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Miscellaneaous Questions About Logistics and Gear


RAGBRAI virgin here and I have some questions that i have not figured out answers to yet. Would love your input on one (or all) of the following questions.

For context, I am doing the ride with my wife and we are registered riders but not part of a team and not using charter service. We’ll be relying on official RAGBRAI services only.

1. I see posts and videos of people emphasizing the need to have a fan with you in your tent. How do you power your fan?

2. On that same note, how do you charge your phones? Are those solar chargers any good?

3. Do you really need a sleeping bag? I live in Iowa City and it gets miserably hot and humid in July. Are there alternatives (we currently don’t have sleeping bags and will need to buy a pair)

4. I see people using air mattresses. Is that an option if we managed to make it work in terms of the max weight allowed? How do I blow the mattresses up? Is here power where we camp?

5. What kind of bag should I use? I heard that travel suitcases are not good. My gym bag is probably too small. Any suggestions on where to pick up a cheap large bag?

6. Do I need bike locks? I doubt people steal bikes on RAGBRAI but what do you suggest? Where do you keep your bike when you sleep at night (if you are staying at the main campground)?

Thank you!

13 Replies

LawnchairMan, June 24, 2018 at 11:51 am

Hi Moneer,

I think I brought a fan once. It was battery powered. I don’t like to bring it for the weight.
My tent has lots of ventilation, so I am usually OK without a fan.
I do bring a roll up mat and sleeping bag for ground cushion and in case it gets cold. It can get into the 40’s at night.
I do bring a hefty bike lock for overnight security. Haven’t had a problem, but don’t want to take the chance. I try to lock my bike to a tree or post.

I go with a charter, so can’t help with your other questions.

Do bring ear plugs, and do others a favor of using light colored guy lines. Thanks!


jay williams, June 24, 2018 at 12:48 pm

Welcome to the adventure! When packing, less is best. On Amazon you can buy a army style green nylon duffel bag with straps for $23. Line it with a big plastic bag to waterproof it. Battery operated air pump for your air mattress is $7. The fan is probably not worth it. Leave your bike lock at home. There are twenty thousand bikes parked everywhere, so forget about someone stealing yours. Sheets and a polyester blanket is all I’ve ever needed, and you have someone to snuggle with. Bring an accessory battery for you cell phone if your really want to, but its better to just turn off your phone and be in the moment all day. If you find a McDonalds, you can stop and connect to their wifi. Bring earplugs, large zip-lock bags, sunscreen, $$, and enjoy the Iowa hospitality.


U Knee Cycle, June 24, 2018 at 1:20 pm

Plus one me on the benefits of a well ventilated tent. That should eliminate the need for a fan. I do not look at a tent as a hotel room so I am not in it at 4pm on a hot day. Alps is a good low cost provider, as are REI model change clearance sales. Setup and sprinkler test the tent beforehand and seal any leaks. A headlamp is essential for night-time tent pitching/take down. A shocking idea for some, but yes you can turn off a phone and it will not drain your battery. A forwarding service that logs calls as emails may be needed for some. Large rechargeable battery packs also help and can be left plugged in unattended without worry. Check out Frys’ if you do not have a local store. Solar will charge well midday, not so well at tent set up time. An old synthetic comforter will suffice. Blankets work too but bring some sweats and a thin winter hat for the chillier nights. Down is useless after it gets wet. There are cheap devices that entrain air and let you squeeze it into an air mattress. Over two inches thick is not necessary and will fill with lung power. Put the word out and you will be surprised how many people have big bags or frameless backpacks for loan or sale. I can find them any day at resale or a yard sale. Durable is key. Ebay has some pvc ones cheap. Watch shipping times. Be sure to use seal lock freezer bags despite the main bag’s waterproof claims. Use your best judgement on locks. Deterrence/supervision should avoid trouble. You will find that using a thin plastic painter’s sheet to keep your bike dry is as important.


jwsknk, June 25, 2018 at 10:50 am

most night don’t need a fan or a sleeping bag, but you know iowa. I just take a sheet but I have arm and leg warmers nearby, and if that’s not enough 1 long sleeve tech t shirt and rain gear as last resort for layering up at night.
some new solar chargers charge a battery, enough for 1 1/2 phones i’m told. smaller and lighter wait than I expected it to be
your bag, do something to the outside so it doesn’t look like the other thousand of the same color or brand. and note the time you load I think the set out little time markers when they unload


KenH, June 25, 2018 at 12:09 pm

The one year I tent camped I was with a charter that had no weight limit, just a two bag limit. I brought a small O2 fan, about six inches square and ran on two D-cells. The first three or four nights it was beastly hot and I was very glad to have it. After that it was just dead weight but not that much weight so I would bring one again if I tent camp again.

There is no power in the campgrounds. If the campground for the night is near a building, a school for instance, that has outside power outlets you will see people huddled around the outlets charging stuff. And probably power strip after power strip daisy chained so that more people can join that party. You would need several powerpack batteries to keep your phones charged all week without the use of an outlet. I brought two 10,000 mAhr batteries and a 6,000 mAhr to keep my phone, Garmin, and GoPro charged for the week. I think that would barely have been enough but I was with a charter who had a Honda generator that ran their charging station and so I did not have to rely on the batteries I brought. That charter did not let outsiders use the charging station but some may, for a fee. If there are public buildings open like libraries, aquatic centers, YMCAs, … you may be able to find an outlet inside to charge from. There may be charging stations in some towns. Keep your phone off if you can, if you need to have it on then turn the mobile data off except when you are actually trying to use it. Phone calls and texts will still come through/go out and you will save a ton of battery life.

You don’t need a sleeping bag but it can get cool at night so you may need more than a sheet some nights. A light jacket that you can sleep in and sweatpants should be enough for nights when a sheet is not enough. I used a Thermarest self inflating sleeping pad, their 2 inch model whose name escapes me at the moment. They are light, they roll up fairly small, and while they self inflate a few breaths worth of air will bring them up to a more useful firmness and that is not terribly taxing so it it well worth doing.

Every other year, including this year, we brought a motorhome. We can lock two bikes up to the rear rack and store up to five more in a locked storage bay. So that is what we do. The year I tent camped I did nothing to protect my bike from theft.


patrsnw, June 25, 2018 at 12:38 pm

1. We bring a long a fan that uses D-cell batteries. After 20 RAGBRAIs, there are some when it’s nice to have, some when it’s dead weight. We’ll not come to Iowa without ours.

2. Our charter has a charging station, but we’ve also used solar and auxiliary batteries for our phones. I’m traveling with the person that I’d call so the phone battery lasts a really long time on RAGBRAI.

3. We have a sheet sewn to a blanket. Depending on the temperature, it’s either sheet up or blanket up.

4. REI sleeping pad.

5. There are a bazillion bags out there. Get one – or two – that holds all your stuff. Amazon will deliver (even to Iowa, I hear <grin>) or probably any camping store.

6. We bring a lock for two bikes. Little chance of riders making off with bikes, but locals have been known to do something stupid. So we lock ’em together, or to a tree/fence/whatever if we have the chance. I don’t think you need a mongo lock, but something to keep honest people honest wouldn’t hurt.

Oh, and the comment about a head lamp? Nope. Get a little keychain LED light and use it to see where you’re walking. You put the lamp on your head and you start blinding people as you’re walking and gawking, and illuminating tents where people are trying to sleep. Courtesy is the name of the game.


Geoff Butland, June 25, 2018 at 1:09 pm

I am not in any way recommending this as a reasonable or cost effective solution, but I equipped my bike with a generator hub and headlamp so I could extend my after-work rides past sundown in spring and fall, and the lamp has a USB charging port. This will be my main source of phone charging power. I also have a 20,000mAh portable battery pack and it’s good for several total phone recharge cycles, but wouldn’t get me through the week on its own (should’ve kept that flip-phone).
I brought a cheap fan and enough batteries to run it for a month. I used the fan on a couple of very muggy nights, but two fresh pairs of batteries would have been plenty.
I use a Thermarest camp mattress that is mostly foam, but you firm it up by filling it with air by mouth. It’s about an inch and a half thick and I sleep fine on it. It’s lightweight and fits in my duffel bag with everything else.
I brought a very light sleeping bag (50F rating) because it’s what I had. Only one night did I sleep IN rather than ON it, but that one night I was happy to have it. A blanket or quilt would’ve done the job too.
I didn’t lock my bike in camp or out on the road, but that’s really a peace-of-mind decision. If it helps you sleep then by all means lock it up!


nocoloco, June 27, 2018 at 12:26 am

Great advice from long-time forum contributors ‘kenH’ and ‘jwsknk’

RE: cell phones
Libraries are your friend. That’s where you can bolster your battery pack. And catch up on email Tuesday and Thursday.

RE: gear
50-degree sleeping bag is just fine.
Here is the one place I do not skimp. sun-protection : neutrogena and chap-stick with SPF.
I favor quality sunscreen my spouse discovered –

Only 25 more days .. until the fun begins.


KenH, June 27, 2018 at 7:08 am

[quote quote=1289279]overall

Here is the one place I do not skimp. sun-protection : neutrogena and chap-stick with SPF.
I favor quality sunscreen my spouse discovered –

Only 25 more days .. until the fun begins.[/quote]

I have this weird problem with the tops of my thighs on sunny days. Its worse when it is hot but it happens occasionally on fairly cool but sunny days too. They get this red blotchy rash or something. It looks like a horrible sunburn caused by incomplete coverage of the suntan lotion (I’ve been using Coppertone Sport, spray and lotion) but it does not hurt and it goes away in a day or two without any peeling, etc. Plus I am very careful to apply liberally so it is not sunburn.

I’ve been looking online for a couple of years now to see what it might be. Nothing I’ve found sounds exactly like what I have but the closet things are heat rash caused by blocked pores or an allergic reaction to something in the product I use, possibly a photo induced reaction.

So I’ve had it in my mind the last few weeks to look for an alternative but Neutrogena looks like a good product to try. Thanks for the link!!


Wendy Park, June 27, 2018 at 12:16 pm

I am the ‘support wife’ for a first timer and I’ve been diligently researching for several weeks — I see many businesses running RAGBRAI promos on facebook where they say that they’ll have charging stations set up for riders to use. Is this a reasonable expectation? Or is it likely to be a power strip (or several) that will quickly be overwhelmed when riders arrive in town?


hnschipper, June 27, 2018 at 12:23 pm

I would not count on charging stations. Yes, there will be some available along the route, but they may be full when you get there. I don’t want to have to stand around waiting to charge my phone. We use a battery pack charger, which we recharge as needed during the week in our support car. Phones charge overnight in our tent.


patrsnw, June 27, 2018 at 12:24 pm

To be blunt, Wendy, EVERYthing is overwhelmed when RAGBRAI comes to town. Towns that have hosted, or have been pass-through, forget everything they learned the last time and discount what the RAGBRAI planning committee advises. It’s just the way it is.

Whether charging stations, kybos, or food, it’s really hard to plan for a horde of cycling locusts to descend upon your town and hope/think that you’ll have enough of anything. Maybe that’s part of the fun and excitement.


Nico ZZZ, June 28, 2018 at 1:03 pm

I have a headlamp that has a red light mode that works great for the 2 am KYBO run – not a harsh light, but saves you from stubbing your toes on someone’s tent stake!
I have used the O2 fan. Perfect for some nights.
Ziplocks of course.
Chapstick on a lanyard around the neck, sunscreen in the back pocket…apply in each town along the way.
Individual packets of Prep H and/or Wet Ones. They will be your best friend every day.
Never locked.
Flag on my tent to find in the sea of tents at night.
Rotate two batteries for my phone.
Ride On!


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