Ok so after my first bikepacking trip, I thought I’d do a quick round up of the kit I used, what crossed over well from general camping and hiking – what worked & what didn’t!
The set up for this trip was basic and I guess not ultimately geared up for biking. A few months back I got a factory seconds airlok drybag (20l) from www.alpkit.com, ideal with its two buckled straps for attaching to the handlebars. Unfortunately the stitching on one of the straps broke just as I was getting my gear together, a little disappointing as had only used the bag once before but it was a factory second, it was cheap and it wasn’t anything a bit of sewing couldn’t fix. I did though decide to keep just light (ish) gear in here – sleeping bag, liner & bivvy bag. My sewing held up and the bag worked a treat, kept everything dry and it had room for a bit more kit if needed. Could probably do with a bit more length in the webbing straps as they were right at the limit to close the buckles but overall for the price (even full price they are good value) this bit of gear was a winner.
The rest of my kit went into my berghaus extrem arête 45 rucksack. Now, this rucksack is rather minimal, is very light and has limited padding. It’s not especially comfy when fully loaded & hiking, even less so when riding off-road. In fairness it’s designed more for climbing, with just one main compartment, a bladder sleeve & a decent lid pocket. I’m very disorganised so the lack of compartments is a downside for me but it does swallow a lot of gear. However with 4 litres of water plus food, cook gear, sleep mat etc the thin straps were just too uncomfortable on my shoulders and dug in to my arms when I tightened the chest strap to prevent wobble whilst riding. Having said all that the bag is – despite its minimal build – very tough & has seen lots of use over the years with no signs of any serious wear. This was a compromise arrangement and it’s certainly not a bad pack, just not good for bikepacking!
Inside the pack I had my cooking gear and my newly acquired mountain equipment helium 2.5 self inflating mattress. The mattress was a new bit of kit, bought from Cotswold outdoor the day before to replace my old foam mat that I’d been using since cub scouts (I’m 31 now!). At £40 and weighing just under 700g this thing was a revelation, I’m sure it kept me alive on the cold wind swept hilltop and certainly gave me the comfiest nights bivvying I can remember! Ok so it might not be the lightest inflating mat out there but it is full length, packs down reasonably small & at £40 you can’t really go wrong.
My stove on the other hand whilst perfectly functional is simply too clunky. It’s a campingaz twister & like the berghaus it’s served me well but it’s just too big, too heavy and too restrictive being suitable only for campingaz canisters. Time to retire this bit of kit.
Moving back to the sleeping gear stored on the front of the bike, my army surplus bivvy did the job as always, again not the lightest bit of kit but plenty of room to move around inside and not feel too claustrophobic whilst at the same time has a useful flap that you can pull up over your head to keep wind & rain at bay. I’m always tempted by the alpkit hunkas but until this one needs replacing I’ll stick with it.
My sleeping bag must go! It’s an old synthetic karrimor global 900 and although it’s served me well, the allure of a nice warm & light down bag is getting stronger. Paired with a liner and my buffalo teclite smock (amazing outdoor clothing) I was just warm enough but it’s definitely time for something a little more snug.
Hardwear wise my bike is a 2012 boardman ht pro, nice and light, good forks and generally a pleasure to ride. The only changes I’ve made to it have been to swap out the saddle for a bontrager saddle from my old trek & I’ve fitted schwalbe marathon plus mtb tyres. These things are Kevlar lined, weigh a ton but, touch wood, are seriously puncture resistant. I’ve had them on for over a year now and so far no punctures riding country roads, tow paths, byways, singletrack, you name it, I’ve ridden over it. I’ll take the weight penalty if it means not having to stop to fix punctures.
So what’s next? Based on this trip and with further bikepacking trips in mind I’ve decided to replace my stove with an alpkit kraku (£25) a tiny stove weighing just 45g. This will suit both bikepacking and general hiking use.
Bikepacking specific, I’ve again turned to alpkit & ordered a Koala seat post bag (£65) and a Stem Cell accessory bag (£18). The Koala attaches to the saddle post and provides 13 litres of storage whilst the Stem Cell attaches (as the name suggests) to the stem of your handlebars, providing handy storage for things like snacks on the move.
I’m hoping that this set up coupled with the airlok bag up front will reduce the need for such a big pack on my back and that with the majority of my kit stashed “on board” the bike, I can make use of my smaller camelbak HAWG hydration pack which has a bike specific fit and will be used primarily for food & general kit like first aid.