Going long distance is no joke. Going long distance for multiple days at a time is even less of a joke — often times it could end be life or death, or, at the very least the difference between being able to use those muscles that got you as far as they did. Cycle tourers are at a unique advantage when it comes to multi-day treks: they have panniers on either side of their bike (often times both), a front rack, a rear rack, water bottle holsters, easy ability to hook a trailer behind them, and full freedom when it comes to motion if they manage to use that space wisely. Skateboard tourers have been revolutionizing long distance since the day they realized they could get as far as a bike: some have done it with a follow car behind them, others have done relay style treks where they stow their gear in a van or bus and rotate the active skater after hitting a milestone in distance for the day, one person is known to use a baby stroller to hold his gear, a select few have gone developed trailer hitch systems and the truly unfortunate limit themselves to only a backpack (ahem, me). Other unique tourers, like those who tackle long distance on rollerskates or even the crazy ones who take 50cc mopeds and go far, have their own limitations. A moped tourer can’t place so much weight on their bike: engine/exhaust parts fail and ease of getting into the moving bits is necessary, half the gear needs to be tools they may or may not need and ultimately a tiny gas propelled pedal bike just can’t sustain what a cyclist may be able to carry. I’ve heard of rollerskaters using baby stroller techniques similar to the man traveling the world on a skateboard (Adrian Oh), but the ones without a frame to keep them separated from the pavement are truly at the biggest disadvantage.
However you tour, you’ll find as you progress that there were certain things you brought that you didn’t need. Either they took up too much space or weighed too much, but they proved to be less than useful. A key factor in long distance travel is taking only the necessities. Besides, anything more than that, and you might as well be driving a car. When I prepared myself to go across the USA, I sought out advice from a mix of communities semi-related to my method. I started with bike tourers, aptly named bikepackers, and moved on to ultralight backpacking. Between the two, I had to devise my own plan with their suggestions, modified to suit my own personal needs. Even in the end of my preparations after purchasing the lightest and most functional gear possible, I still had too much stuff. On the first and second days of my trek by skateboard, I dropped about 15 loaded pounds of gear.
The picture above is a great example of what you don’t need. I ended up ditching almost all of the stuff you see before I even got a single use out of it.
Here’s a list of what I found to be gear I didn’t miss along my travels:
1. A Rain Jacket
Nope. You won’t need it. No matter how long your journey is, it’s guaranteed (maybe not guaranteed) that you’ll see less rain than you do other weather. Something like an emergency poncho will do the same job at a fraction of the cost, and they are widely available. You won’t have to seek out a specialty camping or cycling store to find what you’re looking for. A poncho — or even a repurposed trash bag, will weigh ounces (or pounds) less, and pack itself into a significantly smaller size, freeing up space in your emergency pocket.
Side note: With my planned single outfit I wore on my journey, adding a layer of jacket to protect myself for rain reduced the breathability of it all. I was gasping for air in my jacket over my wool base layer, and quickly dropped it at the first sight of a gas station.
2. An Insulated Water Bottle
We’ve all heard the tip: boil some water in cold temperatures, put it in your insulated bottle, and stuff it between your thighs for warmth. It’s easily the most redundant process I ever heard. You’d have to spend time, while cold, building a fire, waiting for water to boil (if you have it), and then doing your bedtime routine with it attached to your skin. It’s ridiculous to think that you, the weary and exhausted traveler, will have the time or patience for that, especially when your sweaty clothes begin to freeze on your skin. An insulated water bottle is heavier than any other bottle, takes up huge spaces (and often won’t fit in a standard bottle holder), and is more of a hassle than it’s worth. What are you gonna do? Fill it with ice cubes and keep yourself drinking cold water by stopping every time you want it? NO! You’ll be pushing yourself along and focusing on the journey. Cold water is a treat, and one you deserve, but not at the cost of all that space and weight.
3. More Than One Outfit
I don’t care how many sponsors asked you to wear their shirts. You can’t take them. First of all, most shirts are cotton (cotton kills). Second, you’re not out on the road to look good (I was, I took makeup with me). Your appearance, your color coordinated clothing, and your hygiene of switching shirts because you wore them once is unwelcome in the face of adventure. Save your fun colors for the party you throw when you finish. If you aren’t a cyclist, take a pair of convertible pants (read: zip them off if you get too hot), a base layer and a mid layer. In some cases in the cold you might want additional layers, but that still falls within the realm of one outfit. You’ll thank yourself when you get up in the morning and don’t have to choose what to wear. Just switch up your socks and underwear every few days, okay?
4. Cooking Gear
If you’re going to be on a multi-day adventure, you have to be picky about your long term items. Are you going to grocery shop along the way? Every day? Are you going to carry your entire journey’s food on your back the entire time? You have to consider the possibilities. Factor in whether you’ll be camping every night, staying with hosts, or booking a motel. Even if you camp every night, you’d be better off grocery shopping daily and only taking certain spices and minimal tools with you. In my case, I threw out that plan because I was in desolate northwestern areas and opted to eat along the way. It was waaaaaay more costly, but with the amount of weight I had already, it was worth it. Each situation is unique and you’ll learn quickly what you want to do. Just don’t go out there buying a $100 camping stove with a bottle of gasoline thinking its a good option the whole time. Eating with the locals, as the locals do, is fun anyways. Try it!
5. Endurance Fuel/Power Bars/Etc
Throw them out. You’re not going to carry 5 pounds of energy bars, or a pound of powder you mix into your water. You won’t use it. Even if you make yourself an energy drink every morning, you’ll be forcing yourself to stop along the way to refuel, costing you precious daylight hours you could have been pushing forward. They’re a waste of money outside of a competitive race, and the effects they have don’t outweigh the cons: weight and space.
6. Night Time Gear
A headlamp isn’t your first choice of lighting up anything but the road. You won’t think to use it when you’re nestled in your tent (your phone light should be fine). All that extra bright, high visibility stuff is a real waste of funds when you take in the statistics of how unsafe it would be to ride at night. Once the sun goes down, anything goes on the road. Humans are too susceptible to changes in lighting for you to be confident enough to ride at night. Save the space you would have given to that headlamp you’d never use, those extra light up reflectors, and everything you got to be visible at night, and give it to products that would be better suited for being visible during the day.
This can be a HUGE space and weight saver on a journey. Turns out, you can throw most of it away. I’d say keep a toothbrush (and toothpaste, but travel sized!), and throw away the rest. You can find shampoo and conditioner at any motel (should you stay at one), or even asking a host to share a few squeezes into a tiny container will do. All those ounces of liquid add up, and the only liquid weight you want is from water. Things like hair brushes, razors, shaving cream, and literally anything beyond the scope of absolute necessity shouldn’t find a way into your pack. Again I repeat: Unless you’re some kind of ultra visible TV show host or filming a documentary on how to stay pretty on the road…throw it all out. Everything you need is out there waiting for you, and people want to share.
8. Extra Parts
This one is a bit up in the air, especially for cyclists. It really depends on the parts you intend to take. Are you going to bring a second handlebar with you? How about another rim? Are you bringing extra tubes in lieu of a liquid patcher? It’s not so much that you can do without these things (maybe the first two), but that you can minimize them. Skateboarders won’t need a second set of wheels, but maybe a few extra bearings. Cyclists may benefit from carrying a few backup spokes. Throw away the backup pedals and find a bicycle shop in a nearby town. If you don’t rely on the gear you’re taking to be in it for the long haul, take the money you’re investing in backup accessories and invest them in better parts. I can promise you that another derailer in your side pocket will never be used: you’ll find someone handy if you just open up to meeting a few new people.
When I skateboarded up Florida (400 miles/6 days), the front bracket on my board failed and was rendered unusable. Instead of throwing the towel in, we found a welder to put the pieces back together. When that failed, we bought a cheap-o Wal-Mart board on Craigslist and finagled a frankenstein setup to make it the rest of the way. Be creative, bring duct tape, and stock up on knowledge to repair parts before you attempt to replace them.
Go straight past that gift shop unless it’s got a post office built into it. You won’t be able to justify hanging onto 12 magnets that say “Wyoming” on them so you can hang them up on each of your 12 refrigerators at home. That “Nebraska Cornhuskers” hat you got without even attending a game will do no good for you in the long run. Stop carrying soil from each state you crossed in the outside pocket of your bag. Don’t even pick up that feather off of the rare fowl you found smushed on a bridge you went over. Not only is that gross, but it will get ruined, you’ll be sad, and everyone will look at you like a fool when you cry tears because you thought all that movement wouldn’t just ruin it. The journey is your memento. Take pictures! Take lots of pictures. Record video. The experience is what you went for and the rest is all just money wasted.
Well, there you have it. Most of your weight and space should be water. Next is shelter, followed by only things you know you’ll use. Embrace the environment you’ve thrown yourself into and take advantage of the amenities, talk to locals, and read a whole lot of other people’s experiences. This is just a general guideline to open your mind up and say, “There would be another way to do this!” without compromising your bones under the weight of it all. Safe travels!