For those seeking adventure by bike, a dependable and spacious bikepacking bag setup is vital to securely transport everything you require whether it’s across continents or a midweek bivvy on a warm summer evening.
Packing and travelling by bike is far from a new thing. Bicycle tourers have been attaching luggage to their bikes for many years. However, the introduction and increased popularity of soft bags that strap to frames, handlebars and seatposts has allowed riders to take on more extreme and varied tours.
The traditional touring bike panniers have huge capacity but their dependency on mounting fixtures, weight, unwieldy offroad performance and, most importantly, their effect on the ride quality of the bike is a downfall. Bikepacking bags can be strapped to almost any bike, turning your favourite gravel or road bike into a bikepacking machine.
1. Types of bags
Bikepacking bags fall into three main categories and can be supplemented with additional storage.
Handlebar bags range from a couple of litres for a few essentials to enough space to swallow a tent. They come in the form of either a single piece bag that straps directly to the handlebars or a harness that will cradle a drybag.
Frame bags attach within the frame triangle using velcro or webbing straps although some custom bags use bolt-on or lacing methods for a more secure fit. Storage usually consists of a main pocket on one side and a slimline pocket on the other.
Saddle packs are similar to handlebar bags in that they come in one piece or holster styles. Anchoring points use the saddle rails and seatpost to secure and stabilise the bag against sway and drooping. Roll-top closures allow them to be packed down to accommodate the amount of cargo being carried.
2. Bike limitations
One of the big appeals to bikepacking bags is the fact they can be easily attached to any bike without the need for special mounting hardware. However the dimensions of your bike must be considered as not all bags will work with all bikes, this is especially true for smaller riders where clearances are more compact.
Frame bags often come in different sizes and should give measurements to gauge what size is needed. For handlebar bags, the clearance between the handlebar and front wheel and space between drop bars is the limiting factors. Saddle packs are more compatible across bike sizes although small frames such as 50cm and below may struggle with rear-wheel clearance. If you run a dropper post on your gravel bike, you will need to choose a seat pack that is designed specifically so that you don’t damage the posts stanchion.
3. What are you packing?
How you pack your bags will be the most influential factor for how bikepacking bags perform. We have seen many examples of riders having poor experiences with bags not because they are poorly designed but in fact poorly packed.
Packing bikepacking bags is an art in itself that could be philosophised about at great length. To summarise, if running the standard three bag setup bulky soft items such as sleeping equipment and off the bike clothing should go in either the seat pack. Spare clothing in the handlebar bag and everyday essential items or food in the frame bag, jersey pockets and stem cell/gas tank/tool keg. This is far from gospel and what works for one person may not work for another.
While the temptation may be to ram as everything that you might need into your bags we have found from experience that being more selective with what you pack will leave valuable free space that speeds up packing times and can be filled with extra food later on the ride if needed.
While the venerable duo of bidons mounted on the frame has proved more than adequate it is worth considering alternative options that may allow space on the bike to be used more efficiently. Half frame bag with bottles, full-frame bag with a bladder inside or choosing to mount bottles on the fork legs. What works best is very dependent on your frame size and mounting options. This author is particularly fond of the easy access of two fork-mounted bottles and a full-frame bag
5. Type of riding?
The sheer versatility of bikepacking bags means that any bike can be easily turned into an adventure machine, everything from fixed gear ‘tracklopacking’ for the ‘gram’ to epic mountain bike and gravel rides in the wilderness. Most bags are more than adaptable however its worth making a few consideration to make sure you get the best performance possible. For road riding aero is key so choosing a larger seat pack and smaller handlebar bag should reduce drag. For off-road riding distribution of weight is vital to keep the bike stable over rough loose terrain.
6. Protect your frame
The biggest issue with bikepacking bags is they destroy paintwork and will eat into carbon, get a little bit of dirt between a strap and your beloved ride and after 200 miles it will look a bit worse for wear. This is easily solved by simply using helitape or good old electrical tape on the potential rubbing points.
Handlebar volume: 9 or 14-litres | Frame bag volume: Compact 3, 4.5-litres or 5.3-litres / Tall 5 or 6.5-litres | Seat pack volume: 9, 14 or 17-litres | Waterproof: Yes | Colours: 1 | Customisable: No
Apidura has been been a significant player in the rise of bikepacking, from sponsoring events like the Transcontinental Race to supporting some of the biggest names in endurance riding like Sofiane Sehili and Jenny Graham who make huge demands of their equipment.
Apidura’s bag range is broken into a series to meet different requirements of bikepackers. For ultra-distance and audaxers, the Race series and Expedition range use many of the same features. The Backcountry series is for off-road adventures and offers a more rugged finish for better durability.
The Expedition range uses an exclusively developed waterproof laminate material across all the bags to keep precarious electronics, sleeping kit and spare clothes dry in the worst of storms.
Apiduras frame bags come in five variations to suit a multitude of frames and feature adjustable strap positions to assure an unobstructed fit. The handlebar bag is a single construction which mounts on the fork crown and the bottom of the headtube. The double-ended roll-top closure makes unpacking easier and a hands-free air release helps crush everything down when packing back up in the morning. The seat pack also has an air release, a rolltop closure and uses Hypalon to reinforce straps and beef up key areas.
Handlebar volume: 8-litres | Frame bag volume: 3, 4.5 or 6-litres | Seat pack volume: 6, 10 or 15-litres | Waterproof: Water-resistant material and dry bags | Colours: 1 | Customisable: Yes
Topeak is better known for its tool ranges but it also has a range of bikepacking products from standard bags to handlebar-mounted tent systems.
The bag range is built from water-resistant Polyethylene with the handlebar harness and seat pack being sold with a waterproof dry bag rated to 10,000mm and featuring an air release button to make pack size as compact as possible.
The Frontloader harness has adjustable rubber spacers to increase hand clearance on the handlebars and absorb shock. Coating the inside of the harness with grippy rubberised material is a nice touch to help stop the drybag wiggling out on bumpy surfaces. The Midloader bag is a fairly simple but universal shape that should fit most frames. Topeak has updated the straps, changing from two large velcro attachments to three narrower ones to avoid fowling with cable guides and frame mounts. The Backloader seat pack is a rolltop bag that houses a separate dry bag, while this may seem like an inconvenience it may appeal to those who want to reduce any potential damage to the dry bag.
To add extra storage options Topeak’s Versacage is a neat additional accessory, transforming any bottle cage boss into a universal cage to strap drybags or other round items too.
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