It All Works
Throughout the last couple years that I’ve been bikepacking, my gear setup has been tweaked, shifted, refined, and modified numerous times. I started out using backpacking gear, 90% of which works just fine, but then slowly slimmed down weight through ultralight gear, fewer material possessions, and essentially, larger risks, i.e. less food/water. I decided to document some of these changes in order to highlight #1 – that pretty much any gear works if you’re trying to get out on the trail and #2 – what works best for me.
The Early Days
On my first couple bikepacking trips, a decent amount of jerry-rigging was administered. Outside of the frame bag and seatbag, I used gear from bike touring (namely my Acorn handlebar bag) and backpacking. I bungee corded my EZ-Light sleeping pad and sleeping bag to the front of my Jones H-Loop bar, carried my hefty REI Half-Dome 2 person tent in my backpack, and then threw the rest of my gear in the handlebar bag, seat bag, and frame bag. As you can probably tell, the Revelate Viscacha Seatbag didn’t quite fit on my size medium Krampus frame, but Revelate Designs let me return the bag in favor of the slimmer Pika version, which works great.
In addition to the slimmer Pika seatbag shown below, I purchased the Sunlite Gold Tec Front Rack, which only cost $15, is extremely light, and claims to have a 40-pound carrying capacity. While I doubt that this last fact is true for those using it on singletrack, it is quite sturdy, and I may eventually go back to using it again seeing as how its weight is practically identical to the front harness I currently use.
Switching from the front rack to the Revelate front harness was the first substantial shift I made in my gear. What I like about the harness is that I can easily fit my tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad in it, and getting them cinched tight in the harness takes less time than bungee cording and Salsa Anything Strapping gear to the front rack did. The problem with the harness was that it squished my Acorn handlebar bag up against my headtube, making it hard to access the contents inside it. Do you see where I’m heading with this?
Rather than continuing to use my Acorn handlebar bag with the Revelate harness, I decided to go all Revelate Designs and purchase the Jerry Can and Gas Tank, both of which mount on the top tube of the bike. This took some of the additional weight off the front end of the bike, making it feel more nimble and responsive, plus allowed for easier access to snacks and other essentials than using the handlebar bag / harness combination.
Although not bag related, water storage is always an important consideration when bikepacking. In addition to switching from cheapo bottle cages on the front to Specialized Zee cages, I also hose-clamped an additional bottle holder to the downtube of my bike.
My bikepacking setup was nearing perfection at this point.
The Modifications – My 2 Current Setups
My last change once again relates to water rather than bags. I switched out the conventional bottle cage on the downtube for a Blackburn Outpost Cargo Cage. This allows me to carry a 1.5 liter Nalgene on the downtube and nix the fork bottle cages and carry 3 liters of water in my backpack instead. With this setup, I opt for a more nimble front end at the expense of more weight on my back. However, I can also carry 4.5 liters of water versus the 2.5 liters I would carry with only the Nalgene and fork water bottles, so this setup is preferred when water is less prevalent on the trail.
My other setup is for trips where I won’t need as much water, or where water is more abundant on the trail. It includes the 1.5 liters on the downtube once again, and the two bottle cages on the fork. As stated before, the benefit is less weight on the back. The problem is it puts additional weight on the fork, making it slightly less maneuverable on technical singletrack. I’ve found this setup is best in winter; snow tends to be less technical and is a ubiquitous water source.
Full Circle Ending
I always tell my Language Arts students that no matter what the writing genre, always connect your conclusion to the hook you used at the beginning to capture your reader’s attention. So to avoid hypocrisy, I’ll end by saying that over the last two years, a fair amount of money has been invested in my ideal bikepacking setup in order to avoid the discomfort of an overburdened backpack. Still, these investments are not paramount for a successful bikepacking expedition. Bikepacking can be accomplished with a back rack, some touring panniers, and a backpack. Still, I hope that my setup gets the wheels turning for other future bikepackers wanting to experience the thrills, joys, frustrations, and wonder that this unique sport has to offer.