Bikepacking is as easy as riding a bike! That is, once you’ve figured out how to cover your metal steed in ultra light luggage. Here Mattie Gould shows us the many ways to configure bikepacking bags.
People have been cycle touring for decades, possibly centuries, and for most of this time the method for carrying camping gear has been the same.
Traditional pannier bags attached to a rack on the front and back of the bike. But as mountain bikes have become more popular and off-road cycle touring has evolved into bikepacking, the traditional pannier system doesn’t quite cut the mustard.
Bumpier terrain calls for a new approach to bike luggage, and this is where the new breed of bikepacking bags have evolved.
While some folk still prefer pannier bags and racks, there are now more options than ever.
There are bikepacking bags that strap to your bars, your frame, your forks – you name it, people are strapping bags to it!
With all these new types of bikepacking bags, things can get confusing. So, here’s your guide to the different types of bags and some tips on choosing the right setup for you.
Types of Bikepacking Bags
Saddlebags are one of the larger bags you can attach to your bike and usually strap to the underside of your saddle and onto the seat post.
These are a great spot for storing sleeping bags, sleeping mats, clothes and other bulky items. Some saddlebags use a harness and dry bag, while others are one piece.
Hot Tip: Before getting a saddle bag, you’ll need to check how much space there is between your saddle and rear wheel. If you have quite a small bike, there may not be space for a saddle bag, in which case you may need to consider using a rear rack.
Like the saddlebag, your handlebar bag is another great spot for carrying larger items, like your shelter and sleeping gear.
Most handlebar bags run across the handlebars, like a roll. Some handlebar bags use a harness and dry bag, others are complete pieces, and some require a rack to keep them steady and away from the front wheel.
Hot tip: If you have drop bars on your bike, check how much space is between them as this will impact the size of bag you can use. You’ll also need to bear in mind the space between your handlebars and front wheel, as some bags might droop and rub.
Frame bags occupy the space inside the triangle of the frame.
You can get full frame bags which fill the entire space, ½ frame bags, wedge shaped bags and quarter bags.
If you are using a dual suspension mountain bike, you will have less space in your triangle, but there are still some bags out there that will fit (like these smaller corner bags).
You might also consider getting a custom frame bag made that will perfectly fill the space and maximise usage.
Hot tip: When using a frame bag, you need to think about where you will be storing water. You might also want to add some frame protection to stop the bag and straps rubbing the paint on your frame.
Your forks can be a great spot for carrying extra luggage when bikepacking. Lots of bikes are now being built with mounting points on the forks, making it easier to attach bags and cages.
If your bike doesn’t have mounts, you can buy or make adapters to add mounting points. (Check out this comprehensive list of mounts and DIY methods here)
You can use cages on your forks to attach the bags, keeping them steady, or you can use the cages to carry extra water bottles — this is especially useful if you’re travelling in dry areas, or are using a frame bag.
Hot tip: Adding bags to your forks can affect your steering, so try and balance the weight on either side and ensure the bags don’t collide with the bike frame when turning.
Stem bags are often referred to as feed bags as most folk use them for keeping their snacks close to hand.
They usually attach with Velcro straps around your handlebars and stem. They’re an excellent spot for storing things you need during your ride; think snacks, compact camera, sunnies, sun cream, an extra water bottle.
Hot tip: Depending on the size of your frame / legs, you may find that your knees bump into your stem bags when you are out of the saddle to pedal. If this is the case, consider flat profile bags, or alternative storage spots – like a fuel tank style top tube bag.
Top Tube Bag:
Also known as fuel tanks, the top tube bag sits on top of your frame, attaching to the top tube and stem (or seat tube).
They come in a range of sizes and are another great spot for carrying food (fuel), your phone and other items you might need closer to hand.
Hot tip: Top tube bags can make it a little trickier getting on and off the bike, so try holding your bike at an angle before swinging your leg over the first time.
Racks, Backpacks and Bumbags:
While racks are still often more associated with bicycle touring, they can be a great way to add storage space and versatility to your bikepacking rig.
There’s plenty of great racks out there, so shop around and find one that works for you and your bike.
Backpacks are another great way to add extra storage space to your ride.
Some people even carry ultralight packable backpacks for carrying food as they can be packed away when no longer needed.
A backpack with a water bladder is also a great option if you’ve removed your bottle cages while using a frame bag. Just be mindful not to carry too much weight on your back as it can be more tiring.
Bumbags, aka hip packs, also add that bit of extra carrying capacity. They’re a great spot for lugging your camera and can be nicer than wearing a full backpack. Some hip packs also have water bladders and straps for a rain jacket.
Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to set up your bike and you’ll rarely find two people that have chosen the exact same combination of bags and racks. And that can be half the fun of it!