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Bikepacking Equipment Advice: Taking my first bikepacking trip this summer.

Hello @REI-JohnJ,

My first bike packing adventure from adventure cycling is coming up in July and I need to be training and equipping and I’m glad to have this trip to focus me to do so.   You’ve always given incredibly informative thoughtful responses to my queries so I’m reaching out and perhaps overreaching with questions about equipment. This trip is low level difficulty and advertise as ideal  for beginners, it’s flat, on the pine creek rail trail in Pennsylvania, 4days 3 nights, all self supported And I think it’s a great way to introduce myself to bike packing finally!. I have never slept in a tent before or in a sleeping bag. I will use my CO-OP adv1.1 bike ( rather than the REI fat bike)  which comes with front and rear racks. I have seen many of the sleeping bags and tents used for bikepacking that one keeps on the handlebars and under the rear seat. So I am considering that option but I also would very much like to consider the option of using the racks on the bike. Can you therefore please recommend panniers  that I could use on these front and rear racks and purchase from REI that would hold the sleeping bag and tent and ground pad and  everything else I need? Or Am I approaching this wrong and do you think I really should go with sleeping bag and tent attached to handlebar and seat? Or is there another way to attach my gear to these racks without using paneers that you think would be better? I’d love to buy the equipment from REI this weekend during their sale and if you give me specific brands and models I will order them based on your recommendation. Stuff that works well, is lightweight, durable, and keeps critters out and rain out are my priorities I am willing to spend to get the best stuff.  I’m really psyched to do this and would love your input taking this bike and racks into consideration

And an addendum to my initial query: i’m wondering if the tent and sleeping bag and pad will fit in panniers and i’m also wondering if I would need paneers for the front rack as well as the rear rack or just the rear rack and the tent and sleeping bag mounted somehow to the front rack?

best regards

Hank

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.
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5 Replies

@HankG

Bikepacking response, part 1:

I am so stoked that you're taking your first bikepacking trip in July. What an awesome goal to work towards! I hope you take lots of photos and come back to the community to share your experience. The questions you’re asking are all really good ones, I’ll do my best to provide any guidance I can. For reference, I have done some long-distance commuting (~19 miles, one way) using fully loaded panniers, as well as some fat-tire biking trips using panniers as well. Ultimately, I moved to a handlebar roll, frame bag, seat bag system, but that took me years to hone and a lot of gear upgrading to get it all to fit. Whatever style you choose, this is a great conversation to have!

First off, for the kind of trip you are taking and trail you’re riding, the Co-op Cycles ADV 1.1 bike is an awesome bike for this adventure! You’ll be much more efficient on the ADV and, although it pains me to say it, in the long run it will likely be more fun for this trip than your Co-op Cycles Fat Tire bike (but not by much!).

The biggest differences between bikepacking and bike touring is the type of trail you’re on (bikepacking tends to lean a bit more rugged and/or remote) and how you carry your gear (panniers and racks or seat bags and a handlebar roll). Ultimately, those two differences are related: the more rugged and technical the terrain, the more beneficial it is to have your weight centered on the bike. That is more readily achievable with a seat bag, frame bag, and handlebar roll, which do a better job of keeping the weight of your gear centered on the bike. Having your weight centered can be invaluable to the ride when you are navigating technical singletrack, such as when on a remote bikepacking trip.

All of that said, there are some drawbacks to this system, namely that you are significantly limited by the size (bulk) of your gear. There is a finite amount of space in a handlebar roll, frame bag, and seat bag. Even if you add a down tube bag, top tube bags, stem bags, etc. You are still very limited in the amount of space available to store your gear. Weight is always a consideration, particularly when bikepacking, however, I find that gear volume is as important, if not more so, to being successful in getting all your gear onto the bike. This is one of the reasons you see brands releasing bikepacking specific gear, like tents with shorter pole sections, which allow you to fit them on your bike better. As such, if you want to go with a handlebar roll, frame bag, seat bag set up, you’ll also want to consider that you’ll need lightweight and low-volume gear to fit in your bags.

The advantage of panniers then, is that they allow you significantly more volume to carry your gear in. I’ll use the REI Co-op Link system as an example because we make a full kit of panniers and bikepacking bags, so it makes the comparison very easy: if you run two pair of REI Co-op Link Panniers, one set on the front and one set on the rear racks of your bike, you’re looking at 72 liters of space for your gear (18 liters x 4). That’s as much space as a multi-day backpacking pack!

Now, compare that to using the REI Co-op Link Handlebar Roll (13 liters), REI Co-op Link Seat Pack (11 liters), and REI Co-op Link Frame Bag (4-9 liters, depending on size) and you’re, at best, looking at 33 liters of space for your gear. If you add in two REI Co-op Link top tube bags (1.25 liters each) and two REI Co-op Junction handlebar bags (.75 liters each) you’re still only up to 38 liters, which is just over half the total volume of the pannier set up. When I fully kit out my REI Co-op DRT 4.1, I use the above-mentioned bags as well as two fork bags and a down tube bag and I’m still barely pushing 50 liters of capacity. Additionally, if you run panniers, you still have the interior of your frame for water bottles, as well as room in the cockpit for bags to have snacks and water readily available.

All that is to say: it sounds to me like panniers would be the best way to go for this trip. They will allow you to carry the gear you need and should not be an issue on the trail you’ve described. You’ll just want to bear in mind that, as you’re loading them, you’re paying attention to balancing the load (both left and right and front to back) as best you can. For a 4-day/3-night trip you may be able to get by with rear panniers only, depending on whether you need to carry a stove system with cookware and how much water is available on the trail. If you’re packing a tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, clothes, and snacks, you may not need front panniers at all.

In terms of which panniers are best, that’s a whole other debate, however, you do want to pay attention to whether they are compatible with your racks and/or if they are rear or front rack specific. As an example, the Ortlieb Backroller Classic panniers are what I would consider the gold standard for panniers, however, they are rear rack specific (and sold as a pair). You’ll need the Frontrollers if you want to carry a load up there. The REI Co-op Link Panniers, on the other hand, are sold individually, but also are compatible with front and rear racks. They also have an external sleeve for tent poles which I think is pretty handy.

Thanks for these questions, I hope this helps. Feel free to follow up with any other questions you may have. I can’t wait to hear about your trip!

I’ll follow up with some recommendations on the camping gear here shortly!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.
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@HankG

Bikepacking response, part 2:

In terms of a camping system there are a lot of options, most of which should work just fine with a pannier set up like the one I described in my previous direct message. Basically, you’re looking at three components: a tent, a sleeping bag, and a sleeping pad. There are lots of ways to think about this set up and just as many ways to make it more complicated that it needs to be. Personally, I find that a ~3” inflatable sleeping pad, without baffles, is the best way for me to get a good night’s sleep. I pair that with a sleeping bag that allows me to sleep on my side (and/or roll over) and, along with my inflatable backpacking pillow, I’m pretty good to go in a broad range of conditions.

You’ll want to think about how you sleep at home: is your mattress soft or firm? Are you a side sleeper? Back sleeper? Do you roll around a lot at night or tend to stay still? Do you run warm or cold?

 

To use myself as an example: I prefer a softer mattress, sleep on my side, use a pillow, run warm, and like to have my feet out of the sleeping bag most nights. As such, I use an REI Co-op Flash sleeping pad with a REI Co-op Igneo 17˚ down sleeping bag that I mostly just open and drape over me like a quilt (sleeping quilts weren’t really a thing back when I bought it). I also use a Nemo Pillow that I can add a jacket or some extra clothes to make softer if I need to. Here are a few recommendations of sleeping bags and sleeping pads that may work well for you:

 

Sleeping Pads:

 

Sleeping bags:

 

A few tips for your sleep system:

  • When you use your breath to inflate a sleeping pad it will almost always be warmer air than the ambient temperature. As such, the air will compress as it balances to the temperature of the air around it. While it can feel like your sleeping pad is leaking, this is totally normal. The best thing to do is to fill the pad all the way and let it sit for a while. Then, top it off with a couple of breaths.
  • The best way I have found to get comfortable on your sleeping pad is to fill it completely full (as firm as you can make it) and then lay on it. As you are laying there use the one-way valve to slowly let some air out. You’ll feel yourself sinking into the air mattress. You can then ‘dial in’ the softness of the mattress to your liking. I do this laying on my side as it lets me make sure my hip doesn’t hit the ground when I’m laying on the pad.
  • A sleeping bag doesn’t produce warmth for you, it only insulates what is inside. If you’re cold and get in your sleeping bag, it may take a long time to warm up if your body isn’t producing a lot of heat. One tip is to take a brisk walk, do some sit ups or jumping jacks, or otherwise get your heart rate up before climbing into your sleeping bag. This will have you creating some warmth that will help the sleeping bag insulate you better.

 

Regarding a tent, for someone just starting out to bikepacking or backpacking, you want to split the difference between ease of use/set-up and being lightweight and low volume. Here are a few options that I think do a good job of both of those things:

 

 

Each of these is a two-person model, you could go with a single but I find that I appreciate having the extra space and the flexibility of using the tent for a trip with another person if I wanted to. Additionally, these models are ‘freestanding’ tents, which means that once you have the tent pitched, you can pick it up and move it as a unit; the tension of the poles and the tent body holds it together. Whatever you choose, you will want to be sure to pitch the tent (in your backyard, living room, wherever) multiple times so you are used to its layout, how the poles fit together, and how to attach the tent and poles together. The last thing you want to do is to be rolling into camp after a long day and then struggling to get your tent pitched because you’re learning on the fly!

 

Hopefully this helps, let me know if you have any more questions!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.
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Hi Hank,

I don't doubt that John will reply, and he's certainly more knowledgeable than I am, but just reading this a couple of questions come to mind.

You say the trip is self-supported. What will you be eating? Will you need a stove and cookware? I ask because those, and your food, will need to be carried somehow. That generally means panniers and/or a rack trunk (that goes on top of the rack, instead of hanging off of it).

In general, you only need panniers sufficient to carry what you need to carry. Front panniers interfere with steering, especially if they're overloaded, so they tend to be small and people only use them if they have to.

Whatever sleeping bag you choose, I recommend getting a waterproof stuff sack for it.

I also recommend setting up your tent a few times, at least, before your trip. There's nothing worse than getting to your campsite and realizing the tent didn't come with all the stakes! Or you have no clue where that oddly shaped thing goes. Preferably, actually sleep in your tent, so you're sure you fit in the sleeping bag, the mattress is big enough, and all that. You don't have to go overboard, just find a local state park or someplace where you can spend a Saturday night.

I don't really know what's on the market these days, so I'll leave the specific recommendations to others.

Dave

 

The above responses are quite good, and cover the subject very well.  I would add that you will want to carry your weight as low as possible.  Low weight makes for much better stability.  I don't evenlike a backpack when touring, although a waist pack of some sort is tolerable.

Thee great thing about touring is th flexibility.  Often you can opt for a restaurant, rather than cooking, evn possibly a motel. 

Do try out your gar before you hit the trail.  It will pay off.....

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

All excellent advice so far.

I'd ad that insulation on in the bottom of a sleeping bag gets flattened by your weight and does nothing, so air pads are as much about insulation as they are about comfort. I have a Big Agnes model that has no insulation on the bottom, just a sleeve for the air pad. An additional benefit of this is that you can't roll off your pad!

I usually put my bag and pad in a waterproof stuff sack, then put this on top of my rear rack.

In terms of panniers, I'd don't think REI sells them, but I'd recommend Arkel brand. Amazingly well designed, although not inexpensive. I have a pair I've used on a few tours, but have used one almost daily for commuting for over ten years.

A handlebar bag is helpful to keep phone, snacks, and other items convenient and easy to get to. I put a couple of small speakers in the side pockets of mine so I get stereo music 🎶

Have a great trip.

--
You can afford anything you want,
just not everything.
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