Our cycling tour essentials: From tents to deodorant and camping chairs

When it comes to kit, I’m a bit of a nerd. This was true before I came to IndyBest, but now that I’ve spent a portion of my working life testing everything from fleeces to slippers, I feel confident in my assertion that my nerdery might be worth boasting about.

But no project has stretched my research capabilities more than an upcoming trip I’m going on with my partner: we’re taking 18 months off to attempt to cycle the length of the Americas, from Alaska to Argentina.

It’s a bit bonkers, sure, but in terms of long-term cycle tours, it’s actually one of the more simple ones. If we can keep pace with the seasons, the weather should remain temperate, and the visa rigmarole promises to be relatively simple.

But there are, of course, challenges when you decide to forgo your south-east London flat for a three-man tent on the salt plains of Bolivia. And identifying and sourcing great kit has been a massive part of our preparations.

So, what are we taking with us? Well although the answer is “not much”, it would still be too boring to list everything exhaustively. That’s why I’m bringing together my most satisfying picks – stuff that I feel smug for finding, or which gives me a little jolt of excitement when I think about how I’m going to use it while on the road… yes, even the trowel for digging a hole to poop in (£26.42, Amazon.co.uk).

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So without further ado, here are my top kit picks for long-term cycling touring, brought together over two years of asking for recommendations and comparing countless spec tables.

Icebreaker women’s merino siren bikini briefs

Over the years I have owned a lot of merino. It’s long been regarded as the miracle material for bike touring, but, tbh, I’ve never quite understood the hype. Although I’ve found it to be more effective than other fabrics at keeping me clean while out in the wilderness, I never had the miraculous results that others claim.

That’s until I tried Icebreaker. It’s a New Zealand company I’ve long had on my radar, but last year I finally bought some T-shirts in the brand’s sale. Since then I’ve gone back for more: bras, knickers and base layers. Finally, I have bike-friendly clothing that keeps good on its promise not to get stinky immediately.

Last year when I spent 10 days in the Outer Hebrides, I was amazed to sniff my T’s pits to discover only the faintest of aromas. Suddenly, my evenings at camp were improved exponentially, as I didn’t have to wash my woolen items every night to maintain a semblance of hygiene. My only criticism? Delivery takes an absolute age, and returns can be a bit of a mission.

Salt of the Earth travel deodorant

As mentioned above, merino wool has amazing properties and can help you remain relatively stink-less for long periods. But it doesn’t deal too well with modern antiperspirants and deodorants – some old examples of base layers in my closet have crusty white patches at the underarms from a build-up of the white stick deodorant I used to love.

However, a couple of years ago I moved to a salt-based crystal in an attempt to stop damaging all my nice clothes, and I’ve never looked back. Yes – you will smell different than what you’re used to. But you won’t smell bad. I’ve only ever been aware of a pong after a particularly heavy gym session, and I feel like that’s sort of what you’re supposed to smell like after working out. Salt crystals also last for months if you keep them dry, meaning that I could end up keeping this travel-sized version until well into Central America. It’s a recommendation that I’d give to city-dwellers and cyclists alike.

Forclaz trek 500 solar panels

When our colleague reviewed the best solar panels and offered us one of the samples for our trip, we had our eye on the most expensive models. But actually, this thoroughly good-value option from Decathlon gave us the best surface area to weight ratio.

On our high-summer bike-touring trip in the Hebrides, it was able to charge our phones back up to full power with only a couple of hours of direct sunlight (yes, in Scotland!), and it was so light that we barely knew we were carrying it. We plan to affix it to our panniers for our long-term trip, in the hope of making the best use of the midday sun. An absolutely fabulous buy for hikers and bikers alike.

Big Agnes 2021 copper spur HV UL3 bikepacking tent

We reviewed the Big Agnes copper spur for our round-up of the best bikepacking kit last year, and we are still totally enamoured with it. Like, occasionally-we-put-it-up-in-the living-room levels. It’s lighter than our old two-man, and feels positively palatial in comparison.

It’s got lots of bike dork details too, including a spot especially for your helmet and points for you to lash your just-washed kecks to, so your bits can dry in the sun before you start your next day of riding. My 6ft partner can even sit up in it without his head grazing the top, meaning that we can feasibly spend a rained-off day in it without throwing our backs out.

Once upon a time we were highly anxious about spending 18 months of our lives in a tent, but this bad boy is a major part of the reason we’re now just mildly terrified. Victory.

It’s out of stock at the moment, but you can sign up to be notified once it’s been restocked, most likely in June.

Helinox ground chair

If you’ve ever met me in person, you’ve probably had to ask me to shut up about my camping chair. I bought this baby before a touring trip in Japan in 2016, and I have never looked back. Quite simply, when you are on your bike all day, you want to sit down at the end of it.

These chairs are insanely light to carry, and incredibly comfy to settle down in with a book. The fact their design means you are so low to the ground also makes them pretty incognito – if you want to make camp among the bushes, your head won’t poke above the long grass while you’re nestled in.

My partner and I have one each, and although one of the frames did crack a couple of years ago, they were still within warranty and the brand immediately sent us a replacement. They are absolutely worth carrying for 25,000km, and I won’t hear otherwise from even the most strident of ultralight bikepackers (maybe you’d be more relaxed if you had a chair, ultralight dudes).

Therm-a-Rest womens neoair xlite sleeping mat

When people ask me about our trip, it’s normally not long before they ask about what we’re sleeping on. When you’re going away this long and you’re over the age of 30, you can’t simply roll out some bubble wrap and hope for the best. No; that is a recipe for sciatica, and I don’t intend to have “debilitating pain” on the menu.

That’s why both myself and my partner have a Therm-a-Rest neoair xlite – I have the women’s model, which is a bit shorter, but also, importantly, warmer, while he has the men’s version. They are fabulous, as I previously exclaimed in my review of the best bikepacking gear, with my main point again being that I can sleep on my side without touching the ground. It also rolls up into a tiny package, meaning it’ll squeeze into awkward parts of my pannier. A fabulous product.

Sea to Summit alpha pan

Mostly, our bike touring kit has been the same for a number of years, but for this stint we have invested in a non-stick pan. Previously we only ate things you could boil: ramen, pasta, you know the drill. But the thought of 18 months without onions was simply too much. Yes, I will be going to the toilet in a hole, but that doesn’t mean one should abandon all good taste.

Look, I won’t be rustling up any Escoffier, but with this model from the always-reliable Sea to Summit, I will be able to fry up an array of delights to keep our stomachs satisfied. I have already tested its heat dispersion on my home hob with great success and the little handle comes off too, making it easier to pack down. A must-buy for anyone planning on living outside for an extended period.

Lightning to SD card reader

I’m going to take my Fujifilm X100T on the trip – it’s a model that the camera brand no longer makes, but I love it dearly. For pure ease I have invested in this SD card to Lightning cable so I can directly transfer any snaps I love from the camera’s memory card to my phone. It’s super speedy in comparison to the Bluetooth transfer (and much less anxiety-inducing), and will make it a doddle to get those Gram-worthy shots up in a jiffy.

I’m coupling it with a Google One subscription (from £1.59 per month, Google.com), so I can upload my masterpieces at their full resolution whenever we hit a hostel, making sure none of my memories go up in a puff of electrical smoke, even if we’re caught in a downpour.

Rapha women’s cargo bib shorts

They’re bib shorts for cycling, but they have pockets. Need we say more? When riding is less of a training activity and more of a new way of life, not being able to stuff things into your pockets is a total no-go. Thankfully, British brand Rapha has been pedaling these beauties for a few years now, and they are the perfect receptacles for cereal bar wrappers, sun cream, smartphones and, of course, bananas. I quite simply wouldn’t go on tour without them. The brand’s chamois are also famed for their comfort, and I’ve gone many miles with my undercarriage supported in an unparalleled manner.

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