how to pack for bikepacking

How to Pack for Bikepacking | A guide to all you need to know

When it comes to getting started, one of the most common concerns people have is how to pack for bikepacking. And rightly so, when I first became interested in bikepacking I couldn’t help myself from wondering how anyone could conceivably fit all the gear they needed in such little space. It didn’t seem possible.

Luckily we live in a time that lets manufacturers produce some of the smallest and lightest gear, not to mention the ability for people like us to collectively gather all of the info to share it with the world on devices like the one you are holding right now as you read this.

how to pack for bikepacking

Due to the wide variety of packing lists people create no two packed bikepacking bikes will be the same. But by reading this I hope to help you better understand how to pack for bikepacking. There is no definitive standard for where all your gear should be packed but having a general idea will help.

Depending on your personal goals and preferences, you might be someone who takes everything including the kitchen sink or someone who is ultra-minimalist. Whichever you are this guide on how to pack for bikepacking can be used for either.

how to pack for bikepacking

While gathering your gear for bikepacking, here are a few things to consider:

Keep the weight low – The heaviest items on your gear list should be stored as low as possible to help keep the bikes center of gravity lower. In doing so, the handling of the bike will be much easier than if it was top heavy.

Also try to keep from wearing a backpack, not only will this give you an extra sweaty back it will also fatigue you much faster. If you do need to wear a bag, try to go for something smaller like a hip bag.

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Organize for convenience – This is a key component when learning how to pack for bikepacking. Pack anything you might need throughout the day in an easily accessible location. Things like you phone, wallet, sunscreen, and snacks can be kept in a top tube or grub bag that is easy to get to while you are on the bike.

You don’t want to have to be fumbling around looking for these items when you stop for a quick break or need to stock up on Snickers bars at 7-11. With that you won’t need to have your stove or multitool readily available so these can be kept lower in your frame bag.

Avoid wear & tear – Riding on rougher terrain such as gravel roads not only has you bouncing around but everything in your packs will be getting tossed around. When you are learning how to pack for bikepacking it’s easy to toss out important cases that some pieces of gear come with.

Make sure that anything sharp or abrasive isn’t going to be rubbing a hole in one of your nice bikepacking bags. This can be done by keeping them in a separate container or bag. I didn’t think I needed the case for my MSR PocketRocket stove and on the second day of my Tour Divide ride it had worn a hole in my custom Rogue Panda frame bag. I won’t make that mistake again.

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What goes where?

A typical bike touring setup will involve the use of panniers that hang off to the sides of the bike whereas a bikepacking setup will usually keep all the bags in line with the center of the bike by using a handlebar, frame, and saddle bags.

Each style of packing has their own set of pros and cons. While panniers keep the weight lower on the bike, they make maneuvering single track more difficult since they also make the bike wider.

The lower and wider panniers are easily snagged on fallen branches, rocks, and tree stumps and can damage the bags and worse, could cause you to crash and injure yourself. Bikepacking bags are mounted on the handlebars, within the frame, and under the saddle. In doing so the wight is slightly higher which is why it is important to store heavier items as low as possible.

how to pack for bikepacking

Another advantage bikepacking bags have over panniers is that they usually don’t require the use of any racks. Panniers are attached to metal racks with plastic clips that can vibrate loose and even break on rougher terrain. Now let’s get into how to pack for bikepacking.

Frame bag – This bag will most likely be the largest you’ll have strapped to your bike and the perfect spot to store the heaviest pieces of gear such as your stove, fuel, food, tools, water bladder, and first aid kit. When looking at frame bags consider getting one that has an internal divider, it allows you to keep your gear a little more organized and prevents everything from settling into the bottom of the bag causing it to bulge out.

Checkout my list of budget friendly frame bags here.

how to pack for bikepacking

Handlebar bag – This is a great spot to store some of your sleeping gear like your tent, sleeping bag, and tent poles. Try to keep the weight of everything that’s stored here to a minimum, storing heavy items here will drastically affect the steering of your bike.

A list of budget friendly handlebar bags can be found here.

Saddle Bag – Since this bag is also fairly high on the bike try to keep lighter gear here as well. This is an excellent spot to keep extra clothes, sleeping pad, and tent. A lot of these bags suffer from “saddle bag wag” and for the most part can be avoided by placing the heaviest of these items closest to the seat post.

Budget friendly saddle bags can be found here.

how to pack for bikepacking

Top tube bag – This is where I store items like my phone, wallet, spare change, headphones, and a couple cliff bars. The top tube bag is where you want to store items that you want to have easy access to throughout the day.  

Stem bags – Also known as grub bags, these are where most store a water bottle, headlamp, bear spray, pocket knife, or any other smaller items you want to have easy access to later in the day and don’t necessarily need them throughout the day. Keeping this sort of gear in this location keeps you from fumbling around in your frame bag when you’re at camp.

Water storage – Water is going to be the heaviest thing you’ll carry so you’ll want to carry it as low as possible. Some opt to carry a water bladder inside the frame bag as it the lowest and most center of the bike. While this is the optimal location for storing water the water bladder itself does pose some risks since they are easily punctured.

Could you imagine being in the middle of the desert and discovering that your water bladder has leaked all but just a few sips? That’s why many, including myself, use bottles mounted to the fork legs utilizing oversized cages such as the Blackburn Outpost Cargo Cage. While it does slightly affect the steering the peace of mind I have with using stainless steel Klean Kanteen bottles is worth it.

how to pack for bikepacking

Below is a short sample bikepacking gear list and where I store each. For a more in depth look at my bikepacking gear list have a look at this post.

If you’re a complete beginner or even a seasoned vet, you’ll always benefit from having an ultimate bikepacking gear list. Having a master bikepacking gear list on hand that you can reference at any time will help you with getting those last-minute weekend trips sorted or even 4 month round the world adventures.

Keep a printed copy of this bikepacking gear list stuffed into one of your bikepacking bags or save it as a bookmark on your phone so that you can reference it quickly.

Organizing your gear into like items can be a great way to remember to pack what you need:

  • Bike gear: Bike, helmet, bags, front and rear lights, bike lock
  • Shelter: Tent, tarp, bivy or hammock – handlebar or saddle bag
  • Sleep system: Sleeping bag or quilt and pad, pillow. Guy lines, stakes, and ground sheet – handlebar bag
  • Cooking: Stove, fuel, lighter, mug, pot, and spork – frame bag
  • Water: Water filter, purification tablets and a water reservoir or bottles – frame bag and fork mounted cages
  • Clothing: Clothes for riding; padded cycling shorts, jerseys or t-shirts, socks, rain pants and jacket, arm and leg warmers, buff, or bandana, cycling gloves. Clothes for sleeping, wool layers, such as underwear, long sleeve shirt, loose fitting pants, a warm hat, and a puffy coat – saddle bag
  • Navigation: GPS and/or smartphone. A printed map in case either of these fails is never a bad idea – top tube bag
  • Hygiene/toiletries: Sunscreen, lip blam, toothpaste, toothbrush, hand sanitizer, biodegradable soap, baby wipes, prescription meds, chamois cream, and toilet paper – frame bag
  • Bike repair tools: Spare tubes, patch kit, pump, tire levers, small bottle of tubeless sealant, spare chain link and chain tool, chain lube, spokes, spoke wrench, duct tape, zip ties, multi-tool, knife, and a small cleaning rag – frame bag
  • First-aid supplies: Bandages, antibiotic cream, alcohol wipes, pain pills, Benadryl, emergency blanket, gloves, blister pads, and tweezers – frame bag
  • Miscellaneous: Food, headlamp, extra batteries, or battery cache, sunglasses, camera, Spot tracker, permits, zip-lock bags, ID and credit cards – stem and frame bags

Hope this “How to Pack for Bikepacking” article helps you decide where to pack what while being more efficient. Cheers and thanks for reading. Be sure to read the related articles listed below for more great info.