Sarah Stirling | What to pack for biking the Carretera Austral
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What to pack for biking the Carretera Austral

What to pack for biking the Carretera Austral


“Hey, I like your bike!” – I got a few comments from bike-lovers for treating this old lady to an adventure in the Patagonian mountains. She’s a vintage Ridgeback (Ridgeback was the first company to manufacture mountain-bikes in the UK), christened the “Iron Maiden” thanks to a retro sticker on the frame, and decked out in Rob’s handmade waxed canvas pannier bags (custom orders welcome!). 

Classic MTB geometry is actually ideal for long distance cycle touring. No suspension means less weight and less to go wrong and the posture is comfy. Their fully rigid steel design is also ideal for gravel roads – steel gives more flex than aluminium and you’re more likely to find someone who can weld it if it breaks. You can pick these oldies up for bargain prices on eBay and give them a new lease of life! Rob replaced her bottom bracket, brakes, chainrings and chain. We put Marathon Mondial tyres on both our bikes – at 50mm these offered enough volume to be comfortable on gravel; they have a smooth centre line and tread on the sides for grip on the loose corners.


In a world of plastics and modern materials, Rob decided to make our pannier bags out of waxed canvas, which is woven in Dundee, Scotland. With their rigidity, folding top design and deeply impregnated wax, these bags have proved themselves as weatherproof as classic Ortlieb panniers. Rob fits them up with Ortlieb’s QL1 pannier rack attachments for their tried-and-tested German engineering.

Bike spares and tools

On a month-long trip, a bike with a fresh drive chain in good condition shouldn’t need much maintenance. However, it is useful if one of you can: adjust brakes, adjust gears, replace brake pads and gear/brake cables, change inner tubes, use a chain tool to fix broken chains. There are bike shops in Coyhaique and Chile Chico along the route.

2 brake pads each
6 spokes each
Spoke key (nipple twister)
Chain tool
Chain quick links
2 gear cables
2 brake cables
Bag of spare Allen bolts for pannier rack attachment
2 inner tubes
Small bike multi-tool
Hacksaw blade cut in half and a rag wrapped handle (came in useful for cutting out corroded spokes and reducing seat post height!)
Because my bike is retro – a set of three sockets for her bolts
Bottle of oil – dry lube
Bag of grease for greasing pedal axles and squeaky bits
Duct tape


A stove that runs on petrol and a fuel bottle (we used the MSR Whisperlite International). We passed just about enough petrol stations along the way – there aren’t many shops en route selling camping gas
2 saucepans
2 bowls
1 fork, 1 spoon, 1 sharp knife
Light & small chopping board
Spare ultralight screw-on gas canister stove in case our other one broke
Wooden spoon
Sandwich bags and pegs

Clothes – each

Good waterproof jacket
Good synthetic layer or light down jacket
Thin long sleeve top
T shirt (useful for covering burnt shoulders)
Underwear and socks (pack to own filth-level requirements)
Warm hat
Light gloves
Approach shoes or running shoes
2 pairs cycle shorts
Merino leggings
Hiking shorts
Base camp t shirt (to keep pleasantly sweat-free)
Light waterproof trousers

Other things

Phone – Pocket Earth app
We found maps for the route in local petrol stations
Water bottles
Notebook and pen, drawing pad
Twice as much cash as you think you’ll need – there’s sometimes 5 days between cash points
Spanish phrase book – Duo Lingo app also good – not many people speak English
30 litre hiking rucksacks


Camping mat
-10 sleeping bag
Wash kit
Trowel (for digging a hole if you need to poo in the wild – make sure it’s away from houses and watercourses!)

Basic first aid kit

Water tabs
Diarrhoea stoppers
Bug spray
Bug bite cream

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