Gear choices: painstaking research or dumb luck?
On a foggy Thursday morning, on June 1st, Rebecca and I pedaled ourselves away from our daughter’s home in Perris, California. That makes it a week shy of two months that we’ve been on the road, working our way south through Baja on anything but an easy path. Yesterday I wrote an email to Daniel, the founder of Tumbleweed Bicycles, telling him that if he ever wants to put a new bike through its paces, he should send someone down here to Baja with it and have them ride the route that we’ve been taking. If there are any issues to be found, this trail will definitely bring them to the forefront!
After a couple of months of hard travel, I figured that I should be able to write a post about our gear choices, listing what has been working well for us, and what has not. The problem is, we don’t have a single thing to list in the latter not-so-good category. Every piece of equipment that we purchased has been working just as we hoped it would. I’d like to think that this was all due to our thorough research when outfitting ourselves, but I’d guess at least a portion of it needs to be attributed to dumb luck.
In the absence of being able to list any bad things at this time, I’ll simply share some of the highlights of the gear choices that we made, including what we like about them, as well as some additions that we might make in the future.
- 27.5+ Rohloff-equipped Tumbleweed Prospectors (full build details here)
Starting with the obvious, the bikes have been great. Knowing nothing about what we were getting ourselves into, choosing bikes was a big decision for us, and a bit of a gamble. Unlike other models that had been in production for some time, we put down a bunch of money on these ones before the brand new frames had even reached the US! Fortunately for us, our gamble paid off. We couldn’t be happier with our choice. Daniel from Tumbleweed helped us select components for the bikes, and aside from replacing worn brake pads, and other normal day-to-day maintenance, we haven’t had to do any type of repairs. And believe me, they are getting put through their paces!
Rebecca’s Prospector, fully decked out.
- Rolltop Frame Bag
- Alamogordo Top Tube Bag
- Rincon Top Tube Bag
- Canelo Handlebar Roll (medium)
- Highline SeatBag
- Oracle Downtube Bag
Having had trouble with zippers on the boats, we knew that we wanted roll-top frame bags for our bikes, not zippered ones. After doing some online window shopping, we came across Rogue Panda’s site and saw that they offered exactly what we were looking for. I approached Nick from Rogue Panda and shared with him our plans and our needs, and he agreed to offer us a bit of a sponsorship. Of course, any savings would be worthless if the gear didn’t work out, so we are very pleased to report that the bags have been perfect. Just as with our bikes, they have done nothing but perform as expected. And like the bikes, they too are getting put through their paces, being loaded and unloaded at least once, if not a couple of times per day.
- iPhones (2) with Gaia app
Our iPhones (mine: 5SE, Rebecca: 6S) are carried on Rockform mounts on the stem camp. The mounts appear super strong but we also always attach the phones to the handlebars via a lanyard. Unfortunately, the cases aren’t waterproof so the phones need to be put away in the event of rain. The Gaia app works well. We have the Baja Divide route loaded into the app, and we can follow the blue line quite easily, as well as guess with some degree of accuracy about what kind of pain is in our future by checking the topo lines.
- MacBook Air
We’ve had this computer since 2013. It is used primarily for keeping this blog updated, and for photo and video processing.
- Kindles (2)
Old school black and white Kindles. Because they don’t light up, we need to use our headlamps to read them at night.
We each carry two of these for charging the iPhones and other electronics. We make sure that they get fully charged every time we stay in a hotel.
Since we have been traveling too slow for the SON dyno hubs on our bikes to charge our electronics, this solar panel has been a godsend! It was a very last-minute purchase and we’re extremely happy that we made it.
- Sony a6000 mirrorless camera
This was another last-minute purchase. It was a big investment but one we made because we wanted to be able to capture our travels, both in photo and video form, more professionally than our point-and-shoot camera would allow.
- Olympus Tough TG-4 camera
A solid point-and-shoot camera. Rebecca keep this handy in her toptube bag so that she can access it quickly.
- GoPro Hero 3+ camera
We’ve had this camera for a while, and typically keep it mounted on my handlebars.
- InReach Satellite Communicator
This is the latest addition to our kit, and come to us via a donation from one of our loyal blog readers, Ryan Scott from the sailing vessel Waponi Woo. Among other things, including serious safety related stuff, it allows you to track our location on this map.
- Tarptent Double Moment tent
We knew that we wanted a lightweight tent, and also one that would pack down fairly small. We also were looking for a tent that could be set up freestanding, should that situation arise (it has not yet). The tent we chose from looking at pics and specs online has worked out well. We had it seam sealed by the manufacturer but haven’t had any real rain to test its waterproofness. While not big, it’s large enough for both Rebecca and I and our gear, and we love the double door, double “window” design. They provide excellent airflow, and allow the tent to seem less claustrophobic than it might otherwise without their presence. My only question is will it stand up to the high winds of Patagonia? I’m not so sure.
Just one of many scenic camping spots.
I should also point out that we carry a Tyvec ground sheet, also sourced from Tarptent, and we use it under the tent each time we set it up. It may or may not be necessary, but I think it’ll help the tent last longer.
- Jacks R Better Sierra Sniveller quilt
Both Rebecca and I are typically side sleepers, and after reading the benefits of a quilt vs. a traditional mummy bag, we thought that quilts might better suit us. They do! The bags we selected are rated to 25°-30° F (-4° C), and are filled with hydrophobic down. It’s amazing just how warm they are when paired with a suitable sleeping pad!
Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol mattress
We simply love these. I only had to blow up an inflatable pad once to know how much I was going to hate having to do that every night. We then tested out this folding pad in the store and were immediately sold. We had no idea how much we were going to love them though. Even though they are a bit more of a pain to carry, these pads are super versatile. We can deploy them off our bikes in 10 seconds, and frequently do when we stop for a break. Given that we’ve been riding in Baja where just about every single plant has spikes that want to prick you, there is no way we could do the same with an inflatable pad. No way!
- Mantus Headlamp
Given our longstanding relationship with Mantus Marine, they were amongst the first to offer to sponsor us our new adventure, donating two of their super-robust headlamps. While heavier than some other options on the market, these headlamps are built like a tank, are crazy bright, and are fully IPX8 waterproof! Like most of our other electronic devices, they also charge via USB, which is perfect! We have yet to do any nighttime riding so I can’t comment on how they’ll perform for that (although I imagine they’ll be great), but we do use them every night when we camp and they perform just as we’d hoped.
- Trangia alcohol stove with ClickStand
Works perfectly, is super quiet, and at least so far, we have had no trouble sourcing fuel for it. We carry about a liter of alcohol between us, split into 3 small bottles, and tend to start looking for more when we’re down to the last bottle.
Rebecca ensures that we eat well!
Rather than purchasing one pot large enough to cook food for both of us, we opted to buy two smaller pots, one for each of us. This gives us a lot of versatility, and we eat out of the pots themselves rather than carrying bowls. We do also carry titanium plates, but more often than not, it’s the pots that get used for the majority of our meals.
- Titanium Sporks
A holdover from our Kayak camping days. Love them.
We each have one of these, and they have performed just as we had hoped they would. They’re a bit heavier than other options, but they’re robust, and that’s what we wanted. Losing your water due to a leak could be anywhere from inconvenient to catastrophic, depending upon where you are. When full, we carry them strapped to our rear rack.
- Steripen Ultra – USB rechargeable
We have yet to use this but I’m confident that it’ll perform as it was designed to.
- MSR Trailshot water filter
Only used once. Performed as it was designed to, I guess. We didn’t get sick, at least. 🙂
Panniers & Rack
- Nitto Campee rear rack
Although our initial hope was that we could get away with exclusively using a bikepacking setup, we had our doubts and thus had Daniel fit our bikes with Nitto Campee rear racks. They are made in Japan, and are seemingly bombproof. Given the number of rack failures that we read about, that’s a good thing!
Riding through deep sand is tough on a fully loaded bike!
- Ortlieb Classic Front Rollers – carried on rear rack
There are lighter options out there, but these are apparently waterproof. As I carry my laptop and our big camera in mine, and Rebecca carries all the food in hers, that’s important.
Generally speaking, we each carry 1 set of clothes for riding in, and one set to change into when we’re not riding. We picked up a couple of $1.00 dress shirts at a market in northern Baja, and now wear them when riding instead of the shirts that we had originally purchased for the road.
We each carry a Lezyne pump, and a selection of tools, spares, plugs, etc. to help us deal with problems. We do not carry spare tires but we do each carry a (1) spare 27.5×3″ tube to be used if we lose the ability to run a tire tubeless.
What would we add?
- Helinox Chair Zero camp chairs
As silly as it may sound for people who are trying to travel lightly, as we are, we really miss having a chair to sit on. I know that we would enjoy our campsites much more if we each had one, and my back would appreciate it after a long day of riding. I’d be willing to take the 1 lb. weight penalty to have that small luxury.
As I mentioned in a previous post, shade can be very difficult to come by in most of Baja. I think that, in addition to our tent for sleeping, a lightweight tarp similar to this one would be very versatile. In addition to providing shade, we could also have rigged it up quickly to provide us shelter from the big rain storm that we just had to deal with.
Knowing that we were going to have to carry more water, we upgraded the water bottle carriers on our forks when we were in Vicente Guerrero. Up to this point we’ve been using disposable 1 or 1.5 liter bottles on the racks, but would prefer, both for practical reasons, and for environmental ones, to have refillable options. Additionally, we have been using the straps that came with the racks to hold the bottles in place but Voile straps are infinitely easier to work with. We’d much prefer them to the ones that we have.
What have we been carrying that hasn’t been used?
Would you believe that we’re each carrying a pair winter mitts? It’s true. We were going to start in Alaska, remember? We also picked up an Emberlit Fireant stove that we planned to use if we ever ran out of alcohol for our Trangia. Up to this point, that hasn’t happened. In our tool kit we also have a pressure gauge to check the pressure on our tires. I think we used it once, before we left the US. It’s heavy, and has to go.