Bikepacking 202 – Ditch The Backpack

by Andy Amick on December 5, 2013

in Bikepacking

One of the best ways to make the physical aspect of bikepacking more enjoyable is to remove all weight from your back.  It may not seem like much, but over multiple days of riding, the shoulders and back get quite tired.  Getting rid of the backpack involves getting all water, food, gear, and tools packed into bags attached to the bike.

A lot of mountain bikers use hydration packs, and the first thought that comes to mind is “what about my water”?  As a user of hydration packs since the early CamelBak versions (the days of no padded straps and no storage pockets), I agree that having quick and easy access to water is not something I want to give up.

Luckily, there are two easy methods to get rid of the backpack, carry plenty of water, and still use a full set of bikepacking bags.  And yes, it’s possible without spending a ton of money.

Option 1 – Keep using a hydration bladder

New cockpit with GPS, computer, and hydration tube for drinking

Ditch the backpack, but not the bladder.  It can be stored in the frame bag with the hose routing up to the handlebars for drinking.  Same bladder, different location.  (Cue the bladder jokes because I’ve already thought of several while typing this).

See the review of a frame bag that uses this technique for more details on how the bladder integrates with the frame bag.  The bags for most medium sized or larger bikes will hold 100oz bladders – either standard or a lumbar styles.

The drinking tube coming out of the frame bag can loop around the stem and handlebar as shown to the right.  Using a retractable id holder keeps the drinking tube secured to the handlebar while still allowing the tube to extend towards the rider.  Drinking from the tube in this manner is a little more difficult than using a hydration pack.  However, it’s an acceptable trade-off considering the weight of 100oz of water is removed from your back.

Option 2 – Switch back to water bottles

jpaks ruksak bottle holderI like using a hydration bladder as much as the next person, but don’t give up on water bottles just yet.  Even though a full frame bag covers up water bottle cage mounts, there are holders that are more convenient than frame mounted cages.  JPaks makes the RukSak that fits in the space between the handlebar and stem.  It will hold a water bottle in the main padded compartment and other items can fit in the mesh side pocket.

One holder on each side of the stem plus another bottle inside the frame bag gives almost 100oz of water carrying capacity.  My preference is a soft sided Platypus bottle to carry inside the frame bag because it can be collapsed when not needed.

The RukSak uses velcro straps to attach to the stem and bar.  There is also a lower strap that connects to the fork crown to keep the bottom of the holder from swaying.  As shown in the picture, the RukSak does not interfere with other cockpit items such as a light, GPS, or computer.  All but the stubbiest of stems can accommodate a holder on each side.

Bye, Bye Backpack

I’ve been using the second option for the last few months while my hydration pack has been gathering dust.  After riding this way for both short and long rides, it feels great to have zero weight on my back.  I won’t be going back to a hydration pack any time soon.

With either option, shoulders are happy, backs are happy, and bikepacking becomes more fun.  And that is the ultimate goal.

About Andy Amick
A little bit nutty in general, a lotta bit nutty about bikes. Each of his boys received a bike helmet for their first birthday and the three of them have been biking together ever since.

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