Choosing efficient clothing for your bike tour

Mr. Coffee

Well-Known Member
I use the word “efficient” on purpose. If you bring a lot of clothing you don’t need and never wear, you are carrying extra weight which at a minimum makes your trip less enjoyable. If you don’t bring the clothing you actually do need, at best you will be very uncomfortable and you might end up in a very difficult and possibly life-threatening situation.

So bringing the right clothing, and no more, is very important to putting together a successful bike tour.

Another thing to think about is that clothing gets used. It gets dirty. It gets beat up. Sometimes it gets lost or stolen. So you don’t necessarily want to get too emotionally attached to your clothing either. It can be profoundly demoralizing when that $400 soft-shell jacket gets stolen at a train station. On the other hand, sometimes an expensive article of clothing is the only appropriate technology that you can make work.

I include a clothing list in this post. This is (for me) a highly evolved list of clothing that represents what I take on trips (not just bike touring) in mostly temperate climates in Spring, Summer, and Fall. This clothing list has worked for me on six continents and has worked well for me in places as varied as the Pacific Northwest, Tibet, Egypt, Chile, the Yukon, and New Zealand. With slight modifications (and additions or deletions) it has worked fine in tropical (Thailand or Ecuador) or sub-polar (Alaska and Siberia) environments as well.

There are a couple of practical philosophical points as well: the first, and a big one, is that most of the temperature control you will do over the course of a typical day involves adding or removing layers from your torso or head & neck; the second is that, in practice, most of that temperature control will be the addition or removal of a single outer layer; the third is that ideally it will be possible to wear all of your insulating and storm-protection layers at the same time — anything you can’t wear simultaneously is clearly redundant or inappropriate.

Ideally all of the clothing that you bring should be reasonably washable under field conditions in a bucket or a sink. And it should also dry out quickly, in warmer conditions you should be able to put on your washed and wrung out clothes damp and have them dry out rapidly from body heat alone.

One rule I learned long ago is what I call the “Whiskey and chocolate principle” — I consider whether the given item of clothing will provide me more comfort or pleasure over the course of a trip than the equivalent weight in whiskey or chocolate. Anything that does not pass that test does not go.

So the list is divided into four categories: core clothing, insulating layers and storm layers, luxury items, and optional or special-case clothing:

Core clothing:
  • Wicking short-sleeved shirt
  • Underwear (possibly padded bicycle shorts or padded liners)
  • Nylon shorts over the underwear
  • Socks
  • Shoes
Insulating layers and storm layers:
  • Wind shell
  • Wind pants
  • Long-sleeved wicking shirt
  • Long underwear bottoms or tights
  • Insulated jacket
  • Rain parka
  • Fleece hat
  • Buff
  • Gloves
Luxuries:
  • Flip flops or sandals
  • Cotton tee shirt or button-front shirt
  • Bandana
  • Cycling gloves
  • Extra socks
  • Extra wicking shirts
  • Extra underwear
Optional:
  • Fleece pants or tights (rarely needed)
  • Fleece vest or light fleece sweater (rarely needed)
  • Extra gloves or mittens
  • Sun hat
  • Rain pants (rarely needed)
Commentary:

Wicking tee shirts are usually made from a synthetic fabric or wool. Wool is less stinky, less durable, and takes longer to dry out. These shirts come in various weights and weaves, a lighter, more airy weave is better in hot weather.

Underwear is really up to you. If you use padded bicycle shorts the liner shorts work really well and you can layer a normal pair of baggy shorts over them. I also like the compression shorts with no seams because they keep very important body parts from chafing.

Socks, again, are really up to you. There are lots of brands of decent socks out there (Darn Tough and Smartwool come to mind), you can also often get away with men’s dress socks, which are light, inexpensive, dry out quickly, and wear like iron.

For shoes I usually just use a pair of light running or walking shoes. I prefer ones with the toggle lacing over regular shoelaces because that is one less thing to get tangled in the bike chain.

Wind shells are very light (often less than 4oz) shirts that provide an astonishing amount of warmth for their weight and small size. They dry out very quickly. Patagonia and Sporthill both sell good examples.

Wind pants are very light pants that again provide an astonishing amount of insulation for their weight. If you look around you can find very plain (usually black or dark blue) pants that you can get away wearing to a nice restaurant. They dry out very quickly even when drenched. If/when you wear them on your bike make sure you have a velcro strap around your ankle on the drive side to keep your pants leg from getting caught in the chain.

A long-sleeved wicking shirt provides additional insulation on cooler days. Generally I find the lightest-weight ones the best for all but very cold conditions.

Long underwear bottoms can be worn either by themselves or under wind pants to provide additional warmth on a cool day. Even the very light ones (which dry out quickly) provide an amazing amount of warmth when combined with wind pants.

Insulated jackets provide a very high warmth-to-weight ratio and pack relatively small. Down jackets are very light (often less than 10oz) and pack to incredibly small sizes — the downside is that you must very fussily keep that jacket dry and you don’t want to leave it stuffed in a stuff sack for days or weeks on end. Synthetic jackets aren’t as compressible or warm but are still very light. Your insulated jacket should be sized generously enough that you can comfortably wear it over your wicking tee shirt, long-sleeved wicking shirt, and wind shell. In warmer conditions (e.g. Oregon or Northern California coast in summer) you might consider taking a light insulated vest instead. In very warm conditions (e.g. Florida) I probably wouldn’t bring one at all.

Rain parkas keep all of that other stuff dry. I’d recommend Frogg Toggs as they are very light, inexpensive. and perform as well as much more expensive products. Frogg Toggs are available at Wal-mart and most big box outdoor stores. Their only downside is that they aren’t very durable and tend to get scruffy over time. Again, they should be generously cut so you can wear all of your other insulating clothes under them.

A buff is a small stretchy tube that you can use as a headband, hat, face mask, or neck gaiter. The wool ones are more comfortable (less clammy) than the synthetic ones.

Flip-flops or sandals are nice to wear in camp or town to get out of your stinky wet shoes. They also are a very convenient portable floor when you use an icky shower at a hostel or campground.

Bandanas are a nice multi-use item, they can be worn under your helmet on a hot day or as a sweat band. Look for extra-large ones as that gives you more flexibility in how you wear them.

It is nice to have a cotton shirt (I usually take a light cotton dress shirt) to wear in camp or if you want to go to a halfway nice restaurant. Sometimes in very hot or sun-baked conditions I’ll actually ride (or hike) in a very light long-sleeved cotton shirt.

In general I find fleece clothing to be too heavy and bulky to be worth carrying. In very cold conditions I’d probably take a light pair of fleece pants, primarily to wear in camp, and a light fleece sweater or vest that I could layer under my insulated jacket and possibly wear in the sleeping bag.

Sun hats that you can wear under your helmet and protect your face and the back of your neck are very nice in sun-drenched places.

Rain pants aren’t generally very effective for the cyclist. No matter how breathable the fabric they will tend to steam up very rapidly and will do a very poor job of keeping you dry. I’d only want them if I was riding or camping in really severely foul weather or extremely cold conditions.
 
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David Berry

Well-Known Member
Brilliant! Most useful post I've come across on the EBR Forum.

Just loved seeing flip flops sneak into the luxury clothing category!
 

PaD

Well-Known Member
Thank uou for taking your time. Very good write-up. Often a good idea to check what other people bring and wear.
For my cycling an insulated jacket is not on the list. I prefer adding a separate layer under windproof jacket (could be goretex or similar to combine the the wind and rain proof items)
 

Alaskan

Well-Known Member
Lots of good, useful, well thought out information here. Obviously you've been there and done that. Thanks for taking the time to share what your wealth of experience has taught you.
 

Mr. Coffee

Well-Known Member
Thank uou for taking your time. Very good write-up. Often a good idea to check what other people bring and wear.
For my cycling an insulated jacket is not on the list. I prefer adding a separate layer under windproof jacket (could be goretex or similar to combine the the wind and rain proof items)
Yes, I understand what you're saying. For me the insulated jacket is used most of the time in camp on cool mornings and evenings. Sometimes also during a cooler day when there are longer stops -- last fall while riding the Oregon Coast there were several very long stops for construction (one was about 90 minutes) on cool days and I really appreciated popping on the insulated jacket.

Consider these two otherwise identical jackets from the same manufacturer:

Micro D Fleece Jacket

Nano Puff Jacket

They are both very similar designs with identical weight. I guarantee you the latter insulated jacket packs to half the size and is considerably warmer. Also, generally the nylon on insulated jackets is much more slippery than fleece which makes it easier to layer a rain parka over it. Like I said in the previous post, in general fleece clothing (for me) rarely is worth its weight in whiskey or chocolate.
 
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Alaskan

Well-Known Member
For winter riding I wear a wicking, capelene type base layer, a 1/4 zip tightly knit merino sweater and an Arcterex lightly insulated wind and water resistant jacket that rolls up and stows easily in my trunk bag (as does the sweater). I find a minimum of three and sometimes four layers that can easily be combined in multiple configurations to adapt to changing conditions to be the best strategy for remaining comfortable.
 

Mr. Coffee

Well-Known Member
For winter riding I wear a wicking, capelene type base layer, a 1/4 zip tightly knit merino sweater and an Arcterex lightly insulated wind and water resistant jacket that rolls up and stows easily in my trunk bag (as does the sweater). I find a minimum of three and sometimes four layers that can easily be combined in multiple configurations to adapt to changing conditions to be the best strategy for remaining comfortable.
Yes, those light shells are awesome. I rather like the SportHill Bandon Jacket.

Another one I like is a Patagonia product that unfortunately is no longer made. It has fairly light (but not super-light) stretchy fabric and the back is a much more venty fabric. Weighs in at about 6oz. The Patagonia Airshed Pullover seems to be the spiritual descendant of that shell I loved so much.
 

BBassett

Active Member
I use the word “efficient” on purpose. If you bring a lot of clothing you don’t need and never wear, you are carrying extra weight which at a minimum makes your trip less enjoyable. - True to a point, but I always choose to have more clothing (gear and options too) than I need rather than shorting it. Pick the clothes you want to use, wear them for a couple weeks and nothing but. You will figure out what works for you and transfer that to your bike load.

Commentary:

Wicking tee shirts are usually made from a synthetic fabric or wool. Wool is less stinky, less durable, and takes longer to dry out. These shirts come in various weights and weaves, a lighter, more airy weave is better in hot weather. - The magic of wool is that it will keep you warm even if it's soaking wet.

Underwear is really up to you. - Absolutely true

Socks, again, are really up to you. There are lots of brands of decent socks out there (Darn Tough and Smartwool come to mind), you can also often get away with men’s dress socks, which are light, inexpensive, dry out quickly, and wear like iron. - Several pair you have worn and are comfortable with (not cotton) and a pair of Waterproof socks. Until you wear them they seem... gimmicky, I bought two pair of Possum socks from ZPack and they are incredibly warm but burned through in the heal after about 150 miles of riding.

For shoes I usually just use a pair of light running or walking shoes. I prefer ones with the toggle lacing over regular shoelaces because that is one less thing to get tangled in the bike chain. - At Least two pair or shoes, thongs or sandles and some type of over-shoe that will keep your shoes clean and dry'ish.

Wind shells are very light (often less than 4oz) shirts that provide an astonishing amount of warmth for their weight and small size. They dry out very quickly. Patagonia and Sporthill both sell good examples. - I use my well-vented soft-shell rain jacket for wind rather than carry "wind" related gear.

Wind pants are very light pants that again provide an astonishing amount of insulation for their weight. If you look around you can find very plain (usually black or dark blue) pants that you can get away wearing to a nice restaurant. They dry out very quickly even when drenched. If/when you wear them on your bike make sure you have a velcro strap around your ankle on the drive side to keep your pants leg from getting caught in the chain. - I don't do "wind" pants either.

A long-sleeved wicking shirt provides additional insulation on cooler days. Generally I find the lightest-weight ones the best for all but very cold conditions. - I carry 3 different long sleeve pullover shirts that can be layered if necessary but are light enough to wear over a base-layer sleeveless tee on hot sunny days.

Long underwear bottoms can be worn either by themselves or under wind pants to provide additional warmth on a cool day. Even the very light ones (which dry out quickly) provide an amazing amount of warmth when combined with wind pants. - Wool long-johns, 3 pair of long pants, one w/pant leg zips.

Insulated jackets... - Easily packable down jacket without a hood. Always on the bike.

Rain parkas keep all of that other stuff dry. I’d recommend Frogg Toggs as they are very light, inexpensive. and perform as well as much more expensive products. Frogg Toggs are available at Wal-mart and most big box outdoor stores. Their only downside is that they aren’t very durable and tend to get scruffy over time. Again, they should be generously cut so you can wear all of your other insulating clothes under them. - I carry my rain skin and a Cleverhood reflective poncho. The poncho sees most of the rain when it's over 60 degs., it's so well vented that I can stay dry from the rain and overheating.

A buff is a small stretchy tube that you can use as a headband, hat, face mask, or neck gaiter. The wool ones are more comfortable (less clammy) than the synthetic ones. - I carry two and use synthetic, the wool retain too much heat for me and I wear one under my helmet on every ride regardless of temp.

Flip-flops or sandals are nice to wear in camp or town to get out of your stinky wet shoes. They also are a very convenient portable floor when you use an icky shower at a hostel or campground. - If you plan correctly a pair of open footwear can easily be used with overshoes too.

Bandanas are a nice multi-use item, they can be worn under your helmet on a hot day or as a sweat band. Look for extra-large ones as that gives you more flexibility in how you wear them. - I pack several. One is hanging on my bike (on the Right mirror) almost every ride. A young girl once called out as I rode by, "where's your scarf?!?", it wan't until then I realized it was even missing.

It is nice to have a cotton shirt (I usually take a light cotton dress shirt) to wear in camp or if you want to go to a halfway nice restaurant. Sometimes in very hot or sun-baked conditions I’ll actually ride (or hike) in a very light long-sleeved cotton shirt. - I hate 100% cotton in almost every item of clothing. I stick with blends and synthetics.

In general I find fleece clothing to be too heavy and bulky to be worth carrying. In very cold conditions I’d probably take a light pair of fleece pants, primarily to wear in camp, and a light fleece sweater or vest that I could layer under my insulated jacket and possibly wear in the sleeping bag. - I have found wool works better than fleece most of the time and wears much better, but it's also more expensive.

Sun hats that you can wear under your helmet and protect your face and the back of your neck are very nice in sun-drenched places. - I pack a rain/sun/mosquito net hat for off the bike. When I am on the bike I wear a helmet with a magnetic visor that works so well I bought two, and extra visors.

Rain pants aren’t generally very effective for the cyclist. No matter how breathable the fabric they will tend to steam up very rapidly and will do a very poor job of keeping you dry. I’d only want them if I was riding or camping in really severely foul weather or extremely cold conditions. - I use both rain pants and a pair of Rainlegs for sudden bursts. When I am wrapped up in lots of gear I just expend less energy and stay well vented.
Cheers
 

H.Franco

New Member
Long underwear bottoms or tights
Sounds like good for winter riding your purpose is so great and nice posting you were, you're saying about Long underwear bottoms or tights yeah its great I mostly choose Duofold by Champion Thermals Men's Base-Layer Underwear because of its soft texture-rich knit traps & air between two thermal layers & these outerwear I easily found any clothing store like amazon, eBay and UstradeEnt. Thanks for sharing your good stuff.
 
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