Go Big or Go Home: ASC Adventurer Andrew Badenoch's recent 77zero blog addresses the myth of light and fast backpacks
Bikepacking: 5 Reasons to Take a Bigger Pack
Notice right away that I didn’t say I’m going to give you any reasons to pack bigger.
If you’re getting tips and how-tos from the sources I ran across, you’ve been thoroughly convinced that shrinking the size of your backpack is crucial. I’m here to let you off the hook: go bigger. Here’s why:
1. You can handle it. Of course it would be nice to frolic about with nothing to restrain energy or imagination. I’m no fan of that swath of sweat down the middle of my back either, but let’s be real. After weeks of in-field experience, I haven’t once thought, “this backpack is too much.” Not one moment. Yet there have been multiple times I’ve wondered what everyone else is on about when insisting that a smaller pack is the only way to go. Don’t let them scare you away from a using a bigger pack for your bigger adventures.
2. Terrain. Sometimes your bike will be too heavy. The term bikepacking generally implies adventure cycling that goes beyond traditional road touring. Whether that involves anything from moderately technical singletrack to off-trail epicness, there will come hours or days or weeks of terrain that will be difficult to traverse with most of your total payload shifted to seat, frame, and handlebar bags. My recommendation is to take a backpack that will allow shifting your entire kit to the backpack.
3. Mechanicals. While some sort of semper fi, “leave no man behind” mentality should generally be extended to bicycles, it’s not unlikely that a mechanical failure could render the trusty steed little more than dead weight. Should such a scenario occur, imagine how it goes down. You’re out in the wild, 73 miles from wherever you need to reach. Your shelter and clothing and water carrying/purification and food and cooking and communications gear is all tightly packed in bags clinging to tour bike. Congratulations! You and your tiny backpack are perfectly prepared for ultralight travel — so long as you leave behind most of your crucial accouterments. The other option is to start the impromptu lashing of bike bags to the tiny backpack our whichever body part most resembles a down tube or seatpost. Your success will vary according to the bags’ particulars, but you’re likely in for a cumbersome hike.
4. Obstacles. Properly distributing weight in order to efficiently navigate technical to terrain is one thing. Fording rivers, slogging through swamps, crossing fields of boulders, near vertical climbs and descents, and other elements that are challenging to pass without packs and bikes are on another level altogether. When multiple trips are required to get self and gear through sticky spots, the ability to redistribute weight smartly can mean the difference between two trips or ten. It can also mean the difference between loss and damage of equipment and self.
5. Humans. You may at times come into contact with the most curious of creatures. Some of them would happily make off with anything not bolted or chained to a robust inanimate object. If only for peace of mind, it’s nice to be able to offload valuables from the bike while in camp, at the grocery store, or in restaurants. Lock the bike. Pack the pack.
Here’s my general division of labor when biking easy terrain…
Tenkara fishing kit
Goal Zero solar panels (x2)
Misc. stuff I don’t use day-to-day
Parts (tubes, etc.)
Goops (anti-chafe, sunscreen, foot)
Generally speaking, I try to keep the heavy/dense items low and on the bike so its spine can bear the load rather than mine. The light and big and fluffy stuff goes on my back where it’s out of the way.
The other determining factor is use frequency and ease of access. I try to avoid putting on and taking off the backpack more than a thousand times a day so light but often needed things like clothing layers end up on/in bike bags as well.
The case should be made stronger by the fact that I made my own backpack. It utilizes Cilo Gear’s framesheet and hip belt, and the shoulder harness cannibalized from my Ergon BC-3 pack. I can’t recall the volume, but it’s something like 60+ liters. I couldn’t find anything off the shelf that met my specifications. If any pros out there want to make me a real pack, contact me.
So sure, edit your carried items mercilessly. But I wouldn’t cut corners when it comes to the backpack part of bikepacking.
Is the holy grail pack out there and I just missed it?
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