Author Topic: HELP! Items Checklist. Need advice. (especially from John Nelson)  (Read 5926 times)

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Offline Charlie Parker

    Hey dudes.  8) Hows it going? Just wanted to say thanks for all the quick answers. This is very-very helpful. Just FYI, I'm starting my trip from Boston to Los Angeles on June 1st! Aww yeah! 


    • How many liters of water should I plan on carrying per day? (1 liter = 2.2 lbs)
    • How do I lock my bike bags. And what type of lock should I get for my bike? I'm biking by myself and I'm really conserned about leaving it there. What should I do? What happens if I have to take a crap or something... I can't take my bike into the stall.

    Sorry for it being long. Again, I really apperciate all the help. John Nelson if your reading this I really need your help!
« Last Edit: May 17, 2013, 10:55:18 pm by Charlie Parker »

Offline Patco

Re: HELP! Items Checklist. Need advice. (especially from John Nelson)
« Reply #1 on: May 14, 2013, 12:59:04 am »
I'll take a stab at this, with the caveat that there isn't any one, right approach for packing for a cross country, or any bike trip, and I am sure you will obtain a number of opinions. After digesting all opinions/comments, you need to decide what makes you comfortable. Very few decisions can't be reverses. If you find you have over-packed, or you need something, you can mail the surplus home and you can buy what you need (in most cases) on the road.

I do not use a camelback because my jersey isn't able to breathe when it is sitting on my back so I ride hotter.

I use a NeoAir and I don't care how long it takes me to blow it up. I want to sleep as best I can if I want to be at my best the next day.

Sometimes I have taken a camera; sometimes not. But two to three pounds for a camera...I will not carry that weight. I have purchased a small camera that I also use for backpacking. It weights much, much less.

Like the camera, I have traveled with stuff sacks and without. At this time I like traveling without because what I found is with a stuff sack I am able to generate more room in my panniers, and then I am tempted to add something to carry because I have the room. Without the stuff sacks I pack more efficiently. I do use compression sacks for my tent and sleeping bag.

I do not like going without water. That happened once when I knew a roadside park would have water and then when I arrived there was a notice that it was not potable. So, I carry four water bottles of which I will always have three full of water and the fourth will be full depending on the planned water spots for that day or if I will be dry camping.

I have never taken a lock and I have never regreted that decision. I do take precautions depending on where I am when I stop. Usually those precautions include not stopping when it seems dicey and I try to keep the bike in sight.

I keep my electronics to a minimum because I do not want to carry the weight. I currently have a Galaxy tab (3G and GPS) and a cell phone, and they are off unless I need them so the power lasts a long time. I traveled once with equipment that would allow me to stay in touch and populate a blog. After that trip I decided never again would I carry that surplus weight and never again would I devote time to "entertain" others with my daily musings. It took time away from the purpose of the ride, which is, for me, solitude.

Again, this works for me and is apropo of nothing, so regardless of what you end up doing, enjoy your ride.

Offline bobbys beard

Re: HELP! Items Checklist. Need advice. (especially from John Nelson)
« Reply #2 on: May 14, 2013, 07:25:22 am »
always a matter of personal opinion this subject. there's a guy on another thread who intends to take a chair with him.

i took a camelbak last time. i didn't use it for water, but it made a good day pack for days off the bike. you would get used to riding with a pack on, but it does get sweaty in the summer....

personally i think an air mattress is very unnecessary. i tend to take a rug for cowboy camping (nothing like sleeping under the stars) and some bubble wrap for under my sleeping bag on colder nights. i doubt you will have too many cold nights on your trip though.

water depends on services and heat. for one desert section of the southern tier in august, i took about 3 gallons. i like to have at least 3 quart bottles on me all the time. going thirsty can be dangerous and at the very least uncomfortable.

i do take a bike lock for urban areas. never bothered with bag locks though. noones ever stolen anything from me, but i hear it does happen. actually a raccoon once managed to open my ortliebs and steal some cookies.

to charge electronics, i checked into a motel or "proper" campsite every few days. it's a nice treat to look forward to a shower and some comfort too :)

Offline raybo

Re: HELP! Items Checklist. Need advice. (especially from John Nelson)
« Reply #3 on: May 14, 2013, 10:41:01 am »
I use a Camelbak and it gets heavy on my back.  When it is filled (about 2.5 liters or close to 6 pounds), it is uncomfortable on my back.  But, I drink much more water with it and I put all my valuables in it so I always have them with me.  I rarely run low on water.

I can't imagine not having some kind of pad to sleep on.  I use a thin Thermarest and was thinking of getting something even thicker.

Heavy cameras are a personal choice.  If you really value the photos it takes, carry it.  If you are only going to post the photos on your website, get a lighter camera or use a smart phone.

You clothes will get wrinkled and dirty no matter how careful you are.  I use gallon ziplock bags to hold my folded clothes in my panniers.  It helps but not much.

The amount of water I carry depends on the day I have planned.  I always ride with my camelbak and have a pretty good idea of how long I can go with a full pack.  I prefer not to carry extra water.  If possible, I plan to get water along the way.  Many times, I have stopped at a house and asked for water which has never been refused.  On a recent trip, I got water from passing motorists, both requested and not.  This is something you have to work out for yourself.

I don't lock my bike bags and I rarely let my bike out of my sight.  A quick way to do it is with zipties (need to be cut off).  There are lockable metal meshes you can get.

U-locks are heavy and unnecessary, in my opinion.  Here is an article I wrote about locking you bike on tour.

I either have electronics that use replaceable batteries (camera) or use available electrical outlets at bakeries, coffee places, restaurants, motels, or anywhere else to charge my iPhone and iPad.

Some articles you might find interesting:

Taking less weight on tour.

Bike touring trade-offs.
Visit the on-line bike touring archive at

Offline John Nelson

Re: HELP! Items Checklist. Need advice. (especially from John Nelson)
« Reply #4 on: May 14, 2013, 10:47:24 am »
Wow, I've never been called out in the subject line before!

The previous advice is good. Some of the answers are personal decisions. I'll give you my take on your questions.
  • Camelback: Very unusual for long-distance cyclists. More commonly used by mountain bikers. I recommend against it.
  • Air mattress: I could not sleep comfortably without one, so it is well worth it to me from a comfort standpoint, especially for a side sleeper. It is also very important, however, for insulation from the ground. You're going to get cold without it. Only skip it if you have a lot of experience sleeping on the ground without one.
  • Heavy camera: If you are a photography enthusiast, it's worth it. Everybody takes a luxury item or two. If a heavy camera is your luxury item, then go for it. For me, I just take a camera to document my trip and preserve my memories. I don't need National Geographic quality. But then again, I'm not really a photography enthusiast.
  • Stuff sacks: Get your clothes wrinkled? Really? On a long tour, much of the time you're going to stink and look like a bum. Wrinkled cloths will be the last of your concerns. On the other hand, I don't believe that any stuff sacks are necessary except for your sleeping bag. As long as your panniers are waterproof, just throw your stuff in. And don't take anything that doesn't fit in your panniers, except your tent. If you have the "one big bag" style of pannier such as Ortliebs, then you may want some sort of organizing system, but simple zip-lock bags will do that job. For me, I just dump everything in. I only use zip-lock bags to keep small parts together.
  • Water: It varies. You should always know where your next source of water will come from. Carry enough to get there. You'll need at least a half-liter per hour while cycling, more if it is hot. I carry three 28-ounce water bottles, and I also have a 2-liter platypus for those areas without water stops. The platypus only weighs one ounce when empty, and I only use it very occasionally. I also sometimes buy Gatorade for extra supply and either put them in my panniers or strap them to the top of a pannier. Bottom line: know what's ahead and plan for it. If you don't know what's ahead, then plan for the worst.
  • How to lock bike bags: You don't. Put all your valuables (money, cell phone, camera) in your handlebar bag and take it with you everywhere, but leave your panniers on your bike. Your panniers are not attractive targets--people perceive them as full of dirty clothes. Have some faith in people, especially in small town America. You'll have to accept a bit of risk or you'll go crazy. But don't have any faith in the people in Times Square--don't leave your bike unattended there for a second, or better yet, plan your route to avoid Times Square and all other big cities.
  • U-lock: Yes, it's too heavy--way, way too heavy. Take a lightweight cable lock, long enough to run through your frame, wheels, the handles of your panniers, and around a pole. You're not trying to stop the determined thief, just the thief of opportunity. Anything that slows him down for five seconds is going to be enough. As I said, avoid high-risk areas.
  • Charging electronics: Plug them in. You're in America. There are electrical outlets everywhere. Every store, every restaurant, many parks, many campsites, swimming pools. Turn off your electronics except when actually using them to conserve power. Turn off the Wi-Fi. Turn off the cell. Turn off the GPS. If you want to use the camera on your phone during the day, put your phone in airplane mode.


  • Guest
Re: HELP! Items Checklist. Need advice. (especially from John Nelson)
« Reply #5 on: May 14, 2013, 01:05:46 pm »
10 to 15 min. to inflate an air mattress? What type of mattrress do you have? I used a BA Air Core for my last trip. The long one: 72" and 2.5" thick. It takes me 20 breaths to inflate it almost full and a few extra puffs to top it off. As noted, they are important for insulation.

I resisted a Camelback when I rode across the country despite having weeks of 90+ temps with massive humidity. I then went to southern Spain without one and ended up getting one the first chance I got. It was not the hinderence I thought it would be. I now routinely use one, albeit it a smallish one. 40 oz. I think. Nice thing to have when you have to dozens of miles to cover with no services, especially in the hot sun. I also carry two bottles, which allows me to carry stuff like juice without getting the Camelback gunked up.

Take the camera if you want to take the camera. I toted a Mamiya 645 with metered view finder, power winder and three lenses across the country along with a 35mm. Both were film. Didn't regret it for a minute.

A u-lock is great fior locking yuor bike to things parking meters and bike racks. A picnic table or tree at a campground, not so much. A simply cable will deter opportunistic theft. I don't lock up my bike far more than I lock it. If you are worried about someome walking off with you panneris every time you turn your back, you might very well give yourself an ulcer. Rationally assess the risk presented by the particular surroundings and take reasonable precautions, which may range from not letting your stuff out of your sight (downtiown Cleveland, OH) to nothing (an empty USFS campground in the middle of nowhere MT).

I don't think anyone is going to notice, much less care, if your clothes are wrinkled. And if you have synthetics, wrinkling shouldn't be a major problem. I have never used compression sacks for anything other than my sleeping bag and I have never been asked to leave any place because I looked disheveled.

Relax and have fun.

Offline staehpj1

Re: HELP! Items Checklist. Need advice. (especially from John Nelson)
« Reply #6 on: May 14, 2013, 07:47:39 pm »
Camelback - In the desert ice on your back can be nice, but most places I do not use one.
Air mattress or sleeping pad - 10-15 minutes?  Really? I find that it takes 18-20 deep breaths and it can be done in under a minute.  A complete non issue IMO
Camera - Your call.  How important is it to you?
Stuff/Compression Sacks - I use stuff sacks but usually not compression sacks.  I can compress stuff pretty well with small sacks.  I don't carry clothes where wrinkles are a problem.
Water - as much as you need to get to the next water with some room for error
Lock - I use a 5 ounce cable lock and am careful when and where I leave my bike
Charging - minimize your electronics, carry spare batteries and charge when you can.  Leave stuff turned off when not in use to save battery.  No need to have the phone powered on all day.

Offline Charlie Parker

Re: HELP! Items Checklist. Need advice. (especially from John Nelson)
« Reply #7 on: May 15, 2013, 12:40:51 am »
Wow thanks guys for all the great tips. I think you all pretty much covered it, I just wanted to have a second opinion. I've been doing a lot of research, but there's always a new question everyday ha.

Raybo thanks for those articles and tips! I favorited the 'locking your bike on your link'. Great stuff there, thank you!

@John: Thanks for the advice! I pretty much agreed with all of your suggestions. I think I'm going to buy back the air mattress that I returned. And as for my bike security, my panniers are bright, bright blue. Thats the only reason I'm a little weary of leaving them there. The panniers are so easy to unhook. They're worth 160 and the stuff inside (tent and sleepingbag) are another 300-400 easily. Uhh crap... I think I'm going to cable lock the bike to myself. 

indyfabz, I look forward to taking a lot of pictures too :D Thanks for the tips. You too staehpj1, patco, and bobby's beard. 


  • Guest
Re: HELP! Items Checklist. Need advice. (especially from John Nelson)
« Reply #8 on: May 15, 2013, 08:29:21 am »
$20 says you will lose your constant fear of theft once you are in the element.

Offline John Nelson

Re: HELP! Items Checklist. Need advice. (especially from John Nelson)
« Reply #9 on: May 15, 2013, 09:58:27 am »
The panniers are so easy to unhook. They're worth 160 and the stuff inside (tent and sleeping bag) are another 300-400 easily.
Much more of a theoretical problem than a real one, especially in rural America.

Offline DaveB

Re: HELP! Items Checklist. Need advice. (especially from John Nelson)
« Reply #10 on: May 15, 2013, 10:13:36 am »
Unless you are a very serious photographer and photos are the main purpose of the trip, lose the EOS.  In the days of film cameras, weight and size were essential to get quality pictures.  That is no longer true and very small, light digital cameras do a wonderful job.   The camera's Indyfabz describes have been long replaced by digitals with less than 10% of their size and weight. The EOS is not only excessively large and heavy but it is also vulnerable to damage.  Get something small, light and rugged. 

As to air mattresses, I have a Thermorest pad that is self inflating so you just open the valve and let it do most of the work for you.  A few puffs by mouth to firm it up and you are done. They can be very light and are also good insulation.  Is the air mattress you described one of those Wal-Mart slumber party types?   

Offline Charlie Parker

Re: HELP! Items Checklist. Need advice. (especially from John Nelson)
« Reply #11 on: May 17, 2013, 10:04:54 pm »
I bought a ProLite Plus Thermarest. It's 1.375 lbs. I really don't want to bring it, just because I don't like inflatable pads. They're uncomfrotable and I feel like I'm just adding unnecessary weight. But the foam pads (at least the ones I saw) looked way too thin and I don't think they'd even do anything as far as comfort goes.   

What do you think? Will I need it? Are there any good foam pads out there?

Offline DaveB

Re: HELP! Items Checklist. Need advice. (especially from John Nelson)
« Reply #12 on: May 17, 2013, 10:42:07 pm »
The Thermarests are basically a foam pad enclosed in an airtight casing.  They "self inflate" as the compressed foam inside expands and sucks air in through the open valve.  They do about 85% of the inflating for you and you just top them up to your desired firmness by mouth and close the valve.  To pack them you open the valve, roll them tight to expel all of the air and close the valve.  They stay rolled up until you want to let them inflate again.  In the event of a tear in the outer casing, they still provide some padding and insulation.

So, they are both an inflatable pad and a foam pad all in one and the smaller, thinner ones are quite light.  To answer your question, no there are no light foam pads thick enough to make you comfortable.   

Offline Charlie Parker

Re: HELP! Items Checklist. Need advice. (especially from John Nelson)
« Reply #13 on: May 17, 2013, 10:56:21 pm »
You know, I've been fooling around with it, and I think I actually like it.  8)

Offline John Nelson

Re: HELP! Items Checklist. Need advice. (especially from John Nelson)
« Reply #14 on: May 18, 2013, 08:41:07 pm »
I prefer the non-self-inflating pads. Yes, it takes more work to blow them up, but you get a lot more comfort for the same weight and they take up less space. But the only way to find out what you need is to try it--multiple times. Sleep on it outdoors (so you can check both comfort and insulation). Everybody is different.