For those unfamiliar with California's neighboring archipelagos, there is a small island 35 km off the south coast called Santa Catalina. Legally part of Los Angeles County, but geographically and socially a world away, Catalina is home to herds of bison, fox, deer, and more. There are two cities on the island – populous and tourist-friendly Avalon, with palm-fringed beaches and rows of seaside shops, and Two Palms, the more secluded outpost full of backpackers and nomads. In early summer, my partner and I went on a three-day bikepacking trip to the island to explore the wild inland and test both our physical fitness and the capabilities of our bikepacking equipment.
A short interlude to bikepacking: In the last five years it has been considered a niche, new, underground etc. For the uninitiated, the sport of the same name is a mixture of a standard backpack and… cycling.
Where it gets complicated is the kit. Determining what bike, equipment, storage, water, food, and shelter to bring are just the basics. Other factors to consider include whether or not to roll tubeless, what tools and kits to pack, and where the bikes can be ridden themselves.
We planned our first bikepacking trip with a few key factors in mind: It had to be close enough to our home in case something bad should happen, but far enough away to feel a sense of adventure and novelty. We chose an island for this very reason – the idea was that when we moved inland we could feel a feeling of loneliness and humility that only nature can offer, but also to be close enough to civilization if we both our bikes and got lost entirely.
The best advice I can give for planning your first bikepacking trip is to prepare yourself for unexpected challenges. This could be a broken bike, missed turns, improperly packed bags, or sore muscles, but the possibilities here are endless.
The second piece of advice I want to give is to stay open to options, and if you can keep that perspective in the moment, see challenges as opportunities to learn. Find beauty in battle.
With that in mind, Catalina was the natural choice for our adventure. Whether or not you choose the same locale, here is the gear to bring with you.
The best bikepacking equipment for multi-day adventures
Ortlieb handlebar packs make transporting equipment child's play. Hayley Helms
1. Ortlieb panniers and on-bike packs
Ortlieb makes backpacks that are robust yet flexible and offer plenty of storage space on a small container. They are nicely done without being flashy. We used pretty much all of the choices on our trip, including the Seat Pack Saddlebag ($ 175), Frame Pack ($ 150), Accessory Pack Handlebar Bag ($ 80), Cockpit Pack ($ 65), and Handlebar Pack (160 USD). My partner's favorite was the spacious Seat-Pack saddlebag, while I had a soft spot for the easily accessible Accessory Pack that draped over the handlebars. At the end of the trip we had our packing to a science.
The best bike for bikepacking adventures Cairn
2. Cairn Cycles E-Adventure 1.0 650b gravel bike
Based in the UK, Cairn builds bikes that are extremely comfortable and have just enough power to carry you through long days in the saddle. The FAZUA system has a small learning curve and takes getting used to, but once you understand the system it's smooth. The bikes themselves are equipped with 650b Hunt Adventure Sport rims on a Hunt E-Gravel hub and the gravel-specific GRX groupset from Shimano – we have all of this on the curved downhill fire roads that made up the majority of our ride, estimated.
Finding a bike hasn't been a joke for the past 18 months, but for those on the hunt, Cairn's e-bike is in stock and ready to ride. My bike's speed sensor was a quarter of an inch off most of our ride, which made my bike without power. It was a haunting reminder to always give bikes (and all equipment) a detailed inspection before venturing into the wild. I couldn't enjoy my bike most of the time, but I definitely built a lot of character.
($ 4,115.46; cairncycles.com)
Hyperlite 3400 Southwest Package Image used with permission
3. Hyperlite 3400 Southwest Package
The Hyperlite Southwest 3400 Backpack is designed for traditional backpacking and thru hiking, but we found it to be perfect for bikepacking. Weighing in at just over two pounds, the Southwest is ultra-light, yet offers plenty of storage space. The internal volume is 40 liters, which is more than sufficient for a three-day trip. The backpack has comfortable straps that fit on a wider shoulder and do not chafe even after the whole day. Worth every penny, this is a long haul package.
($ 320; hyperlitemountaingear.com)
Author wears Hyperlite 3400 Southwest Pack on Cairn Cycles E-Adventure 1.0 650b Gravel Bike Hayley Helms
4. Evoc Explorer Pro 26L
While my partner rode the Ultralight Hyperlite, which offers a spacious interior but no internal organization, I took the Evoc Explorer Pro 26L with me, a comparatively heavier bag, but with excellent internal and external organization. I'm the type of person who likes to have a separate bag for all of my gear, and this backpack lived up to my organizational standards. The Explorer Pro was developed for technical bike tours and has a large back ventilation system as well as a main, tool and floor compartment, a separate wash bag and an integrated rain cover and is compatible with up to 3L hydration systems.
($ 200; evocusa.com)
A lightweight shoe for anyone who walks near water Scott Seiver and Hayley Helms
5. Chaco Z Chromatic Sandals
The sandals from Chaco Footwear are traditionally not used for bikepacking, but with a grippy profile on the outsole, a lower weight compared to a standard boot or shoe and the ability to get into the water without any problems (read: quick drying times), Chaco is mine new favorite bikepacking shoe. To counteract cooler temperatures, wear a wool sock for antibacterial, temperature-regulating warmth.
($ 95; chacos.com)
Hyperlite Ultamid 4 Ultralight pyramid tent Image used with permission
6. Hyperlite Ultamid 4 Ultralight pyramid tent
The "lightweight" theme was a heavy undertone in this story, and for good reason. Even if the bike is electric, bikepacking can be quite difficult. You carry an entire campsite on your back. Traditionally, the tent is one of the heaviest items in a bikepacking kit, but it doesn't have to be. Hyperlite's Ultamid 4 Ultralight Tent is shockingly light at 1.44 pounds, easy to pitch, and compact to stow away. We chose the Ultamid 4 so that we can protect ourselves and our bikes in the shelter. A surprising advantage: thanks to the translucent nature of the tent, we could see the stars and the moon from our sleeping bags. This is great for trips where you count grams and reduce weight.
($ 890; hyperlitemountaingear.com)
MSR reactor furnace systems MSR
7. MSR reactor 1.7 furnace system
MSR knows how to make a quality oven and for those looking for a reliable, compact and efficient option, start your search here. I chose the 1.7 LTR because of its economical performance and its ability to nest within itself (which makes packing a breeze). Bonus: It always starts on the first try. MSR's stoves have their roots in backcountry exploration, but we love them for the beach, the sierras, and everything in between.
($ 249.96; msrgear.com)
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite sleeping mat Image used with permission
8. Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite sleeping mat
At car camping we usually roll with two MondoKings, but we couldn't afford such luxury on two wheels. In the spirit of minimalism, we opted for the NeoAir UberLite Sleeping Pad. Therm-a-Rest claims it is "the absolutely lightest insulated air cushion ever built" and we can no longer agree. Inflating it was a breeze, and 2.5 inch pillows made us sleep like logs. The pads can be combined to a length of 15 cm and are supplied with a pump bag, pack sack and repair kit. Don't sleep on the chance to try any of these.
($ 199.95; thermarest.com)
Image used with permission
9. Patagonia Commission Green Lentil Soup
One of the hardest parts of packing for a multi-day bikepacking tour is deciding what to eat. My partner and I had picked our dry snacks, but at dinner we wanted something simple, tasty, and most importantly, nutritious. Enter: Patagonia Supplies. We took both their red bean chili and green lentil soup and after comparing them, decided the soup was our favorite. The portions were a bit bigger compared to the chilli and the lentils kept us full and satisfied after a busy day. The cherry on top? The ingredients are certified organic and the food cooks in less than 10 minutes.
($ 7; patagoniaprovisions.com)
Goal Zero Crush Light Chroma Image used with permission
10. Goal Zero Crush Light Chroma
Crush it and stow it. Like your favorite beer can, this small lamp can be squeezed flat so that it can be stowed away in no time at all. Turn the camp into a party with six color options and clip it to the outside of your backpack during the day to recharge via the small but powerful built-in solar panel. Looking for a full charge? USB takes 2.5 hours, and the built-in solar panel takes around twenty hours, depending on the conditions. The runtime is between three hours at high power and 35 hours at low power.
($ 24.95; goalzero.com)
Nalgene Sustain wide mouth water bottle Image used with permission
11. Nalgene Sustain wide mouth water bottle
Insulated water bottles are handy for keeping water cold, but they are heavy and bulky. Reduce the weight with a plastic bottle, preferably made from recycled elements like Nalgene's Sustain option. The Sustain is available in 11 colors and its price is significantly more accessible than its isolated counterparts.
($ 14.99; nalgene.com)
Snow Peak Titan Spork Image used with permission
12. Snow Peak Titanium Spork
Versatile, packable and only 16 grams, the Spork from Snow Peak is a godsend for culinary versatility. Pack a few of these and your favorite knife and you're good to go.
($ 9.95; snowpeak.com)
13. Biolite 330 headlamp
The 330 headlamps from Biolite are comfortable, compact (69 grams) and quick to charge. Thanks to the moisture-wicking fabric lining on the inside of the band, you might even forget you're wearing it. Pro tip: set the light to red and it won't attract insects like that (and save your eyesight).
($ 59.95; bioliteenergy.com)
Topo Design men's tech shirt Moosejaw mountain thieves
14. Topo Designs tech shirt
This is the only shirt you need to pack for a multi-day trip. It's light, durable, and quick drying. Snap fasteners make it easy to put on and take off and side pockets keep your essentials close at hand. It's sold out on Topo's website, but you can still find it at other online retailers.
($ 129; mountainsteals.com)
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