It's fascinating to discover what essentials other riders are hauling in their bikepacking bags.
The 'check-list' is usually the result of a lot of trial and error and insights gleaned from many a successful trip and without doubt the odd misjudged one too. Your list of must-haves will evolve over time, but here's our pick of 10 essential items to have on board when you head out on your next bikepacking adventure.
1. Dependable lights
One of the joys of bikepacking is not necessarily sticking to a schedule. You've likely got an idea of your route, but if you're self-contained and carrying overnight gear then it's up to you where, when and how, you bed down for the night. The sun is hitting the horizon, but you're in the zone and just want to keep pedaling on...
A solid light system will keep you happy and motivated into the darkness, keep you safe on the road (even in daytime lights will add a safety margin), and make life easier when you hit camp.
Depending on the scale and style of your trip you may choose to go fully tech with a dynamo charging and lighting system (great for longer expeditions or ultra brevets), or more minimalist and simple on battery power (especially if you know you can charge up en route).
Either way you'll probably want to include a headtorch, or helmet mountable light and as bright a rear flasher as you can find.
Being able to run your tyres tubeless has been a game changer in adventure cycling. Low pressures, light weight, but though punctures and flats are highly unlikely, they are not out of the question altogether. A tubeless repair plug kit and a tyre boot are part of your self-sufficiency arsenal if you are a running tubeless setup.
A packable but dependable multitool is the core of your bikepacking toolkit. The first line of defence is a solid maintenance regime. But when things go awry on the ride, sod's law says it will have just started snowing and you'll have numb fingers. And you're hungry.
Make sure you magic multitool isn't too minimalist. Some of the really tiny ones look fab and take up no space, but are pretty much useless when the s$#@ hits the fan as the hex keys are too short to get much leverage.
A slightly heavier (often only a few grams in it) but more usable option is to take separate full length allen keys and a small chain tool.
The bikepackers secret! Originally created for strapping skis together, Voile straps come in super handy for securely lashing pretty much anything to anything and are immune to coming loose over the rough stuff. They are made of grippy rubber which clamps the load tightly but gently.
There are a few similar offerings now from other brands, including Restrap listed below.
Never set off on a mission without a couple of gear straps on board!
Pretty obvious, but leave them at home and you'll surely regret it! It pays to keep the grime, dust and wind out of your eyes, and shade your peepers from the glare of the sun. We love sunnies that have a reactive lens that works through a range of light, darkening in the sun and fading to almost clear for forest and low light riding.
Long days in the saddle can play havoc with the, ahem, undercarriage. This is more often a problem when smashing out the kms on a brevet or ultra where you could be pushing upward of 18 hours of riding in a day. Saddle sores are notoriously hard to deal with once they develop, so better altogether to make sure they don't turn up in the first place. Saddle cream is step one in good saddle hygiene.
You have three contact points with your bike, and the saddle is probably the one that causes the most grizzles and gripes. Get this right and you'll feel like you can ride on into the sunset. But get it wrong, and your bike will cease to be your friend - and we don't want that.
Saddles are a very personal matter. The model that your riding buddy raves about might be a torture instrument for you. That said, you can do yourself a big favour and measure your sit bone distance and use that as your guide when choosing the right size perch for your derrière. A common beginners blunder is to mistake padding for comfort. Actually minimal but high quality padding paired with as good a padded bike short as you can afford will be a much better solution.
Many experienced bikepackers favour the classic leather Brooks B17, which will break in to eventually fit you like a glove. If they made gloves for bums.
A top tube bag keeps the essentials right under your nose and easily accessible. If you are buying your first bikepacking bag, make it this one. It will probably live on your bike regardless of what type of ride your doing. Stuff it with snacks, electronics, tools, a beanie. A multitude of uses.
Remember, it's not (always) about suffering! Inevitably though, there will be times when morale dips and the legs feel like lead. Pack some snacks that just make you happy, even if they're maybe not always the most nutritious. Chocolate-coated coffee beans and snakes have saved many a bikepackers bacon!
10. Packable Pack
The beauty of bikepacking bags is that they distribute the load across your bike and keep it off your body, which makes the riding more fun and the body takes less of a beating! However, sometimes you just need some extra stash room, albeit temporarily, especially when riding brevet style events when you load up with food at the resupply ready to dive into the next section of riding.
A minimal backpack that you can stuff away when not needed is perfect for these situations. Once your supplies are depleted once more, stow the bag easily out of the way without losing any precious space in your frame bags.