Wanderlust Bikepacking Bags: The Cuba Shakedown

Wanderlust is an Austin, TX based company offering a complete range of bikepacking bags. Colt and Hannah tested full kits from Wanderlust for two weeks on Cuba’s rugged dirt roads… each packed to the brim with stale bread, sun tan lotion, and Cuban cigars. See how they fared in this kit overview/review…

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Wanderlust Gear was originally founded by Paul Hansbarger in the ‘birthplace’ of adventure cycling, Missoula, Montana. Soon thereafter, Paul moved to the Shenandoah mountains in Virginia where he enlisted Joey Parent as the first Wanderlust ambassador. Joey also happened to be a sponsored rider for CHUMBA USA and eventually helped close the gap between the two companies. In due course Paul was making bags for Wanderlust customers as well as CHUMBA’s team of riders. According to CHUMBA USA Operations Manager, Vince Colvin, “Working together on the designs allowed us to innovate quickly and make products that we put through extensive real world testing in Iceland, Ecuador, Himalayas, on the Tour Divide, and the Sahara in Morocco, to name just a few.” With parallel goals and a common commitment to USA manufacturing, CHUMBA USA and Wanderlust took their relationship to the next level in late 2015. Now both companies are headquartered in the same factory in Austin, TX. “It’s been such an amazing experience to see Wanderlust Gear grow into what it is today, to have been part of it from the beginning, and we are really excited about where we are headed!”, added Vince.

Since the transition, Wanderlust has also been tweaking and redesigning their full kit, and in late 2016 they launched their new bikepacking inventory and website. They are now selling direct to customers and dealers nationally and internationally. Wanderlust Gear offers a full lineup of bikepacking bags that all integrate together superbly and are made in the good ‘ole USA. We had a chance to test two of these kits on our two week odyssey across the western half of Cuba. Here’s a summary and overview of each bag along with our findings and opinions.

Wanderlust Divide Frame Bag

First up is the heart of the line, the Divide Frame Bag. This Frame Bag builds upon traditional features and introduces a few bells and whistles, including solid construction, a roomy map pocket, an easy-sliding oversized zipper, and most notably, a daisy chain mounting system.

Wanderlust Bikepacking Bags, Divide Frame Bag

The daisy chain mounting system isn’t altogether a new concept in the bikepacking world, but on the Divide, Wanderlust Gear made the most of it. The frame bag incorporates daisy chain loops along the entirety of the top tube panel, allowing straps to be placed anywhere and everywhere. This allows the same strap to be used for the frame bag and top tube bag, eliminating extra straps and the classic problem of there being no room for a strap where you need it most. This system works well with the Beargrass Top Tube Bag but should also work well with any top tube bag that has straps skinny enough to fit through the daisy chain system (up to about 1.5 inches). It’s worth noting that because of each daisy chain loop’s small aperture, the straps can be difficult to install without the correct technique. Folding them first worked well for me. However once they’re set, you shouldn’t have to move them around much. It would be interesting to see a daisy chain system along the down tube as well, which could make for maximum compatibility with things like front derailleur mounts, cable stops, and bottle cage mounts. However, The permanent straps on the downtube and seat tube are large enough to accommodate custom cuts/notches around any of the impediments mentioned above.

  • Wanderlust-Divide-Frame-Bag_16
  • Wanderlust-Divide-Frame-Bag_16
Lacing the bag through the daisy chain system is another option for mounting. This system offers maximum support but also requires a slow and patient installation.

The Divide Frame Bag is offered in small, medium, and large to fit a wide variety of frame sizes via their daisy chain system and flat shaped bottom panel. Of course, being their sister brand, these sizes of fit CHUMBA USA frames perfectly. It would be nice to have the option of ordering a custom Divide Frame Bag for all the funky bike frame triangles out there. At the end of the day, most bikepackers desire a well fitting frame bag to maximize packing space.

Wanderlust Bikepacking Bags, Divide Frame Bag

The outer shell of the Divide Frame Bag is constructed of XPAC (VX21 210 denier in black, and X33 330 denier for multi-cam) a typical material used in the industry for its durability and water-resistance. The tubing panels of the bag are reinforced with 840 denier ballistics nylon sandwiching a layer of closed cell foam which protect the contents of your frame bag from getting rattled around against the frame. During our tour in Cuba we encountered some heavy rains and thanks to the XPAC, DWR coating, and water resistant zipper system, the inside of our bags stayed mostly dry. I was dubious of the pencil sized eyelet drain hole on the bottom of the frame bag, thinking that excess water would eventually find its way in, although we encountered no such issues. I would recommend against stowing hydrophobic pieces gear at the bottom of the bag. That said, I think this grommeted drain hole would be especially useful in event of a leaky water bladder or the bag taking on water during a deluge in the night.

  • Wanderlust Bikepacking Bags, Divide Frame Bag
  • Wanderlust Bikepacking Bags, Divide Frame Bag
  • Wanderlust Bikepacking Bags, Divide Frame Bag
  • Wanderlust Bikepacking Bags, Divide Frame Bag
  • Wanderlust Bikepacking Bags, Divide Frame Bag

Wanderlust also included a hydration port, which is fairly standard on frame bags. However, unlike others I’ve encountered, this particular port was larger and did not have a velcro closure. This made for removing and reinstalling the hydration hose much easier than other bags I’ve used. On the other hand I might be concerned that its size and lack of velcro could create another potential for water ingress during heavy storms. Another welcome feature is the oversized #10 Uratek Zipper which made for a pleasant zipping experience. This may sound silly until you’ve fiddled around with enough undersized sticky zippers. The rubberized coating and large sewn in XPAC zipper garage do a fairly good job keeping the water at bay too. Another favorite feature is the simple yet incredibly helpful internal velcro straps that are used to store items such as very short tent poles or a tenkara fishing rod.

Wanderlust Bikepacking Bags, Divide Frame Bag

Wanderlust has put together a great piece of kit with the Divide Frame Bag. It’s well constructed with several innovative and useful features. However, unless you are in quick need of a frame bag, truly appreciate its features, or are in the process of kitting out a Chumba — such as the Stella Ti or Ursa Plus — for exact fit, at $160 its approaching the price of a custom built frame pack.

  • Weight (SM/MD bag): 220g (7.8oz)
  • Dimensions* SM/MD: 16.5″/8.5″/3″/17″
  • Dimensions* MD/LG: 18.5″/10″/3.5″/18.75″
  • Dimensions* LG/XL: 20.5″/12″/3.5″/21.75″
  • Price: $160
  • Place of Manufacture: Texas, USA
  • Contact: WanderlustGearUSA.com

*Top Tube/Seat Tube/Base/Downtube

Wanderlust Beargrass Top Tube Bag

At first glance the Beargrass Top Tube Bag is a pretty typical design, but after using it daily for two weeks straight we found a few elements that set this bag apart.

Wanderlust Beargrass Top Tube Bag

Wanderlust takes integration seriously on each piece within their lineup. The same handy daisy chain system located on the frame bag can also be found on the bottom and front panels of the Beargrass top tube bag. Again, this enables a single strap to be used to secure both the frame bag and the top tube bag. Along the stem, the daisy chain allows three different mounting points, which compliment any stem stack height. For whatever reason, I seem to be plagued with wonky top tube bag syndrome, where my bag is always drooping off to one side no matter how many times I push it back into place. The daisy chain system allows you to add additional straps which seemed to help my condition. Unfortunately, the bag only comes with 2 straps, although I’m sure you could sweet-talk Wanderlust into supplying you with additional pieces of One-Wrap if you don’t have any laying around.

  • Wanderlust Beargrass Top Tube Bag
  • Wanderlust Beargrass Top Tube Bag

The size of the bag is slightly larger than other top tube bags I’ve encountered. The dimensions are 8″ long x 4″ tall x 3″ wide and it holds about 10 Clif bars… because we all know Clif bars are a better and more visual volumetric measurement than liters. I tended to use this bag as a camera carrier during our trip, My Fuji X100s fit easily with room to spare, allowing me quick and easy access. Speaking of easy access, the zipper opened and closed effortlessly with one hand, contributing to my habit of taking blurry photos while riding. Another really interesting feature is the glow in the dark tab included on the zipper. This helped when searching for my consistently pesky and hard to locate headlamp. The zipper pull also fits in a sizeable garage to keep things dry.

  • Wanderlust-Beargrass-Top-Tube-Bag_1
  • Wanderlust Beargrass Top Tube Bag

The Beargrass Top Tube Bag is constructed out of DWR treated cordura while two rigid plastic inserts keep the sides sturdy and away from your knees. The bottom of the bag incorporates a thin layer of closed cell foam — similar to the frame bag — to keep electronics from getting bumped and rattled. At $50, this top tube bag is priced competitively with others on the market. It can also be mounted to the seat tube in reverse, opening up the option of running two Beargrass Top Tube Bags for additional storage.

  • Weight: 120g (4.2oz)
  • Dimensions: 8″L x 4″H x 3″W (20.32 X 10.1 X 7.6cm)
  • Price: $50
  • Place of Manufacture: Texas, USA
  • Contact: WanderlustGearUSA.com

Wanderlust Sawtooth Bar Roll/Piñion Pocket

The Sawtooth Bar Roll is another mainstay in the Wanderlust Gear lineup. Built in a similar fashion to many of their other bags, the bar roll is predominantly constructed of XPAC (VX21 for black and X33 for Multicam) with other laminates in between. At 7.5” in diameter and a maximum length of 24”, I never found myself longing for additional space. With the large diameter, I very occasionally had trouble dragging the bottom of the roll on the 29+ tire of the CHUMBA Ursa. The clearance issues were mitigated by tightening the Pinion pocket straps to compress the roll in the center over the tire. While my stem was far from slammed, I would be nervous to run a suspension fork with the 29+ Ursa and still have clearance while on chunky descents and diving through travel. Speaking of the Pinion Pocket, the two bags integrate very well. The mounting straps of the Pinion Pocket use the existing straps and buckles on the Sawtooth Bar Bar, making for quick and easy installation.

Wanderlust Bikepacking Bags, Sawtooth Bar Bag

The mounting system on this roll is one of the most secure systems I’ve used. A typical problem of strap mounted handlebar bar bags is the constant loosening of the mounting straps. Wanderlust designed these straps to double back over themselves much like a rock climbing harness secures a climber. Throughout 10 days of travel over rutted out roads and bumpy walking paths, I only had to tighten the mounting straps once. With the security of the mounting system also comes extra installation time, which is no problem if you set up the bag and leave it mounted to your bars throughout the entirety of the trip. However, properly stuffing a bar roll system like this can be difficult while it’s mounted to a bike. Additionally, some bikepackers enjoy being able to take their bag into their tent with them at night, which is made possibly by lining the Sawtooth Bar Roll with a prepacked stuff sack. It’s worth adding that Wanderlust is soon to release a harness mount system which can be used in conjunction with your own drybag, making for quick and easy mounting/unmounting. Additionally, Wanderlust is working on future designs of the Sawtooth Bar Roll with longer mounting straps which would accommodate more spacers to make room for controls on the handlebars.

  • Wanderlust Bikepacking Bags, Sawtooth Bar Bag
  • Wanderlust Bikepacking Bags, Sawtooth Bar Bag

Unfortunately under heavy load, the connection between the mounting straps and the bar roll started to separate on my loaner bag, further exposing the stitching. Wanderlust assured me that they are improving this high stress area with additional material and stitching.

The Sawtooth Bar Roll sports a rock-solid mounting system and easy integration with the Piñion Pocket. Although, it’s worth noting that at $110 the Sawtooth Bar Roll is approaching the cost of a fully waterproof handlebar roll. I’m looking forward to seeing the Wanderlust harness as well.

  • Wanderlust Bikepacking Bags, Sawtooth Bar Bag
  • Wanderlust Bikepacking Bags, Piñion Pocket

Wanderlust Bikepacking Bags, Sawtooth Bar Bag

The Piñion Pocket is Wanderlust’s handlebar accessory bag designed to be used in conjunction with the Sawtooth Bar Roll, by itself, or even with the insulated Monida Bag (stay tuned for an upcoming stand-alone review of the Monida). As mentioned above, the Pinion Pocket integrates quite well with the Sawtooth Bar roll, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be used in conjunction with another (non-Wanderlust) bar bag. With the ease of integration comes ease of installation. This is the perfect around town bag when combined with a shoulder strap which snaps easily into place thanks to the mounts located on either side of the glow-in-the-dark zipper. Important documents such as your passport can be stowed away in the internal pocket for safekeeping. Additional mesh pockets are found on the sides of the bag, great for storing small knickknacks, food and wrappers. Like other accessory pockets, when in need of extra storage, gear can be sandwiched between the Piñion Pocket and the Bar Roll (typically a sleeping pad, tent poles or other cylindrical object).

Wanderlust Bikepacking Bags, Piñion Pocket

The Piñion Pocket offered more than enough space, measuring at 10″ wide x 6″ tall x 3″ deep, it even fit — although snuggly — my full sized DSLR camera with a medium sized lens (Canon 6D w/ 24-105L, for the camera nerds out there). Like many of the other bags in the lineup the Piñion is primarily constructed of XPAC VX21. Combined with the #8 YKK Uretek coated water-resistant zipper this bag is fairly water resistant.

At $65, the Piñion Pocket runs a bit more than other popular handlebar accessory bags. However, a USA made product that integrates incredibly well with the Sawtooth Bar Roll may be worth the extra $15.

  • Weight (Sawtooth Bar Bag): 212g (7.5 oz)
  • Weight (Piñion Pocket): 145g (5 oz)
  • Dimensions (Sawtooth Bar Bag): 7.5″ Diameter / Max width 24″ / Min width 12″ (19/64/30.5cm)
  • Dimensions (Piñion Pocket): 10″W x 6″H x 3″D (25.4 X 15.2 X 7.6cm)
  • Price: $165 (for both; $110/55)
  • Place of Manufacture: Texas, USA
  • Contact: WanderlustGearUSA.com

Wanderlust Shenandoah Seat Bag

With a fairly tried and true design, the classic Shenandoah Seat Bag uses traditional mounting systems and worked as expected. The bag leaves plenty of room for a heavy load at 11 liters. While in Cuba we packed them with our sleeping bags/spare clothing and kept the size down more towards their minimum 6 liter capacity.

Wanderlust Bikepacking Bags, Shenandoah Seat Bag

  • Wanderlust Bikepacking Bags, Shenandoah Seat Bag
  • Wanderlust Bikepacking Bags, Shenandoah Seat Bag

Many companies are coming out with new and improved mounting systems for their seat packs to avoid the dreaded saddlebag sway. As an inexperienced bikepacker I used to fill my seat pack with some of my heaviest kit, as time went on I learned how to properly pack a saddlebag. All to say, with a properly packed Shenandoah Seat Bag I believe this traditional mounting system is perfectly suitable — and proven — for most bikepacking purposes. The locking cam buckles are a welcome feature that help the situation, keeping the straps set tight.

  • Wanderlust Bikepacking Bags, Shenandoah Seat Bag
  • Wanderlust Bikepacking Bags, Shenandoah Seat Bag
  • Wanderlust Bikepacking Bags, Shenandoah Seat Bag

As much as we’d like every bikepacking route to completely avoid pavement, most routes have at least some. Wanderlust incorporated some reflector strips within the bungee tabs and the rolling lip of the bag to help keep riders visible. While reflectors are a welcome addition, the placement of the reflecting bits keep them hidden from sight from behind but prominent from the side. The bungee system makes a perfect location atop the bag for last minute stows. All straps were accented with strap-keepers to avoid the problem of dangling straps; this is the same for all of the bags in the lineup.

Wanderlust Bikepacking Bags, Shenandoah Seat Bag

As shown above, the new color-way uses black XPAC on top and bottom with multi-cam XPAC on the sides. With a traditional design, the beauty is in the details; sporting a few welcome features, such as the bungee system, locking cam buckles, strap keepers, and reflectors. At $140 The Shenandoah Seat Bag offers a time-tested design that functions well.

  • Weight: 326g (oz) black / 340g (12oz) multi-cam
  • Capacity: 6-12 liters
  • Price: $140
  • Place of Manufacture: Texas, USA
  • Contact: WanderlustGearUSA.com

Wanderlust Rattlesnake Stem/Bar Bag

Sticking to the theme, the Rattlesnake Stem/Bar Bag does not deviate too much from traditional stem bag designs. The most notable difference is the slightly larger size, sitting at a tall 7” with a width of about 4”. These bags adequately fit a full 32oz Nalgene water bottle, a spare camera lense, or several Cuban sandwiches. The bungee cord threads the ripstop nylon closure atop the bag. That and DWR coated Cordura offer moderate protection from dust and light showers while the interior sports DWR Packcloth that is easy to wipe clean.

Wanderlust Rattlesnake Stem/Bar Bag

  • Wanderlust Rattlesnake Stem/Bar Bag
  • Wanderlust Rattlesnake Stem/Bar Bag

The Rattlesnake Stem Bag uses a three point mounting system that lashes to the bars, stem, and fork. With a shorter than average stem, I had a difficulty mounting two stem/bar bags side by side, but with a longer stem, this shouldn’t be a problem. The mesh pockets supplied easy to access storage, which I primarily used for food, wrappers, and the occasional cigar — hey, everyone needs a small vice while touring…

Wanderlust Rattlesnake Stem/Bar Bag

  • Wanderlust Rattlesnake Stem/Bar Bag
  • Wanderlust Rattlesnake Stem/Bar Bag
  • Wanderlust Rattlesnake Stem/Bar Bag

The Rattlesnake Stem Bag is available in black with either an orange or red top, all black, gray, or multi-cam. At $45 each, these bags provide easy access to water, food, or the occasional cigar.

  • Weight: 90g (3.5oz) / 110g (3.9oz) multi-cam
  • Dimensions: 7″H x 4″W (17.8 x 10.2cm)
  • Price: $45
  • Place of Manufacture: Texas, USA
  • Contact: WanderlustGearUSA.com

Wrap Up

It’s pretty clear that Wanderlust Gear strives to build quality products with a commitment to USA manufacturing. It’s also clear that Wanderlust sticks to tried and true designs that work well, all the while adding features their customers are looking for. Beefy fabrics where needed, glow-in-the-dark zip tabs, and the nice use of daisy-chains are all great touches.

After ten days of rigorous testing, Cuba’s dust had permeated every inch of these bags. A quick machine wash when returning back to the States is all it took to have them looking brand new (as you can see in most of the off-bike photos above). That’s saying something, since these many of these exact bags have been loaned out to multiple reviewers across the country and some have even have made a trip down the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.

All bags are available in either Multicam or Black, while some of the smaller pieces of kit are available in blaze orange and gray. Personally, I’d love to see some bikepacking bags with radical colors. It is entirely possible that colorful bags could take the industry by storm. Just because we are crusty bikepackers doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate a little flair!

Being built in the USA gives Wanderlust’s designers the opportunity to be close to the production process allowing for quicker turnaround times on new designs. It also gives Wanderlust the ability to meet the industry’s growing need for innovation and stock availability, which a lot of folks will appreciate.

  • Steve the Canuck

    I bought the Rattlesnake Stem Bag online, works great for my phone, wallet and munchies. A nice touch was the hand written note inside the bag, thanking me for my purchase.

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