Finding the best way to pack for bikepacking is one of the most asked questions when it comes to getting started. Due to the wide variety of packing lists and bike configurations, there is no definitive ‘standard’ for where items should be packed. Your arrangement will vary depending on your setup (hardtail or full-suspension?), your gear list (ultra-minimalist or glamper?) and personal preferences. However, there are a few pointers I’ve found helpful in getting organized:
- Get the weight low – and off your back. Heavy items should be stashed as low as possible to keep the bike handling as intended. Too much weight in a backpack will increase fatigue (in addition to giving you a sweaty back) and too much weight on the bars will make your bike feel like a semi truck. Keep the weight low and off your back to increase comfort when you’re grinding out long miles in the saddle.
- Organize by convenience for the ride. Find yourself constantly reaching for your phone or the sunscreen? Keep these items in a pouch on your handlebars, in a gastank bag, or at the top of your framebag. Conversely, you probably aren’t using your cooking stove while you’re riding, so put that one down closer to your pedals. Simple.
- Avoid wear & tear. While you’re railing down singletrack and bouncing around on dirt roads, the contents of your packs are doing the same. Ensure any sharp or abrasive items are stored in a container-bag and don’t overfill a bag as this will increase the likelihood of punctures or tears. My first bikecamping trip, I carried my tent bag on a rear-mounted rack with the poles resting underneath, against the rack. After 50 miles, friction from the metal poles had already worn a hole in the tentbag that contained them – lesson learned.
So, what goes where on my bike?
As opposed to a traditional touring setup, a bikepacker will typically have a set of soft, water-resistant bags rather than racks and panniers to keep the weight low, centered and improve maneuverability on tight singletrack. While you don’t need a full soft bag setup to get started, bike bags will keep weight off your back and make the experience smoother:
- The Frame Bag: Probably the largest (and lowest) bag you’ll have, this is a great place to store your heaviest items: water bladder, stove, fuel, tent stakes, food, extra snacks and gear you won’t need while riding. I’ve found that bags with an internal separator (such as the Revelate Designs Frame Bags) make it much easier to pack small, loose gear to prevent rattling on the trail.
- Top Tube / “Gas Tank” Bag: This space should be reserved for items you want easy-access to while riding. Phone, money / ID, sunscreen and a few energy bars are a perfect fit for this little space.
- Handlebar Roll or Harness: You’ll want to put wide, bulky items up front – this is a great space for a Small tent or Bivy and a sleeping bag. Don’t put too much weight here or it will drastically affect your handling – I shoot for <4 lbs, which includes a down sleeping bag (in a dry-bag) and tent body + poles. Don’t want to shell out for a manufactured handlebar harness or roll? Get plans to make your own.
- Seat Bag: Your seat bag attaches relatively high on the bike, so avoid heavy stuff and stick to compressible items. Don’t overfill or you may get a ‘wagging tail’ effect as the bag swings left and right during cornering. Try stashing your inflatable pad, spare clothes, and rain jacket here. This is also a decent spot for a compressible sleeping bag or tent fly/body if you don’t already have it on the front.
- Water Reserves: Water is the heaviest thing you’ll carry – keep it as low as possible by using a large accessory cage like the Blackburn Outpost Cargo Cage or King Cage “Many Things” Cage. If weather is nasty, throw a plastic bag over the mouth and secure with a rubber band to avoid the dreaded “Giardia-Bottle” from mud that’s tossed up from your front tire. Don’t have bosses for a water cage on your downtube? Attach a cage with standard department store hose clamps (with thin rubber or tape underneath). Extra points if you can find a pot that nests with your waterbottle, which gives you a bit more flexibility with meals and drinks.
A Sample Bikepacking Pack List
Below is a list that works for me, but I’m constantly tweaking this setup and it’s taken me a few years to narrow down to what works best for the trips I’m taking. Check out the list below, or download this sample bikepacking pack list for yourself.
- Alcohol Stove: Trangia burner, 60 oz. fuel, lighter, potstand, and windscreen
- Hang Bag(s) & Rope / Caribiner: Two cinch-sacks (small / large) and 30ft of paracord
- Food: Dehydrated meals and a few bars
- Camp Cup: TOAKS 450 ml is hard to beat for size, weight and price
- Toilet paper
- Pocket Knife
- Camp Soap, Toothbrush, & Toothpaste: Put these in a baggy so it’s easy to stash at night
- Water Filter: For the price, the Sawyer Mini is unbeatable
- Coffee & Filter: I pointed this out in one of my trip posts, but the GSI Outdoors Ultralight Java Drip Coffee Maker is a fantastic, lightweight filter if you’re into the craft
- Sleeping Pad: I’ve been happy with the Big Agnes Insulated Air Core
- Camp Clothes: Spare underwear, socks and a longsleeve or puffer
- Tent Fly
- Rain Jacket
- Pillow Case: Stuff your puffer inside, instant pillow!
- Tent Body & Poles: I’ve been a fan of the Big Agnes Fly Creek series
- Sleeping Bag: A compressible 20-deg down bag is great for a range of conditions
Gas Tank (Top Tube):
- Sunscreen: A small travel container is nice to have along
- Credit Card, ID, Insurance Card, Cash, Key: Ditch the wallet and keychain, you won’t need them
- Energy Bars
- Phone: In a plastic ziplock for extra waterproofing
- Lip Balm
- Water Bladder: If it’s not in the framebag, it goes here
- Camera: I shoot with the Fuji XT10 and XF27mm f2.8 pancake lens
- Trail and shock pumps: Just in case
- Misc. bike prep: Tire boot, spare chainlinks, a chainring bolt, patch kit, and some tape
- First Aid: I usually carry bandages, Advil, and Tylenol in case of a spill, but this changes based on trip duration
I hope this post was helpful – if you have any great tips I missed, drop them in the comments section below!