If you’re regular reader of this blog, you will know that I love nothing more than jumping on the bike without a rucksack. Recently, I’ve been carrying a massive rucksack full of camera stuff, but there’s nothing more freeing than just getting out to ride from time to time. Now that’s not to say that I don’t go underprepared when I leave the bag at home. I’m not trying to advocate heading out on the trail without the proper equipment (spares, food, water). I just mean that it can be done without a bag… if you’re prepared to strap a few things to your bike here and there.

First things first, you need to know that packless riding isn’t a compromise of equipment. It’s a way of riding the same trails as normal without having to take a rucksack. Some of us simply just don’t like them. It’s also not about trying to persuade people to throw their backpacks away – sometimes they’re needed. It’s just providing the option, should you choose it, to ride your bike without having to have your beloved Camelback with you. Everything else should be nearly the same as always.

With all that said, let’s have a look at my packless set up for 2020. This is the exact kit that I’ll be using moving forward into the new year. Nothing in this list is sponsored (*Although I have used some Amazon affiliate links which I would be grateful of the support – I get about 7% back from your purchase – it costs you nothing extra) and everything has been tested. It’s my exhaustive list of gear to get that backpack off your back.

Bib Tights.

Don’t worry, they’re underneath the baggies. The point in wearing bibs ins’t just for the comfort provided by a chamois (although that’s lovely); it’s for the pockets. The space on the back of the bibs is enough for jelly babies, multi-tools, a bottle and spare GoPro batteries… or whatever it is you want to put in there.

The specific pairs of bibs I wear are either the Specialized SWAT bibs if I’m riding a short trail and only need a bottle. For me, the fit and comfort is the winner. They’re by far the most comfortable shorts I’ve ever worn and the pockets sit great on the back. Mine are a couple of seasons old now and Specialized have since released a new version or two with a zipper pocket which looks great.

If the ride is longer, and a bottle won’t do, it’s the Raceface Stash Bibs. Much like the other bibs, there’s plenty of room in the pockets for whatever you need. Unlike Specialized, the Raceface bibs also come with a pocket on the centre of the back which is big enough for a 2 litre bladder (although they recommend a 1.5L). This gives me the same pocket storage as the Specialized bibs but lets me take enough water for a longer trail if I need to. Because it’s inside the pocket of the bib shorts, there’s no swinging or moving like a rucksack and, at least to me, feels more comfortable.

Bottle

For those shorter rides I’ll often ditch the hydration bladder and just take a bottle. Often, at trail centres with short runs or bike parks with uplift, a bottle is all I’ll need as I can refill between laps.

The Fabric cageless water bottle is a great bit of kit and for a long time was my only water solution if the ride was less than 3 hours long. The idea behind the bottle is that there’s no cage left on the bike when the bottle is off. For those who don’t like strapping stuff to the bike this could be a big selling point. For me, it was the security. Aside from one run down Steel City DH at Grenoside, the bottle never came loose in over a year of use – and that one time was user error.

When the Fabric bottle is in the wash, or I don’t want to run a bottle on the frame, I use a foldable water bottle instead. Mine is the Platypus soft bottle which lets me take one litre on the trail and, as I drink, folds down smaller and smaller in my bib pocket.

Tools

There’s no way I’d be heading out without the right gear to get me back up and running should I have a bit of a problem. What’s different to when I was using a backpack was that I’d be taking unnecessary tools out with me just because I had the space; now it’s just the minimal to get myself sorted and back to the trailhead for a proper fix.

The multi-tool I now carry is a Crankbrothers F10 because of its tiny profile and incredibly light weight. It is worth mentioning that it lacks some tools that you might think are important but I’m prepared to sacrifice (like a chain tool). There are other options but, like I said, I’m after a multi tool that’s going to get me back to the car and let me sort the rest out there.

Another reason I don’t carry a chain tool is because I’m using a SRAM chain and a ‘power lock’. This means I can get the chain on and off with nothing other than a shoelace. Fingers crossed, if the chain ever breaks it’ll break at the weakest point (being the power lock) so it should just be a case of swapping out the old one for the new. Storing these are easy – some folk tape it to the brake cables – when taking a tube (more on that later) I wrap mine inside so that it’s safe should I need it.

Should I have a flat, I’ve got a couple of options.

I used to use a kit to get me back up and running. Alongside an inner tube and a pair of free tyre levers from a magazine a while back, I had CO2 cartridges. These can be picked up really cheap from Amazon with a Presta and Schrader adaptor ready to use them should the worst happen and the tubeless sealant isn’t able to help.

Now, I don’t bother with the tube, CO2 and levers. Instead, I take GÜP with me. It’s essentially like the self-inflating run-flat tyre stuff for cars… but for mountain bikes. Should I be unfortunate to run flat, this clever little system seals and inflates all in one. I’ve had varying success with this over the time I’ve tested it but, eventually, I think I’ve sussed it all out.

On the topic of tyres, what if I get a proper hole in the tyre and it won’t seal? Well Sahmurai Sword – not an actual sword – had that covered. They’re those little strips which you push into the tyre and let the sealant do the rest. I had these in the bars (they function as bar ends) for ages before I needed them and then, they worked perfectly. Really easy to use and saved a wasted day at Antur Stiniog uplift. If they can hold up there, I’m quite confident they’ll hold up for all of my other riding too.

Storage

Of course, all of this stuff has to go somewhere if it’s not going in a rucksack and this is where things get a little like Marmite – people either love it or hate it.

For me, Louri straps are a great storage option. They’re not just a regular velcro strap and shouldn’t ever be considered as a competitor against some of the really cheap options on the market – Louri really are in a league of their own. They’ve got two elastic straps to hold your belongings securely, anti-slip coating where the strap fits against your frame, and a really long and secure strap to stop everything from moving once it’s on. Having tested these for a solid year or more now, I must say I’m really impressed. Not once have I had any movement and they still look as good as they did on day one. I currently only use the frame strap when taking the inner tube and C02 but have tried it out with a bottle with success. Louri also do a saddle version with a slightly shorter strap for a more secure fit should you want to pop some stuff under there instead of on your frame.

The rest is all kept in the bib pockets. Really. Water, tools, puncture repair, food, GoPro batteries all in the bib pockets.

The Wish List

Of course, there are some other options that are on the market that I’ve been considering and looking forward to getting my hands on. I’ll throw them in a list below and would love to hear your thoughts if you’ve managed to try any.

  • Fork Cork – A very cleverly named little option for extra storage hidden away on the bike. I’m thinking inner tube and CO2 could be pushed in there instead of being strapped to my actual bike. Either that, or some spare cash.
  • One Up EDC Tool – A hidden tool (and additional CO2) so that there’s always one on the bike. May not work with Fork Cork – I’m not sure.