It can be quite a challenge to pack up your life into a few panniers that fit on two bicycles. We have spent hours (probably days, or even weeks) reading through packing lists, gear reviews and other related blog posts, to try to choose the “right” things. In the end, everyone has their own view on what to take and what to leave back home, but we did found gear lists and reviews useful for making up our mind. We found particularly useful to read what people thought about their equipment after a few hundred or thousand km on the road. In spite of this, we were still undecided about certain items. But it also took us just a few weeks of travelling to know which were our top favourites. So, making up a “perfect” kit list takes time and a bit of trial-and-error…
Now that we’re looking back on a year of cycle travel, this is how we would roughly plan our touring gear for future trips, and the advice we would give others (if you’re after something more detailed, you can jump to our detailed kit list, along with our comments for each item after travelling over 10’000 km). One way to dress a personal kit list could be to start with the essentials, the bare minimum needed to stay comfortable, and then add stuff depending on the particular trip, taking into account things like climate, culture, and personal needs and preferences. In this general listing, we’re not going into the details of specific brands or models – there are plenty of reviews online for that (and you can see what we used in our complete kit list).
The only truly essential cycle touring gear: The bicycle
For us, quality is important – we had no serious mechanical issues while on tour, which was certainly due to a good amount of luck, but also due to the high-quality parts on our bikes. We chose recumbents because we like them for long-term touring, but this is a personal choice. We met people touring on second-hand or very simple bikes – it’s all possible, too. And because the bike is so essential for bike touring, a good lock should be part of it.
Stay warm and dry
We find rain gear and warm clothes essential for comfort, even in summer: waterproof jacket, pants and overshoes, a down jacket (doubles as a pillow at night) and long underwear (can also be used as pijamas). For colder climates, we’d bring a hat, gloves and a pair of warm socks – waterproof overgloves significantly increase comfort in rainy and cool weather. A buff keeps the neck or the head warm and is a very versatile bit of gear (use it as a washcloth, towel, bathing cap, bandage, etc.).
Protection against the sun and heat
A sun hat with a large visor and removable neck protection – looks slightly ridiculous but is very effective in strong sunshine. Sun glasses and sun cream (or protective clothing, as an alternative to sun cream).
The amount of heat and the accessability of water will predict the need for water transport – bottles or water bags. One or two bottles for everyday use could be supplemented with a water bag, which has the advantage of being light and small when empty.
Get dressed: clothing and shoes
Our minimum clothing kit would be one set of on-the-bike clothes and one set of off-the-bike clothes – pants or shorts, t-shirts or long-sleeves, depending on the climate (think of combining layers). We don’t use specific bicycle clothing, so we can wear everything off the bike (once it’s washed, that is…). We generally like merino clothing for almost everything, and zip-off pants because they’re versatile and usually dry quickly. We’d add a sweater in case of cooler climate. For longer off-the-bike periods, we liked having a more “everyday” outfit with us (such as a pair of light jeans, or a simple dress).
As for shoes, we use clip-in shoes with our recumbents. If we were only cycling, we could make do with those (plus a pair of flipflops or Crocs). But as we also like walking, we’d normally bring another pair of normal shoes (light trekking shoes), especially for longer trips.
Stay clean and healthy
We already don’t use a lot of cosmetics in our everyday life, so we don’t have too much difficulty going down to the minimum when travelling: Toothbrush and paste, a piece of soap (in a soap dish with a lid), contact lenses liquid, a washcloth and a small towel are normally all we need. A small quantity of bicarbonate can serve as deodorant during off-the-bike periods, and a piece of solid lotion bar can be useful for dry skin, as an after-sun, for chapped lips and small cuts and grazes. Women also need to think about menstrual items.
For the pharmacy and first-aid kit, we’d start with something very basic – a couple of things to treat wounds (disinfectant, band-aids, steri-strips), some basic and frequently needed medication (in our case, ibuprofen and cetirizin), tweezers (for splinters and ticks), and a pair of latex gloves (that’s Eva’s “doctor reflex” – in case you need to assist somebody else who’s injured and bleeding). Mosquito spray is also often useful. Then add other stuff depending on the countries – for example, we’d consider the local availability of certain drugs (such as antibiotics) or how far away from civilization we’d be. Thoughts are similar for water filters – for many countries we wouldn’t carry one, or only our small and very light Sawyer squeeze.
Sleep and eat
We have great pleasure camping, so we need a few things for that – tent, sleeping bags and camping mats. We don’t sleep well without a pillow, so we’d take that, too. We also found it useful to bring a clothes line and a few pegs and a headlamp, which we used every day when camping. We always carried a small plastic bag with a roll of toilet paper and a small flask of hand disinfectant.
We also like cooking our own food (although we also do like eating out in certain countries, such as Spain and Portugal). We carried a multifuel stove, which we ended up using only with white gas – we quickly abandoned gas canisters. Lately we’ve been playing around a bit with an alcohol beer can stove – this might be a good option for shorter and more lightweight trips. The amount of pots, plates and cutlery depend on the cooking and eating style – we’d consider a pot, a spoon and a folding knife the minimum, and don’t forget salt and sugar. Some nice-to-have things for people who like cooking are a bag of spices and a good kitchen knife. We also liked having a couple of plastic tupperware containers, which we used to prepare breakfast, for example. We also wanted to experiment with baking bread and cakes and thus took some equipment for that, although this setup will need to be improved as it didn’t always work well!
Stay connected: Electronics
The bare minimum of this would probably be: nothing. You can very well get by with just a paper map or by asking your way around. Now we do like a couple of gadgets, and on our long journey we liked to be able to easily stay connected with people back home, which was easiest done by using a smartphone (which also doubled as a GPS device). We were also blogging, so we brought a small tablet laptop. And we like taking pictures, so we each had a compact camera (we also liked to have our mini-tripod to take selfies). All these gadgets need chargers and cables and memory cards and protective sleeves… it adds up.
Be prepared: Spare parts
A bit like for the first-aid kit, we’d start with something very basic and then add stuff depending on the local availability of spare parts, the possibility of receiving spare parts by mail, and the probability of having to do repairs in the middle of nowhere without being able to get a vehicle to the next town. Our basic kit would include a few tube patches, tire levers, a pump, chain grease, Duct Tape, a few cable binders, a multi-tool, and maybe a couple of spare brake pads. Next on the list would be items that would be useful not to completely solve a problem, but to get the bike in a state where we could pedal to the next town (such as a few spare spokes and a spoke wrench, and a chain tool).
Pack it all up: Luggage
We used Ortlieb panniers, because that’s what we already had, but we saw people travelling with all kinds of bags. The main thing to think about is how to keep important things dry in the rain – Ortlieb bags are pretty good for that. We also carried backpacks instead of a rack pack, because of the greater versatility, and attached them with Ortlieb compression straps. As we can’t use handlebar bags on our recumbents, we use hip bags for small things such as wallet, camera and phone.