Most saddle bags in today’s market come with two important pieces – compression and the water resistance. Those two things make them great for storing that you need to keep dry, but can compress. Sleep systems tend to be great for saddle bags as they need and do both of the above. We also like to store our sleep system in the back because we can install it and forget it. Having a stable rear end is important, and the less you mess with it during the day, the more it will remain in place from the morning to the time you get to camp. We like to keep things we need throughout the day more accessible, in places like a frame bag or top tube bag. Other items we like to store if we have the room are, down jackets, long johns, or extra layers you may not need during saddle time. Tents also work well, but sometimes you may not have room, and they will need to go in a handlebar bag or backpack.
Quick Tips: First pack your sleeping pad flat (not rolled) on the bottom of the saddle bag, then pack everything around it. This allows you to keep the heaviest item closest to the seat post, and for you to pack your sleeping bag and/or bivy into every crevice in the nose of the bag. While it maybe hard for water to penetrate at the dry bag closure, you can 100% avoid this by folding your dry saddle bag closure facing down to the ground with the buckles up, as opposed to facing upwards. If you really want to compress your bag, take the bag/dry bag off your bike and squeeze it down with the weight of your body. Saddle bags or dry bags also double as a bear bag.
Depending on the size of your frame bag, you can either fit the kitchen sink or not. Either way, we like to keep heavy items that don’t compress all that much in our frame bags. Awkward items like a stove, pots or mugs, fuel, dinner, and extra food items do well here. We also find that storing extra water or tent poles are great for frame bags, especially, stowed along the down tube. Having your heaviest items in your frame triangle really does make for a better ride. If their is a side pocket this is a great spot for a map, or phone to navigate, first aid, or your wallet/money for easy access at resupply locations.
Quick Tip: Packing your frame bag is like a puzzle. Using the small space where the seat tube and down tube meet can allow you to fit more, sometimes a tube, stove canister or smaller kitchen items fit well there. Avoid putting food in that area as it can get wet from river crossings depending on how small your bike is or how low the bottom bracket is.
Similar to saddle bags, handlebar bags tend to be water resistant. Handlebar bags come in all shapes and sizes, but the best use of this space is with moldable articles such as clothing and layers. If you use a one sided stuff sack to accompany a holster-like system, stuff things you won’t use during the day at the bottom, like camp or extra clothes, and things you may need like knee and arm warmers, gloves, rain pants and jacket readily available at the end closest to the opening. Same goes with dual-end closure handlebar bags, things you don’t need during the day stay in the middle and items you may need go towards the outside. Other items that may work in a handlebar system are extra food. We like to keep the load on the bars light, because it drastically effects the handling of the bike, but you tend to get used to it if you ride enough.
Quick Tip: Handlebar bags are tough to install, but once you get it, don’t forget the way you installed it. A lot of times bags come with spacers, using those will help avoid cable and housing bends, which can prematurely wear those parts down. Being able to take the dry bag or handle bar bag off and compress the bag with your weight is a great way to save space and keep the front load stable. If you have a duel-end closure handlebar bag, remember which side you packed certain items to avoid an unpacking mess mid-day.Arm warmers easy access especially during the fall.
Top Tube Bag:
Top tube bags are typically the easiest one handed access bag on your bike, and what do you need more than water? Well, food of course. Top tube bags are great for your snacks, bars, trail mix, candy bars, gummy worms, and everything in between. They are also useful for also carrying sunscreen, phones and multi-tools, which make them an awesome bag for not only bikepacking trips but also day rides.
Quick Tip: A lot of times you will forget what you put in your top tube bag, try putting bars stacked in a row so you can easily see all of them. This helps when you want to easily access what you crave at that moment. Packing a phone or multi-tool off to the side where they are harder to access is a great way to make use of the sides of the bag that you can visually see but know whats there.
Stem bags are another great option for food as they are easily accessible in the cockpit of your bike. Some of them allow one handed access, which is a great feature when you want to continue pedaling while you down a quick snack. Another great option for stem bags are cameras or other electronics you use throughout they day. We find that a stem bag allows the easiest access when you want to snap a quick picture during a memorable moment.
Quick Tip: Storing items such as spare batteries at the bottom of the stem bag takes up little to no space, and hardly gets in the way with your other stored items in the bag. We also have used stem bags for water bottles, burgers, subs, or even a trash can as it keeps weight low and is easy to dump wrappers in.
Their are plenty of other systems like rear top tube bags and down tube bags. These areas hold tools and things you may not need very often. Backpacks are another option, but we like to avoid carrying them if possible. Things like a tent work well because they are a bulky yet lightweight item. The heavier your backpack the more your butt is going to hurt, and its as simple as that. We understand sacrifice, and if you want to carry a few beers and some whiskey, a backpack is a great option and it will be that much lighter the next day. Lastly, accessory mount systems, which can be bolted or clamped to various areas on your frame, can be useful for carrying additional water on routes with less resupply options, or used for extra storage.
As you continue to bikepack, you will develop a system that best serves you. Until then, we hope this will help you get packed and on the trail, because there is nothing better than traveling by bike. Please use the comments section for additional thoughts.