When it comes to a first bikepacking trip, packing your gear can be more of a challenge than riding the bike. As someone who’s spent years working out how I like to pack my bike for a trip, as well as advising friends on where they should be putting specific gear, I thought I’d make things a bit easier. In this article, I list out where, how and why I pack my gear where I do. So, how do you pack for a bikepacking trip?
In general, when packing for a bikepacking trip, place the largest items in your saddle bag and handlebar bag, the heaviest items in your frame bag and the items you need the easiest access to in your stem or top tube bag.
So, now we know roughly what types of items go into each bag, but how do you actually pack them? I take a look at this, as well as give you a flowchart for every item you’d ever want to pack on a bikepacking trip in the rest of the article. More importantly, I’ll show you how to work out what type of gear goes in each bag, so that you can adjust and be more flexible in the future.
This article follows on from another one of my posts about “What gear you actually need for a bikepacking trip“, and uses the same packing list. You can take a look at that article and the packing list here.
How to pack for a bikepacking trip?
The most common problem I see with new bikepackers is how much stuff they plan to take. It is almost impossible to fit everything you think you need into your bags and still have a fun time riding such a heavy and overpacked bike.
The other advantage of not packing every bag to the seams is that you have extra bag space to take off layers of clothing as you ride, or stop somewhere and stock up on food. Either way, having a bit of extra packing space for these occasions is a real bonus.
Evenly spread your weight
Where you pack all your gear will have a large impact on the handling of your bike. Spreading out the weight evenly is the best way to manage this, reducing the impact your gear has on steering.
You also want to ensure that the heavier items are lower down on the bike which helps to give you a lower centre of gravity.
Pack in reverse
As you pack your bags, place the items you will need later in the day into the bag first. For example, you don’t want to put your raincoat at the very bottom of your saddle bag, to then be caught in a rainstorm pulling out all of your sleeping gear to get to it.
This same trick works for clothing layers. As you warm up from riding, take off each layer of clothing and put them into your bag in the order you take them off. This way, as you start to cool down again, you have the layers ready to grab in the right order.
Protect your gear
When packing lots of little items (for example your electronics) try packing them into a small dry bag within your main bag. This keeps them dry and stops them from getting lost in the bag itself.
Also, try to put a piece of clothing in the spaces around more fragile items. This can help to cushion any blows and stops them from rattling around as you cycle.
Protect your bike
Before you start strapping your bags to your bike, consider protecting the bike frame. As you ride, bike bags can sway or rub the frame of your bike damaging it.
Putting frame tape (like this stuff on amazon) over the areas of the frame where bags and gear are likely to rub can limit this, reducing the damage to your paintwork or frame materials (this is especially important on carbon fibre frames).
Take a test ride
Once you’ve packed your bags, make sure to take a test ride on your bike. This will help you discover if your saddle bag is swaying, if your frame bag is hitting your knees or if your handlebar bag is too heavy. All important things to discover before you start the ride.
Pack the heaviest items first
If possible, pack the heaviest items. This helps with the stability of your bike and can make the rest of the packing process easier. While this is particularly important when packing your saddle bag (leaving the heavy items until last can cause the bag to sway more), it is also true for your frame bag (where packing heavy items last can result in your crushing all your other gear).
Check your bags are waterproof
Find out which of your bags are waterproof early on. There is some gear that you need to keep dry (sleeping bag, down jacket etc), so placing these in the waterproof bag is very important.
If these items do not fit into your waterproof bag (or you have too many of them), you can pack these items into waterproof dry bags and then put these inside your normal bags.
Give up on perfection
Remember that there is no right answer, you can pack what you like, where you like. The only thing is getting everything on the bike, after that, everything else is just a bonus.
How to pack a bikepacking bag?
How to pack a frame bag on a bikepacking trip?
Gear you could pack in a frame bag- Down Jacket, Bike Tools, Water bladder, Tent poles, Cooking Gear
Frame bags are designed for long and heavy items, this is because it hangs low down and in the middle of the bike, giving it a low centre of gravity and helping your bike to be stable. Frame bags are also easy to access without having to get off your bike.
When packing your frame bag, try and place an item or two of clothing in this section (for example a raincoat or buff), as these can help the other items from knocking around inside the bag.
How to pack a handlebar bag on a bikepacking trip?
Gear you could pack in a handlebar bag– Sleeping bag, Tent, Sleeping mat, Extra Clothes
Handlebar bags are good for carrying large spacious items that have a low weight. This is because handlebar bags have a large storage capacity but can have a big impact on your handling- a heavy handlebar bag makes for a heavy handlebar.
On top of this, handlebar bags are the hardest of your bikepacking bags to access on your trip, often needing to be fully unpacked to get to items in the middle. This means that these bags are good for carrying items you will only need when you arrive at camp.
How to pack a saddle bag on a bikepacking trip?
Gear you could pack in a saddle bag – Extra Clothes, Cooking Gear, Sleeping Mat, Tent, Sleeping bag
Saddlebags are similar to handlebar bags, however, they are a little easier to access and have a slightly different shape. Saddle bags are also poor at carrying heavy items as they are prone to swaying around as you ride. The other issue with saddle bags is that the items at the bottom get quite compressed and so they are not as good for fragile items or squishy food.
When packing a saddle bag, make sure to pack the heaviest items first, this helps to prevent the bag from swaying. Also, when tightening a saddle bag, try putting your knee under the bag. This helps to lift the bag up and gives you better leverage for tightening the straps
Take a look at my article here for other tips on preventing saddle bag sway.
How to pack a Feed/Stem/Top tube bag on a bikepacking trip?
Gear you could pack in a stem bag – Food, sun cream, phone, sunglasses
There are multiple bags in this section as they all tend to fill the same role and carry the same type of gear. All of these bags are small additional bags, good for storing small, lightweight objects. They sit in front of you as you ride and so are very easily accessible.
How to pack a Front Fork bag on a bikepacking trip?
Gear you could pack in a fork bag – Food, Water, Cooking Gear, Sleeping Mat
While at first glance these bags seem like they may have fit into the section above, fork bags have a slightly different role and hold slightly different items than stem bags. Fork bags are harder to access and are worse at holding fragile items. This is because fork bags sit close to the ground and so are more prone to being knocked and bumped by passing stones or tree trunks.
The advantage of these types of bags is that as they are closer to the ground, you can put heavier items into fork bags (lower centre of gravity), however, you need to ensure you balance the weight between both sides of the fork, as otherwise, it can start to impact handling.
How do you fit everything when bikepacking?
Where do you carry camping gear on a bike?
Where you pack your camping gear will depend on which bags you have available to you, which type of camping gear you are carrying and what other gear you have to fit into your bags. In general, the two largest items to pack from your camping gear are your sleeping bag and tent.
How to pack a sleeping bag for a bikepacking trip?
Your sleeping bag is large but lightweight, so this means it is well suited to either your handlebar or saddle bag. I personally store my sleeping bag in my saddle bag as I like how much it compresses down, and allows me to get the saddle bag to be as small as possible, limiting saddle bag sway.
Some bikepackers strap their sleeping bag directly to their bike (when it is not raining). Using a few bungee cords, you can strap a tent and sleeping bag to your handlebars, forming a makeshift handlebar bag.
Where do you put your tent when bikepacking?
I find the best way to store a tent on a bikepacking trip is to split the main part of the tent from the tent poles. This allows you to compress down the fabric part of the tent much more, fitting it into a handlebar bag, and then you can store the poles of your tent in your frame bag or seat tube.
Take a look at my article here for more details on how to pack and store a tent on a bikepacking trip.
Where do you carry water on a bike tour or bikepacking trip?
You need to carry quite a lot of water with you on a bikepacking trip (for example I take around 3 litres for an overnight trip). This quickly takes up space on your bike and being a heavy item, the position you store it in needs careful planning.
I like to use my fork bags and frame bag to carry the majority of my water. I place a water bottle on each side of my fork (this helps to split the weight evenly and balance the bike), and then carry a water bladder in my frame bag (which I use to top up the water bottles as they run out).
Take a look at my article here for more detail on how much water you need for a bikepacking trip and how to pack it.
How do you fit everything when bikepacking?
In the previous article, I went through all the items I’ve ever packed for a bikepacking trip and came up with the list below. In order to help you work out where you should be packing your gear, I’ve listed where I would normally try to store the items on a bikepacking trip.
Remember, where you store a piece of gear should be flexible. When I go on a trip, there is a high chance that the item in question won’t fit where I plan to put it, in that case, I have to do some shuffling or put it in another bag.
|Item||Where do I pack it on a bikepacking trip?|
|Sleeping Bag||Saddle Bag|
|Sleeping Mat||Handlebar Bag|
|Eye Mask||Saddle Bag|
|Ear Plugs||Saddle Bag|
|Inflatable pillow||Saddle Bag|
|Phone||Top tube bag/Phone GPS Mount|
|GPS||Top tube bag/GPS Mount|
|Spot Tracker||Frame Bag|
|Basic Toiletries||Saddle Bag|
|First aid kit||Frame Bag|
|Stove||Frame Bag/Handlebar Bag|
|Cooking pot||Frame Bag/Handlebar Bag|
|Fuel||Frame Bag/Handlebar Bag|
|A lighter (firestarter)||Frame Bag|
|Food||Saddle Bag/Handlebar Bag/Stem Bag|
|Water||Fork bags/Frame Bag|
|Bike Repair Kit||Frame Bag|
|Bike pump||Frame Bag|
|Bike Lock||On the bike|
|Bike Lights||On the bike|
|Cable Tires||Frame Bag|
|Spare Clothes||Saddle Bag/Handlebar Bag|
|Comfortable shoes||Strapped to the top of my saddle Bag|
|Waterproof coat||Frame Bag|
|Base layers||Saddle Bag|
As you can see, packing for a bikepacking trip can be a bit of a challenge. But things get easier as you pack less, and obviously, you would not want to take all of this gear on every trip. For more information on what gear you should be packing and when you should be taking it with you, take a look at my article here.