We completed our first ever bikepacking adventure and I thought it may be useful to share some thoughts about carrying your kit, as we all put a lot of thought and worry into this before heading out. The main fear was that once out there, you couldn’t change things around much; for us it was to be 4 days before we got back to the car. But fear not, it all ended well – 3 different people – 3 different setups – no issues.
Hopefully if you’re considering bikepacking, and stumble across this it’ll give you a few pointers. Firstly, I’d say to ignore the Instagram of bikepacking, obviously if we were all made of money and able to spend crazy amounts of money on your first ever overnighter then fine, buy the best set of matching bags from _______ (insert big brand name here). However, if you’re anything like me and the guys I went with, budgets, logic (and wives) dictate that we must be more restrained. We did our 5 day ride with a few specific bags, and some vaugley lightweight kit, here are some details of what worked well, and what was less so.
The bags we used seem like a good starting point, and get you on your way. We’re not afraid of using amazon or eBay to bag a bargain, rather than the typical mainstream brands. Myself I found a used Alpkit Airlock Duo on eBay, and with some additional straps I got this working as a front bag.
I think that any tube shaped bag would work as a front roll, even just strapping your sleeping bag or tent bag to the handle bars would work, just watch for your brake cables. I found that between twisting the brakes quite far down and using the strap to support the bag I could get it to where it wasn’t risking a problem with the hydraulic hoses. In hindsight, this bag was too big, or needed a better way to attach it, as I had to run my forks locked out the entire trip, as once you started riding it began to sag, and rubbed on the tire very frequently. Next time I’ll be looking at a better way of attaching it, to bring it higher up.
The other guys did similar, but both ended up with a Roswheel front bag (without meaning to, you’ll see their name pop up a few times as we all independently bought a few bits of theirs). These were smaller, but seemed to hold on better.
I had a little top tube bag from Rockbros. This is a great idea for storing your snacks, and anything else you need to hand whilst riding. I soon realised that it was a pain needing to keep taking your rucksack off each time you want to take a picture, grab half a flapjack or in my case as the navigator, plug the external battery onto my phone, again, so more and more things got squeezed in here. The only issue I found was every time I stopped it threatened to remove my delicate parts, so I switched it to the rear of the top tube
A couple of us bought budget seat bags from eBay, the same brand, Roswheel, as it turned out. These were OK, but don’t seem to have been the easiest to use or hardest wearing (although we did ride for 5 days along some fairly rough terrain). Trying to pack them so you could pull the straps that loop through your saddle tight enough, without the whole bag folding in half and the end dragging on the rear wheel seemed like an art form. And even on the final day mine folded once more (finally resulting in the outer fabric getting a hole from the tyre rubbing it). The bag themselves worked, and possibly with a lighter load it would have worked better, but for about £20 I couldn’t complain.
To top my load lugging off, I borrowed a hydration pack, this wasn’t a brand I’ve heard of before. Having cleaned it thoroughly using the internets preferred method of baking powder and white vinegar (which worked really well) it took my light jumper and a bit more food. But for myself whose had many back problems over the years, this was kept as little as possible and if I could’ve fitted more water on my bike I wouldn’t have had this. But water was critical.
Here’s how it looked at the end of the ride, I think it held up well.
Chris had similar to me, but with a bit more in his backpack, and no top tube bag.
Gary however went much more down the route of just having a the majority of his kit on his back, and a small saddle bag and frame bag for a few of the heavy bits he could fit.
Personally I wouldn’t have changed my initial aim of getting my kit off my back and onto the bike, and next time would go further to remove the need to have any backpack, to save my back. Chris seemed to get his setup good for him. Gary said he’d reduce his back weight a bit, not buying any more bags, just move what went where.
My overall thought is that for a single night, and your first trip out, just strap a little bit to your bike, chuck a rucksack on your back, fill up your water bottles and get out there. Go in nice weather so you don’t have to worry about to much wet weather gear. And most importantly, enjoy the experience.