If I had a dollar for every time someone asked what to pack for fatbikepacking trips, I wouldn’t be rich, but I’d have enough for a couple of the coffee shop version of those fancy coffees that I make in the backcountry.
Mostly, the flippant answer is, “less.”
I’m not the most minimalist of bikepackers by any stretch, but I understand that it’s less work to carry less weight. Less work isn’t exactly more fun, but it’s close. Leave behind the untested gear, the stuff you think you might need, the heavy tools, the 3 changes of clothing, the board games, and the colouring books.
Why Those Goofy Bags?
Bikepacking has become synonymous with the seat, handlebar, and frame bag settup. There is nothing wrong with that setup, if it suits the purpose.
By purpose, I mean this. Those bags were originally intended to first make use of the valuable space within a frame, and second, not drag in the snow. The big problem with panniers is that they drag in snow and large panniers sit exactly where human hips and legs do when pushing a bike uphill.
If you aren’t planning to bushwhack or “pushwhack”. have no intention of pushing your bike up 45% grades, and you aren’t riding in the snow, then the seat and bar bags may not be the best choice. They are generally light though, so they aren’t a bad choice either.
Another unsung advantage of doing without panniers is that it forces you to carry less stuff, which helps to save weight.
What do You Bring?
No matter the season, my clothing routine is simple. I bring enough clothes to wear while cooking and fixing bikes in the coldest temperature I could encounter on the trip. I bring the same spares year-round, a pair of wool leggings or tights, a Buff, and a spare pair of socks.
That is all.
I again keep things simple. I bring a long handled spoon for each person. I bring one aluminum pot, I bring.a bowl for everyone else, and a sealable container for rehydrating that I also use as my own bowl. I bring a stove, sometimes alcohol beer can stoves, sometimes canister gas, and sometimes white gas. The aluminum pot ends up being the lightest of the pot options since it conducts heat so well, unlike titanium which is lighter material but requires more fuel. I have experimented with leaving the stove behind and just carrying cold food for short trips, but I really prefer to have hot food. Update: I was recently given a Patagonia Wood burning camp stove, It does save weight over carrying fuel, but I am uncertain if I will gain enough skill in using it that it will be practical for me.
I almost always do shorter 2-9 day trips without resupply points. I bring dehydrated foods, most of which I make myself since the store-bough packets are generally not very tasty and very expensive.
I love coffee. Coffee making supplies are the area where ultralight aficionados will cringe when they see what I bring. I start with an Aeropress, which is one of the best coffee making devices anywhere. I add a manual burr grinder to grind my fresh beans. If Tania is with me, I add a metal mug for heating milk in my water pot, a thermometer, an Aerolatte milk frother and a milk thermometer. All of this adds about a pound over the standard setup, which is Starbucks Instant Coffee Packets, which are good, but not good enough for a snob like me.
A tarp is the lightest shelter available, and in winter, it is generally the warmest and driest too. It is the driest because it doesn’t hold in humidity like a tent or bivy sack, and it is warmest because sleeping bag or quilt insulation isn’t compromised by moisture. I usually put a space blanket down below us to give us somewhere to put our things that isn’t the snow.
If it is clear, I’ll often skip the tarp to give me a better view of the sky, and to let even more moisture away.
After decades of experimentation, I’m pretty settled on my current system, though I am willing to alter things if new technology comes along.
In winter, I use a -10ºC sleeping bag (that’s the manufacturer’s rating, I say more like 0ºC) and a synthetic-insulated -10ºC camping quilt. In warmer weather, I will leave the sleeping bag at home. With a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm mat, and a foam mat underneath, I’ve been comfortable down to -40ºC.
I bring a first aid kit on every trip. I try to tailor it to the most likely events. I also take out the things that will freeze in winter. Even in winter, I carry bear spray, though I keep it in my inside pocket to keep it warm.
I carry a Garmin InReach messaging device (mine is an Inreach Mini) on my body and I advise everyone to do so. It is one of the only reliable methods to contact help in an emergency, and also a way for friends and family to track you from home.
I carry a headlamp, a headlight for the bike (it gets dark early, but the snow reflects light, so less bright with longer battery life), a lighter and a ferro rod, and some tools and repair items. I almost always carry an avalanche shovel, the shovel is light, and I can use it to dig out the entrance to an outhouse, or dig myself a spot to sleep. It is also a “pole” to support my tarp.
Where do you pack what for fatbikepacking?
I try to keep my weight balanced and low. That means heavy items like stove, fuel, water, and food go in my frame bag. If I am carrying kid’s gear, I bring a backpack and load it with light, but bulky items like sleeping bags. Other sleep items go in my handlebar bag, which I try to keep light for easier steering. My seat bag is big enough to fit my inflatable sleep pad, clothing, and more. When I carry smaller panniers instead of a seat bag, I use them for kids’ gear, and sometimes for sleeping gear.
Full Packing List (not including clothes being worn)
Tent or Tarp
Aeropress and Grinder
Aerolatte milk frother
Bowls (#people-1) and Rehydration Container
Water filter (summer only)
Repair Kit (Tenacious tape, Seam grip, String, zip ties)
Knife or pliers tool.
Sleeping bags and/or quilts
1 long johns (double as emergency pants)
Toque or sleeping hood
Sun hat or winter hat with brim
Ferro rod or 2 lighters
First Aid Kit
Emergency Blanket (doubles as a rain coat)
Rain Poncho (if rain is likely)
Cinch sack garbage bag as rain skirt
Book (often omitted)
Ultra-small towel for dish wiping
Duct tape wrapped on seat post
M5 and M6 bolt.
2-3 chain links
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