The Art of Bike-Trip Packing: Nothing Butt the Best & High-Tech Underwear

I hate when this happens: My tubes of butt balm and sunscreen are next to one another in the bathroom, look similar and … yep! … I mistook the sunscreen for the butt balm, and rubbed some of it, well, you know where I rubbed it.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about the art of packing for a cycling trip: How to avoid the butt balm/sunscreen mistake, and – perhaps more importantly – how to lighten the load in my panniers. New tricks in this delicate balancing act involve: High-tech underwear that stretches in four directions, T-shirts that refuse to stink no matter how long you wear them or how much you sweat, and 99 cent plastic bottles. And doing lots of sink laundry.

Let’s start with the basics …

Lighter is always better: This is the most important lesson and one new Cyclotourists seem to struggle with. You’ll want to take a little more, a little more still, and then cram in just one more T-shirt and jacket. Just in case. And then leave a few items in the trash bin at the second hotel (or campsite) you stay in.

So, how do you lighten the load?

Let’s start with underwear, which is a necessity on a bike trip. And in life. Except for all you crazy commandoes out there. Like Kramer, who’s out there and loving it. This is my second Seinfeld reference in the blog; the first involved George and an injured squirrel.

Anyway, back to underwear. I discovered Fruit of the Loom EverLight boxer briefs a couple bike trips ago. They’re “designed with fabric so light you forget you’re wearing them.” The fashion scientists at NASA probably had something to do with the creation of this space-age fabric: 78 percent nylon and 22 percent spandex that stretches in four directions. The fact that it can stretch four ways (according to the label), is an amenity I don’t really understand or think I utilize nearly enough. I’m not as flexible down there as I used to be. Especially after a long day of riding. Even with all the yoga.

The EverLights are pretty comfortable, but not quite as comfortable as my regular cotton boxer-briefs. However, they are really, really super light. Ultra-light in fact. I can pack 7 or 8 pairs (plus the one I wear on the flight over) and they weigh about the same and take up as much room as two pairs of conventional, low-tech, cotton boxer briefs. This means I can go more than a week without having to wash them in the sink or at a laundromat. Plus: On those occasions when I do have to wash a couple in the sink – they dry fast. Super, space-age fast. Just like they’ll do on Mars.

BTW: Why is one underwear and one pants called a pair of underwear or pants? Is it because they have openings for a pair of legs? A shirt has openings for two arms, but we don’t call one of them a pair. A pair of socks? That makes sense.

T-shirts are another necessity. After a long day, sweaty day of riding (in my bike jersey and bike shorts), a shower and quick washing of the day’s bike kit in the sink or shower, it’s nice to put on a clean pair of undies and T-shirt.

Again, technology and space-age fabric to the rescue: Merino wool T-shirts. They’re quite expensive, but: According to the website they stay “clean and fresh no matter what you put it through … You can wear an Unbound Merino T-shirt every single day for weeks on end.”

I bought a 3-pack ($120, I think), and wore one of them (the black one with the V-neck) for about a week for a pre-trip, smell test.

“Susan, smell my armpit,” I said, holding the right one up to her nose. She flinched and turned away, as any normal human would do. “Come on, this is important, let me know if my T-shirt smells. Please.”

Susan eventually and reluctantly took a whiff and … said I didn’t smell. Well, that was a relief. For both of us.

So now, I bring two Merino wool T-shirts with me on a trip (I wear one and pack one) instead of six or seven regular Tees. That’s a huge saving of weight and bulk. I only wear my special Merino shirts on bike trips, so, hopefully, they’ll last for several more years. And, I only wear one for three or four days in a row before washing it in the sink or at the laundromat. I mean come on, common sense dictates they can’t last forever without acquiring a bit of an odor. There are limits, even with space-age fabrics.

FYI: Because they’re made of wool, be careful of moths when you store them at home. One of mine has acquired a small, moth-driven home right in the middle of the chest.

They now make lots of other clothing items out of Merino wool, including undies. I’m sticking with my EverLights for now. Wearing the same pair of underwear for three or four days, well, that’s just gross.

The Butt Balm/Sunscreen Solution

And this brings us back to the start and my butt balm/sunscreen mishap (see how I wove this all together, just like David Sedaris!). Which immediately made me think: Uh-oh, does butt balm prevent sunburn … and will sunscreen prevent chafing? And: Should I take a shower right now and start all over with the balm/sunscreen application? Probably. But I didn’t and rode without mishap or chafing.

Anyway, bringing an entire tube of butt balm and tube of sunscreen on a bike trip is way too extravagant and heavy. And so, at Target, in the travel section, I got a couple of small, plastic bottles. However, after I squeezed the balm and sunscreen – which are an identical white color – into their respective containers, one clear and the other pink, I immediately thought: How will I remember which one I put in which bottle? Uh-oh.

And then … a brilliant idea! Which you can see for yourself below … problem solved! Genius!

There you go, a few of my packing tips. There are so many more, but that’s enough for now. What about you? What secrets have you learned over the years to lighten the load? Let me know and I’ll do a follow-up post.

If you read this far: Thanks. And, you just might be a cycling fanatic. Here’s my recent post on the warning signs.

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Here’s the link to my Biking France books (Provence, Bordeaux, Normandy, the Loire and the Dordogne). I recently took all five off Amazon, iBooks and all the other eBook platforms because they took about 60 percent of the revenue. Now, thanks to even more tech advances, I can make them available as PDFs.

7 thoughts on “The Art of Bike-Trip Packing: Nothing Butt the Best & High-Tech Underwear

  1. Thanks for the tips. I’m planning my first big French cycling trip for next year, hopefully we will be allowed out by then, and don’t really know what I’m doing so great to read your blog

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      1. I’m planning on riding from Bordeaux to Séte on the Mediterranean. First following the Garonne canal to Toulouse then the canal du midi. Thinking of taking about 3 weeks so I can have lots of rest/exploring days. Hopefully by April/May next year covid restrictions will have eased and it will be possible. Im already in France so don’t have to worry about flights thankfully

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      2. That sounds like a nice route. I did part of the canal, from Langon (outside Bordeaux), about 50 miles. It’s great for a day or two, but I’m not sure about 3 weeks on to be on the canal and the same sort of ride every day. Let me know, I’m curious to hear. Thanks…

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  2. I’m a bit of a beginner so the flat canal paths will suit me well🙂 I have done some canal path rides in England that I enjoyed. I’ll put all the rides on my blog next year, but lots of planning to do first

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