You’re carrying too much stuff…

17 07 2012

Hiro headed south…

I was speaking to a well traveled bike tourist recently who was indignant that anyone would criticize how much gear he carried on his bike – it was after all his bike not theirs. That’s a fair point to be sure. So let me qualify my post by saying that this is just my opinion which I am generalizing outwards  based on my own experiences and the experiences that have been shared with me by other cyclists. It may not apply to you.

I was a Boy Scout for a lot of years and even won a top scout award near the end of my tenure with the organization. Being prepared for what could happen on a trip was a key part of the Boy Scout philosophy. Which provided the motivation to learn valuable backcountry skills and hone one’s gear. The typical overloaded bike tourist I see huffing and puffing uphill reminds me a lot of my days in the Boy Scouts. They are clearly prepared for a lot of different situations with all the gear they are carrying. In fact in “mainstream” cycling touring culture being prepared is a key goal for an experienced bike tourist. A lot of the chatter on bike touring forums is around “what if?” scenarios.

When I was in the Boy Scouts and when I started bike touring this philosophy made a lot of sense. I mean who wants to be unprepared for a problem? Besides it can’t hurt to be prepared right?

My first inkling that there was a downside to being overly prepared was reading Yvon [of Patagonia fame] Chouinard’s book about alpine climbing. He notes that if you carry all the possible safety gear you can think of for every eventuality you might face – you will be moving so slowly that you will have to use it more often than a climber who is less burdened. Which amounted to saying that being too safe is actually dangerous. As an example if you are in the mountains and a storm is coming faster than anticipated a slow moving team with lots of gear can’t out run it so they have to setup a bivy and wait it out. The fast moving team with less gear can change their plans and descend quickly to safety and comfort below. If the storm is particularly severe the bivouacked team may not have enough supplies to out last it and need rescue.

How does this apply to bike touring? It’s not like cyclists are facing life and death situations regularly.

Here’s how carrying too much stuff affects a bike tourist:

  • carrying more weight uphill makes your tour harder so you cover less ground, have less time in camp at the end of the day and are more tired
  • detours or side-trips are not appealing because of the effort required
  • bike and gear must be stronger to carry the extra weight
  • breakdowns more likely due to extra weight
  • some items like tires wear faster
  • bike handles more like a dump truck than a bicycle reducing enjoyment
  • route selection is restricted by difficulty of riding a heavy bike [bumping down a very rough dirt road isn’t so appealing when your bike will likely break]
  • slow moving heavily loaded bike makes getting past dangerous sections on route harder so you are exposed to risk longer

Add into the mix the slow as molasses flat-proof tires that a lot of tourists are running and you’ve got yourself a bike that’s hard to ride and not nearly as much fun as it could be. Ironically it will be one that will likely have more problems to deal with than a lightly loaded rig so you get to use all the tools and spares you are carrying.

A smart quote I read on a lightweight backpacker/traveling site said “…we pack our fears and insecurities with us…” as an explanation why so many people carry so much stuff with them when they leave home. Shortly after reading this I was in India for 4 months traveling around with a  30L daypack. As I met other multi-month travelers carry expedition sized backpacks everyone wanted to know where my “real” backpack was – thinking this was just my sightseeing pack. On that trip I shared a room with a Canadian guy hauling a monstrous 100L pack around with him that he could barely lift onto his back. I watched with interest as he unpacked enough soap, toothpaste and shampoo for his whole 6 month trip. I couldn’t help myself and commented to him “…you know they do sell toothpaste and shampoo in India?…” 😉

Hiro heads out…

Assuming you are with me so far the obvious question is what is too much gear and what is just enough?

Like most interesting questions in life there is no simple answer. It’s easy to look at the extremes and find examples that are clearly over the top in either direction. My bikepacking setup is my lightest most compact touring setup yet, but I am sure there are folks out there who look at my packed bike and see a bloated whale of a rig and others who can’t imagine rolling out on tour with so little. I feel I’m on safe ground with this blog post’s title because I think 99.9% of us err on the side of too much. About day 7 of most long distance bike tour journals you read a very similar report of stopping at a post office and mailing a box of stuff back home. Frequently a couple weeks later that happens again and another box of excess gear is discarded. You rarely read about someone stopping at REI on day 7 of a tour and buying a whole shwack of stuff they realized they absolutely needed.

Why is that? Well when you are home war-gaming all the possible things that can happen on a tour and assembling a pile of gear that can deal with it all there is no downside to adding another item to the pile. When you are on the road having to haul, unpack, pack and pedal all this gear around – some common sense kicks in and you start to prioritize enjoyment and ease of cycling against the risk that you won’t have a clean shirt on day 7 or that you may run through 5 spare tubes without being able to restock.

The reality is that on the road you don’t need a lot to be happy and that a lightly loaded well maintained bike isn’t likely to breakdown.

So if you are thinking to yourself “…do I carry too much stuff?…” I’d ask yourself if that list of potential problems above is true for you or not. When you see a cool attraction 3kms uphill off route do you take it or do you skip it because extra climbing on your heavy bike is just not worth it? Do you plan routes looking for the easiest way through an area or the most scenic despite the poor roads and extra climbing? Do you worry about wheels and racks breaking on tour from all the weight they carry?

If you are unsure you can always try a riding with less gear on a short tour to see what you think.

Fully loaded and still unprepared…

Sounds great, but what happens when the unexpected strikes and you don’t have “X” with you? No matter how much gear you carry something can happen that you didn’t anticipate. In the photo above I was on tour in the Canadian Rockies when a heatwave struck and I was baking on my bike. I had lots of stuff with me, but no sun-shirt. Since I was on a paved road tour I rolled into the next town and found a shop that sold me the tan LS shirt I am wearing. Problem solved. If it had suddenly become bitterly cold I would have tracked down some warmer clothes to augment what I had with me. What’s the alternative – carrying gear for heatwaves and blizzards on every tour even though you expect mild temperatures?

For anyone on a paved road tour in the developed world – Canada, USA, Europe, Australia, NZ, etc… Just about anything you need is virtually at your finger tips. In the US overnight shipping of specialty parts makes carrying anything beyond the basics pointless.  Help isn’t far away either as governments don’t build paved roads unless there are cars interested in driving down them fairly regularly.

On the Big Dummy tour in the Yukon shown in the photo below I ended up with a hand injury that required evacuation down hundreds of KMs of remote dirt road for me and my cargo/touring bike. Yikes – that’s not a simple problem to solve with limited traffic and no cell phone service! However, I ran into the foreman of a rock crushing operation who was an avid cyclist and without hesitation he threw my bike into the back of his pickup truck and gave me a lift. Back at home there was no easy solution to a problem like this. When actually faced with the reality of my situation I found a way to sort things out.

Middle of nowhere in the Yukon…

Turning to more remote tours it seems like being far away from resupply makes carrying a lot of stuff essential – doesn’t it?

Not really.

If you are heading far from a bike shop or a post office and you asked me what spares/tools to bring along I would redirect your energy to reducing the risk of having a problem in the first place. That means taking a robust well maintained bike, not stressing it with unnecessary weight, riding it appropriately and then working out what spares/tools to bring with you.

For example using an uber strong undished Rohloff rear wheel that isn’t affected by weather and has no derailleur to be ripped off by vegetation or destroyed in a crash is a way to mitigate a lot of potential problems without needing to carry anything extra on the bike.

Choosing to get off and walk a steep rocky descent that’s on the limit of your abilities is a way to mitigate the risk of bike and body damage that would require a whole schwack of tools, spares and first aid supplies to deal with otherwise.

Combining spares/tools amongst a group and choosing to use similar equipment so less is required and more can be shared with other riders is smart.

The point I’m making is that reducing risk can be done without necessarily adding more stuff to your bike. Just like climbing in the mountains one way to reduce your risk of a problem on a remote tour is to travel lighter, faster and more nimbly.

Having said that if you are doing a remote tour in South America and you are on a 29er you might decided that carrying two spare tires is needed due to the lack of resupply options along your route and the length of your trip. That’s a rationale choice to mitigate the serious and certain problem that your original tires will wear out on the tour.

My 29er bikepacking setup…

If you are interested in touring with less stuff, but it just seems like everything you are carrying is essential and you can’t figure out how to reduce your gear load here are some ideas on how to get there:

  • If you are a 4 pannier, handlebar bag and stuff lashed to the top of the rear rack kind of tourist you can remove the front panniers which will force you to carry less since there is less capacity on the bike. If you prefer the weight distribution of 4 panniers you can line the bottom of each bag with several inches of folded bubble wrap to reduce bag capacity while keeping 4 panniers.
  • Track down some touring journals of folks who are riding with less than you. See what they are carrying and model your own kit after them.
  • What are the bulkiest/heaviest items you are carrying? Stuff like tents, sleeping bags and cooking gear can often be replaced with much lighter/more compact items without any loss of comfort/functionality.
  • Look at any items you are carrying multiple of [say T-shirts] and reduce them. One running t-shirt can be washed and dried in a couple hours so maybe you only need one on the tour? Touring in high tech camping [think Patagonia or REI or North Face] street clothes means you don’t need cycling clothes and street clothes on the trip. If you are carrying thermal underwear on a trip anyways you can wear them to bed and use a lighter sleeping bag.
  • Sharing a tent between two people instead of 2 friends each carrying their own can save a lot of weight. Same goes for tools, repair gear, spare parts, etc…
  • Look for items you rarely use or can do without. If you can start a campfire every night leave the stove and fuel bottle at home. If you typically eat a hot meal at a restaurant during the day maybe sandwiches and fruit at night work fine and you can ditch the cooking/eating gear entirely.
  • Spend your trip prep time ensuring you won’t have a problem on the ride rather than using it to amass all the tools/spares to fix problems. A well maintained well built bike is worth more than tools/spares.
  • Make a list of your gear and note next to each item why you are carrying it. Prioritize the list into 3 categories: 1) stuff that gets used every day 2) stuff that gets used occasionally 3) stuff that’s there for “what if’s”. Work hard on reducing the last two categories.

As you are going through this process don’t go overboard. It is a process. If you are a 4 panniers, handle bar bag and stuff lashed on top of the rear pannier tourist now you don’t have to be the ultimate ultralight bike tourist next time out. Maybe you’ll never get there. That’s not important. What’s important is that you have setup your bike to carry what you need in a way that’s as fun as possible for you on tour.

Keep in mind the real goal is to smile as much as possible on tour – not to brag about how little you are carrying. A lighter load is definitely a help in enjoying a tour more and being able to explore with more freedom because you can take detours and ride challenging terrain easier. You can worry less about breaking a rack or some spokes and gnarly dirt roads suddenly become fun touring routes. However, if you are cold and miserable on a tour because you didn’t bring what you needed and your bike breaks because you used the lightest weight parts you could find than there isn’t much to brag about is there?

No road, no trail = no problem…

Despite a lighter is righter message in this post I don’t think being a weight weenie is useful in general. I don’t own a scale. I don’t weigh my gear or calculate how much my gear weighs on a particular ride. I don’t cut the handle off my tooth brush wear a girl’s thong cause it’s lighter or anything silly like that. 😉

I shoot for less gear and lighter overall weight on tour as a general goal, but I do so in a rationale way that balances weight and functionality with the needs of the tour. For example I found a 29er frame that was nearly 3lbs lighter than the one I was looking at initially with no other downsides so I grabbed it. During the build I spec’d an IGH and heavier wider rims adding some weight compared to a derailleur and less burly rims. This gave me an undished very strong rear wheel and an almost bulletproof drivetrain. It also gave me wider tire profile for better traction – important here on the Wet Coast of Canada! In this case adding weight lets me travel rough roads/trails with more confidence and less tools/spares so my enjoyment is high and my overall bike + gear weight is not any higher.

I do look at component/gear specs online before buying, but I’m looking for significant differences like 0.5-1.0 lbs. I only compare items that meet my functional needs in the same way. I don’t have a scale so if I can’t feel the difference between 2 items when I pick them up they are essentially the same to me.

You don’t need a scale to know that leaving stuff at home is going to give you a lighter rig. Being able to ditch a rack and panniers saves pounds of weight without any downside if you are able to carry the gear you need without them. Beyond weight savings having less gear with you means you spend more time on the tour thinking about your ride and less time thinking/dealing with your gear. Packing and unpacking gets easier/faster and you are more in tune with the world around you when you aren’t traveling with a kitchen-sink safety net strapped to your bike.

I don’t sacrifice my comfort to get my load down in size. So I always have a warm jacket to put on at the end of the day and I make sure I am warm enough in my sleeping bag to get a good night’s rest. On the other hand I don’t need a stove and a hot meal to be happy at the end of the day on most tours so I delete the cooking gear when I can. Touring in the wet cold winter I may go the other way and plan to cook a decadent meal in camp to keep my spirits up.

I don’t weigh food or water. I’d rather have too much of that than too little. Having said that I do take resupply opportunities into account when I plan. I always want to have some extra food or water, but if each day of the ride goes past a grocery store I don’t need to leave home with 3 days of meals.

I didn’t miss the front panniers!

I try and keep the big picture in mind when making choices. I have a suspension fork on my 29er bikepacking rig because it makes the bike more useful for me as an all around MTB and for bikepacking on rough ground. This isn’t absolutely necessary and it does add weight/complexity to the bike. I felt it was a good choice. Someone else might feel it’s not needed.  I use wide tires on my bike which are heavier and roll a tad slower than narrower rubber, but the traction and the comfort of the bigger tires is worth it to me. My parts choices and gear choices are not the ultimate lightest possible in a lot of categories. I didn’t go with the ultimate options because they didn’t make as much functional sense as something else or the cost was simply not something I could justify.

When I get back home I evaluate how the trip went and modify my gear for the next ride. Sometimes that means taking more items and sometimes that means leaving stuff at home. The big question on my mind when looking back at past trips and looking forward to new trips is what was the fun factor like and what will help me have more fun?



32 responses

17 07 2012
Steve Jones

All good stuff. One of the best articles on touring or packing for a tour, I have seen in a long time! Being able to mentally separate the things you KNOW you need from things you MIGHT need is a skill worth honing.And after you’ve got everything trimmed down to essentials always allow yourself the one luxury item that will make you feel better if you’re unlucky enough to be having that odd day when it’s all going wrong. Whether it’s an iPad, your favorite candies or a teddy bear.

17 07 2012
Dr Jim

Thanks for the great article. The advise goes holds true with any type of traveling, whether by foot, skiing, skateboard, rail, auto and wings. My trips to India keep getting lighter and lighter because practicality is finally seeping in and dissolving all those insecurities. Once again….thanks for such a great article.

17 07 2012

Is this the same Hiromasa who was finishing a trans-Siberian tour in May 2002? I met a Hiro outside of Vladivostok, and I wonder if it’s the same guy!

17 07 2012

@Malcom – I don’t know. This particular Hiro was riding from AK to the bottom of SA. Can’t say what other tours he has been on.

17 07 2012
Kent Peterson (@kentsbike)

Nicely stated. Whenever I see someone struggling up a mountain pass with a bike loaded with all kinds of things so they’ll be “comfortable” I think “Are all those things making you more comfortable now?”

17 07 2012

Yep,some very keen observations , I travel (overseas) with backpack max 40 litres, have done for years. Living here in Australia you see lots of cycle tourers. Some do the full lap of Australia, some cut through the centre and up the east coast. Many are well laden others travel light. If I had a dollar for every one I met who took the long trip here and travelled real light I’d be a wealthy man, most did not understand the lack of water in this country or the huge distances between shops for food. I travel light more often, but when it comes to long distances, isolation and being unsure what is going to be available in the way of food and drink I’ll err on the side of safety every time. It only takes one trip across the Nullabor or from Adelaide to Darwin to go awry and light can be the death of you. Much the same once upon a time in Africa.My latest trips in Japan were real light, a tourers paradise. I am on the other side of 60 years old and have travelled extensively and know that some lessons are learned the hard way, the time and place dictate how you travel.

17 07 2012

@Paul – I think the focus on “going light” is misplaced as is the idea that carrying more is safer. What you need is the gear that’s appropriate for your trip and that will let you ride your bike enjoyably.

17 07 2012

Good post Vik & good response Paul 🙂

17 07 2012

From another perspective…Not having the right gear will make things more interesting and give you a better story.

On separate occasions, I’ve forgotten, lost, or damaged by water my sleeping bag and I can tell you it “mainly” makes things more interesting.

17 07 2012
Rob E. Loomis

I definitely carry things that go beyond the essentials, but there’s also a large correlation between volume/weight and money spent. Sometimes we’re talking about the “ultimate” gear, but often it’s just a question of what you have, what works, and what’s reasonable for one person’s budget. There’s a line that everyone needs to find between price, functionality, and value. I could shrink my sleeping bag considerably by getting one that costs about 15 times what I spent on my current bag. I’m not likely to do that right away. On the other hand, I have another sleeping bag that is warmer than my touring bag, but is 10 times the size and weight. I’m likely to stay home or sleep cold before trying to tie that on my bike. Likewise my whole tent could be made lighter, and possibly more compact, by spending 2 or 3 times its value on another tent. My rear tire attaches awkwardly and requires multiple tools to remove it. There are a number of solutions to that, costing hundreds of dollars, that could save me from needing an adjustable wrench and shave some weight off of my rear wheel besides. It all sounds good until you compare your wishlist to your wallet. If, for every potential bike trip, I sunk my touring budget into gear, rather than into the actual trip, I could be well on my way to having the “perfect” set-up, but I wouldn’t have gone anywhere.

Knowing what you need and don’t need can make a huge difference, and I know Vic and other seasoned touring cyclists have led me to look long and hard at what I carry. But I also know that some choices make themselves when money becomes an issue. I’ve made strides in eliminating some of my excess gear, and I’ve been able to lighten other items, but there is a lot more that could be done and likely won’t get done in the near future. I’d rather crawl along on my overburdened bike then have a closet of lightweight gear that I can’t afford to take anywhere. But a couple of trips spent carrying gear you really don’t need, combined with helpful posts like this one, can really help point out where you can lighten your load. Just don’t let gear paralysis keep you off the road. There’s a world of difference between what works and what works best, just like there’s a world of difference between having a great tour “someday” having one that’s starting now.

17 07 2012

@Rob – most of the gains I’ve made in my light bikepacking setup came from leaving things at home not buying expensive gadgets/gear. My warm sleeping bag is a 20+ yr old down bag, my bivy sack is about 20yrs old as well.

I don’t think it needs to cost a lot to tour lighter.

In terms of gear I try and buy high quality items that are affordable to me and will give good value in the long term. Very few items I own are really top shelf in their categories and I don’t think I am missing out.

I bought a sub-$400 production 29er frame to use as my bikepacking rig. It’s light, strong and very functional. When I ride with Scott I certainly appreciate the loveliness of his custom Hunter 29er with a Rohloff. My complete bike is worth less than his rear rub! But, we ride the same places and have the same fun.

As you say it’s better to tour with what you have than to stay at home saving for some expensive gear.

17 07 2012
Rob E. Loomis

For me it’s been a combination of less gear and the right gear. After some lackluster bike trips as a result of not having much of an idea of what I was doing, my gear purchases gravitated towards car camping. When I decided to give bike touring another try, it didn’t seem like one gear choice I had made in the past 20 years was going to help me out with the camping side of things. Really just finding a tent that I was comfortable sleeping in and carrying was the magic item. I know a bag or quilt will be next, but until then my synthetic bag that takes up most of a pannier on it’s own will accompany me any time the temp drops too low for my summer weight bag. As long as one item takes up close to a quarter of my available volume, my attempts to downsize will only go so far.
Also there is the balance between comfort on and off the bike. I mean I guess that’s what it all is, because your needs on the bike are pretty simple, but there are some items that, while technically optional, can have a positive affect on the trip. Food is probably what I struggle with the most. I could survive on stuff that could be eaten and stored without regard to its temperature, but for me there’s a lot of pleasure in cooking up a meal at camp. There’s not a lot of pleasure in dealing with a cooler and hauling around and dedicating so much space to cookware, stove, etc. Nearly another quarter of my gear goes towards eating and cooking, but I’m loath to pare that down. I could get to camp faster and sooner without it, but then what would I do with myself once I got there?
In the end only a third of every day is spent on the bike, and what’s carried has to support those other two thirds. I know I carry more then necessary, but I am moving towards figuring out the difference between what I need, what I want, and what is worth carrying. In the end, I don’t know that I’ll ever ditch my racks and panniers in favor of a bike packing set up, but I do think every trip gets a little bit lighter. Nevermind the last trip that included a full-sized camping chair and a frisbee. There were extenuating circumstances.

17 07 2012

My two daughters in the bike trailer weight significantly more than my bike, all the gear and food. This is the kind of load that truly makes my tours better.

Great article Vik, my second favorite after your take on disc/canti brakes. Thanks for taking the time to put it together.

17 07 2012
Steve Fuller

This is a key piece – “As you are going through this process don’t go overboard. It is a process.” Tour more. Go on some S24O’s, get out in different conditions to test your gear and figure out what you need and what you can tolerate.

I’m using the “big bike ride across my state” to test out my tarp setup in the heat we’re experiencing right now. If it doesn’t work out for some reason, I might get wet for a night, but there’s plenty of opportunities to find a tent or sleep in a bus or whatever.

Good article Vik.

17 07 2012
Chris Emerson

No need for a suitcase of courage, but always a can of HTFU tucked away in the bottom of the bag, just in case!

17 07 2012

Reblogged this on le blog à lolo and commented:
C’est certainement mon cas…

18 07 2012

Vik, I agree with your general sentiment, especially this year, as I am trying to go as light as possible. However, I don’t think it’s right for folks to judge others by the amount of gear they are/are not carrying.

For example, my girlfriend and I did a trans-continental journey last year. We both had front and rear panniers, plus other stuff. We were on Icefields Parkway in Alberta and rode into a hostel. When we arrived, a gentleman immediately started critiquing our load. This was a man who we’d had never met before, and before he had even introduced himself (nor ask us who we were) started to tell us we had ‘too much stuff”. Never mind the fact that we had biked from Portland all the way there (over 2,500 km total at that point), we had “too much stuff”. We had never complained about the amount of “stuff” we had as we crossed over many a mountain pass (and there were many) and we seemed to be doing good so far. But not to this man. We were carrying “too much stuff”. And as the years would go by, we would realize this (and I guess, see “the wisdom of his ways.”) Never mind the fact we never asked him his opinion, he was giving it to us rather freely.

While my girlfriend tried to argue with him, I brought up the fact that he was telling us we were “doing it wrong”, and I wasn’t cool with that. He harumphed that and backpedaled, but I caught him on that, and then he wandered away.

What am I trying to say, after rambling away for too long? Even if you feel like someone else is carrying “too much stuff”, don’t tell them that. It’s not your business. They may be enjoying themselves regardless.

Another point: no matter how little you feel you are carrying on a bike tour, to someone else, you are carrying “too much stuff”. (And to someone else, you are carrying too little.) Unless someone is asking for advice, don’t feel like you need to give it to them. Everyone is different when it comes to bike touring. If they are truly carrying “too much stuff”, they will realize it on their own and figure out ways of reducing it for their next tour.

18 07 2012
Ashley Druve

Great article. I reduced my loads using the red dot method. Each time I use a piece of kit I put a red sticky dot on it. Next time I pack only red dot items. I have reduced my loads greatly using this method. Works at home as well.

18 07 2012

@AdventurePDX – “However, I don’t think it’s right for folks to judge others by the amount of gear they are/are not carrying.”

I don’t sit by the side of the road and yell at passing bike tourists – “What the hell are you carrying???” 😉 I don’t suggest to people I meet on tour that they are carrying too much gear they don’t need unless they bring up the subject to me in conversation. At that point it’s fair game.

The purpose of this post isn’t to make anyone feel bad or stupid that they have more stuff on their bike than someone else. The purpose is to point out that carrying all that stuff has negative impacts and that it may not be necessary. There are a lot of folks who get into touring by reading online forums and tour reports where they often see the message that you better be prepared – really prepared or else! That leads to insecurity and over packing in a lot of cases.

If you want to carry 4 panniers, a bar bag and pull a trailer – go for it! I’ll still be your friend and if you pull up next to my bike at a pub patio I’ll wave you over and buy you an icy cold beer. I won’t think less of you or label you as an idiot in my head.

I just want to get the message out there in my own way that you may want to consider what you are carrying and why. Does it really serve you well? Is it causing you problems you may not even be aware of?

I think the 2 really interesting issues that come up for me when it comes to packing stuff for bike touring is that how much you carry limits your route selection/willingness to stray off route [especially uphill!] and that your chance of needing a lot of “what if?” gear rises when you carry more “what if?” gear and is sort of a viscous cycle of sorts.

“Another point: no matter how little you feel you are carrying on a bike tour, to someone else, you are carrying “too much stuff”.”

I totally agree with this and said the same thing in my blog post 😉

18 07 2012

Vik, sorry if I made it sound like you were saying those things. Blame it on late-night blog commenting.

Though I have to admit, the image in my head of you on the side of the road shouting “What the hell are you carrying???” is quite the amusing one. 😉

18 07 2012

Excellent read here, Vik. 😉

I think another point to be made is the “if you have the space, you’re going to fill it”. I see this all the time. I am continually asked to add extra straps here, or little pockets there, just so there is *that* much more space to stash the fiddlies.

If you can go through the honest process to limit the amount of stuff-toting gear dangling from the bike, you can eliminate a lot of the desire to carry unnecessary bits. We, as fortunate first-worlders, have a sickness of stuff. I include myself in this massive generalization.

Also, I often see folks on tour not taking full advantage of the technology of modern outdoor gear. Compressibles should be exactly that; compressed! This is a key packing strategy for any sort of long-distance adventure. The smaller you can get that sleeping bag, clothing or shelter, the more room you have for the teddy bear that will keep you safe at night.

Your points (and many commenters’ points) about planning are key. Do your homework, and know yourself and what your body requires before heading out. The ‘ol shakedown is indispensable, as Mr. Fuller points out. He should know! 🙂 Even an overnighter can teach you heaps about yourself and your gear.

Also, when planning a packing strategy for an upcoming trip, I think it is important to consider the experience of others who have already completed your route, but not take their strategy or gear requirements as gospel. There might be a different, or heaven-forbid, better way! As my mother would say, “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” As a cat-lover, I’ve never understood why it had to be a cat in this saying, but it does hold a bit of truth. I often challenge myself to think outside of the box, and do things a different way, when it comes to planning a trip and the gear I need for that mission. But that’s just part of who I am…


19 07 2012

Excellent post which reflects also my transformation towards lightweight travel.
Fellow biker from Slovenia is travelling ultimate lightweight with approx 5kgs of total luggage
Very interested reading about him is here:

20 07 2012

Dig the Blog thanks Vic:
Here is a great Blog that covers some of the same ground.
Your doing it wrong!!!!!!

I think the key is Your doing it! Right or wrong!


20 07 2012

@Jed – I use flat pedals on all, but one of my bikes – love the convenience and wearing street shoes on my bike.

20 07 2012
Too much stuff = Too few routes… « The Lazy Rando Blog…

[…] Following on from my You are carrying too much stuff post I wanted to discuss the unavoidable relationship between rider fitness/power + bike/gear weight and route selection. Bikes are human powered vehicles and every human has a limited amount of power they can put out during a bike tour. Some riders are very strong so this discussion is less important to them, but for most of us a loaded touring bike takes a lot of our energy to propel down the road. […]

21 07 2012

I am a 4 pannier, handlebar bag and tent on the back rack kind of tourist.

The way I split my gear up in the panniers is by when it is needed during the average day. In my mind my four panniers are labelled as follows: One is for sleeping (sleeping bag, street clothes, toiletries, etc.), one is for eating (cookware and food), one is for things I use during the ride (rain gear, spare tubes, first aid kit, etc.) and the last one I call ‘stuff I don’t need’ (SIDN)

Now why would I carry a pannier full of SIDN? It usually starts out almost empty except for clothes those few random things I am really on the fence about bringing with me. Over the course of the tour if I find I am not accessing SIDN on a regular basis, I crack it open and take a hard look at whatever is in there. This becomes ‘stuff I won’t bring next time,’ or ‘stuff I will ship at the next post office.’ If I am getting into SIDN regularly, I will move the needed items to another more appropriate pannier. Conversely, if I find something in another pannier that isn’t getting used, it gets relegated to SIDN. It’s an easy way to be continuously weeding out unnecessary items, and each tour I get lighter as a result. Also I am usually only getting into one pannier at a time at any point during the day.

Handlebar bag is of course for snacks, maps, wallet, cell phone.

I can really sympathize with your points on food. My last tour I tried to be more lean with food during mountainous stretches to make the climbing easier, and it bit me once or twice. Knowing the state of things in the locales ahead is key. Luckily one of the best parts of touring is all the generous and helpful people you meet along the way. Definitely saved me a few times.

Great read! Like you say, the fun factor is really the most important thing here.

22 07 2012

Good article man. I like your bar ends on the 29er-it looks like mounted into the handlebars, so it’s probably easy to mount and unmount without having to move anything. Could you post a link of this item?

23 07 2012

Reblogged this on Kitesurf Bike rambling and commented:
you are carrying too much stuff – great article on the art of packing less.

23 07 2012

@Stephen – the bar ends are Thorn carbon bar ends. They clamp the end of your bars:

24 07 2012

Nice post! I just returned from a short tour on the Lost Coast, in No. California. I have been inspired by some of the bikepacking stuff that I have read here and elsewhere. I just built up a Rawland Drakkar for this purpose (you advised me on the wheels, which are awesome!)

I used to do lots of long tours (usually leading groups of teenagers) and thus would be packing lots of stuff. I was young though and I can’t say it really bothered me.

On a month long tour through New Mexico, Colorado and Utah me and a buddy detoured to the P.O. on our way out of Santa Fe and sent our front panniers and a heap of gear home. Never missed it but sure was happier for the lighter rig climbing up out of Santa Fe.

Back to my recent trip – I went as light as I could. Small front panniers, a handlebar bag from Revelate, Revelate frame bag and a Carradice saddlebag. It was perfect! Because of the lighter bike I felt comfortable to bomb the rough dirt/gravel roads of the coast and head down into the Sinkyone State park. The descent was steep and rough, losing 1000 ft in less than 2 miles. I know the climb out would suck but felt like I could handle it with my kit. Actually, I probably could have carried even less.

I was rewarded! I came upon an incredible camp 1/4 mile hike a bike from the road, on a massive cliff overlooking the ocean, which I had all to myself!

I have a few photos of the trip on my flickr stream.

18 08 2012

Great article! My first solo, self-sufficient tour in 2009 was certainly over-packed. It also ended up being much more about the physical challenge than the adventure, despite the great shape I was in (this is still the Colorado Rockies). It was still a fantastic, adventure-filled trip but I learned much in regards to unnecessary gear (and lower-mileage days when you’re covering mountain passes on a daily basis). For example, I only ate out once on a 1 week tour and only bought a couple of treats while riding, yet still came home with packed food like rice and couscous that was easily available. We should all consider minimizing our gear to maximize our fun.

26 08 2012
Chris Murray

Great article, the only point I would argue against (at least back then…) was this. “Help isn’t far away either as governments don’t build paved roads unless there are cars interested in driving down them fairly regularly.” And the only reason I point this out is because I think it is a cool piece of history to know cyclists got the first roads built in America. I do agree with the sentiment though. Keep on keeping on!

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