Bicycle Tour Clothing Essentials

By Darren Alff on - Download my FREE bike tour starter guide!

One of the most important parts of packing for a bicycle tour is deciding which clothes to bring and which clothes to leave at home.

Because each and every bicycle tour is different, there is no one way to correctly pack for a bicycle adventure. What clothes you eventually decide to bring with you is going to depend on personal preference and the general location and time of year of your tour.

With that being said, I have provided for you here a list of the clothes I generally bring with me on my bicycle adventures. My hope is that this list will help you in knowing what to pack for your bicycle tour… and what to leave at home.

Here Is A List Of All The Clothes I Bring With My On My Bicycle Tours:

Jersey – I tour with only one jersey and wear it day after day. Mine is a Fox Racing jersey. I bought it years ago and absolutely love it. I like that it is not form fitting like a traditional bike jersey would be… and it allows my body to breathe and stay warm all at the same time. I once toured with a German couple and they had at least four (4) different jerseys that they carried with them, but I think carrying this many different jerseys is a little unnecessary. Two might be a good idea, but any more than that is overdoing it.

Bike Shorts – I did my first two bike tours in regular canvas shorts and had absolutely no problems except that the butt of my shorts turned brown and it looked as though I had crapped myself (This was partially due to the fact that I was wearing white shorts. On my second tour I wore black shorts and there was no brown butt as far as I can remember.) But as far as discomfort goes, there was none to speak of. I’ve since worn more traditional bike shorts of all of my subsequent bike tours and while they are definitely more comfortable for me as a cyclist, I do think that bike shorts can really turn other people off. If you are walking into the grocery store or the bank or post office or any other respectable business and you’re wearing bike shorts, people are going to look at you a little funny – no matter how good you think you may look. Because of this, I usually wear a pair of thin athletic shorts over my bike shorts. This allows me to look a little more normal when both on my bike and when walking around. It is also very comfortable. Wearing athletic shorts over my bike shorts also works to keep me a little warmer in cooler conditions.

I know that some bicyclists really think it’s funny to see another cyclist with shorts on over their bike shorts and I understand where they are coming from. I would never wear shorts when riding my racing bike, but on a long distance tour when you are getting on and off your bike all the time, walking into businesses and interacting with other people, I wear the shorts! I don’t care what any other bicyclists say! I wear the shorts!

You might also consider riding in regular mountain bike shorts. I just purchased a pair of Fox Racing shorts and I’ll likely bring these shorts with me on my next couple bike tours.

Athletic Shorts – As mentioned above, I usually bring a pair of thin athletic shorts to wear over my normal bike shorts. This makes me appear more normal and also gives me a pair of shorts to wear if I want to go on a hike or go swimming.

Shoes– I’ve experimented with a number of different shoes over the years. I wore regular tennis shoes on my first two tours and got along just fine. No problems. Then I switched to Shimano Touring Shoes (SPDs)and found that being able to clip into the bike made a huge difference! The only disadvantage was that walking became more difficult… and much more painful. If you plan to do any sort of walking, you may consider bringing a lightweight pair of sandals or even another pair of walking shoes. I’ve only done one tour in which I brought an extra pair of shoes and I found having another pair of shoes to be terribly useful. Once again, whether you bring an extra pair of shoes or not is going to depend on where you are traveling and what you plan to do once you get out on the road.

Warm Jacket – This is going to be your warmest piece of clothing. I have a Patagonia jacket that I really like, but whatever type of jacket you select is entirely up to you. Whatever jacket you bring with you, make sure that it is warm enough to withstand the conditions that you will be riding in. And also make sure that it is small enough and light enough to fit inside your panniers or trailer.

Sunglasses (in a hard case) – Most cyclists see sunglasses as an essential piece of gear. I don’t wear my glasses as much as I should (mainly because I think I look funny with glasses on), but I won’t hesitate to wear my glasses if it gets real bright, or if I happen to enter a field full of dragonflies or other flying insects. Even though I don’t like wearing sunglasses, I’ve brought them on all of my bicycle tours. They’re nice to have if you do decide you want to wear them.

Jeans – Whether you bring jeans or another type of long pant, bringing a pair of long pants is essential. If you want to have any sort of life off of the bicycle while you are on tour, having long pants is a necessity. Make sure that your pants match the rest of your clothes that you are bringing on your tour. I once saw a bicycle tourist wearing purple pants, a bright green shirt, and red shoes. It looked like a rainbow had vomited all over him! I’m not the most fashionable person ever, but what was this guy thinking?

Rain Jacket – You are likely to encounter some rain (or hail or snow) while on your bicycle tour. When the weather gets scary, you’ll be glad you packed your rain jacket! I have used a number of jackets over the years, but I really like the Showers Pass rain jacket that I have now. It’s lightweight, compacts down to a very small size, and can be worn over my fleece jacket if the weather is really bad!

Rain Pants – I actually hate wearing rain pants when riding my bike because I get all hot and sweaty and the pants make so much noise while I’m riding, but I will wear the pants if the storm gets bad enough. I would recommend having them even if you don’t think you’ll ever wear them. A good pain of rain pants will take up practically no space inside your bags.

T-Shirts– Bring at least two T-Shirts with you. You could probably get away with only one, but I like to bring two because if I am staying at anyone’s home for more than a day, it’s nice to at least have two different outfits. I’m used to living in the same clothes for 30 or more days in a row, but other people may find it strange if you wear the same pants and T-shirt day after day. “Is he wearing the same underwear too?”

Underwear– Speaking of underwear… don’t leave it at home! I once went on a class trip in elementary school and forgot to pack any extra underwear! Boy was that a long week! I usually bring 3 pairs of extra underwear and I change/wash them often. More than anything, you need clean underwear! I’m not going to go into the details here. Just make sure you don’t foget this important piece of clothing!

Arm Warmers – I started using arm warmers when I was riding with my college bike club. We would go on rides very early in the morning and it was always freezing. After nearly freezing to death on a number of these rides, I started to look into finding ways to stay warm while out on the bike. That’s when I bought my first pair of arm warmers and put them to the test. Let me tell you… they made a huge difference! I am now a bit of an arm warmer freak! I’d wear them around with my normal clothes if it were socially acceptable. I love um! They don’t take up hardly any space and I’d highly recommend at least giving them a try to see if they are something that can improve your ride.

Socks– I usually bring 2 pairs of specifically made riding socks. One pair might be the short anklet type and the other will be a longer touring type of sock. I also usually bring at least 1 pair of normal black anklet socks to wear when I am just walking around or spending the evening in someone’s home. This pair of socks can also be used to ride in if so desired. Then, finally, I also recommend bringing at least 1 pair of warmer, thicker socks. These are useful for colder weather and I like to simply wear them at night when I am sleeping. Do your best to always keep your socks clean and dry! The last thing you want is to wake up in the morning and have to stuff your foot into a smelly, wet sock. Yuck!

Long Sleeved Shirt – Your long sleeved shirt should be lightweight and compact, just like all your other clothes. I like to sleep in this shirt so that I’m warm at night, but I may put it on when riding if the weather is especially cold.

Sweat Pants – Sweat pants may not be touring essentials, but for me they are. I like to sleep in these pants and keep warm. I absolutely hate being cold, and if that means I have to bring a pair of sweat pants along with me, then so be it! I have a pair of Puma athletic pants. They aren’t your traditional sweat pants and they look much more respectable when walking around in them. They aren’t nearly as embarrassing as traditional sweat pants.

Gloves – Most cyclists wear gloves when riding, but I absolutely hate them. I’ve never been able to figure out why you need them. Traditional bike gloves don’t really keep your hands warm, I don’t think they provide much extra padding, and I think they can cut off your circulation when riding – thus doing more harm than good. For this reason, I don’t usually wear gloves when I’m riding, but I do usually carry gloves, just in case. I usually wear them when riding in cold temperatures. I have full-fingered gloves and they do provide a small amount of protection from the cold, but not much!

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18 Comments

  1. Sean M. Sweeney

    June 21, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    Hi and thanks for your very useful information on touring. I also hike and the use of any kind of cotton is considered dangerous. Cotton, much like down, doesn’t dry very fast. I also agree with you on the use of synthetic sleeping bags instead of down. If I do use down I use a dry sack to store it in while riding. I also use dry sacks for my clothes that I put in panniers. I use a MSR Hubba Hubba two person tent while touring just for the extra room. Keep up the good work.

  2. Geno

    June 21, 2008 at 5:56 pm

    Hi Darren: Your site is full of good information and I have enjoyed reading it. I have a question: What kind of pedals do you use (or would recommend) for an extended loaded tour. I normally use Shimano SPD pedals but I’m planning a trip (2 months in Japan) where I envision stopping often and walking around a lot, often on rough surfaces, and probably going on some hikes while biking. So I am contemplating switching to platform pedals and toe clips and using some kind of low-cut hiking shoes instead. Another benefit is I would also have one less pair of shoes to lug around. My daily mileages will not be long in most cases- probably less than 40 miles/day so being “locked in” to the pedals is of less concern. What are your thoughts on this issue? Thanks, Geno

  3. Darren Alff

    June 21, 2008 at 5:56 pm

    Geno. To answer your question, I also use Shimano SPD pedals/shoes. And like you, I have spent a lot of time thinking about which type of shoes to wear when both riding my bike for long distances… and doing a fair amount of walking.

    I’m not going to delve into the details of what I’ve done in the past, but instead, I’m going to tell you what I would do if I were in your situation. In fact, I kind of am in your situation, because I am currently planning a long distance tour through Europe and I plan to do a lot of biking and a lot of walking as well.

    So… this is what I am going to do:

    I am going to get a new pair of shoes (because my old ones are falling apart after being heavily used for the last five years). I am going to get the Shimano SH-MP66L because it is an SPD shoe, but it also looks like a normal shoe that I could wear with a pair of jeans. (I hate it when I am off my bike and I still look like a bicyclist, so I think this shoe will help me to “blend in” a little more.)

    In addition to this pair of shoes, I plan to also bring along another cheap pair of walking shoes (which I can also wear with jeans or shorts, etc.).

    I brought a second pair of shoes with me the last time I was in Europe and I was terribly glad that I did. I did so much walking when I was there, it would have been impossible for me to do half the things I did if I had only had my cycling shoes. And because I now know not to over pack my panniers, I found that having the second pair of shoes did not get in the way.

    I think it is important to point out that fact that your second pair of shoes should be “CHEAP.” On my last tour through Europe, I got a pair of NIKE’s for about $20 and I knew that if I wanted to, I could just throw the shoes away (or give them away) if I decided that I did not want to lug them around with me.

    So, if I were you, I’d stick with the Shimano’s and bring a second pair (especially if you know you are going to be walking more than a mile at a time).

  4. Geno

    June 21, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    Darren: Hi, Geno here. I was the guy who wrote to you about toe-clips vs. SPD’s for touring. I want to alert you to Power Grips which is a simple, innovative strapping system allowing one to use regular shoes and still be locked in. Here’s the link: http://powergrips.mrpbike.com/pg_benefits.shtml. I purchased them and will be testing them out in the coming weeks. You may want to check them out yourself. Regards, Geno

  5. Laurence

    June 21, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    An excellent guide that spells out pretty much exactly what I do. With regards to gloves, I find that half finger gloves are indeed pointless, but a good pair of full finger gloves helps by a surprising amount. In cold and windy conditions they keep your fingers just warm enough to keep working. This may not seem like a big deal when you’re riding but once you get off to try and buy a quick snack you’ll be thankful that you can still operate a vending machine! Gloves are a necessity for me. I often get a trapped nerve in my palm when riding without; regardless of what hand position I use. A pair of Specialized BG Gel gloves solved the problem entirely and now, even after a long day in the saddle I can retain my manual dexterity.

  6. RJ

    July 13, 2008 at 10:10 pm

    This is a very helpful article. Thanks! In response to your comments on gloves– for racers they are useful for protecting your hands if you crash, but for any everyday rider, they allow you to reach down and wipe off your tire while you’re riding if you go over a patch of glass. They’re also supposed to add some added padding, but they don’t always do this.

  7. Curtis Carter

    September 19, 2008 at 7:50 am

    Speaking of gloves. The light sun screen type gloves used by fly fishermen are great for bike riding. They protect your hands from the sun, dry quickly and you hardly know you’re wearing them. Check Orvis or Cabela’s for these items. Oh, they are the open finger type, so maybe not so good for cold weather biking.

  8. TR

    May 22, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    Another reason that a person might wear gloves is to protect the hands in case of a fall. I hate picking gravel out of my palms, and getting the scabby mess stuck to the handle bar.

  9. ToddBS

    July 6, 2009 at 7:14 am

    Another shoe option is the cycling sandal. Shimano has a very nice one and even Nashbar has a nice privately branded sandal. They are SPD compatible, lightweight, and are extremely easy to walk in. For hot weather regions they are invaluable. Even in cold weather, the addition of a Gore Tex sock can make them plenty warm.

    You do get some funny looks though. Even from other cyclists.

  10. Einrad

    September 11, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    Regarding gloves, As far as I’m concerned they are not needed for riding unless you happen to fall off your bike. During a nasty fall in pavement or a fire road they will make a big difference to keep your palms free of road rash.

    Road rash in your hand is a major inconvenience for normal life, even worst if you want to keep riding. Having experienced nasty road rash in my hands once during my racing years was enough to convince me of the advantages of wearing a glove while riding.

    Great website

  11. bob frame

    October 5, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    Darren,

    Good stuff- I learned a lot and found this to be well worth the 12-15 minutes it took to watch.

    Re: Gloves……I agree with the crash comments. If you should fall your instincts will take over and if possible, you will extend your hands to brake the fall, sacrificing your palms in the process. With gloves on, you may still break your collar bone, but you’ll save a painful scrape on the palms of your hands.

    Also, if your palms sweat much, your bars can get pretty slippery which is not a good situation. I will not ride without gloves.

  12. Michael Johnson

    November 17, 2010 at 7:54 am

    I am trying to identify underwear most suitable for touring. I’ve tried differnt styles and materials but have yet to find a set that are confortable over the long hall. Seems, lenght, riding up, etc are always troubling areas. Do you have any suggestions from your experience?

  13. Bicycle Touring Pro

    November 20, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    Hi Michael, maybe someone else can comment on this. I’ve never had a problem with the whole underwear issue. I wear the same underwear on a bike tour that I wear in regular life… and have had no problems whatsoever. Sorry.

    I know that many people where the spandex type bike shorts without any underwear at all. I don’t do that, but something like that might be your solution.

  14. Michael

    October 17, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    Hi all great page and learned some excellent stuff here,in the UK I use Karrimor boots and shoes,they have spd compatible soles and are waterproof also.Dont know if you can get them in US but well worth the effort if you can.

  15. Any

    November 19, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    Just a quick tip i’ve learned. Having a few pairs of medical gloves in my gear has been extremely helpful. The reason being if I have to make a bike repair my hands wont get super dirty and also while in a freezing rain on a bike tour in Idaho I put them over my fleece gloves and they kept my hands warm and very dry. They weigh next to nothing and pack very small too.

  16. Rideyerbike

    December 16, 2012 at 12:37 am

    I am rather disappointed that you didn’t speak more on underwear. It is actually a very important subject that shouldn’t be left to just bringing a few pairs. Wearing the wrong underwear and taking the wrong underwear can mean discomfort in many ways along the ride.

    I would recommend people check out Exofficio’s Give and Go underwear (since I currently have male parts I wear the boxer-briefs) They say on the packaging and their site “17 countries. 6 weeks. One pair of award-winning underwear. (Ok, maybe two.)” and honestly after wearing them and testing them I can say that is quite true. They dry pretty quickly and are quite comfortable and don’t end up smelling as bad in one week as one day in regular cotton or cotton poly boxers. It also has Aegis microshield which I am quite sure helps cut down on the funk.

    The North Face makes Flashdry underwear which would also be a great choice. I have used their light baselayer top and love it as a heavy sweater and overheater. It has a great next to skin feeling and like the Exofficio stuff (and possibly more so) it dries very quickly.

    Also instead of sweatpants and standard cotton long sleeves I would go with a good baselayer such as Flashdry from North Face or Capilene from Patagonia. Performance type fabrics make most sense on long trips because washing clothes and bringing a lot of clothes can be an issue and typically a lot of performance fabrics are going to pack smaller and keep you warmer (or cooler) and cut back on some of the funk that you get riding all day. It can be more cost but worth it in the end.

    Great article otherwise though!

  17. Torben

    June 25, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    I’m in the midst of a long tour and I’d love to hear more about UV protective clothing for cycling in hot sunny weather. That would include a mix of long sleeves and pants, proper head covering, and neck covering, but designed to breathe well and be durable for long tours. I thought it would be rather easy to find clothes for cyclists like this, but it’s been extremely difficult. For other sports one can often find UV protective tights, or “tropical weight” clothes, but nothing with a proper cyclists cut.

    If you have any advice or current info on what to wear for desert/hot weather travel I’d love to be linked to it. Thank you.

  18. RAJESH RAJASEKHARAN

    February 24, 2017 at 2:02 am

    Hai Darren,

    valuable article, thanks for sharing

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