We've done a lot of touring and bikepacking - here's our attempt to share the knowledge and experience we've accumulated.
Choosing a bike
We've grouped our bikes into touring bikes and bikepacking bikes. Like all attempts at categorization, there's crossover between the two. Broadly this distinction is based on tyre size. Touring bikes are more at home on sealed roads, and bikepacking bikes will excel on the dirt.
If you're not sure what you need, have a think about the sort of riding you'll be doing, and come in to the shop for some advice.
Tools & spares
What you carry in your toolkit depends on your bike, and how far from civilization you intend to travel. If your bike breaks and you can't fix it, how long will the walk back be?
For most bikes and rides, the following should suffice:
- spare tube
- patch kit
- tyre boot
- mini pump
- tubeless tyre plug (if using tubeless tyres)
- allen key set
- Fiberfix spoke
- chain tool
- quick link (of the correct speed for your chain!)
- chain lube and rag
- a couple of cable ties
If you're travelling to more remote areas, add the following:
- another spare tube
- gear cable
- brake cable (if you have mechanical brakes)
- brake pads
- M5 and M6 bolts in whatever length is on your seatpost/stem/rack bolts etc.
And your particular bike might require you to carry these:
- 8 or 10mm spanner, if you have nuts on your racks or mudguards
- Torx keys, if any of your components (disc brakes, Rohloff etc) need them
If you're travelling and will need to box up your bike, you'll also need a method of removing your pedals (whether that's a 15mm pedal spanner, or a 6/8mm allen key - check your pedals!).
Bags, racks & bottle cages
How you carry you gear depends on your bike, the terrain, and how much gear you have.
For an on-road trip of one or two nights, most people will get away with a pair of rear panniers and a handlebar bag. If you can't fit everything in there, you're probably carrying too much stuff. Longer trips may require front panniers. The best racks to put them on are the German tubular steel Tubus Logo (rear) and the Tubus Duo (front). Some aluminium racks are pretty strong, but they will all eventually break, and that's the last thing you want when you're 50km from the nearest town. Make sure your bike has the required rack mounts, and check the maximum weight limit for those mounts with the manufacturer.
For off-road trips, soft bikepacking bags offer superior handling. They keep the weight centred on the bike and won't bounce around as much as panniers. For a trip of one or two nights, a handlebar pack and saddle pack should suffice. Add a frame pack if you're going on a longer or more remote trip. Smaller bags up at the handlebars are really useful for snacks and commonly accessed items.
Most bikes designed for touring or bikepacking should be able to fit three bottle cages on the frame, and possibly another couple on the forks. Three litres should be enough for most trips. The Zefal Magnum bottle is bigger than most, holding a full litre. If you need cages to hold even larger bottles, check out the Looney Bin (for Nalgene-style bottles) and the Topeak Modula XL (for 1.25L soft drink bottles).
Even the most pristine mountain stream can harbour parasites like Giardia. The inconvenience of treating water is definitely outweighed by uncomfortable, annoying and potentially dangerous diarrhoea.
There are three main bad guys that can contaminate water: viruses (tiny, like Hep A), bacteria (medium-sized, like E. Coli) and protozoans (big, like Giardia and Cryptosporidium). In Australia we're mainly worried about bacteria and protozoans.
Here are the main methods of water treatment.
Visibly dirty water should be filtered through cloth before treatment, to remove as much particulate as possible. Dirt can clog filters, and render other treatments ineffective.
Most staff use a UV steriliser or filter, backed up with chlorine or iodine tablets. A second method of treatment should always be carried, in case your batteries run out, or your filter cracks.
Shelters and sleeping setups
Most riders will use a tent, or a tarp and groundsheet. With a tent you carry your own poles, whereas with a tarp you use trees or sticks to improve supports. Tarps are typically lighter for the same sized shelter, but they aren't fully enclosed, so they don't offer protection from mosquitos. If pitched correctly they will generally protect against rain, but they require more experience to set up, and if you're caught in a storm you may well get wet.
Some ultralight riders use bivvy bags, but these can have serious condensation problems (and wet down sleeping bags aren't very warm!) so we recommend against them.
The default cooking setup for Australian riders is the butane/propane gas stove. It's easy to use, cooks quickly, and you can control the heat level. Gas canisters are available in most towns.
If you're looking for an ultralight option for an overnight trip, you might like to investigate DIY alcohol stoves. They can be very cheap and light, and they're fun to make! Methylated spirits fuel is widely available, and cheap too. As the trip becomes longer the lower energy density of the fuel means that it's quite heavy to carry enough methylated spirits, and alcohol stoves become unattractive.
We recommend merino fabrics for base layers, as synthetics tend to get smelly pretty quickly.
For most trips, rain gear should be lightweight, as otherwise you'll drown in sweat.
Sun safety is really important - we'd suggest a long-sleeve top, sunglasses, and a buff or legionnaire's cap to protect the neck. Plus liberal amounts of sunscreen!
If you're coming on a shop-organised overnight ride, here's what you should bring:
- bicycle appropriate for the terrain
- sleeping bag with liner
- sleeping mat
- stove, fuel, matches/lighter
- cooking pots
- bowl, spork, mug
- thermal leggings and skivvy
- puffy jacket
- rain jacket
- hand sanitiser, toilet paper
- head torch, spare batteries
- front and rear bike lights
- pump, patch kit, spare tube, tyre levers
- any other spares or tools you might need for your bike
- water (if you're not sure how much to bring, ask)
- some way to treat drinking water e.g. tablets
- food (make sure you know when there are opportunities to buy more food - on some rides you will need to cary all your food for 3 days)
- panniers or bikepacking bags to carry your gear