There are many gear choices to make before any bikepacking adventure: what to pack and which bags to pack all that gear in; how to pack for proper weight distribution; which bike to ride; and many other decisions.
In this video, I use my trip to Iceland in July 2021 as a way to explain the thought-process behind the “what, how, and why” of bikepacking gear. While I mention Iceland here and there, the core of this video covers what you should think about when packing for any bikepacking trip.
The gear-picking process
For my N1 Challenge, I had originally planned to race Ireland’s 2,500-kilometer-long TransAtlantic Way bikepacking race. Those plans were foiled by Covid travel restrictions. So I hatched a new plan: Circumnavigate Iceland on a mix of gravel tracks and dirt and paved backroads, avoiding the famed Ring Road as much as possible.
Picking and packing gear for a 2,200-kilometer bikepacking trip around a nearly treeless island in the North Atlantic Ocean not far from the Arctic Circle, famous for frequent bursts of inclement weather, was a challenging task.
Weatherproof gear would be essential, and it would need to be packable and durable to boot. My riding partner and I would be camping, so our shelters and sleeping bags would need to be warm, light, and built for inclement weather.
I started by making a master list. I checked it twice. I checked it another couple dozen times. On every ride I took in Colorado, I ruminated about the gear I’d need in Iceland: Which chamois would be most comfortable over 13 days of hard riding? Which would to be the most versatile outer layer? Did I need one base layer or two? Did I need a water filter or not?
I became obsessed with gear. I added a few things to my list, subtracted a few things. I bought some new things, but mostly I gathered pieces of gear that I loved and that had proven I could trust.
Finally, after much deliberation, I made a pile of potential gear choices on my living room floor to see if, and how, they would fit into my bags. Total carrying capacity was my first concern. Could I fit everything I wanted to bring in the bags I had on the gravel bike I would ride? My next priority was deciding how I would distribute all that weight, and then how I could optimize access to frequently used items.
In this video, I detail the gear choices I made for the trip, highlighting some of my favorites. Even though this specific adventure took place in Iceland, similar suggestions apply no matter where your next bikepacking adventure takes you.
Chris Case 00:09
Welcome to Fast Talk Laboratories, your source for the science of endurance performance.
Introduction and a bit about Mosaic Cycles
Chris Case 00:19
When you set off on a bikepacking trip, you have a host of decisions to make about what kind of gear you’re going to bring. What are you going to sleep in? How are you going to stay warm? How are you going to stay dry? How are you going to feed yourself, and of course, what bike you’re going to ride. And of course, that bike decision is based on what terrain you’re going to see. And I’m setting off on a trip to Iceland, there’s going to be paved roads, there’s going to be gravel roads, and there’s going to be everything in between. and I have had my friends over at mosaic cycles, build me a beautiful GT1. I’m going to turn it over now to Aaron Barcheck, the founder of mosaic cycles, and he’s going to tell you exactly why this is the tool for the trip.
Aaron Barcheck 01:17
My name is Aaron Barcheck, from Mosaic Cycles in Boulder, Colorado, I would describe this as kind of a lightweight touring bike probably wouldn’t even really be called a touring bike in the traditional sense. As you get to the other end of the extreme on the bike packing end, where you might be doing more trail, even the bike needs to accommodate that. In sturdiness and in handling, so you have a longer wheelbase. Yeah, a slacker head angle a longer chainstay, you might even throw in more bottom bracket drop just to keep the center of gravity as low as you possibly can. And so we kind of pare that back slightly, for an all road bike that you would be on the quicker side of the touring, because you still want it to feel relatively lively, you don’t want to miss that. And the GT1 all road is, it’s a great tool for the terrain that you’re gonna find on this race, it is a gravel bike, it’s kind of more geared toward the road type of gravel. So in its design, it does allow for a bigger tire. And then of course, it’s a mosaic, so we got to top it off with some killer paint job. I mean, that’s the most fun part, let’s be honest.
Attributes of a good bike packing bike
Chris Case 03:12
Alright, so you’ve just heard Aaron talk about the build of this bike and some of the specific attributes that make it great for this type of trip, I just want to say in general that I’m biased. I’m a big fan of Mosaic, I have another mosaic bike. So when I bought this one, I knew that it was going to feel how I wanted it to feel they took my previous geometry and applied it to this bike, which is a great benefit of working with a small, bespoke builder, like mosaic. So some of the things that I love about it, it’s not an aggressive road bike, it’s not a select mountain bike, this bike needs to do a lot of different things, welll. Maybe doesn’t do road, as best as it could. Same with really chunky gravel roads. But it does a lot of things great. And that’s the type of tool you need for a trip like this. The other thing, of course, is that it is a titanium bike, and it’s not a carbon fiber bike and I see that as an advantage, especially in this application. Carbon fiber can crack. When it does, it sort of fails, you don’t want that out in a remote area, your bike falls down on a piece of volcanic rock or something in Iceland, and you’re just out of luck. So those are some of the great attributes of this bike. Now, not everybody can get a mosaic not everybody has the means for it. Maybe you only have the bike that you have and you have to make do. What I would say is some of the specific requirements for a bike packing trip are that it can hold some weight. Now if you put a bunch of weight on a road bike, an aggressive road bike, it might be quite twitchy with all that weight it might not handle the way you expect it to and it might be hard to handle which is not a good thing. The other thing is that you most likely will spend a lot more time in the saddle each day than you might regularly so having a really aggressive position where you’re down in the drops, or just bent over more is not what you’re looking for, so something that sits up a little bit more is great. So there’s definitely different bikes you can use for bikepacking. There is no right tool for the job you can make do with a lot of different things. But keep those things in mind about the aggressive nature of one bike versus the slack nature of another bike and the terrain that you’re going to be on.
Tires wheels and other gadgets
Chris Case 05:31
Alright, let’s start by talking about what contacts the ground, tires and wheels, the tires I’m running are the Pathfinder pro from specialized, they are 38 C tires. So that is a width that, like I said about the bike kind of handles a lot of different terrain. The tread pattern is also such that it has this center rib down the middle, which helps with rolling resistance on paved surfaces. And then when I get onto the gravel, it’s got some great cornering and aggressive knobs on the corners for that loose terrain. These tires are on hunt wheels, the hunt wheels are a bridge company. So these hunt wheels are built with a dynamo hub by shutter position in my case, what does that mean? Well, a dynamo is essentially a small generator that’s on the the bike. As the wheel turns, it’s generating electricity, that electricity can run up a cable. And in this in my case, I have it connected to a Sinewave beacon, which is a headlight. But it’s more than that. This headlight has a couple of different modes high and low beam, but it also can be used to recharge things so it has a USB port on the back. Ideally, you would charge an external battery pack. And then you could of course take that battery pack and charge your Garmin or charge some other electronic gadgets that you have with you your phone, etc. You can also take the battery pack and run the light if the Dynamo stops working. So it’s it’s got some versatility in that way. Back to my Garmin my head unit I should say I’ve chosen a Garmin 830 I’ve had good success with it over the years, easy to use touchscreen, nice and compact, will have maps loaded onto it, I’m not going to have a single map that covers the entire 1500 mile route that would take forever to load. And it just wouldn’t work appropriately from day to day to day. So we’ll build maps that give us a little bit of flexibility in terms of how much mileage they cover, not too long and not too short. So we have those bite sized chunks that we can work with as we’re trying to navigate out on the road.
Storage on the bike
Chris Case 07:45
Okay, now let’s talk about all the different storage that I have on the bike by storage I mean mostly bags. I’ll start front to back on the bike. right up front, we have this guy it’s ORTLIEB waterproof, handlebar pack QR, the QR stands for quick release. So it has this system in the back, this connects to the handlebars through a series of these cords, it wraps around your stem and it it’s easy to get on and off the bike if you need to. For instance, you’ve got valuables in here and you were going into a store in a city or something like that, you know, generally speaking the front end of the bike, you don’t want a ton of weight up high. And this does sit up right on the handlebars. So I like to keep some light clothes that I’m going to need access to often because it’s nice and handy. And it’s sitting there right in front of you. And of course, you know, it’s got these pockets on the sides, put a phone in there, put some food in there. And some other things you want to keep dry cuz this is nice and up and off the road farther than the saddle pack sitting here, which you know, it serves as a fender. And then yeah, it’s just this beautiful rolltop it’s easy to get into. If you’re willing to risk it, you can do that while you’re riding your bike, no handed mom and try not to crash and go on your way. So we’ll set that one aside. Going back there, there’s two bags on the bike that you’re not seeing I’ve got a little cockpit pack that sits right behind the stem. That’s for really easy to access stuff, food. And I have a Dinah plug system for ceiling slices and punctures in my tubeless tires that you know something I want to get to immediately so I don’t lose a bunch of sealant on the side of the road. And so that’s just conveniently sitting there. And then I have the traditional frame pack that sits underneath the top tube and in there again, some things that I want an easy access to light jacket or something like that. I have some tools in there that you know hopefully I don’t have to access but I don’t want it buried deep in this thing if I do need to access it out on the side of the road. So that’s what’s in there. Because I’m camping on this particular trip. It’s just there’s a lot of stuff to carry in the C pack and it can only take so much. So I actually have my bivy in the top pack as well into that that top tube frame pack. So that’s generally what you would put there kind of odds and ends to some cables and things. So now we get into the big C pack, that’s it that’s sits at the back of the bike underneath the saddle. Again, ORTLIEB, waterproof, very well made very durable, not the lightest that you could find on the market. But, you know, it’s almost bomb proof, as they say. And again, it serves as a nice Fender for any grime and wetness that’s on the road surface. So it’s sitting back there, this is more going to be the stuff that you hope not to access during the day. And if it’s camping gear than that’s what’s in here, tent, or bivy, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, those types of things that because this is probably the least convenient pack to pack, and also kind of awkward sitting off the bike. So obviously, access is an issue. So you’d have to get off the bike to enter it. And so that’s what you would generally put in here. And also it’s it’s pretty heavy, and you can put a good amount of weight in here. One thing you’ll notice is that it starts to kind of crease in the middle here. And when you’re packing it, you kind of have to arrange things, so it doesn’t have this hinge effect and bend. And so that’s just a matter of trial and error and packing some things. There’s one final thing that I use for storage on my bike. The mosaic has a third bottle mount or cage on the underside of the down tube. And that could serve as a place for the third water bottle if you were going into remote area and water was going to be scarce. I use it for storage. Right now I have scratch packets shoved down inside there. But you could also put tools in there, you could put other small items in there that again, you didn’t really need to access all that often. Remember, there’s going to be a lot of road spray coming off that tire. So drinking out of that bottle, not maybe something you want to do often. But if you have to clean it, you can clean it off, of course. Otherwise Yeah, it’s a great area for extra storage on the bike.
What am I carrying?
Chris Case 12:23
Great. Now let’s dive into the contents of this front pack here. Everything I am carrying, I had enough of these dry bags from OR to keep them even more safe and secure inside the what are waterproof ORTLIEB bags. First thing we’ve got some wet wipes or cleansing towelettes as they call them, and that is just going to be crucial out there when I need to clean up after a day’s worth of riding and maybe we’re camping and there’s no showers in sight, you just need to get some of the grime off of you. We’ve got a bunch of cables that serve to charge tail lights and phones and all of that. So that’s in its own little bag. some toilet paper just in case you never know when you’re going to need that. I’m bringing a spork because you just never know when you’re going to get to a place where they don’t have a fork for you to use with your or a spoon for you that yogurt that you’re dying for. And then we’ve got I’ve got another little bag inside this bag filled with toiletries, tiny little soap tiny little shampoo. I even took my bamboo toothbrush and lopped off the end so it fits nicely into the bag itself. And then finally, I’ve got in the dry bag here, a bug net. I’ve seen some videos of people in Iceland, and they look like they’re suffering in the bugs. And so I’m wearing this dorky thing to protect my head from bugs. Alright, what else do we have in our front pack. Like I said before this bag right up front is very convenient to have some clothes that you know you’re going to put on and off a lot and overnight and I think that’s going to be a cortex rain jacket. So I’ve got a super lightweight but very protective version of that that’s going up front with me. I have this awesome little piece of luxury in a bag and it is my pillow. I’m particular about sleep I need. You know, I just have my needs and this beautiful little thing comes pretty big. Blow it up. Some people can use a fleece under their head some people can take a stuff sack and put stuff inside of it. I just think this is completely worth it I sleep so much better with a little pillow. And then finally I’ve got another dry bag full of some clothes and this stuff is not so much of the stuff I’m going to be putting on and off throughout the day. It might be but mostly it’s stuff I want to keep dry. For after the riding is over with. So I’ve got a down puffy just in case it gets cold. Which it could get at night. We’ve got some gloves in here. We’ve got some merino wool baselayers, one long sleeve and one short sleeve. And those are, of course, merino wool doesn’t smell after days of wearing it without showering. It also dries nice stays warm if you do get it wet. So it’s a very great material for a trip like this in in a harsh environment like this. Then I’ve got some off the bike, long pants, running pants that are quick drying, and will be comfortable when I’m in camp at night. So that’s everything that goes into the front pack. And now let’s move on to the seat pack. All right, let’s get into this. Obviously, this would be sitting underneath the saddle.
Chris Case 15:51
Two little clips here, open it up. I didn’t point this out earlier. But this also has a bungee cord right on top. So if you know you’re taking something on and off often and you don’t feel like stuffing it in anywhere, you just shove it in underneath the bungee cord and away you go. So in here, there’s not a whole lot of things. They’re just bigger and a little bit bulkier. So right now I’ve got my bivy sack in here. It’s an OR helium. And that is honestly just a human sized tent, it actually has a pole that helps create a space around your face. So we’ll just set that right there. Next, kind of the this is a compression dry sack. It has more layers of clothes in here, nothing too special, kind of a long a more bulky rain jacket said rain pants, just in case the weather gets extreme. But other than that, just kind of more layers if you will. And then final piece. Again, another dry bag, maybe I’m going a little overkill on the dry bags, but I want to be safe. And this is a down sleeping bag and down doesn’t insulate when it gets wet. So this little thing actually opens up to a 20 degree down. It’s a hybrid. It’s not a mummy bag. And it’s not a quilt. It’s somewhere in between. It’s made by Sierra Designs. Again, I’m a I have particular needs when I’m sleeping and I like to sleep on my side I like to sleep on my stomach. And this allows for that. So I love it. All right, now let’s take a look at what was in the frame bag. This is my thermarest neoair it is a sleeping pad it’s super light, very comfortable, in fact, and nice and durable and that goes in there. You might ask why are you carrying a muset bag Well, a muset bag is usually something that you’ll see maybe in the tour riders grab from the from the feed zone, they’ll have bottles and food in it. I’m thinking if we get to a grocery store, and we need to stock up on a bunch of stuff but maybe we’re going to ride out of town another hour or so I can shove a bunch of stuff in here food wise and not have to worry about finding places in one of my bags that are already pretty stuffed as it is to shove stuff in. So it’s just good to have another bag where it’s light and it’s compact. So most of the time you’re not using it, you can stuff it away.
Chris Case 18:21
Let’s turn our attention to my little toolkit here. So in here, a lot of the basics, some lube a tire lever, a patch kit, if all else fails, I got a patch kit for the tubes I’m bringing, I’m bringing two tubes. I’ve got Quick Links for the chain in case the chain breaks. I’ve got a set of brake pads and actually two sets of brake pads. Because I’m going to a place with a lot of volcanic rock, it’s pretty gritty, those brake pads might wear out pretty quickly. So just bringing those just in case and then who knows when you’ll need a plastic bag but I’ve got a plastic bag in here as well and that’s basically the contents of my toolkit. I have a multi tool of course that has the chain breaker and all the Allen heads that I need and that’s on the bike itself. So we’ve got that finally, we’ve got these Voile straps, two of them, very useful. You might not use them ever but if for some reason something breaks on your bike or you need to strap one of your bag mounts breaks or something and you need to strap a bunch of stuff to your bike. These are super handy to have. You could also if you need to wear your rain pants and they keep catching on your chain ring. You can wrap this around your ankle and tie down your pants so they’re not blowing in the wind or or interfering with your chain. So just handy to have and super easy to have just tucked in the bottom of that top tube bag.
Chris Case 20:00
Alright, let’s wrap up by talking about some of the things I didn’t show you and some of the things or some of the gear choices I made and why I made them. You didn’t see me talk about a water filter of any kind. And that’s because I’m going on a trip with someone else who’s bringing that water filter, we’re going to a place where water is supposedly very crystal clear and very good for drinking. However, there’s always that, oh, if you’re near a sheep farm, or some cows and cattle, then you definitely want to filter. So we’re bringing a very small MSR trail shot, water filter, very compact, kind of compresses down when you’re not using it. So we’ll have that amongst the two of us. You might ask, why are you using bike packing bags and struggling to fit it all in in some ways, rather than just putting big old panniers, traditional panniers on your bike? Well, there’s a few different reasons why it’s not cool to use panniers. First of all, No, I’m kidding of course, the panniers are less aerodynamic. But of course, there’s more cargo space. So there’s a trade off there. They’re also a little bit clunkier. These bike packing bags that I’ve got are more streamlined and I would also say because they don’t have the capacity to carry everything you need, you actually pack the right way, rather than just throwing everything into a big old bucket and strapping it to the side of your bike. So there’s just different philosophies on how to how to pack and what types of bags to use. Certainly, if you were doing something like this in the winter, you’d probably need that capacity, you’d also be moving much more slowly. So aerodynamics wouldn’t be an issue. So pioneers would be the right choice for us, mixed surfaces, navigating some faster roads, trying to be light trying to move quite a long distance every day. aerodynamics is honestly a consideration. So we went in that direction. The other thing you might ask is, why are you not wearing or you didn’t mention any sort of backpack hydration pack or anything like that? Just a personal preference. I think from my point of view, having something on my body all day long, it’s just bothersome. It’s cumbersome when you’re taking on layers, putting layers over it. It also just creates those sweaty spots on you, as you’re riding all day and chafing over the course of two weeks, with straps on you. So it’s just not for me. Certainly, I would not discourage someone from using a fairly light and compact one if that’s the way you like to ride and you know, having hydration right at your disposal is is what you need. But Gosh, I would really caution anybody that’s going to put a backpacking backpack on their on their back and try to ride with, you know, 30-40 pounds every day, that’s really going to take away from the enjoyment that you have out there. So hopefully this gives you a great overview about what I’m bringing, hopefully you can learn something from what I’m doing. Of course, every trip is different the terrain and the climate certainly dictate the type of bike and the type of gear that you need. But hopefully I’ve given you some tips help you think about how to pack and what to pack on your next bike packing trip.