Over the last ten years or so there has been a growing trend (or sub-culture) in cycling for Bikepacking.
(I have added a few useful links at the bottom if you are interested).
If you're not familiar with Bikepacking then it's a bit like off-road bicycle touring encompassing anything from an overnight adventure with a bivvy, multi-day (or multi-week) racing like The Tour Divide, right through to global adventure travel. The great thing about Bikepacking is that it can take you as far, or near, from the beaten path as you desire. It has developed alongside the desire to have these adventures.
Pioneering routes like The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route or The Israel Bike Trail have given more mountain bikers a thirst for just such an adventure.
Hand-in- hand with its growing popularity are a bunch of companies innovating solutions to packing gear on a mountain bike. The age old practice of fitting pannier racks on a cycle tourer just doesn't work on a mountain bike.
This is where the likes of Alpkit, and others, have stepped up to the plate and filled in the gaps.
Before I begin I need to clarify that I get some discount from Alpkit. I still buy their products with my hard earned cash and before this arrangement I was an Alpkit customer paying full price, when this arrangement ends I will still be a customer. As a matter of personal integrity I wouldn't allow this arrangement to affect the honesty of my reviews either (fortunately in this case there is no conflict).
Alpkit first dipped a toe in the bikepacking arena some seven or so years ago and it has gone from strength to strength ever since. It is all made in their UK factory and they have had to progressively expand the workforce to try and keep up with increasing demand. They produce quality gear, and with their direct sell model that also equates to excellent value for money.
Their prices compare very favourably to other UK manufacturers such as Wildcat or Apidura, and they ship worldwide.
|The High Himalaya during Yak Attack 2015.|
Within their range they offer a good variety from bespoke frame bags, seat packs, handlebar mounted dry bags, and several cockpit options plus accessories.
Couple this with other products such as their Hunka Bivvy Bag, Sleeping Bags and Mats, and a myriad of lightweight camping choices, and you have the potential to build a complete adventure kit at very competitive prices; and all lovingly made with an ethos of sustainability, and social & environmental responsibility. I like that. (It is one of the reasons that I am an Alpkit customer).
I've been using mine for well over 18 months now and every item has proven to be reliable, functional, and hard wearing. I recently switched colours after giving away most of my original stuff to friends in Nepal.
|In use during a trip to Eastern Nepal.|
So far I've used the Koala Seat Pack, Airlok Dual 20L Dry Bag coupled with a Joey Handlebar Harness, a Custom Stingray Frame Bag, Possum Frame Bag, Fuel Pod - Small, and Fuel Pod - Medium top-tube bags. Along side these I have also paired them with a variety of the excellent Airlok Dry Bags (these are great; waterproof, lightweight, and hardwearing).
|Chee Dale. Peak District.|
The Koala Seat Pack (£65) is a 13 litre saddle pack with a roll-top closure system and three cinching straps for customised compression that pull it in nice and tight giving it good stability on the bike.
I've actually had mine customised with a couple of useful tweaks by factory manager Ben Meakin.
A hard locking buckle secures it firmly in place; I asked Ben for this because I have a small framed 29" bike and the clearance was at the bare minimum, so I didn't want to have to cinch it up every now and then, I needed it rock solid.
The new models actually now come fitted with both quick-release buckles for easy fitting & removal, and a pair of locking buckles for security, so the old issue of the pack working loose on rough terrain has now been addressed. (One of several recent updates to the range). Anyone using the old style Koala can now buy the locking strap to update yours too. Thumbs up for that one.
The other little addition I asked for was a couple of bar-tacked webbing straps to allow me to clip on a rear light for the odd occasion that I might be on the road after dark (see image below).
The industry standard VX21 material is extremely robust and repels water extremely well; Alpkit lay claim to the Koala being the lightest seatpack on the market for its size. If you want to keep things completely dry then you will need to pack with dry-bags or use Alpkit's bespoke Airlok Tapered 13l dry-bag (£18)(Incidentally this can be used as a super-light seat pack in its own right).
Alpkit's useful "ladder" webbing arrangement means that it will fit to any bike (I've had mine mounted on three different bikes with no issues whatsoever).
I've also zip-tied a Crud Catcher mudguard to my Koala to keep off the worst of any trail mud. It works very well and doesn't impede the bag in any way.
For those of you requiring less space they do a 3L version called the Kowari (£40). And for those of you wanting more space then the 17L Big Pappa Koala currently under development should fulfill that need comfortably.
|You can see how snugly it fits to the bike.|
|The locking buckle that Ben fitted for me really firmed everything up.|
|My little light straps are a very useful addition.|
Airlok Dual 20L Dry Bag (£15!) and Joey Harness (£15).
The Dual Dry Bag is exactly that, a dual ended dry bag!
It makes access and packing a very easy affair. It will easily take a sleeping mat, sleeping bag, and bivvy bag and still has room for an extra pouch of water/clothes when the need arises.
It comes with quick release dual webbing straps as standard and it can be mounted directly to the bike with these.
For additional stability on rough trails it's possible clip the roll tops around the handlebars too.
It is made from a heavyweight waterproof TPU fabric and has thus far proved a match for my misdemeanors. Fully taped seams mean that it is 100% waterproof.
It is also available in a smaller 13L version (£12.50).
I use the lightweight Joey Harness to give both the dry bag and the bike frame a little additional protection and I'd advise you to do the same. They also produce the stiffer Kanga Harness (£45) that elevates the bag to a slightly higher position and it is rock solid by all accounts (I haven't used one personally so you will need to investigate that elsewhere).
Custom Stingray Frame Bag. (Starting from £65)
This is a particularly excellent item of luggage.
In Alpkit's own words:
"The ultimate bike packing companion, Stingray is la creme de la creme of bespoke bike luggage. An exact match for your bike to maximise your available space. Where lightness is a virtue and pack size is paramount, Stingray will keep your gear encased in fast and light yet durable and dependable VX21"
Each one is made just for you via the instructions on the website. Don't worry it's a straight forward affair.
Fortunately you won't necessarily have to buy one for every bike you own either. I found that the bespoke one I had made for my Pivot LES still fits quite well on my other hardtails (as long as the frame is a similar size - mine are Small/16").
There are also loads of different options for pockets and access to choose from. I went for a Surgeon Pocket and a Document Pocket to suit my own personal needs and I love it.
The Surgeon pocket works particularly well and with the bike laying on its side it is really easy to pack and access all of your stuff.
It is best loaded with heavier items nearest to the bottom bracket for stability. I have crammed loads of stuff in to mine; camping stove/gas, cookware, water filter/pouch, maps, food, clothes, you name it. It's like a Tardis!
They even do a Fatbike version starting at £100, it might be the only bag you need on a Fatty! :D
|The excellent Surgeon pocket.|
|The Surgeon pocket has a handy flap protecting the zips from water ingress.|
Possum Frame Bag (S/M/L-£45/55/65).
Much the same as the Stingray but about half the size.
It's a useful option and I use mine a lot for shorter trips where I need to carry less kit. It is very handy on long day rides too and still leaves room for a bottle cage. Should be useful on many full-suspension bikes.
This only comes in the three standard options. It utilises the same webbing ladder attachment system as all of the other luggage.
Fuel Pods - Small & Medium (£22/25 - Lge £29).
I use these top-tube mounted bags the most. At least one of them is mounted on to my bikes at any given time. Racing, day rides, commuting, everything. They are dead useful for all of your smaller and most used items; food, tubes, tools, cable lock, phone, batteries, waterproofs, etc.
Great stability with the velcro straps, and surprisingly spacious.
Same quality material, same water resistant YKK zippers, same attachment system, foam lined for protection. The medium & large sizes now come with a discreet front facing cable port to connect your battery packs to your bar mounted gadgets.
The small and medium sizes suit me fine. The large is too big for my child-like frame sizing.
There are a number of items in the range which I have yet to try including the very useful looking Stem Cell - stem mounted bottle/accessory bag.
So to summarise:
Well thought out luggage by people who use it regularly.
Quality materials/components throughout. (Dimension Polyant VX21/YKK water resistant zippers/tough buckles).
Stable & secure.
Robust and hard wearing.
Water resistant/Waterproof (dry bags).
Very well made.
Great range of colours.
Alpine Bond 3 Year guarantee.
None. Buy it with absolute confidence.
Alpkit excel in producing products that are just right and often it is only with regular use that you begin to really appreciate this. It's the simplicity that I really like, no fussy extras, no fancy bits and bobs added for the sake of marketing. Kit that is designed to do a job and do it well.
Part 1 - Overview
Part 2 - Koala, Fuel Pods, and Possums
Part 3 - Stem Cells
Check out a few of the popular Bikepacking websites below:
Adventure Cycling Association
|On The High Peak Trail.|
|Lantern Pike. Peak District.|
|The Fuel Pods are useful for racing. Rumble in the Jungle - Sri Lanka.|
|The Strathpuffer 24 in Scotland.|
|During Yak Attack 2015 at 4500m.|