Bikepacking — it’s easy

21 February 2024
First, let’s sort out the terms. In cycling trips I distinguish between:

• camp — one place (usually, a house) from which circular routes are ridden;

• tour (not to be confused with touring) — multiday trip from A to B without bags (meaning, with a support car);

• bikepacking — multiday trip from A to B with the bags on the bike. But, with indoor overnights (often planned ones — in hotels and such);

• bike-touring — long trip from A to somewhere distant with a prepared and loaded bike and a degree of self-sufficiency (tent, gas-burner, etc.). Something like that:
If you’re thinking about a bikepacking, but it seems too complicated — I suggest the following way of thought.

1) What you need to take with you for a long one-day ride? For me that’s:
• phone, cash/cards, and keys — in jersey pockets,
• mini-pump, tube/repair kit, multitool — in a compact saddle bag.

Also, the jersey pocket easily fits a crumpled cheap (non-membrane) rain jacket — both in case of rain and to be warm if it gets cold. Particularly in case of a non-planned stop (e.g. to repair a puncture).

Apart from that, people often take something to eat with them (gels/bars/dates/bananas). For that, it is convenient to use a toptube bag — I say this as someone who’s tried creative solutions like that one :) But you can also fit these into jersey pockets.
2) What you need to add to sleep outside of your home:

• cosmetics (we all have our own sets, but the minimum is a toothbrush & paste — if to assume that any hotel has shampoo & shower gel; the paste can be shared with others);

• phone, cycling computer, and lights charger; passport and small stuff (each has their own — but I will mention sleeping mask and earbuds);

• usually you should have some “normal” clothes (when it’s warm — pants, t-shirt, socks, underwear + light shoes, which you can skip if you use MTB cleats);

• wherever you stay, normally you can wash your clothes in the evening (even if in a sink/shower) and have it dry before morning — but having at least one extra set of cycling bibs, jersey, & socks (optionally, gloves) is helpful.

First-times usually take a lot of other stuff just in case — but such a case almost never happens. And the really necessary things fit into one large saddlebag, which you can attach to almost any bike.

But first, let’s take a look at what bikepacking bags exist.
I dislike bar bags and anything that hangs from the sides, as that just don’t let you ride normally. A toptube bag, as mentioned above, is convenient for some finger food. A frame bag is good for putting something heavy in it. But you can do without anything apart from the saddlebag — which you should choose with the following in mind.

A) If you have a small-sized bike, not every bag will fit between the saddle and the wheel. That’s the case where you can’t do without some more bags in the front.
B) The larger the bag, the more it will tend to swing from side to side, like a dog’s tail. I advise — either not the biggest bag that is fixed in far-spaced anchoring points:
...or a special thingy to stabilise a large saddlebag (okay, Google, saddlebag stabilizer):
...or a Tailfin ( right away — I have one, and it’s really good (but not cheap):
C) Normally, to unload the bag you need to undo every strap and take it off the bike (as well as then put everything back diligently — so that it wouldn’t sway around). But there’re saddlebags that have a shell that stays in place, but only the inner hermobag is removed:
Even with a regular saddlebag, I suggest to consider using inside it a vacuum bag, from which you could suck/squeeze out the air — it allows for both packing more compact, and keeping your stuff one hundred percent dry in case of rain.

That’s all from me. I’ve told you — bikepacking is easy ;)