about you but, I can’t sleep without one. There are many options available but keep in mind, you want to minimize bulk. In a pinch, you can stuff some clothing in a stuff sack.
A lightweight camp stove is very handy (or a Penny Stove!). You will use it primarily to heat water to make hot drinks or to reconstitute dehydrated food. What I have found to work well, is a simple, hiker’s gas stove that uses the small hiker’s propane tanks. For a short trip, you will only need one gas canister. I have previously used an alcohol stove and used “Heet” gas line antifreeze for fuel. This worked ok but, it required you to carry potentially dangerous, liquid fuel, in a screw capped bottle. Propane gas works faster and is well contained in it’s canister. Wood stoves are also an option and work pretty well but, require you to gather fuel at a time when you just want some damn coffee.
I currently use a cheap, no-name gas unit found on Amazon for about $14. It does the job but, after looking at other options, I will soon be upgrading to a unit made by “Jet Boil” due to it’s ease of use and standing stability on uneven surfaces.
At least one cooking pot is necessary for boiling water. It should have a capacity of at least two cups to a quart. Some of the hiker’s stoves combine the stove and pot as one unit. This works out well.
Bring a fork, knife and spoon unless you prefer to live like the uni-bomber. Keep an eye on the weight and bring a backup set because things do get lost occasionally.
A multi-tool pocket knife is very handy for quick fixes.
A lightweight, waterproof, windbreaker with a detachable hood comes in handy and can be used for purposes other than just rain gear. On cold days, keeping the wind off your body when riding can make the difference between a cold hard ride and a warm comfortable one. When it warms up, just roll it up and stuff it in a bag. Also, many rain jackets have reflective cloth built into them for safer riding at night.
Same as the rain jacket.
Food (more here)
Bringing food can be optional for bike packers depending on the locale. Your ability to get food locally at each stop is an option to consider rather than packing the extra weight. However, it is always good to bring some extra snacks while riding, just to keep your energy up. I usually pack some energy bars or trail mix for this purpose. Some people like to bring dehydrated meal packets than can be easily prepared with hot water. Another option is the “flat bagel sandwich” trick where you make a bagel sandwich with ingredients that won’t spoil and put it in a zip lock bag. You then place this on a chair, put something rigid on top of it and sit on it to flatten it out and then seal the bag. This makes a tasty, packable treat. Invent some other ideas and share them with us.
Most rides on scenic bike trails will have access to drinking water. Bring some bicycle water bottles and fill up on the way. Water purification will not be an issue. Plan according to your desired traveling locale.
NOT! Well, maybe just some extra underwear and socks. At the end of each trip, most bike packers say “I could have gotten away with less clothing”. Believe it or not, clothing is probably the biggest load you will carry both in weight and shear bulk. Plan your clothing load carefully. There are laundry facilities available at some campsites. You can wash out some clothing in a bathroom sink and hang them out to dry for the night. Some riders prefer to “Ride Smelly”, using the same riding clothes for multiple days and just showering and putting on clean clothes at the end of the day.
Planning for a bike packing trip has some unique requirements. First and foremost is to keep the weight down. Go through each item and think “Do I really need this” or “Would I be able to get along without this for a few days”? Every ounce counts when riding long distances. Clothing and food are usually the hardest items to decide. Plan your load and pack your panniers a few days ahead of the trip. Packing at the last minute pretty much guarantees that you will hedge your bets and pack heavy.