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Essential Oils

Even on the trail, some of our most important assets are liquid

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The rise of bikepacking has changed how we think about carrying stuff. Both how we carry it, and the stuff itself. You start to get a little more pragmatic about even your everyday kit after a few multi-day rides. Like, I carry a small, basic multi tool in my steerer tube, but I stow my Fix It Sticks with a more complete set of bits somewhere out of the way. It’s in the same spot where I keep other seldom-used items like a chain tool, first aid and zip ties. That’s also where I’ve got three tiny plastic bottles, which is what I’m here to talk about today.

The bottles themselves are the boring part. They’re 1/2-ounce (15-milliliter) and are made of LDPE. You can find them at most art-supply stores, or probably on whatever device you’re using to read this story. They’re like tiny Visine droppers, but refillable. I’ve got a whole apothecary’s worth of these things. My multi-day kit may include some of these cute little guys filled with anything from soap to antibiotic cream to lighter fluid to even toothpaste. But these three pictured here are always with me.

This whole thing started nearly 20 years ago when I saw a fellow rider pull out a 2.5oz Tri-Flow “pen” to quiet a squeaky chain. This moment stuck with me because it was not their own chain. It was for someone else’s. Someone on the ride who dared to leave the house without wiping, de-greasing, re-wiping and lubricating their chain. I carried one of those Tri-Flow pens for years, but I started using a refillable bottle when I moved on to thicker oil. Once in a while, my little bottle of chain lube will have a chance to save someone else’s day, but more often than not it’s saving my own. Yes, we’re all supposed to pay attention to when we last lubed our chains, but this little two-inch-tall trifle is cheap insurance for when one of us doesn’t. It eventually got me thinking about all of the things we have at home that we might wish we had on the trail.

Sun block. Duh. Like chain lube, I sometimes forget to put sun block on before I go out a ride. Unlike chain lube, I’m supposed to re-apply it every two hours. Of course, there’s mini travel sunscreen out there, but they’re usually wasteful, expensive and bigger than you need. A half-ounce should get you two re-applications, depending on how much skin you’re already covering.

What you usually aren’t re-applying is chamois cream. In fact, you might not even be applying it at all. Chamois cream is sort of an acquired taste, and plenty of riders will never actually have a need for it … until they do. Maybe a ride is longer or hotter than you first planned. Maybe the loop you did yesterday took more of a toll than you thought. Whatever the reason, when you need some relief from some nether-chafing and you’re too far from the car to stand up until you get there, you’ll probably acquire that taste for Chamois Cream real quick. The trick is to apply it before it’s too late, but you can’t use it if you don’t have it. As a bonus, chamois cream can be used to address other friction-based discomfort. Though it’s not nearly as long-lasting on, for example, heels or toes as it is when used on its namesake, I’ve found chamois cream helps prevent any type of chafing from getting worse.

Most rides won’t require all, or maybe any of these. Some rides could require more. The idea here is to think about the comforts of home that you may someday want out on the trail. It’s like bikepacking, but you can sleep in your own bed when you’re done.

Photos: Anthony Smith