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…
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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!