Bike packing is touring cycling made unnecessarily spartan and therefore cooler. Requiring you to fit your reduced kit-list into a variety of slightly too small bags dotted around your bicycle rather than a pair of easy to access panniers. This nevertheless means you’ll be more aerodynamic, which is useful in as much as you’ll get to your destination with the extra time needed to unpack all your things.
Forming sets or available individually, the most common bikepacking options are frame and saddle packs along with handlebar rolls. Depending on what you want to carry, each of these can be almost equally useful. Frame bags suit thin items and things you want readily accessible. Handlebar-mounted bags suit light but bulky items, the weight of which is unlikely to affect your steering. Finally, saddlebags are a good general catch-all solution.
Used alone or together, their aim is always to transport your kit without upsetting the handling and enjoyment of riding your bike. Below are some of our favourite models and makers.
One of the few brands for which I feel genuine affection, German purveyors of bicycle touring goodness Ortlieb has recently also jumped aboard the bikepacking bandwagon.
Happily, the practicality that makes its products so beloved of SPD-sandal wearers has fully ported over to these newer lines. This now includes an indestructible seat pack that can be almost doubled in volume depending on your requirements. Coming in two sizes, an air valve lets you further constrict the bag’s contents for rattle-free riding. Part of an extensive bikepacking range, Ortlieb will even sell you uprated gravel-specific panniers if you fancy some more sedate off-road adventuring.
A sleeper hit among touring cyclists, since 1988 Vancouver-based Arkel has been trying to make the best bike bags. Key to this has been the aluminium Cam-Loc fitting on its panniers. Solidly locking them into place, this jaw-like hold means they’re great for rough-terrain use.
However, for riders after bikepacking style models, the brand now has that covered too. Just as disinclined to move as its panniers, Arkel’s 15-litre Seatpacker bag sits on a lightweight aluminium hanger that stops it from rocking back and forth. Preventing your bike from fishtailing while allowing for the bag’s quick release, its contents are also protected by a full degree of waterproofing.
One of the first brands to take producing bikepacking kit from a cottage industry and turn it into a moderately-size business, Apidura make a wide range of almost universally excellent products.
Sponsoring a host of riders including Jenny Graham, the fastest person to cycle around the world unsupported, plus ultra-racing legend Kristof Allegaert, the continual refinement and to-destruction testing of their products is evident in everything from their choice of fabrics to their zippers. Of most interest to drop handlebar riders will be the slimline Racing and more voluminous Expedition lines.
Growing from a bedroom to a factory in a little over a decade, Leeds-based Restrap continues to design and make all its products in the UK. Its very extensive range of packs, backpacks, and panniers is now split between the adaptable Carryeverything range, the slimline Adventure Race range, and the chunky Expedition line.
With each encompassing many neat design features, particularly notable are the drybag and holster configuration of its front and rear packs which make accessing your kit easy. Also doing a nice line in trunk top and fork-mounted bags, many of these use instantly fixing magnetic Fidlock clasps to attach. We're such big fans, we stock Restrap ourselves.
Since it made the majority of its range waterproof, there’s very little to fault the products of boutique Italian makers Miss Grape. Possessing just enough structure to hold their shape, we’re also big fans of the fixings on both its Cluster saddle packs and Tendril front bag.
One of the first brands to realise you need to space the front roll out from the handlebar, the foam blocks and simple metal quick-releases combine to provide secure yet fuss-free fitting. With a wide range of road and gravel-focused products, elsewhere the range provides options for carrying everything from snacks or a small camera, all the way up to a full camping set-up.
Famous for making beautiful waxed cotton bike bags with the name of the person who stitched them on the label inside, Carradice has been producing its wares in Nelson, Lancashire since the 1930s. Much more recently the firm has also got involved in creating more modern style bikepacking ranges.
Again using a rear aluminium frame to prevent them from sagging and swaying, they’re made of Cordura rather than cotton and pleasingly utilitarian looking. However, having not had the opportunity to try them yet, I’m going to stick to recommending Carradice’s wide range of readily-accessible traditional rear saddle packs, which when used with the correct support are great for lighter off-road bikepacking, and superb on the tarmac.
Arch Ind x Passoni
If you’re going to buy a bike with custom geometry, you’re probably not going to want to squeeze an only-roughly-matching set of luggage in between its carefully calculated tubes.
Tailored to exactly match your bicycle, Arch Industrial’s Andrea Perici can craft you a set from his workshop in the Dolomites. Also producing an exclusive range in collaboration with neighbouring titanium bike builders Passoni, this four-piece set includes a half-frame bag with conventional straps front and back, along with a stitch-like attachment across the top that ensures it holds perfectly to your bike’s top tube. Available in olive green or dirt-friendly brown drab, they’re exclusive to the brand’s gravel frame sets.