Bike Packing Bags and Kit Choices (Part One)

There is plenty out there for people looking for bike packing bags. Information abound on websites like bikepacking.net, bearbonebikepacking, bikepacker.com, etc, where you can draw on a wealth of knowledge of people who have been doing this much longer than I have. What I can offer, if it is of any help, is a closer look at the set up that I used for the Transcontinental races, and that I will be using for the French Divide. This is in no way meant as a check-list for others, your own packs and gear choices are important and will be worked out and refined as you go, but I found reading about others’ choices helpful in making my own.

I’ll start here with the bags I’ve used, and I’ll take a closer look at the kit choices in a second post – otherwise this is going to turn into a monster.

All my bags are from Alpkit. When I first started looking for bikepacking bags in early 2015 the two names that kept coming up were Alpkit and Apidura, and after reading a bit about both I decided to go with Alpkit simply on the basis that they’re made in the UK and seemed to be slightly better priced.

All of Alpkit’s gear attaches using a webbing ladder and lengths of Velcro, so it’s easy to get a good fit while avoiding cable stops. The material is hard wearing and has stood up very well to several years continuous use, the zips have been faultless no matter how much has been wedged in the bags and how wet and muddy they’ve got. While all of the packs will be fine in a quick shower, they’re not waterproof (nor are they advertised as waterproof), so anything that needs to be kept dry needs to be placed in a drybag, sandwich bag, etc.

(I can’t find any good photos of the individual pieces, so I’ve used stock photos for now. At the bottom of this post is a series of photos of the Scandal loaded up with the bags.)

The Koala

A 13L saddle bag. It attaches with two straps looped through the saddle rails and two straps around the seat post. The straps loop through a webbing ladder that runs from the nose of the bag round to the top, making it easy to place the straps wherever you need them. It’s worth playing around with the positioning when the bag is loaded up to get it sitting as tight as possible to the seat post and underside of the saddle.

After trying it on both tKoalahe road bike and the mountain bike it seems to be a little sensitive to how much is in it. If there isn’t enough packed in it can be hard to get enough tension on the straps, and it’ll swing from side to side. Most of the time though I’ve had no problem with it.

The material is tough and water-resistant, but certainly not water proof, so it’s best to have a dry-bag lining the Koala. Alpkit make one specifically to fit (it’s the same tapered shape), but I already had a Sea-to-Summit one and have been using that without any problems.

It’s had a lot of use over the last two years and shows very little signs of wear. The area on top that pushes against the saddle has worn a bit, but that’s all. It’s held up very well, and I’m more than happy with it.

The Fuel Pod

Alpkit do a few different sizes of fuel pod, designed to sit on the top tube, behind the stem. I got the medium size (6cm wide, 21cm long, 11cm high), this was before they added the cable port as a standard feature.

Fuel Pod

On the road bike I had a problem with my knees hitting the bag when I was climbing out of the saddle, and as I tried to compensate for it I hurt my knees. Instead, I switched it to sit up against my seatpost. My thighs brushed it as I rode, but not enough to cause any problems or irritation. On the mountain bike it sits nicely behind the stem and I don’t have any problems when climbing.

It’s a great size for stuffing with food and anything else I might need easy access to when riding. Like the Koala, after a few years use it shows very little signs of wear (although it would probably benefit from a clean).

The Possum

PossumThe Possum is Alpkit’s series of ready-made framebags, coming in three different sizes, I got the largest to make best use of the length available on the road bike (6cm wide, 51cm long, 13cm high). As with the Fuel Pod, I got this before the cable port was a standard feature.

The Possum is divided into two sections. The larger one on the non-drive-side runs the length and width of the bag and is a great place to stash slightly larger items that you might need quick access to. On the drive-side is a document pocket, a narrow pocket running the full length of the bag and (in the large size) comfortably holds passport, phone, etc.

The Stingray

The Stingray is a made-to-measure frame bag, with no end of choices about shapes, compartments, zips, colours, and widths. Rather than go through all the various options here it’s best to watch the video on their site.

I wanted to go for a Stingray for the mountain bike as the Scandal only has one set of bottle cage bosses, and I didn’t want to have a hydration pack on my back. A full frame back with a hydration bladder in the top and space at the bottom of other bits and pieces made more sense to me, and would be a better use of the space available. I should be able to fit a 3L bladder in the top with some careful packing, and still have space at the bottom for some spares.

After a bit of thought and measurement I decided to go for a 5cm wide bag, with a horizontal divider, a cable port, and a document pocket. I went for 5cm wide as I didn’t want to risk having the bag rubbing on my legs, particularly if I was packing it full and it bulged out a bit. With a full frame bag on a large frame, a horizontal divider would allow me to use the space properly and keep everything quite organised. It would also help keep the bag in shape. The document pocket was a no-brainer for me. As well as keeping some flatter things in the Possum’s document pocket, I also found that I used it as a bin for wrappers and packets as I cycled, so that I wasn’t fishing around in my jersey pockets or Fuel Pod looking for food among the rubbish.

After making a cardboard template I spent a bit of time with a ruler and pencil working out where best to put the horizontal divide. Writing all the necessary information on the template and sending it off to Alpkit. A week later I was greeted by a box containing my Stingray. Incredibly quick service.

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As you would expect for a custom made bag, it fits perfectly. I loaded up the bladder and tried that in the top compartment, another great fit. In the bottom I’ve currently got two inner tubes, a pump, a multi-tool, a puncture repair kit, and a rain jacket.

I’ve had this on the mountain bike for nearly a month and I barely notice it. It holds everything I need (and more) and simply does the job. I couldn’t ask for any more than that.

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