To me, real bikepacking is still largely a quest for new and exciting single track - not an expedition or race. So I remain where the pastime basically started out: on a mountain bike. I don't embark on hyper-rough, but mostly flattish expeditions with a fat bike, and neither do I enjoy speed tours with a gravel setup. Yes, I can see that both types of trip greatly benefit from a full set of frame, bar and seatpost bags. But I don't want my bike or setup to restrict me with excessively static weight distribution. To be agile, to shift the balance to and fro on technical track, you need to be moving some of the load around with your body... and that unavoidably means carrying a meaningful share of the total in a backpack. No doubt it will be tiring, uncomfortable and even plain painful at times. But that is what it takes if you refuse to let the gear tame your route. Your preferences are likely to vary, but if the above makes sense to you and your style, read on...
For the past few years, I have been using the Ortlieb Light Pack Pro (25 litres, 390 g) pictured here. I originally bought it because I wanted a waterproof backpack on a bike - at the time, I was unwilling to use liners and too lazy to dismount and attach a pack cover. But the waterproofness has proved iffy to me, because the roll top has a way of unraveling a turn or two when I'm hunched over the handlebars. By contrast, the pack's inflatable 'back plate' has shown itself to be a real bonus, and the material it is made of even more so: Remarkably slip-proof with almost any clothes I own, it largely eliminates pack wobble on bumpier trails.
I do own a handlebar roll, but don't always use it. I find I can compress my SMD Lunar Solo to (almost) grapefruit size and fix it under the stem in a tough dry bag secured with webbing. The dry bag has some useful loops for this, so there is no play whatsoever - you can get an idea from the pic I show below. Since my solution pans out about 250 g lighter than a roll, I only use the latter when I'm taking a bulkier tent or have a larger overall load. The former hardly ever happens - ironically, my big wind tent is a Solomid and lighter than the Lunar Solo. The latter is most commonly due to a need to carry more water.
Huge seatpost bags? Never ever! I feel they get in the way, hamper agile weight distribution and interfere with drop seat posts (mine is a mechanical Gravity Dropper by the way, hence the rubber boot). Addtionally, they look like stumpy tails! ... See MoreSee Less
... yes, I'm still on a packrafting high! Yesterday, I was alerted to a quite impressive clip from Finland, which I am sharing with you here. Some of the feats it shows approach virtuoso level, but while almost always on the wild side, other parts of the video demonstrate skills a relative beginner could learn fairly quickly (in many ways, whitewater can be much easier in a packraft than in a kayak... though that principle can also be deceptive and risky if you trust it too blindly).
How to go about mastering the art? Well, I haven't mastered much of it myself, yet! But I have found an almost comprehensive primer by Kalle - in four parts that cover gear, motivation and the most vital techniques, all the way to some rather advanced ones. What I really like: Instead of setting himself up as your latest and only true guru, Kalle includes plenty of links to example video material by other people. That makes his mini series both credible and unpretentious, as well as highly informative. It starts here with a look at the gear you will need: www.outinthearctic.com/2017/01/10/getting-started-on-packrafting-the-ultimate-guide-to-packraftin... Links to the rest are on the page. ... See MoreSee Less
Rain, rain... there was so much of it during my early bikepacking tours in the Austrian and German Alps. I would spend weeks at my PC to find the most exciting downhill tracks in my destination area, then ride up a mountain in the drizzle to discover that descent was going to be slippery hell yet again. Finally, one July day in 2012, I rose and looked at the weather forecast for the following week... and promptly cancelled my train ticket to Oberstdorf. It was time to move my region of operations in the direction of the sun. Since then, I have started most of my longer Alpine bikepacking adventures in Geneva or even further south.The principle isn't foolproof - but in general, the warmth and geology combine to dry the trails tolerably fast after any rain that does occur. ... See MoreSee Less
You can be in a city and miss a million stories a day - micro-tales simply register more intensely in smaller places, and especially when even those small places only come in occasional doses.That, too, is part of what we experience during a hike or a bikepacking adventure. Riding down a mountainside to the magnificence of a turquoise alpine lake and a tranquil village near its banks, I once came upon a young couple outside a general store that served coffee to its customers. Totally oblivious to the beauty around them (and even to each other's) they spent a frantic and obsessed 45 minutes serial-purchasing lottery scratch tickets and getting increasingly dejected about the results. Years later, I still wonder what drove two such pretty people to ruin their own day so mechanically. ... See MoreSee Less
A two-person tent used to be around 52" wide (like this StratoSpire 2) - and was still considered a little cramped for a long duo tour. Much as I crave the ZPacks Duplex (45"), I do puzzle about the second-person-at-a-pinch paradigm that seems to rule the world nowadays. I have tried such narrowness in an alleged knockoff from Aliexpress, and it's not just a matter of forced intimacy - but of borderline comfort and hence real-world doability, especially in hot weather. I wonder: What is the point of categorisation when all the vendors are out to stretch definitions? In a rational world, the Duplex ought to be plugged as a 1+ tent, and I find the 2P-overstatement irritating. ... See MoreSee Less
An often overlooked aspect of ultralight backpacking equipment: Weight reduction eventually reaches a point where throwing in some extra fun becomes a no-brainer. In this case, I was hiking along the French coast with snorkeling gear attached to my pack last June - I had bought the (cheap) mask, snorkel and fins spontaneously when temperatures started to rise above 38°C and the clear water in the Calanques was beckoning irresistibly. My base weight on that trip was about 4.2 kilos; not even as light as I could have gone. The extra purchase added about 1.3 kilos - and heaps of enjoyment! Of course, with a traditional heavy pack, I would have hesitated much longer and probably gone without the additional thrill. So go light... and then add whatever floats your boat. ... See MoreSee Less