• Gearing Up to Ride the World

    A breakdown of the gear used to get me and my motorcycle around the world on two wheels

    Before my 65 country road trip, I had no experience traveling away from home. Not one single long-distance trip. I had no network of peers taking such trips, and I didn’t even realize there was much of an overlanding community out there. When I started to plot out my trip, I really just went back to brass tacks and common sense for trip prep. That is sort of what I recommend to everyone else, however I know more than a few people are curious what is worth packing so here is my big gear overview.

     

    I’ll start with just the buckets. If you just read that and fill in the buckets “your way”, I think you will be much better off than reading the details to follow.

    For me, those buckets of items fell into:

    1. Security
    2. Daily wear
    3. Daily essentials
    4. Weather gear
    5. Camping gear
    6. Electronics
    7. Bike gear and spares

    Those headings should be self-explanatory. But here is what I thought about for each, and ultimately what I considered / packed / or replaced along the way. The big thing to remember though is on almost every one of these buckets, you can go towards minimalism, with the inevitable tradeoff being a much larger expense of money or time down the road.

    1. Security

    Heading solo out onto the road, I was considerably nervous about my ‘stuff’ getting stolen. Despite many of post out there that people are good, and things don’t get stolen – they do. And there are opportunist thieves in every country on earth who do not get a care that you are a nice overlanding fool. However, I was pretty lucky on my trip. Nothing was ever stolen off of my moto. I attribute that to being careful, more than everyone being nice to me.

     

    Approach: I choose hard panniers (Suzuki OEM adventure cases) with lockable clasps specifically to make my luggage less open to thieves. Whatever people say about soft panniers, they are always going to be more of a target for people who will look for something they can easily open when you are not around. Same idea with my top case (Caribou Cases) – which was even more secure than my hard panniers. At the start of my trip I could not find a tail or tank bag that locked. I began with Wolfman bags, and bought small airport luggage padlocks to clasp the zippers. Eventually I replaced with SW Motech bags, which were a bit more waterproof but still weak in locking entry. I did not trust that they would stay on my bike either – I bought small bicycle cable locks and looped the strapped to the frame to further deter thieves. In addition, I bought a pair of longer cable bike locks for either side of my frame, one of which I would routinely loop through my helmet, the other through the sleeve of my riding jacket. These solutions were never perfect, and I was perpetually unhappy with the extra time in daily prep they caused. However, nothing was ever snatched so for that purpose they worked.

     

    In addition, I bought a few items to secure the motorcycle itself. I bought a front disk lock and used it for the first time on night number one of my ride. Which is code for inferring that I forgot it was there and on morning (day 2) put the bike in gear and zipped forward with it still on. Hilarity ensued with me flying off my bike in the motel parking lot. I was lucky the bike was undamaged, however the lock was destroyed. Four months later I bought another one and this time wisely paid the extra few bucks for the orange stringy cord that loops over the handlebars as a reminder that the lock is still on. I also bought a motion-sensitive high pitch alarm. I always wanted to use it, and in reality it never falsely went off. But too often I was afraid of it going off by accident due to the wind, annoying the neighbors more than scaring a thief. Plus, all it is really good for is preventing the bike from moving, since the only practical place to affix it covertly on top of the chain so that the alarm triggers if someone tries to steal the bike. That is almost never going to happen with a 600 lb motorcycle when left in a secure area. Or even outside of a well-lit motel. So eventually it was buried in my top case. I bought a long thick cable lock to strap the bike to a light pole in high risk areas. But the cable never seemed long enough to be practical. I did use it a number of times when stuck parking the bike on a street – in Mexico City, Peru, Cape Town, Europe, New York – but I always figured someone will probably still mess up my bike if they choose and the cable will not prevent that.

     

    For the number one security mechanism, I bought a Dowco Waterproof Motorcycle Cover. I am not sure if it was “the” difference maker, but I would not repeat the trip without buying the exact same thing once again. It was strapped over my motorcycle every single night of the trip, regardless of how safe the area was. Not only did it mask what kind of bike I had from prying eyes, it also effortlessly covered all of my luggage so that I worried less about sticky fingers grabbing my tent or something as mundane (yet hard to replace) as my Patagonia rain jacket in the tail bag. The cover does not come with a lock, so I grommetted the strap under the cover and bought a small Samsonite combo lock to loop through it.

     

    Never just expect or hope that people will respect your property – 99 out of 100 will, but all it takes is one to negatively impact your day or your whole trip.

    2. Daily wear

    Clothing is entirely a personal thing. I know first-hand that most riders could care less about how they smell. Some are proud that they wear the same clothes for weeks at a time and smell worse than an old boot. I met some people who would buy clothes and crudely throw them away in the developing world since replacement were so cheap. Either way, you will carry some daily items and they will take up some space.

     

    Approach: I personally enjoy wearing clean, dry clothes, and was willing to consume extra space such that I could have decent things to wear over a laundry cycle that could stretch to 15 days.

     

    Let’s start with the list. After backpacking for years, this list came pretty easy for me.

    • Footwear – I started with riding boots and a pair of running shoes. I eventually added a pair of simple flip flops for use in showers and beaches).
    • Headgear – I had an old ballcap that I lost early in the trip and never felt a need to replace.
    • Eyegear – I wear contacts, so an extra pair of eyeglasses were in my bag. I bought and lost 3 pairs of sunglasses during the trip as well
    • Shirts – I honed in on about 6 pairs of t-shirts. Two dry-fit for hot climates (easier to douse in water for cooling), and 4 standard t-shirts. I never really bought new t-shirts (replacements would have been cheap), just kept the same ones for the entire trip and cleaned them regularly enough such that they never went foul. I carried 2 short-sleeve button down shirts (white / black) to look a little classier at museums and restaurants than a t-shirt. I had one long-sleeved t-shirt, often paired with a North Face wind vest, as well as a North Face fleece. Finally I had one checkered long-sleeve casual shirt I also paired with the North Face wind vest. On cold days many of those items were layered up for added warmth.
    • Pants – I had a simple pair of blue jeans that were frequently stitched at the knees as the trip wore on. I was cheap, and rarely replaced clothes. I had a pair of North Face khakis as well, that unzipped at the knees. Which worked great under the riding pants since you hate changing pants but some days will get hot on the road.
    • Shorts – I had one pair of cargo shorts throughout the trip, as well as swim shorts.
    • Underwear – I bought three pairs of expensive ExOfficio travel underwear (strategically black). They were worn 4 days, flipping inside out and reverse to extend the sketchy freshness.
    • Socks – I liked dry socks. I bought 3 pairs of wool bicycle Smartwool PhD bicycle socks, and also had 2 pairs of cold weather Smartwool socks.

    3. Daily Essentials

    These items are of varying importance based on your individual needs and preferences. Some people have allergies and special needs. I did not. Pretty much I never found anywhere in the world – Nepal to Namibia, Australia to Argentina – that did not have some shop where I could buy the regular stuff.

     

    Approach: Again, to be cost effective, I usually would stock up when I reached a cheap store like Wal-Mart. But I noticed that there would always be a place in-between if I had to have something

     

    Food basics – I tended to keep in my panniers a full bag of spaghetti, sauce, cans of chicken, and dry bags of soup. Those items could get me through any place I might be waylaid or unable to find camp food for the night. On some stretches I would buy the more expensive dehydrated pouches, but I never found them to be cost-effective compared to local diners or meals. I also had flavor pouches for water, and tended to always have peanuts or peanut butter.

     

    Toiletries – I had a simple zip pouch for all of my bathroom essentials. Again I did not have any special needs, so more or less just had simple Dove bath soap, Herbal Essence shampoo, and Colgate toothpaste – all of which were basically sold in every city in the world. A few other items like sun screen, dental floss, lip balm, etc – but make up your own list here.

     

    Other – I always had a spare bottle or two of water. Do not go into a trip like this thinking you will purify the putrid (or nonexistent) local water with some filter or Lifestraw. I am all for minimizing environmental impact, and think plastic bottles suck. But trust me, in places like Zambia or Uganda, the alternative of gut flu sucks worse so spend the extra money for bottled water and dispose the right way. Other daily essential items vary for all of us.

    4. Weather Gear

    This is a big one if you actually want to enjoy month-after-month on the road. And for your mental sanity, I hope you do. Some people skimp just to save baggage space. Which is entirely workable most days, but as much as you can plan to ride the seasons for better weather, mother nature sometimes refuses to cooperate.

     

    Approach: My personal trip was to everywhere. It originally was just to ride from Alaska to Patagonia, but even with that I obviously am crossing almost every season and climate zone on Earth. So, I prepared for it all, and carried it all with me.

     

    Clothes - As mentioned earlier, I had a couple pair of cold weather wool socks. I also brought long-underwear (pants, shirt) which honesty were worth every ounce of space since timed applications of those layers made almost every riding day a comfortable one. Also in the minor luxury bucket, I brought a very light (and kind of expensive) Patagonia down shirt. But so versatile and flexible. On ultra cold days it was a perfect layer under my riding jacket. On dry but brisk walking days it was the perfect outer-wear jacket. My North Face gear also worked well in cold weather. I found a knit skullcap discarded on the sidewalk on a hot day in Washington, and it quickly became my favorite hat on the trip for cold hiking. I kept a pair of think North Face cotton gloves for cold hiking, and for riding found a balaclava and neck sleeve super comfortable to beat back the biting wind. My Aerostich jacket was waterproof, but for walking I had a Patagonia rain jacket. And also I bought a simple collapsible umbrella – another luxury which truly was super valuable on the many wet hikes of my trip. On top of my Asolo boots I layered Aerostich rain covers. The only item I felt I never got right was gloves. I bought mid-season gloves which were so comfortable and versatile. But not waterproof, and almost worthless in cold weather like the Arctic Circle. In hindsight I should have done more research and had two sets of gloves.

    5. Camping Gear

    Another one of the buckets some people discard completely and save plenty of bike space by staying in hostels or hotels (or couchsurfing) their whole trip. Again, a personal choice, I like all of those options and honestly that was more than 70% of my nightly stays. But I really enjoyed camping. Not just for the cost savings, but for the pure love of the outdoors.

     

    Approach: I brought every item I would have brought on a backpacking trip. In fact, for a quarter of the trip I think I continuously had an actual backpack (a cheap second-hand one) strapped under my tail bag.

     

    As a lifelong backpacker, I was pretty comfortable with my choices here. At most I could see adding a chill hammock, but that is really just a pleasurable luxury that I never had time for – I never sat around this trip, I was either hiking, walking, or riding almost all of my waking hours.

    • Tent – My selection was a Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1. Small, ultra light, just enough space for me on the road. Durable. I always read stories of people complaining about their tent or how it is falling apart. So they buy a second one and spend more on two than I did on one good one. My advice is buy the right tent the first time. If you do not like the price at REI, buy the same tent secondhand or on eBay. Trust me, everyone is always swapping camping gear so if you plan it out you can get good stuff at a fair price. I did buy a second-hand tent in South America since I had left my Big Agnes north of the border (until I had it mailed to me again in Europe). That second-hand tent was still awesome and although less durable and a little big, it worked fine for the price I paid.
    • Sleeping bag – I bought a cheap no-name bag (probably +10C) in Bolivia, and kept it the remainder of my trip. It fell apart at the end, and I did require a Sea to Summit +6C thermal liner to make it comfortable. But, it was super compact and I perfectly fit in my SW Motech Dry Bag affixed to my pannier.
    • Sleeping Pad – If you don’t know camping, one golden rule is to have a great inflatable sleeping pad. That cushions you off the cold ground and insulates you from direct thermal conduction with the earth. It keeps you warm. So buy one that is the length of your body and don’t buy one of those cheap foam ones to save money and space. I bought some non-descript one in South Africa and another Thermalite later in the trip.
    • Camp Chair – I sort of like these things rather than sitting on the panniers. The reason being that it is just one more set of useless motions and activities to detach and reattach. The best I have found are the small portable Flexlite versions from REI, as well as a cheaper version from Eddie Bauer.
    • Cooking Gear – Yet another cost savings was to just repurpose my backpacking gear. This included my 15 year old Primus stove, which neatly connects to a generic Isobutane fuel canister (which I never struggled to find spares of). Yes, I know there exists camping stoves that feed off of petrol, and I can see those as functional in some parts of the world (Mongolia) if you are cooking constantly. The Isobutane approach is more for the intermittent camping approach (cook in Norway, buy a new canister in Helsinki, cook off and on in the Baltics, eat out at the pubs in Germany). Buy what works for you. I liked the flexibility of a super clean and practical stove. I also had a titanium spork and a single pan for boiling water. You can of course layer up with frying pans and such.
    • Knives – I had a great single blade knife that had been with me for 15 years, but it “disappeared” from case during shipment from Africa to Europe. Oh well. I bought a cheap knife from a local gear shop and had a friend who kindly bought me a Swiss Army knife in Lucerne. In any case, have at least something.
    • Lights – Or ‘torches’ as the Brits like to say. I found small maglites using AA batteries to be my ideal option. You do not need a mega-light on a trip like this. I eventually bought a cheap head-lamp in Nepal for hiking. Also I always had one of those versatile solar charge tent lamps.
    • Day pack – A good daypack goes a long way. I used a tiny REI day pack constantly since it was small, black, and inconspicuous, ideal for carrying my expensive camera gear on the street without a second glance. And at night I stuffed it with my down jacket and clothes for a impromptu pillow.
    • Other items – I also had a few ad hoc items that were there but rarely used. Like bug spray, a mosquito head net, and a water purification unit.

    6. Electronics Gear

    Another bucket that could shrink down to zero for some people. Maybe on my next big long trip it will be so for me. Trying to photograph or videorecord a long trip really is inconsequential when you think about it.

     

    Approach: For me, I started with the goal to professionally document my trip, and unlike some people who wear away and cut it off at some point, I was fine to hold onto all of my gear and keep using it until the end. With that in mind, I filled and entire pannier with electronics gear along with my tripod filling a corner of my top case. All of my gear is listed in my Photography 101 post so I will not repeat it hear. But again – the sub-buckets you have to think about are video gear (GoPros or helmet cams), drones (DJI), still cameras (Canon, Sony, Nikon), relevant batteries, lenses & accessories, as well as some type of bag for carrying or at least protecting the items. Again, you save a lot of hassle, worry, and space by just relying on your phone for photos of your trip.

    7. Bike Gear and Spares

    This can again be minimalist to save space or proactive to save money and time. What I did pick up after two years on the road is that you really can find help and whatever you need as you go. It will cost you. Time and money. So choose to your comfort level. Do you pack your old wheel bearings as spares in the back of your top case – one more thing among things that you may never use. Or do you leave them out and quite possibly be stuck in Sudan for 2-3 weeks waiting for an iffy shipment to arrive.

     

    Approach: When I started my trip, enroute to Alaska, I carried zero spares. Nothing. Just hoped my new motorcycle would hold up. And it did. But had it failed on the road to Prudhoe Bay, I would have been rudely stuck pending a friendly freight truck. As I moved south of the border, I added spares on most everything. Fuses. Brake pads. Spark Plugs. Chain. Oil. That only gets you so far, since the one thing I needed to replace (a faulty rear bearing) was the one thing I didn’t pack. Fortunately for Suzuki’s it is a generic bearing which I found at a local hardware store in Chile, but the lesson is that items like that, or a clutch cable, can fail at any time. Just learn to adapt to the road. Be practical what you might want to carry, and if you have the budget, just replace all replaceable parts at routine intervals. Then you shouldn’t have to worry as much.

     

    As to other bike items, I had an Airhawk seat cushion which ranks up there with the favorite items of my trip. I had a good upgraded Sargent Seat, but it was not even close to the comfort of sitting for 8 hours on an Airhawk (which also when partly blown up supplemented my back-pack tent pillow.

     

    I bought a custom Adventure Designs toolkit specialized for just the items to repair a Suzuki V-Strom. They make kits for every style of moto. No complaints – the case was small (maybe a little too small) and a couple wrenches were not great quality. I eventually had to get a more solid toque wrench at Home Depot to continue with chain adjustments. But the toolkit worked as advertised. I also had a Tubeless tire puncture repair kit which I lugged over a 100,000 mile and never used. Zero complaints about that. Better to have and never use, than to use for a dozen tire repairs. Speaking of tires, I also bought a nice digital pressure gauge which got more use than I ever would have expected.

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