Overpacking: What One Bike Tourist Left Behind

Keith and his heavily loaded bicycle.

Ask any experienced bike tourist and they’ll certainly have a story about over packing and the things that never should have come along in their panniers.

For us, the 2 plastic champagne flutes were the first to go. As newbie bike travellers, we put them in our panniers, while conjuring up dreams of romantic picnics in the flower-filled fields of Europe.

Reality soon hit. They took up too much space and our plastic camp mugs worked as well for wine as they did for morning coffee. A bit further down the road, we got rid of large, heavy wrench for taking off pedals (we could always get a bike shop to do this for us), a kite and one too many t-shirts.

So when Keith rolled up to our front door last week, on his way to India, and said he had to lighten his bags, we were curious to see what would ultimately go.

Three days later, after a lot of sorting and debating, he handed us a large bag with a good 2 kilograms worth of things in it. In volume, the bag would easily fill a front pannier – space that Keith can now use for food or water when he needs to carry extra supplies.

Here is what he left behind…


Everything Keith left behind…

1. Base Layer – Keith already had an identical base layer. There was no point in carrying 2 of these shirts. They’re not something you’ll wear every day so just 1 is sufficient.

2. Sunglasses – Again, Keith had a pair of sunglasses. Three pairs of sunglasses is definitely excessive!

3. Strainer – The strainer insert that came with Keith’s dish set already performed this task, and the one he took along was more compact than the one he left behind.

4. Windscreen – This is partly a case of duplication (a windscreen came with Keith’s stove) and partly a case of bad design. The windscreen doesn’t go all the way around the stove, making it of limited usefulness in a strong breeze.

5. Extra Spokes – Keith had 3 times this many spokes with him. Generally, 3-4 spokes for the front and back wheels are enough.

6. Buff – Duplication, again!

7. Trainers – Keith was also carrying a pair of hiking boots, since he plans to explore the mountains of Slovakia. The hiking boots can be used in town too, making the sneakers redundant.

8. Ortlieb Backpack Adapter – He already had a small backpack, and this backpack adapter isn’t so comfortable.

9. Platypus Water Holder – More duplication. Keith already had several water containers, including an Ortlieb water carrier, with a shower attachment.

10. Camp Lantern – Who needs one of these when you have headtorches and bike lights?

11. Heavy Books – The small atlas was interesting but not detailed enough to be useful. A better option would be to save the Wikipedia entry for each country on a laptop or iPhone that you might be carrying. The Bicycle Touring Holland book had a series of smaller tours (hard to follow when you’re heading in a straight line across the country) and would soon be out of range.

12. Mosquito Headnet – This might be good for tours in some areas, like northern Canada or Russia, but for Keith’s route through Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary, it’s not really necessary. The mosquitos aren’t that bad.

13. Belt – More duplication.

This is just one bike tourist’s clean out. Have you had to lighten your panniers in the past? What did you discard, and why? Tell us by leaving a comment.



  1. Becky
    1st June 2010 at 3:04 am #

    Anyone want to buy an Ortlieb backpack attachment? Foolishly, we actually have two! We accidently packed on when we were packing up the house, and felt we needed it for out train trip, so we purchased a second one. It was quickly left sent home, only being used the one time. A small comfortable day-pack is a much more useful accessory. So, I definitely agree with leaving that one behind – better yet, leave it in the store!

  2. Steve
    1st June 2010 at 7:33 am #

    On one trip I shipped my stove and cooking gear home and just ate cold food for the rest of the way. A good choice for warm weather traveling. I’ve also taken guide books, ripped out the pages I plan to use and sent the rest of the book home. Some guide books are way too thick!

    • Len
      8th June 2010 at 3:49 pm #

      Steve, on our annual trips through Asia, we always buy the “knockoff/pirated” versions of Lonely Planet for $1 or $2 and then just take an exacto knife and slit only the pages we need, then staple together. There is way too much garbage pages in a guidebook on culture, food, people, etc.

  3. Doug Nienhuis
    1st June 2010 at 8:08 am #

    I can’t remember all the things that I left behind anymore. However, I generally overpack. It almost seems impossible to avoid. One time, I deliberately brought along a roll of packing tape and a big black magic marker, because I KNEW that in the first week, I’d be hitting a post office and shipping home a box of unneeded items. Figured I might as well bring the packing tape and marker instead of buying them later.

    A better solution, of course, is to pack more sensibly right from the beginning. Yet, it’s hard to do. A useful exercise is to plan a pre-bike ride bike ride. It can be as simple as just riding to a campground five or ten kilometers away, spending the night, and riding back again. Load up the bike as if you were going on your long trip, and then go for a one-day ride and camp overnight – camping overnight for at least one night is the key. Then you instantly get a better persepctive on what is unnecessary and you can deal with it before you leave.

    This overpacking isn’t limited to cycling. I remember a long time ago doing a trek in Nepal. My pack was way too heavy, as were the packs of my hiking companions. The people in the first village we stayed in made out like bandits as the five of us dumped a ton of gear and left it there. (I even had a steel can of Gillette shaving cream – that stayed behind in a heartbeat!)I got the impression that they were used to this as every year dozens of trekkers would do the same.

    I still have a photograph of one of my hiking companions cutting the legs off another person’s jeans – while the person was still wearing them! That picture is always a good reminder to try to be sensible while packing.

    However, unless you are really serious about this, it’s almost impossible to avoid overpacking. Buying cycling gear and camping gear is simply too much fun to resist. And it’s so much easier today with all the online shopping you can do. When I got ready for my trip to Ethiopia, I had boxes arriving at my door every couple of days. It was Christmas every day.

    Having said that, I wouldn’t be happy going to the opposite extreme either – traveling super light with nothing. A great thing about cycling is the independence of it. And that independence is enhanced by having the stuff you need. For me, a tent is a good example. It makes sense to buy the smallest and lightest tent you can find. Yet, a really small tent is little more than an overgrown raincoat. It’s just a shelter and not a home. I prefer to have a roomy tent so that I am comfortable inside it and it feels like a home. It’s heavier and a pain to carry around, but it is worth it to me.

    In the end, though, packing for me is something that it’s not worth stressing out about. It’s almost impossible to predict what the conditions will be like and what you will end up needing/wanting or not needing. I end up (as Keith has obviously started to do) shaping and modifying my gear and packing style as I go. You take educated guesses and do the best you can before you go, but chances are you’ll bring stuff you don’t need and not bring stuff you wish you DID have. You just shouldn’t kick yourself over mistakes. Just enjoy the trip and don’t let all the gear get in the way of the trip itself. The gear is just the means to an end, after all. The important thing is where you’re going and the people you’ll meet and the places you’ll see.

  4. Grace Johnson
    1st June 2010 at 11:38 am #

    “Buying cycling gear and camping gear is simply too much fun to resist.” Doug Nienhuis

    Are there cyclists who can actually walk into an outdoor camping / cycling gear shop and leave without buying anything?

    • Doug Nienhuis
      1st June 2010 at 1:37 pm #

      Not me. I certainly can’t resist. I always walk out with something. 🙂

    • Lindsay
      8th June 2010 at 10:26 am #

      Frequently when I’m on the road, I’ll go into a bike shop if I see one. Just in case there’s something that I might just maybe need, you know?

      In Beihai, China, we did this, and ended up getting invited to a big Christmas party. Good times.

  5. Helen D
    1st June 2010 at 9:34 pm #

    Re the Ortlieb rucksack converters, I have an Alpkit Gourdon backpack which I use as a drybag on my rack to carry my tent. It’s got an elastic cord and a couple of bottle holder on the outside and I’m finding it incredibly useful.

  6. friedel
    2nd June 2010 at 5:21 am #

    I just heard from Keith. He’s now dumped more stuff: a pair of jeans and a Lonely Planet book.

  7. Andrea
    7th June 2010 at 1:57 pm #

    I can’t believe anyone would be nuts enough take a pair of jeans on a cycling tour. But obviously Keith is. Now I’m waiting to hear that the next thing he dumps is akin to his favourite stuffed toy – probably a giant Panda. (warning: I’m using “humour”)

    • friedel
      7th June 2010 at 2:02 pm #

      We considered taking jeans when we first started. I think it’s a comfort thing – something you really enjoy at home that you can’t imagine living without on the road. Andrew still says he wishes he had a pair sometimes when we’re cycling, but I think if he had to wash and dry them just once he’d be cured of that.

      • Doug W
        17th August 2010 at 4:53 pm #

        Wouldn’t ever take jeans, but a nice pair of baggy cotton pants makes for great campwear… if you don’t mind the dry time after washing them (not nearly as long as jeans though).

      • southwind
        22nd August 2010 at 2:55 pm #

        I definitely always take a pair of lightweight, easy-to-dry “backpacking” style long pants. Depending on location, some evenings can be chilly, and a rest day in a town is usually more comfortable in pants (and zip-off pants give the option of shorts). Depending on anticipated climate, I tend to take thermal leggings (‘longjohns’ if you want to call them that), which go well under lightweight pants.
        Also, for foot wear I usually take sandals rather than (a second pair of) closed shoes (i.e. in addition to cycle shoes), again for a rest day or evening, and I don’t mind to wear them with socks – fashion police go home!

  8. Stephen Lord
    7th June 2010 at 2:36 pm #

    Friedel — you let him leave you with those jeans still in his panniers? How could you?

    • friedel
      7th June 2010 at 2:39 pm #

      You’re right. I’ll withdraw our names from WarmShowers. We’re clearly not qualified hosts 😉

  9. Pete and Christine
    9th June 2010 at 5:29 pm #

    We posted 3.9kg of my wife’s stuff home yesterday and my only contribution was a tupperware box – what is it about women and packing? On the flipside, items that we only packed at the last minute but were far from being sent home are our groundsheet – used as a bike cover/to sit on/temporary shelter; and our travel kettle – you can almost always blag a plug in and it saves loads of petrol for the stove.

  10. Jack
    10th July 2010 at 6:32 pm #

    We life at the southern entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway, a beautiful but very challenging road. We host bike tourist as they begin their tour of the parkway and that often involves a trip to the post office as riders mail gear back home before hitting the high peaks. One rider mailed home over 40 lbs of gear!

    Great post, Jack

  11. Keef
    24th July 2010 at 5:23 am #

    Good to be the topic of this section!
    Yes fully and totally overloaded looking back to that 8 weeks ago.(the start of my pedal)
    Now that I am well into the summer months i now understand just how little you really need on the road.
    You will all be pleased to hear that my four panniers are ony three quarters full and very well balanced,yes space for food as I do eat allot.
    Good job on this section Friedel 🙂
    P.S life just isn’t the same with out those howies jeans 😉

  12. Bob Adair
    12th August 2010 at 6:11 pm #

    For my last few warm weather trips, I have taken only Teva sandals – no shoes at all. I wear socks with them to get to the airport (it’s usually winter at home when I leave), but once at my destination I find they are all I need. They’re cool on your feet, rigid enough to be comfortable for cycling (I’ve gone back to plastic ‘rat traps’ instead of clipless pedals), and are equally comfortable for sight seeing in towns. They probably aren’t suitable for going to the opera, but I’ve rarely felt under dressed, given that it’s either summer or a third world country. They do require a good scrubbing once a week, but the weight saving and simplicity (no socks to wash) make them my first choice.

    • Doug W
      17th August 2010 at 4:56 pm #

      I had to laugh at the guidebooks. This was the main reason we just bought his/her Kindles. Can shop for english language books (and most guidebooks) anywhere in the world you get cell service and they automatically download to both our Kindles since they’re on the same household account. They weigh next to nothing and are only a half inch thick, including the protective cover. Sorry to sound like a commercial, but they really do offer the perfect solution to the guidebook/novels heft/space issue. We’re already starting to pre-load our Kindles with guidebooks for our RTW trip. 🙂

    • Max Schneider
      13th January 2015 at 10:32 am #

      I second that. Not only are there no socks to wash there are also no socks to take along (=space saved). (However I always take one pair for cold planes/cold nights/cold buses)

      If it is a warm climate (or summer) I can also forego long pants. If it gets really chilly I just wear my log johns (thermal underwear) with my shorts. Looks silly but gets the job done. Bonus: if it rains you neither have to worry about wet shoes / wet socks nor how to dry them.

  13. Maarten
    18th August 2010 at 3:06 pm #

    I know this will sound really silly to most of you but after quite some debating we have finally decided to leave behind (someone will take it back home for us) our tent. We are on our way from Amsterdam to the Far East (exactly where we don’t know yet..) and so far we haven’t used our tent a single time at all. All nights we spent outside we were perfectly OK with our hammocks (its got a mosquitonet and we both have a tarp) I like it so much better than a tent! Its quicker to set up and take down, you don’t need a flat surface (ok, you do need something to attach it to but this is seldom a problem) in general i find it more comfortable and i feel more safe being able to keep an eye on the bikes and see right away when someone is approaching. If someone has had a similar experience (leaving tent behind) and regretted it in the end, i would glad to hear about it!

    Keep on cycling in a free world!


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    4th April 2011 at 8:01 am #

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