What Every Bikepacker Doesn’t Know They Need: 4 Underappreciated Bikepacking Must-Haves (in my opinion)

At this point in the game, I’ve got my bikepacking setup pretty dialed.  Be it summer, fall, winter, or spring, I know what I need for each trip and what gear goes where on my bike, and rarely do I end up feeling like there was an item of excess or an item of need throughout a trip. 

There are always those go-to pieces of gear in any rider’s kit that come along on every adventure.  Maybe for you it’s that comfy and odorless(ish) pair of smartwool underwear.  Maybe it’s those dorky sun sleeves that allow you to avoid lathering up with sunscreen every few hours.  Maybe it’s the ratty pair of headphones you bring to liven up the ennui of sunny afternoons in the saddle with audiobooks. 

For me, there are definitely items that always come along on a trip, but what makes these four particular items special is not their ‘permanent residence’ status in my packlist.  It’s their potential uniqueness from other bikepacker’s lists.  They’re underappreciated essentials, in my opinion.  You may call me eccentric or ‘old-school’ after you see this list, but at the end of the day, I’m always glad I’ve brought these four items along.  Here they are!

Underappreciated Item #1: The Handkerchief

I guess this image best represents the ‘intended’ use of the handkerchief.

#oldschool.  Perhaps the item I use most on this short four-item list, the handkerchief is truly the multi-tool of textiles.  Most being made of cotton, such as the one shown above, they’re easy to clean, feather-light, and serve a whole host of purposes, including, but not limited to:

  • Nose-emptier (had to start with the obvious first)
  • Wash-cloth: Works great for scrubbing the grime off after a day of riding, if near a creek or lake.
  • Pot-scrubber: Perfect for scrubbing dinner dishes, and dries in 30 minutes.
  • Hotpad: Functions as a great hotpad for the ubiquitous pot of boiling water on bikepacking trips.
  • Water purifier: If using iodine tablets in a pinch, putting the handkerchief over top of your water bottle or bladder opening filters out any chunky bits that might try to float into your water receptacle.
  • Head-cooler: Hot day?  Put your handkerchief in a nearby stream, put it on your head, and strap your helmet over top of it.

Underappreciated Item #2: Blow-Up Pillow

Bryn’s trying real hard to use my pillow just above her.  Not gonna happen!

#lush.  This is something I’ve slowly come to terms with, and now would not go without in my gear list.  I used to just stuff a bunch of my extra clothes into a drybag and use that as a pillow, but it always ended up feeling lumpy and unsatisfying.  While you may feel like a glamper among your bikepacking buddies, having a blow-up pillow really does make for a more consistent, comfortable night’s sleep and, like the handkerchief, basically weighs nothing.

Underappreciated Item #3: Ear Plugs

No action shots with these bad boys, but I assure you, they’ve gotten a lot of use.

#wildlifephobia.  I’ll admit it.  When out in the wilderness, it doesn’t take much to have me sitting bolt upright in my tent assuming that noise I heard was either a giant grizzly bear or a velociraptor (it’s usually a squirrel).  My solution to this small wildlife phobia is ear plugs.  Ear plugs protect me from the ferocious squirrel noises of the night, as well as the potentially ferocious snoring of my bikepacking partners.

Underappreciated Item #4: Sock Grease Rag

Again, no action shots, but lots of use.

#sockmittens.  When my socks wear out, it feels like such a waste of material to simply throw them away.  However, I recently discovered that socks make excellent bike cleaning and grease rags.  What’s nice about the sock rag is that you can stick your hand into it, just like a mitten, and keep your hand mostly grease free as you lube your chain or clean up muck that has gotten cemented to the frame of your bike.  A great way to get a little more life out of your worn out socks!

Other Essentials?

Of course, there are so many other little essentials in my gear list that always come along with me, but these four are the ones that are overlooked in the average setup.  If one of these items does get added to your own kit in the coming months, I promise you won’t regret it!