packed bike
(cc) courtesy of Chenbin16 on Flickr

What to pack on bike tour (and what not to pack)

A few weeks removed from the start of my big tour of the year, I’m beginning the ritual all bike tourists engage in: refining the packing list. Over the years I’ve learned what to pack on bike tour… there are a few things you absolutely want to bring, and a bunch of things that just take up space.

What to pack on bike tour: 3 things I take every time

what to pack on bike tour: bandanas
(cc) Peter Marquardt on Flickr


I know, cotton – the dreaded fabric most experienced riders sneer at! Ordinarily, I agree, but when it comes to the versatile bandana, I make an exception. Whether a sweat rag, a pot holder, a dish towel, or a water filter, the humble bandana is the multitool that keeps giving back. Sure it’s cotton, but the bandana packs light, stays out of your way, and has so many uses you’ll want to bring a few.

what to pack on bike tour: earplugs
(cc) quinnanya on Flickr


This is a newer one for me because I never found a style that worked well. Now, I have a pair or two secreted in all of my bags just to be safe. How many campsites have you overnighted at that included 2am parties the locals forgot to invite you to or hourly freight trains? How about the less-than-quiet rain and wind rattling your tent in the middle of the night? Yeah, earplugs can mean the difference between a decent night’s sleep and a long groggy day in the saddle.

what to pack on bike tour: big battery

Large capacity rechargeable battery

A lot of people ride without technology. I don’t happen to be one of those types of riders. On this ride, I plan to bring several devices that will need to be replenished without benefit of a wall socket (they tend not to have those in the sides of mountains). As battery technology has improved, I’m finding 12,000 mAh batteries are dropping in price to the $50 range. How much juice is that? Depending on your device, a lot… I can recharge my iPhone 5 from single digits to 100% 5 times or more in one charge. That’s over a week of riding or more, depending on my use. Zero mile days let me recharge everything, and I don’t usually have to think about losing power at all.

Three things I leave behind on every bike tour

Sometimes the best way to answer, “what to pack on bike tour” is to list what you probably shouldn’t bring.

camp shoes
(cc) vikapproved on Flickr

Camp shoes

I finally let go of the extra pair of shoes a few years ago. I try to wear “normal” clothes when I tour so I can hop off my bike and fit in somewhat in towns along the way. I used to haul a pair of sneakers specifically for walking around town until I found I tended to walk around in the same biking sandals most of the time anyways. I swapped those sneakers out for a pair of inexpensive flip flops and haven’t looked back.

spare tire

Spare tire

I’ll change my mind on this one someday, but only on a long trip with poor access to replacements. Despite my experience with sidewall blowouts, I still don’t think carrying a spare tire is worth the weight or space on most tours. You can boot most issues and get yourself to a place where you can get a spare, plus if you invest in higher end tires, you can reduce the likelihood of needing a new one.

(cc) ginnerobot on Flickr

Physical books

Ok, ok hear me out… we already established I lean more towards technology, right? I tend to bring along audiobooks, podcasts and ebooks in my device. I used to bring along a physical book for reading at camp but found I rarely opened it. Usually it was stuffed deeply inside a pannier, and my phone was right next to me, so I reached for it every time. Maybe I should have brought a book I really wanted to read more than anything in my phone, but when all is said and done, I can bring dozens of books electronically in the same device I’m going to bring no matter what. These days, I leave the physical book at home and read it when I get back.

What’s on your list of haves and have nots?