We were heavy packers for our world bicycle tour, managing to cram 8 panniers full of gear, plus an extra bag on the back of each bike for carrying things like our tent, sleeping mats and extra food.
On more recent shorter trips around Europe, however, we’ve been actively working to lighten our bags. We’ve been inspired by tips on lightweight bike touring from Stijn, and by watching bike tourists like Keith and Steve go through the same process.
For the first bike tour in Denmark, our back bags were jammed full. When planning our bike tour around Andalucia, we decided to pare down even more. In the end, not only did we have everything we need, we had room to spare.
Here’s what our new slim-line packing list looks like:
Clothing (per person)
1 warm long-sleeve top
1 pair pants for cycling
1 pair pants for off the bike
1 pair recessed-cleat shoes good for on and off the bike
3 pairs of socks
3 pairs of underwear
2 bras (Friedel only, obviously!)
1 long-sleeve base layer
1 pair long johns
1 waterproof rain jacket
1 pair waterproof rain pants
1 pair biking gloves
1 pair waterproof socks
1 pair cold-weather gloves (for trips outside of the summer season)
1 pair sunglasses
1 bandana (to cover ears in windy weather)
*We use a lot of Merino wool clothing, which is light, compact and repels odours, so you can wear it for longer.
2 X-Bowls ($15.95 from REI)
2 drinking cups
1 MSR Whisperlite stove ($99.95 from REI) + fuel bottle
1 Platypus wine holder ($9.95 on REI)
1 thermos (1 litre capacity)
1 small bottle honey
1 small bottle olive oil
3-4 small bags of spices
Bike Tools & Accessories
1 pedal wrench (for preparing the bikes to fly back and forth to Spain)
1 spare inner tube
1 Topeak Mountain Morph pump (£22.99 on Wiggle)
1 patch kit
6 zip ties
4 compression straps (to hold things on to the back of the bike)
Duct tape (a few lengths, wrapped around some cardboard)
Topeak Mini 20 Pro multi-tool (£22.99 from Wiggle)
CTC Bicycle bag (£10.80 from Wiggle)
*Our limited tool kit here very much reflects the fact that we have new bikes (not much should go wrong) and the fact that we’re touring within easy reach of bike shops.
1 Nikon D80 Camera w/18-70mm and 10mm lenses
1 Asus EEE netbook
1 iPod nano
1 Kodak Zi8 mini video camera
*Plus associated chargers and cords.
Other Bits & Bobs
1 toiletry bag with shampoo, toothbrush, etc… (small travel-size quantities)
1 first-aid kit (been carrying it for 4 years and never used it yet!)
1 Gorillapod tripod ($80 from REI)
When we write all of this out, it seems like a very long list! But yet, when we weighed everything it came out to just under 20kg between us. Despite being a lot less than what we’ve traditionally carried, we didn’t feel like we were lacking anything on our tour, which made us wonder why we hadn’t tried to pare down our bags earlier.
Very lightweight cyclists could even do away with a few things on this list. They might, for example, exchange the heavy digital SLR camera for a more compact model and pick a lightweight solid-foam sleeping mat instead of the heavier inflatable Exped models. We were trying to retain a bit of comfort so we didn’t make our packing list too spartan.
Maybe more interesting than the packing list is what we left behind compared to our heavier-loaded bike tours. In general, our weight savings came from:
- Less Clothing – We have a bit of a clothing paranoia and we have to work very hard at not packing ‘just one more t-shirt’. In past trips, we simply haven’t worn all the clothing we’ve taken with us. To pack lightly, we had to get strict and seriously think about what we would realistically wear.
- Lighter Gear – We invested in a couple items that directly helped us shave off weight: silk sleeping bag liners instead of the bulky cotton ones we had before and the Platypus wine holder, which means we can now enjoy a glass of wine at the end of the day without carrying a glass bottle around (it’s also good for carrying water, when not filled with wine).
No Extra Food – In the past, we’ve tended to stock up on food where it’s cheap and then carry it for a while. Sometimes things got forgotten and we could easily go a month with a couple tins of tuna along for the ride. On this trip, we bought only what we needed to eat on that day (plus a few emergency snacks). Carrying less food was a great reason to visit a lot of local bakeries!
- Fewer Frills – This list doesn’t include a lot of comforts that are worth it for a longer tour but which we can do without on a shorter trip. We’re talking about things like camping chairs, a shortwave radio and a folding bowl to help with doing laundry and dishes.
- Not As Many Bike Tools – We knew our bikes were in good shape before we left, so we figured the chances of a breakdown were slim. Also, we knew from our route that we’d rarely be far from a bike shop, so we felt comfortable taking the bare minimum of tools.
How does our experience compare with what you carry? Do you think something is missing from our list? Leave a comment below and let us know!