Not sure what to pack for your cycle camping tour? Stephen Fox, author of Cycle Touring in France, has this checklist of things he always takes.
What you take on you cycling holiday of France will depend on the type of trip you are planning. If you are cycling independently, then you will find most of what's on the list below useful – especially if you are going for an extended period of time (i.e weeks rather than days). If you are going on a fully supported organised tour or a self-guided tour that comes with hotel-to-hotel baggage support, then you will be able to leave many of the items below – such as some of the bicycle repair tools – at home as they may be provided.
No matter what you do or do not end up taking, it's good to remember that France is well geared up for cycle tourism – even if you do forget something important, you will be able to pick it up en route in larger cities and towns and in the popular cycling areas.
Typical clothing list
• Waterproof, windproof, breathable jacket, preferably with pit-zips
• Waterproof, breathable overtrousers (both jacket and overtrousers should be lightweight and compact when stored away)
• Warm fleece/mid-layer fleece (depending on climate and tour; Berghaus)
• Fast-wicking cycling tops (Altura; white or light-coloured tops absorb less heat)
• Cycling shorts with chamois insert, or lightweight trousers that have 360º zips around the thighs so that they become shorts in hot weather (North Face)
• Comfortable cycling shoes, trainers or lightweight hiking boots with low-cut heel. I found the latter excellent in the Alps and Pyrénées (Hi-Tec), especially during mountain storms and trudging across wet campsites. On the other hand, in temperatures reaching 35ºC without a cloud in the sky, I did my Brittany tour in yachting deck-shoe style trainers with a high rubber rand above the sole
• Arm socks. Suffering from sunburn high in the Alps once, I cut the ‘toes’ off a pair of thin socks which protected my arms on a couple of climbs that offered little shade
• Cap/sunhat. Again, very useful on hot, sunny days in the saddle. Some caps also have neckerchiefs attached to Velcro strips inside the cap to protect the back of the head/neck. You may look like Lawrence of Arabia, but who cares if the sun is beating down on you on a relentless climb?
• Neck gear (for cold descents)
• Gloves (for cold descents and nights at altitude)
• Cycling mitts. Some people like them, some don’t
• Helmet. Again, a personal choice. On long, hard, hot climbs your head can get really hot, but then on long, snaking, slippery descents I was glad I brought it on the tour
• Sunglasses, or surround sunglasses if you wear spectacles (bowls retailers often stock them)
• Fibre-pile hat (for cold nights)
• Spare clothing
• Suncream and lipbalm
• Small first aid kit including painkillers for headaches and so on
• Pack-towel and shower gel
• Toothbrush and paste
• Small torch (eg Maglite)
• Camera, films/memory card and spare batteries
• Pen and notebook
• Swiss Army knife
• Pocket phrase book/dictionary
Photocopy all important documents and keep the photocopies separate from the originals. Make a note of credit card details.
• Compact bike pump
• Bike lock (cable locks are compact)
• Front and rear lights
• Multi-tool kit. There are many good, compact kits on the market. I always carry a Canyon Super Multi Tool kit which comprises 6 x Allen keys, 1 x small Philips/cross-head screwdriver, 1 x small flat blade screwdriver, 3 x socket set, 1 x multi spanner, 1 x spoke adjuster, 2 x tyre levers, tube repair patches/adhesive and file. This all fits in a compact pouch (with a belt loop) about the size of a pack of playing cards. Check the sizes of all Allen key bolts and other nuts and the like on your bicycle to determine the best multi-tool kit for you
• Spare inner tube
• Freewheel tool (for freewheel blocks if you need to replace spokes on freewheel side of back wheel). Most bicycles now have cassette blocks, which are easier to remove
• Two or three spare spokes with nipples (buy the right length, usually gauged in millimetres; tape these to the rear pannier rack where they won’t get bent or damaged)
• Spanner for wheel nuts, or adjustable spanner. Quick releases save time, but you will still need a spanner to hold the opposite nut if you have to remove a freewheel
• Spare gear and brake cable
• Chain tool
• ‘Third hand’ chain hook to hold the chain taut if you need to carry out repairs on it. You can make one out of a 10cm length of coat hanger wire; bend the ends so that they face each other, forming a U at each end
• Spare washers and spring washers
• Spare Allen key bolt
• Spare wheel nuts, nylstop nuts and valve nut
• Spare chain links
• Nylon cord (useful for all sorts of emergencies, and as a washing line!)
• Swarfega wipes or solvent-free hand-cleaning cream for removing chain oil from hands. Transparent gloves, often freely available at petrol stations, can also be donned during messy repairs
• Gaffer/duct tape
Camping kit list
• Sleeping bag. I would recommend a four-season sleeping bag for the Alps and Pyrénées. Although heavier and bulkier than a two- or three-season bag, you will definitely benefit from the extra warmth should the weather turn nasty and cold in the mountains. I took a three-season bag on the other tours in late spring or autumn, and a two-season bag plus liner for those in the summer. For some people a liner is often sufficient on its own if it’s a hot night; put together with the two-season bag it can make the difference between a comfortable night and a sleepless one if it turns chilly
• Self-inflating mattress or sleeping mat. Thermarest or similar makes of self-inflating mattresses pack down smaller than sleeping mats and are more comfortable on stony ground. However, the latter will never puncture!
• Tent. There are some very good, lightweight tents on the market. See Stephen Lord's guide to choosing a tent
• Cooking gear. An MSR petrol stove was used on most of my tours. See Stephen Lord's guide to buying camp stoves
• Cooking pans, sieve, cutlery, cup, biodegradable washing-up liquid and brush; salt and cooking oil in small, plastic containers/bottles
This is an extract from Stephen Fox's Cycle Touring in France, published by Cicerone. Stephen lives in deepest, darkest Dorset and can often be spotted cycling in the countryside surrounding Corfe Castle or canoeing down the Frome and around Poole Harbour. Cycle touring or canoeing in France is a must every year, so you might just spot him freewheeling past sunflower fields on his folding bike, or drifting down the Dordogne in his inflatable canoe. "Wonderful country, whatever your passion," he says.