I’m currently using my Revelate bikepacking gear somewhat unconventionally in that at least part of this trip is inevitably straightforward touring. That is, I am often in towns staying in hostals or hospedhajes, I’m carrying casual off bike clothing and other stuff irrelevant in the backcountry, and — while I don’t prefer it — I do sometimes put my head down to cover distance on asphalt.
That kind of travel would typically be well served with a set of panniers or a trailer, and at any rate doesn’t exploit the significant advantages in balance, control and trail clearance afforded by modern bikepacking gear. Up to the eleventh hour I was set on panniers for their convenience and versatility. But then I made a deal with myself: If I was going to pilot a pig of a Fat Bike in South America, I’d cut as much weight as possible from the rest of the kit. Bikepacking gear can’t be matched in that respect, eliminating racks and the structural apparatus of panniers or trailers.
So, over three months in, what do I think of using a bikepacking setup for regular touring? There are two notable inconveniences. The first is bag removal. When staying in accommodations other than the tent, the bicycle is often downstairs or away in a storage area, so I have to bring anything I need with me to the room. I’m carrying my clothing and toiletries in the seat bag, but removing it and, especially, affixing it again with the proper tension is fiddly and certainly less convenient than un/clipping a pannier on a rack.
The second issue is accessing gear on the fly. If I need raingear or want my ballcap or want to do a quick adjustment with the torx key, it often requires taking a lot of other stuff out and digging around. The items in the saddle bag are part of what gives it shape, so it needs to be packed fairly tightly. This works against easily reaching for stuff you didn’t expect to grab in the course of a day. Over the months I have had time to think through what I might want in the next few hours of any given situation, but it has certainly required vigilance and reflection.
These two are enough, I think, to make it so that someone committed to touring on the road in a fairly conventional mode won’t want to replace panniers or a trailer with full on bikepacking kit. For road touring the added weight is probably worth the convenience.
But that´s really a much more serious caveat and compromise that it first appears. Riding broken dirt sections is, for me, one of the great joys of touring. I´m a mountain biker at heart and there have been too many times in the past when I´ve looked longingly at singletrack or even mildly demanding doubletrack, reluctant to commit to it because of my setup. There have been a bunch of days here that I flat out would not have wanted to do or been able to do with a conventional touring setup. Conventional setups have too many rigid parts that are prone to breaking in hard use, and they place the load in all the wrong places for technicial riding. Bikepacking gear, while it present inconveniences, makes it so that nothing is off limits. So I now see bikepacking gear as nearly essential for this kind of trip in the way I want to do it; it opens places that one might not otherwise explore. Other than the irritations named above, there is no downside. And the upside is enormous.