With the rise of mountain biking and the increasing popularity of long distance off-road riding, bikepacking has emerged as an alternative to traditional bike touring. As a compact and light way to carry all the necessities on the trail, there are a variety of bag combinations that can make up your perfect off-road bikepacking system.
Bike touring vs. Bikepacking
Generally speaking, bike touring refers to the traditional rack and pannier set up on a touring specific bike, most suited for smooth roads (see below). Bikepacking is a more universal gear setup that can fit onto almost any bike, whether full suspension, carbon, or fatbike.
With the compact nature of bikepacking comes very limited space. You will have to be more intentional with what you take with you, and every little thing should be absolutely necessary. That being said, with off road abilities comes endless opportunities for adventures, and if you haven’t tried bikepacking yet, you may want to add a trip to your bucket list.
Types of bikepacking bags
As almost any bike can be your vehicle for a bikepacking trip, your selection of gear will vary. You can chose to get custom fit bags specific for your bike, or do some bike measurements and go with a universal kit that will fit your frame. A bikepacking ‘kit’ will include the following:
A frame pack fits within the ‘triangle’ of the bike (formed by the top tube, seat tube and downtube). As this is within the center of the bike, it’s great for storing heavier items like water, cooking gear and food. You may also want to include spare tubes and any tools in the frame pack.
Handlebar Roll or Harness
Taking the shape of either a roll or a harness, the handlebar pack should be kept relatively light so it doesn’t throw off your steering abilities. The roll works well to hold a small tent or sleeping mat.
The seat pack may look a little strange at first as it goes directly under/beneath the seat of your bike. However, this design is wind resistant, doesn’t flap around, and doesn’t get in the way of your legs when you have to walk your bike (unlike a pannier). Depending on the size, this is where you want to store the majority of your overnight gear.
The main bags can be awkward to get in and out of while you’re riding, which is what the accessory bag is for. Perfect for holding small snacks and your cell phone, there are both stem and top tube options for an accessory bag.
A small backpack may be unavoidable, and is perfect for your spare layers of clothes. It makes for easy access should the weather take a turn for the worse.
Beginner – Getting into it
If you’re just dipping your toe into the world of bikepacking, there’s no reason to go out and spent hundreds of dollars on bags that you may use once or twice and then stuff into your overflowing storage unit. Chances are, you already have most of what it takes to get out there for a night or two.
Head out for an overnight ride with a backcountry campground or shelter halfway. Try your first trip during the summer months so you don’t have to be as worried about bringing enough gear to stay warm in low temperatures.
What you’ll need:
Dry bags – Dry bags of various sizes can be strapped or clipped onto your bike around the seatpost and saddle rails to make a “seat pack.”
Day pack – Most likely you already have a day pack you can use. This is perfect for carrying your clothes and light snacks.
DIY Handlebar Roll – A large drybag with your tent and sleeping bag can be strapped to your handlebars with Voile Straps. If you don’t mind buying one item to make this easier, check out the Revelate Sweetroll which is basically a glorified dry bag with stackable spacers that provide room for cable and lever interference.
Water bottle Cages – In addition to your regular water bottle cage, you can use electrical tape to attach a cage to the underside of the downtube on your bike or to either side of your forks.
Intermediate – Weekend warrior
Once you’ve gone on a couple overnights, and no doubt have become addicted to the freedom of it, then it may be time to take your gear up to the next level with you. Depending on the types of trips you’ll want to be heading out on, there’s still no need to break the bank. You can start building up your kit to where you want it to be, but there’s you don’t have to do it all at once.
What you’ll need:
Seat Pack ($130-$200) – This will most likely be the most expensive of the bags, but it’s worth getting a quality seat pack that will last out on your adventures. The Apidura Saddle Pack is a great option, made from highly durable and waterproof dimension polyant. There are three sizes available, from a commuter to a long haul bikepacking size.
Frame Bag ($90-$100) – There are a lot of options out there that are ‘universal’ frame bags, in that they will fit on most bikes. Of course, you are not making the most of the space within your frame, as it likely won’t be an exact fit, but they work well and are a lot cheaper than custom fit bags. You’ll have to choose between a half frame pack (uses the front or top of the triangle and leave room for water bottle carriers) or a full frame pack (utilizes the entire space within the triangle). The Revelate Tangle is a great half frame option.
Handlebar Harness / Roll ($120-$150) – As the perfect spot for your tent, poles, and other bigger items, the handlebar harness is one of the most important aspects of your intermediate kit. As mentioned above, the Rock Bros Handlebar Bag comes in three versatile sizes, and is one of the better options out there.
Pro – Life on the bike
If you’re hitting the trails and have no intention of quitting anytime soon, then it is worth investing in top of the line gear that will have your back day-in and day-out. Many manufacturers offer custom made bags to ensure the perfect fit and features for you and your bike, especially for the frame bag.
A pro kit will include the following:
- Seat Pack
- Handlebar Roll
- Frame Pack
- Top Tube Pack
- Stem Bag (right and left)