Five essential items I take on every bikepacking trip

Article by Mark Watson

Bikepacking is fun and rewarding for a lot of reasons, but a large component of the satisfaction comes from the notion of self sufficiency; that unique feeling of setting off onto a classic bikepacking track, or exploring your own self planned route, carrying everything you need to survive, make minor repairs to your bike and manage any other problems that arise – perhaps for many days at a time. Like tramping, bikepacking requires a mentality of self reliance, but combined with the added challenge that you have to know how to fix a bike too.

There’s no shortage of packing lists on the internet, and my own packing lists vary considerably depending on the length of the route, season, and anticipated difficulty. That is, if the route is a hard one, I tend to go as light as I can, while carrying enough gear to be safe; while an easier or more social ride might allow a few more luxuries. Some items are included every time I go on an overnight ride where camping is expected.

Here’s a few favourites that stand out for their versatility or reliability.

Leatherman Wingman

Multi tool with pliers

While carrying a multi tool for bike repairs is a no brainer, here I’m talking about the Leatherman or Gerber style multi tools that have pliers, as a supplementary item. The bigger versions of these tools, such as the Leatherman Wingman, have pliers that are big enough to straighten derailleur hangers, tune disc brake rotors, bend spokes, or remove debris from a tyre casing. 

Smaller tools, like the Gerber Dime have pliers that are less useful for burly tasks, but they’re still an essential item to have if you need to stitch a tyre (See Tubeless Repair Kit, below) or complete fiddly repair tasks to bikes or other equipment. 

Aside from pliers, the next most essential features a multi tool should have are scissors and knife blade. Many people prefer to carry a separate lightweight knife with a bigger blade anyway, and a simple single blade folding knife is all you need; but when I’m going really light I just use the multi tool one.

Scissors are great for cutting nails, medical tasks, repairing gear and opening packets. A file can also be useful. Most multi tools have screwdrivers, so avoid doubling up with a bike tool that has screwdrivers too.

Toaks Titanium 700ml pot set

Ultralight cook set

A light and compact cook set can make quite a big difference to your packing weight, as well as saving room in your already tightly jammed bikepacking bags.

I’ve used a Toaks titanium alcohol stove and pot set for everything from overnighters to multi-week tours reliably. These stoves have a simple burner unit that runs on methylated spirit (aka denatured alcohol), a pot stand, and 700ml pot and windshield, all made from titanium. The whole package, including a ti spork, weighs in at a feathery 159g. 

Fuel can be carried in a small plastic bottle, and 300ml should suffice for a weekend trip with two people. The only caveat with such a small pot is that meals need to be basic. Freeze dried food is the most time and fuel efficient, but if you cook in stages, it’s also possible to make more complex meals with fresh ingredients included. I usually carry a simple collapsible bowl which doubles as a cup. 

Blackburn Pro Plugger

Tubeless repair kit

I won’t dive into all the reasons you should run bikepacking tyres set up tubeless, except that to say that a well maintained tubeless system will save you a lot of hassle fixing punctures, and allow you to ride lower pressures, for more traction, dependably. 

But even tubeless tyres fail sometimes, and usually from a sharp object puncturing the tyre casing with a hole that is larger than the sealant can close. In these instances, tyre plugs are usually called for, but severe cuts might require stitching in-situ. In these scenarios, it’s also likely you’ll lose a little bit of sealant, so I always carry a 250ml bottle of sealant for top up. This can be squirted into the cut, or through the valve, after you have removed the core.

Inexperienced tubeless tyre users sometimes assume that a tube will have to go in after all air is lost from a puncture, but as long as the bead is still well attached to the rim sidewall, you can often get a tyre to hold air again after a sealant top up, tyre plug(s), or some stitching and a few dabs of super glue to close the holes while you wait for the sealant to do its job.

A repair kit should include: tyre plugs and insertion tool, valve core remover plus spare valve cores, spare sealant, strong thread, a curved needle and super glue.     

Petzl Actik

Headlamp and tail light

Not every ride goes to plan, and sometimes you might find yourself finishing in the dark – maybe because you lost half an hour fixing a cut tyre. I always like to have enough light, plus spare batteries, to get myself out of trouble and through at least a couple of hours riding in the dark. 

A reliable head torch of at least 350–400 lumens brightness, with both long and diffuse beams for riding at night and route finding, as well as use in camp, is an invaluable bit of kit. This torch is no replacement for a high-lumen night riding set up, but it will be bright enough to keep you moving.

Hybrid headlamps that can take either a rechargeable battery or regular batteries interchangeably are best for the environment in the long run and give you the option to carry regular batteries as spares, or to recharge off a power bank.  

Finding yourself on a main road in the dark with no red tail light is a recipe for disaster. Basic USB-rechargeable flashing red lights are cheap, light and good to use on low visibility rainy days too, when you’re on roads.

big agnes tiger wall ul2 bikepack

Lightweight three season tent

Maintaining the theme of keeping base weight low, a lightweight three season tent will provide comfortable shelter in a wide range of conditions. One of the main features I like in a two person tent for bikepacking is double wall (i.e. component fly and inner tents) for breathability in New Zealand’s often wet or humid weather. This also gives you the capability to use either the inner tent, or the fly alone, which is great on warm, dry nights, or you can carry just the fly on ultralight trips. 

Other desirable features are twin vestibules, which are nice for ease of entrance (you don’t disturb your partner as much when getting out of the tent) and they make in-tent cooking more comfortable because you can sit inside and use the stove in the vestibule. Twin doors give you really good airflow too, which helps on high condensation nights. 

Poles that collapse extra short, such as on the Big Agnes bikepacking models make packing easier and work really well for tramping too, because you can fit the poles in your pack. Ultralight zips and light fabrics help keep tent weight right down, but the tent will be less durable long term, so always use a footprint and lubricate the zips from time to time. 

I use three season tents for bikepacking year-round, for the benefit of weight savings and breathability, but during winter I’ll use a warmer sleeping bag to offset the cooler tent.    

Revelate Designs Harness

Handlebar harness

If you’re starting out buying bikepacking bags, a handlebar harness and drybag is usually the best first item to get. With a small day pack and a handlebar harness you can fit a weekend trip’s gear on board, including a tent and sleeping bag, as long as you pack light. If you don’t overload it, the harness will balance well with the weight of you and your pack and maintain good bike handling. 

For ultralight trips I’ll use Revelate Designs’ Pronghorn, but for multi-week rides, the Harness is more durable and handles heavier loads better. 

Revelate Designs Pronghorn

One of the reasons bikepacking bags are superior to panniers for mountain biking is that they distribute the load better over a number of smaller bags and a harness is a good starting point for setting up a system. If you want to offload some weight from your back, or start out buying a system right away, then a seat bag is the next most important item.

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