2016 Bikepacking Awards: Gear of the Year
In part two of our 2016 Bikepacking Awards triptych, we recognize gear that’s made a lasting impression in categories that include ‘Best Long-term Product’, ‘Best Camping Gear’, ‘Best Bikepacking Bike’, and more…
Following on from part one of this year’s Bikepacking Awards – our collection of Best Bikepacking Videos, Photography and Art of 2016 – part two collates quite the mixture of gear to nerd over. Within Gear of the Year 2016, you’ll find the most interesting innovations relevant to bikepacking, the bikes that we’ve enjoyed riding most (and a few we’d love to try), our favourite long-term products, the best outdoor apparel we tried, and more. Although some of the gear that’s made the cut has yet to earn an in-depth review on the site, it’s all equipment we’ve had first-hand experience using and feel confident in recommending.
Note that although the emphasis is on 2016 products, we should point out that these awards are drawn from all the gear we’ve tried and tested this year, irrespective of when a particular item came out. After all, the ‘latest and greatest’ isn’t always the best, irrespective of what the marketing hype may tell us. In our minds, bikepacking is as much about gear that stands the test of time as out-of-the-box performance, so we’ve tried to strike a useful balance.
Lastly, in the interests of looking forwards, we’ve also included our top 5 bikes that we either haven’t had a chance to ride thoroughly this year, or have been announced but aren’t yet available.
Best in Bikepacking Gear
Revelate Ranger Frame Bag
Bust zippers are the bane of our lives. Our favourite framebag of 2016 features a new style of ultra durable, molded tooth zipper that’s refused to split or wear out on our test bags — despite sand, grit and poor packing — as well as a clever, waterproof stretch fabric to help alleviate zipper stress. In doing so it sets new standards, adding to the bag’s already impressive build quality and level of detail. What’s more, Revelate’s Ranger is about to gain further tweaks for 2017, with polyurethane coated X-Pac panels for improved wear and waterproofing, as well as an extra stretch panel – as pictured below.
Porcelain Rocket Albert Seat Pack
Albert, named after the monkey that went to space, is the first dropper post specific seat pack. It was released just recently and starts shipping today. A lot of folks will be interested in weekend trips on their favorite trail bike… with their dropper still in play. Skyler put his through the wringer on the Colorado Trail and helped perfect the design.
Apidura Handlebar Pack Dry and Accessory Pocket Dry
When you’re headed for inclement climes, keeping gear dry is crucial. Apidura’s waterproof roll bag and accessory pouch guarantee just that. Cass’ survived countless downpours in the Republic of Georgia, as well as the general wear and tear of a long distance bikepack. All without unduly weighing the bike down. At just 275 and 125g respectively, this is a handlebar combo that will appeal to racers, or those with an eye on the kitchen scales.
Ortlieb Handlebar-Pack and Accessory Pack
We’ve continued to take Ortlieb’s perfectly welded handlebar luggage on several more outings throughout the year and it hasn’t failed to impress. The Handlebar Pack itself is just the right size, waterproof and built to a rugged spec. The Accessory Pack is easy to use and one of just two currently on the market that can keep stuff dry, even in heaviest of downpours. See our initial review here.
Best Long-term Product
Sea to Summit Insulated Sleeping Mat
As comfortable as they are, inflatable mats often succumb to punctures or mysterious slow leaks. So given how much we all dread this – and the resulting nocturnal top-ups – our top spot for longterm gear goes to Sea to Summit’s latest inflatable mattress. Not only has it proven itself far tougher than we’d expect for its weight, it’s also one of the most comfortable and easy to inflate sleeping pads on the market, which we’re especially grateful for after an extended day’s ride. Read Cass’ review here.
Hope F20 Flat Pedals
Hope’s F20 Flat pedal have spun smoothly from the get-go. Almost a year later – and with multiple, long distance trips to its name – the bearings in our review pedals are as good as ever. If you’re weening yourself off clipless alternatives, know that these pedals grip tenaciously, whatever shoes you’re wearing. The 20 pins seem to last forever but a word of caution… they’ll take a chunk out of your calf given half the chance!
Ergon GS1 Grips
The GS1 — our new favorite grip for long days of pedaling — was developed for epic mountain bike races, such as the Marathon World Championship and Leadville 100. But as we’ve discovered, they’re perfect for bikepacking as well. This particular pair has seen a fair shake through several months of collective use in southern Spain, Uganda, Kyrgyzstan and beyond, and they’ve held up surprisingly well.
Darn Tough Light Hiker
This pair of Micro Crew Light Cushion socks have been worn on several trips, one of which consisted of 20 days of constant spinning in the rugged mountain terrain of Kyrgyzstan. They are simply the hardest wearing socks we’ve seen. And they’re wool, so they don’t get too funky either.
Game Changer of 2016
SRAM Eagle X01
Until recently, even with 1x drivetrains becoming ever more popular, there was still a glimmer of hope for the front derailleur. 1×10 and 1×11 drivetrains just didn’t quite deliver the gear range of their 2×10 and 3×9 forbears. This is especially missed amongst us bikepackers who have to make up for additional loaded weight. Now SRAM Eagle has taken 1x to new heights with a 500% gear range provided by the massive 10-50 tooth cassette. Granted the current X01 group is an significant investment, the tech is sure to quickly percolate down – we predict various iterations specced on many bikes to come. Stay tuned for a deeper review.
Industry Nine Matchstix
Bikepackers and bike tourists have been doing it for years… stuffing spare cables in hollow tubes, and extra spokes in seat posts. Now Industry Nine has cleverly disguised a toolkit in a thru-axle, complete with chain breaker. We hope to see more tools and widgets created to utilize nooks and spaces. Stay tuned for our review.
Maxxis Icon+ and Recon+
These two 2.8″ tires were specced on an army of new bikes at demo and launch events this year. While it’s not quite a full plus 3″ tire, they are both well-designed and great performing tires that are showing the benefits of plus to a broader audience. Even though we’d love to see the Recons in full 3″ rubber, they are great tires that have so far gotten a lot of traction.
Pivot Super BOOST Plus
With the introduction of their Switchblade, Pivot reinvented and rebranded an old standard — Super Boost Plus. What is it? In a nutshell Pivot employed a 157mm hub — a decade old downhill standard — and paired it with standard non-DH cranks and a standard width bottom bracket. Like BOOST (but better) this offsets the chainline outward for more tire clearance (the Switchblade can fit 3.25″ tires) without negatively impacting shifting, and adds frame stiffness. Now that’s how to use old standards to solve problems.
Accessory of the Year
Revelate Designs Mountain Feedbag and MagTank
Two classic accessory bags saw a reinvention this year. After testing both in Kyrgyzstan and beyond, they’ve earned our vote for the Accessory of The Year. The Mountain Feedbag saw an overhaul in size and function, while the new MagTank is a reworked variation of the classic Gas Tank — complete with a quick access magnetic closure.
King Cage ManyThing Cage
The Manything Cage incorporates a clean titanium loop with a sturdy three bolt design, made to specifically to play well with Salsa’s Three Pack Bosses three-hole mount system found on forks and downtubes, across brands like Salsa, Surly and others. A miniature titanium work of art.
Lezyne Macro Drive 800XL
When it comes to night riding on a reasonable budget, lights that delivery 800 lumens are a solid option for both trail riding and commuting. The Lezyne 800XL Macro Drive is built to the company’s usual standards, offers impressive burn times, and is rechargeable via USB. Updated for 2016/17, the secure rubber mount is now integrated and can also be used for both 25.4 and 30.8 size handlebars. Want extra oomph? There’s more powerful models available.
Yep, a bell made the list. Of the bells we’ve been tinkering with lately, this one seems particularly special. Instead of the standard ‘ding-ding-ding’, the Timberbell mimics the more passive and pleasant sound of a cowbell — a friendly reminder when on a crowded bike path, a two-way trail with blind turns, or around pedestrians. It’s designed to be switched on or off and once engaged it rings from vibrations.
Camping Gear of The Year
Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL1
The new HV version of the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 is a thoughtful redesign of the original. Big Agnes steepened the walls, added useable floor space and new hardware, and improved a tent that was already a winner. At just over two pounds (including stakes and the MTNglo lighting system) in an incredibly small package, it’s simply hard to beat as a readily available solo bikepacking tent.
Hyperlite UltaMid 2
Despite initial reservations, we’re now convinced the minimalist, US-made Hyperlite Ultamid justifies its hefty, $571 price tag. For a start, it’s ridiculously light, especially given its generous headroom, cavernous living space (room for 2.5!), and the fact that it’s plenty hardy enough for 4 season use. Meticulously constructed from Dyneema Cuben Fiber, Cass has pitched his across Bolivia, Peru, and the Republic of Georgia, and it still looks brand new. Rest assured that the Ultamid is a shelter that you can rely on, wherever you find yourself in the world.
Enlightened Equipment Enigma Quilt
When weight, simplicity, and compressibility are crucial, the Enigma quilt is hard to beat. It weighs less and stuffs down more than most other sleeping bags we’ve tried to date. And in the world of custom order ultralight gear, it’s probably the most affordable quilt out there — the one shown below is their 40ª 850 DownTek Long, priced at $230 — and made in the USA. Read our review here.
Black Diamond Revolt
The latest incarnation of the Black Diamond’s ReVolt boasts an impressive 130 lumens to illuminate your campsite; brightness can be easily dipped when social etiquette calls, or to conserve battery. Talking of which, the ReVolt has a USB port to charge its replaceable AAA batteries, making it perfect for dynamo hubs, solar panels, power packs, or even replaceable lithium batteries.
Best in Camp Kitchen
MSR Pocket Rocket 2
A yet-to-be-released remake of a favorite in its class, the next generation PocketRocket 2 stove takes everything great about the celebrated original and makes it even lighter and smaller. After a couple of months use, it’s now a permanent fixture in the frame pack. Stay tuned for the review.
Good To-Go impressed us with their tasty, ready-made camping fare. Although they can’t match your typical, nutritionless ramen on price, these ultralight, dehydrated meals certainly make up for it with goodness, taste and calorific value – they’re crammed with all kinds of healthy, natural ingredients. Founded by an outdoor-loving chef from Maine, they’re a gastronomic treat after a long day in the saddle. See the original review here, and their new meals here.
Hailing from Poland, Lyo Food is another company putting healthy, gourmet meals on the ultralight camping menu. Ingredients are predominantly grown on site or sourced from local farmers, ensuring they’re preservative and additive free, while freeze drying then traps all the goodness within. The menu is a broad one, with generous servings to boot – there’s even organic smoothies to boost your immune levels, a great idea when you’re pushing your body hard.
Outdoor Apparel of The Year
Patagonia Merino Air
Patagonia’s innovative take on a wool base layer is stretchy, extremely breathable, and seamless. They offer long sleeve tops, with or without a hood, as well as full-length bottoms. Each is made using a unique manufacturing process whereby fibers are exposed to a high-pressure air gun resulting in high loft and low weight. This ultralight, ultra-cozy base layer is a prized possession to a couple of us. It’s also surprisingly durable.
Five Ten Guide Tennies
The Guide Tennie is quickly becoming a legend in its own right. We’ve actually tried two pairs this year, the low cut versions and the high tops shown above. These aren’t a bike specific shoe, but they work great with aggressive flat pedals and on big expeditions that involve hiking, biking, and just kicking around camp.
Gore Bike Wear Power Trail Gore-Tex Active Pants
The title’s a mouth full, but these minimal waterproof/breathable pants are the best we’ve tried. They have been worn in pouring rain, sleet and snow, and don’t disappoint. They also fit really well for riding and are pretty comfortable off the bike as well. It’s worth noting that the jacket of the same name is also very impressive.
Montbell Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka
Nothing short of the best down jacket out there, the Plasma 1000 Parka weighs only 8.5 ounces and has been worn comfortably in temps below 20°F. We loved their Down Anorak, but this jacket offers beefier performance with hardly any additional weight or space penalty.
Top 5 Bikepacking Bikes of 2016
One of the first 27.5+ bikes to hit the market, the Dragonslayer came fit for adventure. With a 2×10 drivetrain, a solid and bombproof component spec, down tube brazeons, a steel frame, and excellent trail geometry, it’s hard to argue this bike’s placement amongst the best bikes of we’ve ridden in 2016. Find out why it was Gin’s glass slipper here.
It was the Sequoia’s sheer level of detail and refinement that really won us over – from touches like ‘riser’ drop handlebars, the use of a single spoke length in its wheelset, and the neatly eyeletted carbon fork, to its undoubtedly clean, uncluttered lines and classy finish. Add in the cleverly designed Sawtooth tires, perfectly balanced handling and practical tire clearances, and you have a standout all rounder from 2016 – one we’d love to have in our quiver.
Salsa Pony Rustler
Through the fusion of a well-engineered Split Pivot suspension system, solid trail geometry, and the traction and control of plus tires, Salsa created a machine that craves backcountry singletrack and begs for craggy trails, wild terrain, and challenging conditions. Read Logan’s full review to see why it’s his choice bike of 2016.
Quite simply, Jones’s fully rigid Plus will challenge any preconceived ideas you have about how a bike should be built and how it should ride. Both technically capable and supremely comfortable, the Plus is uncannily nimble despite its obvious size. The steel version won us over; we’ve since fitted a Thomson dropper post and sampled the delights of the new Boost-compatible ti truss fork. Read Cass’ review here… and find out why he didn’t want to send it back.
Kona Big Honzo DL
The The all new Kona Big Honzo DL was built to be a fun and capable trail bike, with no apparent consideration toward the idea of carrying more than a single water bottle. Yet, by refusing to compromise on trail handling, Kona has by accident created an outstandingly comfortable and capable bikepacking machine. Read all about why Skyler rated it so highly here.
5 Most Interesting Bikes for 2017
There’s no doubt that MOOTS had the perfect vantage to plan the ultimate Tour Divide bike — their headquarters is just a couple hundred meters from the GDMBR. Named after their resident Chocolate Lab, Baxter is the end product of years of development to build a purpose built 29″ titanium adventurer specifically for this epic and iconic ride. Featuring with three bottle cages and Moots’ proprietary 3/2.5 Pi Tech titanium, this beast looks ready to rip through the Divide.
Surly Karate Monkey
The new Karate Monkey is due out in early January and after a brief encounter at Saddledrive, we can’t wait to try one in earnest. Longer and slacker than the classic Karate Monkey of old, the new model is B+ compatible and features eyelets for all your bikepacking needs. In these times of uncertain standards, Surly’s Gnot-Boost spacing caters for both Boost and 135QR hubs, and there’s even internal routing for a dropper post too. Plus, we love the color! Check out Michael Dammer’s Karate Monkey in Rider and Rig.
The 3T Exploro is the latest creation by engineer Gerard Vroomen, the mastermind behind the OPEN Cycle UP. The Exploro was designed around their new ‘GravelPlus’ concept, combining a road geometry and position with larger tires to create a fast go-anywhere bike. We’ve been plying with one for a couple of months now… here’s the review.
We’ve already tested Tumbleweed’s expedition-worthy Prospector prototype (pictured above) on both local trails and across Mongolia, Bolivia and Peru. Which is why we can’t wait to get our hands on the more refined production model due out 2017. There’s a lot to like: this is a bike that’s designed for the long haul, without sacrificing the fun of the short haul. Rohloff, full fat, 29+, 27.5+, trail, dirt, snow… ride it all!
Created by Steve Domahidy, one of the original founders of Niner Bikes, Viral launched this year with their flagship bike, the Skeptic. It is no doubt a radical departure from the norm… a triple butted titanium tubeset built around a 120-140mm fork, 27.5+ hoops, a Pinion drivetrain, and a Gates Carbon Drive. Interesting to say the least; we’ll be reporting back when we get a chance to try one. UPDATE: Here’s our review.
Stay tuned for part 3 of our 2016 Bikepacking Awards — People and Routes.