Best Bikepacking Setup: Lightweight Bike Touring
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Exploring the world by bike with a minimal bikepacking setup offers riders an experience they’d never get if they did it by automobile instead. For bike packers and cycling tourers, traveling by bike encourages self-sufficiency and adventure. Bikes can go places cars, trains, and planes cannot.
> Have a look at our post Minimalist Packing Tips for Lightweight Travel for help filling your minimal bikepacking setup.
There’s a slight – albeit hotly debated – difference between bikepacking and cycle touring. According to bikepacking.com, bikepacking is “The synthesis of mountain biking and minimalist camping. It evokes the freedom of multi-day backcountry hiking, but with the range and thrill of riding a mountain bike. It’s about exploring places less traveled, both near and far, via singletrack trails, gravel, and abandoned dirt roads, carrying only essential gear.”
Cycle touring, on the other hand, isn’t as clearly defined. Tomsbiketrip.com says, “Cycle touring is whatever you want it to be…And you can call it whatever you like – cycle touring, adventure cycling, bikepacking, even simply travelling by bicycle; these are all nuanced terms for the act of getting on a bike and going on a journey with it.”
Minimal Bikepacking Setup
For this article, we’re considering bikepacking a single or multi-day bike journey with a minimalist camping setup. Anyone with an adventurous spirit can do it. Bikepacking does require a level of self-sufficiency, as the rider needs to carry all their tools, nutrition, and equipment with them. Bike tourers also carry everything with them. However, they typically don’t mind the extra weight of bike racks and panniers on the front and back of their bike. Bike packers prefer less weight, utilizing a rack-less storage system.
We considered lightweight products for a minimal bikepacking setup and settled on a solid configuration for your next bike adventure. This includes:
- Handlebar bag – mounted between the handlebars
- Top tube bag – sits on top of the main tube
- Frame bag – attached inside the frame area
- Saddle bag – mounts to the seat post
- Bike – something well suited to the activity
- Lights – both front and rear, for visibility and safety
Bikepacking Setup: Handlebar Bag
A handlebar bag nestles between the handlebars at the front of the bike. There are mini handlebar bags and there are larger ones. The larger ones will be able to hold tents whereas the mini handlebar bags are more to carry snacks and phone. The larger handlebar bags are good for holding light items and gear you may need quickly.
What to Pack Inside
- Sleeping pad or sleeping bag
- Cloth or towel
Gear needed quickly:
We love the Roswheel Handlebar Bag for a minimal bikepacking setup. With 42 reviews and a 4.1 out of 5 star rating on Amazon, others appear to like it too. What first caught our eye was the fact that it’s “waterproof” and low weight compared to other handlebar bags. This is especially important for a bag situated at the front of your bike. That’s where you want to keep the weight low. This ensures better handling and control. If the front is too heavy, you’ll have a harder time steering the bike.
What Makes it Great
- Repositionable Velcro straps to hold the bag securely against different size handlebars.
- Remove the bag easily with quick release buckle.
- Adjustable capacity to hold up to 9 liters.
- Reflective strips for low light biking.
- Roswheel actually offers a complete bikepacking setup if you want to stick with one label.
- Some owners mention the straps are a bit too long and caused the bag to sway during the ride.
- The bag can sag when packed too heavily. As we mentioned above, you don’t want to pack heavy items in the front of your bike anyway, as it will make handling difficult.
The runner-up to the Roswheel handlebar bag is the JUNPENG offering. Equally as impressive, the JUNPENG comes in at 12.8 ounces for the second-best minimal bikepacking setup. While it weighs more than the Roswheel, it costs significantly less. JUNPENG claims that it’s 100% water resistant as well, which is great for anyone traveling through a rainy climate. You can adjust capacity from 3 liters to 7 liters (which, at maximum, is still two liters smaller than the Roswheel). On a side note, it appears to be better suited for mountain bikes, as it’s two feet long. A two-foot-long bag at the front of your bike may hinder your steering.
Bikepacking Setup: Top Tube Bag
Instead of packing your jersey full of snacks, riders can attach a bag to their top tube. This means easy access to bars and gels without fumbling in your jersey pocket. Single or multi-day trips will require a lot of snacks. Prepare for it with a top tube bag.
What to Pack Inside
- Other small items for easy access
Our first top tube bag choice for a minimal bikepacking setup is by FlexDin. Coming in at only 2.72 ounces, this is a great option for a light bag at the front of your bike. The FlexDin top tube bag attaches around the bike stem and the top tube to prevent sway. The nylon material used in the top tube bag keeps it lightweight and durable. The water-resistant nylon safeguards the items inside from wet weather on your bikepacking adventure.
What Makes it Great
- An aerodynamic design means less swaying while riding around as it sits atop your top tube.
- An inside aluminum foil cloth liner keeps snacks fresh.
- Easily accessible during a ride to grab snacks, gels, or phone.
- The FlexDin top tube bag is limited in what it can hold – especially with larger items. For example, if your phone is wider than 4”, it may not fit.
- We heard one person report the bag rubbed the inside of his knees as he pedaled, so it may be larger than some bike top tubes. Your riding style can also determine comfort.
The Rhinowalk top tube bag is the runner-up in this category and a great addition to your minimal bikepacking setup. At 4.8 ounces and a little less expensive than the FlexDin, it’s not a bad choice. While it is double the weight, it sits higher on the bike. However, it does not offer more storage space. With the awkward zipper placement, some may have trouble fitting their snacks and phones in there. On the other hand, many report it securely attaches to the top tube and can handle rain.
Bikepacking Setup: Frame Bag
A frame bag sits inside a bike frame and depending on the size, can either use up the entire frame space or just the upper-half of the bike frame. Packing a frame bag with heavier items lowers your center of gravity, which makes the bike more secure. For frame bags, it’s important to measure your bike frame to ensure you’re ordering a proper size.
What to Pack Inside
- Hydration bladder
Small items you don’t need access to often:
- Chamois cream
The Ibera bicycle triangle frame bag caught our attention for the low price and weight in a minimal bikepacking setup. It’s very impressive, measuring 12″ x 13″ x 8″ and weighing less than a handlebar bag. The Ibera bicycle triangle frame bag comes in two sizes: medium (3L capacity) and large (5L capacity), which will accommodate most bikes. Make sure to measure your bike frame before purchasing to prevent ordering the wrong-sized frame bag. With a sleek, aerodynamic build, the bag is unlikely to bump into your knees or legs while you pedal. The medium bag has one top zipper and one internal pocket and the large bag has two top zippers and one internal pocket. There are three velcro straps on both bags to secure it to the frame.
What Makes it Great
- Comes with a one-year product warranty.
- Reflective trim to stay safe in low light.
- Water resistance for light rain.
- Durable straps that prevent the bag from swaying.
- Measure your bike frame before purchasing. This is not a one-size-fits-all.
- Some may consider this bag too limited on space. A few report to use it for a wallet, keys, and snacks.
Our second choice for a frame bag is the Moosetreks bike full frame bag. It comes in six different sizes/geometries: Tour/Road (S,M,L) and Trail/Mountain (S,M,L). The medium touring/road bike frame bag costs a bit more and weighs 13.1 ounces. This is far from lightweight compared to the Ibera bicycle triangle frame bag, but it can carry up to 12 liters (9L larger than the Ibera in M size) . It is constructed with ripstop nylon laminated with thermoplastic polyurethane making it durable and water-resistant. The large size and sturdy construction lets you stuff it to the brim. Although, this could make it difficult to pedal if it’s bulging on the sides. We have heard several folks complain about poor zipper quality – mostly sticking and even breaking in a couple of cases. However, we understand it is very sturdy once zipped.
Bikepacking Setup: Saddle Bag
Saddle bags also come in a variety of sizes. For bikepacking, you’ll want to buy a larger saddle bag so you can pack your off-bike clothing and bulkier items on your trip. The small saddle bags only hold a spare tube, CO2 cartridge, and levers.
What to Pack Inside
Bulkier, larger items:
- Inflatable mattress
- Spare batteries and chargers
The Blackburn Outpost Seat Pack with dry bag is our favorite for a minimal bikepacking setup. It’s simple to pack: loosen the straps and unclip the quick release buckles. Pack the dry bag with all your items, fold it closed, and secure it within the seat pack. Once the buckles are clipped, you’re ready to go. It also allows for attaching additional items on the outside of the pack, such as rear lights or mugs.
What Makes it Great
- Easy and simple installation
- It can carry large loads (11 liters)
- Lightweight at only 5.3 ounces
- A few customers noted the back scratched their seat post frame. Blackburn suggests not using this on carbon fiber.
- It doesn’t include a vent system to let out the air once the bag is closed to condense it.
- Increases your center of gravity so expect some sway.
Another Roswheel product, this saddle seat bag is runner-up for a minimal bikepacking setup. At 16 ounces, it can hold up to 10 liters. It weighs significantly more than the Blackburn Outpost which is why it’s number two. This bag is “100% waterproof” which is beneficial for any bikepackers traveling through rainy areas. A few people noted poorly constructed straps that secure the bag to the bike post.
Bikepacking doesn’t necessarily require a fancy new bike, but there’s always the bike joke of N + 1 (N = the number of bikes you own). Having a dependable bike on a bikepacking trip is important. Just like you wouldn’t take an unreliable car on a road trip, you want to trust that your bike can manage the journey it’s about to go on with you.
Weight: 24 lbs / 11kg
For your minimal bikepacking setup, we found the Cannondale Topstone Sora. “Pure gravel goodness…” Cannondale says. “With its high-volume tires, confident rider position and sporty handling, Topstone is ready to smash out big miles on the backroads, explore routes less traveled, or smooth out the chop on your morning commute.”
This bike is built for bikepacking with the capability to add a dropper post, integrated rack/fender mounts, and fit up to 42mm (1.6 inches) tires. You can take this on gravel or paved roads and it’s one of the least expensive gravel bikes out there today.
Weight: 21 lbs / 9.7 kg (medium)
Built for more self-sustained riders, the Diamondback Haanjo 5C EXP Carbon is our runner-up for a minimal bikepacking setup. What caught our eye was the bar-end shifters that claim to be easier to fix out on the road if anything should happen. Pedaling downhill will make shifting and braking difficult though.
We also appreciated the fork could fit up to 2.1-inch-wide, 650b-diameter mountain bike tires while looking closer to a cross bike instead of a mountain bike. This means you can really take this bike anywhere you want: road, gravel, and trails. On the other hand, the tires themselves will likely feel slow and heavy being that wide and small on paved roads.
This bike is also equipped with rear and front mounts for racks, should you decide you want to bike tour instead of bikepack.
Bikepacking Setup: Lights
The biggest safety concern for bikepackers is being seen by cars. Having operable, rechargeable front and tail lights could be the difference between a car seeing you and not. There are a wide selection of lights, but you want to find lights that are high-output lighting systems. They’re usually rechargeable and cost more than safety lights. With high-output lights, you’ll be able to see the road in front of you at night and cars will be able to see you from both directions.
We can’t give you a minimal bikepacking setup without suggesting some lights. We really like these two lightweight front and rear lights. Both lights come highly recommended by bikepackers for their luminosity and will aid your visibility as you travel on roads.
The NiteRider 6780 Lumina OLED 1200 Boost actually displays the battery percentage left on a screen so you know when you need to recharge. It also provides a wide spread of light to fully illuminate the road and trail ahead of you through varying terrains. There are five light levels plus four daylight flash modes. NiteRider also produces a tail light if you want to stick with the same company.
We really liked the Bontrager Flare RT tail light for its turn signal capability. It also has two daytime visibility modes and two night modes. Bontrager describes the balanced optics as giving a 270-degree view of your light. With 65 lumens, people can see you from 2km away day or night, which is important as your bikepack on roads.
Lightweight Gear for a Minimal Bikepacking Setup
Bikepacking in itself is about minimalism. To travel by bike is more about the journey than the destination. It’s not about who can haul the most things and still power up a hill, trailer in tow. It’s about learning how to sustain yourself with what’s on your back and tucked away on your bike. Having lightweight gear will help keep you moving but it also means you can’t bring everything with you. Which is okay. Sometimes it’s good to throw caution to the wind, jump on your bike with the bare minimum, and pedal through unknown trails and maybe get a little lost.
Try it out for a night. Bike somewhere close with the essential configuration we listed above. Then try a longer route, a more remote location, bring some friends. It’ll change your world.