Join Date: Nov 2004
Location: North Carolina
Bikes: Specialized Sirrus, Bianchi Volpe, Trek 5000, Santana Arriva tandem, Pashley Sovereign, among others
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There really is no right or wrong way, but whatever way works best for you. I've been touring for years and I'm still searching for the best way to load the panniers. However, through trial and error I've learned the following:
1) Go ultralight. I ditched the stove and fuel in favor of food items that don't need cooking which I pick up at a store near my destination, or eat in restaurants. I carry only the most basic of tools for quick repairs. The major repairs happen far too infrequently to be dealing with carrying too many tools. If a major malfunction occurs, I let a local bike shop handle it, similar to what people do when a car breaks down on a trip. Of course, that's assuming your tour is in more developed countries or other locations where you can do it this way. I've also learned to travel without as much camping gear, such as a small sheet instead of a sleeping bag during warm weather touring, and a very, very small lightweight one person tent which I carry on the top of the rear rack.
2) How you pack may also depend on the style of your panniers. I have panniers with lots of outside pockets where I keep the things I may need most frequently or suddenly, such as my rain gear, jacket, camera, notepad, cash, etc. The stuff I use least I keep at the bottom of the main bag. Like you, I use a similar approach for packing each bag. I usually put my clothes in one bag and the other holds the housekeeping. Toiletry stuff I keep together in one small bag which I keep in the housekeeping pannier. I don't even bother with front bags anymore since I carry so little. It may not be the ideal balance weight distribution wise, but it works for me, and that is all that matters in the end.
Just keep touring and eventually you'll find the approach that works best for you.