How to: Pack for a backcountry bikepacking trip


Words by Jeffrey Stern, photos by Dylan Jones

One of the best things about mountain biking is planning for the excitement and adventure of escape. Escape from the real world, into mountains and pastures unknown that can lead to any number of amazing experiences. Simply planning an overnight trip of any magnitude stirs the pot of thrill and prepares you mentally for exiting the confines of society: roads, cars, traffic and often times unnecessary business.

Heading off into the wilderness often requires a bit of planning and preparation, but you likely have most of what you need in the form of camping and biking gear ready and waiting for your use.


On a recent overnighter deep into the vast Los Padres National Forest and to the summit of Big Pine Mountain, we packed smart for what were fairly extreme conditions for an early summer trip. Highs jumping into the 90s during the heat of the day and lows with windchill dipping into the 30s at night required us to bring enough gear to be ready, while not overloading our mountain bikes. After a few dozen trips, we’ve whittled down the essentials to one list divided into three sub-groups.

Cooking/Food/Water – bring more than enough food 

As a general rule of thumb, bring one extra meal and a couple extra snacks more than you think you might need. If you’re planning to spend 36 hours out in the wild (one night), bring another meal and a few extra energy bars of your choice just in case it turns into a two nighter. Same goes for water, especially in the hotter summer months. It’s easy to run through double the amount of liquids when carrying an extra heavy load. And always, always bring a water filter of some kind. For cooking, we like lightweight gas-fueled portable stoves similar to the Jetboil. A lighter, Swiss Army type multi-tool and double-sided utensil are must haves as well.


Clothing/First Aid – plans for the extremes

Conditions change quickly in the outback, so you need to plan accordingly. Beyond your standard riding gear, always bring an extra base layer and a lightweight, packable jacket for warmth and as well as a rain shell. A second pair of socks, long finger gloves and beanie to keep your head warm if the temperature really dips is a great idea too. Comfortable, warm pants and a compact set of shoes will protect your legs and feet in the evenings from unwanted bug bites or while walking around camp. A simple first aid kit with small bandages, tape, disinfectant, antibiotic ointment, needle/thread, bug spray and tweezers will cover most of your basic injuries. Don’t forget the ever important sunscreen either; a bad sunburn can dehydrate you and put you into a more serious conundrum than you might think.


Bicycle Maintenance/Bags – don’t forget the little things!

Included in your standard (pump, tube, multi-tool, chain link, patch kit, tire boots and irons) flat kit should be an extra tube, extra chain link, extra wheel spoke/nipple, an extra set of shoe cleats, electrical tape, a few random sized hex bolts, and zip ties – all good things to have incase you get in a pinch. On the bag front, we like to carry small backpacks because of their water carrying capacity, but these can be easily replaced with a frame bag if you’re not in too technical of terrain and running a hardtail. A larger seatpost bag should carry most of your bigger volume gear and a smaller handlebar bag can carry items you might want to get to quickly.


Falling outside these three sub-groups, but just as important are lights, a portable USB recharging stick and if you’re really going off the grid consider investing in a satellite GPS device. Don’t forget your lightweight tent (or hammock), sleeping bag and pad so you can enjoy your rest in comfort before heading home the next day!



Review: Ortlieb bags

By Adam Newman

Handlebar Pack -$130

In the name of simplicity and secure attachment, Ortlieb chose to design its handlebar bag to hang below the handlebars, where it stays put and doesn’t slip or bounce, rather than trying to cantilever it out in front. The laminated, ripstop nylon waterproof body has a roll-up closure at each end and Ortlieb lists its volume at 15 liters. I found it plenty large enough for a lightweight solo tent and sleeping bag. There are a myriad of ways to attach things on the outside too, beyond just the accessories pouch. The compression straps can hold extras like your tent poles or a second stuff sack, and there are some bungee cords on the exterior for a jacket. The attachment system is very secure, with a few foam spacers to make room for your brakes, shifters and cables. A super heavy-duty strap secures it in place and a secondary buckle strap cinches it up tight. The build quality is worth a shout-out, as I never once feared tearing a seam with repeated stretching, pulling, crashing, stuffing and smashing.


Accessories Pack -$75

If you go with the Ortlieb handlebar pack, you should really pick up the Accessories pack too. It attaches with the compression straps from the Handlebar pack and is big enough for several days worth of food. Having my snacks right on the handlebars made them easy to access, and when I needed to hang a bear bag at night I simply detached it and strung it up tire combo in here. It can also be attached to the handlebars on its own as a daypack, or worn around your waist or shoulder with the included waist strap.


Seat Pack -$160

Here Ortlieb chose to refine a common design rather than reinvent the wheel. The volume is adjustable from 8 liters to 16 liters, and it attaches to the seat rails with two quick release buckles and to the seatpost with heavy-duty Velcro straps. At the base of the bag, extending about a third of the way from the seatpost, is an internal cowling that gives it shape and keeps it from bulging. A really cool feature is the addition of a purge valve, which lets you squeeze all the air out of it after it’s been rolled. Getting the seatpack to work well comes down to proper packing. I found that one big item like a sleeping bag worked better than a collection of small items like clothing. Also you need to make sure the contents are stuffed firmly into the bottom of the pack, because otherwise you’re guaranteed to suffer from Droopy Butt Syndrome. After a few days of struggling with it sagging I took better care with packing and the results improved. I also started putting my tent poles in there for more support. One curious design quirk is that even with the bag nearly full I was maxing out the adjustment straps that secure the roll- top, seen here just above the Ortlieb logo. They’re also impossible to tighten while buckled, which makes adjusting them a chore.



Ortlieb has always built some insanely bomber gear, and after working these bags hard I have no doubt they’ll last a while. I would definitely recommend the handlebar pack and accessories pack for their simplicity and carrying capacity. The seat pack, on the other hand, faces much stiffer competition (intentional pun) from designs with rigid frames. It requires careful packing and its massive size is a blessing and a curse. It’s a solid choice but not a home run.


This review was originally published in Bicycle Times 43. Subscribe to our email newsletter to get fresh web content and reposted print content like this delivered to your inbox every Tuesday! 


Get outside Philadelphia with the second annual Bikeout

The second annual Bikeout will take place September 9-10, 2017 in and around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This overnight cycling adventure aims to bring together riders, make bikepacking accessible and showcase the natural and civic resources surrounding Philadelphia.

The 38-mile ride starts near the Philadelphia Art Museum and utilizes the paved Schuylkill River Trail and as well as some back roads to get to Sankanac CSA, a 15-acre farm just outside of Phoenixville. Riders will camp at the farm and enjoy a farm-to-table meal, craft beer, live music and more. Morning will bring a farm-sourced breakfast, bike mechanic workshop, yoga, organized bike tour of the surrounding area and more before heading back to the city.

Photo: Brian James Kirk

Photo by Brian James Kirk

This ride is designed for anyone from experienced cyclists looking to meet people and enjoy a fun weekend to newbies looking for a challenging, yet attainable, experience. Organizers hope that this ride will introduce more of the local community to bike touring, which has been emerging in urban centers as more bicycle commuters search their region for new, farther places to go without a car.


Photo by Brian James Kirk

Last year, this ride sold out in just under four hours and brought together 125 riders. This year, Bikeout organizers are doubling the cap due to the popularity of the event.

Tickets go on sale on July 12 at noon and are $100 for a standard ticket and $110 if you would like your camping gear transported to the farm for you. Head on over to for more info.

Photo by Brian James Kirk

Photo by Brian James Kirk



Review: Six Moon Designs Skyscape Trekker

Few pieces of gear elicit such passionate debate as ultralight shelters. From bivy bags to tarps to tents, there are more options than ever before to keep you dry and warm in the outdoors. After using a bivy and tarp combo for the past few years, I started to miss the comfort and luxury only a tent can provide.

Six Moon Designs is a small company based in Beaverton, Oregon, where it manufacturers its line of tents, tarps and packs. The Skyscape is actually a family of tents that share a design but are constructed with different materials. The $235 Trekker is the mid-range model made from silnylon, a standby in tent construction for decades.

Six Moons Tent-1

A hybrid double/single-wall design, it has a single panel along the top and mesh sides beneath the canopy. Constructed as all one piece it shaves weight by not having a separate rain fly. The seams do not come sealed but you can ask Six Moon Designs to do it for you for an extra $30 if you’re expecting a lot of moisture. Unlike most day-glo tents on the market, the dark green exterior makes it perfect for stealth camping too.

The nicest part of the design is that the exterior can be rolled up and secured to create an almost entirely open mesh shelter that lets in the sights and sounds of nature while keeping out the bugs. This model I purchased has only a single door but the updated, current version has dual doors, a feature that makes it much less of a hassle to remember exactly which way you need to orient your pitch.

The pitch takes a bit of practice, too. The Skyscape design is not freestanding, so you won’t be able to pitch it indoors or on any hard surfaces unless you secure it with sandbags instead of tent stakes, which are not included. Also not included are tent poles, as it is designed to be supported by a pair of trekking poles. Six Moon Designs does offer a pair of aluminum poles for an extra $14 each or carbon fiber poles for $30 each.

Despite being only a solo tent the Skyscape is more than enough room for my 6 feet and 2 inches, plus a thick pad and sleeping bag. The 23 square feet of space in an elongated petagram leaves enough room for a duffel bag parked alongside me and more gear stashed above my head. My feet come awful close to touching the footwell but there are additional guy points on the exterior you can use to create some extra room. The best part is the 45 inch height, which is plenty enough to sit up inside, something many solo tents can’t offer.

There is enough space under the fly on each side to stash a pair of shoes or a small bag and keep them out of the rain, though on my older model with a single door it’s impossible to access the opposite vestibule from inside. The fly also doesn’t overhang the door, so if it’s raining hard you have to keep it shut.

Weighing in at 733 grams for the body and stuff sack plus 172 grams for the poles, the Skyscape Trekker is lighter than many tarp and bivy combos and offers far more comfort in the outdoors. It packs down to the size of a football and easily fits inside a Salsa Anything Cage bag (approximately 4 liters), though the poles need to be carried elsewhere.

With a price tag that’s very competitive with other high quality tents it seems like a steal.


An earlier version of this post had an incorrect point of manufacturing. It is made in Asia.

This review originally appeared in Issue #37. Subscribe today so you don’t miss this kind of content.



Interbikepacking with Blackburn Design

We’re here in Las Vegas this week for the bike industry’s annual tradeshow of brands, suppliers, dealers and media slime. Most of our time is spent inside a giant conference hall with confusing booth numbers and overpriced rubber sandwiches.

Blackburn Design wasn’t having any of that though. Last year they invited us on a ride down to the Hoover Dam, which is an insanely impressive piece of engineering (aside from the ecological ramifications) that is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. Anyway, Blackburn upped the ante (that’s a Las Vegas pun) and invited Bicycle Times on an overnight bike camping adventure.


We started by fueling up on some Vitamin T.


The Hoover Dam is a major source of hydroelectric power for Nevada, Arizona and California. There is quite a bit of infrastructure surrounding it.


While the dam has a road atop it, the highway now passes by on the bridge. The Black Canyon forms the border between Nevada and Arizona.


We hung out for a bit spitting off the side of the 726-foot side of the dam and taking in the scenery.


Some of the tourists were quite quizzical about our bikes.


Opened in 1936, the dam includes some beautiful art deco details including the black marble public restrooms inside the intake towers. It’s hard to imagine a government project including such nice details these days.


The water in Lake Mead also sits 50-60 feet below the historic level, creating a dramatic bathtub ring.


Back to the bike riding. This custom painted Santa Cruz belongs to one of the Blackburn employees.


We left the bridge and headed out into the desert for some backroad exploring just as the sun was setting.


The incoming thunderstorm had us dodging lightning and racing for lower ground.

blackburn-interbikepacking-14 blackburn-interbikepacking-13

Nature’s light show was pretty impressive. We rolled into camp just at dusk and set up our Big Agnes tents and polished off some sandwiches before heading to bed.


Being woken up in the middle of the night by a howling pack of coyotes was a memorable experience.


The sun soon rose above Lake Mead and I couldn’t be happier to be further away from the bright lights of Las Vegas.


Once the sun was up it was time for coffee.


Jason from Limberlost kept the caffeine flowing with hand-ground beans and pour-over brewing.


We filled our hydration bladders with filtered lake water and tried to keep our distance from the nudist kayaker guy.


Made some new friends that morning, including this guy, if you can spot him…


… and some desert bighorn sheep.


Finally it was time to load up and ride back uphill and back to reality.


Our time in the desert was just thing we need to revitalize our spirit.


  • Our bikepacking bags, lights, multi-tools and other assorted items were provided by Blackburn.
  • Our tents, sleeping bags and mats were from Big Agnes.
  • The bike I rode was a Niner RLT.


Keep reading

We have a lot more coming from Interbike this week, including new products and new insight. Keep your eyes peeled here as well as our Instagram and Facebook pages for up-to-the-minute updates.



Tips for bike camping and capturing your adventure

Swift Campout_WEB (5 of 6)

Swift Campout (1 of 1)-4

Inspired by Swift Industries’ Swift Campout initiative, some friends and I celebrated the summer solstice with a one night bike-camping trip right out of the city. A local bike shop here in Pittsburgh, Thick Bikes, was hosting an open ride on the Great Allegheny Passage, so I joined them for a jaunt along the river. The GAP is a great option to travel south of the city by bicycle and the perfect opportunity to do a shake-down in familiar territory for future summer exploration.

Swift Campout_WEB (5 of 6)


My goal for this trip was to carry just the gear I needed to be comfortable, plus camera gear. There are different schools of thought with weight distribution on a bicycle, and I’ve historically carried most of my weight on the rear rack. However, knowing that I could store all but a tent in front panniers and a frame bag, I was intrigued to see how it felt with my weight forward.

It wasn’t perfect, but I did my best to balance my pannier weight and didn’t have any noticeable issues with pulling in one direction or the other. Gear weight adds up quickly and too much weight on the back can create light steering, which may feel unstable.

On the other hand, having the weight up from meant that there wasn’t a way to lighten my front end over uneven terrain. I just ran into the changing surfaces with a sluggish bounce. This aside, I liked the feeling of having my front end anchored and I wouldn’t hesitate to carry my weight front heavy in the future. If you’re interested in the physics of weight distribution on a bicycle, check out this informative article from the Adventure Cycling Association.

The frame bag was a great way to carry gear without adding extra bulk. I used this area to store the majority of my food, along with some toilet paper and my sunglasses. That way I could access these items easily during a stop or while pedaling.

I affixed my tripod on the front rack via a traditional buckle strap which is one aspect of my setup I’ll change moving forward. I went on this trip with the plan of taking video, so I needed the tripod often and the constant on and off of the bike was time consuming. In the future I’ll use a quick release strap like these Rok Straps, which are lightweight and secure up to 40 pounds.

Swift Campout_WEB (1 of 1)

For me, documenting the adventure is half the fun, so I couldn’t leave my camera behind. I’ve been using the Case Logic DSLR Camera and iPad Backpack for my camera gear, both for its affordable price and size. DSLR backpacks trend large, but this storage solution provides adequate space for what I want without allowing me to carry what I won’t use, and it’s also an appropriate size for my back.

For the Campout I carried my DSLR body and two prime lenses, 24 mm and 50 mm in the bottom section and a 70-200 mm in the top, with space to spare for a strobe, sunglasses or a shirt. I tucked my wallet and phone in the top zipper pocket so I didn’t leave any valuables behind when I walked away from my bike. The supplied rain cover has effectively repelled the rain over the past several months, but when we rode our last few miles to camp in a complete downpour I threw a plastic sack over the bag to ensure dry equipment.

Swift Campout (2 of 2)

The likelihood of rain on this trip was 100 percent, but I still wanted to capture the event, so I invested in a Manfrotto rain cover for my camera. The cover is quick to throw over the camera via a velcro opening. Elastic cords cinch around the both the lens and the user’s arms. A transparent shell allows one to see and manage all controls in a dry environment. Expect to use “live view” mode with it, opposed to the viewfinder in rainy weather. It can be tough to keep the collar out of the way on a short prime lens. I found that folding it in the reverse direction was helpful to keep it from interfering with my shot.

Swift Campout (1 of 2)

Tripods are a cumbersome thing to carry on a bicycle, but the ideal option for video or night photography. I carried a Rocketfish 2.9 pound carbon fiber tripod. It’s not the lightest tripod you can purchase, but in terms of the amount of weight it will hold, 15.4 pounds, compared to weight of the tripod it’s fairly impressive. It folds to 20 inches—or 16 inches if you disassemble it into two pieces. There are times I wish for some extra height, beyond its 47 inches, but not so much that I want to carry extra weight around. This tripod is discontinued, but Photography Gear Guide has a great comparison chart if you’re in the market for a lightweight option.

Swift Campout_WEB (1 of 6)

Packing Tips

  • If you’re in a rainy climate keep your gear protected using dry bags or waterproof panniers. Alternatively, clothes will fit nicely into two gallon baggies and garbage bags.
  • Look ahead to see when you’ll have access to water and bring a filter.
  • Extra shoes aren’t a necessity, but it sure is nice to slip your feet into something dry at camp. Sandals worked well for this warm weather trip. They pack flat and dry fast.
  • Roll your clothes.
  • Pack inside of other cavernous gear, like pots.
  • Keep your gear light by making a pile of the necessities and then add wants.
  • Make a list and check it twice.
  • Pack heavy items and gear you won’t immediately need at the bottom of your bag.
  • Seek out possible shelter ahead of your trip for if the weather turns sour.
  • Bring both matches and a lighter.
  • Be prepared for rain, mechanicals and a change in plans (within reason.)

Did you participate in the Swift Campout? Let us know about your adventures in the comments below.

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