Want to escape from the world on your mountain bike? Here's some advice on what to get
Between niche brands like Alpkit and big brands like Specialized you can fully kit yourself out for bikepacking. We went feral for a few days. There is no feeling in the world like leaving on a bikepacking trip. Slamming the door on a car you know you won’t be seeing again for several days, immersing yourself in a world only dreamt about from your desk.
Travelling with the minimum of kit to keep you comfortable is a challenge in itself and needs careful choices but, luckily for this generation of adventurers, there are a few companies now supplying ‘off the peg’ adventure gear.
UK-based Alpkit has been specialising in lightweight backpacking gear for years but has recently turned its focus to bikepacking-specific gear too.
Big-hitters like Specialized have realised the potential of this growing niche, with its excellent range of luggage now available from local dealers. Between the two of them you can fully kit yourself out. We cleared their shelves and went feral for a few days.
Bikepacking essential items
Alpkit Pipedream 400 Sleeping Bag, £200
Rated down to around -4°C, the 400 is an excellent compromise bag for autumn through to spring in the UK. If the temperature drops below freezing we find wearing a few more layers to bed helps get a comfy night. The hydrophobic down used helps when conditions are damp. Pretty much always, then.
Alpkit Numo Sleeping Mat, £40
Inflatable mats are the answer to all bikepacker’s dreams — the Numo is a light sleeping mat that is not only super-comfortable (when the temperature is above freezing), but folds down to the size of a large drinks can and weighs nothing. If you cut corners anywhere on your bikepacking shopping list, don’t do it here.
Alpkit Hunka Bivvy, £47
The Hunka is a basic drawcord bivvy bag that just does the job. If the weather is foul you will definitely want a tarp over you as it doesn’t seal completely.
Rab Siltarp 2, £100
A versatile and extremely light tarp that can be stretched between trees, beside dry stone walls or even across bike wheels to make a simple shelter to keep the rain off. Worth its weight in gold when you’ve been in the rain all day and just want a break when making your dinner. This one’s by Rab, but Alpkit does a very similar version called the Rig.
Alpkit Titanium MitiMug 650 and Tifoon spork, £29/£9
Anything that can double up in use on a bikepacking trip is gold, so being able to cook in, eat and drink from the well-proportioned Mitimug 650 makes it indispensable. The Tifoon covers every utensil requirement and, although it doesn’t fold for storage, neither does it fold down your shirt when eating.
Alpkit Kraku Gas Stove, £25
Tiny, light and folding into the MitiMug 650 alongside a 100g canister, this miniature wonder is a titanium gem of a stove. Despite dimensions it also packs a punch, so you won’t be waiting long for your first brew of the day.
Petzl Reactik Plus head torch, £85
Although not the lightest or most compact, the impressive light and burn time on the Reactik Plus means it can be used for night missions on the bike too, and is indispensable on long winter nights in the bivvy. You can control output and tinker through the Bluetooth app on your smartphone too, passing some happy hours with a hipflask under the stars.
Packtowl Luxe, £23
We take the terry-looped Luxe version of the Packtowl as it is positively luxurious, and used for everything round camp. The hand size is fine and can even stretch to drying your whole body after a dip in the river.
Specialized Burra Burra Bikepacking Luggage, £20-£120
You need somewhere to stow all this kit and the Burra Burra is one solution from the Big S. Choose from a whole kit of handlebar harness, seat pack, frame pack, top tube accessory pack and even bags that fit in bottle cages. Other brands offering similar are out there, such as Ortlieb, Alpkit, Blackburn, Wildcat, Revelate and many more.
Sweet Protection Nutshell Jacket, £189.99
When you get to camp, whether its summer or winter, you are going to chill as the sun goes down. A good insulated jacket will make those delicious moments as the day closes, whisky in hand, just a little bit more comfortable. The Nutshell has a synthetic fill, making it less susceptible to the inevitable damp of life on the road.
One key aspect of bikepacking is – or should be – using a bike you already own. Always try bikepacking on your current bike before seeing if the wild camping long-travel experience is for you. If you do get the bikepacking bug, here are some more overtly bikepacking-friendly bikes you can check out…
Cotic Solaris MAX
Latest version of Cotic’s popular Reynolds-tubed, go-anywhere hardtail 29er. With a total of eight – eight! – bottle bosses on the down tube. The geometry remains optimised around 120mm forks. The Solaris has always been a popular option for those who like a bit of bikepacking. Hence the large number of bottle bosses on the down tube. Plenty of water-, luggage- and spares-carrying options.
Specialized FatBoy SE
Fatbikes are superb for their simplicity out on the trail; no suspension, just big old tyres to soak up the trail buzz and compensate for the technical capability you may have lost by strapping all this gear to your bars and frame. You might find that you move a bit more slowly than usual, but on the plus side it all helps to just sink into the bikepacking groove.
Not all bikepacking bikes have to oddball hardtails. It’s perfectly doable to bikepack on a full suspension mountain bike. There are a couple of caveats to this however. It’s better to have a full susser with a bit of space in the front triangle and ideally a bottle mount (the Ibis Ripley has two pairs of bottle mounts). Being able to run fatter tyres (2.6in) is a boon too. There are also some neat bespoke frame bags available for Ibis frames.
Trek 1120 (no longer available so get scouring eBay)
What do you get if you cross a Trek Stache with a cargo bike? You get the Trek 1120, well pretty much anyway. Big tyres on big wheels, bottle bosses all over the place and two very orange luggage racks that are excellent at keeping your luggage away from messing up the bike’s cabling.
Salsa used to be a big name in ‘normal’ mountain biking back in the 20th century. They’ve since reinvented themselves as a bike brand heavily focussed on bikepacking. They do loads of bikes that make for ideal bikepacking bikes but we’re highlighting the basic Salsa Timberjack as it’s a great introduction to a first proper bikepacking rig.
Surly Karate Monkey
Surly, like Salsa, are another cult American bike brand with a strong line in alt. bikes such as bikepacking bikes. The Karate Monkey has been in their line-up for ages as one of the early 29ers, it’s now finding favour amongst a certain type of mountain biker who do a fair amount of bikepacking and bothying adventures but also want a fun hardtail trail bike for the rest of the time. Loads of bosses/mounts and plenty of space clean lines to make luggage attaching as easy of possible.
Kona Big Honzo
Much like the Surly Karate Monkey above, the Kona Big Honzo is a bike that isn’t a pure bikepacking machine. It’s a totaly unique, very Kona bike. It’s a Plus tyre hardtail with decently progressive geometry. The cable routing is neatly done and helps make modest luggage attaching very straightforward.