You’re stuck on a desert island.. or ’10 items we’re glad we brought bicycle touring.’

Misty Lake Quinault

Picture this: You’re fitting your entire life into 4 bags. Specifically, 2 of your bags have 40 litres of capacity and the other 2 have 25 litres. This leaves you with 130 litres to fit your camping, cooking, clothing and anything else you wish to pack. Sounds like a lot, right? The average backpack for a day hike will range from 20-30 litres, and that’s just to carry your food, drink bottles and a few items for your hike. So, 130 litres isn’t a lot when you think about it!

Now imagine you’ve worked out what you’re going to fit into your 130 litres. Your next step is to think – how much weight do I want to carry? Most cyclists we’ve met carry roughly 20-30 kg of combined bike + gear. Of course, you can go lighter or heavier, depending on what you would like to bring with you. We cycled for a week with a guy who was towing a dog in a trailer from California to New Hampshire, and the dog alone weighed 30 kg. We’ve also met cyclists who choose not to pack a tent or hammock and camp under the stars every night.

On our Little Bike Ride, we started our trip at around 33kg each. 2500 km later, having discarded items that we didn’t need, we now sit around 25-30kg, which is a comfortable weight for us. This combined 50-60kg weight includes our bikes, our 3 man tent, camping items, cooking items, clothing, laptop and other electronics, hygiene items and bike tools/spares.

So, let’s put necessary items like the tent, sleeping bags, bike tools and clothing aside for a moment. Here are the top 10 items we brought along with us on our bicycle tour:

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Solar Panel

Dan rides with a solar panel stretched over his back panniers, which is charges a portable battery. On a sunny day, this set-up will keep our phone, our iPad mini and our Go-Pro fully charged each day with some power leftover. The battery allows us to charge our electronics on not-so sunny days, whether it’s with leftover charge from the previous day or from being plugged into a power socket direct. Being able to navigate on your phone without having to worry about charging is a big weight off our shoulders.

Bronners

Dr. Bronners Pure Castile-Liquid Soap

Before we discovered Dr. Bronners, we were using generic supermarket body-wash and shampoos, generally the cheapest we could find. They’re generally bulky, expensive and run out quickly. With just a few drops of Dr. Bronners, you have yourself enough soap for your shampoo and your body wash – it also doubles up as a detergent for dishes, washing your clothes, shaving liquid, household cleaner and more.

sink

Sea to Summit 10 Litre Portable Sink

The portable sink is used for three important purposes: washing dishes, washing clothes and sponge baths. The latter is our favourite use of this item – the ability to feel clean whenever you want to is a huge morale booster for us. It packs to the size of your fist and weighs 100 grams.

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iPad Mini

We cycle around 55-75 km a day, which means we generally have a lot of idle time for the rest of the day when we’re not cycling. During the day, you can spend this time chatting with locals, exploring, read a book or having a coffee in town. If it’s dark and you’re at your camp, the iPad mini is great for watching a downloaded movie on Netflix, listening to a podcast or more.

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Wide Brim Hats

We started cycling in June in the USA .. and it was HOT. We started with base-ball caps but quickly switched to a soft wide-brim hat. If you get a hat made out of a lighter material, you can fit it snugly under your helmet to wear while you’re riding, to keep the sun out of your eyes and off the back of your neck.

hydroflask

Hydro Flask Stainless Steel Bottle

Keeping to the theme of cycling in the heat, we had a stretch of 3 weeks in Oregon and Idaho where we couldn’t comfortably cycle between the hours of 11am and 3pm due to heat. When we actually were cycling, the water in our drink bottles would heat up almost instantly. The Hydro Flask bottle allows us to have a sip of icy-cold water whenever we want it and also allows us to carry milk for a couple of days – which we use to spice up our morning coffees and oatmeals.

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Adventure Cycling Association Maps

The Adventure Cycling Association is a non-profit organization focused on empowering people to travel by bicycle. In the USA, they have multiple routes marked to cross the country, whether it’s vertically on a route like the Pacific Coast or the popular Trans-America route which goes horizontally across the country. The maps are available in physical form and on a smartphone application. Generally, the maps are fairly expensive ($90 for the complete TransAmerica map) but, for us, the smartphone map has already paid for itself in the amount of comfortable free camping it’s lead us to.

keen sandals

Keen Sandals

Dan wears Keen Sandals that double up as every-day shoes, hiking shoes and flip-flops. In general, shoes are heavy and bulky, so you don’t want to carry more than 2 pairs maximum. For hard climbing and long cycling days, he wears a pair of hard-soled cycling shoes with the ability to clip in (we currently don’t ride clipped in). For easy cycling days, the ability to ride in your Keen sandals without wearing socks is pretty great.

coffee filter

Coffee Filter

We love our coffee and weren’t quite prepared to give it up on our tour. Before we were using this specific filter for our pour over coffee, we were using the fabric of an old t-shirt, which was messy and difficult to keep clean. After meeting a cyclist in Washington who used this filter, it convinced us to buy something the same one from REI for $10. You can buy it cheaper on Amazon.

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Chairs

This might be a controversial one as we rarely meet cyclists who pack chairs like we do. After a long day of cycling, we prefer to have a comfortable seat that you can rest your back on. Dan uses the Alite Monarch Butterfly Chair which weighs 600 grams and Erika uses the REI Flexlite Low Chair which weighs 860 grams. If we’re able, we’d love to be living on the road for at least 2 years, so the chairs are the little addition that make our camp feel more like a home.

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Is there an item that you can’t live without on your bicycle tour? Let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear about it!

8 thoughts

  1. Nice summary. Congratulations. I learned many of the same lessons, including the chair and the multipurpose soap. Let me add: sun screen. Not all sun block products are the same, so research the ingredients.
    For a summary of my initial lessons learned, check out https://freewheelingfreelancer.com/2015/01/17/how-i-have-changed-gear/#more-1099. You may enjoy other posts under the tag “planning to leave home”.
    Smooth roads and tailwinds,
    JT, the Freewheeling Freelancer.

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  2. Love your list! Dr. Bronners, the solar panels, the chairs… Have to check out the hydro-flask; very cool. You two are an inspiration! What a wonderful journey. xxoo

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  3. Have been thinking about my own trip planning a lot and I am considering a lightweight sun shower for wild camping. Can be picked up at Walmart n sport stores for as little as $9 plus. Just a thought.

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    1. It’s a good thought! I wonder if you could fill it up with water and strap it to the back like a hydration bladder? You would have yourself a warm shower and if you didn’t want to use it for a shower that day you could have extra drinking water or use the water for cooking. 🙂

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