Gear Up for Long Miles: 10 Essentials for a Bikepacking Epic

A former Tour Divide champion told GearJunkie what’s in his kit on race day, and we want to share it with you. It’s all the gear you need to finish a bikepacking epic.

Most gear has a defined purpose, and you either need it for your adventure or you don’t. But the gear you bring on a bikepacking race is trial and error — you’re your own guinea pig. Because what works for one may not work for another. Weather, conditions, altitude — gear is a puzzle with pieces procured and fitted through experience.

Bikepacking kit

This week we sat down with Josh Kato, winner of the 2015 Tour Divide, to learn what gear he brings on a self-supported bikepack race.

10 Gear Tips for a Bikepacking Race

1. Bike

You can’t ride an epic without one. While your bike doesn’t necessarily need to be a dedicated “gravel” bike, you’ll be better off with a bike that matches the terrain.

Some courses may be more suited for flat bars, but I prefer drop-bar mountain bikes, like Salsa’s Fargo or Cutthroat. I really enjoy the multiple hand positions it gives you. And I almost always add bolt-on aero bars. They are great for relieving pressure on hands during straight or smooth sections of the route, and they provide a place to mount accessories such as GPS, lights, and to lash spare food.

Ultimate 'Tour Divide' MTB: Bike-Packing Build For 2,745 Miles
Ultimate 'Tour Divide' MTB: Bike-Packing Build For 2,745 Miles

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Also, consider gearing. Unless you’re familiar with the course, having a wider range of available gearing is better than being stuck wishing you had more. My bikepacking bikes are all set up with 2x or 3x cranksets. I’ve never done a bikepack race with less than two chainrings, and I much prefer my triple. A 3×10 is my current setup. I’m probably in the minority with this, but I really like multiple chainrings.

2. Packs

There are lots of options, including bags, panniers, and backpacks. I’m all for bags that strap to your bars, seat, or frame. They’re simple, reliable, and, weigh much less than panniers and racks.

I almost always use a small hydration pack. They don’t weigh much when empty but can be lifesavers when filled with food and extra water for long sections with no resupply options. My favorites right now are Apidura Expedition bags for the bike and a Mammut MTR 201 trail running backpack for my body.

(Note, the MTR 201 is no longer in the Mammut line, but check out the brand’s other trekking and running packs here.)

3. Lights

If you’re out for more than a day ride, you’ll need lights. The kLite lighting system powered by a Schmidt hub has been pretty bombproof on my solo bike and my tandem. I’ve used the Sinewave Revolution charger with success, but I feel that the new kLite charger is superior.

I also carry a Fenix LD22 AA battery-operated light as my backup/auxiliary light. I strap it to my handlebars or helmet with a Two Fish mount.

4. Water purification

I prefer clean tap water to filtration, but that’s not always possible. So I always carry a Sawyer Mini Filter and some Potable Aqua purification tablets. The Sawyer has been great. You can drink out of mud puddles with it like a straw or fill your bottles with it. The tabs require a wait time but are a great backup item. Not all tabs and filters work against certain organisms, so take heed and match to your needs.

Still, I usually have a high water-carrying capacity, around 10 liters between my frame bag, bike bottles, and backpack. I find carrying a little extra water weight is faster than stopping to refill.

5. Sleeping Kit

Ah, my puffy suit! For the past few years, I’ve thinned this kit down to a Montbell Ex Light Down Anorak, Goosefeet Gear down pants, and down booties. It’s ultralight, ultrasmall, and very warm. Just don’t get it wet, or you’ll have that wet dog look (and smell).

As for bedding, I’ve been going without a sleeping pad for a few years now. I prefer the bare ground or a bed of pine needles. My wife, Valerie, tried my method during our tandem assault on the Smoke and Fire a few years ago, and she hated it. To this day, she still carries a sleeping pad. So you’ll need to decide between comfort and weight.

6. Shelter

I usually bring a Montbell Sleeping bag cover. It’s not much of a shelter, but it’s mostly waterproof, light, and small. My favorite shelter is none at all: just a big tree overhead and pine needles below. But I do sometimes use my rain gear over my down jacket and pants if I don’t have a bivy and the weather is wet or snowy.

And I always carry a space blanket. It’s saved me a few times.

7. Clothes

My kit is pretty slim: a small beanie hat, a Buff, arm and leg warmers, sun sleeves, shorts, and a jersey. And my sleep kit also doubles as my warm clothing kit.

For rain, I use Montbell’s Versalite jacket and rain pants. I pair it with waterproof rain mittens and warm liners.

You really don’t need much to go far, but having windproof and warm clothing from head to toe can save your life.

8. Chamois Butter

I mix my own and apply twice a day. I use equal parts clotrimazole cream and benzoyl peroxide cream. I also mix in some A&D ointment if I get some hot spots.

And don’t forget wet wipes — they are key. Cleanliness!

9. Shoes and Socks

I always use oversized shoes, up to a full size or more too big. It’s important (for me) to allow the feet to swell over the repeated 20-plus-hour days on the bike. Plus, you have room to layer up socks or add water barriers if needed. (You can also wiggle your toes freely to the tunes in your head.)

My favorite socks are Drymax Cold Weather running socks and NRS HydroSkin 0.5 Wetsocks. Warm when wet is key. The combination of dry and warm proves an elusive luxury.

10. Organization

Where you pack your gear depends on how wet it will be and how often you’ll need to grab specific items. So it really depends on the weather.

Generally speaking, my sleep and shelter kit is in the front roll on my handlebar, and my clothing is in the seat bag. Water and tools go in the frame bag, and food sits in top tube bags or a backpack.

I find it more important to make sure everything is strapped down, closed, and secured than it is to have a specific location for everything. I like to utilize one of the strap-on accessory pockets that goes onto the front roll bag as a go-to. I start with it empty and then use it as needed on the course.

(If you’re a visual learner, you can check out this illustrated bikepacking guide.)

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Steve Graepel

Contributing Editor (and Gear Junkie Idaho Bureau Chief) Steve Graepel is allegedly a crook and a thief, conning his friends to steal away time from their families in pursuit of premeditated leisure, which typically involves a bike, a pack-raft, skis, running shoes, climbing rack, or all of the above.


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