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How to pack?

Old 02-26-24, 10:25 AM
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How to pack?

Hi everyone. I'm relatively new to cycle touring. Only tour I have done is Ragbrai. I did that 3 years but would like to try unsupported touring. I am converting one of my road bikes to touring. I am just curious what you pack where. I was hoping to put my tent on the front rack but it doesn't fit between the drops. I have rear bags but not fronts yet. I was thinking mess kit and a few clothes in front and everything else on the back but I'm unsure. Advice or suggestions of what to load where would be appreciated.
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Old 02-26-24, 12:30 PM
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How long of a tour are you planning? I find with anything under a month, one pair of rear panniers plus the top of the rear rack is more than enough space.
.
  • Tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag in one pannier
  • Cookware, tools, and other assorted daytime use items in the other pannier
  • Clothes, toiletries, electronics, and personal items in the rack top bag.

​​​​​​Keeping your stuff themed in this way means you can take the rack top bag into your tent at night and leave the other two panniers on the bike. Saves a bunch of hassle everyday.

Ortlieb makes a good rack top duffle.
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Old 02-26-24, 12:56 PM
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I have only done four pannier touring, not two.

No two people do the same, there is no right or wrong way.

I have a kickstand on two of my touring bikes, and on those the one pannier I can remove without upsetting the bike balance on kickstand is the front right. So, the front right is where my tent is because when I get to a campsite, the first thing I want to do is get the tent up.

Tent is usually wet from dew or condensation or both when I pack it in the morning, so I do not want anything in the front right pannier besides the tent unless it is something that I do not mind getting wet. Sandals, maybe my air mattress that dries out quickly often go in that pannier too.

Left front, most trips that has cooking gear, stove fuel, food that will also fit in there. I try to get both front panniers to be about the same weight.

I use Ortlieb Frontloader panniers up front, they each have a strap over the top. I strap my rain gear on top of front panniers where it is handy and I can also see it in case it starts to work loose.

Rear panniers, everything else. Dense stuff in bottom, like tools and if I carry a spare tire, this is also in the bottom. Canned food near the bottom. Lightest stuff on top. I try to organize by knowing what is in each of the rear, but each trip I fall into a routine that varies from previous trips.

Sleeping bag is in a compression stuff sack. That goes on top inside of one rear pannier. Might also have a down vest in same sack. Some trips have used a second compression sack for other clothing, that is on top in other rear pannier. If my compression sack was not too full and i have extra room next to it in the pannier, I will shove something in there.

Three photos below, first is compression sack next to a pannier, second is compression sack inside pannier, and third is the pannier closed.







I usually have another bag on top of the rear panniers, often that has food in it. That bag might be nearly full or might be almost empty. And some odd shaped light stuff like hiking shoes or sneakers are often in that bag because the do not pack well. I have to get the two rear panniers packed almost exactly the same volume so the rear bag on top is not trying to slide off to one side. Photo below.



Handlebar bag. That has my valuables and stuff I may want quick access to (sun screen, a small multi-tool, chain lube, etc.). That goes in stores and restaurants with me. And I usually have all my electronics in that bag too. Heaviest stuff in that bag to the rear closest to the steering axis, least dense stuff in front.



Some trips where I did not need as many warm clothes or did not have to carry as many days of food, I used a much smaller bag on top of the rear panniers, like below. On the trip where I took the photo below, the last few days I did not have any bag on top of the rear panniers, that food had all been eaten and the drybag was folded up and stowed elsewhere.



I think most people put the sleeping bag or tent on top of the rear rack, that works for them. But I like the bag on top in back to be able to fluctuate in volume in case I need to carry extra food on part of a trip, or if I have food that I do not want to crush, like baked goods or eggs, etc.
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Old 02-26-24, 03:21 PM
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I often ”wild” sleep under the stars without a tent or sleeping pad, so I keep my groundsheet, sleeping bag, and bag liner in one pannier, so that if for whatever reason I have to move out quickly in the night, I can be packed and gone in seconds. Everything else stays packed and on the bike.

edit: well, it probably actually takes a minute

Last edited by imi; 02-26-24 at 03:33 PM.
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Old 02-26-24, 03:43 PM
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Echoing TouristMSN, everyone does it differently. I often do it differently on different days.
I general, I start out on paper and divide stuff into categories:
First aid and Bike maintenance
Navigation and Communication
Food, snacks and cooking
Tent, Sleeping Bag
Daily clothing, on and off bike
Cold, Wet weather clothes
Toilet kit
I lay everything out on a piece of plywood to make sure I have it all.
Then it goes into 4 panniers based on when it gets used;
Left front: First aid, Bike tool kit, Snacks, Cache Battery for phone.
Left Rear: Rain Gear, Maps, Some clothes
Right Front: Stuff for making camp, Air Mattress, Camp shoes Toilet kit
Right Rear: Cooking gear
Stuff on the left is stuff I might want during the day, I can access them when the bike is leaning against a building. Stuff on the Right is for making camp when panniers may even be off bike.
Sleeping Bag is in a waterproof stuff sack on top of rack. Tent is also on top, it doesn't matter if it gets wet.
Probably left some stuff out, but yo can get the idea.
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Old 02-26-24, 09:50 PM
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I know every one packs different to best suit themselves. I would only pack the rear because will all my clothes and camping gear I have room. Tent would go on top of the rack. Im just trying to get a better weight distribution so it handles better
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Old 02-26-24, 11:07 PM
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I did one tour with all weight in the rear and it was like trying to tame a stallion. Every time I moved the bike over stairs or walking up a steep incline it wanted to run wild
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Old 02-26-24, 11:53 PM
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Over time I've whittled down weight and volume quite a bit. I plan to ride 2+ months this summer with a base volume of 21L; base weight in the neighbourhood of 10Kg. I use 2 x 5.5L Ortlieb fork packs, one for clothing, the other for hardware (actually partly mixed to get to even weights) + 2 x 5L dry bags lashed to the read rack, one for the tent + pad and the other for sleeping bag + liner. I also carry a 25L (MLD Core) backpack lashed to the rack, for food items.

My suggestions would be to:
(1) Limit weight and volume as much as possible -- there comes a point where you no longer have to walk stairs twice, once for the luggage and then for the bike, which is liberating.
(2) There are stores everywhere, so it is very unlikely that you'll die from hypothermia because you didn't bring enough layers
(3) Putting more load on the fork makes for a more stable ride, especially when riding uphill.

(4) I started with the typical 2+2 Ortlieb kit, which gives you 65L of carrying capacity. "Graduated" to front panniers only (25L + tent and food on the rack). And it will be my 3rd year with the 4 x 5L kit. Less is more
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Old 02-27-24, 03:08 AM
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As mentioned by a few others, everyone is different because different things work for different people.
My set-up this year will look like this:
Tailfin Aeropack: Tent, poles, microfibre towel. I'll also store some food items in it. It technically can fit a lot more, but I have a dropper post, so want to be able to use it when needed. Rain jacket strapped to the top.
2 x 10 litre mini panniers: Sleeping bag, little inflatable pillow, base layers/shirts on one side, sleeping mat, cooking kit, and first aid kit on the other.
Frame bag: 1.5 litre hydration bladder if there will be lots of re-supply points, some food, spare tubes, and water filter. If there aren't many re-supply points- 3 litre hydration bladder, spare tubes and water filter.
Tailfin downtube bag: tools and spares.
Tailfin top-tube bag: Snacks and phone
Bar bag: rest of my clothes, including sleep/camp clothes and electronics.

When I go with my son on our trip, it will look broadly similar except I'll swap out the 10 litre mini panniers for 22 litre panniers
One side will have all of my kit from both my 10 litre panniers, the other side will have his sleeping mat and bag, and some of his clothes.
His trailer (he'll only be 2.5 years old, so he gets to travel in style) will have toys and snacks with him in the front, and nappies (diapers for the Americans) if he isn't potty trained by then, individually packed toddler milk, and probably a few extra changes of clothes.

Here's some photos of last year's set-up with the 5 litre panniers instead of 10


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Old 02-27-24, 06:02 AM
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My partner and I recently did a trip where she had two front bags and I had two rear bags (with a couple of small fork packs on front). I think that I prefer to have weight up front as it mellows out the steering and keeps the front end down on steep climbs. Remember, most of your own weight is on the back wheel, so it doesn't need more weight to be stabilized.
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Old 02-27-24, 06:25 AM
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Originally Posted by Trentkln27
I know every one packs different to best suit themselves. I would only pack the rear because will all my clothes and camping gear I have room. Tent would go on top of the rack. Im just trying to get a better weight distribution so it handles better
forgive my lack of expertise, but recall seeing many put the tent pols in a half frame bag and condense the tent in a smaller dry bag to fit between the drops. Perhaps this would help since you described that was your original desire.
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Old 02-27-24, 06:27 AM
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Originally Posted by Trentkln27
I was hoping to put my tent on the front rack but it doesn't fit between the drops.
I’ve learned to NOT constrain my thinking by the choices the marketing people made. IOW that tent does not need to always look like it did on the store shelf. Split it up, reshape it, compress it, etc. On my tour last spring I split mine up. Poles strapped on the rear with my sleeping pad. Tent in one front pannier, fly and pegs in the other. You can also buy or make other storage bags (aka stuff sacks) that are longer or shorter or rounder than the original. Make the tent fit where you want it to go. This applies to many other things you carry.

I liked most of the tent weight on the front. Good enough but hot too much. Just the tent left plenty of other room for temporary things: a morning layer I no longer needed, some groceries late in the day on the way to camp, the Arby’s roast beef sandwich n fries I ran out for one night.

edit: Bogey Speedwell and I were typing at the same time.

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Old 02-27-24, 06:44 AM
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First Camping 600 Mile Tour.
Friends loaned me the gear.
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Old 02-27-24, 10:29 AM
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Originally Posted by Trentkln27
Hi everyone. I'm relatively new to cycle touring. Only tour I have done is Ragbrai. I did that 3 years but would like to try unsupported touring. I am converting one of my road bikes to touring. I am just curious what you pack where. I was hoping to put my tent on the front rack but it doesn't fit between the drops. I have rear bags but not fronts yet. I was thinking mess kit and a few clothes in front and everything else on the back but I'm unsure. Advice or suggestions of what to load where would be appreciated.
My packing strategy is informed by an article from 1982 by Jim Blackburn in Bicycling Magazine (find it here). Short version: the bike handles best with more of the load carried low and forward.

Generally, I carry food and cooking equipment…which is small but dense…in small front bags and large bulky…but light…stuff in the rear bags. Sleeping bag is carried in a dry bag on top of the rack as is the tent. Nothing but dry stuff goes inside the panniers.

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Old 02-27-24, 10:35 AM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute
My packing strategy is informed by an article from 1982 by Jim Blackburn in Bicycling Magazine (find it here). Short version: the bike handles best with more of the load carried low and forward.
My bicycle doesn't have dedicated rack mounts on the front. I did get a rack that mounts on the axle and brake mount. Im looking into getting a weld shop to put another bar going down and a couple cross bars so I can mount bags lower down. I'm probably going about this the hard way but oh well I'm already to invested to give up. I didn't but the bags but I did get the rack
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Old 02-27-24, 01:19 PM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute
…Short version: the bike handles best with more of the load carried low and forward.

Is it a perspective of the picture, but it looks like your front pannier is almost scraping the road!!?
Leaning into a curve at speed and hit the bag on the road will spin the bike and throw you off for sure.

edit: looks like standard Tara and Frontrollers on 26” wheels, neh? So can’t be as weird as the picture looks

Last edited by imi; 02-27-24 at 01:32 PM.
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Old 02-27-24, 04:52 PM
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Originally Posted by Trentkln27
My bicycle doesn't have dedicated rack mounts on the front. I did get a rack that mounts on the axle and brake mount. Im looking into getting a weld shop to put another bar going down and a couple cross bars so I can mount bags lower down. I'm probably going about this the hard way but oh well I'm already to invested to give up. I didn't but the bags but I did get the rack
There are several ways to go to solve your problem. A Tubus Tara can be attached to the fender mounts (and it has its own fender mount). Tubus sells the LM-1 mounting set which clamps to the fork leg. I’ve used one of these and they work. Axiom (and others) sell lowrider front racks that can be clamped to the fork leg with a plastic coated U bolt. I’ve used that arrangement for many, many years.

Since your bike has a threadless headset, it is relatively trivial to get a different fork and swap it out as well. That not as cheap as the other options, however.
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Old 02-27-24, 04:54 PM
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Originally Posted by imi
Is it a perspective of the picture, but it looks like your front pannier is almost scraping the road!!?
Leaning into a curve at speed and hit the bag on the road will spin the bike and throw you off for sure.

edit: looks like standard Tara and Frontrollers on 26” wheels, neh? So can’t be as weird as the picture looks
It’s perspective. The bike has a Tara rack and is a 700C equipped bike. There’s plenty of room. The bike has been down a whole lot of very fast, very curvy descents. Here’s a picture from a flatter angle.

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Old 02-28-24, 03:47 PM
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Phew! Thanks cycco, now I can relax 😆
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Old 03-03-24, 03:31 AM
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I split the weight between front and rear bags. The front bags carry the tent in one, the bed in the other. They each weigh about 6 lbs. The rear has the other stuff and usually weighs 12-15 lbs.

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Old 03-04-24, 01:50 PM
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Two different ways to pack a bike. They both work. My wife likes most the weight (35 lbs.max) on the back, and has no problems. She pulled away from me when I was going 40 mph on a downhill, and has never had an issue. I carry a little more weight, and like the load more balanced between the front and the rear.


She also has no difficulty pushing her bike through awkward places, like going around these road barriers.


I believe this was in one of Jim Blackburn's catalogs.




This is what I used for one of my bikes that did not have a fork blade attachment point. They are made by Tubus and work well.


Make a packing list. This one was for a 2 month trip, but was changed before leaving for the ride.

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