Lightening The Load: Another Overpacking Tale

bike5Many of you will remember Keith: the cyclist who dumped 2kg of gear from his panniers.

Now we have another story from a bike tourist who’s been lightening his load.

Steve, a 41-year-old on an 18 month tour of Australia, has discarded a massive 20kg of weight from his bags!

In this interview, Steve tells us about what he dropped, and some of the reasons he overpacked in the first place.

1. You’ve removed a phenomenal amount of stuff from your panniers. What did you decide to stop carrying?

So many little things! It all adds up amazingly. First to go were things like a 2nd spare tube, t-shirts, spare shorts, socks, a big Colorado winter Jacket.

I revised my clothes, for one thing, as well as some of my camp cooking gear, bike spares, and food I carried. It was a complete rationalisation and reduction, and being smarter with the clothes combinations I wear.

I bought a new and lighter sleeping bag and tent, saving another 2kg. I gave away my spare oil burner for the stove, and a stove pot too. I dropped an inflatable pillow (my clothes stuffed into a pillow cover now suffices), a small day-backpack, a fold-up camp chair….

2. What made you realise that you needed to lighten your bags, and how did you decide what to weed out?

I only made it 100km down the road and began to get pains in my left ankle, a trip to the Doctor revealed a kind of bursitis around the Achilles tendon. The other ankle soon went the same way. The cause seemed obvious enough, my whole bike weighed about 60kg, and I weigh 100kg, being a 6’3″ tall fellow.

bike25 (1)

3. Did you ship those things home, or just leave them behind somewhere?

Some of it went home, but a lot I have given away or traded to other campers and caravaners along the way.

4. Why do you think you ended up with so much extra weight in the first place?

bike-33I knew I had to be (at times) totally self-sufficient, which is true, but not that often. The small country towns you pass through are usually well equipped for travellers. Not only that, you get wiser and more resourceful as you go.

For instance, I always seem to end up with a plastic chair or something decent enough to sit on at the campsites and van parks. This saves 800g right there. I guess its natural for us to pack too much at the start of any new trip.

5. How have you benefited from a lighter load, and is there anything you’d like to have back again?

Speed! Reduced effort! And a much better handling machine, plus a more managable system of setting up or striking camp.

Something I miss? I can’t say there is! I hope that doesn’t sound unemotional, but in retrospect the things I dropped were all superfluous to my riding and camping overall. The things that matter, like my tool kit, world band radio, compact camera, and a thumb drive packed full of my last computer’s contents are the most important materially.

I had to be ruthless with all my material possesions before departing anyway. I sold three quarters of my stuff in a weekend garage sale to help fund the journey.

6. What advice would you give to other bike tourists, to help them avoid overpacking?

bike-28 cliftonGee that’s tough! I still feel like a beginner myself 6 weeks down the track.

Get smart with your clothing. The top of the line alpine camping clothing and gear is expensive for a reason; it works and is light, enabling you to reduce some of your regular clothing needs for the cold season.

Cookware: it’s not hard to keep it light these days. Metho stoves work well. One 20cm pan and a large enamel mug that doubles as a stove pot is enough.

Only carry one spare tube if you must; you will have a puncture repair kit no doubt and good touring tyres rarely puncture. Carry the minimum in spares and tools. I love to turn a spanner so my toolkit and spares comes to 1.6kg. It’s the price to pay for mechanical independence.

Lastly, try and keep your handle bar-bag a smallish one with external pockets, with a side mesh, so you can carry it around as a large bum-bag (or over the shoulder as a man-bag, if you are a bloke). A smaller bar-bag helps keep your riding center of gravity lower too.

The problem with luggage space is that you will tend to fill it. I find a set of Ortlieb rollers for the rear and a set of 15L Carradice Super-C panniers to be ample storage space for fully self-sufficient touring. I want to meet other tourers, to compare notes and our setups so I might learn some more about this fascinating and wonderful way to live and travel.


Many thanks to Steve, for taking the time out of his tour to do this interview, and for supplying the photos.


  1. Stuart Woolger
    2nd September 2010 at 4:29 pm #

    I can relate to Steve’s story, after week one of the Trans Am I had sent home almost 1.5 kilos of gear! I’m still overloaded even into my fourth month on the road, but on the bright side you get a damn good work out every day. I’ve lost 40lbs in body weight!

  2. steve
    15th September 2010 at 4:23 am #

    I forgot to mention to Friedel that i also gave away my centrestand as well! that saved another 750 grams. Other little things like revising my first aid kit helped as well.

    In retrospect, i do miss my small backpack in some ways, it was so useful for going shopping and for clothes when showering. I’m still resisting the temptation to buy another!

    • Gareth
      15th September 2010 at 7:44 pm #

      I’ve used one of those draw string backpacks for carrying clothes and small amounts of shopping. It’s nothing like as confortable as a real backpack, but it weighs very little and doesn’t take up much space.

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