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How we pack our gear

Panniers imageWe have often been asked, how and where on your bike do you pack your gear? Well how you pack your kit is very much a personal thing but this is how it works for us.

As a couple we share the kit out amongst us, although being the gentleman that he is Jonathan does carry a bit more of the heavier gear such as the tent and stove. Having said that Frank carries the food en-route and that at times can make up the difference so it evens itself out when we are on tour.

The key to good packing is to have a good logical system where everything has a place and keep to that system, that way you know where everything is and it makes it a lot easier to pack up in the morning.

Some people consider the panniers as like rooms or cupboards in a house such as one pannier being the kitchen with the cooking gear and food in it, another pannier is the bedroom with the sleeping gear in it. Ours is a little like that in that we both use the front panniers as like wardrobes with indoor door gear in one and outdoor gear in the other. The outdoor wardrobe has all our waterproof gear in it that is needed en route and it keeps them away from the clothes that need to be kept dry. One of Frank's rear panniers is like the bedroom as it contains the sleeping kit and I suppose one of my rear panniers contains the house and kitchen as it has the tent and stove are in it.

To show you where everything is on the bike we have put together a diagram if your roll your mouse over the various bags and panniers in the picture below you can see see what we pack in them.

The bike on the left is Frank's, you may have guessed by the sweeties in the barbag!!!

Tips on Packing Gear

  • When packing gear consider the packing of each pannier with equal weights of gear on both sides to increase stability. We are greatly in favour of using both front & rear panniers, try to distribute the weight 40/60(rear) or at the most 30/70(rear). If you load everything on just a rear rack the stability and steering is compromised, an over loaded rear rack can cause you to pull 'wheelies'. This over loading can be dangerous on sharp inclines and can cause a 'wallowing' effect on taking sharp corners at speed (very unnerving believe me!!).
  • When packing try a keep the weight low as this will help with stability so put the heavier things as low as you can in your panniers.

  • Don't consider riding with a rucksack on your back, it is after a while profoundly uncomfortable and can hinder your stability. If you find yourself needing to carry a rucksack then probably you are carrying too much gear, review what you need to take.

  • Although weight isn't as critical as in back packing, an over laden bike is hard work up hills. Therefore consider what you take, look for light weight kit and consider things to have a dual role e.g. Ron Hill tracksters could be used over your cycling shorts if it is too cold and can act as pyjama bottoms on cold nights.

  • Pack gear with thought as to what needs to be easily accessible on route i.e. waterproofs near the top or in a pannier pocket and consider what might be needed first when arriving at the campsite.

  • Pack everything in waterproof bags as most panniers are not at all waterproof (unless you can afford the waterproof type like the superb Ortlieb panniers) All our gear is packed in either Ortlieb dry bags or in waterproof pack liners.

  • For packing our gear we have a 'wet bag/ dry bag' system which might sound like a contradiction but let me explain. One of our front panniers is considered a 'Dry bag' because it contains clothes and things that we don't want to get wet, the other is considered a 'wet bag' as it contains the waterproofs that if we put them away wet could make other things wet, therefore we only put in that pannier things that wont harm if they get damp. Jon's rear right pannier is considered a 'Wet bag' as it contains the tent and bike cover which when packing in the morning could be wet or damp so the other things in that pannier are again things like the stove that wont matter if they get damp or wet.

What does it all weigh ?

The night before our trip this year we had all our panniers packed and ready to go, we thought it would be good to weigh them and see exactly how much we are carrying and whether we had them reasonably well balanced. It was quite an interesting exercise, here are the results:

Baggage Jon's Bike (kg) Frank's Bike (kg)
Rear Pannier - left 6.1 5.8
Rear Pannier - right 6.2 4.9
Racpac 4.3 1.3
Rear Total 16.6 (64%) 12 (57%)
Front Pannier - left 3.1 2.995
Front Pannier - right 2.925 2.77
Bar bag 3.19 3.3
Front Total 9.225 (36%) 9.065 (43%)
Total carried 25.825 21.192

It was quite interesting as it showed that we had got things reasonably balanced on each side of the bike and that Jon's bike was a little light on the front, however we tend to collect maps and brochures along the way and they tend to get added to his front panniers. Frank's bike was a little light at the back but then she tends to carry the food en-route so that will balance things back.

The weight might seem a lot to some, certainly there are those that go super light weight and go with the absolute minimum, even going to the lengths of cutting the labels out of their clothes to save weight! At the end of the day it's a compromise between weight and comfort and how you resolve that compromise depends on what level of comfort you want or are prepared to put up with. It's very much down to your philosophy on cycle touring. Personally we prefer a bit more comfort and for example would rather carry a slightly heavier 'Expedt' than a 'Karrimat' knowing that we will get a much more comfortable nights sleep!