- (Bike build can be found here)
From freezing snowy mountains to hot arid deserts, cycling the entire length of the Americas involves a number of different climatic conditions. Trying to be fully prepared yet at the same time travel as lightweight as possible can pose some significant challenges. Like most people travelling on a bicycle, I have no desire to carry extra gear unnecessarily.
After cycling the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, the need for winter gear greatly diminished; my route into Mexico followed Baja California, the coast of Mexico and then through Central America (route here). After reaching Colombia, I realised that the only times when I had any sort of inclination to wear gloves or my goose down jacket were at places like the top of Tajamulco (the highest peak in Central America). The thing is, one can always find a way to get by in these situations if there are few enough of them; borrow an extra jacket or wear a pair socks on your hands, for example, or just put up with the temporary hardship. This is how I tend judge whether or not something is worth carrying. If it doesn’t significantly add to my enjoyment / happiness level and I’m not using it regularly and it isn’t essential for survival then I have to seriously wonder whether it’s worth lugging up and down the hundreds of vertical kilometres that a route may entail. Perhaps the question one should ask oneself is ‘can I put up with the hardship of not having it for those few times that it’s actually useful?’. Or, ‘will it really make that much difference to my overall happiness on this trip?’.
For someone planning a similar route to me it may be prudent to consider posting their winter gear from the border of Mexico to Colombia, where it will once again be needed for the potentially freezing conditions in the Andes. This would avoid carrying it needlessly through Mexico and Central America for a few months. However, I’m less familiar with the mountains through the centre of Mexico; perhaps winter gear is necessary on some of the higher routes or maybe you might want to go mountaineering. Anyway, in order of my ‘perceived’ importance, here’s my list:
- SPOT beacon (AAA x 3 – Lith) – latest version (I have an earlier one). Light and small; I find it hard to find a good enough reason to not carry one particular if you intend to head off the main routes.
- Maps: Alpinequest – excellent navigating app for the Android. Multiple different map downloads for use offline (unlike other apps), drop waypoints for future route planning (e.g. conveniently in conversation) and comprehensive route tracking; download other GPX recommended routes from the web.
(NB: Ridewithgps.com – good for working out elevation profiles. Just saw the Google Maps app for cycle routes now seems to have this?)
- Small Compass (virtually never used but could be useful for hiking)
- First aid kit the absolute bare minimum:
emergency foil blankets,bandages (swabs,triangle, large dressing, band aids, hikers wool, mole skin), pain reliever (panadol, aspirin, ibuprofen), needle (given away(gloves, tiny fold-up CPR mask)
FOOD / WATER / COOKING / FIRE
- 0.75 litre bike bottle (mounted to top of handlebar) & 1 litre yoghurt bottle (underside of downtube) (I read that the white plastic used in these bottles can be used longer with less health risk /contamination than the clear bottles; a purpose built one litre bike bottle would be preferable but I’ve not found one in Latin America)
10 litre MSR Hydration Bag(I used to have a hydration bag but decided 99.99% of the time I only need 1 or 2 litres of water and can re-fill in the next town or use my water filter if necessary. Reducing the amount of water you carry is an easy way to reduce weight. With a 10 litre bag I often carried far more water than I needed. For a long dry section I can always strap a couple of extra plastic bottles to my bike)
- Sawyer Squeeze water filter: given to me kindly by Scott Pauker. Use a t-shirt or bandanna to extract sediment/debris. A better option than the UV treatment, no messing with batteries or electricity cables:
Steripen UV use clear water only– versions with rechargeable options also exist (a bit heavier but the CR123 batteries can be quite expensive)
- Purification tablets (30+ x 1l each pill for emergency/desperate use only)
- FIRE: lighters (x2) or flint
- Clikstand T-2 Titanium with Trangia Burner (fuel: denatured alcohol, as pure as possible for a stronger flame)- acquired thanks to Cass’s review. Delighted with this item. No noise, clean and light. Previously used a MSR whisperlite international which was good but the gasoline occasionally contaminated my food (user error but nonetheless…). I also had an alcohol beer can stove (very light but probably less efficient; this is how you make it, thanks Tom Allen or compare all options from pedallingnowhere.com).
- Cooking pot; lid/plate; wind protector
- fork / spoon
- Snap lock bags – various uses including keeping feet & socks dry with wet shoes.
SHELTER / SLEEPING
- Tent (green MSR – Hubba plus footprint, there is now a newer version but my one has worked well – can be too hot in hot climates if you need the fly on but I get by OK. I’m 6’4″ slim and fit OK. Somewhat lightweight but not the absolute lightest option available. I traded slight weight gain for practicality.)
- 1mx1.5m tarp (good for sitting on, temporary roof to protect from the rain or having in vestibule of tent; used a lot). Also have one as an extra groundsheet to protect the bottom of the tent and minimise water coming in from below.
- Sleeping bag: Marmot Never Summer Comfort: 12.7°F / -10.7°C (a little cold when approaching -10 C but OK with my down jacket on etc. I think it would be warmer if it was narrower. Would have researched more options if it was convenient). Bought in Tattoo, Quito, Ecuador for ~$330)
(Macpac Sanctuary 600XP (NZ brand); -4 (comfort), -11 (limit),-30(extreme)) (bit big for me, would prefer warmer, doesn’t seem to be quite enough down in this version), inner liner bag
- Thermarest prolite sleeping mat – regular (I’m 6’4″ / 193cm and slender build; fits well. I prefer this full length for the cold Andes since a fair amount of heat can be lost through the ground but no need for the large (for me)). Owned by MSR, fantastic customer service. Sent a new one out to Ecuador when a bubble appeared in my first one, no questions asked.
- SeaToSummit dry bag – see bike gear for more info on bags.
- Waterproofs: jacket (Mountain Equipment – Goretex), trousers (cheap since not used that often), reflective vest
– Tops (polyester, not as cold when wet and quicker to dry than cotton): 1 x blue Under Armor t-shirt with a VERY useful large collar to protect from sunburn on neck (ideally would be a slimmer fit but it works fine), white sleeves (to stop sunburn, bought in Colombia for $1), fingerless cycling gloves
– Shorts: Black football / trackie (light polyester, cheap – use for swimming, cycling, running, casual); 3 x underwear (poly (dries quicker), nothing padded with normal mountain bike saddle)
– 3 pairs cycle socks (wool = warm when wet, doesn’t smell; poly = warmish when wet but can smell; cotton = cold when wet and can smell (double negative, avoid))
- Day casual / off bike: North Face Paramount Peak II trousers that convert to shorts (excellent, dry quickly), 1x black collared t-shirt, 1 x merino underwear, Fleece (polyester, a bit bulky (merino wool version could be better? although expensive) – use this a lot, stuff it with clothes and down jacket for a pillow).
- Night:Merino top, Merino leggings beanie (woolly hat)
- Additional warmth (below freezing): Virtuoso down jacket (awesome) from Outdoor Research (packs small inside its pocket), inner gloves (test they work operating a smartphone before buying, like these Rab ones I use), outer gtx warm gloves.
- Recently acquired new Mammut goretex shoes in Santiago Chile, so far very happy – dry, comfortable and surprisingly lightweight for what they are. I use a flat pedal (not clipless). Good for cold / wet conditions, interested to see what they’d be like in a hot climate. My previous North Face Approach shoe fell apart having lasting 1.5 years of solid use (my only shoe): loved them – comfortable, dried quickly. Can be used for cycling, running and hiking. Before this I had the Salewa Firetail – Goretex which lasted eight months of tough use, grippy thick sole, reasonably lightweight. I prefer the Mammut or North Face shoe though. I had the older version, this is the newer version which is bit different. Another option could be the Salewa Wildfires.
- WET SOCK / SHOE AVOIDANCE – having wet feet is my least favourite hardship whilst cycle touring. Wearing my merino wool base layer seems to be prevent my feet getting wet in light rain since the water is absorbed and doesn’t run down my leg quite as easily. When they become saturated in heavy rain, something like these overshoes are necessary (I’ve heard good things but I’ve not tried them).
- Head torch – Black Diamond – rechargeable
- Toiletries bag: Toothbrush / toothpaste, soap, dental floss, ear buds,
head shaver (wahl: lightweight battery beard trimmer – cheap, lasted well)(now just use a razor to shave my head and basic cheap scissors to trim my beard or a hairdresser if it gets too long).
- Contact lenses (monthly); 120 ml solution
- Glasses + case
- Sun cream, sunglasses (+ case)
- Toilet paper
- Insect repellent (almost never use this so only carry in malaria areas)
- Small bag of washing powder (or soap): wash cycle clothes daily (if I sweat a lot and there’s decent access to water) using a waterproof plastic throwaway 7l water bag that I picked up in Colombia. Put the cycling clothes in with detergent; leave for half an hour; then just rinse with water by filling and emptying 2 or 3 times. Every couple of weeks I’ll take the rest of my clothes to the laundrette.
- Bear Mace – I had to use this and I can safely say that it worked very well in my situation. Here’s my ‘bear’ experience that destroyed my tent.
- Log Book, pen
REQUIRE RE-CHARGING (USB)
- Olympus OMD EM10mkii mirrorless, plus 14-40 mm & 40 -150 mm – excellent camera without the size of a dslr.
- Samsung Galaxy Note (2500mAh), 1st version. Mainly used for navigation (Alpinequest app is good – see above).
- Sony HDR-AS15 Action Video Camera – a poor man’s gopro? Does the job.
- Front Torch Cygolite – eventually failed, probably due to heavy rain – (superb, very bright, rechargeable)