The best ways to streamline your gear and still carry the bare essentials
A backpack is heavy, gets in the way and often means you’ll get a sweaty back. On a short, two-hour ride do you really need all that? We don’t think so.
Apparently we should be calling these things ‘hip packs’ these days. Not bum bags. Never fanny packs. Whatever you choose to call them, check out our recent round-up of the best mountain bike hip packs for all you need to know.
Buy shorts or a jersey/jacket with pockets. Its sounds like a no brainer but a lot of shorts don’t have pockets in them. You can stash a phone, tool and even a tube and small water bottle in a pocket without it flapping about to much. If you’re riding in the winter put these perishable items in a ziploc bag first.
A workable bottle cage mount on your bike also provides plenty of storage opportunities. Topeak’s modular Ninja cage (£9.99, extrauk.co.uk) has an attachment for a tube bag, tyre levers or mini tool and the Syncros MatchBox Tailor cage (£59.99, scott-sports.com) comes with a 14-bit multi-tool and high-volume mini pump built in.
If you don’t want to wear your riding gear you can lash it to your bike with a strap. There are loads of these available but two of the best are the UK-made Louri Frame-strap (£18.99, cyclorise.com) and USA import the Backcountry Research Mutherload Strap (£18.95, silverfish-uk.com). Both have built-in shock cords to hold an inner tube or tools and are available in a ton of different colours, including the inevitable tartan and rasta.
If you ride a lot in muddy conditions or just want a cleaner look, you may want to hide tools and spares out of the way. OneUp’s EDC (Every Day Carry) allows you to store tools inside the fork’s steerer tube and the company is now producing a high-volume, EDC mini pump with space inside for a full tool kit. (EDC system €59.99, Pump €59.99, oneupcomponents.com).
A less elegant but cheaper solution is the Fork cork (£27.99, gonebikingmad.co.uk), an adjustable plug that you bung up the bottom of the fork steerer tube. You can’t into the top like with the OneUp EDC but there’s just enough space inside the steerer for spares and a small multi.
You can increase carrying capacity by wearing a storage short under your riding gear. Specialized’s award-winning SWAT Mountain Liner Bib Shorts has three rear pockets and several smaller front pouches for all your gear. It has a comfortable insert, lightweight mesh construction and is even on sale right now for £50.
Traditionally, a mini saddle bag was how you carried a spare tube and tools. Modern systems are more compact and sleeker looking and some, like Specialized’s Mountain Bandit (£18, specialized.com), are really streamlined and pared back. The Mountain Bandit will only attah to a SWAT compatible saddle but it has individual compartments for tube, CO2, CO2 nozzle, and tire lever.
You can also attach a bag to your frame and the current favourite amongst endure racers is re-purposing a bag used for triathlon, like the Lezyne Energy Caddy (£22, upgradebikes.co.uk) or Topeak Fast Fuel Tribag (£34.99, extrauk.co.uk). You can easily access the contents on the move and both can be attached on the top tube as intended or hidden away underneath.
Fortunately, there’s a constantly expanding range of clever storage solutions on the market that allow you to streamline your gear and go pack-free.
Some attach to your bike, others let you carry more kit on your person; both types have their pros and cons, and you will probably find a mixture of the two works best on the trail.
Tip out the contents of your trail pack and filter out the absolute essentials. Do you really need that shock pump? Those three-year-old energy bars? That bottle of chain lube?
Think about replacing your mini-pump with CO2 cartridges. Consider how often you’ve used some of your tools — if you’re not heading into the wilderness, do you really need to prepare for every mechanical eventuality? Streamlining and consolidating will make it much easier to fit stuff to your bike and carry it on your body.
On-bike storage options can be as simple as attaching a saddlebag, or bottle cage, to your frame, but there are also neat tools that integrate into components.
If you want to carry your gear on your body, the easiest method is in a jersey or jacket pocket, but again there are specific garments that have multiple close-fitting pockets, to stop the contents from rattling around or falling out.
How much weight can you save?
A trail pack (above pic) with a full three-litre reservoir, two inner tubes, a couple of gels, a mini pump, shock pump, tool wrap with a multi-tool, chain tool, tyre lever and pliers, not forgetting a phone, wallet and car keys, can weigh over 5.5kg (nearly 12lb).
If you whittle this down to an inflator, multi-tool, tyre lever, inner tube, gel, a bottle of water and your personal possessions, you can save over 4kg (9lb). See pic below…
If you split the remaining weight and fit a full 500ml bottle of water to your frame, then you’re only left with around 300g, which can be distributed about your person in pockets and suchlike.
We’ll now look at the full range of alternative storage solutions for both bike and body that let you ditch that pack once and for all.
On your back
Not inside a pack, but in your jersey. Roadies have been doing this since wool was the performance fabric of choice and those pockets were stuffed with brandy and amphetamines. You don’t have to wear something skin tight and road-orientated, Troy Lee Designs has produced the Ace jersey for £59.99 with two elasticised pockets and a zipper pouch for valuables.
You can also hide this approach under your jersey, with Race Face’s new Storage Layers — essentially they’re just bibshorts with pockets for your gear, much like Specialized’s SWAT liner.
More clever clothing
Inspired by the boom in enduro racing and the trend within that scene for paring things down to a functional minimum, some companies are coming out with cunning storage solutions built in to items of clothing.
Specialized Mountain Bib Liner Short
This bibshort is part of Specialized’s SWAT (Storage Water Air Tools) range. When we first tested it, a year ago, you could only buy it in combination with a baggy short for a hefty £120, but now it’s available separately, and considerably cheaper as a result, and there’s nothing to stop you pairing it with your favourite short.
Race Face Stash Bib
The Race Face Stash Bib has a similar layout to the Specialized; the difference is you can fit a small 1.5-litre reservoir into a sleeve on the shoulders, and there are even loops down the shoulder straps to secure the hose.
Lezyne M Caddy CO2 Kit
It might be an old idea, but the M Caddy is lightweight, holds a ton of tools and fits easily under the saddle using two Velcro straps. There’s plenty of space for organising tyre repair kit and money, and the M Caddy comes pre-loaded with a CO2 inflator, two 16g CO2 cartridges, a multi-tool, glueless patches and two tyre levers.
Topeak Ninja C
The Ninja C is a two-part chain tool that fits inside the end of your handlebar. It’s designed primarily for skinny road bars, but the expandable bung allows you to fit it into a mountain bike bar, although we found it works best in thicker-walled carbon models.
Specialized Top Cap Chain Tool
There is a big empty space inside the steerer tube of your fork, making it a prime spot for tool storage. Various options have been tried, but Specialized’s chain tool is light, neat and also does double duty as a headset cap.
DMR Stage 1 Saddle
DMR’s Stage 1 saddle comes with a RideSaver strap that bolts onto the bottom of the shell and secures an inner tube. It’s not exactly revolutionary; XC racers have been strapping inner tubes beneath their saddles for years. But the strap held an inner tube securely, and it’s always attached to your bike, so you never have to remember to take it with you.
The tool bidon is another roadie invention. It’s basically an old water bottle with the top cut off, filled with tools and a tube and left on your bike for training rides.
The difference between the home-made originals and modern tool bottles is that most now have wider openings for easier access, and a screw top to protect the contents from the elements and wheel spray.
The Elite is like one of those Russian dolls — open it and you reveal an extra compartment for small items like coins, patches or keys. Available in three sizes and two colours.
This is as basic as it gets — a mid-size bottle with a screw-top lid and wide opening, so you can easily access the tools. See-through plastic means you don’t have to guess what you’re carrying.
Lezyne Flow Caddy
On the outside the Flow Caddy is very similar to the Pro Storage Bottle but it actually comes with a labelled organiser, into which you can fit a multi-tool, a couple of CO2 canisters and some tyre levers, leaving enough room for a tube or a phone.
Pro Storage Bottle
At 500cc, the Pro storage bottle is the same size as the Nanpa Stashe, but it’s half the price. It’s also available in a larger 750cc size for an extra £1.
Supacaz Nanpa Stasher
This is one of the smaller tool bottles, but it has enough space for a tube, albeit a standard sized one, a micro-tool or an iPhone. There’s even a small compartment inside for a patch kit. Three colours, one size.
A pack can carry three litres of water, but on short rides of an hour or so, a 500ml water bottle is more than enough. You’ll just need to fit a bottle cage — like one of the three here.
Lezyne CNC Alloy Cage
There’s nothing special about this simple aluminium bottle cage from Lezyne. It’s lightweight and mounts easily, and you can get a bottle in and out without difficulty. Alloy cages are better than plastic or carbon because they can be nipped together slightly to grip the bottle more securely; handy for riding rough technical terrain where it can bounce out.
Specialized Zee Cage/EMT Cage Mount Tool
This is a simple plastic bottle cage with a tool and holder on the bottom. The EMT tool is great for emergencies and tweaking, but is small and doesn’t offer much leverage. It’s also semi-exposed and can get covered in mud.
The cage and tool are available separately or as part of the MTB XC kit below, which is much better value. However, Topeak’s similar-looking plastic Ninja TC Mountain bottle cage and tool combo is just as light and you get a 23-function Mini Pro multi-tool for £39.99.
Specialized MTB XC Kit
Specialized’s MTB XC Kit contains all the SWAT components — two bottle cages, the EMT Cage Mount, Top Cap chain tool and the innovative SWAT box. This is a wedge-shaped box with a flip top lid that will swallow a tube, tool, CO2 inflator and two tyre levers. There’s also enough room for a phone and car keys.
The contents are protected from the elements, so will stay clean no matter how bad the trail conditions. Unfortunately, the SWAT box doesn’t fit every bike, nor does it fit every Specialized. There are more affordable ways of carrying gear, but if you can squeeze this into your frame, it’s a tidy storage solution.
Although we separated the body and bike storage options, we found the best way to carry our kit is by combining the two. This way the weight is more evenly distributed, and you won’t end up with everything stuffed uncomfortably in a pocket on the small of your back. How you distribute the load is dictated by several factors, such as the length of your rides, trail conditions and even what bike set-up you’re running.
For a short ride, a water bottle and the Specialized Mountain Bib Liner Short stuffed with a spare tube and CO2 inflator will suffice. If you’re racing XC, or maybe enduro, and need to carry a bit more water, then we’d switch to the Race Face Stash Bib with its extra reservoir capacity. Just bear in mind you will need to check on the sizing, especially if you have a muscular or burly physique.
Riding in wet and muddy conditions means the saddle and seat pack are going to get covered in splatter and, since no one likes fixing a flat tyre with muddy hands, keeping your gear in the SWAT box or a Tool Bottle is the answer. Not every bike can support these products, though, and some of the tool bottles have minimal capacity, so these may need to be supplemented with a pocket or two.
If it’s hot and you’re out all day, you need to increase your water-carrying capacity, or at the very least plan regular rest stops. That means a water bottle in a cage, one in a pocket and maybe some gels, snacks and gear in various stuff pockets.
If you want to travel really light, the question you need to ask yourself is — do you get many flat tyres or mechanicals? If you do then we’d prioritise tool storage. Take a pump rather than a CO2 and more than one tube.
Unless you’re really hard on the gears and crunch your way up every climb, you could go several years without using a chain tool. In this respect we would recommend Topeak’s Ninja C over the Specialized Top Cap chain tool because you can fit it in your bar and forget all about it. It’s also a good chain tool, too.
The ultimate aim of this test was to find a useable, practical, fuss-free alternative to riding with a trail pack. None of the products we tested provided a complete solution in isolation, but combine one of the bibshorts with a few select pieces of on-the-bike storage, and you’ll be covered for most mechanical eventualities and still be able to reap the dynamic rewards of pack-free riding.