Preparing for a bike-packing trip and what has made it into my pack list for my journey along the Trans America Trail.
I've found looking at other peoples equipment choices to be very helpful in fine tuning my own, so hopefully this post will provide a similar degree of useful information to anyone simply interested or looking to plan a trip of their own.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT TOOL FOR THE JOB
Although I have a set route planned I merely intend to use this as a guide while utilising every opportunity to explore the surrounding landscapes as much as possible. For this reason I needed a bike that was both capable on and off the road to allow for a greater degree of diversity when a spontaneous detour presents itself. My choice then was to go with a cross/adventure bike: the Niner RLT 9, equipped with a full bike packing bag setup from Blackburn design. For those that aren't familiar:
A Cross/Adventure Bike sits somewhere in-between a road bike and a mountain bike. It looks a lot like a road bike but you can fit some agressive tires, discs and the geometry is tweaked for off road use.
'Bike Packing' is generally referred to traveling by bike off road whilst 'touring' is the term used to refer to the road going version. (though the lines here are very blurred and they essentially mean the same thing). The main difference then is that the 'bike packing' setup is geared to be less obtrusive and more balanced so its more stable when you hit uneven ground. The 'touring' version is probably more familiar and generally uses those bags that sit on a rack at the front and/or the back attached to a rack called a pannier.
In the past I've used panniers and they're the best for reliability and if you need to carry a little more, in terms of stuff/gear/comforts, and food etc. They are well suited to the road and longer distances, but once your off exploring an interesting looking trail or stretch of single track, things can get pretty sketchy especially if you're heavily laden.
For a little extra room I was tempted to combine some front panniers with the frame bag and seat bag carrying the lighter items at the front, to maintain weight distribution and handling. I may yet regret the decision to go for a more minimal approach for such a long period, but I often find that the more space we have the more we are inclined to fill it.
The setups I have mentioned are just the two I have experience in using, but there are a multitude of different types of bags, combinations and setups out there that you can really get creative with. It all depends on your individual needs and the type of trip you want to do. These days if there's somewhere they can be attached someones probably making a bag for that. I would suggest doing plenty of research look at what other people are using and most importantly, experiment to see what works for you.
PREPARING FOR A LONG TRIP
Being a year later than expected due to my broken elbow last year, I've had a long time to 'prepare'. Fortunately, I've had chance to do a number of short trips locally. With each trip I've gained some useful experience, learnt what works and what doesn't and amended my equipment and routine to suite. It's all about streamlining! Doing things in a kind of order and being efficient about it. Obviously spending a few days on the bike compared with a few months is going to present its own challenges, and rhythms, but the same rules should still apply.
Also worthy of note is fitness and more importantly: comfort. Obviously having a reasonable level of fitness before hand is a good idea. This will help prepare your body and will reduce the chances of injury whilst you become accustomed to riding frequently with the extra weight. The most important thing though is comfort especially for a long trip such as this. Is your bike comfortable? Depending on the nature of your trip, you might also want to think about adapting your gear ratios to compensate for the extra weight your carrying. The best thing you can do is test it, adjust it and experiment. It doesn't have to be perfect and you can always change your saddle and bar height as you go until you get it right.
Some might say you need to 'train' for such a long bout of cycling, but it is quite acceptable to start off slow, with shorter days and then build up your mileage as your strength and fitness improves.
WHAT TO PACK
Pack lists are always personal, and everyones differ depending on the individuals intentions, trip location, and climate etc. After much deliberation I have assembled the more or less finite pack list for my trip. I've really aimed to have an 'everything has its place' kind of strategy - I really want to avoid having to root through bags because some small item doesn't have a proper home.
Although I feel I've been pretty thorough this is all preliminary guess work from past experience and I expect theres going to be some errors and changes that will no doubt reveal themselves and be addressed along the way. I've also tried to allow for a degree of flexibility so things can be changed around should they need to be: Carrying extra straps, spare dry bags and a conveniently packable rucksack.
MY PACK LIST
Due to the length and distance of my trip i'll be riding through a variety of different climates, and weather conditions. Everything from the cooler and wetter Pacific north west to the dry high desert of Idaho and to high alpine areas in the rocky mountains. As summer roles in and as I get further inland then I'm expecting things to become considerably hotter. I've therefore tried to keep it as simple as possible. Lots of merino and options for layering!
Not mentioned in the above table is my camping equipment which includes: the Big Agnes fly creek tent, Big Agnes down sleeping bag and a Big Agnes Polertec insulated matt. All of which are light in weight and should serve as a good place to catch some zzz's over the next few months.
Most things I've got are fairly necessary items for general self sufficiency and survival. Some of my generally unnecessary items that are however necessary for me include:
- Reading material (yet to be decided)
- Cameras and camera related paraphernalia
- Harmonica - I'll have plenty of time to improve these skills
- Hairbrush, and hair bobble - vital for hair maintenance
- A physical journal and pen- just nice to have
- A light chopping board - making chopping 'proper food' easy
- Yorkshire tea. - for the comforting taste of a 'proper brew' (reserved for special occasions)
STORAGE & ORGANISATION
It is likely that some of the smaller items will no doubt change around a bit, as I'm sure I'll continue to experiment along the way in order to fine tune this as a carry setup. But for now this is how I will be storing everything:
Seat bag: aka my 'wardrobe' will be predominantly filled with my Clothing and a heavier round item at the base. A gas bottle or sleeping matt fill this space perfectly.
Bar bag roll: Sleeping bag, and other clothes at a squeeze
Bar bag II: Books, maps, smaller flatter items that may benefit from the ease of access day to day
Frame bag: Water, battery, tripod (heavy stuff)
Toptube bag: yet to be decided, but I imagine sunglasses, camera film, and smaller items likely to get lost in the depths of the bigger bags
Fork bag 1: aka 'the kitchen' will house my Jetboil, gas and other 'kitchen' items such as my seasoning and spork.
Fork bag 2: Fits my tent or sleeping matt
Stem bags: I aim to use these solely for my food supply
Tool roll: tools and spares surprisingly
Bumbag: camera gear, passport and money
Some items will be stored externally where possible, such as the tent pole, my cup, sandals, and the tool roll. Anything that can be stored outside of a bag saves vital space for something else to be stored on the inside. Items that are oddly shaped are particularly good for this.
Further down the line I will aim to do a post on how things are working, and how I've changed things up to suite the environment and habits of daily use. What items I've added and what I've said bye to. As well as any enlightening techniques, and profundities I learn along the way.