The Art of Stowing Stuff: How To Pack for Bike Touring

Male cyclist is on touring bicycle from the front side cycling towards with mountains in the background durimg summer. Cycling around caucasus. Georgia

Key Points

  • There are many types of biking trips ranging from solo multi-day to supported group trips.

  • Maximizing storage space is essential when beginning to pack for bike touring and is best done by utilizing various bags such as saddle packs and handlebar bags.

  • This article includes pro tips on how to pack for bike touring, as well as packing lists to ensure you don't leave anything behind.

Discover the art of how to pack for bike touring! Bike touring, or traveling with all your belongings on your bicycle for multiple days, is a liberating experience. However, some people may find it uncomfortable, heavy, and unstable to ride a bike loaded with gear.

A bike with a lot of luggage handles differently than one without. Those who have gone before have experimented with this delicate balance of gear and have left a map for you to follow.

This article explains how to pack your things without significantly affecting the stability and performance of your bike.

Tips and Strategies Based on Tour Type

Before you begin packing for your bike adventure, consider the type of trip you are embarking on. This impacts the amount of gear you need and how you pack it.

There are several types of biking adventures, including self-supported touring, credit-card touring, vehicle-supported touring, bike packing, and organized tours. Each type requires different levels of gear and changes your packing strategy.

For example, self-supported touring typically requires camping and cooking equipment, while credit-card touring may only require clothing and toiletries. Vehicle-supported touring often involves a friend driving a vehicle with overnight gear, allowing you to just carry what you need for the day.

Organized tours may offer support for carrying gear, food, and clothing, so be sure to check the details before packing.

The content below focuses primarily on self-supported touring, but the strategies are adaptable to your specific needs.

Single-Day Rides: The Ultimate Checklist for a 50-Mile Bike Ride

A 50-mile bike ride requires some essential items to ensure you have a comfortable and safe experience. Below is a helpful list as you get ready for your trip:

  1. Bike and Helmet: Make sure your bike is in good working condition before your ride, and don't forget to bring your helmet.

  2. Water and Nutrition: Bring enough water to keep yourself hydrated during the ride, and snacks or energy bars.

  3. Spare Tube and Tire Levers: A flat tire happens without any notice, so be prepared with a spare tube and the necessary tools.

  4. Pump: Make sure you have a way to inflate your tires in case they get low.

  5. Repair Kit: A small multi-tool, Allen wrenches, and a chain tool are enough for basic repairs.

  6. Clothing: Dress in layers, and wear clothes that are comfortable and breathable. Be aware of the weather and dress accordingly.

  7. Sun Protection: Bring sunscreen and sunglasses. Wear a cap or helmet with a visor to protect yourself from the sun.

  8. ID and Cash: Don't forget a form of identification and some cash for emergencies or unexpected expenses.

  9. Cell phone: Pack your fully charged cell phone and consider bringing a power bank.

  10. Lights: Purchase a headlight and a taillight, especially if you expect to finish your ride in the evening.

  11. Basic First Aid: Pack a small first aid kit, including band-aids and painkillers.

  12. Rain gear: If there is any chance of rain, bring a rain jacket, pants, and shoe covers.

  13. Maps and/or GPS: Print a map of the area or make sure your GPS device is fully charged and ready to go.

  14. Camara or Action Camera: Depending on your preference, cameras are fun items to add to your list!

Remember if it's your first time doing a 50-mile ride, make sure to practice riding similar distances in the weeks leading up to your ride and some endurance training. Listen to your body and rest if you need to.

A bicycling tourists bikes along a farm road

Multi-Day Rides: Bike Packing Expedition Versus Touring Adventure

Bike packing and bike touring are both forms of long-distance cycling, but they have some distinct differences.

Bike packing typically involves multi-day trips on off-road terrains, such as singletrack trails, dirt roads, and backcountry routes. Riders carry all their gear in specialized, lightweight bags that are mounted on the bike, rather than on a traditional rear rack and panniers. The focus is on the adventure and the experience of exploring remote areas by bike, rather than covering long distances each day.

Bike touring, on the other hand, is more focused on covering distance and usually takes place on pavement and gravel roads. Riders use traditional touring bikes and carry their gear in panniers mounted on a rear rack. The goal is to see different places, rather than tackling challenging terrain.

Bikepacking is a more rugged, off-road form of cycling that focuses on exploration and adventure whereas bike touring is about long distances on pavement and gravel roads.

Supported Bike Tours

Supported bike tours allow for more flexibility in terms of luggage weight limits, but efficient packing is still crucial. Despite the support provided for transporting gear, space is limited. Supported bike tours also have limited space due to the number of riders on the tour, so it is important to prioritize your items and only bring what is necessary.

RAGBRAI is the premier bike touring event, known for its large scale and organization. Held annually in July, the route traverses the entire state of Iowa, covering a distance of 428 miles and climbing 12,576 feet over seven days.

This event has been dubbed Mardi Gras on Wheels. Its massive attendance is officially capped at 8,500 but unofficial participants often exceed 20,000 riders at some stages of the tour.

Different Types of Bags: Maximizing Storage Space

Packing all your necessary gear and supplies is a challenge.

While the front and rear panniers and racks are essential for carrying the bulk of your belongings, some other bags and accessories make it easier to access items during your ride and stay organized throughout your trip.

Adding additional bags increases the weight you have to pedal uphill, so consider whether the items could fit just as well in your panniers!

Bike Trailers

Bike trailers are a great way to expand your storage space for long rides. They attach to the rear hub of your bike and hold a large amount of gear — even more than a full set of panniers. Some riders prefer using a trailer instead of panniers because they handle bulky items better and improve the handling of the bike by removing weight from the frame.

The exact combination of a trailer and panniers depends on your personal preferences and the amount you need to carry. Many self-supported riders find that using a cargo trailer and two front or rear panniers provides enough storage space. 

Bottle Cages

Standard bottle cages are a great solution when it comes to carrying water. These cages attach to threaded fittings, known as braze-ons, found on the seat tube and/or down tube of most bikes.

Bottle cages are designed to hold standard-sized bike water bottles. If your bike has room for more than one bottle cage, use one to hold your water bottle and the other to hold a bottle of fuel for your stove.

A pair of bicycling tourists ride along a country road

Handlebar Bags

Handlebar bags are a convenient place to keep small items that you need easy access to. They hold snacks, sunglasses, a cell phone, a wallet, and a spare tube.

Some handlebar bags have a waterproof area on top for displaying a map. It is best to put about three to five pounds of gear in the handlebar bag to prevent it from becoming too heavy and affecting the stability of the bike. Overloading the handlebar bag causes the center of gravity to shift, leading to a wobbly ride.

Saddle Packs

Saddle packs, also known as seat bags, saddlebags, or under-seat bags, are small bags that attach to the underside of your bike seat. These bags are often used to store bike tools and spare tubes.

Top-Tube Bags

Top-tube bags or bento bags are a popular option for bike tourers. These small bags are mounted on the top tube, behind the head tube, and are easy to access.

Many top-tube bags are waterproof, making them a good option for storing items that need to be protected from the elements. These bags are also a great place for snacks, sunscreen, and other small items.

Rack Trunk

A rack trunk is a bike storage bag that is placed on top of the rear rack. It is smaller than a pannier, but larger than a saddlebag, making it a good choice for carrying clothes, food, and other items. These bags are typically used for day trips rather than longer, multi-day tours. They offer a convenient storage solution for items that you need to access quickly while on the go.

Phone Mount

To keep your phone accessible while riding, consider attaching a phone mount to the handlebars. This allows you to easily see and use your phone for navigation or take photos on the go.

Most phone mounts attach to the handlebars, but some mounts attach to the stem or top tube. Just make sure that the mount is secure and positioned in a place that is easy for you to see while riding.

Packing Your Panniers for a Bike Tour: Tips for an Evenly Distributed Load

Panniers are a common choice for bike touring, offering ample storage space and the ability to easily attach and remove them from the front and rear racks of your bike. Many panniers are waterproof, but waterproof stuff sacks or rain covers also work in case of a storm.

For self-supported touring you need four panniers, two in the front and two in the back, to hold all your gear, clothing, and food.

It is important to distribute the weight evenly front to back and side to side to create a stable ride. To do this, set aside your sleeping bag and tent and pack approximately 60% of the weight in the front panniers and 40% in the rear panniers.

Essential Items To Pack in Rear Panniers for a Bike Tour

Rear panniers are a popular choice for storing gear, clothing, and food. For shorter trips, you may be able to fit everything you need in two rear panniers. For longer journeys, add a front rack and panniers for additional storage.

When packing rear panniers, it is best to put items you don't need frequent access to, such as extra clothing, backpacking stove, cookware, and extra food. Your sleeping bag and sleeping pad are best strapped to the rear rack due to their size.

If you only have rear panniers and need to access them during the ride, make sure to pack them near the top. It is also helpful to place heavy items low in the panniers to keep the bike's center of gravity low and maintain stability while riding.

Touring bike rests along an asphalt bike path

Packing Essential Items in Front Panniers for a Bike Tour

Front panniers are often used in addition to rear panniers for longer bike tours that require more supplies. However, if you are credit-card touring or have the support of a vehicle, you may choose to use only front panniers. These panniers are similar in design to rear panniers but typically smaller.

It's helpful to use front panniers for items you need frequent access to such as snacks, food, a first-aid kit, bike tools, and rain gear. As with rear panniers, it is best to put heavy items low in the panniers to keep the bike's center of gravity low.

Utilizing Front and Rear Bike Racks for Touring Gear

Sometimes, it is not possible to fit all your gear in panniers, especially on longer tours. In these cases, it is common for bike tourers to use their front and rear racks to carry additional items. To do so, use lash straps rather than bungee cords, which often snap back.

It is best to put bulky, lightweight items on the rear rack, such as a tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad. Strap smaller, heavier items like sandals or jackets to the top or sides of the front rack.

Packing List for a Bike Tour

When preparing for a big bike trip, it's easy to get overwhelmed by what you need. Check out this packing list to ensure you don’t leave anything behind:


  • Bike and Helmet

  • Hydration pack

  • Saddlebag

  • Handlebar bag

  • Cargo rack with a trunk bag

  • Panniers

  • Trailer

Bike accessories

  • Headlight

  • Taillight

  • Lock

  • Cycling computer or GPS

  • Mirror

Bicycling tourist passing through mountain scenery

Repair items

  • Spare tubes

  • Pump

  • Tire levers

  • Cycling multi-tool with Allen wrenches

  • Pressure gauge

  • CO2 inflator with cartridges

  • Spare spokes

  • Spoke wrench

  • Adjustable wrench

  • General-purpose multi-tool

  • Various nuts and bolts

  • Spare tire

  • Chain tool

  • Replacement chain links

  • Lubricant

  • Brake and derailleur cables

  • Spare components

Camping basics

  • Sleeping bag

  • Sleeping pad

  • Tent or tarp


  • Wicking jersey or top

  • Padded shorts or tights

  • Gloves

  • Cycling shoes

  • Cycling socks

  • Buff, bandana, cap, or skullcap

Weather Protection Items

  • Rainwear

  • Stowaway windbreaker

  • Insulation layers

  • Weatherproof gloves

  • Arm and leg warmers

  • Visibility vest

Personal Items

  • Eye protection

  • First aid items

  • Medical info card

  • Toilet paper

  • Sunscreen

  • Lip balm

  • Insect repellent

  • Chamois cream

  • Small towel

  • Performance food and drinks

  • Guidebook or route description

  • Maps

  • Toiletries

  • Off-day clothing

  • Camera

  • Cell phone

  • Cash, credit card, and ID

Passport strapped to top of bicycle touring storage

Additional Tips

While on a bike tour or a bike packing trip, it's important to pack wisely and not bring more than you need. Use these tips to avoid adding unnecessary weight and taking up valuable space in your panniers or trailer. 

Aim to carry no more than around 50 pounds of gear for multi-day, self-supported tours. This includes the weight of your storage bags. Pay special attention to the amount of clothing you bring, as it's common for beginner bike tourers to bring too much. It's essential to pay attention to your needs, which may include male and female-specific gear, clothing, and hygiene items.

It's also a good idea to limit the amount of food you carry to about one day's worth unless you're biking in a remote area without access to grocery stores or restaurants. Use a checklist to remember items and avoid overpacking.

On longer trips, it's important to pack efficiently and bring no more than three or four days worth of clothing. Wash your clothes along the way and wear them to dry while you ride.

When selecting clothing for your trip, consider choosing items that are comfortable to wear biking but also work in casual settings. Synthetic shirts and mountain bike shorts or zip-off hiking pants are good options that can serve both purposes. Remember to also check for load limits on your bike and racks to ensure you are not carrying too much weight.

Bringing a comfort item from home makes a bike tour feel more like a vacation and less like a long, tiring journey. Some examples of comfort items could include a French press for coffee in the morning, a favorite cotton t-shirt, or a small stuffed animal. While it may add some extra weight to your luggage, having something that brings you joy is worth it and makes your tour feel more like a relaxing getaway.

Bring the necessary tools and equipment to make repairs on the road. Be sure to include a travel pump, spare tube, patch kit, spare spoke, and a basic bike multitool.

If you are going on a tour in a remote area or want to be more self-sufficient, you may also want to bring a spare tire, spare brake and shifting cables, spare nuts and bolts, and replacement chain links. However, it's important to consider the weight and space these items take up in your luggage, as well as your own mechanical skills and the proximity to civilization on your route.

It's a good idea to lay out all of your items when packing for a bike tour so you remember what you need and avoid packing unnecessary items. Using small stuff sacks or zip-top plastic bags allows you to organize your possessions and make it easier to find specific items when you need them.

Consider packing one outfit per stuff sack or bag, so it's easy to grab a new outfit when you're ready for a change. This saves you from having to dig through your panniers or bags.

Establish a packing system for your bike storage bags and accessories to keep your items organized and easy to find. Assign specific locations for different types of items and consistently place them in those locations every time you pack.

To make things even easier, consider creating an inventory of your items and their respective locations on a notecard. This allows you to quickly and easily locate items without having to rummage through multiple bags.

Keep essential items close at hand: It's important to have quick access to items like your phone, wallet, passport, bike tools, headlamp, and first-aid kit at all times. When you need these items, you don't want to have to spend a lot of time searching for them.

It is always a good idea to leave a bit of extra space in your bike storage bags and accessories when packing for a tour. This makes it easier to pack and rearrange items as needed, and also allows for the possibility of picking up additional supplies or souvenirs along the way.

It is especially important to save some space in your bags if you plan on carrying perishable items, such as food, as it prevents spoilage. Additionally, leaving a little extra space in your bags reduces the overall weight of your load, which makes for a more comfortable and enjoyable ride.

To make your bike tour go smoothly, consider staying organized at home. Set aside a specific place for all of your bike touring clothing and gear, and try to keep it ready to go at all times. Keep your panniers partially packed with items that you bring on every trip. This saves you time and effort when it's time to hit the road.

Bicycling tourist bikes along a mountain road

Create Your Stowing Art

Packing for a bike tour often seems daunting, but with some careful planning and organization, it becomes a breeze. Begin by thinking about what you need, as it’s easy to pack too much.

As you gain more experience with bike touring, you'll have the chance to fine-tune your packing skills and figure out what works best for you. Even seasoned bike tourers continue to reflect on their packing choices and make adjustments before their next trip. Remember that there isn't a single correct way to pack for bike touring, so don't be afraid to experiment and learn as you go.

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