Cycle touring is a wonderfully simple pursuit yet there is still a fair amount of gear that goes into making the trip comfortable and smooth. While this is not a comprehensive list, here is some of the gear I used for cycling across Bolivia into Argentina with TDA Global Cycling. You can find TDA’s full recommended gear list here.
Osprey Transporter 130: This tough as nails highly water- and dust-resistant expedition duffel served as my daily bag throughout the tour and has become my go-to duffel ever since. Made from a stiff and burly 800-denier nylon fabric, the duffel won’t collapse on you when loading thanks to some protective accent ribs that help the bag keep its shape.
Access to the main compartment is via a full length U-zip that buckles down to keep it from opening mid-transport. While most duffels feature one big cavernous void inside the main compartment, the Transporter offers a zippered mesh side pocket for storing toiletries or other sundries and two buckled compression straps to batten down larger items like tents and sleeping bags. An additional external zippered pocket along one end makes a great storage space for your shoes or tools.
Four burly handles along each side of the duffel mean you can quickly grab and throw it in the van — they also make for a more comfortable carry. Every single TDA staff member that came in contact with the grab handles remarked how awesome they are — substantial and super comfortable to hold.
For running through the airport or transporting the duffel to and from more remote campsites, a contoured shoulder harness hides inside a top zipper pocket. The shoulder straps buckle in at both the base as well as the top to mimic backpack load lifters. I found that this pocket also serves double duty for storing dirty clothes on the road.
At just over 4 pounds, you can load up the duffel with tons of gear without worry of exceeding weight limits at the airport, and the 130-liters of storage space is more than enough for storing all the gear needed to camp and ride for two weeks.
SealLine BlockerLite Compression Dry Sack: I like to have my gear organized in stuff sacks so I don’t have to rummage around my duffel bag trying to find stuff. I love these compression dry sacks from SealLine (new for 2018) as they not only protect your gear from dust and rain while packing down small, but also come in a variety of sizes and colors so you can organize accordingly. Some of the new-for-2018 dry sacks feature a purge valve enabling you to get rid of all that excess air — something that can be annoying in a normal dry sack.
The name of the game for cycling through Bolivia and Argentina, if not for any cycle tour, is layering. As Bolivia is a high altitude desert, we would start each morning near freezing, then end up baking under the intense sun by midday.
I brought a variety of jerseys and bibs, including the Velocio Signature Fly Bib Short which is not only pee-break friendly (crucial for a full day in the saddle), but also feels like a second skin, cutting down on any chafing or saddle sore issues. If I would have had it at the time, I probably would have thrown in my PowerWool base layer like the one from Velocio. This combo wool/synthetic tank is perfect for variable conditions like you find in Bolivia.
A key component of my layering setup was arm warmers and leg warmers. In the morning I would start with the Pearl Izumi Elite Thermal Arm Warmers for warmth, and usually switch to the Elite Sun Sleeves by the afternoon to keep my arms protected from the intense sun. On my legs, I would start with either the Elite Thermal Knee Warmers or full Elite Thermal Leg Warmers depending on how cold it was, then usually strip them off after lunch.
I brought both my 7Mesh Resistance (windstopper) and 7Mesh Revelation (fully waterproof) jackets and on super cold mornings, started with both of them on. Occasionally, I would keep the Resistance Jacket on into the afternoon but most days we were down to our jerseys under the intense sun.
Dish gloves: Throw in some plain old $2 dish gloves — they serve double duty as fully windproof and waterproof gloves during the day and regular dish gloves to protect your dry, cracked hands for those nights you are on dish duty. In general, I recommend full finger bike gloves purely to protect your skin from sun and wind.
For cycling across the salt flats, you will want a neck gaiter of some sort to protect your face. The sun reflecting off the blinding white salt is intense. I brought the Columbia Deflector Neck Gaiter which uses the company’s new Sun Deflector technology to reflect away the sun’s harmful rays. Neck gaiters also come in handy for those off-road days where you are going to be absolutely pounded by dust as cars and trucks drive by.
Bern FL1-Trail Helmet: This super lightweight (248 grams) and comfortable helmet was easy to wear all day, day after day. It comes with a detachable visor for those that may not want to wear a cycling cap underneath. I just like cycling caps.
Ergon IP3 Solestar insoles: As you are riding for hours a day for weeks or months on end, your feet can get tired and any misalignment will cause pain or injury in a short amount of time. These insoles stabilize your foot in a neutral position and keep your feet straight to the pedals, protecting your joints and tendons.
Salomon Sonic Pro 2: These super lightweight running shoes made great camp shoes and were perfect for hiking around after riding or on rest days.
I brought my Diamondback Haanjo Trail Carbon and it turned out to be the absolute perfect bike for this section of the South American Epic. Most of the full tour riders had steel or titanium bikes, including sweet rides from Moots and Independent Fabrication, to see them through over six months on the road.
I was initially a bit worried as one of the riders had started out with my tires — the Schwalbe G-One All Around — and had quite a few flats in Colombia. Turns out it may have been more of a tube issue than a tire one. I had absolutely no problems with mine and find they roll fast on the tarmac and offer plenty of grip on the dirt. Pretty much all of the full tour riders ended up on Schwalbe Marathons.
It is worth noting that the only people who had yet to encounter a flat, at least by the time I left the group, were the ones running tubeless. With all the crap on the roads, including the ever annoying tire wire, tubeless is a pretty good call. You can always throw a tube in if something goes really wrong. I ran the same tires through the entire section, while some of the full tour riders switched from road to off-road tires for the second half.
Handlebar Bag: You want a place to store your snacks, tools and spare parts, and extra layers throughout the day. I brought the Ortlieb Accessory Pack but it ended up hanging too low on my front tire forcing me to wear a backpack — not ideal. Most everyone else had a box-shaped handlebar bag of some sort like the Ortlieb Ultimate6. These were nice for taping your directions onto each morning, versus trying to tape mine to the top tube.
Garmin Edge 1000: You need a way to track your kilometers to aid in navigation so a bike computer is essential. This is still my favorite bike computer but you don’t need one with tons of bells and whistles — just one that accurately tracks your mileage each day.
Solar Charger: At high altitude and with plenty of sun, solar chargers are the best way to keep your bike computer, phone, and all your other gadgets running during those off-the-grid stretches. Each day at camp, I would hang the Nomad 7 connected to the Guide 10 Plus Recharger battery pack from my tent and it would be fully charged within a couple hours. Then at night I would use the battery pack to charge my bike computer and phone, ready to go for the next day.
Quadlock: This is the one piece of gear I wish I had on my bike to make it easier to double check directions and take photos on the go. It was really hard to keep pulling my phone out of my jersey pocket buried deep underneath my jackets for an impromptu photo.
Therm-a-Rest Mira HD and Corus HD: We encountered a variety of conditions along the route through Bolivia and into Argentina, from below freezing nights to warm roadside hostels. It would be hard to choose one sleeping bag for all these conditions but this combo sleeping bag/down blanket was absolutely perfect. Most of the nights camping I was fine with just the Mira HD — stuffed with 750+ fill hydrophobic goose down and a heat capture lining, the bag is rated to a comfort level of 27 degrees F. There’s even a foot warmer pocket at the bottom of the bag to keep your toes extra toasty.
On a few of the colder night, I threw the Corus HD over top and stayed really warm. Made from lightweight 650-fill hydrophobic down, the blanket packs down small when not in use. When sleeping in the hostel, I used the down blanket on top of the beds and on warm camping nights, I paired the down blanket with the Synergy Sheet over my sleeping pad (the quilt snaps into the sheet). The Corus HD is rated to 45 degrees F itself, but when you add it on top of your sleeping bag, you get that extra layer of warm air for insulation.
Therm-a-Rest Ultralite Cot: Given that we were camping for almost the entirety of the trip, I wanted to be sure I was able to sleep well each night. I have had this cot for years, and took it with me cycling down the California coast. It weighs around two pounds, and is super easy to setup and tear down quickly. For that many days of sleeping outside, I find it nice to be off the ground a bit — the cot also protects your sleeping pad from any sharp objects. One night we slept on top of some really prickly grass, almost like a field full of goat head thorns.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm: With an R-value of 5.7, this inflatable mattress offers plenty of warmth, thanks in part to a variety of heat capturing layers. At 2.5 inches thick, the pad is super comfortable and only weighs around a pound.
Shower Pouch: On the Cycling the Salt Flats section of the South American Epic, you go 6 days at a time without a shower or access to water. You need to keep yourself fairly clean somehow and the Shower Pouch is the answer. Forget going through endless packs of baby wipes, one of these is good for cleaning your entire body. And they don’t leave that nasty sticky feeling when you are done.
Chamois Butt’r GoStik: Spending anywhere from 4-7 hours in the saddle, day after day, can do a number on your backside. Make things go a bit more smoothly with a couple swipes on this anti-chafe stick — and no mess to clean up on your hands.
A note on pumps. As CO2 canisters are virtually impossible to come by on the road, you want a hand pump with you. I brought the Lezyne High Volume Pump which works great but a couple of riders had trouble with it. As the flex hose screws onto your valve stem, it has a tendency to unscrew and even bend the core when you remove it. This can of course cause major flats without you really knowing what the heck is going on. So just a word of caution. A few of the riders had the Topeak mini pumps which use the traditional hose head and seemed to work without a problem.
MSR Stake Hammer: Pretty much everywhere we camped, you really had to pound in your tent stakes. This hammer is super lightweight (11 ounces) and gets the job done.
Trowel: Almost all of our campsites were “bush camps” meaning no facilities. So it’s important to follow Leave No Trace principles when doing your business in the morning. While TDA does provide a big shovel for this purpose, it would probably be easier to bring your own trowel. Then you don’t have to wait your turn and can use it whenever needed.
If you have any questions or have further gear tips for TDA tours, leave a comment below.