I get a lot of questions from prospective bicycle tourists who ask how to go about packing their panniers for a bicycle tour. This seems like a simple question, but there is actually a lot that goes into packing your bike for a tour.
That being said, I can’t cover everything in just one post. So I’ve broken down this question of how to go about packing your bike, by breaking the question into three different sections.
I’ve put together a little video where I show you exactly what I carry inside panniers and I give you some tips on how to pack your bags so nothing ever gets lost and you have more than enough room for everything you will need on your tour. Below the video, I have listed the contents of each and every one of my panniers and given details for why I bring these particular items with me.
Here’s a List of Everything I Carry In My Panniers:
Panniers – I have a set of Lone Peak panniers (made in Salt Lake City, UT) and I have used these panniers on my last four tours. They’ve been through a lot, but they look practically brand new. I have P-500’s on the back of my bike, P-100’s on the front, and the H-100 Alta Handlebar Bag. If you are looking for a set of panniers, I would highly recommend them.
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.
Stove and Fuel Canister – There are a number of different stoves you can use on your bike trip. Depending on where you are going and how long you plan to be out on the road, the type of stove you use will vary. Click here to read my report on the correct stove to select for your tour.
Fork and Spoon – If you plan to cook your own meals while out on the road, you’re going to need some eating utensils. I bring a lightweight fork and knife and wrap them in a handkerchief and put a rubber band or two around them so that they don’t rattle inside my bags.
Battery Chargers – If you’re bringing your cell phone, iPod, camera, or other electronic device, you are going to need to bring the various electrical chargers for these devices. The more devices you bring, the more charges you’ll need. If you can, leave the electronics at home. If you must bring them along, try and find a way to use AA or AAA batteries in as many devices as you can. This way you can just bring an inexpensive battery charger and use rechargeable batteries in all of your devices. I know that many devices don’t give you the option of functioning on AA batteries, so in these cases, you’re stuck bringing the charger. Just do your best to bring as few chargers as possible.
Food – Don’t pack your bags to the gills and then forget about the fact that you don’t have any food packed yet! You need to leave plenty of room inside your bags for food. On any given day, I have enough food in my bags to last me between 2-4 days. I usually purchase a large amount of oatmeal and that alone can feed me for a week or more if needed.
Cook Pot – If you’re going to be cooking your own food while out on the road, you’ll need to bring along a pot to cook everything in. I recommend bringing a medium sized pot and nothing more. You don’t need three different pots to cook in and you don’t need to bring something that holds ten gallons of water. You just need a pot that is big enough to cook a good-sized meal. A good thing to do before you leave on your tour is to start cooking out of your pot before you leave home. This will give you an idea of what it will be like out on the road and will tell you whether you need a bigger pot, or whether you can afford to use a smaller one. The smaller the better! I use the Coleman Exponent cook set. There are a number of pots that come with this set, but I use the medium sized one only.
Lighter/Matches – You’ll also need to bring some matches or a lighter with you if you are going to be doing any cooking. I recommend bringing a few waterproof matches as well, just in case you encounter a terrible storm that soaks your bags and you want to get a fire started to stay warm or cook your dinner.
Sleeping Bag – What type of sleeping bag to bring on tour with you is going to depend on where you are headed and what part of the year you will be traveling there. I have two main sleeping bags that I have brought on tour with me. The first is a Coleman Canyon and it is my summer bag. It is very small and very thin, but is all you need when traveling during the summer months in most areas. The other sleeping bag I have is a North Face Cat’s Meow. It is my winter sleeping bag. It is much larger than the summer bag, but it’s definitely worth the extra space when the weather gets chilly. Before you leave on your tour, find out what the weather is going to be like and get a bag that will keep you warm in those temperatures. Another thing to keep in mind when selecting a sleeping bag is that it may get a little wet or you may want to wash it while you are out on the road. For this reason, I don’t like to use down sleeping bags, because if they get wet, you’re screwed. My North Face Cat’s Meow bag is warm and dries quickly… and these are the two main reasons I selected this bag.
Bike Lock – Selecting the right bike lock is very important. I use a lock similar to the OnGuard Doberman 5029 Bicycle Coil Cable Lock as it is long enough to secure both my bike and my panniers, but is also thick enough to prevent would-be thieves from cutting my lock and stealing my bike.
Extra Tubes – If you get a flat tire while out on the road, you’ll want to have some extra tubes on hand. I don’t even try to patch flat tires. I just throw the tube out and put a new one in. You have enough to worry about when you’re riding. Don’t worry about whether or not your patch job is working. Just put in a new tube! It’s a good idea to bring along a patch kit just in case, but it’s an even better idea to have enough spare tubes that you never have to use the patch kit at all.
Tent – Selecting your tent is very important… as your tent is your home on the road. If you are riding alone, a one or two person tent is all you need. If you’re riding with a loved one or a friend and you’ll be sharing a tent, a two or three person tent is what you want to look for. I have a MSR Zoid 2 Two-Person Fast & Light Tent and there are a number of reasons I selected this tent. The first reason is because it is lightweight. Plus, it compacts down to a small size, yet is large enough to fit both me and all of my panniers inside of it at night. I also like this tent because it has a brown rain fly, which is useful for hiding at night when I am doing some stealth camping.
Bike Pump – You’ll want a good bike pump for your tour. I like to use the slightly larger Topeak Harpoon S2 Master Blaster Bike Pump as I have used smaller pumps in the past and they have either broken while I was out on the road, or they were so small that it took forever for me to pump up my tube. The Master Blaster is a little larger than some of the smaller pumps, but is definitely worth the extra size and weight. Don’t go cheap with your bike pump. The success of your tour can depend on this one little tool.
Tire Levers – These plastic tire-changing tools are crucial for changing your tire in record time. They usually come in sets of three, but I’ve found that only two are needed most of the time.
Leatherman – The Leatherman is an unnecessary item that I like to bring with me. I did my first four tours without such a tool, but I like to bring it now just in case (so I can use it to make repairs to my bike). There have been times when I’ve used the pliers to pull thorns out of my legs, and I’ve used the screwdriver and knife set on multiple occasions as well.
Bicycle Multi Tool – Unlike a Leatherman, a multi tool is essential to your success out on the road. These tools typically come with all of the hex wrench sizes you will need for your bike, along with both types of screwdrivers, a chain tool, and maybe even a knife! There are a number of good multi-tools to choose from.
Chain Lube – There are a number of different chain lubes to choose from as well. Some are for riding in dry weather. Some are for moist humid areas. Ask your local bike shop which is best for your tour. Whatever type you decide to use, be sure not to leave home without it!
Bungee Cord – I usually bring along an extra bungee cord in the event that I want to tie down something to the back of my bike… or if one of the bungees I’m already using to tie things down happens to break. I typically have three bungee cords on me at the start of a tour. I will often times ditch one of them somewhere along the way.
Toiletry Kit – I like to keep all of my toiletries inside one bag. I don’t use a Ziploc bag as these can break and tear. Instead, I use the Eagle Creek Wallaby II to keep my toiletries organized. This way, when I go to take a shower, I can just grab the bag and the clothes I am going to change into and I’m ready to go! It’s important to note that my toiletry kit also contains my bath towel. I use an MSR Pack Towel as it folds up to the size of a nice dinner napkin, fits easily inside my toiletry kit, and dries in record time.
Clothes and Underwear – The last thing I bring with me on my long distance bicycle rides are my clothes. What you decide to bring with you is up to you, but here is a list of everything that I typically take with me: (watch the video above for more information)
1 Warm Jacket
1 Pair of Jeans
1 Rain Jacket
1 Pair of Rain Pants
3 Pairs of Underwear
1 Pair of Arm Warmers
3 Pairs of Riding Socks
1 Pair of Warmer Socks
1 Long Sleeved Shirt (to sleep in)
1 Pair of Sweat Pants (to sleep in)
1 Pair of Riding Gloves