When it comes to bikepacking, early innovators went out in the world and did things on a bike other people didn't think was possible. They led the way and they inspired people. Those early innovators used what they had to and did whatever it took to ride their bikes in the way they wanted to. As time went on, they looked for better and better tools.
As time went on, more people followed in the tracks they left. With more people bikepacking, there became a growing market and a growing demand for bags to make things easier. When the market was a tiny group of people doing crazy things, you had to sew your own bag. Companies like Revelate designs started sewing bags for a few friends and the train started rolling.
Right now, we are in the golden age of bikepacking. Big enough to be commercially viable but still experiencing growth and excitement. The pieces you need for getting out on your bike exist and you don't need to know how to sew. Here's a group of options for every category of bikepacking bags. There are many others out there but consider this a snapshot of some of the best in each category.
Handlebar bags represent one of the primary storage locations for on-bike bags. They also represent one of the places with the most diversity of needs. If you are running flat bars, you have different needs than those with drop bars. There are also suspension forks vs rigid forks. Using a roll and harness system is a great way to provide flexibility around those diverse needs. The Brooks Scape Handlebar Roll is a combination of a harness and a dry bag. There are spacers included to help get the spacing between the bars and the bag just right for you. If you are using a flat bar set up, you could add long thin items outside of the dry bag. If you need to keep things narrow pack the dry bag short and fat.
The challenge with a large two-part system, like the Brooks Scape bag, is that it can be difficult when you aren't carrying very much. For those days when you only need a few things you will want something smaller and Rapha has an answer. The Rapha Bar Bag uses the signature bright pink to make spotting small items inside the bag easier. It could add a little extra storage to a light overnight setup but it will also work for urban day trips. The quick-release mounting and hidden chest strap make it easy to take with you as well.
Top tube bags are an excellent place to stash items you need access to while riding. Many newer bikepacking focused bikes have a pair of braze-on mounts on the top tube meant specifically for a bag. However, bags that can be attached to those mounts are still somewhat sparse. The Salsa EXP bag is a rare option that has mounting that will work with, or without, braze-on mounts. The use of closed-cell foam for structure is a welcome feature that will help with finding items. Despite those small details, it's a simple design that does what you need without extras.
It's amazing how dexterity suffers when you can't breathe. A zipper with a nice big pull seems easy most of the time, but when you are working hard on a bike, things get harder. Revelate Designs solve this problem with a magnetic latch. The latch isn't entirely dependent on the magnet, but it does help guide it closed. It's tough enough to stay closed when things get rough but it's easy to open without much thought. You also get a secure mounting and a bright red interior to help provide a contrast that makes finding small items easier.
Top tube bags are only one place to stash food while riding. For a modern bikepacker with a bunch of electronics, you might prefer to stash a phone, and a battery pack, in your top tube bag. With your top tube bag full, move your food to a feed bag. Feed bags mount next to the frame with connection points on the bars and the stem. Without a zipper, it's easy to access your food stash while riding. In the case of the Chrome Doubletrack Feed Bag, they've added extra functionality with an extra 2-inch loop. The wide loop fits a belt if you want to use it off the bike.
When you've filled up the big three storage locations and still need more space, the Revelate designs Polecat is an option. If you have the ability to use a fork-mounted rack like the King Cage, Many Things Cage, Salsa Anything Cage, or Blackburn Outpost, that's where you start. After you've added the rack it's just a matter of packing the bag and strapping it down. The roll-top closure, welded seams, and waterproof fabric ensure that anything you carry will remain dry. This is a great option for a full-suspension mountain bike where you don't have much storage in the mainframe triangle.
Part of the Brooks Scape system is the option of strapping the smaller bags to the larger bags. It's not exclusive to Brooks though. If you have another bag with good places to add small bags on the outside, the Scape Saddle Pocket Bag is a good option for extra storage. Use it as your everyday carry on the commuter bike, then when you go out for the big rides strap it to the outside of another bag. It makes for an easy way to make sure your basic flat repair materials are always with you. Or take advantage of its waterproof construction to hold electronics you need to keep accessible.
If you want to leave room for the water bottles at the bottom of your frame, that means looking for a half-frame bag. The four-liter Ortlieb Top Tube Pack is a long, thin shape that maximizes the space available. Glance at it quickly, and the first thing you notice is the massive zipper. The zipper is often the first point of failure on a well-loved bag, and the massive teeth should mitigate failure from dirt and grime. There's also a channel along the top to cradle the top tube. It's a design that will help stabilize the load and reduce side-to-side movement while pedaling.
Storage space on a bike is at a premium. Nothing should ever go to waste. The frame triangle on a full-suspension mountain bike is a difficult area to deal with but it's not impossible. Revelate Designs take on the challenge with a full-suspension-specific bag. Not only is it meant to fill a space that can be a challenge, but it's also designed with consideration for the rigors of that space. Bags that sit low on the frame of a full-suspension bike are exposed to dirt and mud, so Revelate uses a hard-wearing fabric brought over from a sailcloth company, which is exceptionally light and strong.
If you have the room, a full-frame bag will get you the most storage options, and the Blackburn Outpost Elite frame bag does a great job of this. It's available in four sizes to fit a range of frames, and there are pockets and zippers everywhere you look. The interior compartments feature a waterproof construction to keep things dry. The outside pockets won't keep anything dry but they do have drainage holes to keep from getting waterlogged. The lower section of the bag makes a great place to store a hydration bladder, and there is a port, plus routing, to get the water up to the bars.
Brooks has a history of making bags for a refined crowd. When the Cambium saddle became a hit with bikepacking devotees, they decided to jump into the arena in a bigger way. They weren't the first here but they make great products for big trips and their lineup is expansive. There are two parts to the Scape Seat Bag. The outer part is a holster that connects to the seatpost and saddle rails. Inside of the holster is where a dry bag fits. Fit everything tightly into the dry bag and the holster can compress it. This a large capacity bag set to handle the biggest trips. Behind the saddle, you will find a series of loops that allow the attachment of additional bags or strapped-down clothing.
The history of bikepacking is a collection of small brands that started sewing bags for friends. That's exactly the story of Restrap and they never abandoned their roots. Eleven years since the beginning, they are still a family-run brand making handmade products in Yorkshire. If you have a need to carry smaller loads, the Restrap Saddle Pack is a simple option for a more modest load. With a capacity of 4.5L, it's a great option for shorter, or faster, trips. When you don't need the space that a two-part system provides but you still need a high-performing bag.
Best bikepacking bags: everything you need to know
1. Don’t Forget Frame Protection
When you load down a bag and subject it to the dirt and grime of a bikepacking trip, things rub. It could be just a small scratch or two. If that's the case it's probably not that big of a deal, and it will come down to your level of comfort with scratches. Some people will see those as reminders of the best adventures, while others will feel it in their soul every time they look at their once-perfect bike.
In some instances, the rubbing of a frame bag could mean expensive repairs. It can be startling how fast a misplaced strap can damage a frame. If your bike is aluminum or titanium, you can end up with an impressively polished spot, but if your frame is carbon things could be worse. It's possible to rub right through the frame wall of a carbon bike. With a steel frame, you won't rub through the wall but rust can become an issue.
Instead of worrying about it, apply frame protection. The best time to do this is when the bike is brand new. You need it clean and it's unlikely a bikepacking bike will ever be as clean as it is new. Grab a role of helicopter tape and apply liberally. Think well beyond just where the straps fall.
2. Packing Strategy
A loaded-up bike is heavy and it handles differently. There's nothing you can do to fundamentally change that, but there are important strategies for mitigating the effect. At the heart of it, the idea is to keep weight low and central.
The three primary storage bags in a bikepacking setup are the frame bag, the handlebar pack, and the seatpost pack. The handlebar bag is a long thin bag that does well with bulky but lightweight items. If you are using a drop-bar bike, the space between the handlebar drops is narrow so that will dictate shorter items.
The seatpost pack is another location where you want lightweight but bulky items. If you have longer items that won't fit between the bars then this is the place to put them. just remember that the further something gets from the seatpost the more it will sway and move. Try to keep the weight as close in as possible.
For heavy items, you want them in your frame bag. It's the most centrally located and the lowest to the ground but there isn't much space. Your legs and the frame create a boundary in every direction, so this is your place for compact and heavy. Depending on your bike's setup, you might also consider a downtube-mounted bag for heavy items.
3. Food And Water Must Be Accessible
Water in particular can be tricky to find a good spot for. It's heavy, it's bulky, and there is a temptation to try and tuck it away. You might think it's easy to stop and pull it out for a drink but avoid the temptation.
It is true that it's easy to stop and locate food and water, but that's not always how people work. Riding is hard and once you get into the rhythm you might surprise yourself by your reluctance to stop. This is especially true when riding with other people or in a race situation. As time goes on you feel worse and worse and it then becomes hard to recover after the eventual stop.
Instead, avoid the whole situation and make it easy. Make sure you have food and water available while riding. Eat and drink before you feel hungry or thirsty and do it often. Keep your energy up instead of trying to recover from a dip. Keep this strategy in mind while packing and do what you need to make things easier than you think necessary.