If cyclo-touring challenged mountain biking to a race 'up through that gate - first one back eats the egg sandwiches', the mash-up of frames, bags and newly-adjusted attitudes that returned might well represent the birth of bikepacking - that new-but-not-really blend of camping, trail riding and good times adventuring. With its roots firmly planted in turned-up trousers meandering, the bikepacking boom has swept up bike makers and rubber merchants alike, and goes some way to explaining the gravel bike wave that has even carbon-coated roadies eyeing their tyres nervously, wondering if what was perfectly good yesterday, is now wide enough, or altogether too smooth.
Whether bikepacking is genuinely new, or just a modern incarnation of touring is probably not the point though (we don’t want to be the Aran sweater-wearing naysayers in this debate). Because one thing is for sure, more people cycling and getting out into the wilds can only be a good thing. And whether they do that on a disc brake-equipped, wider tyre machine, or a modern-meets-classic touring bike like a Stanforth, matters not a jot.
With wanderlust nibbling at your toes, if you’re planning to leave civilisation for a few days, or even a few years, once you have purchased a bike and your bikepacking shoes, you’ll need to consider bags (and, the lilies). From simple top tube affordances to saddle-slung seat packs, carrying enough stuff for even extended trips is now a simple matter of choosing your bag and slapping it to your machine.
Rather than make this a bikepacking bag 101, we’re going to list instead four of our favourite bag brands, and leave it up to you to explore their wares. If we haven’t started a raging debate on the existential nature of bikepacking, we’ll eventually raise our heads above the mobile pizza oven, mix a Bloody Mary with the blunt end of a spork, and in the next episode, talk camping.
Established in October 2017, Helmut is run by adventure cyclist Rodolphe Pascuito, who spends his time crafting refreshingly vibrant bikepacking and more traditional touring bags from his workshop in Cognin, a small city next to Chambéry in south-eastern France. Sat somewhere at the intersection of touring and bikepacking, this former architect's stylish and stoutly-made bags are a welcome addition to a market that is often guilty of defaulting to a drab black or olive colour palette.
Ordering will be made easier once his new site launches in August, but for now, pop in a request, and Rodolphe can send your bag anywhere in the world once payment is settled via bank transfer.
Hailing from Seattle, Washington, Swift Industries was started by friends Martina and Jason, who took some of their innovative problem-solving skills from the outdoors, and applied them to building a company. All of which helped them deal with knotty start-up problems, such as, if you see a bear in the office bathroom, do you scream manically and reach for the pepper spray, or engage in polite, gender-neutral small talk while you wash hands?
At the same time, this dynamic duo wielded their impressive backcountry chops into making a superb range of bike bags, and curiously, fishing tackle; a move which makes sense given that a lack of mid-adventure calories can make even the most polite cyclist, ‘a bit snappy’.
Like our Fixed England shoe collection, Restrap make their products by hand in Yorkshire, England. A real family business, Restrap began life in a back bedroom, where founder Nathan, armed with a single sewing machine, turned out pedal straps first for himself, and then for friends. A few years down the line, and Nathan’s Carry Everything range - a rackless touring system that attaches to any bike, without mounts or screws - has come to epitomise the simple purity of fast, pannier-less bikepacking.
“To infinity and beyond!”, or at least, to the nearest campsite. But for Porcelain Rocket, so-named by founder Scott Felter’s early interest in this elusive ceramic material, humanity’s urge to venture into the literal and figurative unknown has provided a deep vein of inspiration for this much loved Canadian bikepacking bag brand.
Formerly a pure custom outfit, Scott decided to move to a standardised product line in 2016, and he’s never looked back. For many riders, Porcelain Rocket’s Fusion is the bikepacking seat pack of choice. Known for its stability and light, yet impossibly durable construction, the Fusion totes a stiffened Cordura holster to help eliminate in-saddle sway, a removable dry bag, an integrated mini rack and a simple seat post clamp fitting.
Photo credit: @skylerdesroches