Geared Up: Bikepacking Spectacular

Outer Shell Pico Panniers, $180–$200

As great as bikepacking-style softbags are, it’s hard to beat the simplicity of a pannier. Just throw stuff in, close it up, and off you go. Unfortunately panniers aren’t ideal for off-road touring — even the best rack-and-pannier combo can eject its load in rough terrain — and many modern mountain bikes aren’t compatible with racks anyway. But thanks to the sharp minds at Outer Shell Adventure, bikepackers now have a pannier option. 

As the name suggests, the Pico Panniers are pretty slight; you’re not going to fit a month’s worth of ramen noodles in them. But keeping the Picos small ensures you don’t overload the front of your bike, and because they’re designed for suspension forks (with an option for rigid forks with triple mounts), less weight means a better ride. Accordingly, I’ve been packing the Picos with lighter stuff that would otherwise take up a lot of room in my other bags. For example, I keep my sleeping pad and pillow in one pannier, and in the other I store my jammies, dopp kit, extra socks, and a warm hat and gloves. I use the Picos’ external pockets for my water filter, tent stakes, Leatherman, and a length of p-cord.

Installing the Picos is pretty simple: attach the polycarbonate frames to your fork legs using the included band clamps, slide the Picos on, and wrap the Velcro backing around the fork. Once you’ve filled the panniers with your wares, tighten the compression straps and the rolltop for a snug, wiggle-free fit. 

Outer Shell claims each Pico Pannier can hold a 64oz growler. I didn’t test that hypothesis — I was fresh out of growlers — but I can testify that the Picos stayed put during the entire testing period, even during fast descents on rocky terrain. Similarly, I wasn’t able to fully test the Picos’ waterproofness, but I have other gear I’ve purchased from Outer Shell with the same X-Pac lining and I’d trust them in anything short of a biblical torrent. You can even save a few dollars by forgoing the X-Pac if you’re not concerned about rain. 

But if you are concerned with housing your camping goodies in stylish, bomb-proof mini-panniers — and thereby reducing the workload on your other bags — Outer Shell’s Pico Panniers stand alone. They’re not cheap, especially when judged purely on their capacity, but then they are made by hand in this here U.S. of A. And, let’s be honest, they look awfully good. –Dan Meyer

Enlightened Equipment Revelation, $240 and up

Based in Winona, Minnesota, Enlightened Equipment knows a thing or two about cold weather. Their Revelation was my introduction to quilts, and I have to say I’m a convert (they also make a hybrid quilt/sleeping bag called the Convert, but that’s neither here nor there). 

If packing small and light is important to you, then going for a quilt over a sleeping bag makes sense. Quilts forgo the insulation and fabric that you sleep on — which get compressed and don’t do much to keep you warm anyway — as well as the hood, which means they often weigh less and pack down much smaller than comparable sleeping bags. 

For this review, I requested a 50? F Revelation with 900-fill down (Enlightened now offers only 850 or 950 fill). It’s a perfect summer bag for camping in the mountains in Montana. When it got chilly, I cinched up the footbox and neck and put a hat on. On warmer nights, I left it open for breathability. Best of all, the quilt weighs nearly nothing — be wary of it flying away in high winds — and I’m convinced it would compress to the size of a whiffleball if I had a small enough compression sack. 

Need something warmer? With Enlightened Equipment’s made-to-order option, you can pick your down fill, temperature (from 0? to 50? F), length, width, and fabric colors and weight. My review bag was made from 10D material inside and out; 20D will add a few ounces and a little more durability. Despite the fact that Enlightened quilts are made in the U.S., their prices are more or less on par with high-quality sleeping bags from well-known brands. –DM

Porcelain Rocket Albert, $225

Call me a knuckle-dragging mountain bike bro, but I refuse to give up my dropper seatpost when bikepacking. I could strap any old seatbag onto my dropper, but that would render it useless. Luckily in the last couple of years a handful of dropper-specific seatbags have entered the market.

Porcelain Rocket’s solution, the Albert, is unique in that it includes a chromoly mini-rack built by Hunter Cycles in California. The rack, which supports the load and keeps it from swaying, bolts to CNC-machined alloy shims that slide under the saddle rails. The Albert includes a roll-top drybag and has a five-pound weight limit. There are larger dropper seatbags out there, but I like that the Albert is small — it forces you to pack minimally, which in turn improves the ride. 

In practice, the Albert works exactly as it should — the load doesn’t sway, the straps stay tight, and nothing has worked itself loose. Be sure to check the clearance with your rear tire, though. On my full-suspension rig I had to limit how far I dropped the saddle lest I got the dreaded tire buzz, but it’s well worth the risk — descending singletrack on a fully loaded full squish is some of the most fun I’ve ever had bikepacking. 

A full-suspension bike is the intended venue for the Albert, but it’s just as useful on small-sized frames, Plus-tired bikes, and any bike where clearance with a larger seatbag could be an issue. –DM

Ketl Jerseys, $100 (l/s), $85 (s/s), women's styles available in sleeveless and 3/4 sleeve

Ketl Mountain Apparel, the Minnesota-based distributor QBP’s mountain bike–focused brand, offers some enticing stuff for men and women that promises to keep you looking spiffy without forgoing on-trail performance. 

The men’s long-sleeve and short-sleeve jerseys (women get sleeveless and ¾-length pieces) are made of Polartec Power Dry fabric, which claims the trifecta of performance apparel — comfortable, breathable, and moisture wicking (for this year, Ketl has switched to using Polartec Delta fabric). Wearing a size medium, the jerseys strike the balance of a flattering, casual fit without being too baggy, and the subtle branding means you could throw one on for a night at the pub without drawing unneeded attention. Ketl’s jerseys are quite soft and a little thicker than most, especially considering how well they breathe. They feel as if they’ll handle more abuse than a wafer-thin tech top. Features are few: they’ve got buttons, a pocket with a small, branded loop to hold your stylish sunglasses — you are wearing stylish sunglasses, aren’t you? — and another loop inside the collar for a headphone cord. Otherwise it’s just a shirt, albeit one of the most comfortable and best looking riding shirts I’ve worn. –DM

Blackburn Outpost Corner Bag, $35

I can’t really put it any better than Blackburn does in their description of the little Outpost Corner bag: “You weren't using that space anyway, were you?” No, no I wasn’t. This small bag is perfect for a tube and a few tools, particularly on a full-suspension bike that can’t accept a full framebag. Using simple hook-and-loop straps that can be threaded to any number of daisy-chain options, the Outpost Corner can slide into a wide variety of frame shapes (not working? Flip it.) and stays put once there. So far my only real gripe is that the nylon zipper pull  can flap in the wind and tap on the frame, giving the impression something on the bike has come loose. Great for day rides or as part of a larger bikepacking system. –Alex Strickland

Sea to Summit Traveller Sleeping Bag, $210, and Aeros Ultralight Pillow, $40

Long gone are the days when a sleeping bag need take up the same cylindrical size as a commercial garbage can. Advances in down and synthetic insulation provide a wealth of options for shapes, temperatures, and all-weather performance, but despite all this, I still laughed out loud when the Traveller I from Sea to Summit was fully stowed in its stuff sack. I’ve seen soda cans bigger than this thing (officially 1.5 liters, according to Sea to Summit). 

The Traveller won’t keep you warm on a frigid night, but 200 grams of Ultra Dry Down is rated for 50F and the tapered shape with drawstring foot closure kept me plenty warm in unheated huts and hostel beds during the summer season. Combined with the 2.5 oz. inflatable Aeros Ultralight Pillow, the pair still tip the scales at just a pound and take up no more room in a bag than a typical set of cycling clothes. 

Of course the tradeoff for this weight- and space-saver is the possibility of a cold night or two should your ride head for higher ground or into a shoulder season, but a thin liner could provide a few degrees worth of insurance, or you could pack on a second supper — you’ll have the space. –AS

Klymit Insulated V Ultralite SL, $120

If you’re like me, sleeping on the ground in the backcountry rarely offers a full night of shut eye, especially if the mercury dips below freezing.  My remedy: Klymit’s Insulated Ultralite V sleeping pad.  At 15.9 oz and an R-value of 4.4, Klymit’s new pad offered exceptional insulation for the weight with a competitive price of $119.95. The 2.5” x 20” x 72” pad inflated quickly (less than 15 breaths) and kept me comfortably snoozing through the night even in freezing rain conditions. The v-shaped air tubes allowed me to sleep in any position without bottoming out. Deflating the pad initially took time to figure out, but once packed, it’s small size of 4.5” x 7” easily road along in my frame bag until I was ready to call it a day.  When my first pad had a manufacturer defect, Klymit stood by their lifetime warranty and quickly replaced the pad.  If you're looking for 3-4 season comfort without packing on weight or taking up precious cargo space, Klymit’s Insulated Ultralite V is a wonderful overnight companion. –Anna Bahnson