I have been asked a couple of times recently about my French Divide setup, so I thought I would share it here. Also, packlists are a recurring theme in writing about bikepacking. It’s primarily a first world activity after all. So I thought I might as well share my two Rappen (the equivalent of cents in Switzerland), and the point my packing has arrived at for these long-distance events.
My French Divide setup was on the portly side compared to the three guys who finished before me. But it is, in most ways, as minimalist as I was willing to go. Staying healthy and finishing were my top priorities. And yes, I brought a camera.
Josh Kato posted his rather “heavy” winning Tour Dive packlist a while back where he mentioned that “peace of mind goes a long way”. I feel the same way - some things might cost me a couple of grams, but knowing that I have some options when life gets miserable are worth it to me in the end.
I definitely draw the line at sleeping in my cycling clothes inside a bivy bag with no sleeping bag or mat for days. Some guys might just be more robust than me in this regard - I have come to known my body, we can achieve amazing things together, but deprive me of sleep quality, and things go downhill quite fast.
Thus, without further ado.
Salsa Fargo Ti 2012
At some point I might write the longest ever, 5-year review about this bike and the transformations it has gone through. But the bottom line is, it is the bike that got me into bikepacking, and if I could only have one bike, it would be the one.
Important component choices:
- Hope stuff: There is a lot of Hope stuff on the bike. It is a personal preference, but their stuff is really bomb-proof and in my opinion, while still boutique, better value for money than super-boutique stuff like Chris King, or ultralight XTR dongles. It took me 5 years of working as a bike messenger to work this out. But I will not go back as long as they keep up this level of quality.
- Tires: Maxxis Nano 2.1 tubeless tires. Going tubeless - just do it. I saw so many guys struggling with flats while I just stopped, turned the wheel and re-inflated. I will not lose too many words about tire choice. In my opinion, people worry to much about it (including myself). Events like the French Divide are so long and varied that it seems it just comes down to what kind of disadvantage you prefer. Pick a burly, knobby tire and drag along on the pavement. Pick a slick cross-country race tire and crash on a muddy descent.
- Wheels: NoTubes Crests laced to Hope Pro 4 Hubs. I chose the super-light Crests because I am quite lightweight myself. In hindsight, I might have gone with the slightly burlier Arch Ex rims. The additional piece of mind might have been worth it. Still, I broke two spokes after two thirds of the course and finished without replacing them. This speaks volumes about the strength of modern aluminum rims.
- Brakes: TRP Spykes - after years of fiddling with Avid BB7s, I “upgraded” to these brakes. Honestly, the fiddling continues. At some point I will bite the hydro bullet, I think. I still like the thought of easily repairing a brake cable mid-race - But then, I have not had to do so in many years and never had an issue with hydraulic systems on other bikes. Maybe it’s time to move on.
- Hope crankset with Hope bottom bracket. Super stiff and no fuss. The proprietary technology involved in the crankset is a bit of a shame though, as removing it can only be done with a special tool. Good luck finding one in the French countryside. However, I trusted the Hope stuff enough that I was willing to take the risk.
- Transmission: Here, things get interesting, or slightly wacky, depending on where you stand. I really like bar end shifters for their simplicity and invincibility. And I also like 9-speed Shimano XT rear mechs for the same reasons. They have gotten me through many ugly winters working as messenger in Zurich. On top of that, I like single ring setups (or hate front mechs, to put it another way). Thus I run a 1x10 setup on my Fargo, with a 11-40 cassette in the back (the 40T provided by a Hope T-Rex expander ring). It works with the 9-speed derailleur if you set the bar ends to friction shifting. In the front, I ran either a 34T or 28T ring on a One Up Componets Switch system spider that allows you to switch rings in about one minute with an allen key you will carry anyway. The 28T ring was a godsend for these mountain days. It’s an easily repairable, affordable, and reliable system, which has yet to let me down.
- Aerobars: I would not do a long event without them. Not only for the speed, but also for the additional hand positions they provide. I find them oddly comfortable, so much that I sometimes feared falling asleep on them.
- Saddle: Brooks Cambium C17. I found one used at a bike parts sale, else the high price might probably have prevented me from ever getting one. However, now I am saving money to get one for all of my bikes. It’s vegan and looks good, but most importantly, it really suits me. So much, that I even rode long stretches without bibs (while drying them in the sun), and never had any saddle sores.
First Aid Kit
- Band aids
- Thermometer: I think this is really useful to quickly self-diagnose yourself if you start feeling wobbly at some point
- Light pain killers
- 2.5 and 5 allen keys
- Chain tool
- 2 missing links
- Tire levers
- Spoke wrench
- Lezyne HV Drive pump with gorilla and insulation tape wrapped around
- Replacement brake and shifter cables
- Rag to clean chain
- Chain lube
- Tubeless repair kit
- A single lightweight spare tube
Water and eating
- Swiss army knife
- 2 x Klean Kanteen 0.8l stainless steel water bottles (I like the taste of water).
Shelter/ Sleeping (an Exped story)
- Old Exped Hummingbird down sleeping bag: No complaints, have had this one for years. It’s falling apart now, but that just means it is getting lighter.
- Exped Mira 1 Hyperlite Tent without inner tent: A great tent, with or without the inner tent. Without the inner tent it is basically a quickly set up, very lightweight tarp. Still, the next time, I would just not bother to bring a tent or tarp, as I used it only on two out of nine nights. I always found spots in barns, foie gras exhibition booths and other strange places.
- Exped SynMat UL with Schnoozel bag: I have gone through many Exped mats over the years, but keep coming back to them because a) the guys at Exped are nice people and b) I like how they are thick, long and lightweight at the same time. You pay for it with a certain tendency for them to fail it seems, but I have come to accept this. The Schnoozel bag is an awesome concept that deserves mentioning, a drybag that doubles as a way to inflate your mat.
- Etrex 30x: I like its simplicity and it served me well for navigating. However, I do not know if I would continue to recommend it, given it failed me on a wet ride a couple of weeks after the French Divide.
- Fuji X100T: I love this little camera, but saddly broke it during a particularly rainy day in the Massive Centrale. I got a used X70 as a replacement, but it’s just not the same.
- USB-Charger for the cell phone, camera and lights
- Cell phone (mostly turned off), with Locus Pro App as backup navigation. Locus Pro really is the best GPS app there is in my opinion, if you can get past the graphics and somewhat steep initial learning curve.
- Spot Tracker
- Lots of AA and AAA batteries. I never had a dynamo powered charging system, as carrying batteries seems cheap, light and reasonable to me. Besides, I do not like riding at night too much anyways.
- Sigma CatEye rear light
- B&M front light: Not the most powerful one, but it got me through some short night rides
- Headlamp: The one that got me to the finish
- 3-4 Ski straps: You cannot have too many of them
- Small cotton gym bag for excess food: Sylvain, the winner of the event, coincidentally used the same tactic. Having a medium-sized frame can be a challenge when it comes to transporting a lot of food, and carrying a little hipster bag you can fill with baguette and chips in the evening worked very well to alleviate it.
- Toilet paper
- Bell: More useful on the Camino de Santiago than I would have thought.
- Toothbrush/ toothpaste
Worn on the bike
- The thinnest, most used bib shorts I had in my closet
- Mavic Crossmax Pro H2O shoes
- TripleTwo Kamsool Wind Vest
- M-Budget sport socks
- Arm warmes (bought along the way)
- Reflective Vest
- A beautiful jersey
- Patagonia TorrentShell Jacket: It’s not very breathable and not super waterproof but packs down super small and keeps the rain away in light downpours. When the water really comes down, you cannot do anything anyway in my experience (short of carrying the sort of protection you would not want to bring to a bike race), so I erred on the side of portability.
- OR Helium rain pants
- 1 pair of short socks
- 1 pair long socks
- 1 pair of boxer shorts
- long Merino shirt
- Marmot synthetic insulation puff jacket
- 3 buffs
- Pillow liner to stuff with clothes (my guilty pleasure :))