After a couple of short adventures in 2016 from a ten day trip across the water to Normandy and Brittany to a three day jolly round the Isle of Wight, I’ve had a few people ask; just what did you pack in that saddlebag? How did you get along for ten days with such little luggage? What should I be packing for my upcoming adventures?
Here I attempt to answer those questions, ans explain why it’s such a great way to travel.
Credit Card Touring
For a couple of reasons, I chose the AirBnB option over staying in a tent. Don’t get me wrong, I adore camping, but as a single female I was keen to have the security of a roof over my head, a secure place for my steed, and usually a family to chat to. For as little as £20 a night, I had the comfort of a real bed, a hot shower and often a kitchen to prepare a hearty meal after a long day in the saddle. It’s no wonder why this kind of cycling, also known as credit-card touring, is becoming so popular.
Then there’s the obvious – less weight to carry. And when you’re looking at hundreds of miles or tackling mighty climbs, it makes all the difference. With my Alpkit Koala I barely even noticed it there, rather than hefty panniers weighing down my every pedal stroke.
Packing light and staying indoors is a great way for anyone to get into multi-day trips. No expense of lightweight tents, sleeping kit and panniers to worry about, it’ll be a good introduction to touring without the initial outlay and extra risk.
So what did I pack for my trips?
1. Cycling kit
Let’s start with the most important first; bib shorts – the comfiest you can find. It may cost an eye-watering amount for just a slip of thin lycra but finding the best pair for you is essential. From personal experience, Assos, Rapha or high end Castelli bibs seem to be the best. One pair to wear is fine, which you can wash in the shower with the rest of your cycling kit when you arrive at your home for the night. Shampoo will do, or laundry liquid if available. It’s key to wring out well, before placing kit in a bath towel and twisting tightly to force the moisture out of the kit into the towel. Hang damp kit near radiators or from hangers to ensure it’s dry and fresh for tomorrow’s ride.
To mix it up a bit, you may want to take a spare jersey and a second pair of socks. These aren’t strictly necessary but it’s nice to have a change. Look at the forecast and always pack for the worst; a lightweight rain jacket, arm and leg warmers, and if you’re not riding in summer then you’ll be looking at overshoes, thermal and windproof layers as well as hats and gloves. Sunglasses for summer.
2. Bike stuff
The essentials go without saying; spare tubes, a pump or CO2, tyre levers and a multitool. Your destination will determine what else you’ll need, although travelling close to towns in the UK and France I was never far from a local bike shop for spares for more serious incidents. Don’t forget two bidons – you don’t want to go short of water.
3. Casual kit
A change of casual clothes for the evenings will come in handy, and needn’t be bulky or heavy. I typically pack a pair of shorts or lightweight jeans, pants, a t-shirt and a packable down jacket. This handy jacket doubles up as an super warm layer in the event of a mechanical or other setback, and I’ll always keep it to hand as the first thing I take out of the pack. For shoes, I’ll either take flip flops in summer or use MTB shoes and pedals in winter which double up well. Of course this all depends on what you aim to do when you’re off the bike – if you have rest days factored in or non-bike things to explore you may need additional kit. For me, my change of kit was perfect for an evening in my host’s house, pub dinner or mooch in the local town after a long day in the saddle.
Mini toiletries come in very handy – toothbrush and toothpaste, mini spray deodorant, chamois cream decanted into a small pot and a little foundation and mascara that made me feel good after freshening up at the end of a long day. It’s a good idea to take a small shampoo too; the type you pick up in hotels are ideal – I keep a stash just for this purpose. Don’t forget the suncream!
5. Bits and bobs*
Some ideas for other things not to forget, trip dependant of course;
- Passport and EHIC card
- Phone and charger, protective case
- Cash in local currency, stashed in two different places
- A credit/debit card or preferably two, packed in two different places
- Garmin, charging cable and local maps loaded
- Lightweight mobile charging battery with cable for emergencies
- Notepad and pen
- Emergency contact details and friend’s phone numbers written down on paper
- Emergency food rations – Soreen, flapjack etc. and keep your pockets full of snacks
My kit bag of choice is the Alpkit Koala. Adaptable to carry small just a few items right through to full winter kit, easy to fit and no extra accessories like a rack required, it was an easy choice. 99% waterproof and pretty tough, I simply put a plastic bag inside to act as a dry bag should the seams let in a little moisture. UK made too, which is pretty cool.
I suppose the essence of lightweight touring is in the name – you don’t need any more than the essentials, all 3.5kg of them. If you’re more up for having your full wardrobe and straighteners to get ready for a posh meal out in the evening, try a supported organised cycling holiday, or if you’re of the #carryeverything mentality then you’ll need to look at pannier rack options and more baggage to carry all your equipment.
For me, lightweight touring is the perfect way of marrying longer distance cycling over several days whilst still remaining nimble enough to power up that sharp steep climb or join other wheelers who are equally unladen.
Read more about last year’s trips here; In Search of Wight and How not to cycle tour – not your typical cycle tour.
*Think I’ve missed anything? I’d love to hear your suggestions and hacks!