Bicycle Touring – What to Pack

James Little Higher Gear bicycle touring bike travel Salsa Vaya TravelWhen considering setting out on a bicycle tour, the most important thing, as Higher Gear mechanic James Little tells us is to have “the right tool for the job.” You’ll want to be on a touring bike. The geometry is designed to have you sitting comfortably to go the long haul. It’s also designed to take the weight of as much gear as you might need for your journey.

Higher Gear customer Maureen Fagan did her first tour by bike last year and quickly decided that, before doing another bike tour, especially one where she would have to carry her own gear, that she needs the proper bike. A road, hybrid or mountain bike just isn’t capable of handling while carrying heavier loads. James points out that a touring bike “just wants to go straight” and it does a great job of that, even when fully loaded.

He says that, between the front and rear racks, you’re capable of carrying gear in the range of 85 pounds. Even with a heavy load on the front of the bike, a touring bike is easy to steer and will handle well. Of course, your bike needs to be in good condition before you set out, too. A tune-up – and having a professional mechanic’s set of eyes on your bike – before setting out on your adventure can go a long way toward preventing set backs while en route.

Dr Tony Breitbach Wellness Revolution Just Another Bike Ride Across America Seven CyclesTouring bikes are designed to take a wider, heavier tire, one that is capable of handling not just the miles, but also the wear and tear of hauling a load through those miles. Another Higher Gear customer, Dr. Tony Breitbach, who is an avid bicycle tourist, learned the hard way that one of the best investments, after the right bike, is a proper set of tires. (He had eleven flats in the first few days of a cross-country adventure.) Carrying 50-85 pounds on your bike, plus your own weight, goes a long way toward wearing down a tire quickly.

Touring bike? Bicycle tune-up? Check. Good tires? Check. Probably the next item on the list of gear you’ll want to invest in for a bicycle tour is a set of bags that will work for you and the equipment you’ll be carrying. Maureen found that she needed to test a few options before finally settling on the right ones. You’ll want waterproof bags to make sure your equipment stays dry, even on days when you don’t.


Maureen Fagan Specialized Dolce Elite WilmetteNow that we have the basics, what are you packing in your bags for your cycling adventure? Of course it depends on the type of tour you’re doing. If you’re on an organized tour that provides amenities for you, you’ll need less. If you’re doing a fully self-supported tour, you’ll need more. But just like hike-in campers, you’ll want to keep your gear (and its weight) to a minimum.

Higher Gear customer, Phil Adams, who ventured out on his first bicycle tour last year, wisely advised anyone attempting an endurance ride of any sort: “You’ve got to have the right equipment.” Maureen suggests: “Get the right gear, rain gear and a good map.” She likens it to winter running, “You’re fine in any weather, as long as you have the right gear.”

Dr. Tony told us that he found that clothes aren’t important, but that tools to fix your bike are a necessity. “You don’t want to have that much stuff with you. You want to go as light as you can.” For Dr. Tony, that’s part of the allure of bicycle touring: “You get rid of all the crap. There’s no room for material possessions. It’s a stripped down lifestyle.”


James broke it down for us. Here’s a list of some the essential equipment that he and his girlfriend divide between them for their self-supported tours:James Little Higher Gear bicycle touring bike travel alcohol camping stove titanium lightweight

  • Tent – two person, three season
  • Tarp
  • Rain fly
  • Air mattress – James tells us that most people don’t like air mattress, but he enjoys the added comfort and, as he says, “they roll up tiny.”
  • Sleeping bag
  • Camping stove – James love his lightweight titanium alcohol camping stove, which weighs in at a gram. (It also burns so little fuel, that they don’t have to carry much of that.)
  • James Little Higher Gear bicycle touring bike travel alcohol camping stove titanium lightweight1 little pot – which serves to store other cooking necessities, like folding pot handle, spoons,
  • Fuel – carried in a little MSR container
  • Camping lantern
  • Tiny pack towel – for when you find a shower
  • Soap – James highly recommends Chandrika Ayurvedic
  • 1 change of clothes – including 1 pair of pants and 1 pair of shorts (depending on the time of year)
  • 2 chamois


For food, most camping stores sell packed food that is calorically dense to meet the needs of adventurists. James likes to bring a big bag of granola. Even while camping, sometimes it’s the little things that make us happy. For James, he likes his coffee with milk, so packs up tiny creamer packages to go with the coffee he brews on his stove. When carrying your food, one advantage, James tells us is “It gets lighter as you go.”

James Little Higher Gear bicycle touring bike travelThere are other items you’ll likely want to pack – perhaps a toothbrush, a phone charger, maybe a headlamp. You’ll want cycling essentials and safety devices that stay on your bike: your flat kit with tools, a lock for your bike and, don’t forget, lights to keep you visible to motorists when you’re on the roads.

Just remember that you have to carry everything you bring, so decide what is essential. Maureen reassures us. “You have to try it. Once you know how to do it – it’s like camping – once you know how to do it, it’s easy. You figure out your system. It’s like having a baby. You don’t know your system until you do it.”

Perhaps one of the most important items you’ll need isn’t something that can be bought at all. It’s more of a mindset. Phil told us, “You have to be prepared enough to make it worthwhile in whatever way you’re going to make it worthwhile.” As Maureen put it: “Be flexible… Keep an open mind. Have an adventurous spirit.”


Are you ready for an adventure on your bike? Come into Higher Gear where we can help get you started. Phil’s advice to anyone who wants to give bike touring a try: “Go see Fredo [or any of our friendly experts at Higher Gear] and get a bike that fits you. Then go out and ride.”

Learn more about having the right tool for the job of bicycle touring. Read about our June Bike of the Month, the Salsa Vaya Travel.



Higher Gear customers recommend seeing the world by bike. Check out their stories of adventure:

  • Higher Gear’s own James Little says “Touring is the most fun I’ve had on the bike.
  • Dr. Tony Breitbach finds, “There is no better way to see a country than by bicycle.”
  • Maureen Fagan tested the waters on her first bike touring adventure last year.
  • Adam and Christy Coppola spent their honeymoon on a 50-state bicycle tour.
  • Gabi Greenberg spent a summer on her bike, raising awareness and funding to end HIV.
  • Claire Olvany has spent many summers on her bike, one in particular took her across the country to raise awareness and funding for cancer research.
  • Phil Adams attempts his first bicycle tour in his 70′s.
  • Higher Gear’s own Sylvie Légère went touring with her sister-in-law.
  • Long rides are an escape for Glenna Lampner, who learned to love cycling.

These and more customer stories can be found under Featured Cyclists.

Stay tuned for more stories about bicycle adventure travel this summer. Do you have your own story? Stop in to Higher Gear and tell us about it!


If you’re planning a trip by bicycle this summer, we can help:


While we don’t stock many bikes or accessories you’ll need for touring, those items ARE AVAILABLE TO ORDER. Come on in to Higher Gear during your planning phase. We can help guide you through the process of getting ready for your trip and order items and accessories you might need that aren’t in stock.


Need Help? Have Questions?

Highland Park | 847-433-2453
Wilmette | 847-256-2330

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