Bikepacking Gear for Touring

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.

16 thoughts on “Bikepacking Gear for Touring

  1. Just got the Revelate seat pack, and love it. Not an off-road tourer (yet?), but a couple of thoughts from an aspiring randonneur:
    - ‘bike-packing’ frame/seat bags not only save weight, but they also bring that weight closer to the centre of the bike, making for better handling, and making my road bike usable for light-touring/randonneuring
    - also makes it very easy to take items on my commute bike: no-rack fixed gear
    - saves buying racks for several bikes
    - nothing wrong with being forced to take less, better organized (always put things back in the same spot – learned lead-climbing)

    Have you considered pulling off the whole saddle/post/bag? Grease can get messy, but plastic bag covers that. Tape around the seat-post marks the level to put it back to.

  2. I would pack my toiletries or other gear groupings in ultra-light stuff sacks (my favorite is the one that originally came with my therma-rest) then I would use a large lightweight bag (like a reusable shopping bag) and grap the small stuff sacks out of the frame bags and put them in the big empty bag for transport back and forth from the bike.
    I’m not a bike-packer but this is the system I’ve used for backpacking, car camping, and other multi-activity sorts of trips. Maybe it would translate and maybe not but I thought I’d toss it out there.

  3. Really interesting stuff. As always, I’m inspired by your setup and where it is taking you.
    I’m not sure I can quite make the break from panniers/trailer quite yet, though every time I check out your site, I get head-scratching again… Maybe I’m too stuck to those extra luxuries, like my computer (-;
    For me, a trailer/framebag setup has been an interesting experiment into trying to combine the two schools of thought. I’m carrying a full bikepacking setup for short range singletrack tours, while the trailer is long distance-friendly. Having room for a few days of food without the need to figure out a jigsaw puzzle each time has its advantages. But of course, I do often lament the extra kgs… In contrast, bikepacking feels so liberating!

    • “Jigsaw puzzle” is right. I really do have to mind the map and routes to make sure I can resupply. With this setup I can do four days of total lack of resources if I’m super careful. I don’t mind riding hungry for a day going into two (can’t count the times I’ve done it), so let’s day six at the very (uncomfortable) outside.

      Recalling that in Tibet I’d go two weeks no problem (with a trailer) it does show the wisdom of your experiment. Then again, Parsons & co. went the whole AK coast trip without resupply; of course they didn’t face the challenges of civilization ;-)

  4. Hi Joe,
    My first post, but I have been following your travels for some time now, a brilliant source of inspiration….thank you.

    I have been riding through Chile for the last month on a 54cm LHT built up mountain bike/tour divide style. Two inch marathon extremes, riser bar, profile aeros and aside from my CDW large seatbag, I spent the month of October sewing my own bags; frame bag, rear frame bag, tank and handle bar system. At first I did find it a little restricted in terms of packing. Not so much my kit but primarily in carrying multiple days of food. I brought along a sea to summit silnylon daypack but with a little creativity and shuffling I´ve been able to get by quite sufficiently and without using the backpack.

    When camping I just leave the bags on the bike and pull out whats needed. quilt, mat, moment tent etc…. My handlebar set up with inspiration from Scott (porcelain rocket) stays attached to the bars and the stuff sacks and dry bags just get pulled out as needed. rain gear on one side, montbell insulation on the other, quilt and mat in the middle. For me this was key, to have the bar bag stay attached to the bars and to be able to access from both sides via roll top type closures. I made the bar bag big so I could throw in extras; knee warmers, an empanada or two and a bottle of gatorade for later if needed. In my opinion one of the short comings of the revelate harness system (I´ve never used one) would be the lack of quick accessabilty using regular dry bags. The whole rigidity of the system would seem to fall apart and repacking a pain…so it would seem.

    I made a separate bag for the moment and a separate bag for the poles. If you´ve seen Scott´s work he uses lots of velcro, I used this idea and this helps reduce any shuffling around of the bags that may otherwise potentially occur.

    The frame bag has two main compartments, a map pocket on one side and a ´stash pocket´ built into the liner accessed from the inside of the lower compartment.
    Top main – toiletries, towel, windshirt, balclava, gloves, bladder (unused) and snack/food for the day, spokes, daypack.
    Bottom main – two tubes, pump, electronic chargers and batteries in stuff sack, inline filter attached to hose (unused) spare guide book pages,
    Stash thin pocket – itinerary, other currency (arg from before) passport copies and photos, stickers for friends in ziplock.
    Map – maps, mp1 pills unused

    Seatbag – clothes in stuff sack nearest post, novel, cook kit, fuel (canister) breakfast stuff (oatmeal and whey powder in ziplocks)

    I´ve toured 4 panniers and agree they are easier to access and a can be more convenient overall. Using a bikepacking setup for touring though has been amazing. Hiking trails; volcan osorno, villarica national park were so much fun just bombing on a bike the way a bike is supposed to handle, or the way I am used to them handling.

    In terms of some of the shortcomings you address. I think the handle bar bag system could be the biggest reason, accessibilty being key.

    When going into hospedaje´s or hostels I just leave the bags on the bike, pull out the stuff sacks I need and throw them into the silnylon day pack and a plastic shopping bag and up to the room just as Alli described above….everything grouped in stuff sacks, organized.

    Food for a week, that would be a challenge but I´ve got some ideas for that, water on the other hand…..

    I must add, my trips are only a month at a time so travelling longer may bring on different challenges, I think for the most part though the kit I have with me here I would bring on most tours.

    Sorry for the longwinded post, especially being my first but I thought I would add my recent experience. I will be adding my ´set up´with pictures to bikepacking.net when I get home.

    Buen Suerte and have a great time out there.

    Adam.

    • This is fantastically useful, Adam, thanks a lot for posting it. Can’t wait to catch some photos of your setup, any links?

      What you’re describing sounds ace, I look forward to poaching some of these ideas.

      Where are you now? I just descended to that nuthouse San Pedro.

      All best,
      Joe

      • Day before last I arrived back home in Vancouver. Thirty + degrees in Buenos Aires the day of my flight, 2,3 degrees crisp, cold in a what felt like a matter of hours. I wish I was still out on the road. So are my trips, one month at a time, once per year, more than most, I am fortunate.

        Keep pushing. Some days, you know better than anyone are going to be terrible, ridiculous, pointless, ‘whythefuckamIhere’, etc but most are brilliant. Maybe not then and there in that exhausted moment but the second you arrive ‘back home’ and are removed from the nomadic bi-cycle world back to the settled bi-pedal, automotive world, a long tough day in the saddle facing impossible elements always seems better.

        When I make time after the holidays I will post pictures and share my experiences, as you have here on the bikepacking.net forums. I would like to contribute for those looking to tour with a bikepacking oriented setup.

        Continued luck and good times on your journey,
        Tailwinds, (as much as possible anyway ;)

        Adam.

    • Hey cowboygirl,

      Actually, I never have used a solar charger. No principled objection or informed experience, just wondered about securing it with the right orientation and about the amount of sunlight needed to make I effective.

      I had a dyno hub for one trip, thought it was great, but, alas that LHT never came home.

      The thing is, I’m finding my power needs are minimal. The camera battery will go for a week at my pace of shooting and the iPhone (which is everything else, gps, wifi device, word processor, maps, reading, guidebooks) can go for about the same if I turn it off between use. If those things die for a few days, I find it fine, maybe a bit of liberation. But, anyway, it’s rare to not have some access to power, even just an outlet during lunch at a roadside food stand.

      Cheers,
      Joe

  5. Joe,
    Yes, you did gush about the program a bit, but with good reason! I’ll be installing the application later this weekend as time allows. Sadly, I need to replace my trusty Garmin GPS with something as some clown broke into my garage and stole it from me, along with my long time, steadfast friend, my deployment knife. This knife assisted me with opening ammo crates, I.V. Bags, MRE’s- so on and so forth while on every deployment Uncle Sam sent me away to (guess what item I’m most upset about loosing…). Anyway, I’m rambling now, but thanks for the app suggestion, I’m sure it will serve me well this summer on the Great Divide.
    Thanks again,
    J

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