Backpacks fit for Bikepacking
A backpack can be a useful piece of bikepacking gear, whether it’s a fully featured model designed for the most challenging of riding, or an ultralight stuffable pack to be cracked out when times demand. Here’s our take on the subject, and 6 packs we’ve tested to no end…
As much as we like to think we can make it work, sometimes a typical bikepacking setup doesn’t offer quite enough space for what we need to carry. While a frame bag, seat pack, and handlebar system can be roomy enough, a backpack is sometimes a necessary supplement… especially when using a bike with a small frame triangle, packing extra layers for a cold weather adventure, stowing additional water for a desert ride, or provisioning a week’s worth of food between resupply.
Backpacks can also provide a practical way to keep important items close to hand. If your route involves the challenges of protracted hike a bikes, there are situations where weight on your back — and a lighter bike — can also be advantageous. And when the going gets especially rough, backpacks provide better protection for electronic gear — like a camera — than carrying it on the bike itself.
Even so, we definitely prefer to ride backpack-free over extended, multi-month rides. After all, who wants a sweaty back every day? Which is where packable backpacks come into play. Whilst these packs aren’t designed for out and out trail performance, they can be an extremely useful addition to your long-distance touring gear list. This is particularly applicable during trips where off the bike exploration is part of the journey, whether it be day hikes into the surrounding countryside, or walks around town.
Ultralight packs such as these can also be useful for the occasional situation when extra food is needed, to be stowed away once more when said sustenance has been consumed.
What to look for…
When carrying loads of food or water, comfort is key. There are essentially two types which serve as cycling specific packs: traditional backpacks that spread the weight in a vertical orientation, and ‘lowrider’ packs, which take the weight off your back and shoulders and move it down to the hip area, lowering the centre of gravity in the process. Neither is necessarily better than the other, but everyone is different and one might work for you, but be uncomfortable for someone else. If you have the opportunity, try both on for a ride and see which works best.
Factors to consider are strap design and form, length, adjustability, plushness and lumbar support, and the contour of the back padding. In addition, be aware of the temperatures and humidity where you’ll be riding. There isn’t a pack on the market that won’t induce back sweat, to a degree, but some are better than others.
What will you be carrying? Most of the packs listed here, save the stowables, feature a hydration sleeve. This, of course, takes away some of the precious liters of space that the pack allows. Some folks may wish carry water on cages, and pack lighter and bulkier items on their back, such as a sleeping pad or a down jacket.
Do you need a pack that expands? This factor might be important if you are carrying food, such as that of the freeze-dried variety. Five days worth of Mountain House meals can take up a lot of space. By day four, a compression system comes in very handy. There are also packs with external mesh sleeves that can easily hold items that require on-the-go access; an exterior mesh pocket can also serve as nice place for packing out your trash.
Over the past year, we’ve thoroughly tested several of our favorite packs, both compressible models, and full-featured expedition packs alike. Although each serves a slightly different purpose and has features that are unique within the group, they are all comfortable and useable in their own right. Here are the six that made the list:
Full-featured Backpacks, for Bikepacking.
The following four backpacks are built for trail riding, and have capacity to carry water comfortably. We’ve used all four on bikepacking trips and long day rides alike.
Acre Hauser 10L
Acre Supply, San Francisco, California
There’s a reason this pack is listed first, and it’s not because Acre starts with ‘A’. This is hands down the most comfortable pack we’ve tried. On first inspection, the Hauser doesn’t look particularly ergonomic; its design isn’t wrought with curves, mesh contours, or over-technical bits and bobs. But it is, in fact, as form fitting as they come.
Overall, the Hauser is a pretty simple pack. It features four main compartments: the main area, accessible through the roll-top; the zippered back pocket that runs vertically; the perimeter zippered water bladder compartment; a lower tool pocket; and a top horizontal zippered gadget pocket. Constructed entirely in the USA, the majority of the Hauser is made of X-Pac which inherently has a waterproof layer. All of the zippers are weatherproof as well. These features help keep contents dry even in the heaviest of downpours. That said, Acre claims the Hauser to be weatherproof, not completely waterproof; but I entrusted my laptop in the pack on our trip through southern Spain. It’s reinforced main internal area, with two layers of X-Pac helped seal the deal.
In addition to the shoulder straps, the Hauser has a chest strap and hip belt, which is vertically adjustable by moving it to different rectangle loop clip positions. While the padding for the straps, back, and hip belt are fairly minimal, simply a layer of vented honeycomb closed cell foam, they are extremely comfortable. When wrapped securely around the waist and shoulders, the malleable design reduces side to side sway, and fits like a glove. The only complaint one might have with the Hauser is that it gets pretty warm in hot temps. The Hauser is available in black, two shades of gray, blue, camp, black camo, and orange. The pack also comes in a 14L design, which we look forward reviewing soon.
- Weight: 33.7oz/955g
- Volume: 10L
- Price: $205.00
- Place of Manufacture: USA
- Contact: acre-supply.com
BIKEPACKING.com’s Take: “The Hauser is an impressive backpack, and my new favorite. It’s the only full-featured pack I’ve seen that’s damn near waterproof, and it’s amazingly comfortable. I didn’t use the tool pocket much, but all the other compartments are well placed and functionally near perfect.” -Logan
Osprey Packs, Cortez, CO
The Talon series of technical backpacks are bikepacking classics. Although’s not designed exclusively for cycling per se, this multi-use pack has long been a biking favourite thanks to its lean and lightweight design. Talons come in a range of volumes, the packs are extremely adjustable, and there’s two sizes available per model, depending on the length of your back. Note that the S/M Talon 11 is actually 9 liters in capacity. Taller riders will inherit those missing two liters, as the M/L Talon has the volume its name would suggest.
The Talon features handy mesh pockets on the hips, as well as an internal pouch at the top of the pack. There’s a helmet holder; it takes a little work to feed through the vents of your helmet, but works well. The back system is aerated and hard wearing, while the bungee cord that zigs down the front of the pack comes in handy for stashing extra layers when times demand. In terms of sizing, we’d hedge towards the Talon 11 for bikepacking, simply to keep payloads light – the 18 and 22 models also available are too tempting to fill. We consider $90 to be really good value for a pack that’s this well made; just bear in mind that whilst there’s provision for a water bladder, one doesn’t come included. To keep you looking sharp, a range of colours are available.
- Weight: 600g/21.1oz
- Volume: 11L
- Price: $90.00
- Place of Manufacture: Vietnam
- Contact: ospreypacks.com
BIKEPACKING.com’s Take: “This particular Talon 11 is owned by a friend of mine – Gary Blakley – who swears by it for all his bikepacking adventures. In the past, I’ve used both the 11 and the larger 22 – both of which have worked well for me. Worth noting is that Osprey gear has a lifetime warranty, from which we’ve both had good experiences. The zips on my Talon 22 failed, and the pack was repaired at no cost, no questions asked. Gary owned the previous generation of Talon 11. After years of sterling service, he returned it for what he expected would be paid repairs. Instead, Osprey simply replaced his older Talon with the latest model for free. This kind of customer service counts for a lot.”- Cass
Wingnut Gear, Highland, NY
Wingnut Gear is a small company based in Highland, New York, and one of the first to make full-featured a ‘low-rider’ backpack. Low-riders have been popular amongst the endurance crowd for a many years now. In theory, the concept makes sense. With the weight of a heavy 3-liter water bladder, a backpack can inflict fatigue over long rides. The first place that feels the stress is usually the shoulders. The low-rider pack is designed to lower that weight and move the load to the hips. In turn, the weight would transfer to the seatpost when the rider is in a seated position.
The 18 liter Enduro is Wingnut’s flagship backpack, although they have a larger 26 liter pack called the Adventure, and several smaller packs. The design has five main compartments: the main pack, which has a top-zipper access, the zippered water bladder sleeve, the two zippered ‘wings’, which are accessible when wearing the pack, and a large exterior mech pocket. Another fun feature is Wingnut’s whistle buckle.
- Weight: 21.5oz/611g
- Volume: 18L
- Price: $130.00
- Place of Manufacture: New York, USA
- Contact: wingnutgear.com
BIKEPACKING.com’s Take: “My first use of this pack was on the Trans North Georgia Route. I didn’t use it for water, but carried meals in the main pocket, snacks and bars in the two wings, and found the exterior mesh pocket to be perfect for carrying out trash, or an extra clothing layer, when not in use. Overall, the Enduro did as expected; it’s a fairly comfortable pack that did indeed take the weight off the shoulders. That said, I wish there were additional compression straps to wrangle the load.” – Logan
Camelbak Skyline 10LR
Camelbak, Petaluma, California
Camelbak’s new Skyline is a departure from their traditional designs, like the iconic MULE. As a ‘lowrider’ lumbar pack, it centres payload around the hips, taking pressure off the shoulders while providing extra ventilation too. In terms of water hauling, the Skyline will add 3L (100oz) to your capacity, via a bladder that’s neatly stowed away in a zippered compartment, dispensed via a hose that features a magnetic clip to keep it from flailing around. Wrapping as it does around the waist, there’s no denying that the Skyline is an extremely stable pack, refusing to release its embrace over even the rockiest of descents. The pack is well bolstered though somewhat disappointingly, the all important hip area has worn noticeably on ours, perhaps due to its padded mesh rubbing against the adjustable waist straps that feature on some mountain biking shorts.
Within the pack, Camelbak’s usual attention to detail prevails. The main compartment offers a pump holder and a series of dividers that will delight organisation freaks. Generously, the Skyline 10LR includes a really nice tool roll too, segmented into three mesh pouches. Other touches include a cubby hole that’s lined with fleece, perfect for keeping sunglasses scratch-free. Two additional straps at the base of the pack can be use for knee pads. Given that you’re unlikely to be wielding such armour on your average bikepack, they can also be deployed for the likes of a foam mattress. Further features include nifty hooks that allow the Skyline to hold a helmet when off the bike, a stretchy outer pocket for layers, and a tab for an LED light.
- Weight: 34.6oz/980g
- Volume: 10L (7+3 for H2O)
- Price: $130.00
- Place of Manufacture: China
- Contact: camelbak.com
BIKEPACKING.com’s Take: “I have to admit that I’m not a massive fan of touring with a backpack. Despite this, the Skyline 10LR has surprised me; I’ve found myself using it far more often than I expected, on both day rides and bikepacking trips alike. Proportion wise, it’s small enough that I’m not tempted to overload it with gear, but roomy enough for extra food, a layer, or stuff I like to keep handy. Given how well padded it is, the Skyline is also a great way to carry my camera – it will even fit a DLSR. I don’t tend to use it to haul water water but if I did, I’d certainly appreciate Camelbak’s quality water bladder. In terms of riding comfort, the Skyline has kept back pain at bay, which is the most I can ask of any pack when I’m out riding for several days.” – Cass
Packable Backpacks, for Expedition Cycling.
As mentioned above, a stuffable pack can serve many uses on the road. We’ve used each of these to transport belongings on an airplane, as a daypack for off-the-bike treks, and simply as a general stuff hauler for cafe trips and city walks.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear, Biddeford, Maine
For expeditions that involve off-the-bike exploration, small side trips, or other activities, the Stuff Pack may be the ideal collapsible rucksack. It weighs almost nothing, it’s made from the venerable cuben sailcloth, and can be compressed to the size of a tall-boy can. Although it’s not seam sealed throughout, it’s highly weatherproof due to it’s roll-top design and cuben fiber properties.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear, a growing outdoor gear manufacturer based in Biddeford, Maine, is a cuben fiber specialist. Their products are focused on minimalism, and as their name implies, ultralight sensibilities. Cuben is nothing new, it has its roots in the boating industry as sailcloth used on racing yachts. As a material, it’s highly durable, 100% waterproof, and insanely lightweight — qualities that transfer well to ultralight tents, packs, and other outdoor gear.
The Stuff Pack is actually a pretty big backpack. At 30 liters, it’s almost too big. However, with a little finess in packing its contents, and a tight roll at the top, it can be quite small and manageable. Although its straps are generally comfortable, the ultra minimal Stuff Pack lacks padding or a back stiffener, so it might not be a great option for a heavy load. We found it perfect for hauling around waterproofs and a couple camera lenses on day hikes. It also makes a great way to tote around valuables that you might not want to leave in a hostel or campground, such as a laptop, documents, or electronics. It has also been a good tool for carrying some overflow while riding, when a stockpile of food is necessary.
- Weight: 4.1oz/117g
- Volume: 30L
- Price: $105.00
- Place of Manufacture: Maine, USA
- Contact: hyperlitemountaingear.com
BIKEPACKING.com’s Take: “This is one of my favorite new pieces of gear that I brought on our Trans-Uganda trip. It can be folded flat or rolled into a tube shape. It weighs nothing. And it comes in really handy when we have to keep our valuables at hand during an off-the-bike activity. It’s also a great daypack for hikes and city walks. I wish it was a tad smaller, but otherwise, no complaints.” – Logan
North Face Verto 26
The North Face, San Francisco, California
Let me preface this by saying that The North Face no longer makes the Verto 26. There are plenty of other compressible packs out there, but this was my favorite, aside from the HMG Stuff Pack. It strikes a good balance of weight, space, comfort, and utility. The Verto has 4 compartments: the main body, a zipped lid pocket, the small zip pocket which doubles as its stuff sack, and a water bottle sheath on the right hand side. In addition, it features drawstring compression cords and ice ax hooks (in case you want to do some ice-packing, an up and coming ultra-niche crossover).
The Verto 26 also has nice minimally padded shoulder straps and two removable straps for the chest and waist. Other than being a very comfortable pack, it compresses to the size of a small grapefruit, perfect for tossing in the frame bag for occasional use. I used the Verto for food overflow and as a good walk-around or day-hike pack.
- Weight: 11.5oz/326g
- Volume: 26L
- Price: Not Avalable
- Place of Manufacture: ???
- Contact: thenorthface.com
BIKEPACKING.com’s Take: “Dear North Face, Why did you stop making this pack? Sorry to tease everyone here, but this pack is unavailable now. There are other big guys making such packs, so if you find a good replacement, leave a comment.” – Logan
If you have a favorite backpack you use for bikepacking that’s not listed here, please let us know about it in the comments below…
New in gear
- Dec 1, 2016Wolf Tooth CAMO Review: Gear Swap.
- Nov 28, 2016Bikepacking Gear Gift Guide: Shiny and New
- Nov 8, 2016The New Revelate Mountain Feedbag: Ride, refine, repeat.
- Nov 7, 2016Blackburn Switch Multi-tool Review: More than its parts.
- Oct 27, 2016Porcelain Rocket “Albert”: Introducing the First Dropper-post Seat Pack