Hip packs, fanny packs, bum bags — whatever you want to call them, they’re all the rage these days in mountain biking and bikepacking circles, and for good reason. Hip packs offer enough room for carrying the essentials while keeping weight off your shoulders and allowing your back to breathe freely.
Oveja Negra has been making high-quality bikepacking bags for years now, and their first take on the hip pack didn’t disappoint. Made of the same waterproof X-Pac material as their other offerings, the Royale has all the features you need and nothing you don’t. It’s got a roll-top closure with a locking buckle, a zippered interior pocket, breathable mesh backing, and a wide waist strap for comfort. But my favorite aspect of the Royale is its size: this is now the fourth hip pack I’ve used (I know, I have a problem), and I have to say that the Royale’s 4L volume is the Goldilocks size. It’s large enough to carry my tool roll, a jacket, snacks, and an extra bottle, but not so big that I’m tempted to bring the kitchen sink, which means that even when it’s full, the Royale stays put and remains comfortable. And it’s durable, too. After a season of use and abuse, it has yet to show any signs of wear. –Dan Meyer
If this sleeping pad looks familiar, that’s because we reviewed it in the 2017 Holiday Gear Guide (and gave it high marks). Nemo has since updated the Tensor, mainly in the form of the new Laylow valve and included pump sack.
For this review, I chose the insulated Tensor in the regular-wide size. Although I’m not especially broad-shouldered, I appreciated the extra width as with other pads my arms tend to hang off the edge and go numb during the night. At three inches thick, the Tensor is plenty plush for both back- and side-sleepers, and for those who switch positions a lot during the night, like me, the Tensor is pretty quiet.
Nemo’s updates to the Tensor are much appreciated: the new Laylow valve indeed lies nice and flat on top of the pad and allows for plenty of adjustability, and the included Vortex pump sack makes for quick, easy inflation. And like the old Tensor, the new one is light and rolls up to a tidy package.
That pump (coupled with the insulation) makes the Tensor ideal for colder temperatures. If you blow up a sleeping pad the old-fashioned way, with your mouth, you introduce moisture into the pad. Then if the temperature drops below freezing during the night, that moisture could freeze and damage the baffles inside the pad. (This is why you’ll mostly see closed-cell foam sleeping pads for winter camping.) But the pump sack keeps any moisture to a minimum, extending the life of your pad. Other manufacturers have similar inflation pumps, but Nemo is the first I’ve seen to include one with the pad.
The Tensor also includes a stuff sack, Velcro strap, and patch kit, which I thankfully haven’t had to use. After a season of heavy use in the mountains of western Montana, the Nemo Tensor is still in excellent shape. –DM
Space is a premium when you're touring, and while carrying an extra tube is a necessary evil, it doesn't need to take up as much of your pocket or pack as you expected. Tubolito's thermoplastic elastomer tubes are 50 percent smaller than a standard tube when packed, weighing in at under two ounces. They're also twice as strong. The CX/Gravel version is for tires 30—40mm, and compatible with rim brakes and disc brakes. Choose the valve stem compatible with your wheels. It comes in 42mm and 60mm valve lengths. And, if gravel isn't your jam, you can still find a Tubolito to fit. The company makes tubes for road, BMX, and MTB wheels too. —Berne Broudy
Wheels can make all the difference on a bike, but what if the wheels cost as much as some bikes? Well, it depends. Astral makes their rims in Eugene, Oregon, and their wheelsets spin around premium American-made hubs from White Industries, so right up front there’s some potential patriotic purchasing at play (wheelsets with Astral’s own hubs start at $800). On a performance front, at 22mm wide, these hoops are well-suited for a range of modern touring and gravel tires from 35mm up into MTB territory. Available in 650b and 700c diameters, we tested the 700c version wearing 40mm tires set up tubeless (the wheels come pre-taped and include valves from Astral) and found the hubs quick to engage, the wheels stiff but not harsh, and the rims dead true. Astral prides themselves on their wheelbuilding and our set proved durable, but they weren’t hammered into oblivion either. Performance wheels aren’t cheap, but these could serve you well on a long tour or a full-on race effort. Are they worth it? That’s up to you. Watch for a review of the brand’s rim-brake Leviathan touring wheels later this year. —Alex Strickland