Tour Aotearoa: Gear Tour


Our tired legs finish the last pedal stroke and coast to the campsite office to check-in. My dad and I had just arrived at the Opal Hotsprings campground after riding 110 km. The receptionist laughs as we ask for a camp site close to a picnic table or tree so we can tie our tarp up as we don’t have tents. We are given a spot with a dead tree in the middle. It will do for one corner but we have to get creative for the others. We use both of my 29 inch wheels, propped up on an angle under the tarp to lift the other two corners. The last corner is pinned to the ground to drain any dew or rain.

The weather is mild and calm so we camp only with our tarp between us and the stars. Day 9 of the Tour Aotearoa: done.

Tarp camping is cold, since you’re directly exposed to the air, and it also means that you are covered in dew in the morning. It’s not the nicest feeling to wake up in the morning, and undo your zip to lay your hand on the outside of your cold, soaked sleeping bag. Most nights that we camped, I had to use my small emergency bivvy so I could stay warm enough - even though my sleeping bag is “comfort level -2”…apparently I’m a cold sleeper. On the up side, we didn’t have to carry a tent (mostly because we didn’t have room to pack a tent), which saved us a lot of weight, energy and hassle.

We camped most nights on the North Island since the weather was warmer. For camping, we had our light-weight tarp, some thin rope, thermarests, sleeping bags, and bivvy sacs. On the North Island, I actually carried an MSR universal camp stove as well, but only used it once since most of the campsites we stayed in had a communal kitchen area. I ended up ditching the stove in Nelson to save space and weight.


The two of us had very different bikes which provided some interesting comparisons. I was riding a super light 2014 Santa Cruz Highball - a hardtail 29er. I had Ikon 2.3 tyres on carbon Ibis rims which probably gave me one of the biggest advantages on gravel, dirt trail and hill climbs. My dad was on a Kona hardtail with skinnier 27.5 tyres, which meant he sank into the sand on the first day riding across 90 Mile Beach (also due to the weight of his panniers on his rear wheel), but he absolutely crushed me on flat road.

My gear set up on the bike looked quite different from my dad. Here’s what I carried:

Blackburn Handlebar bag:
- Summit Sleeping bag
- Thermarest
- Arcteryx puffy jacket
- Tarp
- Bivvy sac
Blackburn Seatpost bag:
- Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, moisturiser, sunscreen, butt butter, bug repellent, deodorant, razor, nail clippers, ear plugs and toilet paper)
- Electronics (phone charger, GPS charger, GoPro charger, spare battery)
- Spare warm clothes mostly for sleeping (cotton T-shirt, merino long johns, wool socks, underwear, long sleeve thermal top and rain pants)
- Head lamp
- Pack towel
Small Blackburn Frame Bag:
- Spare tools and bike bits (shift cable, electrical tape, swiss army knife, zip ties, a tyre puncture and tube repair kit and my OneUp pump with a multi-tool
- Food (typical food items included bananas, avocados, oranges, apples, dark almond chocolate and chia seeds/oatmeal, pitas, vegan cheese)
TopTube Bag:
- Massive bag of snacks (nuts, dried fruit, chocolate, sweets)
- GoPro
Small 18L Osprey riding pack:
- Water bladder (2L)
- Journal
- Phone

My dad on the other hand, had rear panniers, and a small handlebar bag which carried all his items. This worked too but it meant that instead of having the weight spread around his bike, it was all on his back tyre.

Other note-worthy pieces of gear: I had Soma osprey bars (sweep-back bars), which made a world of difference for my wrists. Having them in a more neutral position and with so many angles to move around on was great. Lots of people get nerve damage from too much pressure on their palms from riding long distances. My dad had aerobars which he used quite frequently to take weight off his hands (his hands often went numb from the pressure and vibrations). We also both had clip-in pedals and shoes which meant we could use the upstroke of our foot rotation to keep us rolling and engage all our leg muscles instead of just the quads from pushing down (as most people do on flat pedals).

Lake Rotoiti, South Island, NZ

Lake Rotoiti, South Island, NZ

Overall, we both did our research quite well and were happy with our set ups. I would gladly ride my exact set up again in a heartbeat. It got us through the many days of riding the length of New Zealand, all 3000km of it, as well as the beautiful and dewy starry nights under our tarp.

A big thank you goes out to Gravity Nelson, who helped me out with the Santa Cruz Highball which was absolutely perfect for the Tour Aotearoa. I look forward to my next bike-packing adventure.

Skye Irwin2 Comments