Whether for comfort or necessity, the right gear can make or break a tour. Here are a few of my ideas, followed by another section on Hints for Packing, which adds links gleaned from countless hours of web surfing.
A snow white pillow for my big fat head...well, not a big pillow anyway. I've tried everything from a pillowcase stuffed with clothes to ultralight micro puff packs that slipped and disappeared in the middle of the night. A compromise? The Therm-a-rest Compressible Pillow actually feels like a real pillow, while still stuffing down to a reasonable travel size.
Something else for your head, a lightweight beanie will vastly improve sleeping through cold nights. The sleeping bag hood is good - it just doesn't beat the warm, snug fit of a cap. The temp ratings of sleeping bags - see my Sleeping Bag Rating article - assume you're wearing a hat, as well as thermal underwear, a shirt, and a good pair of wool socks. They're a must for cold/cool nights.
A compass, preferably mounted on your handlebars. Doesn't matter whether we're in the back woods or the urban jungle, for us "direction impaired" it's an easy way to avoid "why is the sun setting in the east?" moments.
Speaking of directions, paper maps are classic - and clumsy, costly, and quickly outdated. A dedicated GPS device or smartphone is an easy way to keep on track. I like to leverage traditional maps for the planning portion, then whip out the phone on the road, especially during that last mile for "where the %$@#! is that campground!"
A bicycle repair kit. It's hard to predict which cycle component will give out on the road, but you can always count on flats. A good frame pump (Topeak Road Morph G has worked well for me), two spare tubes, a simple patch repair kit, a tire boot (ParkTool Emergency Tire Boot is reasonably priced), and multitool (Topeak Alien II, Topeak Hexus II, or Crank Brothers are all good choices).
A spare parts bag. Keep an assortment of bolts (especially M5s), washers, nuts, and chain links on hand. If you're carrying spare spokes, consider the Stein Mini Cassette Lockring Tool for removing the cassette lockring.
Don't make day two of your tour unpleasant. After a long day in the saddle, those cycle shorts will rub you the wrong way, especially if you're covering more miles than normal (almost always true). Chamois cream is a lifesaver; I've been happy with the inexpensive Nashbar Chamois Cream, although DZ Nuts Chamois Cream wins on name alone.
Sunscreen and bug repellent. Blisters and insect bites can really suck the fun out of a great tour. Look for a sunscreen formulated for sports to hold up under sweat, because if it's sunny it's probably hot as well.
A roll of toilet paper. When you need it - you really need it.
Packing is both an art and a science. Should I take my laptop, iPad, video camera, and game console? Will cutting off the handle of my toothbrush shave off precious micro ounces? Since experience is the greatest teacher, consider these sites and share in the collective wisdom of cycle tourists that have gone before you.
Take a look at REI's Bike Multiday Touring Checklist, which includes - not surprisingly - links to their product packages for different pieces of gear.
The always helpful folks at Adventure Cycling Association provide suggestions for What to Take and How to Pack. Buy a membership; I've been a member on and off since 2005 (I'm bad with keeping up subscriptions).
Darren Alff of Bicycle Touring Pro has put in enough miles to justify the name of his website. He provides an extensive list of gear that he has used over the years.
It's not only gear that gets packed; packing and transporting your bike can be tricky. The folks at The Path Less Pedaled (a great site for bike touring information/inspiration) address this topic in their Shipping vs. Flying with Your Bike video.
Touring with a Bike Friday bike? Not exactly a checklist, but some interesting thoughts from CrazyGuyOnABike.com.
If you're considering bikepacking (or just wondering what this thing is), the folks at REI can get you rolling with their Intro to Bikepacking. Great advice on how to start, plan, and pack.
The folks at UK-based Pannier have put together an extensive Bikepacking/Cycle Tour & Expedition Kit List, that also includes gear that they'll rent out for one of their many guided tours.
Location, Location, Location
Geared up and ready to go – but not sure where? Check out these routes and organizations that can point you in the right direction.
From fully loaded to fully supported, Adventure Cycling Association’s extensive list of guided tours have you covered. In addition to their well-thought-out tours, you can plot your own course with detailed maps designed for bike tourists.
Europe by bike; the penultimate cycle experience. The EuroVelo is an extensive network of 15 long-distance cycle routes across the European continent. An almost overwhelming mass of information and adventure.
The Bicycle Adventure Club maintains a list of both domestic and oversea rides. Their rides are rated by climbing and distance – so you have an idea of what you’re getting into.
Cycle Missouri? The Katy Trail is a wonderful, long, rail-to-trail path with well-placed hydration stops that offers camping and hotel accommodations. Darn nice scenery, especially in the Fall, even if it doesn’t rival the vistas of the Danube.
Do you dream of dedicated cycle paths with little to no traffic? The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy supplies guidebooks, ride advice, and information on old railroad tracks repurposed as multiuse trails. Join the organization to keep the trails coming.
For those Bike Friday folks, there’s a Facebook page (of course) for community members to share pictures, stories, helpful hints, and ride information.
Do campsite flush toilets and warm showers sound like soft luxuries? Paved roads only for wussies? Adventure BikePacking may be your thing - combining mountain biking with minimalist-style touring. Even if crossing Mongolia isn't on your bucket list, BikePacking.com's A Guide to International BikePacking Trips is a fascinating read. Even tame cyclo tourists like myself will find something useful.