I'm doing a self contained touring trip, I have a 5 piece set of ortlieb bags (handlebars, 2 front rollers, 2 back rollers). I also plan on putting my tent on my back rack. I'm not doing this in a competitive manner. I'm just looking to have some fun on a 2 week tour.

Recently, in another thread, I became aware that "bulk" can be more of a concern than weight. I'm wondering a few things,

  1. What exactly is bulk? Are we just talking aerodynamics?
  2. How would one go about reducing bulk when using panniers?
  3. Any tips for reducing bulk in general?
  4. How important would you rank bulk compared to weight, comfort, etc. (given my parameters of prioritizing fun over serious competition)
  • 2
    For the uninitiated: what are rollers?
    – andy256
    Commented Jul 20, 2014 at 8:43
  • @andy256 "ortlieb" is a popular maker of bike panniers. "Front rollers" is just their product name, like "iPad" is to "apple".
    – jon
    Commented Jul 20, 2014 at 10:42
  • 1
    Presumably because the tops roll down for waterproofing. Commented Jul 20, 2014 at 11:29
  • I guess so :-) I have waterproof panniers. I looked at the Ortlieb site. Still have no idea what "the tops roll down" means.
    – andy256
    Commented Jul 20, 2014 at 14:00
  • 1
    Everything you bring for fun in camp you have to carry to camp. Try this exercise. Pack up everything you want to bring and go on a 40 mile ride. Then remove everything but the essentials and go on the same 40 miles ride the next day. Then decide which non essential items you want to bring.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Jul 20, 2014 at 17:51

3 Answers 3


'Bulk' is mostly about whether all of your luggage will fit in your bags. ie is the volume of your luggage less than the capacity of your bags. So it depends on how much stuff you want to take, and how big your panniers are.

Aerodynamics doesn't really matter for touring. Unless you are cycling rather fast, or it is very windy. Usually the weight of your bike and luggage will make more difference to your speed and effort required.

For reducing bulk, the main thing is taking less stuff. It also depends on how you pack it. eg if clothes are folded properly, they will be less bulky. Some things can be squashed smaller, eg sleeping bags. Compression bags can help with this.

It is worth leaving some spare space in your bags. You may want to buy things along the way. eg food supplies can be surprisingly bulky. Or any essential gear you find is missing, or any souvenirs you want to take home. Also after packing and unpacking a few times, you will probably find things don't fit as neatly, so end up taking more space.

Its up to you how you much you want to carry. Carrying lots of stuff will slow you down a bit while cycling, so you won't cover as much distance. And it may affect the handling of the bike, so its not as fun to ride. On the other hand, it is nice to be comfortable while camping, and have all of the kit you might want.

  • I don't seem to understand the practical difference between weight and bulk then. What's the problem with bulk besides weight? (If aerodynamics aren't a factor?) e.g. Why would it matter if I squash my clothes smaller (or is it just having room for food, extras)?
    – jon
    Commented Jul 20, 2014 at 10:44
  • 5
    @jon - You can no doubt find the space in your bags to carry an additional 10 pounds of lead (if you should want to for some strange reason), but can you find the space to carry 10 pounds of Styrofoam? There's a practical limit to how much volume (cubic inches) you can somehow strap onto a bike. You usually reach that limit well before the bike gets too heavy to ride. Commented Jul 20, 2014 at 13:00
  • 3
    so essentially bulk = volume. which i now am understanding is an important consideration. :)
    – jon
    Commented Jul 20, 2014 at 13:02
  • 3
    Its not as simple as "squish it up". If you use down sleeping bag and warm jacket you can cut bulk by about 1/3 to 1/2 for the same warmth as synthetic. For warmth wool is more compact than cotton, for warmer climate lightweight synthetics are smaller then cotton Tee shirts. Choosing the right materials makes a big difference to bulk. Sleeping mats can be foam or a self inflating air mattress at 1/4 the volume but similar weight.
    – mattnz
    Commented Jul 20, 2014 at 23:11

Here is another take on "bulk". At the time I completed the tour this photo was taken on I was using a home made quilt as my sleeping "bag". The quilt is the item in the blue/gray Sea to Summit dry bag sitting on top of the Extrawheel Voyager trailer. Now the quilt is not that heavy but it is clearly quite bulky taking up a lot of space, so much space that I didn't carry it in my panniers as it would take up way to much room.

bulky home made quilt

I have since replaced that home made quilt with a Mont Bell Ultralight Super Spiral Down Hugger #3 which weighs 686 grams and takes up considerably less space, so much less in fact that it nows lives in one of my rear panniers when touring.

  • That is a serious amount of stuff to take on a bike. How long were you away for?
    – Holloway
    Commented Jul 21, 2014 at 11:49
  • Get a compression bag to reduce the bulk of sleeping bags (and wool items)!
    – Carel
    Commented Jul 21, 2014 at 19:32
  • Ahh the quilt is in a Sea to Summit dry bag as stated. The Sea to Summit dry bag is a high-end compression dry bag. It is well and truly compressed :)
    – Aushiker
    Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 2:03
  • 1
    @Trengot I was away for about two months with a third of the ride in Gascoyne region of Western Australia which is fairly remote dry country to ride in. When I left Carnarvon for that section of the ride I had to carry 20 days of food (no resupply of note until I came out again basically) and for one section I had to carry five days of water. Other parts of the ride had me carry up to three days of water. All up the tour was just over 3,000 kilometres.
    – Aushiker
    Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 2:05

To answer question 3: Any tips for reducing bulk in general?

Here are some tips on reducing clothing bulk.

When doing a long tour I swapped out cotton t-shirts for dri-fit/climacool-type ones. They pack smaller, dry quicker when laundered and can be used on and off the bike. Three t-shirts like this should be enough for both riding and non-riding activities.

I also had a pair of zip off cycling trousers. They can be used as long trousers or shorts. These plus one or two pairs of padded, mountain-bike type shorts should be enough.

For shoes I had a pair of Shimano touring SPDs. They were comfortable enough to walk in and the cleats were not as pronounced as road shoes.

All the clothing I carried was cycling stuff that was passable in non-cycling situations. I didn't have any non-cycling clothes with me.

By carrying fewer items that dried quickly I was able to hand wash them at the end of the day's ride and have them dry quickly.

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