Every time I begin packing for a bicycle tour I end up obsessing over the weight of the gear that I am taking with me. From reading online forums, newsgroups and mailing lists I know that I am not unique in my fixation.
What is interesting for me is that before and during the early days of a tour I really do care about every last ounce of weight loaded on the bike yet by the time a week or two has passed the weight has become very much a fading concern. It's not unusual to find a touring cyclist who originally carried small little peanut butter packages on the bike at the start of a tour upgrading to a bulk sized barrel of peanut butter by the end.
The reality is that as we pedal we adjust to the weight situation. Our muscles strengthen and eventually we reach a point where the extra weight is usually only notiiced when accelerating from a complete stop. This isn't to say that packing heavy won't lead to earlier fatigue then an unloaded bicycle especially if the planned route contains lots of hills, mountains, headwinds and other challenging conditions.
Just before leaving on a tour seems to be my favourite time to look into new gear. This is likely the result of the excitement that every new tour generates. The excitement combines with the weight obsession to produce a strong interest in ultralight stuff.
The first thing I would do is consider the percentage of weight that the item to be replaced represents for the overall packed weight. Usually the heavier items include shelter, sleeping bags, cooking gear and repair equipment. Photography equipment can occassionally be in this category as well especially if you carry a SLR and some lenses.
If my overall packed weight was 50 pounds and my heaviest items were a tent at 10 pounds and a bulky sleeping bag at 6 pounds then those two items along account for 32% of the packed weight. If I replaced the tent with a hammock weighing 2 pounds and grabbed a summer sleeping bag weighing 2 pounds then I've just reduced the overall packed weight by 14 pounds. I've also significantly reduced bulk and this will usually result in much better wind flow around the bike.
A camp stove can also be quite heavy so taking a moment to look at your cooking gear and making similar replacements should result in a smaller lot to cart around. There are a lot of ultralight stoves available especially for hikers and canoeists. Compare the differences in how gear is carried by a hiker or a canoeist versus a bicycle touring cyclist and you will likely understand why participants of these other two activities really focus on gear weight.
When considering the changes I recommend always placing reliability and usefulness for the weather conditions at a much higher level of importance then the actual weight of the items. Experiencing a cold night without sleep due to a sleeping bag that's rated for summer temperatures is not likely to be considered fair compensation for saving a pound or two of weight.
A quick look around the web will reveal lots of gear that is marketed as Ultralight. Some of it has a place on a bicycle tour.
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