Packing List - Necessities

Isn't everything I bring on my tour a necessity? If it wasn't, why would I bother packing it?

I consider these items base gear, and oddly enough, it's often the stuff we forget to pack. If I'm camping, it's highly unlikely I'll forget to pack my tent. But what about toilet paper? When we need these items...we really need them.

Bike Gear

A helmet needs to be part of your list. Yes, I'm aware that wearing a helmet in Europe identifies you as an American. I also know what it's like to have a concussion (from my non-helmet-wearing days). Bicycling gloves protect your hands from falls and are good to prevent nerve damage or fatigue from hours of gripping the handlebar. I like to add as many water bottles as possible to my bike, usually three of them. Not much of a fan of bladders since I don't like carrying anything on my back, but they're popular with bikepackers concerned that a water bottle will pop out of the cage over rough terrain.

Even with a smartphone, having a compass, preferably stem-mounted, is great for avoiding disastrous wrong turns. Same with a cyclometer. I'm not interested in performance measures such as calories burned, but while touring Taiwan the mileage tracker was a sanity check confirming I was following the correct route in my guidebook.

And a bicycle lock. It won't prevent your bike from being stolen, but it slows down someone attempting the grab and dash. Lugging around a massive U-lock with a heavy chain may work at home - not so much on a tour. The simple fact is you can't leave your bike out of sight in large metro areas. Two minutes with a cheap cut-off tool and your bike's gone. I had a spirited discussion (argument) at a hotel in Germany that wanted me to lock my bike outside. They finally relented and allowed it to stay in my room. In the Netherlands, I caught hell when the owner found out I had a bike in my room. When camping it's locked as close as possible to the tent. I prefer cable locks to wrap around objects (like a tree at the campground), with combination locks so I don't have to worry about losing the key.


Those staying in hotels have the advantage of a small list of items, batteries being the most important. We don't want lights going out on the road due to dead batteries. Make sure you know what size each device requires. Under Tour Comfort, I include taking the appropriate cords and chargers for electronic gizmos.

Campers have a few other items, including a microfiber/antimicrobial camp towel. These towels dry quickly, are easy to pack, and won't get too funky over the trip, although they only do a fair job drying you after a shower. Shower sandals are a must for public showers, and a waterproof laundry bag with a drawstring to hang up in the shower stall. An inexpensive dry bag works well. Since I don't like carrying several types of soap, I take one biodegradable soap for everything.


Ever been on a flight and at the last minute forced to check in your bag at the gate? Most airlines are good enough to remind you to pull out any prescription medications from your bag should the flight be unexpectedly canceled leaving you stranded without important pills. Use the same concept when packing for a tour - refill your prescriptions before leaving and bring along proper medical and insurance information. Don't rely on resupplying at pharmacies en route. That's a recipe for disaster.

And it's not only prescription medications. In the US, over-the-counter medicine such as aspirin can be found at...well, about everywhere. But that's not necessarily true in other countries where stricter drug controls prevail. While biking in Germany I discovered that aspirin was only available behind the counter at a local pharmacy. And sold by the pill. Recently in Italy, I was reminded how difficult it is to pantomime the need for a night-time cold medicine from a non-English-speaking pharmacist. Carry a waterproof pill box with your favorite pain relievers, allergy pills, and cold remedies to take care of those little aches and pains expected while touring.