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Kieran's Must-Haves for Bikepacking
If you are anything like me then your appreciation for long, adventurous rides will eventually lead you to planning even further afield; planning routes that can’t be completed in one day. When I came to this conclusion myself, I turned to bikepacking rather than more traditional bike-touring. I loved the idea of bikepacking because of its simplicity, minimalism, and the fact that I did not want yet another bike. Of course, there are challenges because space limitations dictate the need for a few pieces of ultralight equipment. Still, I found that to be part of the fun!
Over the past few years, I have evolved my packing into an art. Below I list some of my logic and some of my favourite items. I hope this will help you create and evolve your own system, your own packing art! Of course, there are some items like the trusty Katadyn Hiker Pro Water Filter and Garmin Edge 1030 computer from my Must-Have Gravel-Ride list that are perfectly suited to bikepacking, so keep those in mind as you read.
On My Handlebars
A handlebar roll-bag is pretty much a must for bike packing. I am careful in my packing and can put my solo tent, sleeping bag, mattress, and a few sundries into my handlebar bag. Amazing, huh? The small additional pouch on the top holds all my electronics, daily nibbles as well as toiletries.
When I was first shopping for a bikepacking tent I spent a lot of time researching and chatting with my colleague, Brayden, before I realized that the only thing that really mattered to me was that it was small enough to fit into my handlebar set-up. From that point it was an easy decision to go with the Nemo Dragonfly. This little tent has just enough room to ensure a comfortable night’s sleep, has great ventilation and packs away into a tiny package.
Choosing a sleeping bag can be tough as it is so weather dependent. To that end I have a couple of favorites. If you are a summer bikepacker then I would choose a Rumpl Down Blanket. Without the weight and bulk of zipper or hood the Down Blanket is as light and compact as possible. My Rumpl lives on the couch when I am not using it for camping, so it gets used almost every day. I love this thing.
For trips that push the shoulder seasons I choose an ultra-light down bag like the Sea to Summit Spark. Sea to Summit holds nothing back when it comes to making this bag as light and compact as possible. Although below the stated temperature range I have put on a few layers and comfortably hunkered down through nights far below freezing.
I had always thought that I slept pretty well in a tent until I tried the Thermarest NeoAir Uberlight. Only then did I know what I had been missing! This lightly insulated air mat is easy to inflate, comfortable and packs up into a tiny roll. It is exceptional!
Under My Seat
The under-seat bag is another staple of the bikepacking set-up. Typically, this is where food, stove and spare clothes get tucked away.
I personally use a broken-down old Jetboil stove but if I was shopping today I would buy a Jetboil Stash. This tiny, lightweight stove is all you will need for preparing freeze-dried foods, making coffee, etc. I cook in mine, eat out of it, and pack my spare fuel inside. It is truly remarkable. My entire kitchen consists of a Jetboil stove, a lexan spoon and a Swiss Army Knife. Yup, that’s it.
Under My Top Tube
My frame bag is my most important bag, and it will be for you, too. While my handlebar bag and under-seat bag typically stay packed up all day, my frame bag is the bag that I use multiple times every day. My daily ride food, battery back-up, cash, etc. all need to be in an accessible place in my frame bag. This bag also needs to serve whatever else comes up in the day. For example, if it is raining but I expect the day to brighten up then I need to leave space in my frame bag for my rain jacket when I take it off. Or, if I do not expect to be able to buy water along my route then I will want to have my water filter easily accessible in my frame bag.
With space so limited, everything I pack is carefully considered. For the most part, I rely on lightweight, packable outdoor clothing over cycling clothing. I choose clothes that are versatile because I am going to ride in them, hang out in them, and sleep in them! If you are like me you will have things in your closet that will serve you well, but I have included a few pieces here that are truly exceptional.
These tops are available in short and long sleeve as well as sleeveless for both men and women. I love these tops for their light weight and breathability. On a trip last October, I wore one for 10 solid days without taking it off once! I choose the long sleeve for sun protection and versatility.
Pearl Izumi Cargo Bib Shorts
The only true cycling clothing I cannot do without is decent cycling shorts. I choose these Pearl Izumi liner bib shorts to wear under whatever shorts or pants I am wearing. Nobody else sees them but they are there working tirelessly to keep me comfortable on the long days. Featuring a “floating” padded insert these shorts offer all-day comfort. The mesh fabric is comfortably cool and also dries quickly allowing for washing mid-trip.
This is a little detail, but when I am riding with a frame bag, I choose side load cages that allow me to pull my water bottles out to the side. The typical upward pull that is needed to use a normal bottle cage is completely blocked by my frame bag so these are a must.
On My Back
I like riding with a small pack for a couple of reasons. On a longer trip there is an ebb and flow to packing as food is purchased and consumed. Having a small pack allows me to free up space in one of my bags by putting something light into my pack. It also acts a shopping bag when resupplying and is a great solution when the weather is varied, and my layers and rain gear are constantly needing to be swapped. Finally, I slip a hydration bladder into my bag so I can go long stretches without needing to refill.
It took me a while to figure out how to organize for longer bikepacking trips, but it has been a really fun process. Along the way my wife and I did short overnight “credit card” trips where we stayed in hotels and ate in restaurants, which was a nice way to dabble without having to plan too intensely. From that easy start we moved on to bigger trips and more adventurous destinations. My advice to you would be the same. Start small but let the adventure begin!
For some suggestions of cycling routes, check out Small Roads Routes.
For more inspiration and unfolding stories follow Kieran on Strava and Instagram: @kieranwro