Bikepacking – essentially backpacking, with your camping kit on the bike – has seen an understandable surge in interest, and given lockdown restrictions and minimal holiday options, we’ve all felt the desire to simply escape into nature. Bikepacking gives cyclists the opportunity to get off the beaten track and explore in a simple pared down way, while covering more distance, and carrying more kit than you could do on foot.
Whether you want to carry little more than a credit card and sleep in hotels and bunk-houses, brave the elements and sleep under the stars with a tarpaulin and bivvy bag, or take everything from tent and sleeping bag to cooking equipment, food and water and head out for weeks at a time, it’s all bikepacking, and we’ve got the fastest, lightest and comfiest kit wherever you decide to roam.
What’s the difference between bikepacking and bike touring?
Really, not that much. Bikepacking typically relies on lighter weight kit bags (distributed evenly around the bike) rather than the more traditional pannier bags fixed to front and rear racks of a touring bike. Bikepacking is generally more suited to all-terrain adventures and gravel bikes – the lighter packing and more versatile bag positions making the bike more manageable, especially on rough off road adventures.
There are as many different different bikes as ways to bikepack. Some might want to ride light and fast on a nimble gravel or all-road bike with ‘drop’ (road) handlebars, other riders preferring more technically demanding trails requiring a burliler mountain bike (with flat ‘bars). Riders buying a new rig for bikepacking should be looking for modern features like disk brakes and tubeless tyres as standard. Whether you choose steel, aluminium, titanium or a lightweight carbon fibre frame will totally depend on rider preference and budget. Simply put, as long as you have a bike that will take bikepacking bags, you have a bikepacking bike.
What luggage do I need?
There’s a temptation to try to cram as much into as few bags as possible, but the top pro tip is to spread the weight around the bike. This way it will keep the handling much more neutral and make the ride much more pleasant.
“A handlebar pack and saddle pack is a good starting point, but I’d also include a frame pack and potentially a top tube pack and maybe a food pouch,” says Chris Herbert from bikepacking specialists Apidura. “This would allow you to balance the load nicely and a bit of ‘dead’ space is a godsend for extra supplies.”
As a general rule keep the weight as low and central as possible. Weight on the handlebars can slow your steering and too much weight out back can cause your front wheel to lose traction on steep climbs. Saddle and handlebar packs are good for bulky compressible items like clothing, sleeping bags and tents. Heavy things are usually best at the base of the saddle bag or stashed in a frame bag inside the main triangle of the bike.
Open Cycles WI:DE
Billed as the world’s most versatile bike, the WI:DE (Winding Detours) picks up where the brand’s genre blurring do-it-all bike, the Open U.P, left off. It’s a light, all surface design with nimble road bike handling characteristics and the potential to run monster-sized knobbly tyres (up to 2.4” on 650b wheels). This bike can eat up any terrain in its path, making it ideal for mixed surface bikepacking routes that switch from tarmac to singletrack. Open Cycles designer Gerard Vroomen has managed to maintain the bike’s spirited ride, even over the roughest terrain by dropping both ‘chainstays’ (that run from the centre of the back wheel to the bottom bracket) and allowing the impressive tyre clearance. The bike’s clean front triangle is the perfect space for mounting bikepacking bags too, it also has space for an extra water bottle and ‘tool box’ underneath the downtube. Clever.
Price: From £2,900 | CycleFit
Decathlon Riverside 920
Decathlon might be synonymous with bargain priced outdoor gear, but with the Riverside 920, it has designed a brilliantly specified all-road bike at a laughably low price. Yes, it’s still £1,500, but you’d typically pay twice as much for a triple-butted aluminium frame and carbon fibre disk fork with a load rating of 170kg and well respected SRAM Rival hydraulic groupset. Amazingly the frame features 33 mounting points, enough to attach every conceivable pannier and pack, the 29 x 2.25″ tires have a ride-anything clearance for 2.4″ and as a finishing touch there’s a 6V/3W dynamo hub and USB port built into the stem for charging your tech as you pedal.
Price: £1,499 | Decathlon
Rene Herse Tyres
A boutique Seattle-based company offering the best all-road and gravel tyres for those in the know, Rene Herse Tyres are deceptively simple, with the almost slick ‘file-tread’ and wide spaced ‘knobby’ options available in variety of different widths from relatively skinny 26mm to voluminous 58.5mm. Higher volume tyres give more comfort on rough terrain reducing rider fatigue, with minimal additional rolling resistance. The tyres can also be specced in ‘casing’ weight (the amount of ‘threads’ woven in the tire carcass) – from Extralight to tougher Endurance according to your priority. The company enlisted ultra-endurance bike racing legend Lael Wilcox to help in the development of the Fleecer Ridge (shown), the award winning 55mm gravel hoop.
Price: From £72 | Rene Herse
Rapha rightly holds a reputation for some of the most finely detailed, comfortable (and expensive) clothing for two-wheel riders, and the Explore range is perfect for long days in the saddle. Reliable riding kit is often worth the investment when you’re considering a high mileage tour, especially off the beaten track. The range runs from the looser fitting Technical T-shirt (£65) – in keeping with bikepacking’s more laid back dress code – and the highly regarded Cargo Bib Shorts (£195) – road-bike lycra with an easy to reach thigh pocket for your mobile phone and energy snacks – to a packable down jacket for chilly evenings in-or-outside your sleeping bag.
Finish your first-class outfit off with the new Explore Powerweave shoes (£220), engineered for efficient pedalling and comfortable walking – for when you’re pushing a heavily laden bikepacking rig up a stretch of unrideable rocky doubletrack.
Price: From £65 | Rapha
POC Ventral Lite and Ohm Eternal Helmets
Minimalists rejoice, at less than 200g, the Ventral Lite (£240) is the world’s lightest cycling helmet. Designed around a lightweight in-mold PC shell that covers only the essential parts of the featherweight EPS liner the Ventral is perfect for ‘weight weenies’ who love counting the grammes (whether that’s on their bikes, or on their heads).
Need to keep riding past dusk and remain seen on those backroads? Switch to the brands Ohme Eternal lid and enjoy the benefits of a powerfoyle light-harvesting (think pared-back ‘solar panel’) strip in the centre of the shell that converts any light source to electrical power, fuelling the flashing rear light on the back of the helmet without a charge. The helmet senses when it’s dark and turns on automatically too.
Price: From £240 | Wiggle
Lezyne Bike Tools
A German brand that has had a dedicated following from riders-in-the-know since its inception in 2007. Lezyne has carved a niche for quality design, engineering and finishes on essential workshop and trailside tools – like pumps, multi-tools and lighting. Their signature black aluminium incarnations of basic kit make even the humble tyre lever sexy. Obviously bikepacking relies heavily on self sufficiency and equipment like Lezyne’s Super V tool, Drive series of pumps (manual and Co2 cartridge) and Tubeless kits, like the Duel Insert Kit are a solid place to start. All you have left to do is practice the ‘wrenching’ at home, while searching YouTube for a myriad of how-to-bike-fixes.
Hammerhead Karoo 2
You’re thinking, ‘I’ve got a smartphone, why would I need a bike computer?’ A cycling head unit, as they’re better known, is built to be crash proof, rainproof, more aerodynamic, and their raison d’etre is GPS tracking and data mining. Karoo 2 features a multi-touch display with pinch/zoom controls, turn-by-turn navigation and route planning is a breeze (download or create .GPX routes), and there’s a sim card slot for cellular coverage. 132g won’t weigh you down, the mount is featherlight and impressively secure and it can manage 12hrs of continuous GPS tracking, plus it plays nice with Strava et al as well as ANT+ and Bluetooth bike sensors and indoor turbo trainers.
Price: £359 | Hammerhead
Luggage / Packs
Restrap 14litre Seat Post Bag
Handmade in Leeds, Restrap make exceptional touring and bikepacking packs and there’s not a weak link in the entire collection – which includes five different frame pack designs, five handlebar bags, top tubes, feed bags and panniers. But for us, this 630g, 14litre hardcase style seat post bag offers bombproof quality and a secure, faff-free mounting system. The holster uses velcro instead of any fiddly mounts or screws, and the drybag is secured satisfyingly in place with a magnetic buckle, making it easy to remove and access without taking the hardcase off the bike.
Price: £109 | Restrap
Apidura Expedition Handlebar Pack
Another hugely impressive rider owned and operated brand that’s at the forefront of bikepacking innovation. Like Restrap they have a pack or mount for every part of your bike, with frame bags designed to accommodate MTB, road and gravel bike frame shapes. At 275g for the 14litre (250 for 9litre option) the Expedition Handlebar Pack is extremely light, easy to mount and ideal for stuffing full with your most compressible kit. Made using a three-layer laminate fabric, the rolltop design has welded seams for complete waterproofing. The whole collection is exceptionally versatile, but special mention must go to the 14litre compressible backpack that, at 8.5×10.5cm when stuffed, attaches easily to your bike, but when needed has room for supplies (that’s six 330ml cans) on route to your bivvy.
Price: From £96 | Apidura
Chrome Industries Urban Ex Pannier 2.0
The Urban Ex 2.0 is a multifunctional pannier built for cycling in the city, but one that will perform admirably when it’s time to escape. Made from super-tough polyester with a PU coating and fully welded seams is has 21litres of space plus padded sleeve for 13″ laptop, three-point attachment system and super-useful attachment hoops that have been designed to securely hold your D lock, freeing up space on the bike frame.
Price: £140 | Chrome Industries
MSR Freelite 1
Trail hardened, fast-travelling bikepackers don’t bother with tents, they pack a bivy, a sleeping bag and find a nice bush to sleep in. For longer trips in British climates however we suggest the MSR FreeLite 1. At 1.13kg it will happily stash on your saddle or handlebar bag, but once pitched, offers a surprisingly roomy tent for one, with enough space to sit up and not feel too claustrophobic. The two Easton Syclone poles are made of aerospace-grade composite materials and can survive storm force winds, as can the 15D Nylon Ripstop flysheet, while the micromesh canopy offers maximum ventilation, condensation control and a mosquito free sleep.
Robens Elk River 1
This is a superb value one man design from Robens that has a maximum weight of 1.5kg and measures just 42x11cm when packed. The front door has a surprisingly generous porch for stashing wet boots and packs, and the double zip allows for easy ventilation in the summer without leaving the door flapping. Pre-joined freestanding exoskeleton design supported by DAC alloy poles is a dream to pitch, even after a 100km day on the trails. It’s significantly tougher than many lightweight tents too, using 75D polyester for the floor and 30D polyester, with 3000mm hydrostatic head (waterproofness) on the flysheet.
Price: £299 | Robens
Vango Cobra 200
Not a brand typically associated with ultralight adventure gear, but this solid value Vango sleeping bag weighs just 700g and stuffs down to a ridiculous 16x14cm. What makes this option all the more remarkable is the fact the 700 fill 90/10 treated premium goose down combined with an aluminised layer that reflects heat back to the user, will keep you snug and warm even down to -4°C, making it a safe bet for even early spring trips.
Price: £170 | Vango
Therm-a-rest NeoAir UberLite Sleeping Pad
At 250g it’s the lightest sleeping pad available, but still manages to boast a hip-relieving 6.5cm of cushioning, takes about 30-seconds to inflate using the one-way valve and rolls up to about the size of a can of beer. It feels incredibly thin, but the nylon and polyurethane construction is impressively tough (don’t sleep on gravel though). It has an insulation ‘R’ rating of 2.3, making it, like most people, ideally suited to summer months.
Primus Firestick Ti
89g of easy-to-pack fiery brilliance from Primus. Pop the cap on this ultralight titanium stove and the tripod pan rests open up instantly. The Piezo ignition stick – included in the wool carry pouch – gets the burner going, and with 2,500W of concentrated power will boil a litre of water in just 3.5 minutes. There are lighter and more powerful stoves available, none are as easy to stash in a frame bag as this, without the risk of ripping.
Price: €89.95 | Primus
Snow Peak Trek Titanium 700
Japanese luxury camping brand Snow Peak specialise in titanium cookware, and their 67g titanium mugs (£20) and 8g Sporks (£9) should be mandatory for all camping trips, but for saving every last gram on the bike, but still getting fed without the use of a roadside cafe, this 700ml titanium cook pot is ideal for solo travelling, weighs an inexplicable 136g, and features a lid for faster boiling, that also doubles as a strainer.
Sea to Summit X-Set 31
For longer, more relaxed bikepacking tours, you’ll soon appreciate the ingenuity and versatility of this cookset. This collapsible design – made from food-grade, heat-resistant silicone – includes two 600ml bowls, two 480ml cups and a collapsible 2.8l pot with metal heat-proof base for cooking. The whole kit weighs 607g, but squishes down to roughly the size of a dinner plate, and can easily fit in a full-sized frame bag.
Sea to Summit Air Chair
After a day in the saddle, the prospect of sitting on a cold floor while you cook dinner and apply the Deep Heat is a grim one, but at least this simple V-frame support will take the weight off. It fits most standard width sleeping pads and lets you recline fully supported, while the base is a tear-resistant and 2000mm head rated, so your sleeping pad won’t get punctured or soaked before bed. It’s a design for the die-hard gram-savers, weighing just 230g and packing to virtually nothing.
Helinox Chair Zero
If you’re planning a longer trip however, and need some campsite comforts, we can heartily recommend the Helinox Chair Zero. Packed down it’s the size of a water bottle (10x35cm), and weighs a measly 488g, but crucially, it turns into a derriere-loving, back supporting godsend of a chair. With 23cm off the ground we don’t guarantee an easy exit from it, but you’re finally on holiday, so what’s the rush?
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