Bikepacking Bag Space: How Many Liters Do You Actually Need?


Working out how many litres of carrying capacity (bag space) you need for your bikepacking trip can get confusing, especially if it’s your first time. Using our own experience and with the help of a group of expert bikepackers, we’ve got a selection of real-life examples that will help you to work out exactly how many litres you need.

Most bikepackers require 30-40 litres of bikepacking bag space with them on an overnight trip. There are a range of factors that might mean you require more or less bag capacity than this, such as the length of your trip, how often you plan to restock your food and water, and the amount of gear you take.

When we spoke to a group of bikepackers, there was a range of different packing volumes they each used, but by far the most common answers fell into the 30-40 litre category. Of the group that we spoke to, the lowest volume that a rider took with them was 15 litres for an overnight trip, while some took as much as 55.

A pie chart showing how many liters of water bikepackers take on their bikepacking trips
A pie chart showing how many litres of bag space people use for a weekend bikepacking trip

The key factors our riders used in deciding how much bag space they required included; the length of their trip, how much gear they had, how much experience they had with bikepacking, and finally how often they planned to stop off for food and supplies.

Example volumes with sample packing lists

As you can see from the table, the amount of space you need will be very dependent on the amount of gear you are carrying, and how minimalist of a bikepacker you are. More experienced bikepackers will be able to make a better judgment of what gear they need, and more importantly what gear they can leave behind.

For your first overnight or weekend trip, we suggest carrying between 30-40 litres of bag space, this allows for some extra luxury items (like a change of clothes), while not weighing yourself down with unnecessary gear.

Carrying Capacity Example Packing list
Minimalist (Less than 30 litres) 12L Handlebar bag: Bivy, Quilt
12L Frame bag: Sleeping pad, Spare underwear, Daily Items
4L Saddle bag: Food, Repair Kit, Toiletries
Average (30 to 40 litres) 11L Handlebar bag: Sleeping bag, Down Jacket, 1 x Clothes
4L Framebag: Food, Daily items, Toiletries
12L Saddle bag: Bivy, Sleeping pad, Rain gear
1L Top tube bag: Battery pack, Phone, Wind vest
7L Down tube bag: Repair kit, Pump
Luxury (Over 40 litres) 15L Handlebar bag 15l: Sleeping bag, Down & Rain Jacket
15L Frame bag: Cooking gear, Food, Daily Items.
14L Saddle bag: 2 sets of spare clothes
3L Downtube bag: Camera, Documents, Repair Kit
9L (2 x 4.5L) Cargo Bag: Extra cooking gear, Sleeping pad
2L (2 x 1L) Top tube bag: Extra water, Snacks, Phone

*Strap your tent to your saddle bag to save room for gear
A table showing common packing capacity in Liters for bikepackers with associated packing lists

What types of bike bags should make up your carrying capacity?

Now you’ve decided how much bag space you need for your trip, you will need to decide exactly what bags to get.

Below is a small summary of the types of bags you can carry on a bikepacking trip, but if you want a more detailed answer, take a look at my complete bikepacking bag guide which you can find here.

A picture of a bikepacking bike with the handlebar bag, saddle bag and frame bag labelled.

The most common bags people use for bikepacking include Handlebar bags, Frame bags, and Saddlebags. These bags are designed to attach directly to your bike, without the need for attachment points that panniers use. These are the most versatile types of bags, with large packing volumes that allow you to easily fit a lot of gear while only buying one piece of kit. Larger bike bags also help when it comes to packing larger items such as a sleeping bag or tent.

As you can see, a large saddle bag combined with a frame or handlebar bag is likely to fit all the gear you will need. If you still need a better understanding of the wide variety of bikepacking bags, take a look at my complete guide to bikepacking bags, which goes into detail about each different type of bag you might come across.

If you don’t want to commit to buying a set of bikepacking bags, it is possible to use a backpack for a bikepacking trip. Although it does take some specific adjustments.

Bag typeMaximum Packing Volume
Handlebar bagUp to 15L
Frame bagUp to 15L
Saddle bagUp to 20L
A table showing the maximum packing volume of common bikepacking bag types

Why do people take less bag space when bikepacking than backpacking?

A picture of a man wearing a very large backpacking bag

While many backpackers use volume in litres to work out how much they take on each trip, bikepackers focus less on the total volume they carry. There are several reasons for this, but the main reason is that your gear is likely to undergo more strain while bikepacking. This makes weight and carrying capacity less important when compared to other factors such as durability and how waterproof the bag is. Many of the bikepackers we asked did not know how much volume each of their bags carried (which will come as a surprise to most regular backpackers).

If you consider your average bikepacking trip, the rough gravel roads and muddy fields can do some damage, especially when you might be cycling at 20-25mph. Even if your bags aren’t close to the ground, debris and rocks will be flying off your tires and hitting the bags. Bikes will get scuffed and scratched, and without being durable, they could break completely.

This different focus on gear requirements may well be the reason for different pack volume requirements while backpacking vs bikepacking. The bags themselves are made to be more durable, and as such are heavier than the most lightweight backpacking options. To compensate for this, bikepackers may choose smaller bags which in turn balance out the weight difference.

Another key factor to consider is that bikepackers need to attach their bags to their bike. While a large rucksack can carry up to 90 litres of gear, attaching a single 90-litre bag to your bike isn’t going to end well. Bikepackers have to utilize a range of small bags to balance out their weight and gear to keep the bike balanced, again limiting their options.

Finally, you may find that bikepackers can get away with carrying less water and food than backpackers. Travelling on a bike allows a bikepacker to travel much further than the average backpacker each day. This means they have more chances to stop off and resupply at towns along the way. Allowing them to carry less for each section of their trip.

On the other hand, some trips will require you to carry up to 8 litres of water at a time, which can take up a large proportion of your bikepacking bag space.

When we spoke to our bikepackers who also did backpacking, we found that the average bikepacker took 10-20 litres less bag space with them on a bikepacking trip than on their backpacking trips.

Key tips for bikepacking bag space

A picture of a bike packed for a bikepacking trip

Bags don’t weigh that much, it’s often better to buy a slightly larger bag and strap it up than it is to buy too small a bag and break the zip!

When buying bags for bikepacking, you need to make sure you come at it with a different mindset to backpacking. It’s almost always better to trade extra weight for better durability, water resistance, or ease of use.

If you still aren’t sure exactly how much bag space you need, try fitting all your gear into a large plastic storage box. You are likely to have one of these lying around already, and boxes like these have their volume printed on the bottom. Estimating how much of the box your gear takes up can help you to estimate how many litres of gear you are planning to take.

Remember not everything you’re taking on your trip needs to fit in the bag, wearing an extra layer of clothing can help to save space in your bag, as can using bungee cords to attach large items such as sleeping bags or tents to the bags you already own.

Overall

As we’ve already established, the amount of bikepacking bag space you need seems to be very subjective, but if in doubt, you can’t go too wrong by taking 30 to 40 litres of carrying capacity. That certainly seems to be what most regular weekend bikepackers take with them.

However, if you are new to bikepacking, I would suggest aiming for some slightly cheaper bags and making up the difference with a rucksack. For example, try this 10-litre saddle bag paired with a 2.1-Liter Frame Bag and a 6.5 Liter Handlebar bag as a starting point. These in combination should give you enough capacity to carry your gear while helping to spread the weight evenly over your bike.

Joe Dalloz

Hi! I'm Joe a 30-year-old doctor, cyclist, and bikepacker who's spent thousands of hours in the saddle and written hundreds of articles about riding bikes!

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