Terrain: Alpine Mountains
Time of year: Summer
Trip length: 8 days
Accommodation: huts and refuges
“It won’t take long to pack,” she said. Wrong. It does. Packing. Unpacking. Being ruthless but having a minor meltdown about not having room to take my down jacket even though the weather forecast says 30 degrees for the next month. Celebrating when I find a slither of space for my luxury item: a Kindle.
It’s hard to imagine being completely reliant on a couple of packs and their contents when sat in a warm house that has everything you need. If you don’t have it, you nip to the shop in your car and within 30 minutes you’re sorted. Bike packing strips that away, particularly when your route removes you from civilisation and the only guaranteed source of food and warmth will be reaching the mountain hut each night.
When packing for a trip, a few things should be taken into consideration: number of days, type of terrain, altitude, weather changes, the distance to shops and medical assistance (I tried not to think about the latter too much). Saving space for carrying food or making sure you can bungee items to the top is key.
Of course, my pack would probably look different to yours. It’s all personal preference and depends on the confidence you have in your ability to pack light, trust in your kit and leave unnecessary crap at home. Some people might call me a pessimist, but I like to think in terms of worst case scenarios and packed based on that.
Clothing is key. I needed kit that could cope with heat or chill, as crossing mountains can throw all sorts at you. The Rapha merino brevet kit really did the job. In an emergency, all the clothes I took could be worn at once, which made it easier to leave the down jacket behind. Aware of heat exposure (we were riding in July), packing a small ‘Omnifreeze’ neckerchief saved my bacon a few times. When wet, the material turns icy cold which is perfect for long, hot climbs. On arrival into Ventigmillia, I went straight to the shop and bought a €5 beach dress. Perfect!
We put together an emergency first aid kit with the help of a first aid instructor we knew. We took only the items that would see us good until finding medical assistance and were equipped to deal with gravel rash, fractures, bites and blisters).
Using a Garmin these days is a given. After quadruple checking that the routes were actually loaded, we still decided to carry paper maps (painstakingly marked out by hand). We marked useful notes on the Garmin routes: water sources, lodgings, towns with likely shops and hospitals. Of course, making sure you can charge your electronics is crucial, so carrying a dependable power block (or setting up a dynamo) is required. My block could give 5 full charges and, although heavy, was an item that was greatly relied upon.
The water situation scared me a little. We mapped out water stops, but the more research I did into water quality on mountains made me think twice about relying on it (in a nutshell, animal poo). Carrying a clever little lightweight device called a ‘Life-Straw’ was easy enough and meant concerns about getting sick were minimised.
Bike repair items were hard to whittle down. Luckily, we had no mechanicals or punctures: quite unbelievable considering the terrain we rode (Schwalbe Smart Sams, if you’re wondering). Most of the tools carried were not far off what I would carry on a ride at home: chain links, tubes, patch repair, tyre boot. The only real extras were lube and grease, along with spare brake pads (not required), Swiss Army Knife, cable ties and gaffer tape. I trusted my bike and it did not let me down.
The Swiss Army Knife came in useful for spreading Nutella on bread…crucial for survival.
What would we have changed? We could have removed: one jersey and one base layer. Trust in the anti-bacterial power of merino. Also, we should have added: hairbrush, after-sun, better insect repellent and marmite.