Hey everyone, Zach here. This summer I'm taking off on my second (partial) cross-country unsupported tour. I'll be heading to Colorado to pick up and lead the Search Brigade through the Rocky Mountains, down across the vast desert expanses of Utah, Arizona, and California, up over the San Gabriel Mountains and to the coast in Santa Monica to dip that wheel in the Pacific. The Search Brigade left Times Square in New York on June 1st, and is currently working their way across the middle of the country via the road less traveled, after having ridden through the endless rolling hills of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Kentucky, and right now they're just beginning to climb into Colorado. Since it feels like the 1970's out there again with more and more cyclists taking to the road for extended tours, I thought I'd shed some light on how I pack up for a night, a few days, a few weeks, or even months out on the road.
Note: I updated the page with links to the routes I planned for the ride this year, so if you're ever out west and need a route to follow, you're all set! Also, you can follow along with us via our Spot tracker at the link right HERE.
Anything, really. Take your old 80's Trek steel workhorse with a front basket to your modern, carbon ultralight road race bike, whatever you want to ride, you can do it. I've ridden with people on both of those extremes and they faired equally well on an extended unsupported tour last summer. From there it all comes down to personal preference, some prefer riding set up with racks to carry heavy loads in panniers, some want to go new-school with bikepacking frame bags. Either way, finding the combination that lets you carry the essentials in the most efficient way possible will prevail. The few tips I do have here are saddle, cockpit, bike fit, and tire choice.
- Make sure your saddle is comfortable for riding long days mostly seated, this is something that will make or break your day on the bike (as always) but is exacerbated by the long, slow pace of a touring ride. I like an old broken-in Brooks (NOT a fresh one) as much as the next person, but having something that dries quickly if it gets rained on is definitely a plus, so for me, suede, leather, and the like are out, synthetics are in. Choose something your butt loves, and you're good to go.
- Your cockpit is another instance where you want to make sure you've got things buttoned up before heading out on the road. Making sure you've got your bar height, shift / brake lever position, and grips / bar tape selected carefully can save you from sore hands and wrists.
- Overall fit is extremely important. If you have any issues with overall riding position, leg extension, etc., the heavy weight of your bike w/ all of your gear strapped to it, combined with the type of riding you'll be committing to while out on your bike tour or weekend getaway to the north woods will come through, will most likely present itself in the form of seriously sore knees. Tire choice is the last, and also very important piece of the puzzle when it comes to loaded riding.
- You'll want to choose as high volume, and as supple of a tire as possible for comfort, surely, but you also have to choose something robust enough to get you through any gnarly road, goat path, or section of singletrack you've got to plow down to get to your camping spot for the night. I love the Panaracer Pasela ProTite, actually, anything from Panaracer or Compass, they're great. The Teravail Lickskillet, Specialized Sawtooth, and the WTB Horizon Road Plus if your bike can fit it are also really rad. Those are all great choices for mostly road / gravel miles. If you're going off the beaten path further, WTB Nano 2.1" mountain tires are pretty much as good as they come.
This is where lightweight rules. I'm absolutely an advocate of people taking what they have and getting on their bike and experiencing a weekend out in the woods, but it's tough to lug your 60 year old canvas military tent around on your bike. It's really heavy, it's really big, and while I'll never say never, I'm not sure I'd want to ever do that to myself. Instead, if you have reasonably light gear on the smaller, lighter end of the car camping segment, or some ultralight backbacking gear, that's your best bet for packing up your bikepacking rig. It's pretty impressive how small and light things can get these days, with sleeping bags, tents, and sleeping pads all capable of weighing a pound or two each. Obviously light weight always comes with a hefty price tag, so find your comfort zone there. I've seen some incredible setups people have put together on a tight budget that are just as effective as going out and dropping a bunch of money at your local outfitter or REI.
- Merino wool. Everyone knows it at this point. It's a damn miracle fiber. It's worth it to invest in some, pretty much all I wear when I hit the road.
- Down. It's super warm, it packs down to nothing, and a balled up jacket doubles as a pillow!
- A solid, packable rain jacket. Getting caught in the rain is no fun when you're walking to work, or the grocery store. It's really a bummer when you're out in the middle of nowhere and you don't have anything to take shelter under. Your rain jacket will be your best friend on days like these.
- A lightweight packable tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad. Comfort vs. packed space is the big trade-off here. I'd shoot for as much livable space as possible if you're out on the road for a while, unless you're a minimalist / survivalist like Eric up there in the photo. Then you're all good with just a bivy sack.
- Coffee (or tea, if that's your jam), nothing gets you ready to move in the morning like your ritual beverage routine. I can't travel without it.
- Compact stove, to heat water for said coffee or tea, cook some steak and eggs, or make some quality camp classic quesadillas. The MSR Pocket Rocket, or Snow Peak Gigapower Auto are the lightest, most powerful options here.
- Camp shoes. Tevas, Chacos, Crocs, Havaianas. Whatever your preference, absolutely essential piece of gear. I prefer ones without the toe loop so you can wear them with socks when it gets chilly.
Things to Leave at Home:
Again, no rules. So feel free to ignore this part, but having gotten out on the road and had to ship stuff home to lighten up a bit, save yourself the money and hassle and just leave the extras at home. It's tough when you're packing to take things out, but remember, if it doesn't have a core purpose in your kit, serve multiple purposes out on the road, or really something you can't live without, it should probably stay home.
- Your cast iron skillet
- Copious amounts of granola (Alex, here's lookin' at you, man). Remember, everything in moderation!
- Extra clothes you 'might wear'. Keep it simple, bring only what you need.
- Roadside figs. Wait, no, definitely pick some of those up.
- Books. If you have a small paperback, bring it along. But don't pack a pannier full of hardcovers and expect to love that decision after a 100 mile day.
The number one thing to remember is that there really is no wrong way to do this, getting out there and exploring can be as simple as taking a turn down that road you've never ridden before on your daily commute. The bike is quite likely the most useful tool for getting you places and immersing you in the people and cultures of the world around you. Take advantage of that. Seek out adventure wherever it leads, you'll never be disappointed that you said, 'yes'.