In my obsession to jettison weight, the panniers have now gone. The theory? A light, sleek bike opens up a whole new world of dirt touring scope, as well as simply being more pleasurable to ride. Seek out singletrack. Bunny hop over obstacles. Shoulder your bike with (relative) ease. Go explore.
With my framebag/seatbag/handlebar bag combo, I still have enough room for a few days of food, with careful packing. Thus far, that’s realistically more than I’ve needed – it’s rare to go hungy in Latin America, with some form of nourishment in almost every village in Colombia and Ecuador. And from what I’ve heard, this should be the case for a while yet, at least until La Paz, Bolivia. As a caveat, I should add that these days my cooking has lost most of its gourmet aspirations – travelling solo so can do that to you. A pack of soup with noodles and a can of tuna, plus some veg if I don´t have to haul it over a mountain – I keep things light, simple and quick, and save the big meals for roadside restaurants.
The good news is that thanks to this cull, I’ve managed to send back almost 4kg of gear. That’s a lot of heft to be carrying over each and every Andean pass.
Gone for now are my Arkel XM28s. Although they’ve proved to be very capable panniers – they’re tough, with a kung fu grip clamping system – they’re also not the lightest. The quoted weight is 1.4kg (I expect they’re a little more), plus there’s the waterproof covers to add in as well.
Sacrificed too is my tried and test Ortlieb Ultimate 5 bar bag, which comes in at just under 700g – that’s over 2kg right there, before you’ve even started to fill them. Bar bags are great for road tours but for dirt trails, they push the weight further forward than I like, and the contents tend to rattle around. I know I’ll miss the Ortlieb’s complete waterproofing, which has been particularly beneficial in Ecuador – so fingers crossed for drier conditions in Peru. If you think I’m nitpicking grams, I compared typical weights back in this post, so you can see how all those little g’s adds up.
However, in their place, I’ll be wearing a lightweight backpack, carrying little more than my Macbook Air, which weighs in at a touch over 1kg. The cardinal rule in long distance bike touring is not to carry a backpack – let the bike do the heavy lifting. And it’s sensible advice. After all, even a light pack can strain your back eventually, not to mention leaving it sweaty and clammy.
But the more I tour, the more I find myself riding the style of trails where a light bike makes the difference between enjoying the experience, and trudging through it. And while I admit that I prefer not to carry a pack, I find it more tolerable when riding dirt roads and trails, where body position is less static than on pavement. When it comes down to it, riding riding offroad is what I aspire to do, and what this trip is about.
That’s not to say that going light doesn’t have its own set of compromises – space for food is limited, reducing range between resupplies. Packing is also more fiddly.
Whether I’ll live to regret this decision, we shall see. I still have a rear rack, so in a pinch, I can bungee on my pack for longer paved stretches, or use it to carry more food. My escape clause is my mum, who’s planning visiting me in Peru. I can always get my panniers brought back out (-;
I´ll add in a complete kit list at some point soon…
In the meantime, here’s how things were looking for the Ogre back in Santa Fe. And for some bikepacking inspiration in South America, head over to Joe Cruz’s great blog, or check out this trip to Bolivia in 2011.
I use my Revelate pocket (together with a Billingham insert) for camera gear as well. Just use a silnylon drybag as a liner, it’s light, takes up almost no space and you’re 100% waterproof – tested in Welsh downpours 🙂
Cool. Seems to be working well for me too. Bit of a squeeze with the DLSR, but just fits. Some drain holes would be cool though, so water doesn´t pool. The rain here has been even surpassing welsh downpours!
Yes! Super inspiring to see you do long distance touring sans panniers! I just did my first bikepacking style tour, 7 days through northeastern California. Frankly, I’m never going back to panniers. With the slim aerodynamics, I simply flew down the descents.
Also inspired by While Out Riding, I bit the bullet and brought along an SLR. The pictures were totally worth the weight! http://wp.me/pjKS8-nd
The camera started out in my Camelback. Since I was carrying 3L water on my back most days, it quickly graduated into my homemade framebag. It rattled around a bit too much, so I’ll have to sew up some padded handlebar bags for a cockpit camera system like yours. AWEsome.
Keep on riding Cass! Love your blog!
That´s awesome to hear. Will check out link as soon as I have a ´proper´internet connection. Download speeds in Peru, on a torrential sunday, aren´t the speediest…
I love my DSLR, which is why I´ve hung onto it. Particularlyone of the lenses I have, a 17-55 (26-80) 2.8. But… next time I´ll be back with M43 I think. For a long trip, the Nikon is a lot of heft… I could save myself a couple of kg right there!
The light pack is working out ok. I´d like to be without it, by my back´s not sore, just sweaty.
Cool blog, Ginger!
And you still manage a D300! That’s dedication to photography…
One idea is that on our Sach Pass trip I used a little daypack for my camera with the long lens so I could whip it out in a jiffy. I wore it on my chest which had the benefit that it hung away from my body and didn’t get sweaty or as tiring. But it needed the waist strap done up loosely to keep it from swinging wildly.
Yeah, along with a heavy 50-150mm 2.8 lenses, which I haven´t used in weeks! Actually, it´s a good lens to have when I´m riding with others, helps compress the big scenery, but not worth it for solo touring I think.
I used to have a chest camera bag hanging off my backpack straps when I mountain biked in the UK. Super quick access.
Fantastic – I can’t wait to see the pictures you come up with. Do you really think having an SLR is still worth it over a micro four thirds camera?
Patagonia micro puff jackets are great, aren’t they? I love mine so much I bought lots of them as Christmas pressies last year, and everyone likes them so much I keep getting sent to buy more every time my local outlet does a sample sale.
Patagonia outlet sales are great!
I think the era of the DLSR for bike touring is well and truly over! With some of the new mirrorless cameras, and lenses, the quality is pretty comparible. Just speed for action stuff is perhaps still a bit lacking, but the Olympus OMD sounds good on that front.
Loving this setup, Cass. Leaving the rack on seems like a great call, not too much weight and a strap gear on bailout option.
Okay, I know that you’re not trying to hear this, but sending the Air home would free things up a bit…
Thanks as always for great narrative and images!
Re air: Something of which I’m especially aware of when it decides not to work, as it has been recently…
Boy, this post hits home for me. Having the two rear panniers with Patti has been great and when traveling with her I’ll continue to. I sure did miss my lighter set up though. I had up to 3 days food for both of us as well as 6 liters of water at times, along with the tent, pads and all the kitchen gear. It’s sort of a snow ball effect with weight- you need heavier wheels/tires and stiffer frame to handle the rack/panniers and extra food. Going slower means you need more food and water. Going light means less food/water and covering greater distance in the same time span.
Mike used my Anything Bag and both of his Anything cages broke in the 2 weeks he was with us. Are you pretty confident that your mounting method with the bag is safe? I like that you can have a bottle and the bag, the best of both worlds.
Didn’t you get a Talon 11? Do they make an 18 liter? I wore my 11 for the 2200 miles I just did and would do it agin. I do make an effort to keep it light. Many of the TD racers are choosing to go without backpacks now. I can’t see myself leaving mine at home anytime soon though?
The Anything Bag-Profile Kage works just great. It moves a little, but I just keep clothes in there, so no issue at all. I wish I had both of them with me. Having the bottle and the space works really nicely.
Yes, quite right, it´s an 11 Osprey Talon. Plenty of room, no need for bigger. Would like not to be wearing it overall, but very nice to have for mountain biking side trips and mooching about towns. Mainly the sweat factor is the issue, especially down at 500m. This road rollercoasters up and down by 2000m plus at a time!
Yes, I´m hoping I can eek some more life out of my tyres too. And having 32H wheels – normally prefer 36H for heavy duty touring – feels more confidence inspiring. Incidentally, considering their relative light weight – at least compared to other heavy duty touring tims – the Rhyno ´Lites´ are doing really well.
The rack is handy. Eventually, I want to get hold of my other Marathon Dureme, and two folding mountain bike tyres which are faster rolling than the non folding Caballeros. I should be able to strap the two folding tyres I´m not using to the side of the rack, with a little extra food on the deck if needed.
And aside from a light bike being more fun to ride, hauling it up to the 3rd floor of a rickety guesthouse is a lot more manageable too…
i started using a backpack couple of years back in laos and it stayed with me ever since. previously a marmot, now a Deuter with airy mesh shoulder straps and back suspension it contains water, snacks and, depending on the weather(forecast), some clothes.
best of all, drinking from the waterbag via hose makes rehydrating safer and more regular. no more one-handed steering while drinking. even on a downhill blast…