Luggage, It’s All About Lugging.
You kids these days have it easy!
Back when I started bikepacking, there were few options for bags. I tried panniers a few times, and while they were fine on gravel roads, they sucked a lot once the trail closed in and they started grabbing on rocks and trees. In snow, panniers start to drag in deep snow, and they often sit exactly where I want to put my leg for pushing. These days there are many commercial choices for bikepacking bags.
The ideal bikepacking luggage is none at all. Bikepacking Nirvana would involve endless singletrack while carrying nothing but the clothes on your back. Of course then you wake up and realize that you need food to live, want shelter from the elements, and want to be able to fix your bike when it breaks. You’re going to need something to carry that with you.
Back in my day we had the strap!
My first ever MYOG project for bikepacking was a strap. I then made two more. I rode for years with dry bags strapped front and rear on my bike. While it isn’t ideal, or as slick as the modern systems, it worked well enough, and it is hard to beat nylon straps for lightness.
There are many people who build their own custom frame bags as well. Usually, these are for unusually shaped frames that do not have easily available commercial frame bags. Sometimes they are simply to save money. In either case, they are a great addition to any bikepacking rig, since they place weight low and in the center of the bike. I haven’t ever made my own frame bag, I’ve modified some commercial ones, but one of the first things I do when I get a new bike is to buy a frame bag from Porcelain Rocket. If I was making my own, I would probably copy some of the features of their roll-top frame bags, especially the 52Hz with its Voile strap closure.
I don’t really make frame bags, but here is someone who did.
Here are some pictures from my friend Sheldon (link is to his InstaGram feed), he is a newcomer to bikepacking and made sure his family were properly equipped for their adventures. His family’s bikes range from small, to very oddly shaped frames. The level of customization to make these bags work would have been outrageously expensive from a commercial builder, so he sewed his own. They are very polished for a first bag and have some pro features like key clips, foam to prevent rattle against the frame and contrasting liner to be able to find things in the bottom of the bag.
For more on DIY frame boxes, check out my friend Vik’s piece on a coroplast frame box.
Sometimes home-made gear is nothing more than modifying a “real” product to make it more suitable for your style. My go-to hydration system for winter bikepacking was a hydration pack that I altered to have the hose exit via the bottom so that it went under my arm. I then insulated the hose with pipe insulation and sewed some more insulation to the back of the pack to shield it from the cold. I still have not seen a commercial version of this winter hydration pack.
Seat bags are a great way to get rid of the rear panniers that are so prone to dragging in the snow and catching on my leg. My original seat bag was nothing more than a dry bag strapped to a seatpost rack. I do not recommend seatpost racks in any way, especially after breaking a seatpost on the second last day of a 550km winter race. These days, I use Porcelain Rocket seatbags since they are lighter than the rack and drybag and they are certainly better integrated.
Handle bar bags are a mainstay of the bikepacking scene. Front panniers are great on any kind of tour that doesn’t involve technical terrain. As soon as the snow, singletrack, rock gardens and other technical terrain hit, front panniers become a liability. A bunch of people have sought to address this with bar mounted bags. My first bar bag was supported by a set of Profile aero (aka triathlon) bars. The Aero bars supported the bag away from the cables and provided a bit of lift so I could easily stack the bags and strap them on. This was and is a huge step up from the classic system of strapping a dry bag to the bars. As time goes by, I have used several different systems, including, baskets, porteur racks, commercial harnesses and others. All of the systems work, but they also all offer varying levels of functionality at vastly differing weights.
The ideal bar system in my mind would allow the bag to be supported without affecting pogies or brake levers, and would be light and versatile. My MYOG versions have ranged from the aforementioned strap and aero bar systems, to the most recent which is 3D printed spacers and Voile ski straps. The next step is to integrate it with a bag harness so that a quick-access pouch could be added to the front.