When you are planning a long distance bike tour you may know exactly what type of weather, availabilty of bike shops and terrain to expect…or you may have no idea. It is typically a good idea to be as self sufficient as possible on a bicycle tour. You can prepared for different weather and bike maintenance without bringing the kitchen sink, I promise.
In addition to weather variables there are many different styles of bicycle touring, also. Some people plan to spend nights in the comfort of hotels with actual beds where others plan to sleep in a tent on the ground for free as often as possible. On my bicycle trip across the United States last summer it would be safe to say I experienced everything from weeks of 100+ degree days, to snow and merciless rain. I also spent many nights in motels but even more in my tent. My gear kept me comfortable in all of these situations so I’m going to simply share what I packed for every situation imaginable.
My one major recommendation with touring is getting Ortlieb panniers* to carry all of your gear in. There is nothing like the peace of mind that regardless of rain, snow, or mud, that your possessions will be be dry and clean and these bags provide just that. They also happen to come in some cute colors.
Let’s start with clothes
It goes without saying that there is no place for cotton on this sort of trip, so stick with quick-drying, moisture wicking fabrics such as polyester, tencel, merino wool, spandex or nylon. Additionally, you want very brightly colored clothing or some sort of florescent vest to put over your clothing. Being visible to motorists is always a priority.
Cycle shorts If you chose to wear cycle shorts I’d recommend two pairs, so you can wash one and wear the other. This way, you always have a clean pair. (Even washing in a sink somewhere is better than dirty, skin-tight spandex.)
1-2 tank tops Try not to get anything skin tight, you’ll appreciate the ventilation on a hot day.
T-shirt(s) Remember, no cotton. If you want to bring a cycle jersey, that’s not a bad idea, because they typically unzip in the front have convenient pockets in the back.
Long sleeved base layer I highly recommend at least one long sleeved light base layer to protect your arms from the sun and wind.
Wind breaker jacket These are a great idea for adding a thin layer on windy or chilly days, or even adding as an outside layer on top of many other tops to keep warm.
Shell Depending on how cold you expect it to be, it might be beneficial to have a basic shell jacket.
Leggings or tights These are good to keep you warm on cooler days without adding much bulk.
Pants A pair that moves with you and is flexible.
2-3 Pairs of socks Merino wool is going to be the best in this area and SmartWool makes awesome cycle-specific socks.
2 Exofficio Give-n-Go Underwear They are the best possible option so there’s no reason to mess with anything else.
1-2 Sports bra(s)
Flip-flops These are a good ideas so you can get out of your shoes and to wear in showers at campgrounds, etc.
Buff This brilliant invention can keep your neck warm, function as headband over your ears, or turn into a hat thin enough to fit under your helmet.
Gloves (windproof is a nice feature)
Rain gear – Spend a few dollars and get a good-quality rain jacket and rain pants. You may also want to get shoe covers to keep your feet warm and dry.
There is always a lot of controversy over the importance of spare parts and complex tools. Personally, I think having the basics and knowing how to take care of your bicycle is what’s most important.
A great multi tool One with difference sized allen wrenches, a screw driver, and maybe a small knife.
2 replacement inner tubes Yes, two not one, especially if you have an uncommon size.
2 replacement spokes for each size on your wheel
Air pump One that fits nicely on the frame of your bike is good and saves space in your bags.
Air gage It is important to know how much air you have to avoid damaging an inner tube.
Synthetic lubricant for the chain
Electrical tape It always comes in handy for something.
Patch kit Since flats are real live issue on a tour, it is smart to be as prepared as possible.
Sleeping and Tent Gear
Let’s pretend you are going to be camping on this your tour…because let’s face it, that is the most fun part of touring.
Tent Remember to not always fold it the same way in it’s stuff sack to avoid creases that cause tears over time.
Tent stakes Usually bringing one or two extra is a good practice
Tyvek Get a piece of Tyvek the size of your tent to use as a waterproof barrier between the ground and you because it is cheaper and lighter than traditional footprints
Sleeping pad You will be tired on a tour, don’t skimp when it comes to where you lay your head. Therm-a-rest NeoAir pads are the best comfort to weight ratio we’ve found.
Sleeping bag Be realistic about the temperatures you think you will face when deciding what rating your sleeping should be for a tour.
Headlamp And, don’t forget extra batteries
Travel pillow I am in love with the Nemo Fillo™ pillow and take it everywhere with me.
It is a really responsible idea to be able to prepare your own food to some extent. You can’t depend on restaurants always being around or open when you are hungry, and you will always be hungry.
Pot – Something titanium is your best bet because it is the lightest.
Stove I highly recommend an alcohol stove because they are light, inexpensive and you can find fuel at almost any gas station.
Lighter Just a basic one is fine.
Fuel If you are using an alcohol stove you can find Heet (the yellow bottle in the automotive section) at any gas station.
Cup Of course, most of your drinking will be out of your water bottles, but if you are like me and enjoy a cup of coffee, the Snow Peak Titanium mug has a place in my heart and comes with me everywhere.
Fork (or a spork)
Knife (One that is sharp, leave the butter knives at home.)
Cutting board If you plan to cut any fruit or veggies you’ll be glad you grabbed a small, thin one from REI before leaving.
Miscellaneous I always carry, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and a little bit of olive oil because I like to cook.
The fun toys! Depending on your priorities you may carry more or less than I listed here, but these are the basics.
Camera There will be countless opportunities for great pictures on any tour.
Bike computer To track your progress and miles (kilometers) per hour!
Phone I used the LifeProof bike mount to put my iPhone right on the handle bars which was really convenient.
Solar charger During the day I attached the Solar Orange JOOS* charger to my rear rack and charged stuff up over night. The Orange JOOS is waterproof and since it has an internal battery it doesn’t have to be exposed to the sun to charge a device.
Bike lights You definitely need at least one rear light and a very bright headlight.
Music Many tourists like having a small speaker they attach to their iPod for days out in the middle of no where.
The necessary stuff to make keep you healthy and clean (whenever you come across a shower, I mean).
Shampoo/conditioner I am a big fan of using GoToobs for these sorts of things to avoid leaks.
Body wash H2O’s body wash with lotion beads doubles as a good shaving medium and I bring it everywhere with me!
Tampons or liners – This is tricky and very personal, it isn’t always great to be wearing tampons in bicycle shorts all day long.
Meds – Advil/Ibuprofen, allergy medicine, pepto-bismol, midol, prescriptions, and some sort of cold/flu remedy
First aid kit – bandaids, Neosporin, bandage, emergency iodine (to sterilize a wound), athletic tape, and gauze
Contact solution and extra contacts
This may sound like a lot but including all of this, food, full water bottles, and the weight of the bike itself, (29.89lbs) my bike weighed in at approximately 73lbs at Adventure Cycling Association headquarters!
About the Author: Kathleen is the one half of Our Favorite Adventure where she and her husband blog about their adventures since they decided to leave behind a conventional life to live the life of perpetual travel. Together they have have ridden bicycles across the United States, house sat in Australia and road-tripped across New Zealand. They hope to inspire others to follow their own dreams by sharing their journey! You can follow Kathleen on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.