TRAVELING SIMPLY, TRAVELING LIGHTLY

1975 Riding my Schwinn Paramount solo from Seattle to Indiana with the sleeping bag bungied to the seat and a bag of food strapped on top.
That was a looong time ago.
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Whether I’m hiking, biking, or just traveling I often carry less kit then the average vagabond. As a result I’m often asked how I can carry so little. I’m going to try to put my method of packing madness into words in the hopes that someone will find it helpful or that someone will give me feedback on how to improve it. This post will also include what I learned on our recent ride from Portland Oregon to Flagstaff Arizona.

First of all I’m not an “ultra light’ packer nor do I want to be. I don’t even know what all my gear weighs but I know I don’t want to take more than is absolutely necessary to keep me safe, relatively comfortable and happy. I don’t expect to be comfortable, dry and well fed at all times but then again it’s adventure travel we’re talking about not a ride on the Love Boat. For those interested in “Ultralight Bike Touring” check this site http://ultralightcycling.blogspot.com/.

2012 Fully loaded and ready to roll.

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2012 Different bike, different body, keep the shirt on.

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The main reason I can travel lightly is that I’m very adaptable when it comes to food, shelter, and clothing. I’m also not afraid of a little sweat or dirt. Contrary to what many people believe sweat does not cause odor or disease any more than cold temperatures cause the “common cold”. Those maladies are caused by bacteria, fungus,… and viruses. But unlike many travelers, especially AT thru hikers, I view deodorant as a necessity which I finally realized on my third cross country bike trip. No amount of soap, water, white vinegar, etc. would rid my wife and I of the odor producing bacteria we had raised but a single application of deodorant did and Sue, myself, and our family in NY were very grateful. A little deodorant will keep you and your clothes smelling better longer so you won’t have to carry as much clothing nor wash clothing as often.

The next simply rule is to buy a pack a little smaller than you think you need and then make it work. Undoubtedly after the first week on the road or trail you’ll be pitching things out like Bryson’s side kick in ‘A Walk In The Woods’. We all do it no matter how many miles we have under our belts so get a head start by carrying a smaller bag.

My two bags with tent poles/stakes on top.

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Unlike most bike tourists I’ve never toured with panniers or a bicycle trailer because I’ve never carried that much stuff. For bike touring/camping I use a handlebar bag and a rear Carradice seat bag. The Carradice bag I use is either the Nelson Long Flap or the larger Camper model. That set up has served me well over thousands of miles of cycling through the US and Canada. Also unlike front and rear panniers, I have half as many bags to lug up the Hostel stairs, my attachment systems are simpler and easier to repair on the road, and there is far less surface area to worry about during strong winds. Over the decades I have read much about the theoretical advantages of traveling with a pair of front and rear panniers or a trailer but for me the above real world advantages out weigh the theoretical. Plus I don’t want the weight of all those bags and racks or another flat tire to fix.

One difference I’ve noticed between cyclists and hikers is cyclist tend to carry more clothing even though cyclists have more access to shelters, washers, dryers and stores. Granted cyclists face higher wind chill conditions and splashing from cars but even with those issues accounted for you really don’t need much clothing for a bicycle trip. If you do find yourself in unusually cold weather you can usually find another layer for a few dollars at a thrift store, then mail it home or donate it when you’re finished with it. What I typically wear riding is a quick drying jersey or T-shirt augmented with arm warmers and a lightweight nylon vest. I sweat a lot and a jersey with arm warmers plus a vest vents better than a long sleeve shirt or jacket. The next layer I carry is a long sleeved fleece and finally a good rain jacket.

Dressed up and ready to see Salt Lake City – SAFELY.
(In SLC they’ve decreased Car/Ped accidents by having peds wave a flag as they cross the street, really. Sue refused to demonstrate the technique.)

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When I’m done riding for the day I peel off my cycling gear as soon as possible to let it air out and put on a pair of running shorts and a quick drying, short sleeved button down backpacking shirt with pit-zips. Those clothes also double as my in town clothes. Thanks to the deodorant which I occasionally apply directly to my clothing, my cycling shorts and jersey stay relatively fresh for up to a week.

For rain or cold weather I carry rain pants, leg warmers, and those light weight gloves with dots. My footwear consists of Keen cycling sandals with SPD cleats and 2 to 3 pairs of Darn Tough socks. I don’t carry any other shoes as the Keens are comfortable walking shoes. I also carry a water resistant ball cap that comes in handy when walking in the rain or for extreme helmet head when I’m off the bike.

No stove, no worries.

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Cook gear is another area where my focus is on simplicity, not weight. I carry only a plastic bowl, spoon and an Army can opener. I don’t carry a stove, fuel, pot, etc and I’ve never wished I had a stove, even when hiking the AT in the snow in November. When biking I typically stop once a day for a hot or prepared meal like a Subway sandwich then for the other meals I stop in grocery stores for yogurt, bagels, humus… or while on the road I eat almonds, ginger snaps, cheese, licorice… Despite studying nutrition in medical school and having managed nutritionally based medical illnesses for years I don’t claim to be the nutrition poster child but I haven’t suffered irreparable damage either – probably.

Road Food, licorice snaps.

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My shelter is a sub 3 lb, two person Big Agnes tent, a 40 degree sleeping bag and a three quarter length Neo Air sleeping pad. In colder weather I will augment my sleeping bag with a Thermoreactor bag liner which feels great against the skin. Sue and I both switched from the lighter weight closed foam pads to the Neo Air Pads because the Neo Air were much more comfortable. They are also warmer and pack about 50% smaller.

I’ve also found Sea to Summit dry bags very dependable for both biking and hiking. When cycling I put all extra clothes and sleeping gear in a compression sack, then I stuff that in a dry bag, then I place that in the Carradice bag. It’s a little over kill but I would rather be dry and warm than wet and sorry. For a towel I use a bandana and have never felt the need for anything more, it dries quickly and has a thousand other uses. For cycling the Leatherman Squirt PS4 with a small blade, screw drivers, bottle opener, scissors, file and pliers has served me well. A headlamp that can be used on the bike or in camp is also in my kit

Shorts, hat, headlamp, fleece, shirt, socks, vest.
Helmet liner, bandanas, mirror, gloves.
The contact lens case actually contains steroid cream on one side and antibiotic cream on the other.

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For electronics I carry a low tech Trac Fone that has worked well from coast to coast, a small camera, and an iPod Nano for music, pod casts and FM radio. The Nano’s FM radio is especially handy for checking local weather and listening to “A Prairie Home Companion”. For our recent bike ride from Portland Oregon to Flagstaff Arizona I carried a third generation iPad. Thanks to the iPad and Google Maps we were able to find safer, more enjoyable routes than we could find with our paper maps. In addition to that the iPad saved us money on hotels and made it easy to stay in contact with family, friends, maintain a blog and manage photos. With the addition of the Kindle app we gained a weightless, unlimited mobile library. An iPhone could do all the above also but for my old eyes I find the large screen iPad much more enjoyable to work with and you do’t have to deal with contracts. All the electronics are carried in my handlebar bag which pops off easily and is slung over my shoulder when ever I leave the bike unattended.

Finally because I travel lightly I can use any bike I want for touring including a fixie. (And I have.) For longer trips with big hills (mts) I prefer an old steel framed road bike with a double chain ring and a gear low enough to get me up most inclines and a top gear that is high enough that I don’t spin out on the flats. If the number of gears add up to more than a third of my age or if it’s built with gears that I can only use when going down 10% grades it’s too much of a racing bike for me. Also I don’t want so many gears that the bike (not me) is mistaken for a TDF finisher or that is so complex that it requires a team car to keep it running smoothly. Keeping it simple is what makes bike touring or traveling in general fun and in the end it keeps your kit light too.

This entry does not list everything I carry but mentions the things that may be of use to others and explains how I can carry less than the average bike tourist or vagabond. I hope you found this post helpful or entertaining and thank you for visiting my blog.

Peace

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Categories: Biking, Hiking, Travel

Tags: , , , , ,

5 replies

  1. I enjoyed the post. You appear to have mastered the art of packing light. I’m still working on it. I considered getting a pet mule instead, but my HOA would frown on it. Also got to love the old pictures (when we were younger). I have several places I plan to visit again mainly because I shudder when I look at pictures of me from the early 80s with shorts that are way to short to be considered manly these days!

  2. I love to see solutions for traveling light. Thanks for sharing!

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