A Year (of gear) in Review: My First Year Bikepacking

Miles tried a lot of gear during his first year bikepacking. He also explored a new route in Ontario, learned to sew, and found a new addiction. Read his year [of gear] in review…

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Like most cyclists that discover bikepacking, it didn’t take me long to start thinking about what gear I already owned that would work for trips, and what items I was going to purchase. I traded in my full- suspension Opus for a plus-sized Surly Krampus, found a local Revelate Designs retailer for some bags, and taught myself how to sew, before putting together a custom frame bag. Already owning plenty of lightweight camping gear made the transition much easier, it was just a matter of getting some miles under my belt.

  • Central Ontario Loop Trail (COLT) Bikepacking Route
  • Miles Arbour, First Year Bikepacking

In the past year I have completed the Kokopelli Trail, a few Ontario-based overnighters, and more day trips than I can count. My most recent accomplishment involved developing a 450km route that was given up on by Ontario tourism (COLT), and then riding the full route solo in an effort to get Ontario on the map. My first year of bikepacking has taken me to many new places, some across the country, but most have been in my own backyard. I think I’m hooked.

There are many options for gear choices, and the best thing to do is to try out as many options as possible, but eventually you’ll likely want to have a kit dialed in that you can count on. This will be a short review on a few pieces of gear I have learned to trust over the past 12 months… a gear review after my first year of bikepacking, if you will.

On My Feet: Specialized Rime Expert Shoes

Coming from a primarily road cycling background, I didn’t know what to look for in a bikepacking shoe at all. I know I wanted something comfortable enough to hike around in, and was hoping whatever I chose would hold up well during multi-day rides, dirt, rocks, and mud. I bought a used pair of Specialized Rime Experts that fit, found some SPD cleats to match both my Krampus and my cyclocross, and a year later they are holding up great and I honestly have no complaints.

Specialized Rime Expert Shoes

  • Specialized Rime Expert Shoes
  • Specialized Rime Expert Shoes

The exterior of the shoe has been used and abused all year, but has no rips or tears. The velcro straps are still grabbing nicely, which are great for adjusting throughout the day if your feet tend to swell. The Vibram sole is also a big plus, and was incredibly helpful during the rocky hike-a-bike sections of the Kokopelli Trail. The only noticeable wear can be seen on the heel of shoe, where my Achilles tendon rests, but is unnoticeable during normal use.

They breathe well on hot days, and after getting soaked (which happened a few times on my COLT ride), they dry out nicely with the insole removed. This particular model is a few years old, but it looks as if the current Rime models share many of the same characteristics, making a great bikepacking shoe.

On My Bike

Central Ontario Loop Trail (COLT) Bikepacking Route

Revelate Designs Viscacha

There are a few areas where I decided to save money and pursue a DIY route; my saddlebag was not one of these. I’m happy with my decision to have invested in Revelate Designs’ Viscacha seat pack, simply because it works and has yet to disappoint me in any way. The Viscacha’s multiple attachment points and generous capacity has continuously made a great home for my tent, sleeping bag, and Therm-a-Rest.

Revelate Viscacha Seat Pack

  • Revelate Viscacha Seat Pack
  • Revelate Viscacha Seat Pack

Revelate Designs Jerry Can & Gas Tank

Not much to say about the Gas Tank and Jerry Can. They fit perfectly on the Surly Krampus, giving a perfect place for essentials I may need during the day and my repair kit. I’ve trusted these bags to keep my phone dry during heavy downpours and my phone continues to work, so they must be doing something right.

  • revelate Jerry Can
  • Revelate Gas Tank

Revelate Designs Handlebar Harness

The Revelate Designs Handlebar Harness is just one of those simple pieces of gear that will make your life a lot easier during your first year of bikepacking, it sure did for me. It allows you to experiment with what you pack up front. It makes unloading and packing up a breeze, and keeps the load tidy, tight, and out of the way. I cut my cables a bit shorter to tuck them further out of the way, but that was just due to personal preference. There has been a bit of wear on the harness where it rubs against the headset, but nothing to impede its function yet.

  • Revelate Harness
  • Revelate Harness

My DIY Framebag

Soon after reading BIKEPACKING.com’s article on how to make your own framebag, I was in my basement with my mother having a lesson on basic sewing techniques. It didn’t take long before I had some fabrics on the way, and within no time, I had an awesome custom DIY framebag sized perfectly for my Krampus. If you have the time, and want a perfectly fitting frame bag, do it. Made out of the same x-pac material that Revelate uses, I have no complaints yet.

  • Central Ontario Loop Trail (COLT) Bikepacking Route
  • DIY Frame Bag, frame pack

My Sleeping Kit

Recently finishing an outdoor adventure guide training program, I thought I had some pretty lightweight and packable gear, but in an effort to keep my bikepacking setup as small as possible I ended up switching a few things around. A lighter sleeping bag for 3-season riding, and an ultra light TarpTent Protrail for my solo tent setup now complete my personal sleep system.

Tarptent Protrail

  • Marmot Never Winter
  • Tarptent Protrail

Tarptent Protrail

It took a little bit of practice to get used to setting up a non-freestanding tent, but having a bug free and spacious area to sleep in really makes all the difference for me. The Protrail has held up nicely in heavy downpours if it is set up correctly, and the bathtub floor keeps the inside of the tent nice and dry. Measuring at 84” long, it is also the first tent that I can sleep comfortably in without my head or feet pressing against the ends.

Marmot Never Winter Bag

The Marmot Never Winter Bag is a reasonably priced 650-fill down bag rated at -1C (30F), weighing in at just over 1lb. Considering the low the down fill rating, it’s also surprisingly compressible. I am just over 6 feet tall, and I opted to give up the extra 6 inches the tall sized bag offered and grab the regular length version, I sleep soundly every night.

Bits & Pieces

Bikepacking Gear

Primus ETA Lite

My go to canister stove for boil-only style meals if I am riding solo or with 1 other person. Boils water in under a minute and packs small.

Garmin eTrex 20x GPS

I easily upload my GPS route from Ride With GPS onto the device using Garmin’s software to ensure I never venture too far off trail. Always bring some extra AA’s though.

DIY Handlebar Camera Bag

Inspired by Porcelain Rocket’s design, because I couldn’t get my hands on one, keeps my Olympus mirrorless camera close by and accessible.

Leatherman Rebar Multi-Tool

Good for all sorts of reasons, often used as a pot grabber if I’m not using my canister stove.

SPOT Gen 3 Satellite Messenger

A little extra assurance on the trail if cell service is limited. Keeps friends and family extra happy as well.

SOG Flash I Pocketknife

A tiny pocketknife that lives close by in my hydration pack, mostly used for cutting cheese and salami.

Dimension 10-in-1 Multi-Tool

A flat designed multi tool with common hex keys, torx keys, chain break, and spoke wrench.

Topeak Master Blaster Micro Rocket AL Pump

A tiny hand pump with both Presta and Schrader valves, hasn’t conked on me yet, and fits right inside my Revelate Designs Gas Tank.

Final Thoughts

Bring what works for you! I read plenty of gear reviews and bikepacking articles before making most of my purchases. Some people love bivy bags, some people like full sized tents, so the best way to know what you want is to try out a few options. It feels awesome having a solid kit that you can quickly toss in a duffle or pack on to your bike and head out for a few days… sometimes it just takes a year to get it just right.

  • Miles Arbour

    The only item I forgot was cheese and salami!

  • Great read Miles, it’s always nice getting someone else’s perspective on effective gear for riding. Although yours is far more updated than mine, which I wrote a year ago, we have very similar gear choices (http://pedalspacksandpinots.wordpress.com/2015/11/29/a-minimalist-ultralight-winter-gear-list-for-off-road-touring-bikepacking/), including DIY framebags based on Logan’s ‘How-To’ blog entry (http://pedalspacksandpinots.wordpress.com/2016/06/01/sewing-a-bolt-on-bikepacking-framebag-for-the-marin-pine-mountain-2/).

    I really like the simplicity of your setup, and in regards to the specific gear choices you have made, do you have any complaints with the Marmot Never Winter sleeping bag? I’m on the lookout for a solid, lightweight sleeping bag to replace mine.

  • John F

    Miles – Did you find the Kokopelli to be technically challenging with a fully loaded bike? We just did it last week. 4 days and 3 nights. It kicked our butts!

  • Miles Arbour

    We focused on ultra light packing which helped the Kokopelli kick our butts less, but yes it was challenging. We also took 4 days, and the final day of climbing really pushed us. How did you find it overall ?

  • Miles Arbour

    I’m glad to see someone is using similar gear! No complaints for the Never Winter bag… it was easily the best I’ve seen for the price. Possibly not the most durable bag, and it has a fairly low fill rating – but you have to decide where your budget will allow you to splurge! I’d personally love a Western Mountaineering bag…

  • Jason

    Looks like we have a similar setup. I also have all Revelate bags and a Tarptent Protrail. I’m really surprised the tarp tent doesn’t get used more. Great tent for the money.

  • John F

    Overall spectacular. The scenery was world-class. And we got to see a couple of Jeeps go up Rose Garden Hill. That was pretty insane. We also finished the last day with Jimmy Keen and Porcupine Rim. We stashed all of the camping gear at our last camp spot at Bull Draw which made for a fun last day. Still a long day however.

  • Miles Arbour

    Smart move! Any piece of gear you’re glad you brought / something you didn’t need?

  • John F

    This was our first year of bike packing so we did three short weekend trips before the Koko and we were able to work out the bugs with our kits. We also used all of the helping article from Bikepacking.com. I am glad we had good tents since there were thunderstorms 2 of the three nights and we got pelted pretty hard. All of the Revelate Gear worked perfect. I also like the MSR pocket rocket stove. That little thing cranks. I tried an alcohol stove a few times before the Koko, and it was too fussy and required long cooking times. I also need to figure out a new breakfast routine. I’m done with dehydrated scrambled eggs! My friend brought some real eggs and made breakfast burritos. We were totally jealous!

  • Miles Arbour

    I’ve had good luck with premixed baggies of granola and oatmeal , just add hot water and you’re off! The packaged instant oatmeal also comes in a waxed bag so you can add water right to the bag and use it as a bowl (fun fact).

  • John F

    Yep. I do oatmeal but I’m hungry an hour later. Maybe hard boiled eggs for weekend trips…

  • Miles Arbour

    I rarely meet anyone that has heard of TarpTent … I’m in Canada though so that might be a big reason! Great little shelter though, especially for buggy areas where you need bug proofing.

  • Smithhammer

    Agreed. Instant oatmeal always seems like it’s going to be a hearty breakfast, but then it rarely seems to last long in my stomach. I’ve started carrying hard-boiled eggs on my shorter trips as well.

    But those wax-coated instant oat packets make great firestarter. ;)

  • Tyler Wymer

    How do you compress the bag? Is it just that and your therm-a-rest in the saddle bag and what therm-a-rest? I have this same bag and it has been with me on every bike trip I’ve ever taken but it still feels fairly bulky. It’s a high quality bag, though! I always use it with a thin bag liner (mostly to avoid getting my grime on the bag itself) and on the vast majority of nights has been too warm (so it gets used as a blanket and not something I get inside).

  • Miles Arbour

    I never use compression sacks anymore, I find they just make a big hard block (of whatever is inside) and makes it impossible to fit it into anything else. I just cram it into my Viscacha first, so it takes up the tapered portion of the saddle bag.

    I use a Neo-Air – and it’s usually in my handlebar harness dry bag as it matches that shape better. Leaves plenty of room in my saddle bag that way as well.

    Glad to see someone else liking the bag – I agree it’s very warm!

  • Idle Prentice

    Thanks. Good article. Interesting you chose a gas stove.

  • Miles Arbour

    What do you use?

  • Idle Prentice

    I like the alcohol “go bag” stoves, check Amazon. Best so far. Can’t fly with them I’m told. For that you will need a canister stove.

  • Miles Arbour

    Ah, a hobo stove! Definitely nice and lightweight but I must say I enjoy the speed and reliability of my ETA Lite. Cool little stove though!

  • darelldd

    Brilliant. I’ve been working at shoving all manner of things into the tapered portion of the saddle bag. Always wasted room. The down bag is the smart move. I agree about not using stuff sacks… no reason for them if the bag you’re “stuffing” it into allows at least some compression help.

  • Miles Arbour

    I think the only reason I’d put my down bag up at the handlebars would be if it was winter and my winter bag wouldn’t fit as cleverly back in the saddle bag…

  • darelldd

    I’ve asked the Revelate guys about a wedge-shaped stuff sack so I could pack things outside the bag and THEN stuff them in there instead of my method of building a ship in a bottle way down at the end. Next time, I’ll try stuffing my sleeping bag in there for sure. Of course that ruins my OCD policy of having all sleep stuff in the front and all cooing/clothing in the back. But I’ll get used to it. Somehow.

  • Miles Arbour

    Ha! I hear ya. Revelate does have their Terrapin Dry Bag… so the idea is there! http://www.revelatedesigns.com/index.cfm/store.catalog/seat-bags/TerrapinDrybag

  • James Galloway

    Do you carry an extra tire?

  • Smithhammer

    Not usually. Why?

  • Todd Brockway

    Reading this almost a year after your post Miles. Great articles and excellent advice. I’m starting my first year in the bikepacking world now. My first big excursion is in October in the lower Adirondack Mtns. Lots of really usable information here. Would love to hear and see more from you.

  • You can see more of my articles and gear reviews here: http://www.bikepacking.com/author/miles-arbour/

  • Melvin Glover

    Hey Miles. Are you still using the TarpTent? Do you find it worthwhile to bring along over an UL freestanding tent like a Nemo Hornet, even though you need to bring poles to make the TarpTent stand? I use an MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 right now. I love how spacious it is, but its over 4 pounds with the footprint and takes up a massive amount of space.

    I’m thinking it is time to downsize and get something lighter and more compact. I’ve only ever used freestanding tents. I love how easy they are to set up, and how they can be easily moved if you need to. However, the weight/size of something like the TarpTent is very appealing for bikepacking.

  • Hey Melvin! I definitely prefer the simplicity of a freestanding tent, mind you the Hornet is only semi-freestanding and still requires some pegs to actually have space inside. I definitely like it over the Tarp Tent though, it’s just as small (maybe even smaller) and offers much more useable space inside. A lot of UL tents will say freestanding, but take a look at the pole setup and where the corners are.. because they often still require pegs to hold everything out properly. Good luck! Check out some of our other tent reviews here: http://www.bikepacking.com/gear/camping-gear/

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