Packing for Africa

Since Joe and I decided to take this trip to East Africa, several people have asked us what we’re bringing with us. “Are you taking your bikes with you? Are you mailing them?” The bikes are taken apart and carefully packed in large cardboard boxes. We’ll take them as checked luggage on the plane. The bags that will be attached all over our bikes when we arrive are currently stuffed into the boxes with the bikes.

“So what’s in all those bags?” Taking a trip this far from home always requires planning and research, but taking a cycling trip requires even more. In addition to worrying about weight for our luggage, we also worry about having a warm enough sleeping bag, having the right stove to cook meals (it’s gonna be hard to find fuel cannisters for our MSR Wisperlite). What can we live with and without in our first aid kit. What vaccinations and medications are a must for Africa. The list goes on and on, we want to have everything we need and nothing we don’t.

Luckily for me, Joe has been traveling by motorcycle, bikepacking, and backpacking extensively for nearly four years, so he knows a lot about gear and planning. He’s learned some valuable lessons on the trail from fellow adventurers and trial and error alike.

Here is a little promo I made for Green Lane while I was at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, it includes a funny newbie mistake Joe made while in Spain: 

We also get a ton of information from bikepacking.com, we’re convinced its the best resource on the web for routes and information. There is a great post about tool kits that we used to double check ours, an East Africa packing list from Logan Watts (designer of the route we’re taking), and an informative round-the-world   “what’s in my bag” video that helped with my list-making.

Most of the gear also came along with us to Vermont a few weeks ago. We were able to get experience with unfamiliar gear and weed out what exactly we were using..

Clothes I wear while riding

  • tan tee shirt (merino wool)
  • green skort
  • wool socks
  • Altra trail running shoes
  • buff (as a headband mainly)
  • riding gloves
  • helmet

Clothes I wear off the bike

  • long-sleeve purple shirt (merino wool)
  • heavier merino wool sweater
  • tan quick-dry pants
  • leggings (merino wool)
  • sandals
  • heavy sleeping socks
  • swim shorts + quick-dry sports bra (for swimming)
  • raincoat
  • extra underwear

Please excuse my wearing the same clothing in almost every photo of the next ten weeks. Basically, I have clothes to ride in, a jacket for rain, and clothes to sleep in. There isn’t much room for fashion in bikepacking.

Why all the wool? Wool is anti-microbial, which means it takes longer to get smelly (really useful while camping and riding a bike.) Plus, it’s good at regulating body temperature. “Wool absorbs moisture from the atmosphere of greater humidity to create a drier environment as a way of maintaining balance. This means in the winter wool helps to hold in your body heat, while in the summer wool helps your body cool off.” -Shepherd’s Dream

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-12-12,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y
My outfit for riding in Vermont (this photo was taken while I was pretending to be Maria VonTrapp)

Toiletries

  • toothbrush
  • toothpaste
  • bar soap
  • small towel
  • sunscreen
  • bug repellant
  • nail clippers
  • hair ties
  • luna cup*
  • deoderant

*For some reason I’ve had trouble finding information about what women do about their periods while on a trip like this. Doesn’t seem to be something the bikepacking community talks about much. (This might also reflect the gender disparity in the bikepacking community, but I’m a newbie.)

Electronics & Recording Equipment

  • Zoom H5n
  • Rode NTG2
  • Sony headphones
  • XLR cable
  • Rode deadcat (a kind of fuzzy wind-shield for the mic)
  • neoprene lens case (7″ to fit the Zoom recorder)
  • memory cards (3)
  • laptop, case, charger
  • cell phone, charger
  • power bank
  • go pro, bike mount, tripod
  • extra batteries
  • headlamps
  • tail lights
  • binoculars (Nikon Travelite)

For all the weight Joe and I saved by packing ultralight sleeping bags and tents, I added all that back by deciding to bring along my recording equipment. Most people who bike this route don’t bring a lot of electronics, but I’m attempting to do something that’s perhaps a little insane: make a radio documentary on a foreign continent while riding a bike. It’s going to be a lot of work, but I’m excited by the challenge.

Almost all of the electronics are stored in the large bright pink bag on my handlebars. The pink bag is called the “jumbo jammer” and made by a California company called Road Runner. So far, so good; I recommend this bag for anyone carrying electronic equipment on their bike.

uganda flag

The binoculars were a gift from my Nana. She took a trip to Kenya with my Aunt Janice in 1999 and brought these same binoculars with her. When I talked to her, Aunt Janice said that their guide initially tried to show them big game on their safari but quickly realized that they were much more interested in the birds. One of the birds I’m most excited to see is the gray crowned crane, the national symbol of Uganda. Uganda’s soccer team is called “The Cranes” and the bird is featured on the country’s flag.

Bike parts and tools

  • allen wrenches (blackburn wayside multitool)
  • brake pads (2)
  • chain lube
  • spare chain links
  • cleaning cloth
  • spare derailleur hangers
  • gorilla tape
  • spare kit of bolts (generously supplied by the New Hope Bike Shop)
  • patch kits
  • pliers
  • pump
  • quick links
  • spare rear cable
  • spare spokes
  • spoke wrench
  • super glue
  • sutures
  • tire levers
  • tire sealant
  • valve stem
  • zip ties

This is 100% Joe’s department. Mostly I just try to listen to him explaining how things work and try to learn as much as I can.

The bicycles both belong to Joe. He is riding a Salsa Fargo and I am riding a Salsa Blackborow. Both bikes are running 27.5″ wheels with tubeless 3″ tires. These are referred to as “plus size tires,” kind of the best-of-both-worlds option for this trip. Fat tires (like the 5″ ones the Blackborow came with) are great for rolling over roots and rough terrain, and for softer surfaces like sand, mud, or snow. Skinny tires are great for the road since they create less friction on the smooth pavement. With our 3″ plus-size tires, we can handle the rough unpaved roads, but we can also still get decent speed on the pavement.

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-12-12,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y
Me on day one of the xVT (May 2018.) The Blackborow is on the left, the Fargo is on the right.

Cooking

  • titanium cups
  • coffee pour-over filter
  • titanium sporks
  • alcohol stove with Vargo stand (also works with wood)
  • 4 titanium pots and pans (pans double as plates)
  • lighters
  • rubber pot scraper
  • cleaning cloth

Though we didn’t cook many meals while in Vermont, we’re anticipating a bit more cooking while we’re in Africa. The stove is amazingly light and folds down into a flat hexagon.

Sleeping

  • Sea to Summit sleeping bags
  • Hyperlite Ultramid 4 tent
  • Hyperlite mesh insert (to keep the bugs out)
  • tent pole
  • tent stakes
  • patch tape
  • thermarest neoair matresses
  • stuff-sack (from other sleeping bags. We keep our clothing in these during the day and use them as our pillows at night)

Our sleeping bags are soooo incredibly light and pack down tiny! They aren’t as warm as my Enlightened Equipment quilt, but they’ll definitely do the job on the equator. The tent is also super cool. It uses only one central pole, is ultralight, and it’s held up well in windy and rainy conditions so far. Of any of the gear I’ve listed so far, the best thing we’re bringing are the thermarest matresses. I can sleep on my side and wake up without sore spots on my shoulders and hips, it’s an amazing little sleeping pad.

IMG_3911
One of our camping spots in Vermont.

Medication & First Aid

  • band-aids
  • tape
  • iodine
  • peptobismol
  • antihistamine
  • malaria pills
  • pain killers
  • antibiotics
  • steripen
  • water filter

I am very concerned about health and safety while on this trip, especially when it comes to water. We are bringing a Sawyer Squeeze water filter, a UV Steripen, and iodine tablets. There’s still risk of getting sick, but I’m doing my best to minimize it.

Other

  • notebook
  • pens
  • daypacks
  • larger backpack
  • pocket knife
  • passports
  • bug nets
  • paper map
  • water bottles
  • water bladder
  • toilet paper
  • shovel

Lots of random odds and ends on this list. Some of it more necessary than other bits. For bags, we put all this stuff in Relevate frame bags (the ones shaped like a triangle), Apidura and Relevate tail bags (strapped to the seat post), the pink jumbo jammer, and a bunch of roll-top water proof stuff sacks from Sea to Summit strapped to our front forks. Again, this is Joe’s area of expertise, but I’m slowly learning how it all works.

Note from Joe: This is just the gear I like to use. There are no right or wrong to what you bring or don’t bring on an adventure. Being unprepared for a trip means you’ll probably have to ask for help along the way and getting help from others is always a highlight of any trip. Strap the necessities on your bike however you can, go for a ride, and keep your heart open. The rest will be sorted out by the people and places you meet along the way.

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