Sunday, April 30, 2006

Kit list for cycling the Tibetan Plateau

Rob Thompson asked about my overshoes, which prompted me to go on at some length about the kit I had with me.

I reproduce the list here, in case anyone else might find it helpful, or interesting, or both, or neither.

My full cold-weather clothing list was as follows (bottom to top):

1 x thin pair socks
1 x thick pair of socks
1 x pair of Shimano cycling shoes (falling apart)
1 x pair of nylon windproof overshoes (make a huge difference to foot temperature - cold feet, physical and psychological, can be biggest obstacle to severe cold-weather riding)

2 x pairs thermal long-johns
1 x fleece trousers
1 x windproof overtrousers (not normally necessary when actually cycling - the legs tend to keep themselves fairly warm.)

2 x long-sleeved thermal vests
1 x cycling shirt
1 x woollen army jumper
2 x windproof fleece jackets ("Windstopper" style)
1 x GoreTex windproof jacket

1 x pair fingerless cycling gloves
1 x pair winter skiing-style gloves
1 x pair woollen socks worn over ski gloves as "mittens"
1 x fleece neck muffler (can also be pulled up over chin, cheeks, face etc)

1 x thin fleece cap (under helmet)
1 x cycling helmet
1 x spare garment (long johns, sweater, t-shirt, whatever comes to hand) to wrap around neck and/or face.

1 x pair sunglasses
1 x thick beard

Wearing all that, I was rarely severely cold.

Uphill I often stripped down to just one or two layers.

Downhill, it is the hands, feet, and, in galey blizzards, the exposed parts of the face, that suffer most.

Sunglasses are really important. I forgot to wear them one day and got snow-blindness which is EXTREMELY painful.

I had a down jacket in my panniers which in the event I never wore.

In my tent I had 2 foam mats ("Karrimat" style) to insulate me from the ground, and a good sleeping bag.

I also wore a "Russian"-style fake fur hat in my tent sometimes. When I got cold in my tent, I found I could usually warm up by wrapping my head up better, rather than by piling on extra layers on the body and legs, which can be uncomfortable/sweaty inside a sleeping bag.

As general advice, I should add that the "layers" principle of clothing is really important.

On the plateau, temperatures can fluctuate rapidly and widely.

When the sun shines in the afternoon, even in winter, it can get quite hot, and you need to remove lots of clothes.

10 minutes later, the wind can kick up, the sky cloud over, and a blizzard begin, probably kicking up a lot of snow and ice-crystals from the ground as well.

In these conditions you will get very cold very quickly, and need to add all the layers you can find.

The uphill/downhill factor makes a huge difference too. Uphill, you will probably be warm even in very cold conditions.

Downhill, the added windchill can freeze you even when the sun is out.

Stopping every five minutes to add or remove layers is tedious, especially when it is cold, you are tired, and your hands are gloved, all of which make fiddling with zips, panniers, etc., awkward.

But it is important not to sweat on the uphills, because if your clothes and body are wet, you will freeze very rapidly on the downhills.

I am wearing most of the kit described above in this photo:

(Although the sun was shining, there was a strong wind and I had stopped to fix a puncture, and eat.)


  1. Ed,

    Much obliged.

    Much obliged indeed.

    - Rob

  2. Ed!

    Far better equipped than I thought you were!
    But not quite equipped for a windy day in -30C.


  3. Ed

    Why carry all that gear yourself?

    Check out David Cameron's latest way of handling lugage on a bike.

    He claims there are no panniers big enough for him to carry all his papers to and from parliament each day. What's he carrying, his expense claim forms?

    Anyway, a following car's got to be the best solution, you can always get in it for a bit of a warm up when things get cold.

    Good to hear you're still alive after the bridgeless track and the plateau. Good job too because Asmund would have never forgiven you for eating all the dace.


    John Humphreys.

  4. As an aficionado of the green ribbed wool Army sweater - the 'woolly pully' - I am delighted that you list it among your cold weather kit, and the photos show that it has stood you in good stead on your journeys. I find it an indispensible item for my long-distance walking in the North of England. It also saves me a fortune in heating bills. I cannot over-praise this jumper - one of the best British inventions.
    Best Wishes and good luck, Aidan

  5. John H -

    Funny you should mention that. I did write to David Cameron, in fact, pointing out the pannier option, and offering my services as a two-wheeled shoe-chauffeur if he felt carrying panniers on his own bike was beneath him.

    His Correspondece Secretary, incidentally, wrote back to say:

    "David Cameron has always enjoyed cycling to Parliament and sees great benefits from it. When time permits, he still tries to cycle to work 2-3 times a week, so thanks for the advice on the panniers - I shall pass it on.

    "David has never made any secret of this arrangement, nor has he made his commitment to the environment a secret either. Please see our website for full details of our 'Vote Blue, Go Green' local election campaign."

    So, err, there you have it.

  6. Aidan

    Re Green ribbed wool army sweater: they are indeed among the finest garments on god's earth.

    Mine's getting a bit thread-bare in the arms though... Might need a repair job when I get home. If I call in at the local TA base, do you think they have a tailor on-site who can do the necessary with a patch?

  7. I was looking into getting one of those British Army jerseys. But apparently you need to 'ave Bri'ish ci'izinship, 'avawize a bloke cud be mista'in fo a spy!

    - Rob

  8. Ed,
    Green ribbed wool army sweaters are indeed among the finest garments on god's earth. I have worn a succession of them over the years since my schooldays. Being such an aficionado, I always have a couple of spares, one of which I'd be happy to donate to you knowing that it would be put to good use.

  9. Rob,
    I have worn these jumpers in the North African and South American winters and they are worn by locals in both regions!
    If you want to order one from abroad there's a large surplu store in the East End of London called Silverman's. Go to then on the search bar type in 'Army woolly pully'.
    There is also a very good little shop near Victoria Station, run by two brothers (Howard & Mark), called 'Victoria Camping and Surplus'. I've been buying Army jumpers - and other outdoor gear - from them for years. Their tel. no is ++44 (0) 20 7834 3371.
    The name of the shop does, I admit, sound like something out of 'Round the Horne' (if any of you remember the series).
    Best Wishes,