Being a beginner to bicycle touring and this being my first long tour, I fretted over my packing list for weeks. Of course, this wasn’t continual work. But I started planning weeks ahead of time and would frequently revisit the list whenever I had a thought to add something or change something. There were several things that I was undecided about for most of that time. There were also several things I made last minutes decisions on. Almost every one of those decisions turned out to be poor as I made most of them from a weight-weenie state of mind.
I lurk in the Touring section of Bike Forums a lot and I see very experienced people there comment on other’s packing list; usually to the effect of advising them how to whittle down their gear to the lightest total weight possible. In addition, my touring partner for this trip had done an AT hike last year and decided during that trip to become an ultralight backpacker. While he ultimately took about as much weight as I did, his gear list was minimal; the balance being food. These influences turned me to weight-weenie and I made some bad decisions in order to save a few ounces here or there.
As it turns out, I was hauling about 25 pounds spread between front panniers (about 5 lbs. ea.), rear panniers (about 6.5 lbs. ea.), handlebar bag (about 0.5 lb.) and seat bag (about 1 lb.). The only time I felt this weight was accelerating after a stop and that’s simple: just don’t try to accelerate like you’re riding a race bike. We were riding all flat terrain, but we had to climb bridges and I didn’t feel the weight much at all during those climbs. When riding along, I only felt the weight as momentum; i.e. I didn’t feel any more resistance just pedaling along.
That said, however, I am glad that I was in the 25 lb. range rather than the 40 lb. range. I’m sure a 15 lb. difference would have made itself known in my energy expenditure. But my point is that the few ounces I saved by switching heavier items for lighter, less-capable items or even leaving some gear out, wasn’t worth the comfort that it could have brought me. (“Comfort” might be a little dramatic in this context. Let’s try on “convenience” for size here.)
The following is a retrospective on some of my choices that did make a difference or might well have given different circumstances.
This represents my biggest, bonehead decision. I have a pretty good The North Face Resolve rain jacket, although an older model, that I use quite often riding to or from work on wet days. I had that marked for a possible weight cull from the beginning and I watched the 10-day weather forecast weeks out to help make a decision on whether or not to take this. On the day we were to leave, the weather forecasts looked great. So, I decided to switch out in favor of my Pearl Izumi Elite Barrier jacket. The PI jacket offers no water resistance to speak of, but it’s great as a wind jacket and, if you do get caught in a rain shower, it provides a bit of insulation much like a wet suit. Weight savings: 6.3 ounces. Dumbass decision. Day 1 of riding featured 30 miles in driving rain followed by 4 hours of waiting out the rain before we could set up camp. Day 6 of riding featured 40 miles of rain in 52F temperatures. The moral of this story is, “Always take rain gear no matter how good the forecast looks unless… No, dumbass. Always.”
I bought a very small Kelty Toto Cooler just for bike touring. It folds and packs down very small and even fits in my handlebar bag fully expanded. I don’t really want my touring experience to be eating dehydrated or even non-perishable foods all the time. I’d like to stop at a grocery, pick-up whatever sounds good for dinner and breakfast the next morning (regarless of perishable status) and carry it on to the campsite. I might even want to buy a beer to two and throw them in a few cups of ice to enjoy during the evening wind-down. Likewise, the cooler fell prey to my final weight cull in favor of a cheapo day pack. I’m not talking about a real day pack. I’m talking about those back packs that teens and college kids use that are nonthing more than a fabric bag with drawstring ropes attached at the bottom. Sort of like this. Roll Tide, y’all. My company had given these out at our company picnic last year. My thinking was that I could put some ice in a ziploc bag and that would keep perishables cool enough. Weight savings: 4.3 ounces. Of course, I was able to transport food using the pack. However, if the ziploc bag didn’t leak with ice water, then the condensation on the bag of ice drenched through the back pack in minutes. However, it didn’t not keep breakfast cold enough through the night because of the lack of insulation. (My yogurt was very runny the next morning.) Lesson learned: take the damned, 6-ounce cooler.
I have two Leatherman multi-tools. I carry a Leatherman Squirt PS4 in my seat bag all the time; primarily for the pliers function. I bought a Leatherman Juice CS4 as a camping multi-tool. In the end, I decided to leave the CS4 at home in favor of the PS4. Weight savings: 3.4 ounces. One of the biggest differences between the two is that the CS4 has a can-opener and the PS4 does not. However, I compensated for that by throwing a P-38 into my kitchen kit. I’m smart, ain’t I? The difference that I didn’t compensate for was a lack of scissors. Of course, you can use a knife for most cutting. But I was trying my best not to morph into a Neanderthal during the week and scissors are necessary for grooming. A third difference is is that the CS4 has a small saw. I didn’t have occasion to need it on this trip, but I’ve used it to cut green branches for hot dogs or marshmallows on previous camping trips. Lesson gently learned: take the more capable multi-tool.
My Click Stand was on my optional list like the other gear previously mentioned. Unlike the other gear, I decided to take it. To be honest, you can almost always to find a wall, tree, fence, or the occasional dwarf to lean your bike against. But when you can’t, the Click Stand is very handy to avoid having to lay your bike over on your panniers. The lesson I learned, however, is to bring extra brake-level pulls and to keep very close care of the ones you bring. The Click Stand web site says that the brake pulls cling to your bars when not in use. Yeah. Sort of. But not well enough. Lesson four: check.
I never seriously considered bringing my footprint. My tent is a Kelty Grand Mesa 2. A couple of years ago, Delta had some Kelty gear on their SkyMiles Marketplace and I used a few of my gazillion SkyMiles to pick up a couple of those tents. They are hardy so a footprint mainly serves to preserve the floor of the tent… or so I thought. On day 6, I sat through about four hours of a thunderstorm. Once it lightened up enough for me to venture out, I began packing all my gear in my panniers. As I was rolling up my sleeping pad, I noticed the water was starting to soak through the floor of the tent where my body was applying the most pressure through the pad. As I stood there on my knees, water began to soak through in those locations as well. Since I was leaving, this was no big deal. Had I needed to endure much more rain, that might have become a nightmare. I don’t know for sure that my footprint would have prevented this, especially since it is made from similar material. But it stands to reason that the combination of the footprint and tent would be at least twice as water resistant as the tent alone. Maybe a simple Tyvek sheet is the best solution here. I’ll certainly consider it next time.
I considered my first week-long tour a learning experience and, certainly, learning what gear to take and what to leave behind was part of that. The discomforts or inconveniences I suffered, significant or not, all taught me something for the next tour. Maybe I’ll get good at this after a while.