Bikepacking basics

As lightweight cycle-touring or ‘bikepacking’ grows in popularity, author Laurence McJannet highlights the kit you’ll need for your own off-road adventures

One of the beautiful things about bikepacking is its pared-back simplicity. You really don’t need much equipment. The chances are that you already own many of the things you'll need. It’s like ultra lightweight cycle-touring and it's increasingly popular with mountain bikers and drop-barred ‘gravel’ riders.

Much of the kit depends on the length of the ride, the season and your environment. For evening rides into your local hills you could get away with just a rucksack, sleeping bag, bivvy bag and water carrier. For most overnighters consider dedicated frame bags to carry a more comprehensive kit selection.

Bags

  • If you can get away with one bag have it inside the frame triangle
  • If you need two, opt for bar bag and saddlepack
  • The standard set-up is a combination of all three which should give you all the storage you need

The key is to distribute your kit evenly across the bike, with the heaviest items inside the central bag. Too much weight either front or rear will alter the bike’s handling and manoeuvrability, particularly when climbing or descending. I distribute my kit between a 13-litre saddlepack, medium-sized frame bag, 18-litre dry-bag and handlebar harness, as well as shouldering a 30-litre rucksack.

Rucksacks are great for items you need regular access to - water bladder, tools, camera, gilet. But it’s best to keep as much weight off your back as possible. Most bulky stuff such as stoves or sleeping bags are better off lashed to the bike.

A sleeping bag is usually the bulkiest piece of kit and is best stowed in either the bar bag or saddlepack, along with a packable insulated jacket for keeping warm off the bike. I keep my sleeping bag on the back, with the liner already packed inside, while the front dry-bag holds my stove, gas canister, bivvy bag, tarp, pegs, cord and inflatable sleeping mat.

Space-saving ideas

If you have a custom frame bag that takes up the entire main triangle you can stash some of the more malleable kit like tarp, bivvy and sleeping mat here, along with a hammock if you use one. Try to separate items that may rattle (especially in the bar bag and particularly if using rigid forks) or pad them out with softer items. A rattling stove and tin mug will drive you insane by the end of a long ride!

Rehydratable foodstuffs and drinks (noodles, soups, rice or pasta, porridge or hot chocolate, tea bags, coffee filters and longlife milk sachets) are worth stashing here too.

If you prefer to cook from scratch, zip-up freezer bags are great for storing pre-chopped ingredients. If you marinade them in olive oil inside the bag you won’t need to carry a separate bottle of cooking oil.

All-in-one stoves are great weight- and space-saving devices. You can usually store your gas canister inside - line with bubble-wrap to avoid rattling. If you love proper coffee you might want a micro-stove such as a Pocket Rocket, so you can brew up with mocha pot instead of filters.

As frame bags often cover bottlecage mounts, universal strap-on mounts can be useful (SKS do a good one). They allow you to mount bottles on your fork legs, underneath the downtube, or on the seatpost or bars.

Keep your kit dry

Though most frame bags are waterproof, it’s a good idea to pack comfort essentials like sleeping bags or spare clothes in binbags beforehand. Take a number of clothing layers rather than fewer heavier items - you can stuff them in a dry-bag to make a comfy pillow!

If your ride clothes are dry, layer up over them when you camp. A long-sleeve baselayer, t-shirt, gilet, and midlayer works for me, with a down jacket when it gets really cold. I tend to ride in three-quarter trousers, with running tights or thermals underneath at night. You might need a neck-warmer, gloves, woolly hat and spare socks too.

Smaller miscellaneous items can go wherever they fit - headtorch, spare inner tubes, brake pads, bolts, batteries/USB charger, powerlinks, ‘spork’ and Swiss army knife. However multi-tools, tyre levers, patches, pumps or CO2 canisters are best kept in your rucksack.

A stem- or bar-mounted pouch, such as Alpkit’s Stem Cell or Fuel Pod, are great for a compact camera, mobile phone and mid-ride snacks, or spot tracker. 

Creature comforts

It’s nice to have some concession to luxury on cold nights in the wild. So once everything is packed I always make sure there is space for a hip flask filled to the brim with a fine single malt!