12 Essential Items for a Cycling Trip

Outdoor Cycling
by Jeff Bartlett Mar 29, 2011

Photo by Jeff Bartlett

Cycle touring brings a freedom that many travelers never experience. For the true self-supported cyclist, it’s a cheap way to see an entire continent. For the supported rider – traveling from hotel to hotel – it’s a way to slow down and see things that often blur past car windows without a second thought.

[Editor’s Note – Jeff Bartlett is a recent alum of award-winning MatadorU and was sent on a press trip cycling through Patagonia; one of many opportunities available to students and alumni of our travel writing and photography courses.]

After my recent Pedal the Andes Plus Chiloe press trip with ExperiencePlus!, I set out to discover the essential cycle touring packing list. Whether biking across your home state or cycling Patagonia, it’s important to carry the right gear.

Aside from the obvious list – tent, sleeping bag, stove, and bike clothes – here are 12 items to help make your next cycling adventure a positive experience:

Bag Balm

Chafing isn’t fun and saddle sores are painful. While chamois bike shorts can prevent many problems, many cycle tourists still experience discomfort due to the sheer amount of time spent in the saddle.

Enter Bag Balm – a gel created to soften cow udders.

Loaded with lanolin, applying a small amount to tender areas helps reduce friction and soothe saddle sores.

Flat Repair Kit

During my 500 km ExperiencePlus! tour, I didn’t have a flat; however, the extra weight of the kit – which included a pump, spare tube, tire patches, and tire levers – wasn’t wasted; my tire lever doubled as a bottle opener.

Saddle Bag

Slung under your saddle, this small bag is a convenient place to keep things used throughout the day. Aside from the flat repair kit, you can keep a multi-tool, sunscreen, lip balm, and snack within easy reach. Trust me, it beats sorting through carefully packed panniers on the roadside.

Home Comforts

Unlike conventional traveling, long distance bikers often spend more nights under stars than under roofs. It’s often nice to have a touch of home along for the ride. For some, this means an iPod with music. But my wife and I always carry our Yerba Mate and a thermos of hot water.

Photo by Jeff Bartlett

Cotton Scarf

After three years cycling the Pan-American Highway with her husband and twin boys, Nancy Sathre-Vogel cites a cotton scarf as an essential item. According to her, “it’s good as a light head cover when cold, covers mouth & nose in dust, wipes down the tent and bike in the rain, etc…”


You can’t ride all the time, so it’s important to carry some form of entertainment to keep off-the-bike time lively. What to carry depends as much on the tour location as it does on the cyclists. In Patagonia, many people opt for a rod and reel, taking time to fish the trout-laden rivers. Couples might carry a deck of cards & crib board, while solo riders often find room for an extra book.

Bright Colors

Perhaps it’s the four years spent in Argentina, but I’ve become overly cautious on busy roadways. In many parts of the world, drivers neither expect to see cyclists nor respect their right to share the road. Bright colors increase your visibility and might save your life.

I’ve never been sold on bright biking clothes because my travel wardrobe must double as restaurant wear, but a bright flag or sign hanging from the rear pannier might actually save your life.

Deluxe Sleeping Pad

Forget therm-a-rests or foam sleeping pads. A benefit to cycling is that extra weight ends up on the wheels, not your back, so splurge on either an Exped Downmat or Big Angus Insulated Air Core Sleeping Pad to insure warm and comfortable rests while on the road.

Rain Gear

More than any piece of gear, rainwear seems to have a direct relationship with Murphy’s Law. Pack it and it never rains; forego it and it’ll pour. Most long distance cyclists claim they’d rather bike into headwinds than bike in the rain because illness always follows, so don’t skimp when buying rainwear. Gore-Tex not only keeps you dry, it breathes enough to keep you from pouring sweat.

Photo by Jeff Bartlett

Extra Footwear

Assuming you’ll be wearing SPD bike shoes while riding, its important to carry a second set of footwear for time spent off the bike. The perfect set isn’t easy to find, but many people seem to favor a pair of Keen Newport for their versatility.


No matter where you’re riding, its essential to secure the bike when it’s out of your site. While the benefits of a good lock may never be seen, a bad lock can end a trip in short order. A number of companies make good quality u-locks and cables, but North American and UK residents might be interested in Kryptonite’s insurance program, which offers either $2000 or £900 towards a new bike.


Bonking with a loaded touring bike can spell disaster, so it’s important to carry a supply of quick-energy foods while riding. A Clif Bar or Powerbar Gel is ideal but expensive. Instead, carry a handful of cereal bars, fresh bread & cheese, or even a chocolate bar. All three provide enough carbohydrates and sugar to get energy to sore muscles quickly.

Community Connection

Check out more on Road Bike and Cycling as well as essential packing lists for various travel scenarios under Matador’s Focus on Packing Tips resource.

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