Bikepackers love to praise minimalism. But adding just a few extra ounces can be critical to truly enjoying your multiday bikepacking ride.
Usually, exploring the post-race “Rigs of the Tour Divide” roundup is an exercise in traveling vicariously from my desk.
But this time, I was approaching the annual list of bikepacking gear that the race’s winners used more studiously. I was preparing for a weeklong bikepacking trip in the Rocky Mountains along the Great Divide Trail from Salida to Steamboat Springs — and I wanted inspiration.
As I scrolled through the rigs, some of the ultralight setups made me wince. Not only were they exorbitantly expensive, but they were also brutally minimalistic.
For someone like me, who is perpetually cold and enjoys a little trail comfort, that wasn’t going to work. For me, the perks of toting along a few luxury bikepacking items (and maybe an occasional tallboy) outweigh a little extra weight and time on the trail.
And I know I’m not alone.
Bikepacking Through Barriers of Entry
When I mention how much I love bikepacking in a conversation, even with fellow cyclists, I often hear, “I’d love to do that!” quickly followed by, “but I don’t have the gear.”
But if the difference is between going light or going at all, grab some bungee cords, and let’s go! There’s nothing wrong with strapping a milk crate to a rack and filling it with your car camping gear. This was precisely how I approached my first bikepacking trip.
The obsession with minimalism creates a mental and financial barrier to entry into the sport. Many potential riders feel the entry fee is $1,000 in gear plus a minimum $3,000 bike.
Even reviews suggest an affordable gravel bike “isn’t worth making.” That’s a fairly reductive idea for a sport with prices driven up over the past 2 years by inflation and supply-chain issues.
Steel is the cheapest material for gravel bikes, and luckily for bikepackers, it can be the most comfortable. It’s durable and absorbent enough to get you over washboard trail sections and rocky roads. Look for double-walled rims with wide clearance and a bike with plenty of mounts.
Or if you’re really cash-strapped, grab an old ’90s Rockhopper and a pack of zip ties. It’ll be more challenging, but you can bet it’s been done.
If minimalism is your bag, I’m happy for you! There’s nothing wrong with that. And I hope your internal temperature keeps you warm on the coldest nights.
But for others looking to try the sport, don’t hold back because of a lack of ultralight minimalist gear. Just bike pack to your budget and go ahead and pack the things that will make your trip more comfortable (within reason).
I took off on my trip, ready to pedal 250 miles on a bikepacking rig weighing probably 60 pounds. Here are a few things I carried that would have made weight weenies cringe. But they made my trip infinitely more enjoyable.
Minimalism Bikepacking Is Overrated: Here’s the Heavy Gear I Carry
1. JBL Clip, 7.36 oz. – $50
Usually, I love tuning into the sound of the woods, the breeze, or the occasional incensed herd of cattle when I’m bikepacking. But there were some sustained 11% grade passes that this asthmatic Midwesterner might not have made it up without the cadence of Kate Bush pulsing through the air.
The carabiner conveniently attaching the speaker to the gear hook on my Zeitgeist pack was clutch. I could lean over and switch on the tunes while climbing Ute Pass or trying to outrun the storm clouds rolling in with some extra motivation.
It’s light, waterproof, and durable. And it adds a lot of entertainment value.Check Price at Amazon
2. GSI Outdoors Spice Missile, 2.3 oz. – $11
This handy little spice carrier is the GOAT of bikepacking and backpacking trips. Whether you’re contending with infamously tasteless MREs or wanting to add some flavor to whatever it was you wrapped in a tortilla shell the day before, it’s the best thing I carry into the woods.
As a mushroom forager, I also bring along a small piece of tin foil and a packet of soy sauce. Then if I stumble across chanterelles or chicken of the woods during their season, I’m fully prepared to prepare some fungi.Check Price at REI
3. Kindle Paperwhite, 7.34 oz. – $140
Once in the tent, I oscillated between really leaning into the pain at the end of the day with the poetry of Kate Baer and escaping my world entirely through the science-fiction of Octavia Butler. Whatever literary medicine I needed, the Kindle was a luxury item I couldn’t have gone without.
I also downloaded some field guides for the trip so that every campsite could be an ecological scavenger hunt.Check Price at Amazon
4. Kuju Coffee Pocket Pour Overs, 0.65 oz. each – $30 for 12
We can discuss the American overconsumption of caffeine some other time. While on the trail, I want coffee, and specifically, I want good coffee. The Kuju pour overs are great backpacking and bikepacking accessories that taste great and don’t take up much space.
5. Stanley Adventure Nesting Cook Set, 20.4 oz. – $25
This little pot of mine has been in the backwoods of the Tetons and on the beach at Olympic National Park. It’s perfect for single- or double-serving dinners and boiling water. It even comes with its own compact set of cups, which are ideal for enjoying that coffee you brought along.
And honestly, an insulated mug of coffee on a cold morning may be my favorite thing about being out in the wild. The brief moment of respite in a beautiful setting before you pack up and grind again makes it all worth it.Check Price at Stanley
6. Teva Sandals, 12.2 oz – $55
Off-bike shoes are invaluable — especially if you’re riding clipless. Tevas are my go-to bikepacking camp shoe. They’re durable, comfortable, and easy to slip in and out of quickly. But they aren’t exactly light. Still, to me, the dual function-comfort combo they offer is well worth bringing them along.
Even on chilly nights, the shameless dad look of my Darn Tough socks under the Tevas never failed.Check Price at REI
7. Sea to Summit Reactor Thermolite Sleeping Bag Liner, 8.7 oz – $63
Have I mentioned I’m often cold? Most summer nights in the mountains were mild. But in addition to my decidedly not-that-packable sleeping bag, this liner made the nights when the temperature dipped far more comfortable.
I was most grateful for that extra insulation when we rolled into the near-abandoned Selkirk Campground just south of Boreas Pass after dark. Dripping from the rain, exhausted from our shortcut attempt, we fell into our tents to sleep before bothering with dinner.
At that moment, this liner made all the difference for me. It adds more bulk than weight but is worth the space it takes up. A cold and sleepless night makes for a long day in the saddle.Check Price at REI
Making Bikepacking Comfortable
All of these items added up to a total luxury additional weight of 60.9 ounces (slightly less weight than a half-gallon of milk). By adding that, I could make coffee in the morning, add spice and flavor to my food, listen to music on the trail, and read a book at night while warmly snuggled up.
No, I wasn’t the lightest-packed rider on the trail. But I was definitely one of the most comfortable.