How To Pack Your Panniers

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.

1). How to pack your handlebar bag
2). How to pack your panniers
3). How to pack your bicycle

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.

The video that was in this spot originally has been replaced with this new, updated version. Enjoy!

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
2 T-Shirts
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


57 thoughts on “How To Pack Your Panniers

  1. Brandon Roesler says:

    I don’t think I could ever prepare myself for my trip without your help. Every time I talk to you or go on your website I learn something new. Thanks for everything.

  2. Harry says:

    I’ve recently come across your website and think it’s pretty darn good. The videos will be especially helpful to those new to touring. After viewing your videos, I had a couple questions for you.

    I see you don’t line your panniers with plastic bags or put any clothing in plastic bags. How do you keep things dry in the rain? I have Lone Peak front panniers and without plastic bags, items inside would have gotten wet.

    Where do you store the second pair of shoes? In a pannier or just stored in a waterproof bag and lashed to the rack.

    Where are your tent poles? Are they short enough to put in the tent roll or do you put them in your sleeping pad bag?

    You can get a smaller sleeping pad that could fit in your panniers. There are many on the market but I have found Big Agnes Air Core to be very comfortable.

    Last question. I didn’t see that you brought an extra set or two of cycling shorts and jerseys. Do you rely on washing and drying one pair everyday? That would seem a little difficult to depend on.

    Overall nice job on the website. Looking forward to any new additions.

  3. Darren Alff says:

    1). I do not use any sort of plastic bags to keep my panniers dry in rainy weather. I know others use trash bags or plastic bags to keep their things dry, but I’ve found this to be a complete waste of energy. Often times the bags end up ripping or getting caught in zippers and tearing, so I just don’t use them. Most of the time my clothes are simply stuffed into my panniers and the panniers themselves do a pretty good job of keeping everything dry. When the weather gets really bad though, I have a lightweight Sea To Summit Stuff Sack that I put my most important clothes into. I know I talk about it in at least one of my videos. I usually have the clothes I sleep in stuffed in this bag. Then, at night, I stuff the sack with my other clothes and use the sack as a pillow. In most cases though, I’ve found that my Lone Peak panniers do a pretty good job of keeping my clothes dry.

    2). I’ve only brought a second pair of shoes with me on one tour. On this tour I put each shoe is a separate Sea To Summit Stuff Sack and bungeed the two shoes onto the back of my bike. I figured that if the shoes got wet it wouldn’t be the end of the world, so I wasn’t too concerned about making space for them inside my panniers. If I had to choose between dry shoes and a dry sleeping bag or dry clothes, the clothes and sleeping bag always win, so the shoes go on the outside.

    3). My tent poles are short enough that they fit inside my tent bag and inside my rear pannier. There is no need to store the tent poles in a separate bag or inside of my sleeping role. The MSR Zoid that I have is perfect for one person on a bike tour – even though it is marketed as a two person tent. (The extra space is perfect for storing all your gear inside the tent at night)

    4). I’ve wanted to get a smaller sleeping mat for some time. I am a tall guy (6’1”), so I like the length of my current sleeping mat, but it definitely could be skinnier. This would save me a lot of weight. I will look into the Big Agnes Air Core that you have recommended. I just wish I could try it before I bought it.

    5). Finally, I don’t carry two separate jerseys and/or bike shorts. I wear the same pair day after day! That sounds horrible, doesn’t it? On my first tour I had multiple jerseys and found these clothes to be a huge waste of space. Now I use the same clothes day after day and do my best to clean out my gear as best I can while I ride. It sounds gross to wear the same clothes day after day, but having two pairs to switch between isn’t a whole lot better. Instead, I have found a great jersey that does a fantastic job of keeping me ventilated and keeping my bags from smelling like a decaying sack of potatoes. Usually, my riding clothes are even cleaner that the clothes I use to walk around camp/town. It’s strange how that works!

  4. Gordon Snapp says:

    Greetings. I like your site and enjoyed listening to your views and recommendations. However, as a courtesy to new tourers, who would likely benefit most from your site, I recommend that you stipulate more clearly that there are other ways of doing things that are equally valid; your preferences are what work for you. As long as you explain the reasons behind your choices, you’re okay. For instance, your choice to only bring one jersey and one pair of shorts. You clearly stated your reasons for this choice, but didn’t say that the vast majority of tourers make a different choice. Likewise, your choice to not use rain covers or plastic bags in your panniers – most tourers I’ve talked to would make a different choice. However, don’t get me wrong – I like your site and the way you explain things. You’ve given everything a lot of thought, and it’s important that a new tourer understand the importance of planning and paying attention to the details.

  5. Darren Alff says:

    Gordon. Thank you for your comment. I completely understand your point and I mention this numerous places on the website, but there are indeed multiple ways to conduct a bicycle tour. I never want to give off the impression that the things I suggest on this site are the only way to go about conducting a tour. The ideas, equipment, and strategies that I am suggesting on this site are things that have worked for me in the past and continue to work for me now.

    Over the past seven years I have received hundreds of emails, letters and phone calls from people looking to conduct a bicycle tour for themselves… and in each of these emails, letters and phone calls, the people asked me about specifically what “I” do on my tours. For this reason, I created this site to answer this question. And for this reason, I am going to always say what I do first, and then talk about what other people do. I talk about what I know best and then am open to suggestions, comments, questions, debate, etc.

    I understand that there are unlimited amounts of ways to tour by bike, but I am simply sharing my successful strategies with others. Whether they take that information and use it or not is completely up to them.

  6. KJ Blazek says:

    Which Lone Peak panniers do you use on your trips? Also, did you consider using a trailer instead of panniers?

  7. Nick says:

    I was surprised to see you promoting taking more than one spare inner tube… isn’t it soooo much easier to patch the tube at the end of that day than carry extra spares…. it takes me less than 5 minutes to patch a tire these days, and that’s got to be worth losing the weight and space of extra spare tubes. Nice site, btw… looking forward to you getting more articles!

  8. Darren Alff says:

    I have a few reasons for carrying more than one tube on my bike trips.

    First of all, the amount of tubes I carry depends on the distance and remoteness of my tour. I like to be as self-dependent as I possibly can when I’m on tour, so having multiple spare tubes is a part of that dependence for me. I like to know that I have a couple spares if I do get into a bad situation. Plus I have my patch kit on me as well if I really get into trouble and need to repair the tubes that I do have on hand.

    Secondly, I hate patching tubes! It’s simply no fun! Rather than patching a damaged tube, I would much rather pull out a brand new tube and ride off a few minutes later in confidence.

    Which brings me to my third point – which is confidence! Riding with a patched tire stresses me out! After patching a tube I am constantly worrying about my bike. I’m looking down and checking the pressure in my tires all the time. Riding on a patched tire just gives me one more thing to worry about. I have enough to worry about when I’m out riding, so worrying about my patch job while riding is not another thing I want to add to my list of worries.

    Finally, I think you should try to have your bike and your gear in the best condition it can be while you are out on the road… and in terms of tubes, that means riding on a brand new tube… not a tube that has been patched up one or more times. In my mind, riding on a patched tire is like riding at less than 100%. While a good patch job may not actually drop the performance of your bike in any way, I see riding with a patched tire as a last resort – not a first choice.

    So those are a few of my reasons for carrying two spare tubes on my tours. I know that others will disagree with me about this strategy, but this is a strategy I like to use and I’m going to stick with it until I find something that works better.

  9. Harry says:

    Thanks for the response. I must say you travel light. Most of us bring a few more luxuries but as you know us tourers are a particular bunch. By the way, I’m 6’2” and the Air Core works just great. The only down side is you need to blow it up. Some people don’t care for that but I don’t find it a problem. I tend to have plenty of time in camp to blow it up and the air mattress is very comfortable. It also deflates quickly. I picked up a brand new one for a great price on eBay! Keep Riding!

  10. Niles says:

    I have been wondering about this: which synthetic fabrics are worse, and which are better in relation to the “odiferousness” problem? [“Instead, I have found a great jersey that does a fantastic job of keeping me ventilated and keeping my bags from smelling like…”] I noticed those jerseys in one of the videos. Do you know what the materials are? The cycling jersey that you showed (and mentioned as being not so great in this department) — what material is that one made from? Thanks for the great videos and text! ***** [BTW I take it as understood that these are the things that work for you, not the only way…. (This is said with no disrespect for those who might see it differently — human beings are a diverse lot, after all)]

  11. Darren Alff says:

    Niles, to answer your question, I am not 100% sure what the two jerseys I use most are made of. I ripped the tags out of the jerseys a long time ago. My guess though is that they are both made out of polyester.

    I just recently purchased a new Fox Racing Jersey that I plan to tour with and it says it is 100% polyester.

    Like I said in my video, the reason I like the Fox Racing jerseys for touring is that they are not form fitting to your body and therefore do not pick up as much sweat as the typical bicycle jersey you see most people wearing when they are out on a bike.

    I still wear regular jerseys when I am riding my racing bike around town, but I would never wear a tight fitting jersey on a bike tour.

    The main reason I would never wear a tight fitting jersey on a tour is because it can begin to smell after a very short time. The second reason for wearing a looser jersey is that when you get off the bike, you don’t necessarily look like a bicyclist (which in my opinion, is a good thing).

    I’m not an expert in fabrics, so I’ll have to do more research on this. What I can say though is that you want to get something that breathes, something that won’t stink after a day or two in the saddle, and something that you feel comfortable wearing.

  12. Susan Reed says:

    A few of other essentials I always carry when I’m on the road: 1) On tours, I’ll take a long piece of nylon cord to be used as a clothesline and several clothes pins. At hotels you can usually string it up outdoors for things to dry faster. 2) Fingernail clipper, for the obvious, but also the clipper is great for removing thorns and truck retread wires out of your tires. 3) Swiss Army knife with an awl. The awl is great for digging glass out of tires. The tweezers on the knife aren’t strong enough to pull out thorns, goat heads, etc. from tires, hence the nail clipper. My Swiss Army Knife is a little less weighty and fits in smaller spaces than your Leatherman. Don’t have this rescue tool yet, but it’s on my “wish list” (Swiss Army Rescue Tool ) 4) I get really cold easily, especially when wet. So, I have some SealSkinz gloves and socks that really help.

  13. Steffen says:

    I was curious as to why you dont attach the bike lock and pump to your frame to save room? thx

  14. Darren Alff says:

    Steffen, I have ridden with the bike pump and lock attached to my bike, but in most cases, I try and keep the pump and the lock inside one of my panniers.

    The reason for this applies mainly to the bike pump. That reason being that when I go into a supermarket, post office, or other type of store, I don’t want to get anything stolen off my bike. I feel that by having the bike pump within sight of people passing by, they might be temped to quickly rip the pump off the bike and walk away. Because a bike pump is such an important part of a traveling cyclist’s gear, the last thing I want is to lose my pump.

    When I was college I went into a store for less than 30 seconds and when I returned to my bike, my pump and front light had been stolen off my bike. It happened once, so I try to prevent it from happening again by keeping the pump inside my panniers at al times.

    You might be thinking, “But you could just take the pump off whenever you go into a store?” And I would agree with you! My thinking though is that this constant process of putting the bike pump on the bike and then removing it later only wastes my time. You would have to do this every time you go into a store and every time you set up camp. I don’t want to have to worry about the pump every time I’m off the bike, so I keep it inside my panniers and forget about it.

    As to why I choose not to keep the lock wrapped around my bicycle frame, I don’t do that anymore because I just think it looks messy. It would save space to keep the lock wrapped around the bike, but I simply don’t like the look of that, so I choose to keep the lock inside one of my panniers.

    When these items are inside my bags, they’re out the way and give me yet another thing I don’t have to worry about when I’m out on the road.

  15. Brian O says:

    What is the best way to pack your bike for a long trip? Should you use the 60/40 weight system? 60% in front or 60% in back? What is the best way to place the weight on your bike? Thanks, Brian

  16. Darren Alff says:

    Using the 60/40 technique for packing you bicycle panniers is a good idea. Put 60% of the weight in the back and 40% in the front.

    I don’t exactly mention this is my article/video above, but I do usually put my larger and heavier items (ie stove, tent, sleeping bag, etc) in my rear panniers… and my lighter belongings (ie clothes) in my front panniers.

    Packing this way will generally keep you in the 60/40 range! Don’t worry too much about balancing out your bike, but definately keep weight in mind when packing your things.

    Hope that helps!

  17. Brian says:

    Darren- I am leaving for a tour from Santander, Spain to Budapest, Hungary on June 23. Your site has been a great resource in helping me figure out what gear I need and how to pack it. Thanks a lot!

  18. Nathan says:

    I just purchased the Big Agnes Insulated Air Core mentioned here from REI using my 20% off coupon good for the next week or so (coupon is for members; membership costs $20 and is good forever and gives you 10% back purchases that aren’t over 14% off–so it almost paid for itself with this one purchase). It was very cheap for a good piece of camping equipment and i can turn on my side and be comfortable. I spent a lot of time in REI trying that pad and an REI branded short self-inflating one that was about as light and compact, and it was the side comfort that sold me on the BA. I even stuffed the air core into a BA sleeping bag they had there (designed with a sleeve to use a pad as the bottom insulation) and buttoned up. I got funny looks from some people walking by when they noticed a face in the mummy bag on the floor! Anyway, you can try before you buy as you had wished — you can probably rent the pad from REI, too. They are available in multiple lengths, so you can get one to fit you.

    I have a couple questions for you. What do you think about kickstands or some other form of bike support? Has the lack thereof ever been a problem for you and have you tried using one on tour?

    Second, which front rack do you use and how do you like it? I’m trying to pick one.


  19. maggie says:

    Yikes! Where is your first aid kit? I make sure mine is super available. Another item that is very important in most of the places I tour is bug spray. Even though I’m a woman, I don’t think my toiletry kit is as large as yours. I carry Dr. Bronner’s concentrated liquid soap and use it to shampoo my hair and wash me and my clothing and dishes. I take less clothing that you do but wash my stuff every night. It dries on the rear of my bicyle attached by safety pins if it hasn’t dried by morning.
    I agree completely with the extra set of shoes issue. My extra pair is a very flat pair of water proof sandals. These I use in the shower of campsites so I don’t get foot crud from others. I go for the oh-so-dorky Euro sandals with socks look when tromping around.
    The only other bits of advice are for women. My technique for avoiding the exposure look when off the bike is to put on a very thin nylon wrap skirt on top of my bike shorts when off the bike. It takes about two seconds. The other idea I’ve used is carrying a pareo. I can use it as an extra blanket, a short dress, a shawl or a skirt. Handy as a wrap for late night trips to the bathroom.
    My sports bra doubles as a bathing suit top with the one pair of bathing suit bottoms that I take along as my only underwear. Another option is a one piece swimsuit which combined with the pareo and sandals make for a nice dress up outfit.
    When touring in the South a sleeping bag isn’t needed. I take a sleep sack, a double sheet or just the pareo.
    My last tip is about purchases along the way. Usually I try to mail them to a friend at home. That way I don’t have to carry them and I’m not limited to tiny things.

  20. Nick Horley says:

    Hi Darren. I discovered your excellent sites the other day courtesy of Bike Friday. My questions:

    1) Don’t you ever get uncomfortable in two pairs of shorts? The idea of a high mileage day with an extra pair fills me with horror, especially in hot weather. And doesn’t it defeat the object of anti-chafing measures like flatlock seams?

    2) What’s the total weight of all your bags?

    I hope your ride today has been wonderful!

  21. Darren Alff says:

    Thanks for all the great comments and questions everyone.

    Maggie, I brought a first aid kit of my first couple tours, never used it, and have since then stopped bringing one at all. To answer Jordan’s question, I’ve been on nine-long distance bicycle tours at this point in time and I have never needed my first aid kit – thank goodness.

    As for Nick’s question about my shorts, I have never had any problems riding in just one pair of shorts. I just wash them a lot and have never had any problems. I guess that might happen just because of the shorts I am using (or possibly my body type?). I don’t know.

    As for the weight of my gear, it varies. I’ve carried as little as 20 lbs and as much as 65 in the past. Because my bags shrink and expand while I am out on the road as I pick up food, water, clothing, etc… I don’t always know how much I am carrying. Generally I try and keep the gear under 50 lbs. Any more than that and it restricts you when trying to fly/travel with your things.

    Hope this helps. Keep the good comments/questions coming!

  22. Nick Horley says:

    Darren, my question about shorts was regarding your practice of wearing normal shorts over the top of your cycling shorts.

  23. Darren Alff says:

    Nick, I’m sorry. I misunderstood.

    Yes, for years I wore bike shorts underneath a thin pair of athletic type shorts. I no longer do this however. Nowadays I simply wear a pair of mountain bike type shorts. I’ve ditched the tight Lycra bike shorts entirely.

    The reason I’ve done this is because I’m now trying to travel with my bike and look less like a biker and more like a normal person when I step off the bike.

    But back when I was wearing the bike shorts under the pair of athletic shorts, the shorts I was wearing on top (soccer shorts actually) were so thin that they did not add any sort of friction or heat to my saddle. It was actually very comfortable.

    Does that answer the question?

  24. Nick Horley says:

    Thanks for the answer Darren. I only have lycra road-racing shorts but I suppose I accepted looking weird a long time ago! I haven’t been to any Latin countries though. This guy told me that in a lot of places in South America any kind of shorts are considered unmanly. Is this true? The guy told me he got so fed up with everyone sniggering at him that he took to wearing his long cycling tights the whole time. I reckon this would look even more strange but he says that it successfully restored his credibility. What do you reckon?

  25. Darren Alff says:

    I personally don’t find the Lycra bike shorts to be all that strange, unless they are too tight, transparent, or have holes in them or something like that. haha! But I’ve noticed that many people who are non-cyclists do take offense to the shorts.

    Whether we like it or not, people around us are judging us on the way we look… and so I do my best to try and blend in when I’m traveling now. This is just my personal choice. But I not longer want to look like a cyclist. When I am off the bike, I want to be able to step up to a complete stranger and not have him or her immediately looking down at me because of the way I look, the clothes I am wearing, etc.

    This, of course, can be difficult to do when traveling by bike, but I think it’s something worth attempting. I could be totally wrong about this… and might change my mind at some point in the future. But for now, I’m doing my best to blend in when I’m off the bike. And for me, that means not wearing the Lycra bike shorts.

  26. Darren Alff says:

    I don’t know if wearing long pants will necessarily help get you more respect out on the road. I think shorts are fine in most cases. It just depends what kind of shorts you choose to wear and how short the shorts actually are.

    I can’t imagine having to wear long pants and ride my bike right now. It’s nearly 100 degrees and burning hot. I wouldn’t do it. But this winter when I was riding in Switzerland and Austria, I wore long pants every day and I loved it. I fit right in when I was on and off the bike… and stayed warm as well.

  27. Muddah says:

    OK, So I hate waking up to a wet bike. and enjoy the security of not having my “only means of transportation” out in the open if I am away from the campsite.

    What do you do? Can You fit your bike into your tent? Does it make since to add that 1lb Arkel bike cover to my packing list?

    Any thoughts – Excellent video – very specific and i like that

  28. Darren Alff says:

    Muddah, I can not fit my bike inside my tent and usually have little problem leaving my tent outside (just make sure you lock it up). If you don’t like sitting on a wet bicycle seat in the morning, I would suggest simply putting a plastic bag over the seat at night. I think carrying the bike cover is unnecessary. It’s just extra weight that you will likely never use.

  29. Elvis says:

    Hey every one! My two cents on off the bike clothing is ExOfficio Amphi convertible paints. The legs zip off and have an under were liner built in, like a swim suit. Plus UV protection and dries in minutes. If you shop hard ( you can get them cheep and with “Insect Sheild”, that’s built in bug spray. ExOfficio air strips long sleeve shirts are awesome to. I work in the Middle East and they are like a uniform. The paints and shirt will fit in a water bottle if you really try. The convertible paints tick off 3 pieces of clothing, pants, shorts and swim suit! ExOfficio really stand behind their product like no one else I have warranted 3 items with them and they took care of me when they should have told me to take a hike!

    My 3rd cent on packing and preparing. Ask yourself on these questions on everything you bring with you. Does it have more than one use? Do I really need it? Will I use it? Argue both sides of the argument. I’m a chronic OVER packer! In the past few years I have gone from 2 32 pound checked luggage and day pack to 20 pound bag and small day pack for 2 week African safari. It’s a constant battle. I could have taken les. Next time it may be just the pack.

  30. Elvis says:

    Darren / Everyone
    What’s your thought on Disc brakes on a mountain touring bike for unsupported off road touring. I was thinking Avid BB-7’s with 203mm rotors front and rear. I’ plain on using a Gunnar rock tour with a ridged fork.

    Second question what suspension fork do you recommend to use with front panniers?

  31. Darren Alff says:


    As for the disc brakes on a mountain bike, this is fine, but it really depends where you are planning to go in the world. If you are planning to travel to remote places of the world, disc brake parts are going to be difficult or impossible to find. In most of North America, Europe and Australia however, you should be able to find replacement parts relatively easy. So this is something to consider. If you still want to use disc brakes on an unsupported tour in remote places of the world, I would recommend bringing some replacement parts with you – just in case.

    As for what suspension fork to use with front panniers – this is a tricky question. It’s a tricky question because suspension forks are not typically made to be used with panniers. There are some racks, however, that have been designed to be used with suspension forks. So, usually, what fork you get depends on what type of rack you are going to be using. Or, what rack you get depends on what type of fork you bike has on it. The two have to go together!

  32. Andre says:

    Thx for the info
    I sweat a lot during cycling, i don’t think that 1 cloth to change is enough for me. how do you manage your laundry ?

  33. Darren Alff says:

    Andre, are you talking about the bath towel? Only having 1 bath towel? You could bring two if you wanted. The items I’ve packed here are just a guideline. You could always pack two towels and then just throw the other away if you find that you are not using it as much as you thought you would.

    While on my bike tours I try and do my laundry whenever there is an opportunity. Sometimes that means washing my clothes and towel every single day. Other times it might mean going for a week or more without doing my laundry. And by laundry, that can mean anything from washing my clothes in an actual washing machine or in a sink, bathtub, or natural body of water. Whatever I can find.

    I sweat a lot too when I ride in the summer… so you just gotta do what you can to stay clean and keep your clothes and belongings clean as well. But you also gotta be okay with getting a little dirty as well.

  34. Dwight says:

    I appreciate the dialogue here.

    My wife, friends and I tour with Shimano sandals. Having used many shoes before, road, off-road, etc, these are the only cycling shoes I’ll ever use again. They are wonderful in the summer. You can wear with socks as it gets cooler. And in the deeper cold, a pair of Cabella insulated socks make the package. They weather the weather fine, dry quickly and at the end of the day, they are fine for off-bike use.

    One pair of shoes for the trip. And beautifully tanned toes.

  35. Nick Horley says:

    I didn’t find Shimano sandals comfortable. They’re also very heavy, at 28 ounces per pair. 28 ounces of rotating weight at the end of the cranks gives you a lot of inertia to overcome – why waste your pedalling energy? My cycling shoes are 13 ounces and the street shoes I take touring are less than 10 ounces. They even look good enough to get compliments from women, something you’ll never get from sandals.

  36. Glen Aldridge says:

    Hi Darren & Thank you so much for the very useful information. You have touched on my question briefly regarding equipment in your tent. While I travel by trike & a trailer I have experienced the advantages & disadvantages of pulling a trailer but so far on my short trips I wouldn’t have it any other way. Across country might be a different story though. One problem that I have yet to solve is keeping items secure in the trailer either overnight or while in a store. Obviously there isn’t room in the tent for the trike & trailer so everything is vulnerable. So far I have been lucky but would prefer a more secure solution. I have ordered a vibration alarm which might discourage would be thieves or at least notify me of someone tampering with my stuff so this might be one solution./Glen

  37. Bicycle Touring Pro says:

    Glen, securing your tent at night is pretty easy. You usually don’t have to worry about it too much as long as you leave the trailer parked right next to your tent. If you are traveling with anthing valuable (like a computer, cell phone, etc) I would bring those items into your tent at night, but the rest of the stuff you can just leave outside in your trailer. Leave the trailer next to your tent and you shouldn’t have any problems. You can even tie a piece of string around the trailer and attach the other end of the string to one of the poles on your tent. That way, if someone does try to pull your trailer away from the tent, the tent will shake and you will wake up to stop the person.

    Going into a store or for a long period of time and securing your belongings out on the street, however, is another thing. Read this article and the comments made there, as I think the info will help you out:

  38. Katy says:


    I am going on a bike trip second week of May from Georgia to San Antonio, TX and was planning to take only rear panniers and use a saddle pannier as well. My bike doesn’t have a place in the front to attach a front rack, so I didn’t plan on using front panniers. I know the weight is going to be off, do you think that will be a huge deal? I’m riding a Specialized Sectuer Sport road bike.

    This will be my first long distance ride and I don’t have a set length of time for the trip. Is a sleeping bag necessary or can I bring just a sleep sack or sheet? And do I need a sleeping pad or can I do without? I was not going to bring any cookware (stove, etc) and wanted to travel as light as possible.

    Any tips and advice is appreciated. Also, I’m going alone, should I invest in a GPS or would Adventure Cycling Association maps be enough.



    • Bicycle Touring Pro says:

      Hi Katy,

      Your plans sound great, but I think that if you plan to camp, you are definitely going to want to bring a sleeping pad and sheet at the very least. It’s summer time now, so the nights are going to be quite warm (hopefully), so you probably can get away with just a sheet or light blanket. But sleeping on the ground sucks! So definitely invest in a sleeping pad of some kind.

      As for carrying all the weight on the back of your bike, that is fine as long as you keep the weight as low as possible. If you aren’t going to be carrying a stove and stuff like that, and you just have a change of clothes, tent, food and bike tools on the back of your bike, you should be fine. Just make sure you have a quality rack back there.

      Other than that, you should be great!

      You don’t need a GPS unless you are bad with maps. I’m really good at navigation, and on my first bike trip I didn’t even carry a map (or GPS) of any kind. I just used the road signs and was able to find my way from Oregon to Mexico without the aid of a map. But having a map, at the very least, is a good idea. And a GPS is fun, but not 100% needed.

      If you have any other questions, let me know. Otherwise, have fun… and send me a postcard from the road!

  39. Hayes says:

    Hey I was wondering what racks you were using both front and rear with the lone peaks. How does the front rack attach to the forks, and then how do the panniers attach to it? I want the same setup but on one of my race bikes and I don’t know how you could attach the front rack or pannier. Do they make some panniers that just clamp on the forks with rubber? Do you see any way to make this work on a non touring bike? There’s got to be a way.. thanks

  40. Brent says:

    Sorry, your trailer vs pannier debate has a few points missing. I have travelled with both now over thousands of kilometers each.

    Firstly, I mostly agree with you about your points, but you have missed the trailers benefits!

    The first thing I don’t agree with is the “easier to unhitch panniers” bit. When on a tour with a friend (who had panniers) and I had a bob ibex, for me to unhitch took about 10 seconds. For him, it took a least 2 minutes of pulling his tent etc off his rack then fiddling around with 4 different attachment points. The trailer has 1 attachment point. Easy to see its going to take less time. With the bob Ibex, pull the pins out and lift it off the axle and you are unhitched. With panniers, usually it involves unweighting the pannier, pushing the unhitch and releasing x4. Add onto that anything you put on the rack under your seat. When on my tour my friend and I unhitched a number of times to ride around towns, by the third time of me waiting for him he agreed mine was much easier and faster. Once the trailer is unhitched you also only have to worry about 1 bag (if you are leaving it somewhere), not 4 or 5. You also are much lighter due to not having the weight of the racks.

    Most of my tours are in developing countries or offroad and you are right – the bob ibex is perfect for this. But there is another advantage to trailers that you don’t specify: with a (good) trailer you are much less likely to have something go wrong with your gear if you are using a stock bike and arguably even if you are using a touring bike. The reason for this is the weight is removed from your frame and is lower down, connected to your back axle (in the case of the bob ibex). This means you have dramatically less potential for breaking spokes/wheels especially and frame parts in the extreme. Although people will say “But you have another thing to go wrong!” referring to your trailers parts – again the weight is distributed and the trailer is designed exactly for this purpose. The bike may not be. And with 4 attachment points and 4 racks for panniers, I would argue the chance of a rack or pannier attachement breaking is much greater. So, with less likely to go wrong, if you are going way out into the sticks where the distance to the nearest bike shops can be counted in the hundreds of kilometers, I would go with a trailer.

    There are other benefits too – there seems to be more storage with a trailer and I find the riding feeling of a trailer much safer. The main drawbacks for me are: getting it to where I want to go (they don’t travel well) and the fact that you tend to carry a lot more because you can!

    • Bicycle Touring Pro says:

      Hey Brent. Thanks for the comments… and I actually agree with you on everything that you’ve said here. Trailers can be easy to unhitch… and the fact that you have only one big thing to deal with can be easier at times. It can, however, be more difficult as well. For example, I usually sleep with my belongings inside the tent with me… and in a tiny 1 man tent, I wouldn’t be able to do that with a trailer (unless I removed the BOB bag from the trailer each night .) And if you wanted to take a trail in Europe, for example, while pulling a big long trailer, that might pove to be difficult. But having a much more compact set of panniers that don’t take up as much room, is usualy a better way to go. So it’s one of those things, I think, that just really depends on the situation. It depends on what types of roads you are going to be traveling on, which countries you plan to visit, if you are going to be taking other means of transportation, how much weight/gear you are carrying, etc.

    • Peter Chung says:

      I have toured with both and I think it comes down to simply becoming familiar with your setup. I have had success (i.e. they both do the job of carrying your gear) and failures with both.

      The problem I had with my panniers is one of the bolts on my Ortlieb panniers came lose and I never found it… …this made the bag hang somewhat precariously from its hook rail. I later hit up a Home Depot and installed a correct fitting nut (However the bolt was sticking out on the inside of the pannier…I never got around to covering it with electrical tape.) So, for panniers I think it is important to not overstuff the bags or else there will be too much pressure on these nuts and bolt. Also, I think it is important to use a “glue” to hold the nuts from coming undone–something like “Lock Tight.” I may have that name wrong, but you get the gist.

      The problem I had with my trailer was when it “worked” the rear axle of the back wheel off the rear stay. I had not tightened my quick release axle tight enough and on a climb, it caused my rear wheel to come off the rear triangle. Luckily, none of the spokes or the rear triangle broke, but it was quite the scare.

      In regards to airline or bus travel, I have traveled with panniers and I think that the pannier route when traveling would be easier. But, I think that it can be done with a trailer. I think that the BOB trailer (that I use) can be boxed within airline specifications. BTW, they do sell a soft travel case which can be rolled up, but it may be more convenient to just use cardboard and taped the $#!+ out of it. I would also use box tape to create a carry handle.

      To summarize, I do like using my trailer more (I just need to tighten that rear axle and buy a tube and tire for the trailer’s rear wheel.)

  41. Eric Hendrickson says:

    One tool we always carry on long tours is a Stein Mini Cassette Lock tool with several spokes wrapped in drinking straws stashed onside the handle bar of the bike. It can be used to remove either the lock ring for disc brakes or the lock ring for the cassette.

    • Bicycle Touring Pro says:

      You said you carry these tools with you, but have you ever used them? That’s the question? I’ve toured for 11 years and never needed that tool on my travels, so I just wonder if it is worth carrying. What do you think? Have you needed it?

  42. Eric Hendrickson says:

    When you break a back spoke it is really the only way to fix it. I have used it a couple of time once on mine, my fault, jumping a rock got a pinch flat and broken spoke all because I was board and playing around and I have fixed others for them also. One per group in more then enough. Road biking short of a hole in the road you should not break a spoke as long as the wheel is true. One spoke in just over 5000 miles times two on mostly dirt isn’t bad. It was minor compared to some of the other stuff that failed on our bikes. Needed to replace pad, easy job, broken saddle, brooks to a Canadian tire saddle with some comfort issues, broken bolt in the rack, which was fixed by an ATV shop, and fuel, we had to burn several different types which did not make the stove happy. But so goes wilderness off road biking. We are off again tomorrow for another two week adventure in northern Quebec. As always thanks for the great information and the site you provide others. BTW, we generally carry 8-12 days worth of foods in remote areas.

  43. Aqua says:

    I see the caption on the video that says “The video that was in this spot originally has been replaced with this new, updated version.” but, when was this latest video posted. I only ask because I notice you have Ortlieb Bike-Packer Plus(!) front and rear panniers and I wanted to know how long you have been using them, and how much you like them. I was thinking about grabbing a pair or rear panniers (I’m going to tour on a recumbent trike so I only need rear panniers). Any and all info would be appreciated. I know this is an old post but, I’m enjoying your site thus far and I am excited to execute my first real tour!
    Thank you and take care

  44. Rhonda says:

    HI Darren
    I am wondering as a solo traveler, what is the best way to transport ones collection of panniers from the place you park your bike to your hotel room, or where ever you want to go. Carrying 2 or 4 panniers, plus a handlebar bag can be a bit cumbersome. I have some older Ortlieb backpacker plus panniers and am thinking that perhaps I could bungy cord them together, but I am wondering if you have some better suggestions.

  45. razvan says:

    Hi Darren,
    i found you on youtube recently, and from that moment on a new world opened in front of me thanks to you and all your precious information that you share with us. with couple of friends, we just started to plan our first bike tour next year in july, based on what you post here. once again, thank you very much for your info. we’ll keep you watching on everything you do. good luck!

  46. Cynthia says:

    This is excellent, thanks! Any thoughts on what goes in which pannier (aside from the obvious balancing of weight)? I’ve heard the day-use stuff goes on the right side for easier access, and the camping gear goes on the left. What’s the wisdom here?

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