In general I don’t mind wearing a pack when riding a bike. In fact a lot of the time I think it’s the best place to carry stuff if you have to haul it with you. For example hike-a-biking tough terrain with a pack is definitely preferable to all that weight on my bikepacking rig. Similarly riding rough technical terrain with weight in a pack I find a better option than no pack and an extra heavy bike. It just so much easier to throw the bike around and respond to the tech. That said if I can reduce my load down to a very minimal level so my bike is not overly burdened I do enjoy riding packless.
Trail riding is the time this makes the most sense since I am not far from the trailhead and I don’t need to have too much with me. The obvious way to do this is to ride with nothing. Easy to do, but I am not a fan of being thirsty or walking a bike back to the car with a simple mechanical like a flat tire. So the challenge for me was finding that balance between having so much “What If?” gear I needed a pack vs. having so little stuff I was walking or having to borrow things from a better prepared friend.
One of the factors that made me choose the Knoly Endorphin is that it can take a water bottle in the frame unlike my other two full-suspension bikes. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but one water bottle in an easy to reach spot makes packlessness much easier. It also means there is space in the frame for a frame bag, which is nice for bikepacking.
With a water bottle sorted the next issue is carrying tools/spares. I am not going to be that guy with walking back to the car with my bike because I had one CO2 cartridge and I misfired it or my tubeless failed and I didn’t bother bringing a spare tube. My minimal gear requirements are:
- spare tube
- tubeless plugs
- multi-tool with chain breaker
- spare quick-link
That’s not a lot, but it’s not nothing either. Luckily I have a Porcelain Rocket frame bag that will hold all of my gear under the downtube including a small pump. It goes on the bike fast and comes off easy so I can ditch it if I am going to wear a pack. I like to keep both my pack and this frame bag loaded at all times rather than moving stuff back and forth. There is less chance I forget something that way. Having the weight down low on the bike is nice and I don’t notice it at all when riding.
The main downside to this setup is that the frame bag will see a lot of muddy spray from the front wheel in winter. I’ll have to do a really good job of wrapping the contents in plastic so they are not ruined. Luckily I have access to a bag sealer at work so I can waterproof my gear easily.
One water bottle and this basic set of tools/spares works great for rides up to 2hrs in everything, but really hot summer conditions. At the peak of summer and/or for longer rides I need more than one water bottle to drink. My solution is a cheap MEC fanny pack. It’s nothing special, but a 710-800ml bike bottle will fit inside. There is even room for an energy bar and a light windbreaker. I wasn’t sure if I would dig wearing a fanny pack, but after trying it there is no issue at all. In fact since I drink the water in it first the fanny pack very quickly becomes unnoticeable when I ride. I have a couple older MEC fanny packs that can hold 1L in a soft bottle plus some gear if that was needed. I haven’t messed around with this mid-weight setup outside of my man cave so I am not sure at what point of water/gear load I am over fanny packs.
With 1.4L of water I’m good for 3-4hrs of riding depending on the temperature, which covers pretty much all my normal rides. For 5-7hrs+ epics there is no getting around a pack and the 3L+ of water it will carry plus the extra food and some additional spares [like a derailleur hanger] that are a smart idea to carry. Not to mention a first aid kit and a Delorme InReach for true emergencies.
If I am feeling like snapping photos I’ll throw a camera on my belt or the fanny pack waist strap. I’ve been experimenting with carrying my smartphone on rides. It provides a decent camera and I can make a call in the case of an emergency if there is cell reception. I am a bit paranoid about strapping nearly $1K worth of delicate tech to my hip, but I sort of feel like I need to get over that and just use the damn thing vs. buying a cheap-ish point and shoot. The jury is still out on this!
Going packless feels nice, keeps me cooler and forces me not to carry anything extra. On the other hand I don’t have everything with me I would have in my hydration pack. So far I haven’t regretted it, but I can see some rare situations where I might. As long as I am not running out of water, walking my bike back to the car or having to borrow stuff from my friends I figure I am doing it right. 🙂