When it comes to bikepacking, your tent will be one of the largest single pieces of gear you will need to take with you. This often leads to the question, “how do I pack it?” Over the years I’ve used multiple different ways of packing my tent, which have changed as I got different bags and ways of storing my gear.
Splitting up the tent poles from the material of the tent is the best way to pack a tent for bikepacking. 70% of bikepackers pack the fabric part of their tent in their handlebar bag or attach it to the handlebars with bungee cords. The poles can then be strapped onto the frame using the straps from your frame bag.
While splitting up your tent and packing it into your handlebar bag appears to be the most common way of packing a tent, what if you don’t own a handlebar bag? And what if you are using panniers? We take a look at all the different options below.
How to carry a tent on a bike?
Most tents come with a tent portion (the bit made of fabric) as well as tent poles. When it comes to packing your tent for bikepacking, the best way to pack your tent is likely to split the tent poles and the fabric part up and pack them separately.
Packing your tent this way allows you to fit the tent into a smaller space overall than if you packed them together.
So where should you pack the material part of your tent?
Where to pack your tent in bikepacking bags?
The most popular way of storing a tent for bikepacking is in the handlebar bag. Handlebar bags are great for storing larger but lightweight pieces of gear. Anything too heavy here will make the bike handling worse.
Often your tent will fit directly into the handlebar bag, especially once the poles are removed. If you are lucky, you may even find that both fit into the bag if you have shorter poles such as those found on Big Agnes’s bikepacking-specific tents.
Many tents come in their own bag, but you can replace this with a dry bag if you have one. This is especially important if your handlebar bag isn’t waterproof. If you are looking for some dry bags I would suggest these ones on amazon.
If you don’t own a handlebar bag or your tent is too long to fit in the handlebar bag, then you can try attaching your tent directly to your saddlebag with a bungee cord or voile straps. While this can be a bit more fiddly, if it fits then you get the added bonus of a slightly more stable saddlebag.
How to pack your tent if you are using panniers?
So what about if your bike has panniers rather than bikepacking bags?
If you are packing a tent into panniers, it’s best to try and keep all of your overnight sleeping gear in one pannier (sleeping bag, pad, tent, etc). This way you only have to take one pannier off your bike when you get to camp and have to spend lots of time fishing around in separate bags.
Most tent poles won’t fit into your pannier bag, so the majority of bikepackers simply strap this directly to their pannier rack. After all, it doesn’t matter if the tent pole gets wet.
Where to pack your tent for a bikepacking trip where you don’t own any bikepacking bags or panniers?
So what do you do if it’s your first trip and you don’t own either bikepakcing bags or panniers?
It’s very easy to set up a DIY Harness on your handlebar for a tent. All you will need is 2 bungee cords or voile straps.
Firstly, put your tent inside a dry bag, typically you will want to get a 15L drybag to make sure it fits easily. This keeps the tent dry as there will be no other fabric between the tent and the rain.
When it comes to fitting your tent into your handlebar space, the trick is to use a bag that fits your handlebars, rather than the bag that the tent came with in the first place. You may well find the original bag doesn’t fit, in this case just put it directly in a dry bag that does fit.
Use 2 straps evenly placed to attach the tent top to your handlebars as I have below. This is a nice secure way to pack your tent f you don’t own a handlebar or saddlebag and saves space if you are using a backpack for other items such as clothes.
Where to pack your tent poles when bikepacking?
So, we’ve established where to keep your tent material when bikepacking, but what about those of us who have tent poles?
If you are lucky, your tent poles will also fit in your handlebar bag or on your pannier rack, but what if they don’t?
Many people will store their tent poles inside their frame bag, however, if your frame bag is full or your tent poles don’t fit into it, then some people attach them to the top tube itself.
Attaching them to the frame
You can either attach them to the top tube inside the nylon bag they came in, or directly to the frame itself. After all, it doesn’t matter if tent poles get wet and so they can comfortably sit on the outside of the bike without a bag.
While you can use bungee cords or voile straps for this, the best way is to use the straps from a frame or top tube bag to hold them in place.
Sadly, tent poles are sometimes too long for a top tube, and bikes smaller than 56cm may struggle to fit them here. If your poles don’t fit inside your frame bag or on your top tube then an ingenious way of packing tent poles is inside your seat tube.
Putting them inside the seat tube
Tent poles can be easily put inside a seat tube as I have shown below. This can save space on the bike itself for more gear.
If you plan to do this, a great addition is to use an old inner tube to make a protective sleeve, this will keep the tent pole in place and stop it from bumping around.
If you don’t want to put the poles inside your seat tube, you can also use this same inner tube trick to make a protective sleeve that attaches your bike poles to the down tube on the outside. If you strap it down tightly while using this inner tube it also has the added benefit of stopping any rattling around which can get annoying on a long trip.
How to make a DIY tent pole case
Get an old inner tube and cut it to the size of your frame and the tent pole, Make sure to leave a little space on each end so that you can tie it up with the tent pole inside.
Place the tent poles inside the inner tube. If at this point they are too wide you can cut a line down the middle of the inner tube to increase its width. Then fold the ends of the inner tube over and tie this off with an elastic band.
Place the inner tube case you have made directly onto your down tube or you can place this inside your saddle post if it fits.
What are the most popular ways of carrying a tent when bikepacking?
So we’ve established the best way to pack a tent when bikepacking, but what is the way that most people use?
We asked a range of bikepackers where they pack their tent when bikepacking. By far the most common answer was on their handlebars, but some people used the other methods we’ve talked about here such as in their frame bag attached to their seat post.
As you can see, there are many ways to pack your tent if you are bikepacking. If you have a handlebar bag, this is the most popular and easiest way to store a tent, but if you don’t then there are lots of different options you could use.