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Bikepacking Gear-Backpacks

by Errin on March 9, 2011

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?

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  • Ben Oney

    What’s the most you have been able to cram in your frame bag? I’m also a size small, still waiting for my frame bag to show up, and sort of concerned about the capacity issue.

    I’ve been using the Flash all winter to carry a bladder, and it really doesn’t bother me any more.

    • http://frontageroads.com Errin

      Ben-with the standard small frame I was able to fit a MSR 4-Liter bladder, tarp stakes, repair kit (with spare tube) and would have room to shove in some gloves or arm warmers.

      In the new one I think I’ll just have room for the bladder.

  • http://www.ridingacross.tk james

    Like the frame bags, they are a great idea.

    backpacks on long rides or tours….welll i doon’t knooow.

    would a light rear rack with little bags be any use?

  • http://mobile.jennix.com jennix

    … you need some front panniers… they hardly affect handling if they’re loaded evenly, the weight is low, and it’s off your spine. The only real drawback i’ve found to them is wind resistance.

  • http://frontageroads.com Errin

    @ James and Jennix- I’ve moved away from racks. Racks would be fine for normal touring, but for bikepacking I don’t want the extra weight. The racks and the panniers to mount on them add up to even more weight than a backpack. I’ve sold my front rack and don’t intend to go back.

    My rear seat bag will carry most of the gear that would be carried on a rear rack.

  • http://www.truelovehealth.com Matt Ruscigno

    I use a Deuter Race X Air and it’s awesome. It’s light, but still has an internal frame and designed using mesh to keep it off your back- meaning you don’t get that annoying sweaty back. It was expensive, but outside of the zippers breaking it’s held up really well and I destroy gear. I wore it for Paris-Brest-Paris and it was fine! Though I’ve been commuting with a messenger bag for 10 years so I’m probably more use to wearing something on my back than most people.