Show me someone’s bikepacking setup and I will be able to tell you exactly what type of cyclist they are and how they enjoy to spend their trips. Packing your bike for adventure, for me, is a deeply personal thing, it is as much an extension of a rider’s personality as their bicycle is. There is no right or wrong way. The whole point of bikepacking is to do something your way or with a group of like minded friends.
Having said that, I have learnt a few tricks over the last year or two that you might find helpful. So take from this what interests you, but ultimately, go out and explore, make mistakes and learn what works for you and what you are most comfortable with. It’s also worth mentioning that this is a “bike packing” setup in its purest, most basic form – i.e. gear is secured to the bike purely with straps and bikepacking bags.
UP FRONT – THE HANDLEBAR ROLL
I like to use the handlebar area of my bike for my sleep system and shelter. Flat MTB bars and wide gravel bars like the Curve Cycling Walmer Bars, give you a great amount of space for packing setup up front. While the 50cm Walmer Bars on my bike can easily fit a tent, my preferred shelter is actually a bivvy sack. A bivvy is basically a weatherproof cover for your sleeping bag. This minimalist shelter is super light and massively efficient. I literally keep my sleeping bag in the bivvy and roll it all up together with the mat like my favourite California Roll.
For longer trips and bikepacking races I like to take a 20mm rubber mattress which I cut short so just my torso is on the mattress. This saves space and also ensures I am not trying to repair a puncture in an inflatable mattress midway through a race or FKT speed attempt. Admittedly it isn’t the most comfortable option out there, an inflatable mattress is way more comfortable and takes up less space. Plus you get some very durable ones these days.
My approach to bikepacking is usually big mileage days with maximum daylight hours on the bike so when I get to camp I don’t necessarily want to faf with a tent. In 5 minutes I can have the handlebar roll unclipped and my bed ready for a good night’s sleep. Same thing in the morning, rolling it up and clipping it back on the bike is very quick, leaving more time for food and coffee prep. When the weather looks ominous or I feel like a bit more “protection” from the elements I take a tent and inflatable mattress instead of the bivvy. The inflatable mattress can be rolled up with your tent. It doesn’t add much to the tent roll and saves you a bit of space in your other bags.
LOW DOWN – FORK BAGS
Not all forks have fork mounts but even if yours doesn’t, it’s pretty easy to make your own with some plumbing equipment, or even cable ties. Fork bags aren’t the most aerodynamic but I really love riding with them, purely from a practicality point of view. I use my fork bags for “emergency” or quick access gear like rain jacket, rain pants, gloves, beanie etc. The weather can change pretty quickly out on the bike, especially at higher altitudes. If a rain storm hits, the last thing you want to be doing to digging through your rear bag to find your rain jacket, making your other gear wet in the process.
So my right fork bag is for extra gear or layers I might need if the weather turns bad and my left fork bag is for “camp clothes”. When getting to camp I like to change out of riding gear before dealing with everything else. Having this gear handy in my fork bag also means I don’t have to touch any other bags until I’m showered and ready to. The fork arms are also great places to secure your sleeping bag and mattress if you have a tent up on the handlebars.
IN THE MIDDLE – FRAME BAG
Frame bags come in various sizes from a full frame bag which covers the entire inner triangle of the bike, to smaller more pouch like bags. I personally prefer the Apidura Racing Frame Pack which isn’t a full length frame pack. It’s only 2.4lt but I find that is enough. For me, frame bags are purely for snacks, spare batteries for my headlight if I’m riding through the night, and in these crazy times, my face mask. Again this is personal preference but I like to keep stuff in the frame pack that I will need while riding so I don’t have to stop. Think about what you use most, it might be lip balm, sunblock, or tissues. These are the things most suited for a frame bag.
Frame bags that run from the handlebar to the seatpost are most popular as they give you more space for yummy snacks, that is why we ride after all isn’t it? The snacks, oh and the views.
AT THE BACK – SEAT PACKS
With the seat pack it would be best to look at something with at least a 12lt volume capacity, 14lt is best but 12lt would suffice. If you aren’t “flashpacking”, which is the fancy version of bikepacking where you sleep in guest houses or hotels along the way, then you are going to need a lot more gear. Especially in the cooking department. The rear of the bike is for my cooking gear, food and extra clothes.
A cook setup where the gas canister, stove top and lighter can fit inside a pot is a great way to save space. Having everything tightly packed inside also reduces clunking sounds emanating from your bike for 10 hours a day. I also use my extra clothes to wrap around items to protect them and keep things nice and quiet. A lot of the time I ride with dehydrated meals like Mamma Alles or Back Country and these fit nicely in the rear of the bike as well. Extra gear like slops or “camp shoes” can also be strapped to the outside of the seat pack.
This setup works really well to keep my bike nice and balanced and doesn’t mess with the handling too much. I try to distribute the weight evenly, with the rear being slightly heavier to keep the front of the bike responsive in cornering. You don’t want the rear too heavy, as this increases chances of cutting the tyre and it also wears the tread really quick.
In conclusion, as I have already said, there is no right or wrong way.
If you want to strap a milk crate to your bike and ride 100km to camp next to a river, mad respect to you. Packing your bike is about expressing who you are as an individual. If you don’t have all the fancy bikepacking bags, don’t let that hold you back. I used dry bags and cable ties for months. At the end of the day, the important thing is to get out there and enjoy yourself.
The key word in this question of how to pack your bike, is ADVENTURE. So don’t let fear of looking stupid hold you back, use duct tape if you have. Just get there and find some adventure. You won’t regret it.
An 8 day journey across the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho, from Hilton in Kwa-Zulu Natal to Clarens in the Free State with a whole lot of adventure thrown in from food poisoning to 100km/h winds and narrow escapes from burning buildings !
8 DAYS | ⇔ 628 km | + 16, 308m | ≡ Tar/ Gravel
Adventure cyclist and ultra racer, Rae Trew-Browne shares his top tips on packing your bike for adventure cycling – whether you are roughing it on an endurance bikepacking race or flashpacking from guesthouse to guesthouse.
We take a look at South Africa’s newest long distance ultra bike race – the Ceres500 – a 500km, single stage race through the Tankwa Karoo, fully self-supported in the true spirit of adventure! This route can also be cycled anytime as an adventure cycling circuit.
1-2 DAYS | ⇔ 500 km (loop) | + 4 683m | ≡ Tar / Gravel
A beautiful short film about Rae and Brad’s fast-paced, gravel flashpacking adventure across the Cederberg. Covering 240km, climbing 3600m in just two days… a testament to true grit and the freedom of adventure untamed.
Go far beyond the tar and deep into the countryside with this epic gravel bikepacking adventure. The route to Riebeek Kasteel, located +80km from Cape Town, is both challenging and rewarding – heat, dust and corrugations present some tough riding (especially in summer), but the scenic farmlands, welcoming little towns and ice cold beers at the end, make for a truly memorable ride.
OVERNIGHT | ⇔ 183 km (loop) | + 749m | ≡ Tar / Gravel