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I have a tentative first-time bike touring/camping trip in the planning stages and working out my set-up. I have a good idea of the essentials. My question is especially directed to those who have bike touring/camping experience.

Beyond the obvious, what item did you really appreciate having along? Or, what item do you really wish you had, but didn't?

A few important factors are: One, the trip is in an arid region. Two, a good 130 miles or so is quite remote. Three, it's a winter trip, but with (usually) much warmer temps than my native clime.

The item could be a spare part, an accessory, a tool, safety related, or a comfort item. Basically looking for things that a first timer wouldn't necessarily think of.

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Everyone: One item per answer, please. Thanks. –  Neil Fein Oct 1 '10 at 23:07

12 Answers 12

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I've done 10 long-distance bike tours in the past and one of the things I've needed on almost all of my tours (but most people forget to pack) is an extra set of rack screws. These are the tiny little screws that hold your bicycle's racks, fenders and water bottle cages in place. As you travel, these little guys tend to wiggle themselves loose and fall out when you aren't watching. If you aren't carrying at least one or two extras, you might find yourself in bit of trouble, as having a loose rack dangling off of the front or rear of your bicycle can cause a serious accident while out there on the road. So pack a couple extra screws! They're lightweight and you can usually get them for free from your local bike shop.

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@Darren +1 This is exactly the kind of mundane thing I hadn't thought of. And the kind of thing that being without could make for a really bad day. Thanks! –  user313 Oct 2 '10 at 6:07
    
I was riding along a railway track (very bumpy) and a screw worked its way loose. I spend about an hour walking up and down searching for it. Found it eventually. –  sixtyfootersdude Oct 2 '10 at 17:17
    
I picked this as the answer because this is something I definitely might have overlooked. –  user313 Oct 6 '10 at 3:51
    
I lost one of these while touring this summer and was hella glad to have a replacement. If you have braze-ons you're not using you can screw them into that -- rack screws are the same thread pitch as bottle cage screws (usually), just longer. –  joseph_morris Oct 16 '12 at 18:34
    
I now secure my rack bolts with some low strength purple loctite, which helps them not wiggle out, but is relatively easy to remove. –  Benzo Oct 16 '12 at 20:06

Extra water bottles. Whatever the climate, you can't have too much water in remote areas. I carry 4 or 5 bottles in areas like eastern Connecticut or southern New Jersey. IF you're going to carry more than a few water bottles, look into water bladders so the water doesn't slosh around as much. (If you've ever carried milk or water in a gallon container on a bike, you'll know what I mean.)

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This one was already on my list, but now it's in bold so that it doesn't get overlooked. –  user313 Oct 2 '10 at 6:09
    
Camelback type bladders have the advantage that they fold up when you aren't using them - empty bottles are a pain to carry. –  mgb Feb 26 '11 at 5:22
    
@mgb - That's quite correct; it's a question of personal preference. Feel free to edit the answer with both options if you like! –  Neil Fein Feb 26 '11 at 20:40
    
of course camalbAcks are a pain when they are full! –  mgb Mar 1 '11 at 0:28

Durable hammock such as Ticket To The Moon Hammock, green-color (you should select color fit to your terrain), very durable made with parachute canvas.

I bought it when my landlord announced that there was 2 weeks break in the house and I had to leave, guess where I went? -Of course, not to very expensive hotels/motels, but to random touring with my bike, a good hammock, some books, fishing line and hooks -- what else do you need to be happy? Well, moz summarizes it very well (source):

use a hammock rather than a tent because it's more flexible and less obvious, so it's easier to free camp

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And a tarp-tent, to give you some shelter from sub/rain. If you are going to be in the middle of nowhere and the weather isn't too bad I might take a bivvy bag rather than a tent. –  mgb Feb 26 '11 at 5:26
    
@mgb: dead right about the bivvy bag and tarp-tent. Which tarp tent do you use? There was some firm that had a product something like silver friend or something like that had good tarp-tents, have to dig its name. –  user652 Feb 26 '11 at 5:35
    
I bought a Hennessey Hammock instead of a tent for bike camping. To be specific it's more of a tent hammock, it's completely enclosed and includes a separate rain fly. It's very light weight and packs up small, it only takes about half the space in my front pannier. –  Marc Charbonneau Feb 26 '11 at 16:38
    
I took a Hennessy Hammock touring in Europe a few years ago and wished I had a lightweight tent instead. You need TREES for a hammock, which aren't as ubiquitous as you might think. Particularly in campgrounds. –  joseph_morris Oct 16 '12 at 18:35
    
You can use a hammock-tent just about anywhere if you get creative. All you really need is to keep one end up off your face. Use some rope and a few stakes to keep your bike standing up. Then stake one end of the hammock to the ground and attach the other end to the top tube. Then just get in. At that point, it's basically a bivy sack. Put a sleeping pad underneath it and you'll be nice and cozy. As a bonus, nobody can steal your bike while you sleep. –  jimirings Oct 18 '12 at 13:51

Extra bike clothes, stuff like tights, long-sleeve shorts/jerseys, whatever. Aside from layering while riding, these are great to sleep in. I find bringing extra civvies to be a waste of pannier volume, but bike clothes roll up to fit in tiny, tiny spaces. The coldest part of the day will always be while you're sleeping in your tent. Don't forget extra socks as well.

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Backup food for energy. Such as:

  • Chocolate. Gives you an extra boost/some caffeine, although it melts in warmer weather.
  • Jerky is also a good emergency backup food for those who can stomach the taste.
  • Dried fruit, particularly dried bananas (despite the horrible taste, dried bananas will give one a wonderful boost, just like regular bananas)
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1  
I spent summer 2012 biking around Europe with my wife and we made it a rule to always have peanut M&Ms in the bottom of a pannier (after a few incidents where one of us was grumpy because we were hungry and 20km from the next town). –  joseph_morris Oct 16 '12 at 18:41
    
@joseph_morris: +1. Peanut M&Ms are perfect. A mix of carbs and protein with a tiny caffeine shot from the chocolate. –  Carey Gregory Oct 16 '12 at 19:46

If I had to pick one item on the basis of its non-obviousness for bike touring utilty, I would pick the Amazon Kindle. My wife and I really enjoyed having them when on a bike tour for this summer in Europe for two months. The basic Kindle weighs less than six ounces and can hold a zillion books and also pdfs. We used them for guidebooks, for checking out library books from home while away, for translation dictionaries, for copies of flight and ferry itineraries and our passports. Most out-of-copyright classics are free, and since I had more time to read while touring, I ended up reading old Sherlock Holmes and the original Dracula.

My wife is kind of a luddite, but even she was a Kindle convert by the end of the trip. Plus since there were two of us we had them on the same account, so we could share books -- i.e., we could both be reading the guidebook at the same time.

You're also welcome to take a gander at our packing list on Google Docs to see if there is anything you are missing. Generally, less is more -- every ounce you don't bring is that much more strength you have to ride further and faster (or ride the same distance and speed more easily). This guy was an inspiration to us, although we're not quite as extremist about each gram as he is.

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I always like a wool hat. I ride with a helmet but if it gets cool at night a hat really helps to keep you warm and cozy.

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Duct tape for:

  • medical emergencies
  • ripped clothing
  • ripped tents
  • emergency bike repairs (I have considered reattaching my rack after I lost a screw. Now I bring an extra screw).
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Electrical tape will also work for some things if you find duct tape too bulky. –  Marc Charbonneau Feb 26 '11 at 16:36
    
I bring both, wrapped on a piece of pencil. –  joseph_morris Oct 16 '12 at 18:49

Having extra 3/4" webbing straps is also really nice. For holding stuff onto your racks, or for fixing your rack, or as a belt.

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I take a small lawn chair when I tour. You know, one of those low ones with the mesh webbing. I've tried those psuedo chairs, but I think the real chair is best. Yeah, it weighs a couple of pounds, but what a treat after a long day or riding. Also, I take my topeak pump that resembles a mini floor pump. It's so much easier to use that it's easy to keep them properly pumped it. On group tours, everybody else used my pump. Skip those tiny expanding pumps. They're for racers. Get a good pump. Other than these two heavier than normal items I travel pretty light. My favorite tent is my 25 yr old Moss Starlet. It has a mesh top, but you still have privacy from the sides. This makes changing clothes much easier in a crowded campground. It's nominally a two-person tent, but perfect for one rider plus gear.

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@Jim - Not sure about the chair, but hmmmm... Getting a small floor pump is definitely something I'll look into though. –  user313 Oct 2 '10 at 6:13

Mini vice grips. I got a pair at a hardware store. They are about 5 cm long. Amazing little things. Great for unexpected emergencies. They are not big enough to grab onto the head tube but everything else they are great for.

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What are they useful for? –  Neil Fein Oct 2 '10 at 18:18
    
I can see these coming in handy. As an emergency clamp, potholder, pliers... They're also light and compact. –  user313 Oct 3 '10 at 21:01
    
Not mini vice grips, but mini linesman pliers. Good for cutting or pulling brake/derailleur cable if one breaks or needs adjusting. –  joseph_morris Oct 16 '12 at 18:39

Quarters for emergency calls.

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And where would one deposit these quarters? Even in cities pay phones are virtually extinct and the OP said he was going to be quite remote. –  Carey Gregory Oct 16 '12 at 19:44

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