Now that people have paid their entry fee for the Transcontinental Race, the forums are abuzz with gear lists, questions about bike choices etc. again. Everyone is preparing for “the season” (though cycling season is clearly all year round).
I, too, re-read my own posts on packing lists and gear choices, and realised that I’ve spent an awful lot of time thinking about what to take. It feels like I spent more time thinking about what to take than actually using it.
Instead of providing you with yet another gear list right away, I’d like to talk about how to come up with your own list in a structured way without spending ages thinking about it and fine-tuning it.
1) Think about what makes you miserable.
Do your spirits wane when you’re cold and wet? Are you the type of person who loses confidence when they’re hungry? Are you not good at coping with heat and sunshine?
Think about those situations that make you miserable.
You want to chose gear that keeps you from getting too miserable. You want to know where you can make compromises that don’t hurt you.
2) Think about what you need, not what you want.
In a multi-day race or tour you need to eat, sleep and cycle (and then repeat). You need to not freeze to death, not overheat, not starve and not suffer any debilitating disease.
You want to chose gear that is essential over gear that is a nice-to-have.
What is essential is defined by what makes you miserable.
These are, in my opinion, the two most important steps to making smart choices. After that, you need to go and find out whether you chose right. The right time to find that out is NOT the event itself, it’s several months prior to the race or tour.
One might argue that you could simply try every which way possible and narrow things down to where they work well for you, and I agree, if you have infinite time and money (to keep buying different things) then that’s probably the nicest approach. However, most people have to carefully think about which sleeping bag to buy (holy moly these things are expensive!) and can’t buy new aerobars three times in a row.
I get a lot of inspiration and advice from ultra runners and “ultra-hikers” like Andrew Skurka, who wrote “The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide” – a lot of these things are very applicable to bike packing, as are his gear choices.
Okay, so here’s what I’m planning for the Transcontinental Race right now, based on my experiences in the Trans Am Bike Race (x2) and the Tuscany Trail (and hiking adventures, travelling around the world, shorter bike trips etc.)
- TiGoat Ptarmigan Bivy Bag – 200g
- Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quilt – 600g
This is just a back-up, hence no mat – I don’t actually plan on camping much or sleeping rough. I plan on getting hotel rooms whenever feasible. I perform much better when I sleep in hotels.
The down quilt can do double-duty as a blanket to wrap myself in during breaks in the mountains in case it gets really cold.
- Ahrberg Monkey Jersey – 155g
- 2x cycling shorts (either Gore bib shorts or Assos shorts) – 200g each
- Ahrberg Baselayer TE – 165g
- Ahrberg Loop – 73g
- 2x Smartwool socks – 40g
- Specialized BG Gel gloves – 25g
- Roeckl Malvas overgloves (wind- and waterproof) – 26g
- Auguste 86 custom-tailored rain jacket – 380g
- RAB Microlight vest – 255g
- Brooks running shorts – 100g
- Sports Bra – 50g
- sun sleeves (Pearl Izumi) – 40g
In terms of extra clothes (i.e. clothes not worn all the time), that’s a spare pair of shorts, a longsleeve (for cold mornings and the mountains, fits nicely underneath the jersey), a spare pair of socks and a pair of running shorts.
I like having something other than bike shorts to wear when I wash my clothes and for sleeping. Last year on the Trans Am my bike shorts actually ripped at the seam in a VERY inconvenient place and I needed the extra shorts.
Overgloves are great for rain and cold days.
The rain jacket is heavier than the very light ones from cycling apparel companies, but it is custom tailored, keeps me dry and comfortable and serves as a warm layer on cold days, too – in combination with the long sleeve and the down vest I’m all set for mountain weather.
The Loop (like a Buff, just better) can be worn as a hat for cold descents.
- Multitool (including chain tool) crank brothers – 170g
- Lezyne pump – 100g
- 2x spare tube – 200g
- duct tape, cable ties, spare bolts, chain link – 50g
- tire levers – 20g
- patch kit – 20g
- chain oil – 20g
- small bike lock – 125g
- spare spokes – 10g
I don’t carry a lot of tools. One set of brake pads (SwissStop) lasted me all of the Trans Am, three months of working as a bike messenger and I’m still on the same set. I still might carry a spare set since it doesn’t take up a lot of space.
The things that are most likely to happen that need immediate repair are punctures and a broken chain. I can fix both.
Anything else – i.e. a broken spoke – would take me ages to repair on the road so I’ll have to find a bike shop, but I carry three spare spokes which makes the process quicker.
Electronics & Others
- iPhone – 130g
- Garmin 800 or eTrex 30x – 110g
- SPOT Gen 3 – 115g
- headphones – 10g
- charging cables and wall plug – 20g
- GoPro – 136g
- Powerbank 5000mAh – 150g
- passport – 50g
- wallet/money – 100g
Hygiene & Medical
- toothbrush and paste – 40g
- Bronner’s soap – 50g
- small brush – 25g
- sunscreen – 100g
- band-aids – 6g
- anti-cramps, anti-diarrhoea, pain meds – 30g
- tweezers – 10g
- bandana (“towel”) – 51g
I don’t carry deodorant anymore. Simply doesn’t make a difference and creates residue on the jersey. I do, however, carry sunscreen, I burn too easily.
A little bit of soap goes a long way, with Bronner’s I can wash my face, my clothes and anything else that needs a good rinse.
Food & Drink
- Water, 1,4l in two Specialized Purist bottles, 100g each – 1600g
- Platypus 500ml soft bottle – 22g
- SaltStick Plus capsules – 100g
- Emergency Rehydration powder (Skratch) – 50g
There’s a lot of variability in food and drink. One day I may be packing a 400g Pizza or two large sandwiches, other times there might only be a back-up Clif bar in my pack. But the two water bottles – plus a back-up which folds up small and fits in my jersey pocket when full – and electrolytes are a given.
Now for the bags. I use mostly Revelate Designs bags which I bought in 2013 and are still great.
- Terrapin holster & dry bag – 500g
- two Feedbags – 200g
- half frame bag – 255g
- top tube bag – 200g
I’ll be adding a small bar bag for the food and electrolytes which I’ve ordered from my friend Michael at SpoK Werks. I don’t know how much it’ll weigh exactly. Let’s assume it’s about the weight of my frame bag (which is generous).
This brings my total pack weight, including two full water bottles and all the bags, to ~7000g – assuming I’m wearing one pair of shorts, the jersey, the bra, one pair of socks, the gloves and the sun sleeves.
It could be 6000g when I’ve had most of my water. It could be 8000g when I’m carrying a lot of extra food.
This is a “base line list”. Once you’ve got that dialled, it is easy to modify for different trips without starting over.
For my trip from San Francisco to Seattle in Spring I’ll be riding a different bike with panniers (two front rollers), taking more casual clothes and adding a tent and sleeping pad. If I ride the Tuscany Trail again, I’ll leave the sleeping gear at home completely, take rain pants and waterproof socks, no soap and a synthetic jacket instead of the down vest.