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Four Days, One Bike, One Small Backpack

Today I depart for a a few days of biking inn-to-inn on the Katy Trail in Missouri. This is something I’ve wanted to do for ages, so I’m far more excited than I usually get about a domestic writing trip. The hard part is, I have to carry all my things with me as I’m going independently, not on some tour where the luggage gets transferred (like I did when biking in the Czech Republic). On Day 4 I take an Amtrak train back to St. Louis.

My plan was to first do a short overnight round trip of 20-something miles on the Sam Vadalabene bike trail between Alton and Grafton, Illinois, along the Mississippi River. The weather didn’t cooperate though so I visited wineries in Grafton and drank instead, staring out the windows while the rain came down and the river kept rising. So no trial run, unfortunately. Today I’m setting off on the bike for three nights/four days, with everything I need in a Kelty Redwing 3100 pack. It holds 51 liters, but I definitely won’t be stuffing it to capacity—it’ll be on my back for 30-35 miles a day, so I don’t want it to be heavy.

Kelty Redwing packThankfully my experience reviewing gear for the Practical Travel Gear blog has schooled me in what works well for packing light and packing smart. Up top is a photo of what’s coming along, laid out on the floor and then stuffed inside. Even though there’s an extra pair of shoes and my HP 13-inch laptop in there—two things I’d rather not take but have to because I’m working—the whole shebang pictured at the left weighed in at 22 pounds. That’s including two hats, a pair of gloves, a Swiss Army knife and an iPod. So I can live with that.

What helps keep the weight down? Mainly some tried and true pack light strategies: lightweight clothes that all go together, travel size cosmetics, and a minimum of shoes.

There are lots of newfangled wonder fabrics in the mix here. They insulate and block water but breathe, are light but rugged, and are wrinkle-free. Probably 2/3 of the bulk is made up of clothing from ExOfficio and Columbia. This stuff isn’t cheap, but it doesn’t act cheap either. These are shirts and pants you can wear a hundred times, abuse to death, stuff any which way in your pack, and wash in the sink. They still come out looking like new.

Here are some other notable items coming along.

Tifosi sunglasses

A shirt with reflective patches in case it starts getting dark before I’m where I need to be on the trail.

Waterproof rain pants I bought in Cusco and my trusty waterproof North Face Mountain Light jacket with Gore-tex.

Waterproof Gore-tex Vasque shoes.

Hoss biking shorts that don’t look like gay Spandex biking shorts. (Update, this company is out of business, but others have jumped on the trend, thankfully.)

Performance socks from the likes of Swiftwick and Lorpen that I can wash in a sink and know they’ll dry fast.

What items have you found to be a huge help when you’re trying to pack super-light and still have what you need?

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Monday 31st of October 2011

I’m also an avid photographer (although I can only take point-and-shoot with me on the bike) but those mini-tripods they sell in those dollar marts are a godsend for me.


Friday 10th of December 2010

40-60 miles in desert terrain is very impressive. I would be lucky to do 25-35 miles perhaps on a good day. Have to agree with Al, it's tough finding that balance, hopefully it will come with more experience!

Al Williams

Saturday 14th of August 2010

Tim, I bike frequently in the High Desert of Central Oregon. For the most part my rides are 40-60 miles. My biggest challange is balancing "Travelling Light" and "Being Prepared". Looks like you have that figured out. Thanks for the ideas!



Tuesday 16th of March 2010

Thanks, Tim. I kinda figured that was the case.

Happy Cycling!



Monday 15th of March 2010

Hi Tim,

I'm curious as to what bike you're riding, and if this trail is suitable for road bikes.

I guess I'd opt for panniers, fenders and a nice Brooks B-17 saddle.

Regarding bike pants, I confess to preferring bib tights. But, I tend to do 50-70 mile rides. I find alternatives just don't cut it on long rides, at least for me. Have fun, I'll be jealous of you as you're pedaling!



Tuesday 16th of March 2010

I'm on a rugged Raleigh hybrid bike. I don't have fenders, but they would be good to have as it's crushed limestone and a bit muddy or dusty depending on the season. A road bike wouldn't be a good idea. Something with fatter tires is better.