I’m far from the world’s most organized person, but being on a bike tour brings out something slightly obsessive in me about ‘everything in its place’.
Panniers are, after all, a bit of a black hole. Once something falls down to the bottom, you never find it again. And who really enjoys opening up a pannier, expecting that thing you need to be at the top and then finding it’s not? The next thing you know, you’ve emptied all 4 of your panniers, plus your handlebar bag, only to discover that you actually packed the rain gear with the tent on the back of the bike. In the meantime, the downpour has gotten heavier, and you’re already soaked.
And let’s not even talk about arriving in camp, only to discover you’ve forgotten the toilet paper or your toothbrush. I can’t be the only one who’s had this experience…
Happily, there are some tips that help keep disorganization disaster from happening too often. At least, these are some that work for me.
#1 – Make A List
I used to think you didn’t need a packing list for bike touring. After all, it was all pretty obvious, right? Clothes, bike tools, tent, sleeping bag. Well, I was wrong. I can guarantee that without a list I will forget something. It’ll probably be something that should have been so easy to remember as well, like socks or a hairbrush or a cup to drink out of. There are so many things to pack on tour, it’s easy to overlook just one.
#2 – Put Things Back In The Same Place
Now that you’ve packed using a list – so you know you have everything you need – make sure you find a place for everything and put it there every time. After you’ve put your fleece back in the same spot 10 times, you’ll instinctively know where it is. I personally like to group things as well, so one pannier is mostly for food, another for clothes, a third one for bike tools and so on.
A great tip for ensuring things don’t get misplaced is to put labels on the back of your panniers, listing everything that goes inside. The labels can act not only as a way to keep things sorted on tour, but also as a packing list for future tips.
#3 – Separate Things Into Bags
Lots of shops sell small, multi-coloured stuff sacks. Get a bunch and use them to further organise your gear. Socks can go in one bag, t-shirts in another. The more colours the better. It’s much easier to spy a red bag and know your cold-weather clothing is inside, than to dig through the pannier, trying to separate bandanas from base layers.
#4 – Get A Notebook (a paper one, not a laptop!)
Things come to mind when you’re cycling. You remember that the shops will be closed on Sunday, so you need to pick up more food, that you’re almost out of sunscreen or that you need to send mom an email to wish her a happy birthday. When you get into town and have to remember all the things you thought of while pedaling, it’s hard. So get a notebook and write these thoughts down as they come to you. That way you already have your task list when you arrive at your hotel or campsite for the night.
Notebooks are great for other things of course, like jotting down the contact details of friends you meet along the way, or keeping track of expenses as you buy things. We also use our notebook to make shopping lists and plan out each meal, when we need to buy food for several days. This keeps us from buying too much or too little.
#5 – Have One Bag For Daily Needs
There’s an exception to every rule and the exception to my ‘everything in the same place’ rule is this: one bag is for the things I know I’ll need that day.
If it looks stormy, the rain gear gets pulled out of its normal spot and put in the day bag. If I know I’ve got a big climb, the snacks get priority. These things either go in a handlebar bag (on Andrew’s bike), or in the bag that sits on the back of my bike.
Some days this extra bag is nearly empty. Other days, it gets stuffed full. By having it there, I always have the flexibility to pre-select things I’ll need for the day’s tour and keep them close at hand, so I’m not unpacking panniers by the roadside. Food we buy along the way can also go there, and be repacked later. Of course the next day, when the sun comes out, the rain gear goes back in its normal place.
How about you? How do you stay organised on tour?