Bikepacking Gear Guide (2021): Tent, Clothing, Frame Packs, Food, Water

If you’re going to be far from civilization, just BYO nutrition. I can recommend the delicious, nutritious, just-add-water meals from Good to Go. For me, these have made backcountry food prep a thing of the past. The company’s new pre-packaged food kits offer an assorted selection of meals to last five to 10 days. Breakfasts, lunches, and dinners are included. The five-day package offers 305 grams of protein, 8,430 calories, and tasty options like Cuban rice bowls, Thai curry, and Good to Go’s award-winning chicken pho. There are meal kits for vegans too. ($135 and up for the five-day kits.)

Kate’s Real Food Dark Chocolate Mint bars make a great on-the-bike snack. The peppermint-tinged bar is packed with organic ingredients including peanut butter, gluten-free oats, dark chocolate, peppermint extract, and natural cacao powder. (12-pack, $30 at Kate’s Real Food.)

When you’re sweating it out all day on a bike, you need more than just water to replenish lost electrolytes. The new Honey Stinger Rapid Hydration Mix ($15 and up from Honey Stinger) offers three types of specialized hydration: Prepare for swigging pre-ride, Perform for sipping on the bike, and Recover for your evening come-down. Each mix uses organic honey for sweetness and to provide a natural energy boost, and combines it with sodium to speed the absorption of key added nutrients. The best part: each flavor has a satisfyingly tart taste without the sickly aftertaste of many performance drinks.

Camp Kitchen

Bring an ultralight camp stove for your morning oatmeal and coffee.

 

Photograph: MSR

If your route takes you through towns with shops and restaurants, Kershaw advises that you follow this simple plan for fueling up your engine: “Bring a tiny stove and a little tiny cook kit for cooking breakfast, then credit card camp for the rest of the day,” he says.

For making that first meal of the day, we like the MSR Pocket Rocket II ($45 at REI, $45 at Amazon). Screw this featherweight burner onto an isobutane-propane-fueled stove, and it boils water in less than three and a half minutes.

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Necessary Accessories

It’s about more than just the bike. Supplement your ride with these items for storage, repairs, and safety.

Bag It

You might be tempted to pack a big backpack, but that’s the wrong move—see Kershaw’s advice above about carrying weight on your bike instead of on your back. “Frame bags are great, just make sure you load up and see how your bike feels before you go,” he says. And put some quality test miles on your loaded-up chariot so you can dial in your setup. “If a strap is rubbing, that annoyance will be compounded when it starts to rain.”

I like the Ortlieb Frame-Pack RC Toptube pack ($150 at Ortlieb, $150 at REI). The German-made, four-liter, waterproof frame bag is ideal for bikepackers in wet climates who need dry storage for things like a tent, a stove, and food, yet still want to access the water bottles secured to their frame below. The combination of Velcro and roll closures keep your goodies on the inside. For more storage, Ortlieb’s fork packs ($60 each) and rear panniers ($190 for a pair) are a welcome addition; they attach to either side of the wheels in front and back.

Spare Tubes

Flats are a reality on a long ride. There are two good options for spare tubes: good old rubber; or TPU, a stretchy thermoplastic. The tradeoff between them is that the rubber may be more versatile in terms of the size tires it can accommodate, but the TPU is unmatched in weight and packability. I recommend Tubolito’s S-CX Gravel Tube ($40 at Tubolito). The lightest, smallest tube on the market, this 35-gram TPU tube with a Presta valve is as strong as a standard rubber tube at a fraction of the weight. It’s compatible with tubeless tires too, making the S-CX is the ideal spare for all 700c and 650B tires between 30-mm and 47-mm tire widths.

Pump It Up

The best method for getting a tire up to pressure and ready to roll after a repair is also a matter of debate. Some prefer the trusty method of pumping air into a tube via a mechanical pump. But that’s tedious and time-consuming, which is why others insist on the quicker, easier, and occasionally explosive option of inflating the tire with a pressurize CO2 canister.

The good news is that you can have it both ways with the Cannondale CO2 Road Mini Pump ($38 at your local bike shop). This super-compact pump is the size of an Epi-Pen, and it eliminates the debate by pairing a speedy CO2 cartridge mechanism with a mechanical backup of a real pump. The pump comes with a bike mount, but it’s small enough to be stashed in a jersey pocket or pack. It’s an especially good bet for winter riding, since the metal CO2 cartridge is already in position and ready to fire, and those things can become too cold to handle on frigid days.

Can You See Me?

A study conducted by Clemson University in 2016 showed that, on average, cyclists believe they are 700 percent more visible to cars than they actually are. That’s why, even the minimalists should still pack a strong lighting system. Consider Bontrager’s powerful and easy-to-mount light combo, the Flare RT and Ion Pro RT ($185 at Trek Bikes, $185 at REI). It comes with a headlight to illumiante the full width of any road or trail, and a rear flare that can be seen from 2 kilometers away thanks to its unique flash pattern. If you have a Garmin computer or any ANT+ device, you can use the display to track the lights’ battery levels.

There’s also a place for a headlamp in a bikepacking kit, as a backup headlight on the road, and for use in camp to more quickly and easily put up the tent or cook meals in the dark, or just to relax and read. I like the 168-lumen Third Eye Headlamp ($50 at Third Eye, $48 at Amazon) because it throws a beam that can extend up to 360 feet. It has two easy-to-use push buttons, one for white light and one for red light, which preserves night vision while still providing illumination. The headlamp portion is made from 100 percent recyclable, non-toxic plastic too. The various designs for the machine-washable headband are fun as well.

Repair Kit

For a compact multitool, we like the Leatherman Squirt PS 4.

 

Photograph: Leatherman

Kershaw’s recommended fix-it kit list includes a bunch of small items. Definitely pack the mini Leatherman Squirt ($40 at Amazon, $40 at Huckberry, $40 at REI) with pliers to fix cables. For tire maintenance, you’ll want a tire boot for repairing sidewall cuts, a small pump (like the one above), a tire lever for getting tires on and off the wheels, and a patch kit for fixing flats (try this $7 kit from Park Tool). All of that, of course, is in addition to your spare tube. If your route is long or filled with gravel sections, then maybe bring two tubes. Also take along a set of extra brake pads and a quick link/extra chain link for fixing drivetrain issues. And don’t forget the extra batteries or charging pack for your GPS unit or smartwatch.

First Aid and Extras

To treat the small scrapes and aches, Kershaw packs an antibiotic ointment, several large Band-Aids or 2-inch bandages, cloth tape, and ibuprofen. He also never leaves home without a bug net, headlamp, sunscreen, and lots of Voile straps ($4 at Voile Straps) for securing gear to the bike. These brilliant orange, perforated polyurethane strips with clips were originally designed to haul skis, but they work perfectly for holding a tent tight to the handlebars.

One last thing: Never underestimate the importance of seemingly small details, like the cushion in your handlebar tape. Lizard Skins just debuted a 4.6mm-version of its popular DSP V2 tape specifically designed for bikepacking ($40 and up at Lizard Skins). It provides extra vibration damping and cushioning where your hands meet metal. Plus it comes in four colors—Jet Black, Graphite, Crimson Red, and Electric Blue—so you can look stylish even when there’s not another soul for miles.


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