Packing for bike touring – lightening the load

OldSkool? - Touring Iceland on a Surly Troll with 30kg of kit across four panniersa dn a drybag
OldSkool? – Touring Iceland on a Surly Troll with 30kg+ of kit across four panniers and a drybag

I’ve been experimenting with packing for my trip to Scotland later this month. Given I’ll be riding off road as much as weather conditions allow the traditional pannier set up has been ditched and I’ve been forced to re-evaluate my packing routine.

Adios panniers

A traditional cycle touring set up where the load is split across four panniers, bar bag and, maybe, a drybag on the rear rack offers the rider the chance to bring the kitchen sink – literally. For me, this results in luxuries such as books, a (relatively) large tent, hipflasks of whisky and bottles of ale, numerous electronic gizmos, extended camera kit, at least one full change of clothes including ‘evening wear’ for nights in the pub… you get the picture. But if you want to incorporate rough trails and single track into your touring stew, then the four-pannier solution is less palatable. Bags attached preferably low on a touring cycle offer stability on the road but can be a major headache when hitting the dirt. A bike with panniers is awkward to push and carry too, something I’ll not doubt be doing plenty of later in the month. Bags for off-road touring are more ‘integral’ to the bike, attaching directly to the frame. This set up should improve handling and the manoeuvrability of the bike albeit at the expense of carrying volume.

Getting Lighter - The Troll in the Atlas, Morocco, with two panniers, a small drybag and a framebag
Getting Lighter – The Troll in the Atlas, Morocco, with two panniers, a small drybag and a framebag

‘Bikepacking’ compromises As a hillwalker and backpacker, the current ‘bikepacking’ trend to lighten one’s load and head off into the yonder on two wheels mirrors the lightweight backpacking ethos which had it’s roots in the States and gained traction over here thanks to the efforts of some pioneering bloggers and outdoor publications. Lightweight backpacking is about the balance of weight, comfort and safety; bikepacking demands a similar philosophy and, ultimately, compromise. Frame-fit bags are helpful offroad, but carrying volume is reduced as are the permissible dimensions of objects carried – sleeping mats and tent poles, for example. My initial intention was to opt for full bikepacking luggage for Scotland. This would comprise my large Apidura seat pack, a made-to-measure Revelate frame bag for my Surly ECR and an Alpkit Airlok drybag lashed to the Jones bars. While this set-up has been adequate for overnight blasts and bivvy trips, I needed more room and flexibility for an extended trip where food supplies may be bulky and the weather unpredictable, necessitating more clothing options.

Ready for Scotland – the ECR packed as it will be for Scotland on the trails near home

Finding a balance I think I ‘ve now struck a happy balance. The Alpkit and Revelate bags remain, although the former now sits a bit lower on a Nitto M18 stainless rack, while the Apidura has been replaced by my trusty Carradice Nelson Longflap. This venerable bag, hardly lightweight and now in a pretty sorry state after a year’s hard use doubling as my rear mudguard – does offer greater flexibility for handling more load while the expedition rack on which it sits offers another ‘outpost’ to lash a drybag if needed. The set up is completed with an Alpkit gas tank for camera, wallet and snacks to save me rummaging around at every breather break or photo stop.

After experimenting with a Platypus and hose in the framebag, I’ve reverted to good old bidons and cages attached to the bosses on the forks of the ECR. These are surprisingly easy to access even when on the move. This arrangement does allow some luxury. I could take a tablet if I really wanted (but won’t) and the Revelate bag is just big enough for me to include my Thermarest chair kit – a Godsend if you have a geriatric back like me. Freeing up the Jones H bars also means I can lash on an additional drybag if needed for extra food or whateveryou.

My kit list and packing plan looks a bit like this:

Alpkit dry bag

Golite Shagrila 3 with custom Ookworks inner
Thermarest Neoair, long

Caradice Nelson Longflap

Mountain Equipment Co-op Merlin down sleeping bag, XL
MSR Titanium pot containing spork, Titanium mug, MSR mugmate, MSR Pocket Rocket, lighter, ground coffee, tea bags, creamer etc 350 gas cannister
Crocs (for stream crossings and camp)
Sealskinz socks
Endura M500 waterproof shorts
Montane Minimus Smock
Montane Trail Windproof Jacket
Marmot Beanie
Petzl headtorch
North Face Apex gloves
Minimal first aid kit
Toiletries (Side pockets)
Park Tool mutli-tool
Park Tool Torx drivers (for Rohloff)
Tyre levers 2 spare 29+ Tubes
Chain lube
Zip ties Spare brake cable Spare brake pads

Revelate frame bag

Rab Microlight vest
Nike running tights
Icebreaker merino top
Socks (1 pair)
Lifeventure pack towel
Merino boxers
Endura cycling undershorts
Tent pole
Thermarest chair kit
Tent pegs

Alpkit gastank

Camera (Olympus EPL-1) Filters

Additional luggage

Alpkit drybag attached to Jones handlebars

Clothing worn

Icebreaker Merino top
Pearl Izumi Jersey
Altura vest
Buff (2)
Endura padded undershorts
Specialized mits
Rohan Outrider shorts
Inov 8 tights
Merino socks
Giro Terraduro cycling shoes

Optional items Abus lock

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