12 Pieces Of Gear I Wouldn’t Go Without In The Andes – Ryan Wilson

12 Pieces Of Gear I Wouldn’t Go Without In The Andes
Photos and words by Ryan Wilson

In a little over a year’s worth of time on the road in the Andes, I’ve had the chance to really put my gear through some serious torture. Luckily, the vast majority of it has stood the test of time, but there are some pieces that have really stood out as items I’ll have in my setup for a long time to come. Obviously, some of this comes down to personal preference and the type of riding you’re doing, so it’s not one-size-fits-all, but the majority of these would work well with just about any type of bikepacking/touring…

Sea-to-Summit Ultralight Insulated Mattress

When you’re spending this much time sleeping outside, the mattress pad that keeps you off of that cold ground is about as important as anything in your whole setup. After tossing around a couple of other popular options and waking up in the middle of the night to the cold embrace of the ground far too many times, I made the switch to this Sea-to-Summit Insulated mat and haven’t looked back. It’s a bit noisy when rubbing against the tent floor, but the durability, easy valve system, comfort, stability (no flopping around like you’re on a pool-float!), and packability make this a must for me.

Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter

Having gone through my fair share of water contamination issues during my previous visit to the Andes, I knew I needed to step my game up a bit in the filter department. This Platypus filter system has put up with plenty of torture, dealing with the murky rivers of the Peruvian rainy season and the salty springs in southern Bolivia. Filtering via gravity also helps when you’re tired from a long day on the bike and and don’t want to deal with the pumping or pushing water through manually that comes with many systems. Of course, this comes with one drawback as it can be tough to find trees to hang it from to do its thing when you’re at altitude in the Andes!

Porcelain Rocket Zipper-less Frame Bag

While zips are handy for quick and easy access, I’ve seen first-hand what happens to zippers after only a couple of weeks in the dry and dusty desert. This zipper-less bag from Porcelain Rocket avoids any of those complications and as a side benefit, allows you to jam-pack it full of supplies for those outings where you need every bit of space you can muster. The new waterproof versions look even better!

Outlier Climber Pants

With the weather constantly in flux in the Andes and the altitude driving temperatures down, I have found myself riding in my Outlier climbers about 99% of the time. They’re comfortable, lightweight enough to wear when it gets a bit warm, they dry fast, clean easily, and most importantly they’re bomb-proof. One or two trips to a local sastreria (tailor) to reinforce the stitching, but otherwise they take an impressive beating without falling apart.

Goosefeet Down Socks

If you’re at all like me, the first thing that gets cold during those sub-freezing nights in the tent are your feet. These down socks pack down to next to nothing and make a big difference. How much do I like them? Well, I had one launch off of a cliff one windy morning in Bolivia and I immediately got a new (even thicker!) pair sent down. Note: Mine are the 10D versions with +75% fill (I’d recommend the extra fill!).

Garmin / InReach Satellite Messenger

A little of peace of mind when you’re spending so much time alone in the wilderness. It’s good to know it’s there just in case a situation comes up… whether it’s injury, illness, or catastrophic mechanical. I chose this over the classic Spot messenger since it opens up the option for 2-way communication to really explain a situation, which I find far more valuable than a pure SOS beacon in any scenario other than a full-on emergency.

Plus Tires

It’s pretty simple. Plus tires are just more fun when you’ve got a preference for dirt roads and trails. Their importance also increases dramatically as you add weight to the bike. I’ve been riding 27.5×2.8 Maxxis IKON’s and now 27.5×3.0 Maxxis Chronicles (Tubeless), and would never consider going smaller for this kind of riding. Not only do plus tires open up loads of route opportunities, they also make long days on rough roads more comfortable (not to mention easier on your gear!), and are only a mild annoyance if you get stuck on a paved road for a little while.

GAIA GPS

Definitely my favorite of the GPS apps that I’ve tried out. It’s simple to map routes out and send them to the phone, plus there are a variety of map overlays to pick from. This has fully replaced my standard Garmin-style setup for mapping purposes, and allows for more flexibility in switching up my route while I’m already out in the middle of nowhere.

Edelrid Hexon Stove

Being able to cook using just about any type of liquid fuel imaginable is important when you’re in a place like Bolivia, where clean fuel is nearly impossible to find. White Gas, Diesel, Unleaded, Kerosene, or even canisters are all good on the Edelrid, and it takes no work to switch back and forth. While there are plenty of quality stoves out there that do this from a variety of brands, this one was the most compact I found, which allows it to easily stow inside my 1.1L pot (inside a cloth bag and plastic bag to keep my oatmeal from tasting like gasoline of course!)

Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2

Before leaving for this trip I told myself that I definitely didn’t want to be trying to slither into some tiny sleep chamber every night for a year or more. For that reason I decided to pick up something with a bit more “luxury” in the form of headroom, floorspace, and big side doors for easy access no matter where I end up. I still wanted it to be lightweight, and at around 3lbs, the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 fit the bill perfectly.

SRAM Eagle X01

All (or most) of the range of a double with the simplicity of 1X. I was rolling with 11-speed for my first leg of the tour, but switched to 12 for the last nine months and have never looked back. It has held up through all of the mud, clay, sand, etc, and shifts as smooth as the day I bought it.

Jones H-Bar

A revelation in comfort for me. My wrists have never really gotten along with long days on flat bars, and unless you’re rolling some of those ginormous Crust bars, it can be tough to fit gear between drops. After spending so much time on the H-Bar over the last year, I couldn’t see myself going back.

Have any personal favorites? Leave them in the comments below!

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  • I used the Garmin InReach during my two weeks in Death Valley. One of my favorite features is the weather forecast. The two-way texting is great too! $40 a month for 40 texts is not bad, considering the peace of mind your loved ones feel, knowing you’re safe.

    • We bought an inReach after making use of the borrowed one on the “Weather Be Damned” trip. We don’t have to use it very often, but it comes with us whenever we’re going out of cell range, including mountain bike rides. We leave it on the basic ~$20/mth plan.

    • benreed

      I’ve been thinking about getting a Spot and that sounds way better.

      • I bought a Spot and then sold it after seeing the Inreach.

        • benreed

          Looks like they also have plans that don’t require an annual contract. This would be a 2-3 times a year kind of thing so that’s good.

          • You can also upgrade/downgrade/deactivate the plan through the online account at any time. So you could in theory leave it dormant except when you go out, and at that point do the unlimited plan.

          • benreed

            That’s good. It’s hard to get dangerously out of cell phone range in the Midwest so it’s really not that necessary most of the time. But I do tend to wander out into the mountains by myself from time to time so I should probably get one.

  • Smithhammer

    Thx for the tip on Goosefeet – that’s exactly what I’ve been looking for, for a reasonable price.

  • Excellent insight into what you’ve been carrying! Do you carry any type of chemical water purification as back up or an alternative to filtering when not necessary?

    • I’ve had some tablets floating around in a pouch for a year and a half, but I’ve never actually used them! More of a just-in-case my filter breaks entirely type of scenario.

      I’ve actually had my filter freeze overnight and not work for a couple hours in the morning, but now it gets to snuggle with me inside the sleeping bag when I know it’s going to dip down well below freezing lol

      • Howell Moffett

        Watch out- when those fiber filters freeze, it can silently damage the filter element & compromise protection.

  • stevenorstrom

    Would love to get a pair of the outlier’s but looks like they’re out of stock! Anyone know of something comparable?

    • Mission Workshop’s Division… https://missionworkshop.com/collections/pants-shorts When I lost weight and the Climbers were too big – and were out of stock – I got the Divisions. Wore them for two weeks straight in Iceland and on numerous bicycle tours / outings. Great fit and great material. Plus, lifetime warranty.

      • benreed

        +1 on the divisions. The only thing is that they are pretty thin so you’ll want to wear something under them if it’s cold.

    • George

      The OG Classics are the same material. While they look a little dressier than the Climbers, I wear mine everywhere and they’re awesome. I enjoy the Futureworks too!

  • Andrew Bearman

    Great tips. Which 44bikes frame is that?

  • Lucien Chardon

    I wonder whether the choice for 27.5+ over of 29+ is by coincidence, intentional, or just matter of accesibility. I’ve always thought 29+ would be superior in long distance bikepacking, especially over flat-ish terrains.

    • Yeah, I don’t really have enough experience with 29+ to really compare. I assumed they’d both be good for what I’m looking for riding-wise. I liked the idea of 27.5+ offering a little bit more clearance for gear. A lot can be tweaked during the design of the frame to help with room, but things like clearance for my fuel bottle and the stuff I have attached to my rear bag at times might become an issue with 29+. Also, since this is the only bike I own, I liked that I could potentially switch to a smaller 29er wheel/tire and keep the geometery relatively similar to where it is now if I ended up wanting to do some totally different kind of riding on it at some point.

  • mat long

    What’s the story behind those Nalgene cages?

    • I lost one of my Klean Kanteens and figured it was time to upsize for the desert anyways, so I had these custom made by a steel worker in La Paz, Bolivia! They weigh a ton but were something like $5-6 a piece (and a couple cervezas) and have been good for the last 6 weeks or so!

      • mat long

        Thought so; very unique. I ask because I’ve been wrestling with trying out the Velo Orange Nalgene cages vs. Blackburn outpost with Voile strap…seems like someone else would be making a Nalgene cage…

  • Damn this is such a valuable post dude! Thank you Ryan (and John) for this writeup!!!

  • Ryan, you find that Sea to Summit pad is warm enough for the cold nights? I tend to sleep really cold and my current pad, a Big Agnes Q-Core SLX, is said to have about the same R-value as yours (3.2-3.3). This winter I’m updating my sleep system to try to stay warmer at night (I’m pretty cold even at 30f right now). Thinking NeoAir Xtherm is part of that, at 5.7 R-value…

    • Oh, and some of those sweet-ass down booties!

    • For me it is, but I don’t mind it a little cold when I sleep (I only have a 32F sleeping bag, and it gets down into the 15-20 range some nights here). I was only cold from the ground one night during the rainy season in Peru when it had been raining for about a week straight, and I was sleeping at 15,200ft. I sunk into the soft ground a little in the early evening and then it froze into ice-mud in all of the little “pockets” under the mattress pad overnight.

      Before I settled on this one, I actually bought the X-Therm and this Sea-to-Summit and spent a night on each of them just on the floor inside the house. The X-Therm had me sweating in about 10 minutes, so that might be the way to go for you! Still packs down to a pretty similar size too! I just really felt it was easier for me to sleeping on the S2S. Something about the therm-a-rest design makes me feel like it’s trying to push me off the sides, and the valve on the S2S makes inflating/deflating so easy.

    • I’ve used that pad down to 6°F… it’s surprisingly warm. I’ve heard of folks putting Sol reflective emergency blankets underneath for added Rs…

      • The S2S or the NeoAir? The emergency blanket is a good idea too!

    • I’ve had both the NeoAir and the Sea-to-Summit and highly recommend the Sea-to-Summit. It’s not as warm but it’s warm enough (and you can always
      add to your sleep system.) My problem with the NeoAirs is they’re all too thick for their widths. If you’re at all broad shouldered your arms will hang completely off the sides and at least in my case I woke up every morning with them asleep. They just hang too far below your chest/back.

      The other benefit of the Sea-to-Summit is the valve. I’ve never had an inflatable pad inflate or fully deflate as fast as it. It takes just seconds.

      • Andrew Quagliariello

        try putting your shoes under your elbows

  • mat long

    This got me looking at the booties as well; seems like desert nights the feet are the first to go; for the weight/packability these are a no brainer, any idea how these stack up to the Montbell?

    • Richard Brown

      the trouble with booties is that for off the bike use, which is when your feet get cold, they destroyed pretty quickly

      on my last tour (which involved some very cold, wet days) had a pair of ultralight gore tex salomon trainers for off the bike, and had them half a size larger than normal so that a couple of pairs of thick warm socks would fit inside without being squashed

      another handy tactic for the evenings when outside the tent is to pop your feet inside a dry bag/pannier filled with clothes, a blanket or sleeping bag

      • Eric Persha

        Goosefeet has water proof over-booties for walking around camp and a number of other companies make a version of these with reinforced soles for walking around. I’ve never had to use them on a bike trip, but they are very useful on backcountry ski tours and winter camping.

  • Richard Brown

    I would add an vacuum flask to this list… the ability to quickly make a hot drink or wash in the morning without firing up the stove is a god send when it’s really cold

    MSR bladders (not sure about platypus) can also be filled with hot water and kept in your sleeping bag with you for reaaally cold nights

    • the MSR Bladders are so good!

    • Oh yeah! I do that all the time! Definitely a life saver when it’s super cold.

      • Logan Groves

        Oppositely, on those hot summer nights when its too sticky to fall asleep (out east with the humidity) I use cold MSR bladder as a pillow.

  • Justin Kee

    what are the chances of a post going through all of your gear?

    • I’ll probably do that at the end of the whole trip!

  • ben

    Great post Ryan. Thank you. I’m pretty new to bikepacking but just did a 9 day trip in the Sierras and had a blast. Question for you: do you feel good relying solely on your phone for navigation in such remote places? Also, keeping it charged via a dynamo I assume? I have an older Etrex 20 that works great and uses AA’s so easy to find replacements when needed. But my dynamo can’t keep my iphone charged if I’m using it with screen constantly on in order to navigate. Wonder how that works for you?

    Thanks and keep these fantastic posts coming!

    Best,

    b
    e
    n
    allen

    • We travel with a couple USB battery banks (Goal Zero Venture 30) and charge them up before we head off into the wilderness. For us the dynamos are primarily for lights, but we do leave a battery plugged in to trickle charge while we ride. We don’t do a significant amount of electronic backcountry navigation so power hasn’t been a problem for us with this setup. Good question for Ryan about Gaia and battery life, though.

      • ben

        Morgan

        Are you primarily relying on a paper map then?

        b
        e
        n

    • I have two 10,000mah power banks that I try to charge up in towns before heading out for significant lengths of time without electricity. Though my needs are a bit higher than usual with 6 camera batteries, etc.

      In Peru and some parts of Bolivia it can be tough to get much out of the hub because of how slow you’re going so much of the time. Though it has been a bit easier the last month or so with more sections are that a bit less steep so I’m able to charge my powerbanks with the hub and not get too close to running out even when I have 10-12 days in a row.

      Worth noting though that I keep my phone in airplane mode and battery saver mode plus leave it with the screen off in my pocket. So some days I only lose 10-15 percent or so.

      • ben

        Thanks Ryan. Yeah, that makes sense. I did the same on my trip and then my brand new dynamo failed on day 5, so I only had a few charges available on the power bank!

        b
        e
        n

  • Bailey Gene Newbrey

    Gravity works filter is the only filter I use.

  • Zac

    Son Dynamo hub and dynamo lights.

  • Hey Ryan, do you use your phone (GAIA) to record your routes as well?
    How’s the battery charging issue?

    • Nope, I don’t record routes anymore. For the gpx tracks on here I just recreate them at the end. Otherwise I’d be eating through the battery far too often. Now I can charge the phone every couple days and it’s OK as long as I’m just opening it for maps ocassionally and leaving it in airplane mode.