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How to build a lightweight bikepacking setup

April 30, 2024

Found in Activities, Gear, Skills and tips

A solid bikepacking checklist is a fantastic start for your off-road missions. But knowing exactly what to choose is another story. From bike bags to GPS units, here are features and products we recommend when building a bikepacking setup that’s lightweight, packable and reliable.

Bike bags and racks

Essential for bikepacking (obviously). Whether you opt for saddle packs or a rack setup, some tips on what to look for:

Saddle packs

Saddle packs are by far one of the most popular bikepacking bag options. They’re easy to install and don’t require additional mounting points or racks. Features you’ll likely want:

  • Waterproofing is a must (rainy days and muddy tires mean your saddle pack will get wet).
  • Roll closure systems can accommodate tons of gear and you can roll them up tight when less stuffed.
  • Seat post and seat rail straps are essential. Cinch as solidly as possible to prevent tail wag.
  • Many saddle packs include elastic cords or daisy chains. Elastic cords are great for stuffing a jacket into quickly, while daisy chains are good for clipping on tricky-to-pack things like camp mugs.
  • Internal stiffeners provide extra rigidity to the bag and prevent it from sagging under load.

Our picks: MEC Provincial Saddle Pack, Deuter Cabezon Saddle Bag 16

Close up of a bike with bags for bikepacking

Seat pack + rear rack combos

For extra security and hauling lots of cargo on big trips, a seat post/bag combo does wonders. Another option is a “floating” rack design that attaches to your bike’s seat stays, which provides excellent stability. Some floating racks include additional mounting points for smaller bags – a solid option for multi-days with more gear.

Our picks: Aeroe Spider Rear Rack paired with the Aeroe 8L Heavy Duty Dry Bag (also in a 12L size). For more carrying capacity, add the Aeroe Spider Rear Cradle and Aeroe Quick Connect Pod.

Handlebar bags

Tied with seat packs as the bag you’re most likely to see on a bikepacking rig. You can get handlebar bags for both drop- and straight-style bars.

  • For smaller loads, a simple strap that attaches to handlebars and the headtube works.
  • Make sure your bar bag is waterproof (keep those snacks dry).
  • Zippered or flap closures do the trick for tidy loads. For hauling more, a bigger bag with a roll-closure is best.
  • The front of your bike is stable, so it can handle cargo if you opt for a rack or cradle system.
  • With rack or cradle systems, opt for a heavy-duty drybag with roll closure system.

Our picks: MEC Provincial Handlebar Roll, Ortlieb Bikepacking Handlebar Pack

Frame packs

Attached directly to your bike frame, a frame pack is designed to fit in the triangle formed by the top tube, seat tube and down tube of your bike.

  • The longer shape allows for items such as pumps or tent poles to be strapped to or stored with ease.
  • Available as a full frame pack or a half frame pack, choose a size that best fits your bike and your capacity needs
  • Maintains the bike's low center of gravity, making it the ideal place to pack heavier items.

Our picks: MEC Provincial Top Tube Frame Pack for a half-frame pack, and Ortlieb Bikepacking Frame Pack for a full frame pack

Two people setting up tent

Lightweight tents

While you can go hyper-light with a bivy or hammock, the majority of us will opt for a light backpacking tent. Some things to consider:

  • One- or two-person tents that pack small and are used by backpackers work well.
  • A three-season tent is recommended.
  • Ensure the tent includes a waterproof fly with fully taped seams.
  • Look for a tent roughly in the 2kg range. Skip anything well above the 3 or 4kg mark.
  • Any good backpacking tent will include a compact stuff sack. However, it’s possible to pack a tent even tighter. If need be, strap your tent poles to your saddle bag, or wrap them and secure to your top tube. You may be able to save a good chunk of space.

Our picks: MSR Hubba Hubba Bikepack 2-Person Tent, MEC Spark 2.0 2-Person Tent

“I leave my tent stuff sack at home while bikepacking and just toss the body and fly into my seat pack. Works like a charm, and extra grams saved.” – MEC staffer tip

Sleeping bags and pads

Ideally, you want a sleeping bag that’s warm enough for spring, summer and fall camping, but not so heavy it weighs you down. A sleeping pad is a must (just don’t opt for a mega-sized car camping one).

  • A nice, light sleeping bag is usually rated around 0°C to -2°C.
  • Target weight for a lightweight sleeping bag is around 900–1100 grams.
  • Make sure your bag has a durable water repellent (DWR) treatment.
  • Sleeping pads with insulation are ideal, but you may be able to go lighter if hot weather is likely.
  • A light sleeping pad should pack roughly to the size of a Nalgene bottle.

Our picks: MEC Aphelion UL -7C Down Sleeping Bag (bonus: awesome value for quality, ultralight down bag), along with the MEC VectAir UL 4S Insulated Sleeping Pad.

Camp kitchen gear

If you’re gonna bike, you gotta eat. Pack light, but be sure to bring essentials for good camp eating.

  • When it comes to stoves, single burner setups are best. They’re light, pack small and reliable.
  • If you pack a pot, pack as much of your cook setup into it (stove included, if room allows).
  • Some companies offer a “everything in a pot” cookware setup including collapsible bowls and mugs.
  • Don’t forget coffee! Aeropress and pourover setups are a fantastic and lightweight option.
  • Make sure you have a plan for keeping bears and critters out of your food.

Our picks: The much-loved MSR PocketRocket 2 Stove stove and GSI Pinnacle Backpacker Cookware. Kuju Coffee gives you portable pourover and Aeropress Go Travel is a classic (don’t forget filters).

Three cyclists riding on a gravel road with mountain scenery in the background

GPS bike computer

There are tons of options in this category with a lot of personal preferences in play. Be sure that whatever you choose has preloaded maps or the ability to upload maps before your ride. A head unit with integrated solar charging is a huge plus.

Our pick: Garmin Edge 1040 Solar

Lights and portable power

A portable powerbank is a must. Don’t forget cords for GPS units, lights and your phone (we’ve all been there).

  • If room and weight allows, bring more than one powerbank. Powerbanks that can charge a phone two to three times are solid.
  • Opt for a front light you can actually navigate terrain with and not just be seen with, 400 lumens minimum.
  • A headlamp is a must-have for around camp.
  • A compact lantern to brighten up camp is nice, especially for groups.

Our pick: Goal Zero Flip 36 Charger for power and Lezyne Mini Drive 400 XL/KTV Pro Light Set for your bike. At camp, the rechargeable Black Diamond Spot 400-R or teeny Black Diamond Moji Lantern.

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