Photo: Photoschmidt

How To Choose the Right Bikepacking Gear

Bikepacking gives you the opportunity to pedal far and camp comfortably in remote areas.

While bike touring usually involves smooth roads, bikepacking trips include dirt roads and even singletrack trails. In other words, bikepacking opens up a broader, wilder world to you and your bicycle. To do it, you’ll need to be prepared to store and carry a lot of gear on your bike—here’s how to get started.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Start by gauging your interest level and taking inventory of your storage gear.

Will I like bikepacking?

Before you go out bikepacking (and invest in bikepacking gear), take shorter trips to determine if you enjoy exploring and camping by bike.

What bags do I have?

Take inventory of the bags you have available to carry gear. Don’t be afraid to borrow from other outdoor sports like skiing or hiking—some items from those disciplines can be useful on the bike, too. 

How far do I want to go? 

Once you have a trip in mind, assess how much stuff you need. Just because you can fit more doesn't mean you should. Pack for the trip you’re taking, and only expand your bikepacking setup when the things you absolutely need no longer fit in your existing bags.

How much am I willing to spend? 

Bikepacking gear can be expensive. Upgrade slowly and thoughtfully to make your dollar go as far as possible.

Start With What You Have

For day-rides, overnighters, and even some weekend trips, you can usually get away with using what you already have. 

Backpack

Bikepackers on longer journeys often avoid backpacks, as they can cause chafing, but they’re a great option for shorter trips. A backpack is a great place for lightweight, bulky items like a tent, sleeping bag, or extra clothing. Here are a few packs to consider.

Bookbag: A light, structureless bookbag can work for bikepacking in a pinch. Look for something smaller than 15 liters.

Fanny Pack: Also referred to as a hip pack or a lumbar pack, fanny packs sit low on your back and stay in place while you ride. The bag’s straps can also be wrapped around your handlebars to become a handlebar bag.

Bike-Specific Daypack: Biking backpacks are engineered to work with your body on a bike, and if you own one, definitely use it. They are less likely to slide up toward your shoulders and often have cycling-specific features like contoured hip belts, sternum straps, and lower back padding to help the bag stay in place and make it more comfortable.

Hydration Packs: A common gear item across outdoor sports, these packs carry water (and sometimes a small amount of gear, too). They vary according to the hydration bladder capacity, and the capacity of the pack that surrounds it. 

Panniers

Commuters or bike tourers often use panniers. While these work great on pavement, they’re less stable in off-road conditions and they’re vulnerable to scrapes and scratches when riding narrow singletrack. If you already have panniers, use them, but know you’ll be limited to smoother, wider dirt trails. In addition, panniers often require separate racks in order to mount to your bike. Bikepacking bags, on the other hand, often attach with velcro loops, which allows you to get more creative in where you mount them. 

Photo: Boris V.

The Improvised Setup

If you’re going out for a few days or less, it’s possible to improvise and attach gear directly to your bike. Look for adjustable ski straps, long strips of Velcro, or adjustable nylon straps to attach items securely.

Protect Your Bike

If you’re going to attach straps to your bike, first wrap your frame with a layer of electrical tape anywhere a cord or strap will touch it. This will keep the strap from rubbing paint off your frame.

Use Your Tubes

Long items like tents or tent poles can be strapped to your handlebars or under your top tube. 

Use Your Saddle

If you own dry bags or packing cubes, you can attach these under your bike’s saddle by running a strap around the bag and through your saddle rails.

The Expert-Level Setup

If you’re ready to take on week-long trips (or are just tired of riding with a backpack on), it might be time to buy some bikepacking bags. Start with frame packs, seat packs, and/or handlebar bags. 

Frame Packs

These bags fill the top half, or all, of the space between your top tube, down tube, and seat tube (the front triangle). When shopping, make sure that your bag fits your bike’s frame geometry. When installed, the bag shouldn’t be stretched out or scrunched up. 

Seat Packs

Seat packs tuck up under your saddle and attach to your saddle rails. These allow you to pack bulkier items and maintain a streamlined profile as you ride.

Handlebar Bag

These attach to your handlebars and hang off the front of your bike. They come in a variety of sizes from about a liter up to 20 liters. Fit is crucial: Make sure the bag fits on your bars without impeding your braking and shifting, and make sure it doesn’t rub against your front tire.

Waterproofing

Protecting your gear from the elements is always a good idea, but if you’re looking to save money, skip waterproof bags. Instead, stuff your most important gear, like sleeping bags, into dry sacks and place them within your bikepacking bags.

Need More Space?

For weeks-long trips or remote backcountry adventures (where you’ll need to be equipped to handle any issue that arises), consider these additional storage solutions. 

Top Tube Bags

These small bags, often called “snack bags,” rest on the top of your top tube near your handlebars. They’re great for storing small items like snacks or tools and keeping them easily accessible. 

Fork Bags or Cages

Many bikepackers use the space on the outside of the front forks to carry extra water or durable goods that won’t mind being bumped. These items can be attached using straps. If your bike’s fork is equipped with extra water bottle mounts along the sides, cages connect to those mounting points and provide a secure spot to strap on additional gear.

Extra Bottle Cage

Some bikes have frame mounts beneath the down tube for water bottles. You can store a water bottle there to free up space inside the frame for a larger frame bag.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.