My first bikepacking trip was a simple venture in college: riding an ancient aluminum cruiser across farmland Minnesota, stopping in small towns for coffee and ice cream. The most recent trip was an overnight gravel grind in my new home state of Wyoming, with my dog Bea running with me. And my favorite was a ride down the Baja California Peninsula, ending in Cabo with three other very sweaty and dusty gringos.
Each adventure was different yet enjoyable in its own way. Sometimes 24 hours without cell service is the perfect elixir for a rejuvenated work week. Other times it takes 1,000 miles and a healthy serving of suffering to find a full reset. Through these journeys I’ve tested dozens of packs, gradually picking out my favorites for each style of adventure. Some are good for light-and-fast strike missions, others better for expeditions where durability, organization, and watertight seals are of higher value.
Generally speaking, from my first adventure over a decade ago to today, the diversity and quality of bike bags has risen exponentially. In this relatively short period of time, we’ve watched the rise and fall of panniers, new handlebar and fork styles hitting the market, and more manufacturers design bikes with enough attachment points to be adventure-ready right out of the box.
Many of these bags highlight new innovations, often using empty spaces in the triangle, between the handlebars, and above the rear tire to keep you more aerodynamic and stable. All of them can be taken on and off easily, letting you use the same bike for commuting as you do for week-long adventures. Here’s what to look for, and how to select the best bags to fit your style of bikepacking escape.
How to Prepare for Your First Bikepacking Expedition
Darren Alff, who has been traveling the world by bike for over 17 years and has pedaled through 70 c…
Best-in-class bags: After years of riding, my go-to expedition setup mostly utilizes bags from Apidura, a U.K.-based manufacturer. These bags hit the sweet spot between lightweight and practical. The expedition series offers enough space for long journeys without adding bulk or an obscene amount of weight.
On an extreme budget: For just $6 on Amazon, the Voile (or ski strap) is a great tool for any bikepacker, allowing you to lash a tent to your handlebars or a sleeping bag to your seatpost. For a savvy rider, the options are endless. The downside is usability, but for your first trip (or a quick repair) a strap will work.
The Complete Gear Guide to Bikepacking
Snacks close at hand: One of the leading bag brands, Revelate, stands out with easy-to-use cockpit bags—specifically the toptube and feed bags. When carrying a thermos in the morning, or going for an afternoon workout, I bring these bags along because they are useful day-to-day and on long trips.
A discount option: Take a look at the factory seconds from Bedrock Bags for some lucky steals. Although the selection may be limited, the prices are as good as you’ll find. Another great brand, Bedrock makes the full suite of bikepacking bags and has some of the best customer service I’ve dealt with.
A custom build: Made to fit your bike perfectly, Rogue Panda will cut and sew a frame bag for your specific needs. As bike frames get weirder and weirder, this option continues to grow. Bags do take a while to be made, so expect them in a month or more.
In case you overpack: For some trips, I bring a backpack to carry extra water, food, and gear. My favorite is the Osprey Raptor 14 because it fits snug while offering enough capacity for all the gear I need during a day out. With a 2.5L bladder and a system of well-organized pockets, it’s a good addition to any kit.
The Great PNW Bike-to-Ski Volcano Tour