Bikepacking Gear-Backpacks

For the next couple of days I’m going to share some of the gear I’ve been using (or making) for my bikepacking trips. Most of the gear that is used for bikepacking carries over from basic camping gear or backpacking gear. Some of the gear however is specific to cycling.

In this picture you can see the full compliment of the Revelate Designs bag system on my Salsa Ti Fargo. The expandable seat bag, the gas tank, and at the core is the custom frame bag. The frame bag is the perfect place to carry your water bladder as the weight is carried down low and, more importantly, between the axles. This helps to keep the bike handling neutral at all times. Even with the extra weight of your camping gear. In the frame bag you can also carry things like your stove, spare tubes, bail out kit or hygiene kits. In my case however, I’m limited by how much I can carry in my frame bag due to the small size of my frame. There’s nothing I can do about that really. I can’t make my legs longer. So to add more usable space, I have to carry a backpack.

Carrying a backpack is not ideal. As you can imagine, your back sweats, you can’t use your jersey pockets and it puts more weight on your rear and hands. To fight this the plan is to carry the lighter, but bulkier items in the backpack. A sleeping bag for example, as opposed to tubes or tools. I’ve been trying out two separate backpacks to determine which one to use.

First up is the Ergon BC-2. This backpack is pretty trick. It’s designed for cycling and it has articulating shoulder straps that allow your shoulders to move but keep the backpack centered over your hips. It also has a significant hip belt that really helps to transfer the weight to your hips and keep it off your back.

It has a separate pocket for a water bladder which makes it easier to change out, although I rarely use it. It also includes a rain cover for those times when you get caught out. It has a carrying capacity of 1,220 cubic inches, but the opening is narrow. That makes it tough to get access to items at the bottom without emptying the pack. The drawback to this pack is the weight. It’s a solid backpack, and you can feel it. Empty, it weighs 3lbs. That’s pretty heavy for an empty backpack.

The other backpack I’ve been trying out is the REI Flash 18. I first heard about it from Dave Nice. The specs are like this. 1,100 cubic inches capacity, but at only 8oz! It’s 2.5lbs lighter than the Ergon. That’s great on paper, but here’s the problem. Taking a cue from Ray Jardine’s ultralight philosophy, it’s basically a stuff sack with back straps. What that means is that everything you put in it, you feel on your back. The chest and hip straps keep the bag from bouncing around, but they don’t help to distribute the weight at all. In fact, the more I put in it, the more the straps dig into the back of my neck.

So which one do I use? Well, both actually. Even though the Ergon BC-2 weighs considerably more, the the overall comfort is worth the weight. I’m able to pack it up, probably heavier than I should, and it still carries the weight well. It’s bulkier than the Flash 18, but the shoulder strap system makes up for that. The Flash 18 though is used for everyday errands. I find myself grabbing it every time I leave the house. Whether we’re going on an adventure or just going to work, it’s my go to backpack. I guess you could call it my “murse”. That’s right, I said it.

All bikepacking gear is an exercise in compromises. One must consider how the gear will be used, and if you can get by with the lightest, simplest piece of gear. If not, you end up adding weight to your kit. Sometimes though, the good can outweigh the bad.

Tomorrow I’ll share my sleeping options. Quilt/Tarp versus Sleeping bag/Bivy. What kind of gear do you use?