What happens when you combine the joys of mountain biking and excitement of outdoor camping? Bikepacking, of course.
Given the size of your transport, bikepacking allows you to explore places less traveled by riding on dirt roads and single-track trails. Simply put, it lets you experience an adventure like no other. And best of all, you don’t have to spend a lot to engage in this activity.
I said that right. No matter how simple backpacking may appear, it can become an expensive hobby given the specialized equipment you think you need. However, there is a way to make it just as fun without having to buy costly stuff.
Although you could be one of those who have deeper pockets, then I highly recommend that you should get bags and tools that are top quality. But, it is not sensible if you are doubling the weight of your twenty-eight-pound MTB because of all your expensive gear. You are only defeating the purpose of your bikepacking trip, and take a 4 by 4 instead.
While you have to make the most out of your two-wheeled transportation, you don’t have to complicate matters by bringing unnecessarily heavy loads. Doing this can easily turn your bikepacking into a trip that you will never embark on ever again.
The Case for Budget Bikepacking Gear
Interestingly, there is an increasing number of riders, regardless if they’re wealthy or not, who have turned to budget options to make their bikepacking much more worthwhile. One thing you’ll realize is that you can still manage to buy quality items at a fraction of the price if you just do some tenacious searching online.
Although sometimes, going for cheaper options can be a hit or miss. It will help if you can refer to an online feedback system or a recommendation from a friend. If you are successful at this endeavor, you will be able to enjoy the perks of high-priced gear with equally capable alternatives that will leave room for more adventures.
We’ll delve into bikepacking essentials that are not only minimalist and sensible but also friendlier on your pocket. We’re talking budget bikepacking gear that can cater to any type of bikepacker, financially-challenged or not.
You can use practically any type of bike when you go bikepacking. In fact, if you have an existing one such as an MTB, gravel bike, or cross bike, the better. You might need a few modifications to your rig though, depending on what you have. For instance, having eyelet racks and panniers may not be the most effective way to carry your things as you cross different trails for hours on end.
Because of all the hype surrounding bikepacking, brands like Trek are now also selling dedicated bikepacking bikes. They’re very expensive so you’re better of doing a few modifications to an existing MTB or road bike.
In case you have yet to buy one and intend to use it for this purpose, I highly suggest getting a short travel hardtail such as the Rocky Mountain Growler. It’s an aluminum hardtail with a solid saddle that provides comfort, considering the long hours of continuous riding. Ultimately, it has sound geometry and impressive features, yet it is reasonably priced under one thousand dollars.
You can take any of the following bikes according to the terrain you will likely be exploring on.
If you want to ride just about anywhere, you’ve got to have a gravel bike. It is great for exploring dirt roads, which has disc brakes that can accommodate a frame clearance for bigger tires of up to 55mm. This bike is designed for longer rides as well being a perfect commuter bike.
The gravel bike may look similar to an endurance road bike. The difference lies in its capacity to accept modified geometry. It has a longer wheelbase for more stable handling, especially on rough surfaces. As such, you will find it being used not only in bikepacking, but also during lightweight touring.
You can get affordable gravel bikes below five hundred dollars.
Generally, a mountain bike is suited for all terrains hence it is ideal for bikepacking. It can fit most bikepacking bags, with some being designed for bikepacking itself by having a more upright position, larger frame triangle, and numerous fastening points where you can mount mudguards, lights, bottle holders, etc.
A standard mountain bike with 26-inch wheels can range from 200 to 500 dollars. Aside from wheel size, the price will primarily depend on the suspension type, gears, among others. Once again, you can start off with your own bike if any, and build up when you have gained more experience. When you think it’s time for a new bike, there is an abundant selection you can choose from, with an MTB being a great option.
A hardtail is another versatile option for continuous riding, which you can avail of for less than five hundred dollars. It is that bike that has a front suspension, making it simpler, lighter, durable, affordable and more reliable compared to a frame with rear suspension.
You can customize your hardtail with a 150mm fork for long travel and plus-size tires. This will save you several hundred dollars instead of buying the full-suspension type. The simplicity of having fewer moving parts such as a shock and rear suspension system means less maintenance, which contributes to its overall durability.
Plus Tire Bike
There are MTB tires, which have optimized grip with their use of soft rubber compound materials. Although this move makes the bike perfect for trail riding, it doesn’t really benefit the rider who will take on a bike journey.
You should then consider 29+ bikes, which will best complement an epic bikepacking adventure. These bikes first came out during the summer of 2012 with Surly Bikes’ Instigator and Krampus models. Such bikes with massive tires expanded the realm of the simpler types, giving superior traction, extra floatability, and excellent rollover.
More than a year later since its introduction, Surly came up with a bikepacking Krampus. Since then, other companies took the lead with their 29-plus bikes that are catered to bikepacking. Nowadays, you can upgrade your current bike with 29+ tires that will cost under 100 dollars each.
Full Suspension Bike
This type of bike could be a suitable choice when you are thinking of bikepacking. It’s light and efficient handling of smooth surfaces is noteworthy to mention. The stiffer frame and fork facilitate loaded rides by letting the suspension do the work. All that physical exhaustion from nonstop biking is mitigated by its squishy feel.
With bikepacking being an all-year-round sport, it means you will encounter not only muddy roads on hot summer days. You are bound to ride on wet and snow-covered terrain as well. This is why fat bikes have increased their demand for winter bikepacking.
A fat bike is called as such because of their oversized tires, which are at least 3.7mm, with rims wider than 44mm. As a rule of thumb, the fatter the tire is, the cushier the ride will be. It is ideal for soft surfaces such as sand and snow. You can buy one for under 500 dollars.
When planning for a bikepacking trip, you should have bags for carrying the things you will use for your camping. And because you can ride any type of bike, bikepacking will not require you to have specific racks and panniers. Instead, you can have soft bags, which are lightweight and therefore, less cumbersome such that they will not negatively impact your bike handling.
On the other hand, bikepacking bags will entail strategic packing. You have to remember that you can’t bring your house with you. You have to be practical with your rig; it has a limited load capacity after all.
Your bikepacking set will usually consist of the seat pack, frame pack, and handlebar pack. It can also include additional accessory bags and peripherals. I’ll give you the bare bones on each of them. I’ll make sure I will you provide you with cheap yet good-quality options you can consider.
This bag is a key item in your budget bikepacking kit. It has a missile-shaped exterior that is wedged beneath the saddle, and strapped to the seat post. The spot itself can accommodate a volume of up to 14 liters. With a seat pack, it is significantly lighter than a rack and pannier combo.
The seat pack has a good wind resistance so that it won’t flap around even when you take on rough terrain. You can place your sleeping bag inside, especially if you’re using a full-suspension bike.
Here are examples of other things you can load up in your saddle bag: toiletries, shoes, first-aid kit, raw food items, a book, and other tools.
Some seat packs you can consider
- Lixada Bicycle Rack bag. This bag can adjust its load from 3 liters to 10 liters. Sells for 26 dollars on Amazon.
- Revelate Terrapin drybag. A compact bag that can hold up to 8 liters. Sells for 38 dollars on revelatedesigns.com.
- Specialized seat pack – large. This bag has a reflective patch for night visibility. Sells for 40 dollars on Specialized.com.
- Waterproof Bicycle saddle bag. It features an aerodynamic design and holds up to 10 liters. Sells for 50 dollars on Amazon.
- CamGo Bike saddle bag. Another waterproof option that has a tail light for added safety. Sells for 41 dollars on Amazon.
Cheaper hack: Grab a dry sack and ski strap. Place your load in the dry sack and use the ski strap to tie the opening around the seat post twice. These two items shouldn’t cost you more than 30 dollars in total.
This type of storage is attached to the triangle frame which consists of the seat tube, top tube, and down tube. It is attached using several Velcro strips, and can be placed on full-suspension, rigid, and hardtail bikes. Often, it is custom-fitted to the bike, but you can buy it in a standard size which makes it suitable for many bike types.
The frame pack is a good place to store heavy items because of the lower center of gravity of its location. The smaller ones will allow you to mount two water bottles.
Here are examples of things you can load up in your frame bag: multi-tool kit, stove, tent poles, spare water, small mobile device, fragile food items, camera, and charger.
Some frame packs you can consider
- Ibera Bicycle Triangle frame bag. This has a slim design with an anti-abrasive fabric. Sells for under 18 dollars on Amazon.
- RockBros Triangle large quick-release frame bag. It has an eight-liter capacity that uses waterproof and high-strength nylon. Sells for under 28 dollars on Amazon.
- Northseven 3L Carbon XL frame bag
This bag is waterproof with anti-slip mounting straps. Sells for under 38 dollars on Amazon.
- Banjo Brothers frame pack. Has a four-point attachment that allows a tube size of up to 3 inches in diameter. Sells for 40 dollars on jensonusa.com.
- Moosetreks Bike Full-frame bag. A water-resistant bag that has a large storage capacity. Sells for 42 dollars on Amazon.
Cheaper hack: If you want to take the DIY route, you can create your own custom frame bag for pennies. You will just need a cardboard signage, duct tape, velcro strips, and a creative mind.
The handlebar is the most sensible area to place your bag. A new generation of handlebar packs has a harness that is used to attach to the bar. It also has abrasion-resistant patches and supplemental pockets.
When considering its purchase, you should take note of the length and diameter of your bike. You should use a slimmer handlebar pack for bikes with a small frame or a front suspension. In case of a drop-bar bike, there are some handlebar bags that are practically designed for such.
Here are examples of things you can load up in your handlebar bag: snacks, a jacket, shirt, a pair of jeans, a sweatshirt, and sleeping bag.
Some handlebar packs you can consider
- Serfas Bar-tender handlebar bag. This one has an extra mesh storage pocket and a condensation drain hole that keeps it dry and clean. Sells for 26 dollars on jensonusa.com.
- Blackburn Outpost Carryall bag. It is perfect for storing snacks and its mounting can be adjusted to suit any bike. Sells for under 35 dollars on jensonusa.com.
- Revelate Designs Salty Roll handlebar pack. It works either through its own harness or using another carrying mechanism. Sells for 38 dollars on rei.com.
- Revelate Designs Mountain Feedbag handlebar
This bag provides great storage for food using only a single-handed access. Sells for 49 dollars on rei.com.
- RockBros Bikepacking bag. A large-capacity tube bag that can carry up to 21 liters. Sells for under 59 dollars on Amazon.
Cheaper hack: You will need a 20-liter dry bag and some ski straps. All you need to do is strap the bag in its center, around the bar and head tube. This one can hold your clothes and sleeping tent, which will only cost you less than 30 dollars for the bag and straps.
This is not really expensive gear, and oftentimes it’s already integrated with the bike design, which is on the downtube. However, when you are bikepacking, this spot would likely be occupied by your bags. As such, you should pick a bottle cage that can be mounted anywhere on the bike to maximize space.
Some bottle cages you can consider
- Planet Bike Aluminum water bottle cage. This bolt-on mounting cage has clean lines and lightweight durability. Sells for five dollars on rei.com.
- 50 Strong Bicycle water bottle cage. This 2-pack cage fits most standard-sized bottles. Sells for under 10 dollars on Amazon.
- Elite custom race water bottle cage. Its adjustable rubber adapts to different bottle shapes and helps absorb vibration. Sells for under 18 dollars on jensonusa.com.
What you would want to do is to place your bottle cage in the bottom part of your bike. An adjustable cage will be best so that you can bring more water in just one bottle. You will have to ensure that you use a padding tube to protect your paint as well as lots of tape to secure your bottle in place. And of course, there should be sufficient space between the front tire and the front tip of your water bottle.
When you are going for a day or two of bikepacking, you can grab food that will not require cooking instead of bringing a camp stove with you. It keeps it simple and hassle-fee, which is a great way to go about budget bikepacking.
You can bring nuts, cheese that is kept in wax cover, power bars, trail mix, bread, chocolate bars, etc. If these items are already in your fridge, this will translate to no additional cost on your part. If at all you need to buy, you can get these items at the grocery for 20 dollars or less.
For trips that will last for several days, you would want to buy dehydrated food packs, but that can be costly if you’ll buy for the entire duration of your expedition. It would help if you learn how to dehydrate your own food as it can save you hundreds of dollars.
Of course, don’t forget to bring water or at least, you should know where to refill your bottles on the site you will be camping on.
Again, you might have this already, and if you do, use it. You can store it compactly using a compression sack to fit in your handlebar pack. But if you need to buy one, you can get them anywhere from 25 to 50 dollars on sale.
In the world of budget bikepacking, you can make do with an improvised tarp using a rain poncho. It may not be the most comfy and spacious space to hunker down for the night, but it’s easier to load on your bike because it’s lightweight. Another alternative would be a bivy sack. Depending on the weather conditions this can be a low budget option.
This is necessary to keep your gear protected from the wet ground. A cheap hack would be to use several trash bag, or you could get a waterproof ground sheet for under 15 dollars.
First-aid kit and repair tools
In case you don’t have one yet at home, you can get a basic first-aid kit for around twenty dollars. As for your bike repair tool kit, you should bring a small one with only the essentials, which you might already have with you. A survival kit can also supplement your gear. This would cost you at least 30 dollars.
Gear Budget According to Bikepacking Skill
For your gear budget, we are assuming that you will not need to buy a bike for this purpose, but you don’t have the rest of the gear yet. As such, it will not only cover the cost for the bags but the sleep system, food and other miscellaneous items as well.
Beginner – Minimum 150 Dollars
You should not be intimidated because you can start small with your bikepacking trip for 70 dollars, even less with an overnighter. You can get a dry bag as your seat pack, which can be attached to the seat post using a ski strap. Then, get a handlebar roll and water bottle cages, which you can mount on the down tube or on the forks.
Intermediate – Minimum 500 Ddollars
For this type of bikepacking budget, you’re looking at 3 to 7 days of camping. You will therefore need to buy quality gear which can still be affordable. You will require all three bags that can be bought for about a hundred dollars each. They would be bigger in size because you’ll be putting days’ worth of clothes and food items during your trip.
Hustler – Minimum 750 dollars
If you’re doing this more frequently and much longer such that it’s become your lifestyle, you will naturally allocate a slightly bigger but reasonable budget. You might have to opt for custom bags for that perfect bike fit. Aside from the three main bags, you can add in a top tube pack, and stem bags on both sides.
Setting out on Your First Budget Bikepacking Trip
You have now established what you need and may have bought some of them or borrowed from a friend, it’s time to shred the trails! For starters, you can explore your local trails, which will help you get the hang of it. Make sure this trial has your bike loaded with your bikepacking gear in order to get the full immersion.
Follow it up with an overnight stay at the trail center. This will let you experience what it’s like to go out and survive when left on your own devices even if it’s just for a night. You will uncover potential problems with your bike when riding it for hours, and how your cheap gear will hold up.
A practice ride will also determine if bikepacking is something you’d like to be a significant part of your life or just an occasional activity. If you realize that it’s not for you, then at least you didn’t spend a lot on your equipment to have a buyer’s remorse. In fact, you can even return the items depending on their purchase policy.
While you can virtually attach any gear to your bike, aside from checking its weight, it has to be kept secure from vibration brought about by riding on harsh trails. Otherwise, this will cause them to shift or fall off, which can be frustrating, and delay your trip unnecessarily.
You must try to live with the most basic essentials in order to optimize your bikepacking journey. After all, your bike can only allow less room for gear so you have to make a careful consideration when packing stuff.
A Couple of Tips to Stay on the Cheap Side of Bikepacking
Now that we went through most of the gear and how to stey within your budget I’d like to mention a few tip
Don’t Buy Anything
You can try, at least. When you’re a bikepacking newbie, it’s best to make do with what you’ve got and improvise using your creativity, or with the help of online research.
The beauty of this activity is that you can use your existing bike, soft bags, etc., especially when you’re doing it for the first time. And of course, you can borrow these items as well. However, you should keep in mind the weight of your load as you don’t want to struggle with your ride throughout the trip.
Don’t Overload Your Backpack
Though many bikepackers hate backpacks, in some cases you’ll need one. Just make sure it’s small and very lightweight so it doesn’t get in the way. I sometimes carry a very and lightweight backpack for my camera. I don’t always bring it though.
If you want to maximize your load while maintaining it at a comfortable weight, you can add a backpack. It won’t add pounds to your loaded bike, at least not directly, because you will be carrying it, albeit on your back. Keep it short and light. Use a waist belt to keep it from flapping or shifting around while on the bike.
Don’t Overpack on Clothing
You can survive with the clothes you are already wearing. Yes, you might probably stink after a day of riding, but remember, it’s part of the experience. What you’ll need to bring though is a rain jacket or warmers depending on the season you are cycling.
Don’t Underestimate the Power of Electric Tapes
While others would use straps or cable ties, electric tape is also a cheap but more effective solution. I will protect your frame from scratching and at the same time, it provides a more secure attachment to your gear.
Don’t Skip the Tubes
When riding long distances, you can use your bike’s hollow tubes such as the handlebars to stash your spare cables and spokes inside. This will help relieve your bags from additional bulk that can destabilize its attachment to your bike.
Don’t Rule out Sharing the Experience
Although bikepacking is one of those fun things you can do on your own, it would be more enjoyable to do it with another person. You can ask a romantic partner or a good friend to share this activity with you. He or she may not be into it at first, but it can turn around and make your bond even stronger.
Budget bikepacking has made exploration possible without busting your wallet. It is also an eco-friendly way to discover your surroundings and even yourself. So go ahead and start shredding!