Categories: Travel Tips

Biking and Hiking 101: Packing a Day Pack

by Julie Horton - Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Biking and Hiking 101: Packing a Day Pack

Find out what Julie keeps in her packs!

Learning what to pack for a bike ride, (maybe for a day on tour with ExperiencePlus!), or a day hike is a lesson many have learned through trial and error. On more than one occasion I’ve set out for a two or three-hour hike under beautiful blue skies without a rain jacket. You can imagine the rest of the story: an hour from the trailhead, the wind starts to blow a little, the clouds begin rolling in, the temperature plummets, and I begin cursing my own foolishness as the raindrops begin to fall.

When heading out for a day on a bike tour, there is little to worry about more than the best place to stop for a coffee or snack along the way.  But every now and then being prepared with just a few extra items will pay off when met with unexpected snafus.

On Tour: What’s in Julie’s Rear Rack Pack?

On every ExperiencePlus! trip we provide a rear rack pack to carry the items you’ll need during your ride. As with any kind of packing, there is a delicate balance between bringing what you may need and over packing.  I have included the things I put in my rear rack pack to keep me happy and comfortable.

Day sheet and map – Let’s face it: on our bicycle tours it’s easy to sit back, relax and follow the chalk dust arrows and let yourself be surprised by what’s around the next bend, but I love to refer to the day sheets we provide. I can find out more about the history and culture of the area I’m riding through and practice phrases in the daily language lesson while I ride. I can also check how many miles to the next snack and if there are any hills ahead. The day sheets also list tour leader phone numbers and have the name and contact information for the next hotel just in case I take an unexpected detour.

Camera – Admittedly, my smart phone is taking over as my camera though I do think I get a higher quality of photos with a camera. If someone felt the need to splurge on me, I’d gratefully accept the Fuji X100S! Not only does it look retro and super cool, but it has a hybrid viewfinder which means I can actually see what I’m taking a picture of!

Rain Jacket – Though it “ahem” never rains on an ExperiencePlus! trip, I always have my rain jacket in my rear rack pack. It’s compact and super light so it isn’t a burden and if the weather turns, or the church, restaurant, wine cave, is cold I’m ready. Consider that the jacket should be waterproof and breathable. Requirements:

  • Ventilation – if you aren’t able to get airflow you will be wetter from sweat than rain.
  • Visibility – make sure your jacket includes reflective features.

Bonus features that I love: a longer tail to protect me from spray, the ability to pack it away in its own pocket, and a hood. Check out reviews at Bike Radar.

Wind Jacket – I love my Pearl Izumi wind jacket – it converts to a vest quickly, and has generous side and back panels that offer plenty of ventilation. Mine has two front and a small back pocket which is the perfect place to stow your sleeves. Though Pearl Izumi claims that this jacket is water resistant I wouldn’t count on it keeping you dry in anything but a very light rain shower.

Ziplock freezer bags of varying sizes – There are high-end waterproof bags that are guaranteed to protect your smart phone and enable to use the touch screen, but for my money a good old Ziplock freezer bag does the trick. You can use your Ziplocks for food, money, cameras, clothing, day sheets, trash, basically anything that you want to keep dry or organized. If there is no rain than you can focus more on picnic items!

Shower cap, plastic grocery bag – The shower cap I typically grab at the first hotel of the trip. It is the perfect helmet cover if it’s raining but not so cold that you would want to wear a hood.  I’ve also used a shower cap as a seat cover, but a plastic grocery bag is a much better option because you can tie it on. Coming back to a dry saddle after you’ve sought shelter in a small café is easy and free.

Sunscreen, chapstick, tissues –  No explanation needed…

Money – You’ll need this for food, that perfect souvenir, cappuccino, beer….

Food – Some friends call me a squirrel because I’ve always got some food stashed away. You just never know when you might need a little something to get you to that next gelateria. I’m a vegetarian, so I also bring a few protein bars from home to stash in my bike bag. A sweet and salty chocolate dipped Mojo bar is worth the risk of having melted chocolate on your jersey in my opinion. One of the joys of travel for me is searching through grocery stores, markets, and bakeries to discover a new favorite snack, cheese, bread and to see what fruit is in season.

Bandana –  Too many functions to list! But I’ll give you the condensed version: napkin, a Kleenex, a face mask, sweat band, rag. I actually tie mine to my handlebars which makes my bike on ExperiencePlus! tours very easy to find in the morning when all the bikes are lined up.

Spoon and knife – I generally try not to check a bag when I go on one of our trips so I’ve had to decide against bringing a knife, but they are very handy for picnics. I’ve happily adjusted to “breaking” my bread and cheese using my hands. However, I always travel with a spoon – in Europe they often have small spoons on their yogurt containers, but there have been countless times when my “wee” spoon has come in handy.

Smart phone – You can use your phone to take photos, keep up on email, use it to take notes, record videos, & calculate currency. There are also language apps, a compass, music, books, & GPS to name a few other perks of the smart phone….

Multi-tool – Completely optional on an ExperiencePlus! tour, but I like to be able to make minor adjustments. You will need to check your tool instead of going carry-on. US regulations now allow tools smaller than four inches but the rules vary in Europe so to be safe I recommend checking it.

If you are cycling in regions or seasons when you might hit a cool weather system you should also have the following  items in your suitcase so you can pack them in your rear rack pack should you need them.

Leg/Knee and arm warmers – These handy lightweight little bundles of comfort and joy can turn a cool miserable ride into near bliss. Make mine wool which is lightweight, soft, warm, and I think they stay put better than models with “gripper” elastic. Small and mighty don’t deny yourselves this secret weapon against the chill.

A mid-layer for your top – Again I prefer wool and a number of companies, Patagonia, Icebreaker, and Smartwool, offer a variety of weights. I prefer models with either a half or full zipper because I will undoubtedly need to unzip on the uphill and zip up on the descent.

Lightweight gloves – Is it redundant to say wool again? Perhaps but my favorite gloves just happen to be a cashmere pair I found in the bargain bin at Sierra Trading Post! Synthetics are perfectly acceptable. If you are traveling to a damp area or temperatures are expected to be in the 40s a wind/waterproof exterior will make you very happy.

Headband or Buff  – Buffs are versatile tubes of fabric that can be worn as a neck warmer, hat, facemask, or headband and I love it when something has a variety of functions. Whichever you choose be sure that your helmet still fits.

First aid kit. This should include a few band aids (including the finger tip and knuckle variety), antiseptic cream, antiseptic towellettes, mole skin, second skin, aspirin or other pain-reliever, a bit of duct tape (wrap some on a pencil), a safety pin and tweezers.

ExperiencePlus! rear rack packs come with a rain cover, lock and shoulder strap that makes them super easy to carry around. Your bike will also have a computer, pump and tire changing kit.  ExperiencePlus! has a complete and detailed packing list for our tours online check it out before your next cycling adventure.

For a day hike:

Similarly when headed out for a day hike it’s a fine line between what you need and over packing. If you are on one of our bike tours that includes optional day hikes, this list might come in handy. A small pack you can fold into your rear rack pack and then dump items in is also useful if you want to explore a city or trail while you’re cycling one day.

  • Sunscreen. All parents would agree it’s important enough to make both packing lists! I put on the first layer before I leave home and another at lunch.
  • Water. A nice rule of thumb is, if you are headed out for less than three hours take one quart of water with you. (If you’re on tour you can flag down our van or stop in a local bar to refill your water bottles while on the bike, but when hiking it’s best to bring both your water bottles or even a hydration pack if you prefer.)
  • Toilet paper and a small zip lock bag for disposing. Drinking plenty of water is a healthy habit and drinking plenty of water on the trail will help keep your body happy. People often wonder about using the “green door” and are embarrassed to ask any questions. It’s easy, you need to stay a few hundred yards away from water sources and the trail. So take your bearings and head for cover, a nice view is always a bonus. Keep in mind that distance doesn’t necessarily lead to invisibility. I’ve had people walk 250 yards from a group and felt crouching behind a rock or other barrier was unnecessary, that they had somehow become invisible.
  • Food – See above.
  • Map and compass, if you know how to use them. While on tour you can always trust the chalk arrows when cycling, when you’re hiking it’s important to have a map or photo of the trail system on your phone just in case you need orienting yourself.
  • Lightweight, breathable rain gear. See above!
  • A warm layer for when the temperature does change. Use polar fleece, wool or some synthetic blend that stays warm even when wet. I do not recommend cotton; besides offering no insulation, when it gets wet it stays that way! Brrrrr.
  • Leatherman™ or similar tool. I have used the pliers on so many occasions that I now prefer it over my Swiss army knife. It’s been invaluable for removing porcupine quills from a friend’s dog and unscrewing things like the protective covers that go on my trekking poles.
  • First aid kit additions for hiking. In addition to the items mentioned above bring mole skin and second skin, and as soon as you feel ANY discomfort with your feet, STOP! Stop and adjust that sock, stop and put a piece of mole skin over the irritated area. If you’ve already developed a small blister, then cover it with second skin. I have used duct tape on top of mole skin to help keep it in place and because it has a very slick surface, it will prevent additional rubbing. The best idea if you are prone to foot irritations is to cover the area with BlisterBlock™ before you leave the house.
  • Extra Socks. Almost nothing feels as good as putting on warm, dry socks after your feet have gotten wet. How did your feet get wet? The rock wasn’t quite as stable, your balance wasn’t quite as good, and your shoes weren’t quite as waterproof as you imagined.
  • Matches and a lighter. Because they are small and light and you never know what might happen.
  • Trekking poles.  These are not so useful on a bike tour, but I think they are invaluable on a hike!

Need more packing tips for your next bike tour? Take a look at all our helpful tips and tools here!

Julie Horton - Julie Horton is the Purveyor of Cycling Adventures at ExperiencePlus! Bicycle Tours. She bicycled in more than 20 countries on a year long, self-supported bicycle tour around the world, which covered more than 14,000 miles. Her career in the adventure travel industry began back in 1994 when she started leading hiking tours in the USA, Europe, and far flung locations like Nepal and Thailand. After 10 years on the trail her desire to get back on the road led her to ExperiencePlus! in 2004. Her passion for traveling by bicycle and sharing the possibilities and plans with our travelers makes her "work" at ExperiencePlus! fun and gratifying. She looks forward to sharing her enthusiasm for traveling by bike with each of you and hearing of your adventures. Email Julie(at)

Awards, Memberships and Reviews