Bikepacking for Beginners

Exploring the backcountry or back roads with your bike is a blast. Packing some extra kit to spend the night makes it even better, extending your range into remote regions and enhancing the outdoor experience. Cuppa soup, cheesy one-pot pasta and steamed pud never tastes so good as when capping off a big day.

Out There

Epic off-road events like the Kiwi Brevet, Great Southern Brevet, Tour Aotearoa and Tour Divide are the birthplace of modern bikepacking baggage. The desire to travel light, fast and far - with minimal exposure to wear ’n’ tear - has seen the rapid development of nifty bags and pockets that attach to your bike. They have quickly become the preferred choice for many on multi-day mountain bike trips like the Heaphy and Old Ghost Road.

Packman vs Pokemon

‘Bikepacking baggage’ lets you carry your overnight kit on your bike rather than on your back. The baggage itself is lightweight, tough and doesn’t rely on traditional racks so is nicely streamlined - mostly fitting within your bike’s envelope.

The core components are an under seat pack and a handlebar roll bag. Once you’ve got a few trips under your tyres you may (or may not) want to supplement with peripheral storage such as a frame bag (fits inside the front triangle), stem and/or top tube bag.

The Killer App

For multi-day mountain biking and off-road touring the knack is to travel light, but safe. On technical singletrack in particular excess weight becomes quite a handicap - requiring both increased skills and effort. So pack smart.

  • Lightweight bike-specific rainwear goes without saying. 
  • The ‘killer app’ is a modern, lightweight, low volume down sleeping bag. The Sea to Summit Traveller has 200gm fill. An adequate rather than cosy pit for the night but weighs just 400gm in total and occupies a paltry 1.5 litres in your bag.
  • A lightweight down or primaloft jacket comforts you around the hut or campsite, and extends your lightweight sleeping bag if the nocturnal temperature sinks a bit low.
Time of year, terrain and availability of huts all impact on your selection but on a two day-one night summer mtb trip you should easily be able to stash all your food, clothing and emergency kit into a waterproof Ortlieb Seat Pack/Handlebar Bag combo. You may choose to supplement those with a small daypack to carry a water bladder, lunch, snacks and evening meal. Check out the Weight Watcher’s Equipment Guide for more.
    Any Bike Will Do

    The weapon of choice for bikepacking is a 29er hardtail. However plenty opt for a dual suspension rig. Either way you'll want to invest some time mounting your bags securely to your bike. Generally they stay glued to it for the duration of the trip. You get to lovingly pack and extract your gear at the start and end of each day.

    Before fitting, lightly pack both bags. Upfront, take care to not tangle with brake hoses or gear cables. The roll bag hangs below your handlebar, so ensure it clears the front wheel when the front shock is fully compressed. Locking the shock out, limiting travel or increasing air pressure is invariably required.

    Likewise if you’re riding a dually, check that the under-seat bag clears the rear wheel when the shock is fully compressed. The best remedy is to pump up the shock to limit travel.

    Under-seat bags are not compatible with dropper seat posts. If you have a dropper either swap out for a standard post, or refrain from using it with the bag attached.

    Pack with Care

    Take time at the start of each day to stash your gear thoughtfully. Create a solid platform to stack the lighter stuff on. And minimise any voids. This maximises your load capacity and prevents the bags from shuffling and jiggling around on your bike.

    The Ortlieb Seat Pack has an air valve to let you to roll it tightly closed. The Handlebar Bag allows access from either end. In the ideal world you separate your gear so that at least one bag (normally the 'handlebar') remains packed all day. Leave ride food and clothing at the top of the other bag, or in your daypack.

    Feed Me

    Bikepacking is compelling, And serves up a hundred and one excuses to head out, and to indulge your life with titanium accoutrements.


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