One of the central tenets of my new eBook Essential Gear for Adventure Cycle Touring (released this week!) is that there’s no right or wrong way to ‘do’ a bike trip.
This is a truism, of course; I’m far from the first person to point it out! Each one of us has different priorities when we saddle up and hit the road, and the scope for doing things our own way is truly vast. This is one of many qualities that makes the bicycle such a superb choice for long, personal journeys that deeply satisfy the soul.
To really get across the point that one size does not fit all, I asked 15 of the guide’s 50+ contributors to share their favourite personal items they carried with them on their longest tours — items you’re unlikely to find in any prescriptive kit-lists.
“An MP3 player for music and nowadays podcasts. I do not listen to it 24/7, but sometimes it has a magical power to kick in with great motivation, or calm me down when being solo for too long. And a pen & paper to put thoughts down and to draw what I need/want when the language barrier is too high.”
Marija Kozin / Slovenia to China & back
“My favourite bit of kit was a pair of Leatherman pliers for grinding fresh peppercorns into my food at night. I also carried popcorn kernels and made a pan of salty popcorn each evening while I wrote my diary before dinner.”
Alastair Humphreys / Round the world
“My favourite piece of non-essential kit is definitely my Kindle (and all the free e‑books people gave me along the way). I never saw the point of them until I was on the road, but now I couldn’t imagine travelling without it. It was wonderful to be able to sit in my tent in the evening and browse through a whole virtual library, rather than relying on whatever dog-eared paperback I’d had in my panniers for the last six months, and I ended up reading more books on the road than I usually do at home. Of all the many things I carried with me, the Kindle was the most enriching.”
Emily Chappell / London to Japan
“We bring a big cotton blanket that is totally impractical – it’s relatively heavy, not waterproof, a doozy when wet, and takes up space. But we use it almost every day. It’s home!”
Ramona Marks / All over Europe
“My favourite non-essential item is my camera. I travel by bicycle because of the slowness, and with a camera I can enjoy a country and its people in a more extensive way, with an eye on the small things – like flowers or insects or frog babies. And when I get home I can relive my travels again and again.”
Blanche van der Meer / Round the world (in progress)
“My favourite thing was a 5 Euro tripod stool bought from Decathlon. The trick was to keep it on top of the gear so I could grab it for any rest stop, and it was really great for the evening camp. I also had it in Morocco with a friend who was on his way to South Africa, and I gave it to him before I flew home. I think he carried it all the way to Cape Town!”
Tim Brewer / UK to Australia
“My favourite non-essential piece of gear was a box of beads, needles and thread. I am not a person who can sit around doing nothing, and those rainy days when we were crammed into a tiny tent or hotel room would have driven me nuts if I hadn’t had my beads to occupy my time. Yes, it weighed a couple of pounds. Yes, it took up space. Yes, many people think I was crazy for carrying them. But I know myself, and I would not have made it through our four years on the road without them.”
Nancy Sathre-Vogel / Alaska to Argentina (with kids)
“A compact, durable, lined notebook is something I’d always find room for in my panniers. A handful of notebooks provided a frame for capturing each day in restrained one-page diary entries which tracked our progress across Europe and Asia. The back pages are covered in scores from rainy day card games, hand drawn maps and the logistics of route planning and visa restrictions. There’s stick-figure sketches used for bartering train ticket prices, and the addresses and names of people I met on the side of the road. The filled notebooks I posted back home every few months are by far the best souvenir from my long cycle tour.”
Emma Philpott / London to Bangkok
“Obvious I guess, but no less important, is a book. I was happy with one and desperate without one. When I had no company for days or weeks, the characters in the book became my friends, and I would spend all day cycling wondering what they’d get up to once I’d set up my tent and snuggled into my sleeping bag. The funniest of my literary experiences was reading Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey” whilst cycling across the Mongolian steppe. I’d got it from a friend in Ulaanbaatar and so Austen’s dainty and agreeable set of characters were my companions as I cycled across the plains and mountains into Russia.”
Kim Ngyuen / Australia to Denmark via Outer Mongolia
“My favourite piece of kit was my trusty flannel. If you think wild camping means going to bed dirty, dusty and sticky, then think again. It took me 15,000km of cycling to realise this, but with 600ml of water, a bit of soap and a flannel you can clean your entire body, almost as thoroughly as you can in a shower. Now, no matter how cold or public my camp spot, I absolutely refuse to go to bed without a refreshing naked flannel-wash.”
Max Goldzweig / UK to South Africa & China
“Luddites may rail against this, but a phone or tablet with the Google Translate app is a fantastic communication tool. Downloading languages and foreign scripts to use offline, we spent many evenings passing a tablet back and forth with local hosts learning and sharing so much more than we could have done with hand gestures or a dictionary.”
Tim Moss / UK to Australia (in progress)
“My favourite non-essential piece of kit was my tin whistle! Chicks dig a guy who can play a manly instrument like the tin whistle…”
Leon McCarron / New York to Hong Kong
“My favourite non-essential piece of kit was a vacuum flask. Not only in winter (when I prepared coffee in the evening and had it ready and warm in the morning without even getting out of the sleeping bag), but also in warmer climates, where I could heat water at breakfast time and have it ready for my lunchtime instant noodles. And in China – where they give you hot water in every restaurant and café – I filled my flask before camping and had pre-boiled water to speed up the cooking!”
Francesco Alaimo / Italy to… (in progress)
Big thanks to all of these kind and well-travelled souls for their contributions. You can check out their ongoing projects via the links above.
And as for me? For several months I carried a large metal wok strapped to the back of my bike. Huge, heavy, totally impractical — and absolutely perfect for cooking up the most enormous meals over the DragonFly. (I believe it now resides in a small flat in the Turkish city of Samsun.)
When it comes to essential items of gear (such as your bike!), the combined experience of these riders adds up to a lot of hard-earned wisdom. If you’re getting kitted out for a tour and you’d like to benefit from their knowledge and advice (plus that of 40+ other veterans), you really should check out the new Essential Gear for Adventure Cycle Touring guide at GearForCycleTouring.com.