The concept of extended two-wheeled travel is nothing new — far from it. In fact, touring has a rich history nearly as old as the bicycle itself, with one of the world’s earliest organized clubs being formed in Britain way back in 1878. However, in recent years, there’s been a gradual shift in what exactly defines bike touring. For though it used to be a hobby characterized by extended tarmac time and heavily laden rides, it’s since become one in which scenic gravel roads and nimble streamlined setups reign supreme (a.k.a bikepacking) Thus, in many ways, one could say that bikepacking is to backpacking what cyclotouring is to sightseeing.
As you’d expect with any activity predicated on self-reliance, bikepacking requires a grip of gear to get you going. Because let’s face it. Anyone can set out for a few hours with a bicycle and some snacks, but once your trip stretches into the next day, week, or even month, you’ll need some spare clothes and extra emergency supplies. Moreover, unless you plan on “credit card touring” (i.e., moving from hotel to hotel), you’ll also have to be responsible for things like shelter, meals, and personal hygiene — and that’s not even addressing how you plan to carry it all. In any case, if that sounds like a lot to handle on your own, we don’t blame you. For as enticing as bikepacking can be, it can also prove pretty intimidating when you’re on the outside looking in. The good news is that you don’t have to go it alone — we’re well-steeped in what’s required for a successful trip. So buckle up and get ready to see what we’ve picked for the best bikepacking essentials.
How To Choose Bikepacking Bags
Optimizing Your Onboard Storage
Whenever you’re embarking on an excursion that’ll last for more than a few hours, it’s in your best interest to augment your jersey pockets with some extra carrying capacity. Below we break down each bag by type to help you choose the best one for your needs.
Seat Packs: Much like tool rolls, seat packs mount to your saddle rails and seatpost so that they hang suspended above your back tire. As such, they make for a much tidier setup than their rack-mounted pannier counterparts, meaning that you’ll be better equipped to tackle big drops and weave through technical trails (they’re also far more aerodynamic). That being said, it’s worth noting that because of their attachment method, seat packs are prone to some sideways movement when filled. While you can minimize this effect by packing your bulkiest items towards the bottom of the bag, some degree of lateral sway is inevitable.
Frame Packs: Frame packs, on the other hand, are designed to fit inside your bike’s main triangle (composed of the down tube, top tube, and seat tube) and will usually attach via some combination of velcro, elastic, and magnets. Because of their central positioning, frame packs allow for a much lower center of gravity, making them ideal for storing heavy items that would otherwise unbalance your ride. What’s more, frame packs will often feature a number of exterior organization pockets, enabling ready access at any time. When buying a frame pack, make sure to check the fit with respect to your bike. Larger packs will obviously hold more, but they’ll be of little use if your ride has rear suspension.
Handlebar Packs: Last but not least we have handlebar packs. As you’d expect, these attach to your bike’s handlebars and hang over the top of the front wheel. More than anything, handlebar packs offer added convenience and protection — the former because of their location with respect to your hands and the latter thanks to their distance from the ground. If you’re in the market for a handlebar pack and you’ll be using it with drop bars, be sure to check that it can fit between the hoods. On the other hand, mountain bikers will want to test their setup for compressed suspension clearance — you don’t want your bag rubbing against your tire.
What To Pack
The Bare Necessities
Admittedly, we can’t give you an exhaustive list of everything you’ll need (as that varies from person to person and trip to trip), but addressing the following will go a long way towards ensuring you’re prepared for off-grid exploration.
Shelter: While your particular needs will depend on where exactly it is that you’re traveling, every bikepacking journey requires some sort of sleeping setup. Whether this is a bivouac, a hammock, a tarp, or a tent is largely up to you and what you find comfortable. However, environmental factors (like heat) and space restrictions (your pack) can also affect your choice. Buyer beware though: should you decide to go for either of the latter two options, you’ll also need to invest in a sleeping bag and a mattress pad.
Refreshments: When packing food and drink, you need to consider both on- and off-bike nutrition. With the former, you’ll want quick snacks that are rich in carbohydrates and sugar, as these will replenish your available energy stores and sit better with your stomach (they also require little to no preparation). But once you stop to pack, you’ll want something with a bit more substance to it in order to prepare you for the next day. As such you’ll want to consider a camping stove or portable heating system — they’ll allow for far more creative cooking than anything that can be eaten straight from the bag.
Clothing: With bikepacking clothing, you have to address both what you’ll use on the bike as well as that which you plan to wear come time to camp. At the very least, you should pack a quality pair of bike shorts or bibs — you’ll save yourself some nasty saddle sores. Moreover, it’s a good idea to bring along some sort of packable rain jacket or poncho, as there’s nothing worse than riding around soaked to the skin. Otherwise, just try to think in layers; they’re better for temperature regulation and will save you some space in your bag.
Contingency Carry: Any time that you’re striving for self-sufficiency, you have to prepare yourself for the unexpected. Even a barebones first-aid kit will buy you some time in the event of an injury in the field. And when it comes to your bike, the more you can carry the better. So, in addition to a multi-tool and some flat repair provisions, you should also pack some spare parts. For instance, extra shift and brake cables can be zip-tied to your existing hardware or stored in your handlebars. While you might never need them, the added peace of mind is well worth the slight weight penalty.
Voile Straps 20″
Tiedowns are a great way to make the most of your bike’s available real estate even if you don’t have the necessary racks and mounting hardware. Made from a rugged PU stretch material, these Voile Straps are super strong, slip-proof, and even come with some built-in UV resistance so that they won’t crack on you over time. As an added bonus, they’re even great for repairs in a pinch.
Lifestraw Personal Water Filter
Clean drinking water is a non-negotiable any time you’ll be away from civilization, and there’s no better way to ensure you can always get it than with Lifestraw’s Personal Water Filter. For starters, it protects against 99.999% of bacteria, parasites, microplastics, dirt, sand, and particulates. And because the membrane microfilter comes with a 1,000-gallon lifetime, you’ll have no worry of it running out on your ride — that’s enough for over 5 years of drinking water.
Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Backpacker Kit
First-aid kits are essential pieces of carry for unexpected injuries, be it something as small as a blister or something as significant as a broken bone. This handy little pack from Adventure Medical Kits comes with everything you need to stay prepared, including trauma supplies, medications, and even a condensed guide to wilderness medicine. But the best part is that thanks to its Easy Care First Aid System, finding what you need couldn’t be quicker.
Oneup Components EDC Pump
Without some provisions for portable tire re-inflation, your flat repair kit will do you little good. This pump from Oneup Components is perfect for bikepacking, because, in addition to a high volume 100cc body, it also comes with an integrated CO2 inflator and a storage compartment for the brand’s EDC V2 tool we’ve featured below. In practice, this means that you can operate it manually or with a 20g CO2 cartridge — giving you plenty of air to get those wide tires rolling again.
Oneup Components EDC V2 Tool
And by the same token, you’ll want to have some sort of multi-tool to take care of your roadside repairs. If you’re bothering to go for the above pump, it’s to your advantage to also get the EDC Tool from Oneup Components. When paired together, you’ll have access to 20 different functions, with seven different Allen wrenches, a T25 Torx bit, and a flat head screwdriver, as well as a tire lever, a chain breaker, and a grip of different specialty tools. Should you really want to maximize your onboard storage, you can even house it in your fork’s steerer tube.
Jetboil Flash Cooking System
While granola bars and energy gels will go a long way towards ensuring you stay fueled while out on a ride, you’re going to need something with a bit more substance after a long day of pedaling. Luckily, Jetboil’s Flash Cooking System has you covered, boiling water in just 100 seconds and keeping it warm thanks to its insulated FluxRing cooking cup. And when you consider the exhaustive range of accessories Jetboil offers — such as a coffee press, a hanging kit, and a skillet — it makes for an option well-equipped to give you a gourmet campsite eating experience.
Blackburn Outpost Elite Frame Bag
We touched on it before, but frame packs are the cornerstone of every successful bikepacking outing — without one of these, you’re drastically reducing your carry capacity. Blackburn’s Outpost Elite Frame Bag is one option well worth a look, as it comes in four different sizes to suit a variety of front triangles. But that’s not all — it also features a waterproof construction with welded seams, removable Hypalon straps that protect your paint, and a hose port through which you can route your water reservoir.
Giro Ventana Fastlace Mountain Bike Shoes
As much as you’ll be pedaling on a bikepacking trip, inevitably there comes a time when you’ll have to hop out of the saddle and hike. As such, you’ll want a shoe that’s stiff enough for efficient power transfer yet soft enough for you to walk. Giro’s Ventana Fastlace model is perfectly suited to such requirements, combining a cushioned EVA midsole for all-day comfort with a grippy Sensor rubber outsole for confident traction.
Apidura Expedition Handlebar Pack
When it comes to making adventure-capable bikepacking bags, London-based Apidura is one of the best in the biz, and it’s easy to see why with offerings like their Expedition Handlebar Pack. For instance, a dual roll-top closure ensures that your belongings will stay safe and allows for some expansion should you need more space. What’s more, Apidura built it with a hands-free air release vent, making it incredibly simple to compress.
Light And Motion Vis Pro 1000 Trail
Being safe on your bike starts with being seen, and a bright headlight is one of the best ways that you can make drivers aware of your presence. We’d have this option from Light and Motion primarily because of its 12-hour SafePulse runtime, its support for fast charging, as well as its IP67 waterproof rating. That being said, it also stands apart from other lights thanks to its ultra-grippy anti-slip rubber and its included handlebar, helmet, and GoPro mounts.
Restrap 8L Saddlebag
Although most seat packs are impossible to fill once they’re attached to your bike, Restrap’s 8L Saddlebag proves an exception to the rule. That’s because it’s based around the brand’s handy holster system, allowing you to conveniently remove the dry bag when you need access to its interior compartment. And since it’s secured via a magnetic Fidlock buckle, you can rest assured knowing that it’s not going anywhere once you’re back on the move.
Garmin eTrex 22x
In most two-wheeled applications, one of Garmin’s many GPS-enabled cycling computers would serve you well. However, if you’re looking to maximize your mapping capabilities, you’ll be far better off with one of their handheld units like the eTrex 22x pictured here. It comes preloaded with TopoActive maps, giving you access to thousands of routable roads and trails. Add to that support for GPS and GLONASS satellite systems, 8GB of internal storage, and long-lasting 25-hour battery life, and the result is a handheld with everything you need to stay on track.
Sea To Summit Spark Ultralight Sleeping Bag
Compressing down to the size of a small water bottle, this sleeping bag from Sea To Summit is critical to making the most of your bike’s available carrying capacity. But just because it’s small in footprint and light in weight, don’t assume that it’s lacking in warmth. Rather, with its 10D nylon shell, 7D liner, and 850+ loft down insulation, it’s more than capable of keeping you cozy — especially the 3.5-season option rated to 5°F.
Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL3 Tent
If you’re after one of the most purpose-built bikepacking tents on the market, look no further than the Tiger Wall from Big Agnes. A set of shortened 12″ poles makes it optimal for handlebar or saddlebag storage, and its included compression sack even comes with some integrated daisy chain webbing for easy attachment. Oh, and since it comes with some added interior storage, there’s plenty of space to stow your gear once you set up camp.
Kona Sutra LTD
Kona’s Sutra LTD is, in many ways, the perfect off-the-shelf bikepacking rig. Firstly, it’s specced with a one-by SRAM 10-42t drivetrain, giving you plenty of low-end oomph to haul heavy loads. But that’s not all — its lightweight Cromoly frame also comes with an abundance of water bottle mounts, meaning that you can run a frame bag and still attach a cage. Rolling on a set of super-plush 50c WTB Venture TCS tires, it’s less of a gravel grinder than it is a dropbar singletrack shredder.
The 12 Best Mountain Bike Trails
One of the main draws of bikepacking is the ability to explore new places. If you’re looking for some inspiration to jumpstart your sense of adventure, be sure to check out our guide to the best mountain bike trails.
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