We used other travellers’ websites a lot so it is only fair that we put our complete list. You can find everything we carry with us, from the spare tyres to the stove. During the first months, we have ‘skimmed’ what we initially took. The list is what we are carrying after 8 months of travelling.
It is our first travel on bicycles and we were not always aware of the weight. Before putting something in your panniers, ask yourself if you could do without it, if something you already have could be used instead or if there is a lighter version.
Don’t hesitate to write to us, we will be happy to answer any question you may have.
Panniers or trailer?
We hesitated a lot … panniers are much more convenient in trains and buses but they put a lot of constraint on the bike (on a recumbent, all the weight is on the rear wheel).
Initially we had a trailer and a pair of Arkel 40L each. After Sylvie had issues with her knees, we decided to limit the weight of her luggage (an empty Bob Ibex weighs between 7 and 8kg). So we sold the trailer and bought her a pair of Ortlieb 40L. Ben kept the initial panniers and trailer. We carry the tent and the sleeping bags (in waterproof Ortlieb bags) on the rack at the back of the bike (over the panniers).
After 8 months travelling, we have noticed the downsides of a trailer:
· It adds to the friction when Ben goes uphill and on flat roads (‘3rd wheel’ effect and also the 8 kg weight of the trailer itself)
· It is dangerous downhill when there are holes and bumps on the road
· It takes more space than a pair of panniers in the bus, the train, the plane, the room
· It is very difficult to go backwards (yes you do go backwards when you have parked your bicycle!)
If we could do it again, we would only take panniers. To be sure, we could strengthen the rear wheel by choosing a rim with more spokes. After 8000 km, Sylvie, who carries about 30 kg, still hasn’t broken a spoke (the rear wheel bears 36 spokes of 2.3 mm).
Panniers : Ortlieb or Arkel ?
We decided to replace Sylvie’s trailer by a pair of panniers only a few days before leaving. Ortlieb had a shorter ordering time hence the mixed sets of panniers.
We find the Arkel ones more convenient: the panniers open nearly all around so we can access our stuff without having to empty it all and small pockets are stitched on the side (very useful to store a head torch, a lighter, a knife …). They are made of Cordura, a very strong fabric, and we use a rain cover to protect them from rain and dust. The downsides: they are expensive and wouldn’t probably be fully waterproof if we had to cross a river … but that doesn’t happen every day!
Our Ortliebs are made of truck tarp, very strong and fully waterproof but they only open from the top. So, if you need something at the bottom, you have to take everything out. And they don’t have small pockets on the side. We think they are good to store big items.
Sleeping and tent
We left with a tunnel tent (Helsport Fjelheimen Camp 3) because we had been told this type of tent fared better in strong winds. After three months of travelling, we realised there were other criteria to take into account.
There was a defect in the tent and we kept breaking poles even though we didn’t get strong wind. Helsport kindly sent us their new, reinforced kit, for free. We noticed that a tunnel tent is strong in the wind but only as long as the wind doesn’t turn! We think this type of tent is good in the mountains or if you need a spacious abside. We also thought it would be better to have a tent for which the outside tent can be setup first in case it rains. But so far, we have had very little rain and once you know your tent, it only takes a few minutes to put it up.
In Istanbul, we bought a Marmot Nusku and we are very happy with it (we have used it for 3 months so far).
What we think is important when choosing a tent:
- Self-standing: several times, we put up the tent on a rocky ground or even on a concrete floor when people offered us hospitality.
- Two entrances: it is easier to store/pack stuff when there are two of you travelling and you also get better ventilation.
- Geodesic or semi geodesic: the Marmot Nusku has three crossed poles and a low height. When there is wind, it doesn’t move unlike our former tent which used to oscillate and be noisy as soon as the wind was turning.
We put a groundsheet under the tent (a light fabric we bought in an outdoor shop). It prevents the groundsheet of the inner tent from wearing out and also getting mud in the absides. The bikes sleep next to the tent, sheltered from the rain and curious people by a tarp that makes noise when you try and remove it. We also use an alarm triggered by movement.
We tried several types of pegs before finding some strong ones: straight with a 3 branch- section in a star shape. The worse were the pegs that looked like a screw. They were supposed to enter the ground more easily but they were the first to bend.
We bought two Rab 600 because they got a good review. But we prefer the Valandré Blue 600 (it replaces Sylvie’s Rab which went under a train). The fabric is stronger, it gets bigger when laid out, and it is guaranteed by Valandré.
We are not completely satisfied with the Primus Omnifuel. We can use petrol or gas but, to save money, we usually use petrol. Gas is useful to clean the stove. We have had several problems, not always easy to identify and, every time, we had to dismantle the stove. We met several other travellers who also had issues. It seems that the Whisperlite from MSR is more reliable (it only works with petrol though).
We left with four MSR water bags but we only used two at the most.
A thermos is very useful for breakfast: we boil the water for tea and coffee in the evening and the thermos keeps it warm until the morning. That way, we don’t need to light the stove again.
If we are unsure of the water, we use Micropur tablets or the filter. Recently, we discovered an alternative: a very light UV light pen which, apparently, has the same effect as Micropur.
We couldn’t do without the foldable bucket/hand basin: light, compact, it is very useful to wash the clothes or to keep the water before filtering in the water bags (so we don’t contaminate the water bags).
We use “freezing bags” to store powders (washing powder, sugar, milk…) and also to protect our passports, the computer, to avoid leaking shampoo in the panniers. Nalgene bottles are useful to store liquids (washing liquid, olive oil, body oil). We store the pharmacy in a Tupperware box. Last time, we kept our pharmacy in a plastic bag and, after a month, all the tablets had popped out of their packaging.
We use layers to regulate temperature:
- A merino thermal, which we have barely used so far. We would put it in the evening or if the night is very cold. It is heavier than synthetic, maybe this would have been enough. We have been told merino doesn’t smell but we don’t wear them very often.
- Light t-shirts and trousers that can change into shorts. Decathlon breathable t-shirts don’t keep perspiration; they are strong and dry quickly. We had some long sleeves ones but we couldn’t bear them in the sun. In Iran, we bought some light cotton shirts.
- A thin fleece. It is the clothe we use the most, when we are cold. The only downside is that we sweat a lot in it when we cycle. There must be alternatives, as warm and more breathable.
- A merino jacket. We were told it is better than synthetic because ‘it stays warm even when wet’. But we tend to keep this jacket dry, only using it in evenings. And we have a waterproof jacket if it rains. Again, maybe a synthetic jacket would have been lighter and just as warm.
- A waterproof jacket and trousers. Very useful in case of wind, rain, and cold. These clothes are light (only one layer) and we use them to protect our clothes from the rain and protect ourselves from the wind. The jacket has very useful zippers under the arms.
We use the buff (a tube of fabric) a lot: in Iran, Sylvie hid her hair and ears. Worn over the mouth, it protects us from the dust. It can also protect from drafts when it is cold.
We use a pair of sandals and a pair of trekking shoes, both Shimano. We could probably have found lighter trekking shoes.
On top of the two pairs of SPD shoes, we also carry a pair of light Salomon shoes. SPD shoes have a rigid sole and they are slippery, not very comfortable for walking on paths for a day. We were also told clips can break if we walk a lot with it.
We went for a computer with a wire because we were told they are stronger. Ours are still good after 8000 km. Ben’s one stopped twice and started again. Maybe wireless would have worked too.
A cycling trip is very different from a backpacking one. We spend less time in the cities so less time on internet. After a month, we realised we were going to need a mini computer in order to keep the blog up to date (we write a lot!). In Vienna, we bought a PDA, an HP iPaq 114 (only problem, it is in German). We can type texts and transfer them on a PC, sometimes with some difficulties. The Windows version installed on the Palm is different from the one used on PCs. If computers are protected, we can’t install the transfer software. A Palm is very small and not very comfy to write long texts. So, in Bangkok, we bought a small laptop: Acer Aspire One, 120 Go memory, 1.4 kg. We can also look at our pictures and select those we want to keep.
You can do without a computer of course. It depends on the frequency and the quantity of information you want to put on your blog. If you only write small articles from time to time, you probably don’t need one. If your blog also doubles up as a diary, think about it!
During our first trip, we only had a compact camera and we often regretted not having a zoom. We bought the Pentax K10 because it is tropicalised (resistant against dust, moisture etc.). We added an 18-250 mm Tamron lens which makes it a bit heavy but we don’t regret it. A smaller SLR would have been enough but we had a lot of issues with dust with our Sony. So the fact that the Pentax was tropicalised was enough for us to make our decision.
We also bought a USB adaptor for SD/Sony cards. That way, we don’t have to carry cables, we insert the memory card in it and we can directly download pictures onto the computer.
We bought two dog-tasers on ebay but they were not efficient. We bought two Dazzer II in Istanbul and they were enough to keep gods at bay. But they were staying in the panniers most of the time so we sent them home. If a dog runs after us, we accelerate and usually the dog gets tired before us; or we get off the bike and shout at the dog.
Mooncup (or Divacup)
Sylvie has been using it for a few years as an eco-friendly alternative to tampons. It is a silicone cup, easy to use and re-usable indefinitely. Sylvie boils it before using it to sterilise it. Tampons and hygienic pads are not always easy to find in all countries and also it is additional weight and volume to carry. And it is not environmentally friendly. You can buy the Mooncup online or in some organic shops.
We mostly use Rough guide and Reise Know-how maps. They are strong, plastified and have altitude lines. We found a whole set in Bangkok but it depends on the countries. It might be safer to get them in Europe before leaving.
Here are some tips we learnt on the road.
It took us some time but thanks to Benoît and other cyclists, we are now better organised and we spend more time cycling than packing/unpacking our stuff!
· We get up at 7 am (or earlier when it is very hot)
· We pack and then have breakfast. This gives time for the tent to dry up and we are motivated by hunger to pack!
· The evening before, we pack as much as we can. We have organised our panniers so we don’t have to open everything every day ("everyday", "rain and cold", "cooking" etc.).
· We take a break every 1/2h or hour to stretch, drink and have a snack.
Sylvie was in a lot of pain after our trip to Cornwall. The doctors said she had an imbalance between the outside and inside muscles of the quadriceps (the kneecap was tilting outward). Here is what we did to make sure the trip would be a success:
· 3 months of physio and daily strengthening exercises
· SPD shoes so we can pull on the pedals and not push. That way, we use the central muscle of the quadriceps, which is stronger. We have gained in power and speed since we pull instead of pushing and our knees feel much better.
· Clip positioning is essential: laterally, to the front and the back and also the angle. We put the clips without tightening the screws, pedaled and then tightened the screws. It took us a few times to get a good positioning.
· If SPD shoes are too expensive, ‘foot-holders’ also do the trick.
· 155 mm cranks for Sylvie and 160 mm for Ben. Everyone said we were mad but it reduces the flexion angle of the knee. We don’t feel we have less power as people told us but then, it is the only cranks we know!
· Stretching several times a day.