This is specifically for all the lovely lady bikepackers out there. To those strong women who are thinking about or planning to embark on your first cycling adventure. Go you! We’re touching on the subject of packing as a female cyclist. HOW MUCH do you really need? WHAT do you really need? What are the essentials?
I’m not sure if you are having the same issues I had when doing research into long distance cycle/bikepacking/cycle tours but I seemed to run into the issue of only finding information regarding one thing for females specifically: menstration.
While this was indeed useful information, I did crave a little more knowledge for the other 21-28 days of the month when I would need to cycle as well.
My personal bikepacking story is a little different as I didn’t originally plan to cycle the whole of Vietnam, it was a spur of the moment decision and I had not planned nor packed properly for a cycle adventure. I was a little more cumbersome in the luggage department than I orginally would have been if the cycling was a part of the big picture for my travels… but that’s for another post: SEE GYPSY BLOOD CYCLE VIETNAM : THE WHOLE STORY.
But I’ll give you my rundown ( free of charge) of what I wish I had known before starting my first ever across country cycle.
The usual suspects (sex-nonspecific):
Upper body: Minimum two sports bra’s (that is a little sex-specific, but who knows if you are a more heavily breasted man in need of some extra support?) and two breathable tops. Get the quick drying kind. It will save you lots of grief. We found some places further north were a bit more damp, which meant our clothing didn’t dry as quickly as in the South. I learned to hang my damp things off the bike with a carabiner and they’ll eventually dry!
Weather depending: I was lucky weather wise as the cycle had perfect timing with the climate. I was gifted a poncho at our first hostel in Ho Chi Minh from a lad who had finished his motobike run of the country. You can buy a rain poncho almost anywhere in varying quality, from a thin garbage bag texture to a heafty plastic cape for 2 (vietnam is very ingeneous with their designs and as scooters and motorbikes rule the roads you can find so many options!) Now depending on the route you take and time of the year, like us, I only wore the rain poncho three times and used a sweater in Dalat for our 6am start (could see our breathe as we were up a mountain. It was cold). Like I said, I was quite lucky with the timing, you may not be! Be prepared!
Tootsies: No need for special cycle shoes. I did the whole country in flipflops, and have the tan lines to prove it. But regular comfy sneakers are fine, if you don’t mind a sock tan line! Personally, the sneakers I have were a bit pinchy for cycling 6-11 hours a day, hence the flip flops.
Sunnies:Don’t buy the cheapest ones. I’ve broken 3 and lost 1 pair so far. And the cheap ones you find just aren’t great quality.
SIDE NOTE: Have a change or two of clothes to wear once you’ve finished cycling for the day and have shower washed your bike gear. Or for those off days you are spending in a particular place to sight see. I kept these out of my big pack with a spare pair of undies so that on the days I didn’t need to unpack the whole bag or I want to leave it attached to my bike (if there’s secure bike lock-ups) I could still have a change of clothes!
Getting to the bottom of things: Padded cycling underwear/cycle shorts
As I was trying to keep costs on the cheap when starting to get things organized before the trip, I purchased a cheap pair of MENS small shorts at THE BIKE SHOP in Saigon, as they only had super tiny asian bum sizes for the female selection. Without cycling in them they seemed to fit me fine (I assumed the padding wouldn’t be too different between the cheeks).
However, as I went along cycling I realized that I had made a mistake. Both with the cheapness of the quality and the shape of the padding. Within the first 10 days the seams started unravelling and obviously found out that the padding was definately made for men ( it rubbed a few areas that weren’t super pleasant). Halfway through the trip I needed to remedy this. I luckily was in Danang by this point in a very well stocked bike shop and I purchased FEMALE cycling underwear.
Oh My. Female padding is definately differnet. I used them along with the original bike shorts as the quality of padding in the shorts had significanly flattened and I couldn’t really ride the rest of Vietnam in my new cycle undies. The scandal that would have been! The undies helped. They helped so incredibly much.
Another tip: this was given to me near the start of the cycle journey by a fellow female traveller I had met who was cycling Thailand: Don’t cycle with regular undies on (unless its that time of the month then you can use your period panties!) I 100% endorse it.
Underwear: purchased in Danang: https://dngbike.com/quan-ngan-nu-sobike-underwear
Keeping it clean:
This is a quick note on dual purpose items and keeping your pack small. Keep a bar or two of fragrance free gentle soap. Any brand will do. Most hotels/homestays/hostels will have packets of body wash and shampoo, and the individually packed bars of soap but most are strongly scented, harsh chemicals or whitening. Fine for getting the grim off the majority of your bod and for shower washing your biking clothes but not great for the lady bits. Treat them nice they’ve taken a beating with all the cycling you do. Keep them in a ziplock bag for quick easy storage
What to do with your doo:
Unless you need purple shampoo, leave it behind. Like I said before, most hotels/hostels will have standard shampoo, even if they don’t any convienience store or market will sell individual packs of it. BUT they will not have conditioner. I brought a huge jar of my favourite hair conditioner mask and it lasted me almost 4 months of travel. But it was a laughably impractical size and the fact that when it was getting low I couldn’t easily downsize the container was super annoying. I would highly recommend the bar conditioners from Lush. I would have packed one as a backup but thought my hair mask would last longer! Much more practical option for both cycling and travelling in general.
Some (it’s rare) hotels/hostels have hair dryers. But to be fair I never used them as I kepy the hair out of the way with braids the whole time. You can pack a small travel one, but you may find it’s just a big waste of wieght and space in your bag. Personal preference.
Just so you’re prepared for toilet time I snapped a few of the NICER chambers you’ll see if you are choosing to go the Vietnam route. I can not vouch for other countries commodes. But I do have a few thoughts on this less blogged about subject when it comes to female travels: The Shewee ( and other handy Female Urination devices), embracing the bum gun, practicing for the squatty pottys, bugs & buckets .
So I bought my own personal FEMALE URINATION DEVICE and to be fair I’ve used it 2 times. Both in areas where I couldn’t finds a toilet, I hadn’t judged my hydration levels properly and there wasn’t any good cover for a quick pants down, squatting wee. To be fair most of the time there are gas stations with free washrooms sometimes with actual toilets, some with squatty potty holes in the ground which I could have used my device for, but forgot I had it. Generally, I had been biking hard enough or it’s hot enough that I keep an eye on the water intake and I sweat out most of it rather than peeing.
More importantly than a Shewee, I would highly recommend :
- A spare loo roll, hand sanitizer, period things and baby wipes in a baggy that is easy access on your bike.
- Practicing squatting to do the buisiness
- Learning the in’s & outs of the bum gun
- Getting mentally strong for the states most bathrooms you will be in
- Figuring out that if the bathroom has a tap and/or a bucket, you’re manually flushing it
You will most likely not have toilet paper in any bathroom while cycling (at least in vietnam), there may be a working sink, but no soap. You may be lucky and have the option of a bum gun in some restrooms (but always make sure you give them a test squirt before putting them in range!) You may have to perfect a squat over a high or low toilet depending on the cleanliness of the place.
Thankfully, in my experience, you’ll rarely have to number two anywhere if you’re in a calorie defiect. You’re body will be in peak condition using what you eat as fuel for the cycle (that is if the nutrition is done properly and you are cycling almost everyday like I was!)
A side dish of TMI for you: I was having massive issues with local food for most of my 3 months in the country, so I did personally have to tweak the diet/food sources so that I didn’t have to emergency stop at the nearest toilet. You can read about how I combatted this HERE!
The bloody most talked part:
Well I can’t just well leave it out.
What us ladies need to pack to make the best of being a woman.
Mestrual cups: I’m a fairly new convert to these and let’s be honest: I ADORE them. Can’t feel it at all when cycling, AT ALL.
T he brand I used was called Atheena and I have 2 for those heavier days where I get a bit paranoid and I have to do a quick change in a gas station toilet and I have the Meeeno collapsible silicone cup you can throw the used cup into (after a quick spray with the bum gun) to deep clean later with warm soapy water.
Period panties: I didn’t pack any and haven’t had any experiences with them personally, but I would have bought a pair or two for peace of mind as I personally find I leaked a little on the heaviest days of my period with the cup and a 7-10 hour day of cycling. (most reviews people don’t leak with the cup so maybe I’m oddly shaped in there?) I used panty liners but regreted not just getting a pair before we left!
Menstrual flex disc: I have used these in the past and only down side is that it’s not reusable.
But just the same. Super comfy for physical activity, like cycling. One extra benefits of this bad boy is that you can have sex with them without mess while on your period. Good for all those white hotel sheets you will experience cycling.
SIDE NOTE: Sheets. Why are they always white?? Menstration aside I always spill/smear/squash mosquitoes or drip mango juice on these white bed sheets, even when I am being super careful andthen feel bad for the person who does the laundry! I get it. They’re easy to bleach, but what about those clumsy folks who use the beds too? **
The rest of your gear is up to you (but you can read more about what I brought for the rest of the gear HERE). The key I found was that you need way less than you think. You can always buy a new outfit or a bit of makeup at the end of your journey but make sure your essentials are packed and you’ll be fine!