Updated: Mar 31, 2020
When I get into a new sport or activity there is often no turning back. Since I started climbing in my late teens I’ve found myself fully investing, both physically and financially, in new ways of seeking adrenaline and exploration. I’ve always been someone who prefers to use my own gear which tends to lead to the compulsory need to find the perfect match. When it comes to bikepacking this need to dial in my rig with the optimal frame bag, saddle, or pedals has been almost non-stop. So, believe me when I say that I’ve purchased, used, sold, and repeated the process many times in search for the ULTIMATE BIKEPACKING RIG!!!
Bicycle: First stop is the ideal bike. The market is full of so many different options for a worthy bikepacking bike. That said, I will generally always choose something steel. I find the comfort that steel offers when navigating rough terrain is only matched by that of titanium, but usually comes in a much cheaper price point. A steel frame’s durability and ability to be repaired makes for a practical bike in remote areas.
For the past few years I’ve been bikepacking with an Advocate Hayduke. A steel frame with front suspension and 27.5+ wheels. I regularly swap a set of 29er wheels in and out but both wheel sets are always run with a 2.6 at minimum. I’m digging the oversized tire mania. Many will push you away from suspension, especially if you aren’t riding anything all that technical. I can see the benefit of a rigid fork for attachments and efficiency, but personally, I have crummy joints in my wrists from too many years working as a cook. The front suspension keeps me going when the terrain gets rough and it never hurts when digging into those corners. :)
The three points of contact: hands, feet, and ass are also something to really think about when setting up your bike. With the flat pedal technology advancing so much in the past few years I have really started to lean on the Raceface Chester pedal for most of my cycling needs. Priced rather affordably they are still tough and provide maximum grip. For handlebar grips I generally turn to ESI extra chunk or something palm supporting from Ergon.
Picking the right saddle is a pretty complicated subject. One I will not dive too far into during this post. However, this past summer I discovered the Brooks C17 and I’ll say, it may be the most comfortable saddle I’ve ever used for long days on the bike. It is durable, weather proof, and seems to fit a lot of different people.
Frame Bags: I have found the frame bag to be a pretty essential piece to my bikepacking kit. This is the area where I bit the bullet and spent more cash than I should have on custom bags. Being able to utilize the entire inner triangle if needed is pretty clutch. It’ll depend on which type of bike I’m riding whether I use a half or full bag.
There are advantages to both half and full frame bags. The half frame bag can still carry a substantial amount of heavy gear, but allows for the use of your bottle cage mounts. If you aren’t one to rock a hydration pack this is crucial. The full frame bag really offers an incredible amount of space. You can put nearly all your heavy gear (tools, parts, food) in here to help keep your weight lower on the bike. I currently use Fun Bags 4 Bikes, a small brand owned by a friend who is no longer sewing. However, stock bags that I find exceptional are the Revelate Tangle and Oveja Negra’s 1/2 pack or Bodega.
Seat bag: Another key ingredient to a hassle-free bikepacking journey is the seat bag. There are a handful of different types on the market nowadays, but I prefer the OG long cylinder style bag that attaches to you seat post and saddle rails. I love its ability to take on all shapes and sizes, unlike other chest style rear bags. Some say they don’t like the sway, but I don’t notice it. If you do, a few extra Salsa or Voile straps will do the trick.
Currently I am using the Revelate Terrapin system. I’m not sure I will ever use anything different for my personal setup. Preferring to bikepack in the swing seasons to beat the heat I find myself in the rain quite often. Having a detachable dry bag that can come into my tent with me has proven to be necessary in many PNW, Rocky Mountain, and northern Minnesota situations. Other bags I am partial to are the Revelate Viscacha (discontinued) and the Oveja Negra Gearjammer. They are similar designs that hold tight to your seatpost.
Handlebar: I find the handlebar to be the most ideal place to store your sleeping setup. The natural tubular shape of the sleeping pad, tent, and sleeping bag straps to your bars
seamlessly. This is a spot where you can cut some costs and rig up your own mounting system. As sleeping in wet gear is a drag a dry bag is a must. From here I have used rope, cam straps, Salsa straps, and even twine with great success. I find the Salsa straps are really great for this or many other strapping situations.
If you prefer loading your handle bars a bit more streamlined there are a few really good manufactured options out there. Again, I have experience with Revelate and Oveja Negra. The Revelate Sweetroll is a great all-in-one harness and dry bag, but the inability to detach the dry bag in wet weather can be a bummer. Both Revelate and Oveja Negra make a great harness option that allows you to use a dry bag of your choice. This doesn’t limit you to a certain liter capacity or particular shape and it allows you to easily get your dry bedding into your shelter during inclement weather.
Small Bags & Accessories: I really strive for a well maintained cockpit on my bikepacking bike. If I’m going to stare down at those bars for days on end the last thing I want is some flapping strap or loose feed bag. I use two feed bags, one is the Oveja Negra Chuckbucket which cinches down very tight and is usually loaded up with snacks and coffee. The other is the Cedaero Devil’s Kettle Pack. This thing has a handy little flip top and waterproof lining with enough space to store camera lenses, 32oz HydroFlasks, or a ton of candy.
To finish off the cockpit luggage I use a triangular top tube bag that allows for quick access to cash, keys, chargers, or my phone. If I have any bottle cages exposed I use them. Generally I aim to have a standard width cage and a wider one that can fit a Nalgene. On some occasions I find a backpack or hip pack to be an essential part of this setup. It can provide more room for hydration or gear, but be easy, I’ve found it makes for a quick way to overpack and bog yourself down.
Now that you’ve read all of my opinions on the perfect bikepacking setup, please keep in mind it is just that, MY perfect setup. This is going to vary from person to person drastically. There is no ultimate bikepacking rig. Particular needs change as fast as the terrain and vary from bikepacker to bikepacker.
I can tell you all day how well the zipper on this backpack works or how long that Cordura will last in the rain before its soaked through, but reading my ideals aren’t going to determine if the gear is right for you. The best bet is to get out there and try things or just use what you have! That old steel Rockhopper, a couple of cam straps, and a handful of dry bags can really take you to places unknown.