Why There’s No Kit List On My Adventure Cycle Touring Blog

One of the features you’ll find on any self-respecting adventure cycle tourist’s blog is a ‘kit list’ page.

Usually published in the name of providing useful information, and occasionally as bait for search engines and to earn money through affiliate links, this page is the place where the rider lists bicycle components and the contents of panniers in unfettered detail. (It’s usually to be found alongside a route map and tour budget breakdown.)

Despite the amount of riding I’ve done, I’ve avoided published such a list for as long as possible.

Here are a few of the many reasons why this is (or was) the case. They are all still valid:

1. Kit lists place unnecessary emphasis on kit.

Not knowing where to start with the planning process, for my first big trip (which became Janapar) I spent the best part of a year researching ‘the best’ cycle touring equipment.

I did so by Googling “cycling touring kit lists” and inevitably coming across scores (if not hundreds) of such pages, none of which quite seemed to agree on what ‘the best’ actually was.

I had no previous knowledge of the outdoor or cycling industries, nor their products, nor their various ways of convincing potential consumers that equipment is critically important to actually doing anything. So much of that year was spent trying to get my head round the abundance of options and the reams of conflicting recommendations. And I never did realise that the industry marketing machine was peddling a fallacy.

Had someone experienced told me it was possible to just grab what I had lying around, beg/borrow/steal the rest or at least pick it up on the cheap, and hit the road, I’d have done so much sooner.

I also wouldn’t have made the mistake of trying to get gear sponsorship for the trip, and would have had a hell of a lot less to worry about when things inevitably broke as I wouldn’t have been so attached to them.

2. ‘Big Trip’ bloggers represent a tiny minority of cycle tourists.

It’s easy to overlook the fact that it takes a very particular type of person to decide that a) instead of an enjoyable little ride during their annual leave they are actually going to cycle across a continent or two, and b) their trip is epic enough in scale or importance to warrant starting a blog about it.

No judgement is implied here – in any case, I am one such person myself! It’s just worth pointing out that 99% of people travelling by bike are not on epic trans-continental trips and are not blogging about their experiences in any kind of on-the-Google-radar way.

Close the laptop and actually hit the road and you’ll meet all manner of people conducting their trips with cheap gear from brands you’ve never heard of and on whatever bikes they had lying around, no matter how ‘good for cycle touring’ it appears to be.

The truth is that the ‘best’ gear for cycle touring is that which you can forget about until it breaks, at which point you can easily fix it. Becoming a gear nerd is entirely optional.

3. The cost of ‘standard issue’ touring gear is hugely discouraging.

If you added up the cost of (for example) a Thorn expedition bike, Hilleberg tent, MSR stove and cookset, Exped camping mattress, Mountain Equipment sleeping bag, Ortlieb luggage, a full wardrobe of North Face/Patagonia apparel, a set of professional camera gear, top quality tools and spares, and all the trimmings, you would be approaching the price of a small family hatchback.

Some people (usually those from the 1% minority above) will save significant amounts of cash for a once-in-a-lifetime dream trip. There’s no problem with that, and it often make sense for them to do so, given their priorities. But it’s completely optional.

The longest world tour I’ve ever come across (9 years and 300,000km, for what it’s worth) was conducted on a succession of cheap aluminium mountain bikes. Maria hit the road for six weeks for an initial outlay of about fifteen dollars. Jamie and friends rode from the UK to Slovenia on £30 bikes. Last year I cobbled together everything you’d need for a bicycle tour of any length for £25.17.

For someone dipping their toes into the idea of adventuring by bicycle, being led to believe that you have to spend a few years’ worth of life savings on bits of shiny metal to do so is discouraging.

4. Gear choice is a hugely subjective thing.

Especially now I’ve got a few dozen countries and a few thousand miles of riding experience to draw upon, whatever gear I end up choosing for any given journey is dependent on a combination of factors unique to me alone, and not necessarily shared by anyone else. I know these factors inside out.

By publishing a list of gear I use for a cycle tour, I’d be doing the equivalent of publishing a list of ingredients without explaining what I was actually cooking, or what the end result was supposed to look or taste like.

Just because I prefer raised handlebars; just because I’m reckless enough to rely on suspension forks not breaking; just because I prefer non-waterproof canvas panniers with dry-bags inside them; just because I’m happy cooking noodles in a tin mug over a stove made out of a beer can; just because I don’t mind having no space to spread out in a 1-person tent; just because I carry 6 kilograms of camera gear; just because I’ve an anti-conformist streak and like the idea of a cargo trailer – doesn’t mean anyone else does.

The same goes for any other kit list. There is a vast range of gear available: homemade, brand-new; cheap, exorbitant; minimal, luxurious; basic, complicated; generalist, specialist. And there are whole categories of gear some might depend highly upon, but which are completely irrelevant to trips of particular lengths or in particular regions. Lists don’t really help much with understanding any of this.

5. Mindset is far more important than gear.

I’ve written about this before, but there’s no harm in covering an important point more than once: no amount of money spent on gear is going to counteract Murphy’s law, which states that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. All that spending money will do is delay the inevitable.

It is often the case (but less often understood) that a major source of hesitation and delay when it comes to committing to a big trip is a lack of confidence and understanding of what will actually be involved. Researching ‘the best’ gear is one way in which we attempt to combat that lack.

But another way – which would better serve any budding adventure cyclist in the long run – is to accept the inevitable and to prepare an appropriate response. Knowing that you’ll be able to fix pretty much anything that might go wrong with a bike, for example, will not only instil a healthy level of self-confidence; it might also counteract the belief that one needs to spend two or three grand on a bike that supposedly won’t ever break (it will) in the first place.

So if you’re researching kit lists because you want to understand what’s involved in cycle touring, I’d suggest instead that you go and take your bike apart, realise you’re missing a couple of critical tools, consult Park Tool or Sheldon Brown on the bits you can’t figure out, and put it back together. Then I’d suggest taking it all off for a good weekend’s shakedown. That’s what’s involved in cycle touring.

You’ll emerge with more confidence than dredging any number of kit lists could ever impart. And with the perspective you’ll learn, you might well save enough on unnecessary gear to extend your trip by another few weeks or months.

(Purely to avoid having to reply to almost-daily emails I get about the kit I use, I have now grudgingly published a list containing a mixture of what I use on various tours. Find it here, if you must.)

* * *

If you need more help understanding how your desires, dreams, plans and priorities for bicycle adventures factor into your choice of gear, you could do a lot worse than checking out the 257-page digital guide I’ve written on just that topic. It’ll help you no end in navigating this mess for once and for all, and save you money in the process. Check it out at GearForCycleTouring.com.

Essential Gear Cover Image

Buying bikes and equipment for your next tour?

Reading Essential Gear for Adventure Cycle Touring will help you avoid ending up with the wrong thing, and put more cash aside for your trip.

Click here to find out more at
GearForCycleTouring.com

20 Responses to “Why There’s No Kit List On My Adventure Cycle Touring Blog”

  1. Geoff Harper

    Tom,
    All due respect but I beg to differ.
    I rode across the beaches of South Iceland from East Coast back to West. My plan was very specific so I gathered very specific gear. My belt-driven fatbike had zero mechanical issues not even a puncture because of the tires I chose. Perhaps a longer trip would have given Murphy a better chance to show up that said I know for sure less attention to detail with my gear choice would have given Murphy a lot more opportunity to pay me a visit.
    Of course you can’t plan for everything but you can have a bloody good go. Look at Ben and Tarkas gear, inarguably a massive advantage over the gear used by Scott and essentially I would surmise the difference between a viable expedition and sheer madness.
    Here’s my list…
    http://unchainediceland.wordpress.com/equipment/

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Hi Geoff. Thanks for the comment, but I think you’ve rather neatly missed the point. No doubt people searching Google for “cycle touring equipment” will find your kit list and those of many others. But how much help is that page to someone who logged onto Google because they wanted to spend a few weeks cycling on good roads and bike paths in Europe or North America? (That’s almost all of the people running these searches.)

      My experience is that such lists just end up confusing people who have no context for what they’re looking at. This conclusion is based on the number of emails I get from confused people who can’t figure out what gear they need, and what I hear from confused attendees at events like RGS Explore. Hence this article, and the guide I’m writing!

      Your trip looks epic, by the way 😉

      Reply
  2. Geoff Harper

    …I meant to mention that my equipment page is the 2nd most visited page of my blog…
    (First being my trip report).

    Reply
  3. Geoff Harper

    Thanks Tom!

    It was an intense and amazing trip, I currently have another in the works. 🙂

    I’m certainly not looking to get I to any kind of peeing match and I understand your views however to me if the list has value to just one reader then its absolutely worth posting.
    I suppose you have to ask the question who are gear lists written for?
    I primarily post for my peers ie those with the contextual knowledge you speak of ie that which is gained through hard earned experience also for those with purely platonic curiosity.
    Beyond these I strongly believe that any budding adventurer lacking the contextual knowledge/experience to interpret a gear list is ill-advised to embark upon a grand adventure in the first place.
    Perhaps prefacing gear lists with a reader discretion type disclaimer would be helpful…?
    ‘This list is for reference only, unless you happen to be attempting my exact same trip’…

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Perhaps that would be helpful… I don’t know. It’s probably that many of them are published just because you’re supposed to have a kit list on your touring blog, rather than with a particular reader in mind.

      I do think your list will be extremely useful for anyone doing a fatbike expedition. And I am sure that the photo at the top will immediately let the average tourer know they’re in the wrong place for ‘standard’ touring research 🙂

      Reply
  4. Oliver

    Excellent post Tom! To be honest I thought you would be in a position to offer such a kit list indeed due to your previous experiences. However, I understand pretty well the reason behind your hesitation to do. The main reason is probably that as you mentioned such choice is way too subjective and depends a lot on personal liking, approach and budget of course. I completely agree that mindset is probably the most important thing, because it pretty much has an impact on everything – starting with itinerary and equipment, over pace and perception as well as how you deal with situations, your motivation and how you see things in retrospective. Mindset is gear, tool, and tailwind alike…
    With some distance to the topic I could think of following comparison: a kit list for adventure cycling would be a bit like a shopping list for a dinner. One where you do not know how many people are coming, if anyone is vegetarian or even vegan, what kitchen facilities you may have available, how much time you may have for preparation and so on. The only thing you could be would to offer such a thing for your favourite meal where you know how many people and what folks are coming. Plenty of people may find it delicious and it might be similar to their gathering as well, others may struggle to prepare an even halfway decent dish based on the list and yet some others may find it plain awful and question the entire thing completely. So you are definitely better of to keep cooking your own dishes, savour them accordingly and keep writing about its relish and delight… 😉
    All the very best for your upcoming adventure and I already look forward to reading about it…
    Cheers,
    Oliver

    Reply
  5. SEA monster

    I like kit lists. I like to read, compare and learn about what others use while touring. It has greatly aided me in developing my own gear portfolio.

    But, yes. For one-time experience seekers, it might be confusing and counterproductive to dig too deep into the subject. Those would be better served doing credit card or supported touring anyway (with as much equipment as possible rented). But (in your shoes), I wouldn’t worry too much about them. They are not your core readership – which, I believe, is far more committed to the subject and deserves your advice.

    And, yes. A complete, self-supported touring set can be bloody expensive, provided you want to have it light, durable and functional at the same time. This is a narrow market (unfortunately). I would, however, take out from the total the cost of the computing and video devices, since they are not essentials (and usually function on daily basis outside of touring periods).

    I am not rich by any means. But I prefer to have the best bicycle and equipment I can afford, even if it means cutting down elsewhere. I think the utility, reliability and longevity of the premium stuff is well worth the extra cost, especially if one is in it (touring) for the long haul. For instance: I am still banging my head against the wall, whenever I remind myself how much I spent on my Son28 – Edelux – USB werk combo. But boy, was it worth it! No more worries about batteries and wasted time recharging my electronics (save for my netbook), not mentioning the light output.

    It’s all a matter of preferences, as you pointed out. I look forward to reading about your equipment choices.

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Thanks for your comments. You are right that it’s all a matter of preferences. The book takes that standpoint from the off 🙂

      Reply
  6. Larry Barnhill

    Tom, I’m looking forward to your thoughts ( and words ) on “gear lists” mostly because I have almost always discovered something in a gear-list that I was not aware of previously. At this point I want to thanks you for the words concerning the MSR Hubba Hubba. I have an absolutely brilliant Tatonka 3 man tent which fulfills all my requirements BUT – weighs 5 Kg. Easy to set up in about the same time as the Hubba Hubba and very similar to it in features, except bigger. After reading your blog entry about the MSR, I checked and was able to find one, new, on sale and immediately ordered it ( delivered today ). I must say that reading your blog saved me
    3 Kg in a stroke. Plus it fits better on the back rack. Thanks again. P.S. I found your entry on
    Lonely Planet where you started gathering information on “the best tent”. Cheers !
    Some of the replies to your blog I can agree with ( concerning gear-lists ) and I find others way off the mark. I believe your approach to gear-lists is very good because helping someone develop the mind-set necessary to make their own gear-list is more productive than trying to solve their problems for them. Only the person making the trip ( or cooking the meal ) can fill in all the variables to achieve a satisfactory result.
    I’m looking forward to getting your book when it is offered, and in the meantime am re-reading “The Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook” where you also have a few words 😉

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      “helping someone develop the mind-set necessary to make their own gear-list is more productive than trying to solve their problems for them” — that’s precisely what I’m hoping will be the case.

      Thanks Larry! And glad I was able to help with the tent recommendation!

      Reply
  7. BrianH

    Tom,

    I’m reading your gear book right now and would like to heap very high praise on you for the guide. Best of luck in Iran.

    all the best,

    Brian.

    Reply
  8. Roger Grigsby

    My first encounter with a “world cyclist” was in a bike shop in Kowloon. I was there checking for travel and route information for my tour through SE China. No WWW in 1989, and certainly no google maps!

    I had the good fortune to run into a man who was staying with the bike shop owner, getting rested up for the next leg of his trip. His name was Heinz Stucke, and he had been on tour for a steady, non-stop 28 years at that time.

    Wow! I wanted to see his rig, of course. It was a very old German 3-speed, with the oddest bars and luggage I’d ever seen. He had changed out most everything except the frame, which was black and had the names of every country he’d visited painted in white. His pedals were clipless, the ORIGINAL clipless — just plain old flat pedals. He wore shorts and a pork-pie canvas hat, none of which was “bike apparel”. He had all his gear in home-made black leather bags.

    Needless to say, a man who had toured through every country on earth, for over 28 years and rolling, had discovered the “Ultimate Touring Gear” that fit him just right. And NONE of it will ever be on a “recommended gear list”.

    Reply
    • Lee

      Roger, I spent a few days riding with Heinz about 6 years later and I have to say that he was just a machine. Not only was his kit list completely personalised you could only carry what he did if you were him. I couldn’t lift his back wheel of the ground and struggled to get his bike rolling when I sat on it. And yet he could ride it effortlessly. Legs like steel and a fantastic bloke!

      Reply
  9. Fraser

    I like you perspective, there is a lot to be said for quantifying the journey a kit list is to be used on. I picture a light weight setup used to cycle jogle, and a more substantial list of what I bought to cycle round the world.

    I also explain that everything is a comprises between; cost, reliability and weight. It really is, as you suggest, a very personal choice. I did, however, find other peoples kit lists useful when planning my journeys.

    The best advice I can offer to avoid analysis paralysis is to set a fixed date for departure. Look for kit a month before you leave and have a fixed budget in mind. Everything will become clear.

    A great read Tom.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Fraser

    Reply
  10. haiko

    seems that the key point is to “get out there and do it”
    a confidence thing.
    point taken….

    and the issue of delaying and focussing on periperals
    applies to life in general
    well to my life for shure 🙂

    Reply
  11. Bill poindexter

    This excellent Tom!
    I promote car free lifestyles here in the states (for transportation as well as travel) and I always tell people when they ask about gear is: what ever works for you. Keep up the great work you do!
    Bill aka carfreeamerican

    Reply
  12. ScoutLinks May-2014 | Rikki's Scouting Resources

    […] Why There’s No Kit List On My Adventure Cycle Touring Blog (2014-Jan-26) [Tom's Bike Trip] […]

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  13. Dan

    Tom, I love the fact that when you google cycle touring kit list your “Why There’s No Kit List On My Adventure Cycle Touring Blog” explanation is the sixth hit

    Reply
  14. Geart Tigchelaar

    Great post! Ohyeah, the mindset is everything! And I like to say that I got it and can’t wait to be on the road! (but first I read some more of posts) 🙂

    Reply

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