This will inevitably be a personal choice and full of trade offs. Whatever you carry, it should be as light weight as possible. This list of essentials is all that’s needed if you want to be spartan.
Pannier bags front and rear.
Two large capacity water bottles attached to bicycle. Don’t “wear” the water with a camelback or in a backpack. You’re cycle touring not racing.
A spare tube, hand pump and repair kit including all the tools needed for basic adjustments. Check out all the various nuts and bolts on your bike. A few Allen wrenches of the right size are all that’s needed. Include a basic Swiss Army knife too, my favourite is the Spartan.
Helmet. I know there is a lot of debate on this topic. As some sort of head covering to protect against the sun is needed anyway, wear a white helmet or a bright orange one or a combination of the two colours like the POC Omne Air Spin.
Some sort of head covering beyond a helmet depending on temperature range from a wool beanie to a baseball cap.
Sunglasses, photo-chromatic if you can afford them or cycling sunglasses with interchangeable lenses, including a clear lens.
For your arms and torso: Light rain jacket and down jacket – we’re talking about Canada here – a down or fleece vest, two Long sleeve jerseys and two Short sleeve jerseys. Jerseys best if wool or wool blend and in a bright colour.
For your waist and legs: Cycling trousers full or 3/4 length, two cycling shorts, three pairs of underwear, two pairs of socks calf length and two pairs ankle length. All wool or wool blend.
Toiletries and basic first aid kit. Keep this to the absolute minimum as liquid and gels add a lot of weight.
If you’re camping: a tarp or superlight tent, and the lightest sleeping bag and pad you can afford.
Nice to have
Non cycling specific clothing to change into
Phone with back up battery
A sense of humour
Something to read
Arm and leg warmers
Some chain oil – but you will likely visit bicycle stores every few hundred kilometres where you should buy something to support these local bike shops and ask that they check your chain, cassette and brakes for wear. The chain may need replacing every 5000 kilometres and maybe your cassette too. Consider 4 ounce bottle of drip on Boeshield T-9.
I am delighted that so many people I know want to do long distant cycling trips. Recently a former student asked for advice as she prepares to cycle across Canada so here is the first of a set of top tips.
1. A bicycle that fits
Make sure your frame is the right size for you. Use the Pubic Bone Height formula. Fun and simple to figure out. Once you set your proper seat height, adjust the handlebars to the same height or a bit higher.
2. A bicycle made of steel
Steel has a nice flex to it, more so than aluminium. Carbon frames and components are not practical. Titanium is wonderful but hardly worth the price over a steel frame bike like the Surly Long Haul Trucker or the Trek 520. It’s worth looking around for a vintage steel frame and upgrading the various components.
Find a comfortable seat, preferably in leather, like the Brooks B17 or the Sele Anatomica, my favourite if you do not have much time to break in the saddle before you start your cross country tour.
5. Pedals that are wide or that you clip onto
Seeing a pattern here? The most critical items are those that touch the road or that touch you. Choose pedals and corresponding stiff soled footwear that can take many hours of pressure without creating a painful heat spot on the ball of your foot. Consider MKS pedals with a super wide platform if you are not going to wear cycle shoes or a mountain bike clip in pedal with corresponding mountain bike shoes you can walk in. Don’t use road bike pedals. You are touring, not racing, across the country or wanting to skate across the floor when you walk in road bike shoes.
6. Racks front and rear with lights attached
Install pannier racks front and rear as low as possible on the frame. Balance the weight front and rear. Don’t use a backpack. Choose bright colours. Ortleib’s are waterproof and hard to beat. Add a flashing red light to your rear rack and consider a white one for the front. Even if you ride mostly during the day, you’re going to find times when you need some illumination in rain or fog or at dawn or dusk.
7. Gears for different terrain
There is no reason to get electronic shifters or shifters integrated into your brake levers. See the specifications of the Surly Long Haul Trucker or the Trek 520 for ideas. An eight or a nine speed rear cassette and a triple crank or double crank can work just fine. And bar end shifters are basic and reliable for shifting.
Thinking about no. 8…
Top 7 tips for cycling across Canada – Part 1. The bicycle