My Bikepacking Gear List System, from Ultralight to Ultra Prepared


By Alissa Bell: pedal-powered freedom seeker, 20k+ miles of bikepacking and touring on 6 continents

Updated:


It seems obvious that this website, with its hundreds of articles about bikepacking, should have a comprehensive bikepacking gear list. I have posts about my favorite gear and a few packing lists from specific trips, but (until now) no general-purpose packing list for bikepacking. Why have I waited so long?

First, there are so many ways to approach bikepacking and I hate to be overly proscriptive. You do you, ride your own ride, as we say. But perhaps more to the point, I was stumped. “What do you pack for bikepacking?” is a surprisingly complicated question!

That’s because I don’t actually have a single bikepacking gear list… I have many! I’m a student of this wacky pastime and am constantly adjusting, tweaking, experimenting, and customizing my gear list for every single trip. Whether the goal is cutting ounces for a race or figuring out how to have more fun around the campfire, there’s always something new to try. It’s not necessarily about buying lots of new gear (because that’s expensive!) but about fine-tuning the combinations and deciding what to leave out.

Thus I don’t really have a bikepacking gear list, I have a bikepacking gear system. I group my trips into three categories: ultralight, standard , and long / international. Each style implies different priorities, contingency plans, and expectations. Within each category there are different locations, climates, paces, and all the other factors that make each trip unique.

In this post I’ll explain each of my typical bikepacking styles and then compare, side-by-side, my gear lists for all three. You’ll be able to see what I add for the long trips abroad and what I subtract for the ultralight trips near home. If you’re just starting out and wondering how to reconcile all the different bikepacking gear lists out there, I hope this post gets you thinking about how to pack for the specific needs of your trip instead of just copying a checklist.

Ok, enough of that, let’s get into the gear!

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My 3 Types of Gear Lists

I’ve been fortunate to experience a wide variety of pedal-powered trips. First there were the early solo tours on other continents. Then came bikepacking trips throughout the western US, leading sometimes to bikepacking races (in my own way) and a gradual progression onto rougher roads and trails. Solo rides, rides with my husband, rides with friends, rides for fun and for limit pushing and for cultural experiences and as my own personal rites of passage… So many rides!

When I zoom out, most of these trips fall into one of three categories: ultralight, standard, and long international travel. I still alternate between these styles; last year I enjoyed trips in all three categories. Here’s what each of them means to me.

Standard

This is just my “normal” bikepacking gear list for 3-season riding in the United States or similar. It’s based roughly on a lightweight backpacking setup (my other passion) and much of the gear is the same. My goal is to have everything I need and need everything I have, plus a couple luxury items for enjoyment. With this gear list I’m usually spending a lot of time in remote places except for the occasional rest day in town, so I’m mostly packing for time on the bike and at camp.

Trip length doesn’t make much difference here. In a familiar environment like the U.S. I can buy whatever I need in bigger towns and resupply as I go. My standard bikepacking gear list works just as well for a long weekend as it does for the entire Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. There also isn’t much difference between riding solo, with my husband, or with a friend, except that my husband and I share a tent and stove when we ride together.

What does make a difference is weather. For every category of gear list I make further adjustments based on how cold or wet it may be. In this sense longer trips do require more gear because you have to be prepared for a boarder range of conditions. If a trip is only three days and the forecast is unambiguously warm and clear, I leave a few layers at home (this is unfortunately rare!).

My standard bikepacking gear list just barely fits into a soft bikepacking bag setup. I use a large seat bag (~14 liters), gear cages on fork and downtube, and a heavily loaded handlebar harness. I’m a small person and ride a small bike, so frame triangle space and tire clearance are both limited. Here’s what it looks like:

My “standard” bikepacking gear list in action for a month on the Western Wildlands Route.

Ultralight / Minimalist

My ultralight bikepacking gear list is mainly for races and endurance events where the priority is covering ground and pushing personal limits. In this strange fringe of an already fringe activity we delight in extravagant amounts of pedaling through day and night. Comfort and time spent at camp are totally ignored, if not intentionally minimized; it’s all about the riding. Examples: Smoke ‘n Fire 2022, Pinyons and Pines, Tour de los Padres.

My ultralight bikepacking gear list is similar to my standard list, but streamlined in these ways:

  • no stove, fuel, pot, or bowl
  • no tent (bivy instead)
  • just one set of base layer clothes
  • zero luxury items (no camp sandals for example)
  • minimalist toiletries: just a toothbrush and toothpaste, chapstick, hairbrush (yes it’s essential, or I’d have to cut my hair off after every ride)
  • streamlined repair kit: I might cut out heavier items I’m unlikely to need, like a spare derailleur hanger
  • streamlined first aid kit: only the most useful or critical supplies, in small amounts
  • hydration pack: instead of carrying water in my frame bag like usual, I carry it on my back to keep my bike lighter for hike-a-bikes
  • bike lock: I may leave this out, but it depends on the route (see Deterring Theft While Bikepacking)

My ultralight bikepacking gear list just barely fits into a smaller seat bag (~5 liters), frame bag, and handlebar roll. Ideally I put nothing on my fork blades for this setup, and use a small hydration pack to make up for any deficits in space. Again, as a small bikepacker my cargo space is limited and my small bike often looks more heavily loaded than it is:

My lightweight bikepacking gear list in action at Idaho Smoke ‘n Fire 400.

Some folks who race competitively pare down even more, perhaps forgoing a full sleep system and just bringing an emergency bivy. I’m not at that level! I’m willing to give up some comfort and convenience, but not warmth and safety.

Related: Intro to Bikepack Racing for Beginners and Slower Cyclists

Long International Travel

On the other side of the spectrum from ultralight, I have my “ultra prepared” or “ultra long” bikepacking gear list for longer bikepacking trips abroad. When biking for a month or more through unfamiliar countries, the standard list doesn’t cut it. Examples would be my Central Asia bikepacking trip and touring through Egypt and Sudan.

On these trips I might spend days off the bike exploring and sightseeing, or hanging out with people I meet along the way, or hiking or doing other non-bike activities. A different style of bikepacking stove may be needed. Some important items – bike parts, outdoor gear, specific toiletries – may not be commonly used there. If I don’t speak the language, even common supplies can be hard to track down.

Here’s what all this looks like from a gear list perspective:

  • More clothes: riding clothes for variable climates, options for navigating cultural norms of modesty (longer pants and sleeves), clean-ish clothes for exploring towns and cities and basically not being a disgusting dirt bag all the time.
  • International travel supplies: wall plug adapters, money belt, passport, etc.
  • More comprehensive repair kit, depending on which bike I’m bringing and availability of bike parts in my destination.
  • More comprehensive first aid kit: lots of stomach meds, maybe an antibiotic, larger supplies of anything that might be hard to find
  • Extra favorite consumables: sunscreen, feminine hygiene supplies, vitamins, contact lenses, anything that might be hard to find on the road
  • Walking shoes: I prefer to ride with SPD pedals, so I travel with the most comfy SPD shoes I can find (Pearl Izumi X-Alp Canyon) and comfy sports sandals I can walk in for miles.
  • A few extra luxuries for comfort far from home, like a Kindle eReader or massage ball for treating tight IT bands.

To fit all this stuff on my bike I need to switch from a seat bag to a rear rack and panniers. I load up my fork blades with large gear cages and cram in as many accessory bags as I can! Here’s what it looks like:

My “ultra prepared” international bikepacking gear list for a monthlong ride in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.

It’s all relative of course, and my travel style is still lighter than many long-term bike travelers. I only ever use rear panniers when I use panniers at all, and my trips are only 1 to 3 months long. These days I’m usually targeting a bikepacking style, meaning agile and light enough for rugged terrain, though I used to do more road touring with a similar gear list.


Maybe you can think of other categories, like ultralight international racing (Silk Road Mountain Race) or winter bikepacking or a long leisurely bike ride across America. Those are great too and offer other interesting gear puzzles to solve, but for purposes of this post I’ll stick to the styles I know best.

Shelter and Sleep

Shelter and sleep systems are usually the biggest and bulkiest part of a bikepacking gear list, and one of the most important. Here’s how I modify mine depending on the style of trip.

In this table and all the ones below, I’ve listed the gear items in the left column. Each column to the right explains how I approach that item for that specific kind of trip.

UltralightStandardLong International Travel
ShelterBivy: Borah Gear bug bivy, paired with either SOL emergency bivy or ultralight tarp in case of rainLightweight tent: Big Sky Soul 1P if solo, or Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL with partnerLightweight tent: Big Sky Soul 1P, or Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL with partner
Sleeping BagDown quilt: Enlightened Equipment Convert hybrid plus hoodDown quilt: Enlightened Equipment Convert hybrid plus hoodDown quilt: Enlightened Equipment Convert hybrid plus hood
Sleeping PadTherm-a-Rest NeoAir Uberlite SmallTherm-a-Rest NeoAir XLiteTherm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite
Pillowstuff sack filled with clothesstuff sack filled with clothesstuff sack filled with clothes

There’s a big difference in comfort between these sleep systems, and it’s one of the biggest distinguishing features of my various bikepacking gear lists. With my ultralight bikepacking gear list I’m usually tired enough to sleep anywhere and happy for the convenience of a bivy; I’ll only be in it for a few hours anyway. I’m a very cold sleeper and don’t skimp on the warmth of my sleeping bag even with an ultralight setup, but everything else is pared down to the minimum needed for safety.

On a standard or long international trip, my tent is my home away from home. I need privacy at busy campgrounds, weather protection in all kinds of elements, and enough room to hunker down inside for a day or two if needed. I use a lightweight, freestanding, double wall tent in either a solo size (for just me) or a 3-person size (if my husband is joining).

Ultralight bivy setup
Solo standard setup (Big Sky Soul)
International travel setup with partner (Big Agnes Copper Spur)

Food and Water

UltralightStandardLong International Travel
Stove and PotnoneJetBoil MicroMo, or sometimes just titanium mug + backpacking stove if soloMSR Whisperlite International + Toaks titanium pot
Dishesnone or maybe just a spoonSea to Summit X-Mug (or just eat out of pot if solo), Snow Peak titanium cup, long-handle spoonSea to Summit X-Mug g (or just eat out of pot if solo), Snow Peak titanium cup, long-handle spoon
Food StorageUrsack Major if needed for bear territoryUrsack Major if needed for bear territoryUrsack Major if needed for bear territory
Water TreatmentChlorine dioxide tablets or dropsSawyer Squeeze set up as gravity filter with CNOC Vecto bag, chlorine dioxide tablets for emergency backupSawyer Squeeze set up as gravity filter with CNOC Vecto bag + chlorine dioxide drops for purification in developing areas
Water Containersmix of hydration bladder and bottles as neededmix of hydration bladder and bottles as neededmix of hydration bladder and bottles as needed
Hydration Backpackold running vestnonenone

The biggest difference here: my ultralight bikepacking gear list leaves out the stove. The resupply style for races usually amounts to packing out piles of junk food from gas stations, and there’s no time for cooking. Sometimes I’ll also go stoveless on a more leisurely short trip if I can carry fresh food out from towns often enough. On longer trips I do enjoy the pleasure of hot coffee in the morning and a hot meal at night, generally something simple cooked by soaking in hot water (see my Bikepacking Food Guide).

My water containers are more influenced by route and climate than packing style; I’ll bring whatever I need to carry enough (see 9 Ways to Carry Water on Your Bike). The exception is a hydration backpack, which I’ll wear for short ultralight trips to keep my bike lighter for hike-a-bikes but wouldn’t want on my back for a longer trip (see Bikepacking with a Backpack).

Water treatment depends mostly on the needs of the route. My standard is a Sawyer Squeeze set up as a gravity filter with a CNOC Vecto, which is light and convenient. For a short ultralight trip I might carry only chlorine dioxide tablets, which are even smaller and lighter. For a long trip, especially overseas, I carry both so I can treat water for viruses in addition to bacteria and parasites (see Water Filters for Bikepacking and Bike Travel).

Clothes

UltralightStandardLong International Travel
Shirt (base layer)123
Chamois shorts122
Baggy overshorts or pants112
Warm midlayer111
Warm tights111
Puffy jacket111
Wind vest111
Rain jacketif neededif needed1
Rain pantsif neededif needed1
Warm glovesif neededif neededif needed
Rain mittensif needed; might use disposable nitrile gloves insteadif neededif needed
Rain bootiesif needed, might use plastic bags insteadif neededif needed
Socks12-32-3
Sports bra11-22
Underpants012
Buff headband122
Cycling gloves111
Helmet111
Cycling shoes111

My bikepacking clothing list depends on both weather and trip style. On an ultralight trip I’m basically wearing the same set of clothes, plus warm layers when needed, until I finish! Yup, really.

On a long international trip I need enough clothes to handle changing climates, cultural norms of modesty (depending on the place), exploring towns and cities off the bike, and generally not being disgusting while hanging out with people.

A “standard” trip is somewhere in the middle, maybe a clean shirt for town day but not much else since the focus is mostly on biking.

Weather is the most important factor for warm and rain gear. I’ll bring whatever is needed for the conditions, though long trips have more variability so the packing list needs to be more thorough. My ultralight gear list still includes everything needed for the conditions, but I might err on the side of bringing a lighter rain jacket or puffy.

For all the details on my clothing choices and recommendations, including why I love merino wool so much, see My Bikepacking Clothes.

Electronics

UltralightStandardLong International Travel
Smartphoneyesyesyes
GPS nav device (Garmin eTrex 22x)yesmaybemaybe
Satellite messenger (Garmin InReach Mini)yesyesmaybe
Power banks (Ainope 10000mAh, Voltaic Systems V50)1 if dynamo hub, 2 or 3 if not1 or 2 if dynamo hub, 2 or 3 if not1 or 2 if dynamo hub, 2 or 3 if not
USB charging cables and wall plug~3 cables~4 cables~4 cables, plug adapter if needed
Headlamp (Petzl Actik Core)yesyesyes
Tail lightyes (kLite Qube)yes (kLite Qube or Planet Bike Superflash)yes (kLite Qube or Planet Bike Superflash)
Headlight(s)yes (kLite Ultra, Light and Motion helmet light, NiteRider Lumina)yes (NiteRider Lumina)yes (NiteRider Lumina)
Solar Charger (BigBlue 28W)nonomaybe
Ear buds (Jabra Elite Active)yesyesyes
Folding Bluetooth keyboardnoyesyes
Kindle eReadernomaybemaybe

The biggest factors here are whether I’ll be riding at night (most common with my ultralight gear list) and how often I’ll be recharging. I’m fortunate to have two different bikepacking bikes for different riding styles, and one has a dynamo hub. I’m more likely to have the dynamo hub for races and events, but I’ve also taken it on more leisurely trips in the US and overseas.

I have a lot more to say about electronics, navigation, and related topics. See these posts for details:

Several electronic devices for bikepacking
A partial collection of my bikepacking electronics.

Bike Tools and Spares

UltralightStandardLong International Travel
Mini pump (Pro Bike Tool)yesyesyes
Multitool with chain breaker (Park Tool IB-3)yesyesyes
Tire and tube repair supplies (patches, tire plugs, superglue, spare tube(s), tire levers)yesyesyes
Tubeless sealantyesyesyes
Spare tubeless valve stemmaybeyesyes
Chain lube and ragyesyesyes
Leatherman multitool with pliersyesyesyes
Spare chain section, ~5 linksmaybeyesyes
Master link pliers and master linkyesyesyes
Brake padsyesyesyes (maybe x2)
Spare brake and shift cablemaybeyesyes
Spare SPD cleat and boltsmaybeyesyes
Blue Loctite threadlocker (small tube)noyesyes
Presta-Schrader valve adapteryesyesyes
Valve core tighteneryesyesyes
Spare derailleur hangermaybeyesyes
Standalone allen keys in most common sizesmaybeyesyes
Zip ties, small amount of electrical tapeyesyesyes
Gear Aid repair tapemaybeyesyes

I modify my repair and spares kit for every single trip based on my bike, the route, how problematic a delay or unfixable problem would be, and how risk-averse I’m feeling. The tools linked above have withstood many thousands of miles and continue to be my favorites.

As you can see from all those “maybe” items above, I’m being noncommittal about my ultralight repair kit. That’s because I really prefer to be self-sufficient out there, and all those items are things I have carried for ultralight riding in the past. More recently I’ve started to experiment with trimming down my kit a little for short ultralight rides. But many of these items are small and light, and I know it’s only a matter of time before I need something and regret leaving it out.

I have an entire post dedicated to this topic, if you’d like to see my kit in more detail: My Tools and Spares Kit for Bikepacking.

Bike tools and spares kit laid out on table
Selection of tools and spares from my standard bikepacking gear list

Toiletries

UltralightStandardLong International Travel
Travel toothbrush, small toothpaste, flossyesyesyes
Hand sanitizer (small bottle)yesyesyes
Chamois butteryesyesyes
Small roll of toilet paper and ziplock bag for packing out usedyesyesyes
Deodorantnoa few chunks in a ziplock baggieyes
Travel razornomaybe, depending on lengthyes
Hairbrush (tiny travel size)yes – essential unless I want to cut off all my hair when the ride is over!yesyes
Soap (Dr. Bronner’s in tiny bottle)noyesyes
Sunscreenyesyesyes
Chapstick (for sun protection)yesyesyes
Carmex (for chapped lips)yesyesyes
Diva Cup (for menstruation)if neededif neededyes
Wet wipes (Dude Wipes or Wilderness Wipes)maybe 1 if water will be limitedyes (2-3 for emergencies)yes (2-3 for emergencies)
Small 12×12″ camp towelnomaybeyes
Nail clippersnonomaybe, but often I just use the scissors on my Leatherman

My toiletries logic is similar to my clothing logic: I try to make myself a bit more presentable when traveling abroad or spending more time off the bike. On longer trips I need a few additional items for “maintenance.” If I’m just pedaling through the woods for a few days all I do is brush my teeth, splash my body with water, and occasionally sanitize my hands.

When I say “small bottle” in the table above, I really mean small. Some of mine are as small as 1oz or even a tiny soy sauce container. For more, including container ideas and how to stay clean on the trail, see my post on Lightweight Toiletries.

Travel size toothbrush, paste, floss, and lip balm for backpacking
My simple toiletries kit for an ultralight bikepacking trip

Odds and Ends

UltralightStandardLong International Travel
First aid kit (customized for each trip)yes (minimal)yesyes (more extensive)
Camp/town sandalsnomaybeyes
Small stuffable backpacknoyesyes
RumbleRoller massage ballnomaybeyes
Helmet mirroryesyesyes
Bike lockdepends on routeyesyes
Ear plugsmaybeyesyes
Wallet and cash (small amounts for campgrounds)yesyesyes (plus passport, money belt, and extra USD if needed for exchange)
Bear sprayonly in grizzly territoryonly in grizzly territoryonly in grizzly territory
Pepper sprayyesyesyes
Paper map or backup navigation cuesif neededif neededif needed
Gear spread from one of my earlier trips in 2019.

More Bikepacking Resources

So there you have it, my three types of bikepacking gear lists. There are many ways to pack for bikepacking and I would never claim my approach is the only good one, but I hope it helps you make your own gear decisions and balance the many constraints of a bikepacking setup (weight, space, comfort, convenience…).

If you’re new to bikepacking and wondering where to start, my Bikepacking Trip Planner Workbook includes all the checklists, templates, and guided questions to get you started. There’s even a detailed gear checklist in spreadsheet form, if you’re into that.

You can also explore hundreds of articles in the bikepacking section of this website. A few gear-related highlights:

About the Author

Hi there, I’m Alissa, founder of Exploring Wild. I’ve traveled over 19,000 miles by bike and still can’t stop planning my next ride (and helping you plan yours). Pavement and panniers or singletrack and seat bag, I love it all. On my bike I feel free. Learn more about me here.

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    4 thoughts on “My Bikepacking Gear List System, from Ultralight to Ultra Prepared”

    1. Alissa, as usual, your attention to detail is amazing. Thank you for putting together these lists. I am also short and ride an XS Men’s Cannondale. Not much room under the seat, although last ride, I used the Ortlieb seat pack. It is pretty easy to jack up high enough so there’s space between the wheel and the seat. The one time I did forget to jack it up, there was an awful noise. It was the wheel rubbing against the thick plastic barrier on the bottom! I think I would have rubbed a hole in the pack if it wasn’t there. Anyway, I hate a front-loaded bike, but you’ve helped me realize there is indeed a bit more room up front than I give credit for. I usually ride with a CamelBak that carries my water and extra layers. I want to get rid of that, so maybe next time I’ll figure out how to put those things up front. Thanks for the great article! Oh, you have a picture with one of your hydration packs. It looks like a Foley bag filled with urine! LMAO!

      Reply
      • I hear you on the small bike problem, and the tradeoffs between hydration bladder and front loading. It really depends on the route for me. More technical and I’ll wear the backpack, but less technical and I prefer to load up the front. Good luck with your experimentation!

        Reply
    2. Great resource, thanks, took away some great new ideas on paring down for ‘racing’ (as a back-of-the-pack/happy-to-finish rider). I still can;t leave home without my tent. I like being able to get out of the elements/bugs. I am also spoiled by an XL framebag which is great for keeping as much weight as possible low and centred. cheers

      Reply

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