What’s In My Panniers? The Gear

Pannier packing diagram

A complete list of gear and supplies I’m packing

After laying out all the clothing I’m packing, the second part of this series is everything else that will go in my bags. Again, this is the first time I’ve done a bike tour, so this is the “before” list. I’ll follow up with everything that makes it all the way to the end of the TransAmerican Bicycle Trail and see how much has changed.
UPDATE: I’ve returned from the trip and updated this list to reflect what I added and ditched over the course of the ride. 

gear list panniers

Rack and Luggage

The first thing you need in order to start traveling by bicycle is a way to carry all your stuff. For classic road touring, most people use either two panniers or four panniers hanging from racks, plus a handlebar bag. I went with two panniers on the back of my bike, plus a handlebar bag. I loved this configuration and it was the perfect amount of space for me. My advice: if you can avoid front panniers, do it! Less is better.

  • Tubus Logo Evo Classic Rear Bicycle Rack. This was exactly the heavy-duty rack I needed in order to convert my road bike Blucifer into a capable weight-bearing workhorse.
  • Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic Rear Panniers. I originally went with the Ortlieb Bikepacker Plus model because I liked the flip-top design and exterior pockets. Then those panniers got stolen in Eugene, OR. At the REI there, the classic rollers were really the only option. I actually like the classic rollers better — they pack everything down smaller and fit tighter on the bike, which helped with how the bike handled when fully loaded. Go with the classics!
  • Lone Peak Alta Handlebar Bag. I loved this thing. It was big enough to keep everything important right in front of me and within easy reach. It was durable and rigid enough to withstand some of my weightiest items. Clips on and off very easily.
  • Handlebar water bottle pouch. I inherited this from my Warmshowers guest Erik last summer. Little did I know, it would become an essential part of my dashboard. I used it primarily to hold my Hydro Flask.
  • 12oz Hydro Flask travel coffee flask. Topped off with coffee each morning, this was essentially my “fuel tank”. I did drink water (I had two 24oz bottles) after the coffee was gone. Hey, I never claimed to be a hydration expert.

Gear list - sleep system

Sleep System

For my camping setup, I’ve gone with a full-on moveable lady lair with lots of protection against the cold.

  • Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 Tent. This is either a very cozy two-person or a comfortable one person, with room for my stuff inside.
  • REI Magma 30 Women’s Sleeping Bag. Supposedly a 30 degree bag, unless you’re me, and you add an extra 15-20 degrees to any heat rating. I got cold a few of the nights at altitude, but it did a great job at only 1 lb 7 oz of weight.
  • Sea to Summit sleeping bag liner. This Thermolite Reactor adds around 15 degrees of warmth to any sleeping bag. I mentioned I get cold, right?
  • Sea to Summit ultralight pillow. Packs down to the size of my fist, way more comfy than lumpy clothes in a bag.
  • REI Flash insulated air sleeping pad. I was looking for something with baffling and an R-rating (warmth) greater than zero, so this is what I landed on.
  • Basic foam mat, cut down to size. This serves as a fender wrapped around my tent on my rack, backup for the good mat, and all-purpose sitting mat.

Gear list cookware

Cookware

I’m not that into camp cooking. I’ll most likely be doing at least one meal out each day, but I do want to be able to heat up basic breakfasts and dinners. I did a lot of borrowing here:

  • Backpacking burner that takes butane fuel
  • Two small backpacking pots
  • Spork
  • Ultralight food scraper

gear list cooking

POST-TRIP UPDATE: My cookware was one of the handful of things that were stolen with my panniers in Eugene, Oregon. So I had to replace all the original items at REI. I went with the MSR PocketRocket 2 Mini Stove Kit. As I predicted in the original post, I didn’t do much cooking at all. In fact, the same 250-gram fuel tank lasted me for the the next 3000+ miles of the trip. I’d even say it’s possible to do the full route without a stove, especially if you like seizing every opportunity to sample the local cuisine.
P.S. I never did replace the spork or the ultralight food scraper. RIP fancy camp stove accessories. I hope you’re being put to good use somewhere in Eugene.

Gear list - toiletries

Toiletries

Admittedly, there are some vanity items here. I want to be able to groom myself at least a little after a sweaty day on the saddle. Don’t judge.

  • Compact brush and hairbands for my hair.
  • Quip toothbrush, toothpaste, and dental floss. Doctor Plotka’s travel toothbrush is also one I tried and recommend.
  • Package of wet wipes.
  • Nail clipper, tweezers, razor.
  • Antibacterial ointment.
  • Tarte Amazonian face clay foundation with sunscreen.
  • Travel bottles filled with shampoo, conditioner, diluted dish soap, sunscreen, antibacterial gel, and Deet.

Gear list electronics

Tech and electronics

I’m bringing too much of it. Oh, the things I do to post stuff online. Some of these items are for entertainment during the long hours, some for navigation and tracking.

  • iPad with Logitech Slim Folio keyboard case. Wasn’t sure about bringing this, but will help me keep blogging and journaling on the road. Left this at home for weight reasons, eventually went with the foldable keyboard for my phone instead.
  • Pixel 1, my trusty phone, for all the usual phone things, photos, videos, etc.
  • Old Samsung phone with no SIM card, used only for navigation with the official GPX maps of the TransAmerica Trail.  Ended up using the paper maps instead. I don’t recommend the GPX maps unless you have a really good file reader on your phone.
  • Kindle Paperwhite because this thing follows me everywhere and keeps me sane. Book suggestions welcome!
  • Garmin Forerunner 35, despite its bulkiness and short battery life, because I’ll use it to track distances and sync to my Strava profile.
  • Otium Bluetooth headphones, to keep the tunes, podcasts, and audiobooks flowing during the long hours on the bikes and rainy days in the tent.
  • Tripod and selfie stick combo. First time traveling with one of these, hoping to use it mostly for the tripod.
  • Power Bank RAVPower 26800 to keep it all powered. This little brick weighs about a pound and takes all night to recharge, but will supply about 5 days of my charging needs. Also pictured: 4 different charging cords needed.

gear list electronics

POST-RIDE UPDATE: At the last minute, I decided NOT to bring the full tablet and keyboard after all. I was doing everything from my phone until about halfway through the trip, where I made a few electronics upgrades (mostly selecting for USB-chargable items)

  • Sounwill foldable keyboard. This made typing anything longform on my phone SO much easier. Strongly recommended for anyone who is debating whether or not to bring a full laptop or tablet. Also comes with a small stand for the phone.
  • SLONIK 1000 Lumen headlamp. I selected this because it’s USB rechargable, but at 4.2 ounces it’s heavier than I had anticipated. Still looking for an ideal, lightweight USB-rechargable LED headlamp.
  • Cycle Torch Shark 300 USB Rechargeable Bike Light Set. These are what I was already using for commuting around Denver, so I added them to my gear halfway through the trip. I only used them for the very occasional low-light scenarios. 
  • Kunodi Waterproof Bluetooth Speaker. This was the biggest gear improvement of the entire ride. While I was taking a few days off in Denver, I attached this to my crossbar using a circle of industrial-strength Velcro from Ace Hardware. I also used a standard sound cord rather than Bluetooth to play music from my phone, which really helped the battery life of both the speaker and the phone. I could listen to my jams all day!

Gear list - bike tools

Bike tools

I’ve picked up a good amount of mechanical knowledge, but this part still overwhelms me. I have an amazing boyfriend/volunteer mechanic to thank for helping me prepare this part

  • Basics for flat tires: two spare tubes, tire levers, and a patch kit.
  • Pocket Rocket tire pump, with duct tape wrapped around it for storage.
  • Topeak Hexus II Multi-Tool for simpler things like seat adjustment, etc.
  • Advanced repair toolbox containing spares of most things: brake cable, gear cable, chain links, patches, brake pads, a wrench, screws and bolts, chain lube, and med exam gloves so my hands aren’t always covered in chain grease. This box was stolen in Eugene, so I really narrowed it down to just the flat tire basics, a new multitool, lube, and a rag.
  • Cable bike lock, 4 feet long, for keeping it all secure at stops and at night.

Gear list - first aid kit

First aid

What I did here is find a backpacking first aid kit and modify it for my needs (i.e. replace bulky gauze with a lot of Advil and Chamois Butt’r)

  • HART Health weekend first aid kit that contains way more stuff than I hope I’ll ever need, like an emergency blanket and forceps. This, alas, also got stolen. So I downsized to the “day hike” size and still didn’t need much of it. Good for just-in-case tho. 
  • A LOT of extra Aspirin and ban-aids.
  • A few packets of Chamois Butt’r for saddle sores, although I’ve never needed it before. I found that Vaseline in the “lip therapy” sized containers also works great. I made a broad interpretation of “lips”. 
  • Water purification tablents. For the rare instance where I was wild camping, these saved the day.

Gear list - miscellaneous

Miscellany

Finally, the assortment of things that don’t fit into any of the other categories

  • Arno straps to strap things to the rack, and extra straps as backup, plus 2 small bungees.
  • Bags. Always good to have a few zip lock bags and plastic bags on hand.
  • Headlamp, somewhat low-end due to my tendency to lose these.
  • Sewing kit, stuffed with extra safety pins.
  • Swiss Army knife. Now I just need to learn how to use the tiny can opener.
  • Notebook and pen.
  • Lighter.

gear list bags

Bags

Do not underestimate the number and variety of bags you will need for a bike tour. Here’s a photo of most of the bags I was using to stay organized, but not all of them. Note the ChicoBag, a few stuff-sacs and compression bags, and a waterproof bag (great for isolating smelly laundry). Less-technical bags included two cotton drawstring sacks that jersey-style bedsheets are sold in, and a couple school-supplies bags meant to clip into three-ring binders. These were SO useful! I used one as a bag-of-disposable-bags to hold my zip-lock bags and plastic grocery bags as well. Seriously. Start collecting bags early and stay stocked up throughout the trip.

Gear list - clothing

Clothing

I’ve created an separate post to detail the clothing items I’m packing, but here’s a quick summary of the categories of clothing:

  • Shirts and tops
  • Shorts and pants
  • Outerwear and layering
  • Innerwear and swimwear
  • Accessories
  • Footwear

See the complete clothing list here.

 

So that just about covers the equipment portion of my packing, at least to start out. It’s bound to change as I shed unneeded items and get ahold of anything that’s missing.

How am I doing so far? I’d love to hear from experienced bike travelers — especially women — about their most essential clothing items while on tour.

Disclosure: I included links wherever the item is still available to buy online because I genuinely want to help readers find the exact things I’ve listed. That said, I also want to break even on this website, so any Amazon links are affiliate (meaning I earn a small percent of any transaction).

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Ken
    July 7, 2019 at 10:26 pm

    Hello Cynthia,

    I found your blog link in comments to a Washing Post story on bike travel. Your trip sounds very exciting.

    My wife and I did an east to west cross county from Cape May, NJ to Seaside, OR in 2015. We were self supported and riding a tandem bike. We recognized that we needed to pack light. We had two set of riding outfits (one your were wearing, and the one you will wear tomorrow). We did laundry everyday (carrying a drain stopper helped do hand washing in sinks) . We also had one set of off bike clothes. Of course had a system of layers. At various points we mailed back items we were no longer needing. Likewise we had some items mailed to us via general delivery to post offices along the route.

    What you are carrying looks about right.

    We road about 6 days a week taking a day off the bike to rest, do laundry, and re-provision. On our route we did encounter food deserts. So always carry extra food and water.

    We did a few Warmshowers and had great experiences. We are hosts as well, but are a bit off the trail just east of Washington DC.

    We had a great adventure riding at our own pace. Met lots of nice folks along the way.

    Have a great ride!

    Ken

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