Packing to Hit the Trail

bikes and cargo trailers loaded with bikepacking gear

Jake is starting his next big trip as a part of his Venture500 initiative headed from North to South across Australia. Here’s a quick look at the gear he’ll be taking and his experiences that have led to his selection. 

“Packing for a year can be a daunting task, especially when traveling non motorized across a continent. Keeping it simple is key! Only gear that I use, and is multipurpose goes with me on my expeditions. The Burley trailer will be carrying all my supplies, from my tent, to clothing, cook ware, food, water, survival gear, extra bike parts and electronics.” – Jake Wilcox, Venture500

bikes and cargo trailers loaded with bikepacking gear

In our last interview you mentioned your basic three items for any trip are a backpack, a knife, and a camera. From there, what are some of the other essential pieces of gear, and secondary pieces of gear that you always have on your adventures?

For my bikepacking trip you can really get away with any kind of bike really. My first trip across the country was on a Walmart Mongoose bike and I made it all the way, so you can really do it however you want to do it, just depends on how much you want to spend. So, I would really recommend any bike that fits your needs. The only thing I would really suggest upgrading would be your seat and tires. You want a nice comfy seat that you can put a lot of miles on and there nothing worse than hurting in that area. For tires I went with the Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires. They’re good for mountain miles and have some great traction and road control. They’re really great off-road, but they’re great on the pavement as well.

You’re always going to need a tent or a hammock. The lighter the better I feel. I use a North Face Stormbreak tent and that thing has lasted me a couple seasons. A lightweight nylon hammock is always good for setting up stuff late at night to get off the ground every once in a while. I bring a backpack on all of my trips so I have a little more freedom. Some people like to bike tour with just their panniers and whatnot, but that kind of leaves you stuck when you want to go on a hike. It’s just always there behind my seat and then I can lock my bike up and go for a hike whenever I want. A basic tool kit is always important, you want a basic crescent wrench, some Allen wrenches, and maybe a screwdriver. A first aid kit with some bandages and a little Neosporin and I use Bactine a lot for any kind of sores or anything that could get infected. Zip ties and duct tape are something I always carry too. With those couple resources you can fix pretty much anything on a bike or at least get you to the next stop.

Do you usually back both the hammock and the tent? Or do you prefer one over the other?

Most of my trip I usually bring both of them, because it really just depends on the type of terrain you’re in. In the Amazon and such you’re really going to want a hammock with mosquito netting because the ground is not usually the best place to be with all the bugs. But then with the tent, once you get past a certain altitude or in the desert you don’t have any trees. I definitely bring both of them and just try to make my hammock as light as possible. There are a few super light nylon hammock that are less than 1 pound which makes it easy to just throw in your bag. When there’s a good spot to set-up you’re all set to go.

Do you always pack a sleeping pad and a sleeping bag?

Absolutely. Both of those are necessities as well. The first couple trip I did without a sleeping pad because I’d never used one before and I just slept on the ground, but it makes a BIG difference! You can just go a lot longer and are a lot more comfortable. You can definitely get by without a pad, but as we get older…well we’re not 21 anymore and need the comfort. Thermarest makes some of the best pads I’ve ever slept on. The NeoAir is really packs up into nothing. They’re pretty sturdy, lightweight and comfy.

I’ve used many different sleeping bags from cotton to wool, but 800 fill down is great because it compresses down into nothing. Right now I’m using a Mountain Hardware Phantom that good to a 30 degree weather, which is pretty good since I’m headed to Australia and just weighs around 1.2lbs so it’s really light weight too.

What sort of qualities do you look for in the gear? Sounds like you’re going the minimalist approach. 

Exactly! When you’re doing any non-motorized trip weight is going to be something that’s always on your mind. It doesn’t matter if you’re hiking, biking, paddling down a river the more you carry is the more stuff that’s going to weigh you down. You can get by with just the essentials. There are less thing that will break on your bike when it’s not as heavy and your feet don’t hurt as much if you’re walking.

In gear I look for something lightweight, durable, and multi versatile that can be used multi season, so it’s not just for certain trips and I can used it over and over again. That’s the kind of gear for me.

, Packing to Hit the Trail

What does your camp kitchen consist? Are you using dehydrated food and a Pocket Rocket? or are you making little fires when you can?

It’s kind of evolved over the years. I started out with a little wood burning stove and I had to make my fires every night which got a little old, especially in wet terrain! It would just be so hard to make a fire when things are damp or wet. I upgraded to the Pocket Rocket and the canisters which has worked really well. The one thing is that you can’t always find fuel for it in South America or third world countries. So for South America I went with the MSR Whisperlite which runs off petrol, kerosene, diesel, it takes all sort of different fuels which is more universal. It works well and makes life easy when you’re miles from a city. You can always find gasoline. I just use a solo pot and pan made by MSR that all fits into a nice little package with the fuel canister.

What are your go to camp meals?

For camp meals I pretty much eat anything I can get my hands on really. Some days I like to bring along oatmeal, which is healthy, and good carbs with some protein. Oatmeal with a little powdered milk and some brown sugar is a favorite that I can pretty much eat all day long. Peanut butter is another favorite that’s high in protein and is easy to pack. Peanut butter and some bread is an easy snack food. Nuts and trail mix is always good to have as a snack that pretty inexpensive too. Oatmeal, peanut butter, bread, powdered milk for extra calories is what I’ll need on the road. In town I usually pick up some chocolate bars or sweets because after a long day of cycling pushing out miles something sweet is always good to have. Reese is my go to, so if I can find Reese I’m a happy man. Other than that, I drink a ton of water on a long trip.

Do you carry a water purifier, iodine tablets, or do you stick with bottled water?

I teamed up with Sawyer filters and carry them regularly. My first time i used them was in the Navy where we used a Sawyer Mini Filter and it’s the size of your hand. It filters out pretty much 99% of all bacteria, giardia, cryptosporidium, and your E.coli is gone. It will last for 100,000 gallons so it’s pretty much a lifetime of use. It screws on to any water bottle or their little bags it comes with which is great on the go. They’re lightweight, cheap, so for $20 they last a lifetime.

Have you experienced any memorable local foods in you travels? Good or bad? 

Oh man, there’s so much good food out there. Spain was a treat for sure. European food is just awesome.

, Packing to Hit the Trail

You can get a bottle of wine for a dollar and get some fresh cheese, salami, and bread at pretty much every little village. You’re snacking pretty much all day long. Iceland has some really great stuff too that’s almost like a jerky, but it’s made with fish. It was pretty salty, but it last a long time and is pretty nutritious for you. That wasn’t too bad. South America didn’t get too crazy and pretty much rice with chicken or fish was one the menu all the time.

In general, do you have any packing tips as far as maybe the order of packing or what you keep on top?

With my bike packing gear I usually have my sleeping bag and night clothes in one spot and then extra clothes will be towards the middle, with your essentials like a first aid kit or electronics in an easy to grab spot. It will save you a lot of time and effort with stuff you’re going to use a lot you want to keep out towards the sides or someplace that’s quick and easy to get.

Is there anything you suggest not packing that most people may think is totally necessary? 

I noticed that a lot of people pack to many clothes. I usually wear one, wash one, and i’ll have one for sleeping. Pretty much three outfits is all that i’ll wear on one of my trips. I like to get natural wool and something that’s darker so it doesn’t get as dirty. The lighter weight you can go the better is what I’ve found.

, Packing to Hit the Trail

How will the Nomad make your trip easier in comparison to panniers and all you other past experiences? 

This trip especially will have some long distances between towns and so water is going to be a biggie. I’ve read there’s some places where there’s 400 kilometers of nothing which is almost 250 miles. i wouldn’t be able to carry that much on just a normal bike, so with the Nomad I’ll be able to carry a lot more water to be able to make those distances more manageable.

What are your favorite features of the Nomad? 

I love the different compartments on the inside which make it easy to organize a lot of gear. The Cargo Rack on top is fantastic for my solar panel so I can charge devices as i go. The push button wheel are pretty handy and make things very easy with little time & effort in comparison to a quick release skewer used on a bike. The waterproof cover is also holding up great with my test rides in Washington so far this winter.

What sort of electronics do you normally bring with you?

I carry an iPhone, Cannon camera, a power bank to charge everything, a solar panel to charge to power bank, Garmin GPS, a SPOT safety receiver, I also usually have GoPro and a tablet, but I may not take them on this Australia trip.

Have you ever had to use the SPOT?

I haven’t! Not for emergencies. It goes with me on pretty much every trip mountain climbing and whatnot. I pay the yearly subscription and it’s convenient that you can check in on Facebook, send pre-programmed messages to update folks on you exact location. If you ever do get in trouble there’s an SOS button and it will send out the local authorities for rescue. It is nice to know that you are always safe with a little bit of a backup plan. Hopefully I’ll never have to use it, but ideally it’s there.