In October, my second book, A Rolling Stone: Taking the Road Less Travelled, was released.
What kit do you need to cycle around the world?
It’s a daunting task working out what you will and won’t need for months, maybe years, on the road. I got ideas from other people before departing so thought I would do the same and maybe you’ll spot something new that works for you.
As a general point, people often share their kit list at the start, not the end, of their trip. The latter is a better representation of what was actually needed. I have added a few thoughts on each subject which will explain my rationale.
On another general point, I 100% made mistakes with my kit due to lack of research, funds and preparation time. I would have changed a few things but not many. And that’s the point. Whatever happens, you’ll tweak your kit as you ride and learn. You’ll discard some stuff, add others, wish for things you don’t/can’t have and learn from people you encounter.
I knew the first time I packed all my kit on the day I left that a few things weren’t quite right. But it worked. It’s hard to get all the right kit for all the roads, countries and conditions you’ll ride in. But you’ll make do.
(The links I’ve added are to give you an idea of the product I got not where I got it from. Personally, I’m quite partial to an eBay/Gumtree browse.)
Tent: MSR Hubba Hubba. This broke in a winter Kazakh storm and I replaced it with a cheap Chinese one which just about survived until the end. I have no idea where to buy it again but it cost a LOT less.
Advice: You’ll appreciate the extra space so if you’re solo, get a two-person. If you’re in a two, get a three-person etc. Some cyclists believe in bivvy bags only. For me, my tent was protection and something to look forward to at the end of each day.
Sleeping Mat: Started with an inflatable one (NeoAir). It burst. I replaced it. It burst. I fixed it. It burst. I got very cold. I gave up. I got a thick foam roll mat and used it across Aus, NZ & USA. It didn’t burst and I always slept well. I’d do the same again but some people swear by inflatable ones.
Stove: I started with an MSR Whisperlite (fuel only). It pissed me off in terms of lighting, cleaning, heat control, safety and smell. I switched to the MSR Whisperlite Universal to enable gas. Never cooked used fuel again and don’t intend to. I always had a spare gas bottle and never ran out in over 20,000 miles. No-brainer. Windshield & heat reflector sheet recommended for cleanliness and effectiveness.(MSR stove service kit if applicable)
Sleeping bag & liner: I can’t even recommend a specific type/brand here. I used a range of different ones over the trip for different conditions (+40 > -40). None of them were big name brands. Some were down and some synthetic. My silk liner remained with me throughout! Think of the conditions/temperatures you’ll be riding in and buy what’s right for you!
Travel pillow: It lost its form by the end but it was a survivor and I could never quite let it go. And no, it wasn’t inflatable – it would probably have burst if it was anything like my mattress.
Pans x2: Cheap and light. The bigger one was good for eating while the other could boil the tea.
Spoon: Cheap, metal. It’s depressing to think about how important this became and how sad I was when I lost it. I got through three I think. It doesn’t need to be titanium or anything like that. It’s just a spoon!
Knife: I’ve put this under camping as I probably used mine to cut bread more than anything else. Get a decent one, you’ll find a use for it and be grateful it’s around. It might make you feel a bit safer having one as well even if you never intend to actually use it for anything other than bread cutting.
Cup: I loved my ‘For Life’s Great Adventures’ mug. A cup of tea watching the sunset at the end of a hard day on the bike. Bliss.
Towel: Basic trekking one. Important to dry out a tent that has become saturated in a storm as much as for the rare shower you might find.
Groundsheet: Stopped holes and bugs.
Scouring pad: Cook, eat, wash up. You’ll berate yourself when you next get out your pan otherwise.
Food: Not a kit list requirement as such but I had a perennial fear of running out of food. Calories = survival. Water was obviously a constant obsession as well. If you looked inside my front left pannier, you’d be sure to find a big bag of crushed up noodles (save space), porridge oats and herbal tea. Honey, jam, peanut butter, wraps, raisins, bananas and nuts were pretty regular additions as well. Everything in between somehow just took of itself from snacks, roadside cafes and a LOT of bread. The amount and types of bread is probably a (very boring) post in itself. Ziploc bags are great!
Bike: Dawes Coast 2 Coast. Dorothy. We went through a lot. She wasn’t perfect –what bike is – but we fumbled our way through.
Debates to have (and everyone will have their views): Drops, butterfly or straight bars. Disc or rim brakes. Presta or Schrader. Cleats or no cleats. It sort of matters and sort of doesn’t. There’s no right or wrong answer. I would choose the same one again.
Tyres: Schwalbe Marathon Plus. Did the job well. Not many punctures. V popular in the cycle touring world.
Saddle: Brooks. Amazing!! There’s a reason almost every tourer has one.
Two front: A random pair I found in my garage. 15 ltr I think.
Two rear: Ortlieb 40 ltr. I got the wrong ones to save money. Get strong touring ones – you’ll berate yourself when the clips snap off your cheaper ones.
Main rear: Big old Ortlieb one I used in the army. Kept my tent, pillow and sleeping bags dry.
Racks x2: Don’t do what I did here. Get a decent strong front and rear rack instead. I recommend getting a front one which can take two side panniers and a central one. But only if you need a front rack, many don’t. As above, you’ll berate yourself for the £15 you saved pre-departure when you spend hours improvising a solution or finding a welder in China to mend your rear rack.
Handlebar Bag: Ortlieb Ultimate 6Ltr. Loved it. All my essentials were here. Always accessible and came with me everywhere.
Shimano SDP sandals. I won’t hear a bad word said about them. I had them in all but the coldest conditions with socks and plastic bags as optional extras. Plus you end up with some truly extraordinary tan lines! No–brainer.
Bottle cages/water bottles x3: 950ml. I actually had two of them and a thermos for 90% of the trip. I loved my thermos. 100% essential for winter but a luxury in summer to have chilled water when it was scorching outside. In general, two water bottles is not enough, four seems a bit excessive. Saying that I would usually try to find somewhere to stop within 20km of where I wanted to camp to fill up with water for the night ahead.
Pedal wrench: I needed it to change pedals pre and post-winter and for flights.
Multi-tool: The full array of Allen keys and other extras. You’ll find a use for them.
Spoke tensioner: I became slightly obsessed with wheel alignment and spoke tension because they easily go awry with the added weight.
Spares: Pannier clips, screws (all types), a couple of inner tubes, tyre levers, puncture repair (glue became a surprisingly valuable resource)
Mini screwdriver set: From a Christmas cracker. Surprisingly handy at the most unexpected times.
Saddlebag: For immediate repairs (punctures).
Odometer: I got bored of my odometer and judging speed etc so wasn’t overly upset when it broke in winter.
Bungees: I used three at the rear and one at the front. Essential. Have spares. But, if you lose one, don’t panic, you’ll probably spot another pretty soon on the hard shoulder.
Helmet: Recommended. Legal requirement in Aus & NZ.
Pump: Small with gauge
Spare spokes x2
Lights: Front and rear. You might enjoy evening riding if it’s too hot during the day. Either way, you’ll get caught out and need them at some stage so get decent ones.
Cable ties: Essential.
Gaffe tape: Essential. Wrap it around your top tube. You’ll use it for the most random things (like cable ties) but you’ll be mightily glad you’ve got it.
Handlebar mirror: I rarely used for car spotting but it helped to show when I was getting sunburnt.
General bike maintenance: Be nice to your bike and it’ll last longer. Obvious advice I know but it’s true. Keep things clean and lubed. Replace things that’ll need replacing before they become a bigger issue e.g. your chain, brake pads, tyres. You’ll wish you had done if they go wrong at an inopportune location.
Tops: Personal preference how many and what type. I had a couple of long and short-sleeved ones.
Waterproof jacket: I had a v cheap one. My general view being when it rains, you’ll get soaked either from the inside or outside. I discarded my waterproof trousers very early on. You’ll dry.
Warm hat: Within reason, it doesn’t matter what type. I’ve used a range and they all do the job. I did love my furry Kazakh one with the ear flaps though. For winter, I highly recommend something similar.
Cycling gloves: I started with them but got rid post-winter.
Swimming trunks: Great for the end of the day having changed out of your cycling kit and random lakes/streams you come across where going nude would be socially frowned upon.
Trousers/shorts: I started with padded cycling shorts and zip-off trousers. I then changed to padded cycling shorts with an integrated over short to not look like a creepy lycra cyclist all the time when I stopped. Zip-off trousers are really handy. Function over fashion!
Socks: Depends on what conditions you’re cycling in. Either way, one pair of thick socks can be quite handy. I used Sealskinz ones which did the job pretty well and stopped my feet getting nabbed by mosquitoes as well.
Cap: It got pretty tattered but I loved it (and still do).
Sunglasses: Keep those eyes protected.
Buffs: I’ve been a Buff convert for well over a decade. I used them a LOT. Eye mask, headband, neck warmer, wrist warmer etc. You get the gist.
Warm jacket: I had a lightweight synthetic jacket I wore most evenings.
Trainers/flip flips etc: Optional but more socially acceptable in the streets of e.g. Sydney, San Francisco or New York than cleated Shimano sandals.
Winter: Cycling and non-cycling specific additions included extra trousers, thermal base layers jackets, gloves, socks, hats and sleeping bags. A wolf alarm, mitts, studded tyres, an additional rack/waterproof bag, goggles, insulated bar tape, three thermos flasks etc as well. It was an expedition within an expedition.
Head torch: I had a couple of Petzl ones. I’m scarred by my Everest 2010 experiences so always had a spare.
Tripod: Worth getting a bendy one with a clip that you can attach to branches, rocks etc. You’ll be annoyed at yourself for your wonky/shaky footage otherwise.
Laptop: Film editing and, more importantly, writing. I wanted to blog and share the trip. Sitting down and tapping away when I stopped somewhere for a few days was an important way to reflect and clarify thoughts.
External hard drive: The occasional backup was reassuring.
iPhone: This almost goes without saying nowadays. It takes films, photos, calls, navigates, plays music etc. Worryingly essential! I bought local sim cards in every country.
Headphones: I think I would have gone genuinely mad without my headphones for music, audiobooks and podcasts.
Power banks x3: There were only a few times I ran down all three: Kazakh Steppe, mid-China and Aus Outback. I reckoned three was enough to get me a few weeks down the road at which stage it was probably time to stop and shower. 2 packs would probably be fine on reflection.
Solar Charger: I had one, used it a few times and sent it home. Not as effective as power banks.
Kindle: Books are great. End of. I read as much as I could but, as ever, not as much as I would have liked to.
Drone: DJI Mavic Air. An added weight, a logistical nuisance and a luxury. But, 100% worth the effort looking back. I love photography and filmmaking. It gave me shots impossible otherwise and those photos/memories last longer than the extra few kgs.
Batteries: You’ll need them at some stage and it’ll probably be quite an important moment.
Baby wipes: Essential. Cleaning yourself, your bike and your kit.
Loo roll: I’ll leave it to you to decide on quantities but it’s preferable not to run out.
Mosquito repellent: You’ll regret running out. Nemesis!
Headnet: If you’re going across the Outback. Trust me!!
Sun cream: If in doubt, listen to Baz Luhrmann: wear sunscreen.
Chamois Cream/Vaseline: The latter was fine for me and purchased easily anywhere. Despite numerous questions, my ass was actually fine for the whole trip: it adapts. As does your back, legs, arms, neck etc.
Plasters, gauze, tweezers etc
Dry bags x6: A friend gave me a range of Arc’teryx ones before I left. Handy for organising kit and keeping it dry.
Mascot: My Highland Cow was a present before I left and he’s still attached to my bike.
Passport: If you’re organised enough, try and request a spare. It’ll help to have two if you need to stop somewhere and sort multiple visas at multiple embassies at the same time. Or if you lose it.
Insurance: Over to you on this one, not my forte.
Diary & Pen
Needle and thread: You’ll need it for something somewhere at some time. I’ll happily take a bet before you go if you don’t believe me.
Small inflatable globe: Makes kids happy when you show your route on one.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED EXTRAS
A curious mind, an acceptance of uncertainty and a sense of humour.
Cooking: If this is your thing then go for it. It isn’t for me but I saw people with any of chopping board, can opener, wooden spoon, bowls, spatula, whisk, chopping knife, Tupperware, spice rack, coffee grinder, cafetiere, washing up liquid, vegetable peeler, frying pan.
Rucksack: I met quite a few with a rucksack as their main bag on their rear rack which they found handy for trekking.
Stickers: Union Flag or GB sticker on the front of a handlebar bag. Nice way to spot a fellow Brit/European in some far-flung place.
Water purification: I never used water purification tabs or a device. Some people swear by them. I was fine with finding taps, boiling it or buying it.
Bike trailer: I met a few with these in some remote places.
Tent washing line/fairy lights
Bottom bracket tool