Packing Light for a Long Cycle Trip

Posted by James Anderton on May 21st, 2019

“On a long journey, even a straw weighs heavy.” Old Spanish proverb...

Rule number 1 on a long cycle tour. Pack Light. Packing light is a skill and like all skills you get better at it over time and with a bit of practice. I'm not going to tell you what to bring and what not to bring. Only you know what you can and cannot live without. You will find over time that you pare things down as you come to the happy conclusion that you don't actually need this or need that. Here though are a few ways you can keep weight down and make the cycling easier. You can see my typical Kit List here.

Food

Food is something we all need to carry but it need not weigh you down too much. In many countries you will come across at least a shop a day and it's not something you need to overly worry about. At other times you might not see a shop for days and here's where some astute food shopping can keep the weight down. Embrace those calories. Calories are often considered the best unit to quantify how much energy a particular food source can provide. What you are looking for are foods that provide at least 400 calories per 100g. Here's what I normally load up with when cycling long distances between food stops.

Salted Peanuts: 600 calories per 100 grams

Contains healthy fat and salted versions also help replace the sodium that you sweat out while cycling.

Almonds: 500 calories per 100 grams

High in healthy fat and are great to snack on whilst you cycle. I keep a packet in my pocket and keep topping myself up as I pedal along. They don't crush or melt and taste great on their own or when mixed with dried fruit.

Banana Chips: 520 calories per 100 grams

Another great snack to keep you skipping along during the day. Lightweight, packed full of potassium and much needed electrolytes.

Oats: 350 calories per 100 grams

Not the highest food in terms of calories but a great source of fiber. It will keep you regular which is of course another excellent way of keeping weight down! Oats make an excellent staple for building a great breakfast meal. The most important meal of the day when you are cycling. I throw in raisins and honey for flavour and I can go for hours before feeling that first pang of hunger.

Honey: 320 calories per 100 grams

Great source of carbs and adds flavour to your oat breakfast. The squeezable bottles are lighter and easier to manage as we all know honey can get messy!

Raisins: 300 calories per 100 grams

Another great way to spice up your oat breakfast and to snack on during the day or late at night. Tasty, high in iron and easy to find.

Noodles: 400 calories per 100 grams

I love noodles. I am sick of noodles. I probably get through a 1000 packs a year on a big cycle tour. They make for an excellent high calorie dinner and are quick to cook thus saving on gas. Once the water has boiled turn off the gas, throw them in and wait a few minutes. I try and carry a jar of pesto with me when I can to make them a little more interesting.

Dark Chocolate: 600 calories per 100 grams

One of the highest source of calories and tastes great. Not so great in super hot weather as it's likely to melt but if you can keep it solid it's a perfect after dinner snack.

Olive Oil: 880 calories per 100 grams

880 calories/100g!! Say no more. Easily added to any meal. Can get messy though so look for the single use packets you can get in big supermarkets. I also use it to get wax out of my ears.



Water

Water is one of the heaviest items you will carry. Carry hydration tablets so you get more bang for your buck from your water when travelling in dry conditions. Drink up at water sources. Drink as much as you can, plan how far your next source is and carry only what you need to get there. Map apps are excellent these days for showing you where the next creek, river or stream is. Be wary that some of these water sources may be seasonal. Be careful if you are in the dry season as the water source you had planned on hitting may be nothing but sand and rocks. Water purifying means are essential so you can drink whatever water you find.

Equipment

Another crucial way to save weight is with the camping equipment you bring along. That said lightest isn't always best. There is a booming market for ultra light camping equipment but what you are looking for is the ideal balance between weight, quality and durability.

Tent

The lightest tents on the market may not be your best bet. Not only are they expensive but they may not last the course on a long cycle trip when you are sleeping in your tent every night. Ultra-light tents tend to save weight by having flimsy tent poles which have a habit of falling apart somewhere along the line leaving you to improvise every night in order to pitch your tent. Ultra-light tents can also have you feeling like a sardine in your tent each night. You don't need to be able to swing a cat but you do want a little room to maneuver. This is your home for the next however many months so you want to feel comfortable. Plus you need a little space to fit your panniers in and a little porch area can be useful when you want to cook and it's pissing it down outside. Warm weather tents are lighter. If you know you are only travelling to hot countries then these are the ones for you. Hammocks are lighter than tents. If you are travelling in a part of the world where there are an abundance of trees they make a great choice and are growing in popularity all the time. As a rule I would say that a one person tent should not weigh more than 1.2kg and a two person tent should come in at under 2kg.

If you are cycling in a part of the world where there are no mosquitoes then ditch the tent altogether and go with a bivvy bag. Sleep under the stars every night. A lightweight tarp can keep the rain off.

Sleeping Bag

The best sleeping bags are down sleeping bags. Not only are they lightweight but they perform well in cold, dry weather and they retain their warmth well over the years. They also pack down small. Obviously 4 season sleeping bags weigh more than 3 season bags so your choice should depend on where you are cycling. A 4 season sleeping bag is important if there is a chance you will encounter nights below -10 C. I have managed fine with a 3 season down sleeping bag. I've had a few nights when I have been approaching -10 C and I have survived albeit sleeping in all my clothes with my bobble hat pulled down over my nose. Note: Be sure to look for the Responsible Down Standard (RDS) certificate that certifies that the down and feathers came from ducks and geese that were treated well. While down is a byproduct of the food industry, this standard bans cruel practices, like live plucking and force feeding.

Sleeping Mattress

Much of a muchness. Get a 3/4 one as you don't need a full length mat. Inflatable mattresses weigh less than foam mats.

Clothing

Cotton is bad. Synthetic materials weigh less and they are more water resistant.

General Tips for Packing Light

Find double uses for things. My camping mat makes an excellent wind break for cooking. My spoon is also my fork. My teeth are my knife. My sleeping bag is my seat. My woolly hat makes an good kindle cover etc.

Cut your toothbrush in half.

Rip labels out of clothing. Cut excess straps.

Dry your gear. Morning dew can cover the entire surface area of your shelter and add a few grams if packed up in your bag. Try to dry out tents, tarps, clothes, and any other gear before packing it away. You can always tie them to back of your bike as you cycle or lay them out in a sunny spot as you pack up and eat breakfast.

Don't duplicate anything. Even socks. I have a pair for cycling in and a pair for evening wear. I wear them until they offend me then buy a new pair. You can buy socks for next to nothing everywhere.

If you are able go old school then ditch the mobile, Kindle, iPod, laptop and rewind 30 years and bask in the glory of nature. You will also then not have to carry chargers, plug adapters etc.

Stick your down jacket in a stuff sack and use it as a pillow.

Ditch deodorant. Unnecessary weight and it's odor can attracts unwanted insects and bears.

Go miniature with everything. You can now easily find miniature versions of sun cream, shower gel, toothpaste etc.

Ditch anything that involves batteries.

Don't bring a wrench to remove/tighten pedals. You don't need it. The only time you need to remove your pedals is when you box your bike and you will need to visit a bike shop to get the box. They will remove your pedals for you. You can tighten the pedals when assembling the bike yourself. Get them as tight as you can with your fingers then the act of pedalling with tighten them up.

Use re-sealable bags for all your coffee, powder, salt, herb needs.

Camping gas canisters are often only available in big cities and you may need to stock up. A petrol stove means you will have to carry less fuel as gas stations are easy to find.

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