what to pack on a long-distance cycling tour

What to pack on a long-distance cycling trip? This is the one thing that kept banging in my head before leaving for South America. And after talking to other cyclists, I’ve noticed this seems to have been the main concern of many. Believe me, most things won’t seem that important anymore, as soon lay your feet on your pedals (meaning: if someone steels your things it’s won’t be the end of the world). However, before you go, it feels good to know what to take with you. So, here’s what it is.

Now, a huge disclaimer (!!!): I’m definitely not a person to look at when you want to go with the minimum. I know what’s essential, what’s not, but I don’t minimize. Why? Because a) I’m a blogger and journalist (so I carry a laptop, a microphone, a camera, a mobile phone and two battery packs with me), b) because I love to spend time in cities and c) because I’m vain (meaning that I don’t enjoy running around for a month in a capital city, wearing only worn-down clothes…So, I carry jeans, makeup and earrings in my panniers!). The bottom line is: a trip doesn’t depend on equipment.

Check list for long-distance cycling

Here’s in pictures and lists, what I carry in all my four panniers. The fifth picture is of my so-called “Horror Bag”. It’s the thing that weighs way more than anything else and which includes all those small things that I don’t know where else to put.

1st Front pannier

  • Laptop (I’m a blogger, so…)
  • Laptop charger
  • Spanish grammar book (thanks, Eli!)
  • Pens (loads of them! I love writing)
  • Notebook (thanks, Momondo!)
  • Calendar (totally unnecessary, but I love to plan things visually)
  • Zoom H2N sound recorder for interviews
  • “Selfie stick” (this is my monopod…thanks, TripAdvisor!)
  • Mobile phone (for maps.me, photos, communication…)
  • Glasses
  • Sunglasses (thanks, dad!)
  • Camera charger and battery
  • (Camera missing from picture, because the pic was taken with it)
  • Passport and other important documents (in a minigrip bag)
  • Makeup bag (I like to doll up…thanks, Niilo!)
  • Petzl headlamp (essential!!! thanks, Simo!)
  • Powerbank x 2 (for phone)
  • External harddrive (for pictures, videos and backups)
  • Wallet (I prefer a wallet, but a minigrip-bag will do the trick!)
  • Cap (to protect from the sun…thanks, Pelago!)
  • Hair brush
  • Bicycle key (with a piggie to feel home)
  • Face cream
  • Menstual cup (recommended to all females!!! thanks, Lunette!)
  • Pepper spray (makes me feel safer)
  • Toothpaste
  • Toothbrush
  • Floss (trying to avoid tooth aches on the road)
  • A bag for the three previous (thanks, Nora!)
  • Makeup remover
  • Deodorant (for special occasions)
  • “Junior” – my teddy Moose (thanks, Marietta!)
  • A bag for all of the above and for when not cycling (thanks, Globe Hope!)

2nd Front pannier

  • A plastic case for food (thanks, Maria!)
  • A kettle for cooking
  • Sun cream 50 (extreme days…thanks, Omar and Silvia!)
  • Sun cream 30 (normal days)
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Minigrip bags x 15 (my panniers are not water resistant anymore…)
  • U-lock (I know it’s exaggerated. I hardly ever use this…thanks, mom!)
  • Cable lock (yep, see comment above)
  • Leatherman (thanks, dad!)
  • Sponge for dishes
  • Liquid for dishes
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Alcohol stove (super light and you can get alcohol everywhere)
  • Alcohol for stove
  • Windshield for stove (essential in Patagonia)
  • Magnesium tablets (definitely recommended)
  • Hand sanitizer (water will do)
  • Bicycle pump
  • Inner tubes x 2 (at least one is good, just in case the one you’re using totally explodes)
  • Lighter
  • Guampa = tereré cup (thanks, Sanchez men!)
  • Bombilla (a straw like thing to accompany the previous)
  • Toilet paper
  • Spork (spoonforkknife…thanks, Helsingin Urheiluhieronta!)

This is the pannier where I also carry all my food.

1st Rear pannier

  • Inflatable sleeping mattress (super short to save space)
  • Towel (=thin scarf to use for other purposes as well)
  • Sleeping bag liner (perfect when cold)
  • Cycling gloves (thanks, mom!)
  • Shampoo and conditioner (yes, I love to carry both…not necessary)
  • Knee brace (for uphills and head winds)
  • Sleeping bag
  • Raincoat
  • Rain cloak (thanks, mom!)
  • An old tent cover (which I use to cover by bike some nights)
  • Rain covers for shoes (totally broken by now, but the best thing ever)
  • Tent
  • Tent sticks
  • Safety vest (thanks, Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle!)

2nd Rear pannier

  • Shoes for pedaling (thanks, mom!)
  • Wool socks (thanks, Nora!)
  • Wool mittens
  • Wool beenie
  • Shoes for freetime (=non-cycling)
  • Underwear and bikini (thanks, Merri!)
  • Nightgown (thanks, Nora!)
  • Flip flops (thanks, Ana!)
  • Jeans (thanks, César!)
  • Water resistant trousers (well, they used to be)
  • Leggins (thanks, St. Malandra!)
  • Bicycle pants (thanks, mom!)
  • Shorts x 2 (one pair too many)
  • Long sleeved college shirt (thanks, Outi!)
  • Fleece shirt (thanks, César!)
  • Long-sleeved sports shirt
  • Blouse (thanks, trash cans of Buenos Aires!)
  • Sleeveless shirts and t-shirts (way more than enough)
  • Buff scarfs x 2 (thanks, Tuulikki and Helsingin Urheiluhieronta!)
  • Dress (for dolling up)
  • Thin jacket (thanks, Globe Hope!)
  • Horror bag (interior in next picture)

The Horror Bag

Just a word of warning: I have way more spares than needed.

  • Duct tape (for everything)
  • FixKit™ Multitool (for fixing the bike…I love this one)
  • Spoke key (if spokes break, rim breaks)
  • (I forgot my spare spokes from the picture)
  • A cloth (for oily hands and bike)
  • AA batteries
  • AAA batteries
  • Electrical tape (for handlebar etc.)
  • Brake cable (thanks, Pelago!)
  • Gear cable (thanks, Pelago!)
  • Brake cable cover (thanks, Pelago!)
  • Gear cable cover (thanks, Pelago!)
  • Brake pads (thanks, Pelago!)
  • Spare brake (thanks, Pelago!)
  • Toothbrush (for cleaning the bike)
  • Chain oil (thanks, mom!)
  • Adapters (my international all-around adapter has turned out useless)
  • Lighter
  • Rim strip x 2
  • Straps (for tying things)
  • Rubber bands (for everything)
  • Cable ties (for fixing cables on bike)
  • Spares for brakes (basically unnecessary, but I like to carry this)
  • Screws and nuts (yes, all kinds, just in case)
  • Chain links x 2 (in the minigrip bag with the screws and nuts)
  • Front and rear lamp for bicycle (white and red)
  • Patching equipment (in a minigrip bag…this you will need)
  • Elastic bandage (for sprains and twists)
  • Fake skin band-aid (no idea when I could possibly need this)
  • Band-aid
  • Cream for muscle pain (e.g. Voltaren)
  • Basic cream (e.g. Bepanthen)
  • Soap
  • Condom (safe sex, if any)
  • Lunette cup wipes x 20
  • Cream for candidiasis (e.g. Canesten, recommended for females)
  • Cream for desinfection (e.g. Bacibact)
  • Tablets for urinal tract infection (recommended for females)
  • Tablets for diarrhea (e.g. Imodium)
  • Scissors for cutting hair
  • Shavers x 2
  • String x 2 (for drying clothes, tying things etc.)
  • Iron thread (for immediate DIY bicycle fixes, e.g. fixing a chain on the road)
  • Safety pins (for immediate tent and clothes fixes)
  • Whistle (comes in handy when falling into a ditch and twisting your ankle)
  • Disinfectant (for wounds)
  • Bracelet (thanks, Mirta!)
  • Necklace (thanks, Ana!)
  • Earrings (thanks, José and mom!)
  • USB stick

In addition to the above I carry two water bottles and lots of plastic bags. Even though my panniers are supposedly water resistant, I keep everything inside plastic bags.

TIP: Avoid buying new things!

I want to emphasize that you really don’t need all that fancy gear and cycling clothes. It’s cool if you want to have them, but if you can’t afford them or just don’t want to buy new things, it shouldn’t stop you from going. (I was lucky to have been given a bicycle I love from the Finnish brand Pelago, but many other cyclists I know go around with amazingly basic equipment.)

  1. I highly discourage buying new things, unless you really have to. Many people have a lot of stuff lying around that they don’t use. All you need to do is ask. For example, I posted a list on Facebook before leaving with all the things I still needed, and believe it or not, I received nearly all of those things from my friends.
  2. Whatever your friends don’t have, try to find it online or in second hand shops. For example, I found my set of Ortlieb panniers online and paid only 50€ for all four of them. For my laptop I paid 100€. For my phone 120€. It’s still money, but you’ll end up paying a lot less than for new things. And what’s more important, you won’t contribute into bringing more waste into the world.
  3. Some things you can even make yourself. For example, YouTube is filled with tutorials on how to make your own bicycle panniers. So, if you have time, will and patience, this is something you should look into!

If you can’t figure out what out of all the stuff I have with me is useful or useless, just write me a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

Written by Sissi Korhonen
Exploring, interpreting and understanding cultures through local languages and people. An advocate for intercultural communication as a basis for diversity acceptance and human equality.