High tech route planning on-the-fly for cycle touring

In addition to our travelogue, I’m going to start making some posts describing our particular style of cycle touring, in case others may be interested in the more technical details of our trip. One of the things I love about cycle touring is that there are as many ways to have fun touring as there are tourists, and I think we are no exception. I hope our experience is useful to some of you. For the first article, I’m going to write about how we have planned our routes and the other options we considered.

Introduction and Goals

For a short tour, it’s possible to completely plan your route, your stops, etc. beforehand. For longer tours, it’s important to have the ability to be flexible and plan specific routes as you go. With modern smartphones and GPS units, it’s become easier to do this without bringing a laptop or lots of maps. I wanted to find a solution where I could plan very good routes both ahead of time and on-the-fly using just my smartphone and a GPS unit. The GPS unit needed to have the ability to follow a route and show turn-by-turn directions.

Cycle computer

Although I really liked the Garmin 1000, with its color touchscreen, it has a really clunky interface, and there’s no way way to send a route from your smartphone to the Garmin. Garmin has the bike GPS market almost locked up, but after some research, I found a good alternative! The Wahoo ELEMNT is a $350USD bike GPS with almost all the features of the Garmin 1000, plus it has a kick ass smartphone app that supports, among other power features, the ability to sync routes with several websites and also to send GPX and TCX routes directly from your smartphone!

I made the plunge and bought one, and I love it. The black and white screen is not as nice as the Garmin’s color touchscreen, but the route syncing and smartphone app more than make up for it. It also has better battery life in my experience, which is important since we are living on solar power for much of our tour.


The smartphone choice was more about worldwide internet coverage than route planning capabilities. I decided on Google Project Fi service in order to get coverage in 135 countries for roughly the same reasonable price. Cell phone coverage is important for the ability to plan routes even when WiFi is not available. This service only works with a select few Android phones, and I settled on the Nexus 5x for its lower cost and decent specs.

Websites for route planning

Now, the only thing left is to actually plan the routes to send to the GPS. There are several services I have been using to do this.

Strava – although the web site is not optimized for mobile, it does work okay to plan routes by going to www.strava.com/athletes/routes which you have to open in Chrome or Safari. Unfortunately there is no mobile app. It has been my favorite option because:

  • It syncs directly with the Wahoo ELEMNT (when on WiFi) and also with the smartphone app, so you can sync over cellular, and then later send to the ELEMNT even with no internet connection.
  • By default, it follows roads that Strava has found to be popular with cyclists. This means that you usually end up cycling on roads where actual cyclists go. This can be good and bad, so you have to pay some attention. In areas where mountain biking is popular, it will tend to pick off-road routes vs. paved routes, which has put us in some difficulty on our light touring bikes at times. In areas where racing groups are popular, it may pick really difficult climbs because that’s where the racers like to train. In commuting areas, it will often pick busy main streets rather than quiet more comfortable roads for touring. All that said, it will almost always pick a really decent route just by selecting a start and end point, and it’s relatively easy to add multiple routing points to go elsewhere. The heatmap overlay is very helpful to visually see where the popular routes are. Once you save the route, just sync the ELEMNT over WiFi (using your phone’s hotspot feature works), or sync the Wahoo app and then send the route over Bluetooth.

There are some down sides with Strava however. It is very fiddly to use on the phone, requiring good eyesight and very precise finger movement. It’s also somewhat buggy, sometimes locking up and requiring you to start over again. And it’s not possible on mobile to insert new way points into the route, making it tricky to adjust the route that is automatically calculated. It also requires you to use the frustrating “Manual Mode” sometimes for roads that it doesn’t know exists or roads that obviously connect together, but that it doesn’t realize do.

    Google maps – Google maps is an obvious choice for finding cycling directions. When you are online, it has an option to suggest cycling routes instead of driving. The routes are generally good, but they very strongly favor dedicated bike paths, including unpaved ones, so it can sometimes give directions not suitable for light touring bikes but good for mountain bikes. When you get the directions, you can either follow them on your phone, or you can send them to the ELEMNT using the following procedure:

    1. Select the option in Google Maps to share the route and select Copy to Clipboard.
    2. Paste the directions into a text editor, like Google Keep.
    3. Look for the link at the end of the directions posted that looks like https://goo.gl/maps/ABCDEFG. Copy this link.
    4. Visit https://mapstogpx.com and paste in the link into the field and tap the button to download the GPX file.
    5. Most of the time you can simply open the GPX file using the ELEMNT app, and it will import it immediately.
    6. Sometimes the ELEMNT app gives an error about an invalid GPX file. This can sometimes be solved by simplifying the GPX file by visiting http://m.gpsies.com and turning on the highest level of Route Simplication under Options. This will give a much smaller GPX file, which usually works better and with no noticeable loss of information.

    One unfortunate problem with this: Google maps often gives several route options, and you can select which one you want by tapping on it. However, mapstogpx.com will always only pick the first route option that Google gives, so it can be frustrating to get the route you want. One workaround is to add a secondary waypoint to force the first route suggestion to be the one you want.

      Find GPX courses online – many websites have GPX routes for download for great touring routes that you can find by Googling particular areas. For example, Italy has GPX files available for its EuroVelo routes at http://italy-cycling-guide.info/ . Once you’ve downloaded them, it’s easy to import into the ELEMNT app, though some GPX files may need to be simplified (see instructions above).

      Use the Wahoo app – The ELEMNT app has an option to search for a destination either by tapping it or searching for a name. This is very convenient, but in my experience, it does not give good directions. It tends to pick the absolute shortest path, ignoring cycling routes, road surface, etc. Hopefully they will improve this in future updates, as this is definitely the easiest option.

      Other options

      I considered many other options that may work for others, so here I will list them and explain why I decided not to use this option.

      Garmin cycle computers – I could not find any way to plan a route on the smartphone and send it to the Garmin without having a laptop. I tried everything I could think of, including importing GPX files to Garmin Connect website and then syncing over Bluetooth using the Connect app (very difficult and ridiculously buggy from a smartphone), using a USB OTG connector on my phone to connect the Garmin device via USB (couldn’t mount the file system in order to copy GPX routes), and lots of others, all ending in failure. If you are bringing a laptop with you, though, this might be a very good solution for you, as it’s relatively easy to copy a GPX file to the Garmin using a USB cable.

      Maps.me – This is definitely a great app to have with you on a cycling tour, especially because it has offline bicycle routing. However, as of this writing, you cannot export its directions to GPX files, so it’s impossible to get the directions on your GPS device. This means that you must mount your smartphone on your bike and follow the directions on the screen. This may work for some people who expect to have power every night to charge their phone, but since we are using solar many days, I found that Maps.me uses an extremely high amount of battery to do the routing and provide directions, so it would not work for us.

      Google maps – another must have app, of course, and it is possible to download offline map areas. However, when offline, you can only get driving directions, not cycling. Also, you would have to mount the smartphone on your bike, and while Google Maps uses significantly less power than Maps.me, it is still too much to keep charged by solar power every day.

      Paper maps – I know many tourists swear by paper maps, which require no batteries, are often available with water resistant coatings, and keep you free of technological distractions. There is definitely something to be said for this approach, but it was difficult for me to find good paper maps for the whole around-the-world trip that we have planned. It would have involved lots of research and stops at tourist offices, etc to collect all the maps we need, and they take up space and weight.

      Other apps I recommend for touring

      OsmAnd – a good, if not a little clunky, front end to the amazing and free OpenStreetMap maps. It includes cycling modes, routing, downloading offline areas, following GPX tracks, and tons more.

      Rome2Rio – great option for finding ferries, flights, public transportation, and other routes for those segments where you cannot or choose not to ride.

      DotTrax – developed by a friend of mine in San Diego, this Android app is a great replacement for a cycling computer with lots of options including combining multi-day tracks, and real-time wind direction reports so you know when you’ve got a headwind or tailwind. It also connects with wireless HRMs. If you will be using your phone as your GPS unit, I highly recommend this app for tracking your ride.

      Test Ride #1

      Tomorrow Steve and I will go on our first fully-loaded test run with our bikes all geared out as if we were on our ride around the world. We’re only going 30 miles to a campground nearby, but we’ll treat our ride as if we were 10,000 miles from home. The goal is to test out our new gear and see how it performs.

      Before our last tour, we did 4 test runs, and each one was invaluable to figuring out what works and what doesn’t. We made tweaks after each ride that we were very thankful for when we were actually on tour.

      The picture above is an approximation of what my bike will look like fully packed. I’m still in the process of actually packing all the bags, and I’ve ordered one more frame bag that won’t get here until after Christmas.

      I’m curious to learn:

      • How does the bike handle fully loaded? It’s more weight than we had on our summer tour (more tools and warmer clothes mostly), but still a pretty lightweight setup.
      • How will we like our new 2-person tent? I think it’ll be a huge improvement vs. having two separate tents because we can share on the weight and setup time. It also has freestanding poles so can be put up even when there isn’t stakeable ground.
      • How will the new underseat bag work out? It’s a much more legitimate system compared to my improvised set of Velcro straps on the last tour, and it holds a lot more and is waterproof so I think I’ll love it.
      • Similarly, how well does the handlebar stabilizer work? It’s also much more robust than my series of straps and bags from this summer, so it should save us lots of time, even if it’s a bit heavier.
      • I got a larger frame bag, and I’m hoping I can still get the water bottles out easily.
      • How difficult will it be to make coffee in the morning with our ultralight stove?

      We’ll post afterwards (maybe during) to let you know how it went!

      To Laptop or Not To Laptop

      One of the things I’ve been trying to decide is whether to bring my laptop around the world with me on my bike. While you can do almost everything on your smartphone these days, there are a few things I wanted to have the laptop for:

      1. Working – if I decide to stop somewhere and find some contract work, I will need a laptop to get that work done.
      2. Photo Management – I have an extensive archive of digital photos that take up almost 1TB of space on an external drive. I use Adobe Lightroom to manage them on my laptop.
      3. Route planning – This one boggles my mind, but it’s nearly impossible to plan a route on your phone and send it to your Garmin without a computer! (See below; I found a way, but it’s not pretty!)
      4. Blogging – Typing on a keyboard is way nicer than on the tiny iPhone screen.

      But, here are the issues with bringing a laptop:

      • It’s bulky – even my 13″ MacBook (one of the smallest laptops around) will barely fit in my Camelbak.
      • It’s heavy (relatively) – the MacBook weighs in around 2 lbs plus the charger, USB dongle, etc., and it’s 3.5 lbs, which is a significant portion of my ultralight setup.
      • Charging – It won’t charge with my 5W solar panel, so keeping it charged will be a challenge, plus I’ll need an international adapter.
      • Not waterproof – I’ll have to keep it in a dry bag to keep it from getting wet when it rains.
      • Somewhat fragile – It will need a lot of padding in my bag.
      • Theft target – It’s not something I’ll want to flash around, or else it might get pilfered.

      So, my decision right now is NOT to bring it. Here’s how I’ll solve each of the original items.

      1. Working

      I’ll keep my laptop with a friend or family member, and if I need to work, either they can ship it to me, or I can buy a used one and restore from cloud backup, whichever turns out to be easier with customs.

      2. Photo Management

      Still trying to figure this one out, but it turns out that my Google Drive account has unlimited storage with the plan that I have, so I’m looking into moving my photos there and managing them somehow from my phone.

      3. Route Planning

      Okay, here’s how you create a route on your phone and send it wirelessly to your Garmin! A ridiculous process, but I tried it last night, and it works. It will suffice for when I don’t have access to a computer, but it’s horribly convoluted.

      • First, create a route with something that will export to GPX (I like Strava because it knows where riders actually ride and usually picks the best routes):
        • Visit strava.com in Safari on your phone (don’t use the Strava app!).
        • Go to Dashboard -> My Routes
        • Create New Route
        • The route builder is wonky on mobile, but it does work.
        • Save the route.
      • Export to GPX and save to Google Drive.
      • Visit www.gpsies.com in Safari (Chrome doesn’t work) and select Convert.
        • Choose the GPX file from Google Drive.
        • Export as “GPX Track”.
        • Under Options, put 15 mph for the speed. (any speed will work but you have to enter something)
        • Convert, and save the output GPX to Google Drive.
      • Now, visit connect.garmin.com on Safari on your phone (do not use the Garmin Connect app!). (Again, you have to use Safari, not Chrome)
        • Tap the + button in the top-right to add an activity and select “Upload your activities”.
        • Go to “Manual Import” and tap to upload. Choose the converted GPX file from Google Drive.
        • It should upload the “activity”. If you get an error, the conversion may not have worked or you picked the wrong GPX.
      • Now for the fun part! This created a fake activity in your activity log. You don’t actually want this to show up, so eventually you will delete it. But first,
        • Find the activity in Garmin Connect (website not app) and tap it. (For me, the date was set to 12/31/2009.)
        • Tap the gear icon and select “Save as Course”.
        • Enter a name for the course and save it. Then select “Send to Device”. (Don’t even try to edit it on the phone; the Garmin route editor is unusable on mobile; it barely works on a computer!)
        • Open the Garmin Connect app on your phone and sync via Bluetooth to get the course to transfer.
      • Not done yet, you need to cleanup.
        • Delete the fake activity in Garmin Connect.
        • If you have Strava sync setup, it’s likely that Strava will also have the fake activity, so open the Strava app and go delete it.

      4. Blogging

      It looks like there are some nice lightweight folding keyboard options out there, so I’m looking into some of these. Worst case, I’ll deal with the on-screen keyboard and dictation when possible.

      Any suggestions?

      My Ultralight (ish) Pack List

      Now for something practical. When I was planning for our Pacific Coast bike trip, I scoured the Internet and books to find example packing lists so that I could have a basis for what I took. Below is the list of actual items I took with me and a short discussion of how well each item worked out.


      I made a YouTube video with all my gear.

      Test Runs

      Steve and I made 4 test runs before the big trip, where we biked out to a nearby campground with our bikes fully setup to make sure we worked out all the kinks. If you have time, I highly recommend doing this, as we made small changes each time that made our final trip much more enjoyable. Sometimes we’d have a friend join us and act as a SAG vehicle (which we used once!), just in case we ran into trouble we couldn’t fix.


      It wouldn’t be an ultralight packing list without gram weights of each item. My overall goal was to be comfortable on and off the bike, even if that meant a little more weight here and there, so this is not by any means a strict ultralight pack list, but my theory is: as long as you enjoy the ride, you did it right. My overall weight carried was somewhere between 8-10kg, including clothes worn but excluding water, food, and the actual bike. You could easily eliminate a lot of the items I have below to be even lighter, but in my opinion, this is a good balance between weight and comfort.


      • Specialized Roubaix Expert (~8kg) – the choice to use a carbon road bike is uncommon for bicycle touring. For this tour, on mostly good roads, going through lots of cities with decent bike shops, being summer (so I don’t need to carry a lot of extra clothing), and rarely being far from populated areas, it worked for me. Were I to do a longer tour, in colder weather, rougher roads, or further away from bike shops that can work on the specialized components of this road bike, I would look at a more traditional touring bike.
      • Pedals – Crank Brothers Egg Beater 3 – I love these pedals; they are lightweight, very durable, and I never have to look down to clip in because you can clip in in 4 spots. Plus they work great even if they get muddy, and the cleats continue to work well even when significantly worn.
      • Two 33oz Magnum water bottles (170g) – You could probably save some weight by using disposable Gatorade or water bottles.
      • Bike protection – To protect the carbon fiber frame with all the velcro, bags, locks, etc. rubbing on it, I used a combination of clear packing tape and black electrical tape and carefully taped under areas that would get a lot of friction. Two layers seemed to do a good job preventing any scratches, rubbing, and dings. You can also buy clear protecting stickers at most bike shops, but I found the packing tape to be cheaper, more versatile, and to work just as well. I also wrapped the entire top tube with a thin strip of velcro (soft side in, prickly side out). This served several purposes: it protected the top tube from scratches; it added a cushion beneath the heavy titanium bike lock that was mounted on the frame; it gave me a place to stick extra pieces of velcro while packing/unpacking my bike; and it was a source of extra velcro if I needed more at some point.

      Cycling Clothing

      • Bib shorts and jersey (~370g) – since we only brought one, we picked one of our favorite kits for a team we trained with for AIDS/LifeCycle. It was made by Pactimo and has a very comfortable chamois, which we were thankful for. Next time, I would opt for regular shorts over the bibs, since using the toilet can be quite complicated with bibs!
      • Gloves, socks, sweatband, helmet (390g) – nothing really special here.
      • Bike shoes (695g with cleats) – In order to avoid packing another set of shoes for using in restaurants and shops, I chose to use mountain biking shoes that could pass for normal sneakers. The Pearl Izumi X-Alp Drift IV worked well.
      • Heart rate monitor (55g) – I find it easier to gauge my exertion by keeping an eye on my heartrate, so I took this with me. It was useful, but on a future tour I’d probably leave it at home because it’s a nuisance to put on and it wasn’t essential.
      • Sunglasses (~25g) – I’m near-sighted so require a prescription to see. I chose a pair that are prescription and transition from clear to dark in the sun. That allowed me to skip bringing my contact lenses and solution and use these lenses at all times. I did opt to bring a pair of off-bike glasses as well for style reasons (those wrap-around glasses are great for riding but look a little funny when you go out to eat), but you could easily get by with just one pair.
      • Withings Activité watch – I hate pulling out my cellphone just to check the time so I opted for this watch. It also tracks activity, swimming, and sleep automatically, which is nice.
      • Road ID – you don’t want to think too much about this one; just get one.

      Cold/wet-weather cycling gear

      • Arm warmers, cycling cap, thick wool socks (DeFeet Woolie Boolie) (165g)
      • Ultralight rain jacket (50g) – I started out with this as my only jacket but after some 40 degree nights, I added an off-bike jacket to my list (see below).

      Off-bike clothing

      I chose to use Icebreaker merino wool clothing because it is very light, comfortable, breathable, odor resistant, and dries quickly after washing. They are also very good about exchanges and returns; we stopped at their stores in Vancouver, Portland, and San Francisco to exchange some items that had minor problems or were the wrong size.

      • Two pair Icebreaker underwear (105g)
      • Lightweight Icebreaker shorts (185g)
      • Two lightweight Icebreaker tee-shirts (250g)
      • Icebreaker socks (40g)
      • Swim suit (~100g) – just a minimal pair in case we went swimming. In actuality, I mostly ended up using these as my laundromat clothing while everything else was in the machine.
      • Leg warmers (155g) – Never needed these on the bike but they were handy in some camps that had lots of bugs and also on chilly nights. We opted for these over another pair of long pants because they are lighter and could also be used while cycling. They don’t look very stylish though!
      • Patagonia ultralight down jacket (270g) – Bought this part-way through the trip after some 40 degree nights. Packs up into its own pocket fairly small and is very light. Worth the weight if you’re in a cooler climate.


      Here is where I opted to invest some money. You can get a reasonably lightweight (1kg) single person tent at REI for around $200, but there is a small cottage industry popping up making ultralight shelters and camping gear out of Cuban fiber, a crazy light, waterproof, ultra strong fabric. I had heard great things about ZPacks from a friend, so I gave them a try, and I have to say I absolutely love their tents. I justified the cost by thinking about the money saved vs. just a few nights in a hotel.

      • ZPacks Solplex single person tent (439g) – very comfortably fit me (5’10”), my sleeping pad, and all of the gear from my bike. The only downside to this tent is that it is not freestanding, so it requires staking (minimum 6 stakes). This was never a showstopper, but there were some nights where the ground was difficult to stake where a freestanding tent would have been better. Also, if I had known Steve would be traveling with me, we could have invested in the 2-person version of this tent, which would have saved on our total weight. The 2-person version also has a freestanding add-on option available.
      • Carbon fiber tent poles (92g)
      • 12 Tent stakes (~100g) – I took a variety of stakes with me for different soil conditions. My favorite were the reasonable and readily available “mini groundhog” aluminum stakes from REI for $2.50 each and 10g each. The great thing about these is they are compact, pretty light, hold the ground well but slippery enough to go into dense dirt, and you can hammer them a little without worrying about breaking them. I tried several other kinds of stakes, and here’s my verdict: carbon fiber – useless unless you know you will only be staking in perfect grassy fields; you can’t hammer them in dense soil and their round shape doesn’t hold well in loose soil. Ultralight titanium stakes (5g each) – okay for very dense soil but useless otherwise; bends extremely easily. Titanium V stakes (9g each) – excellent for staking in sand, but can’t be hammered or even pushed with any force; I destroyed 3 of these in dense dirt before switching to the mini groundhogs.
      • Cuban fiber repair tape (~10g) – just in case something tears! Didn’t need it after 20+ days of camping but did use some to patch some silnylon compression sacks that tore small holes.
      • ZPacks 40 degree down sleeping bag (386g) – amazingly warm and comfortable and packs super small in a compression sack.
      • Thermarest full-length pad (~400g) – love this pad, but if I were to have to buy a new one, I’d consider a partial-length pad to save some space/weight, since your legs don’t really need to be supported while sleeping.
      • Sleeping pad patch kit (5g)


      It’s a bummer that we have to worry about this at all, but traveling with a fancy road bike, I felt like it would be a high theft target. Because Steve and I were traveling together, the bikes were rarely alone, but it gave us peace of mind knowing that a thief would have to be pretty determined and/or make a lot of noise in order to take our bikes.

      • TiGr lock (760g) – I really love this lock. It locks onto the top tube of my bike frame, so it takes up no storage space; it’s titanium so it’s reasonably light; it is very secure and would probably take a very determined thief over 5-10 minutes to cut through with heavy duty tools; it has a pick-resistant lock; it’s longer than a U lock so you can lock it further away from poles and you can use it to lock more than one bike (Steve and I shared this one lock). The only downside was that it wouldn’t lock well on thicker poles, and sometimes we couldn’t find an angle that would lock both bikes. On a future tour, I might consider taking an additional lightweight cable lock to cover these cases, even though cable locks are notoriously ineffective against bolt cutters or even fingernail clippers.
      • Front and rear lights USB chargeable (100+g) – unless you are planning to ride at night, you probably only need blinky lights to get the attention of drivers.


      • Camelbak Lobo (490g) – Many people hate wearing anything on their backs while riding. Steve and I both don’t mind it, but this may not work for everyone. I liked the convenience of being able to sip my water and not having to worry about filling up as often. It was also nice to be able to access many things in the pack without having to unpack the compression sacks I was using for on-bike storage. I also kept everything of value in my Camelbak or in my jersey pockets, so it was very easy to lock up and leave the bikes unattended without worrying about fishing out prescription medication from packs and other critically important things.
      • Two waterproof compression sacks (Sea to Summit sil-nylon) (70g each). One contained my tent, poles, sleeping bag, and cold weather gear and was strapped with velcro to my handlebars. The other contained my other clothing and was strapped with velcro below my seat. The velcro straps worked overall very well and are super lightweight, but they had many problems. First, the bags would be packed differently each day, so they would sit at different angles on the handlebars, putting different pressure on the cables or swinging from side to side under the seat. I was constantly messing with the on-cable derailleur adjuster because it was rubbing on the bag. Second, the velcro gradually ate holes in the silnylon. Since we didn’t get much rain, it wasn’t a big deal, but I spent a lot of time patching the holes with Cuban fiber repair tape (which worked excellently by the way). Finally, the bags had to be completely repacked and re-strapped every day, which took quite a lot of time. In the future, I would seriously consider some of the excellent seatpost and handlebar mounting systems like Specialized’s Burra Burra line. The extra weight may be worth it in this case.
      • Frame bag (~135g) – I found one that fit in the unused space in my frame’s triangle between my water bottles and used this to store tools and lesser-used items like extra velcro and repair tape.
      • Top tube bag (~135g) – I used a large capacity one to store wet wipes, food, sunscreen, etc.
      • Day bag (~150g) – This came in very handy carrying clothes to/from the shower as well as carrying large food items (beer and chips!) to camp. I think something like a musette bag used in cycling races would be perfect for this (and maybe lighter), but I couldn’t find one exactly right.


      We made the decision to eat things that didn’t require cooking or to enjoy local food at restaurants. I wouldn’t say we are full-time foodies, but we definitely played the part of a foodie during this tour! This helped us save on weight and have more interaction with people in the towns we rode through. (The foodie scene in Portland, by the way, is phenomenal!) We did a test run with an ultralight titanium stove and fuel pellets but found them too much of a hassle to deal with if we were just cooking occasionally. If we were to do a tour in an area with fewer foodie options, we would look into bringing a lightweight camp stove that takes fuel canisters that can be found anywhere.

      • Mini lighter (10g)
      • Plastic Spork (10g)
      • Cooking chopsticks (28g) – I didn’t actually bring these on this tour, but we met another cycle tourist that had these, and they are perfect for cooking food on an open fire pit in camp. Will definitely bring these on future tours.


      • Prescription medication and vitamins (varies in weight) – if you need to take vitamins or medication for something while cycle touring, it can be a huge pain, as we found out, especially when the pills are bulky. What we ended up doing was getting vacation authorizations for our prescriptions and then mailing multi-week supplies of vitamins and meds to the various cities we were stopping in. We luckily knew someone in each major city who agreed to hold the package for us. That way we didn’t need to travel with huge quantities and weight of pills.
      • Emergency medication (Tylenol, ibuprofen, Benadryl, allergy, etc) – it’s easy to find this stuff anywhere, so you just need enough for a few days’ worth.
      • First aid kit (35g) – bandaids, latex gloves, alcohol swabs, joint wrap, antibiotic gel packets, q tips


      • Wet wipes (60g) – when you have to go, you have to go.
      • ZPacks camping tooth brush (~10g).
      • 1 oz tooth paste (30g)
      • Floss (10g)
      • Tiny micro-fiber camp towel (20g) – you have to wring it out a lot, but it can get you reasonably dry.
      • Hotel bar soap (40g)
      • 1 oz sunscreen (30g)
      • Lip balm (5g)
      • Extra contact lenses (in case my glasses break or get lost) (5g)
      • Off-bike glasses & case (40g) – see comments above about cycling glasses
      • Nailclippers (15g)
      • Deoderant 1/2 oz sample size (15g) – When crashing with friends or for nights without a shower.
      • Bug spray (50g)
      • Small amount of toilet paper (5g) – easy to keep this replenished after it gets used in public restrooms.


      • Compact multi-tool (~100g) – some ultralight purists advise taking individual wrenches and tools, but I opted for a very compact and lightweight multi-tool that included a spoke wrench and chain tool in addition to the regular tools.
      • 5 patch kits (10g)
      • 1/4 oz chain lube (10g) – I found some very small dropper bottles (you can use old eye drop bottles) and filled it with chain lube for emergency lubing.
      • Paper towels (10g)
      • Tire irons (20g)
      • CO2 cartridges x 3 + inflater (~175g) – these are totally optional since we had a mini pump, but they are much easier to use when repairing flats.
      • 2 spare tubes (140g)
      • Spare tire (150g) – I found the lightest weight spare tire I could find and strapped it to my frame with velcro. It’s only for use to get to the next bike shop and doesn’t need to be a heavy-duty touring tire. This came in handy one day when I noticed my existing tire had shredded, so I rode the lightweight spare to the next bike shop and got a Schwalbe Marathon to replace it.
      • Extra cleats and bolts (40g)
      • Small amount of duct/gorilla tape (20g)
      • Super glue (5g)
      • Tiny camp knife (20g)
      • Micro frame pump (55g) – I’m not very happy with this pump. Since it doesn’t have a hose to connect to the tube’s valve, it is very easy to rip open the tube at the valve stem joint. I did this once on the trip despite being extremely cautious to avoid this exact problem. I am on the lookout for a better frame pump that has a hose to avoid this kind of failure. Even if it adds a little weight, if it’s easier to use, then I could get rid of the CO2 cartridges.
      • 4 large binder clips (20g) – use for hanging laundry, etc.
      • 4 CR 2032 batteries (5g) – replacements for my watch, HRM, and headlamp.
      • Presta/Shraeder valve adapter (5g)
      • Spare derailleur hanger (~20g) – I strongly recommend everyone find out which derailleur hanger their frame requires and carrying a spare. There are hundreds of different hangers, and bike shops don’t stock all of them, so if you break yours, you could be out of commission for days waiting for the replacement to ship. Steve bent his during the tour, which was repairable, but after bending back a couple of times, the metal will fatigue.


      • Cell phone, charger, and case (255g) – I used the huge iPhone 6s Plus, which was nice for looking at photos and reading eBooks, but I’d seriously consider the super-light iPhone SE for a future tour.
      • Bike computer and cable (130g) – The Garmin 1000 was great for following along pre-planned routes and keeping our friends updated of our progress via Strava, though the battery life isn’t great (8 hours of continuous use), and the on-device turn-by-turn directions are horrible.
      • Two EasyAcc 6,000mAh Ultra-Slim LiOn battery packs (115g each) – These have the best capacity:weight ratio that I could find, and 2 of them are actually lighter than any other single 12,000mAh battery I could find. We kept these topped off as often as possible when we had access to electricity or used our solar panels to charge throughout the day. Then we charged our Garmin and phones from the battery packs.
      • Micro headlamp (85g) – found a super tiny headlamp that takes watch batteries that worked fine.
      • Solar charger (227g) – This item deserves its own blog post, but briefly: The Sunctactics sCharger-5 5W solar panel is awesome. Super compact and lightweight, charges fast in direct sunlight and slowly under clouds, and waterproof. We strapped them on the back of our Camelbak and on partly-sunny days were able to get 2,000mAh-4,000mAh of charge on our batteries. Add in an hour or two of opportunity charging at lunch or in camp, and we were easily able to keep our electronics charged. With cloudy days, you can maybe get 1,000mAh of charge per day, so we had to conserve power a bit more.
      • Ear buds (5g)
      • Camera (305g) – I went back and forth on this one but finally decided to bring along a nice point-and-shoot camera (Canon G7x). I love photography so was glad I did, but it was a bit of a hassle and a lot of extra weight. The camera requires a 12V charger so won’t charge from the solar panel, so I’d recommend another point-and-shoot that charges off solar to others. The Olympus TG-4 may be a better choice, given its ruggedness, waterproofing, and 5V charging ability.
      • Camera case (~200g) – I tried 3 different cases before finding a small, super-rugged Chrome Industries bag that fit the G7x perfectly and strapped with velcro to my Camelbak so was always readily available. The bag was a limited edition that I picked up in their San Francisco store, so unfortunately it’s not something I can link to.
      • Extra camera batteries and charger (125g) – I carried enough extra batteries to last a week. This wouldn’t be as necessary with a camera that charged over 5V USB.


      • Wallet, cash, credit cards (55g)
      • Passport (35g)
      • House keys (15g)
      • Cheap pen (3g)
      • Extra zip lock freezer bags (5g) – great cheap dry bags for your phone and other items.
      • Extra velcro (10g+)
      • Extra zip ties (10g)
      • Small length of thin cord and Figure 9 hooks (20g) – for hanging laundry, etc.

      Getting Used to Your Stank

      When we were planning to do our ultralight 6-week Pacific Coast cycling tour, one of the questions most of our friends asked us was, “Wait, how are you going to wash your cycling clothes? I’ll bet you are going to stink to high heaven when you get back!”

      We initially thought about bringing more than one kit with us, but aside from the weight and volume, there were several other reasons we opted to bring just one:

      • Simplicity – with just one cycling kit, there are no decisions to make. “What are you wearing today?” became part of our silly wake-up routine at camp each morning. You know what you are wearing every day, and you know that each day you will try to find a way to wash it.
      • Drying – Many of our days were cool and damp, and didn’t have enough time to dry completely when washed. If we did have multiple kits, whichever one was wet would have had to be packed damp, potentially getting everything else in our pack wet as well.
      • Continuity – Kind of a silly reason, but it’s pretty amazing that we are wearing the same thing in all of our photos!
      • Pride – We chose a kit from a team who we trained with for the AIDS/LifeCycle ride, the Pork Pedalers. We absolutely love the pork-inspired kit and all of the hidden details and inside jokes on it, and we were proud to be able to represent them on our journey.

      So how did it work out?

      Well, each day that we arrived at camp, we had to make a decision of whether to wash the kits. We had showers at almost every camp, and some camps even had wash basins, so it was almost always possible. So the tradeoff was: how bad will they smell in the morning vs. how horrible will it be to put on a damp chamois?

      Some days like in the Redwoods, it was warm and dry, and we had partial sun in camp, plus wash basins, so it was a no-brainer. They’d be clean AND dry in the morning. Steve tended to opt more towards getting used to his stink and avoiding the shock of a wet diaper in the morning, while I preferred a soggy chamois for a few minutes to ripe spandex.

      The thing is, you’re going to stink after an hour of cycling anyway, and your body heat will quickly dry out any clothes you’re wearing. At least that’s how we justified it to ourselves; come to think of it… it could explain why some store personnel refused to acknowledge our presence…

      We were also lucky enough to have a chance to use a laundry machine about once a week, which kept everything from getting TOO smelly. Of course, with only one change of clothes, what do you wear when you’re washing them?