Gravel bike trips: the essential kit list!
A simple and alluring way of travelling, bike packing and point to point bike trips are becoming more and more popular. It allows you to explore new places, in an active way, and to take the time to really see things en route.
A gravel bike is THE perfect bike for this kind of adventure due to its solidity, versatility and more relaxed geometry. You can load the bike with just the few items of kit that you really need, traveling as lightly as possible with frame, handle bar and large saddle bags. Or add front and/or rear panniers for longer journeys or more comfort.
So what are the essentials for a bike trip?
Firstly, a helmet! It’s worth remembering safety first.
Helmet wise there’s a couple choices: a mountain bike style helmet with a viser, or a road bike style helmet, often with more air vents. Both have their benefits, the viser is good for the rain/mud but can be annoying at speed. But what is necessary is a cap underneath your helmet, signature of the more relaxed spirit of gravel riding. Apart from style which is obviously very important, it will protect you from the sun and any sudden showers.
On the subject of hydration, there’s also 2 options: water bottles or bladders. You can put 2 bottle cages on your frame, with sometimes a 3rd underneath, with bottles up to 900ml in each. You can also get pouches to add to your handle bars to carry another 2 bottles to maximise how much you can carry, as finding fresh water isn’t always easy.
Alternatively there’s the water bladder option which have a hose or straw for you to drink from. They can be carried in your back or hip pack (if you have one) or your frame bag, it’s up to you. And as to which is the best option for you, you’ll have to test them out!
If you’re not sure whether the water will be safe to drink where you are going, you can easily buy purification tablets like Micropur which kills bacteria in 30 mins (most have a slight aftertaste!) or there’s now really good filtering bottles available too.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING: your kit and how to carry it.
Let’s get to the heart of the matter, having the right panniers or bags is critical for your trip. There’s literally all kinds of bags available, to go on practically every part of your bike. They all attach easily to a gravel bike, most of which have multiple attachment points on the frame. For lightweight bikepacking the bags are mostly attached with soft attachments under the saddle, on the handlebars and within the frame. For larger bag and bike touring, the bags attach to a rack which is attached to your frame.
Heres some point to take into account when choosing yours:
Choose something compact (but not so small that you can’t close it properly!) waterproof and easily opened to get to your kit. The size of your bag will depend on the length of your trip and how much kit you want to take. Larger saddle bags tend to swing around, especially on rougher tracks.
Theres a few different methods of attachment so that they stay as stable as possble:
velcro and straps like Apidura, Vaude and Ortlieb
Fixed racks like Alpkit or Arkel
Additional rails that attach to your saddle like Woho, to stabilise saddle bags and attach bottle cages.
And to the packing! Put heavy objects as close to the ground and centre of your bike as possible, and lighter bulkier items in the handlebar bag. Remember that this it will be hard to access, so the handlebars are ideal for your sleeping bag and dry clothes for the evening. If you have a frame bag this is ideal for heavier items such as tools and anything you need quick access to like a fist aid kit. Your rain jacket can be the last thing to go in your saddle bag, you never know when you might need it… Think practicalities!
Or each bag can have a theme to help keep your kit organised, one is for sleeping and/or eating, one for your clothes, one for important bits such as repair and first aid kits, and electronics/battery packs. Lastly one small bag for all your “essentials” - ID, phone, map, keys, wallet… and then don’t let this one out of your sight!
So what do you really need in your panniers?Bike packing trips are synonymous with being self sufficient, which can make the adventure that bit better! There’s pleasure in being as close to nature as possible and having just what you need and not much else.
If you want to be totally self sufficient you’ll need overnight kit - tent or bivvy bag, sleeping bag, sleeping mat and stove.
For you clothes there’s no rules, but choose something comfy that you can ride all day in, and again the next day. You don’t need lots, 2 riding outfits to alternate is plenty, they can be washed and be drying when not being worn.
To this you can add what you need depending on where you are going and the time of year - waterproof and windproof jacket, warm jacket, suncream, small washbag and a first aid kit.
Think layers, with 3 being optimum - t-shirt, fleece and Gore-Tex style jacket, add a down jacket and you are good to go. Even in summer in the mountains it can be cool in the mornings and evenings.
On that note, don’t forget your evening wear! This should be warm and comfy, there’s nothing better than something clean after a hard days riding. Merino wool thermals are perfect, even if not always the most stylish, and can keep you both warm and cool as needed.
Last, but by no means least important, your saddle. Theres hundreds of different types available with more and more innovative designs to help make saddle sores a thing of the past. Don’t forget chamois cream either!
The most useful bit of kit (that hopefully you won’t use!) : your repair kit.
You need to be able to deal with any mechanical problems you may encounter on your trip, even if you don’t know how to do it yourself someone will and if you’ve got the kit it’s a step towards a working bike! As a minimum: a multitool with a chain breaker, a few cable ties and some duck tape, (you never know what you’ll need to fix!) as well as a pump, a couple inner tubes, 3 tyre levers, patches, and a quick link for your chain. If you’ll be a long way from civilisation add a gear cable and small pair of pliers to that.
If you’re heading off on your own or without a guide its worth practicing taking your bike apart and putting it back together beforehand, so that you aren’t in the middle of nowhere with no phone signal and a bike in pieces!
And finally to the tech side of things, don’t forget all the cable to charge your devices (phone, gps, camera, watch etc…) with the right plug and an external battery. Again think simple, light and compact, there’s no point carting around an SLR with various lenses unless you are a pro photographer!
Once this is all together, don’t be alarmed at the weight, you get used to it quickly! Having said that, there’s no need to set off with half your bodyweight in kit.
This is the moment to take note of how your panniers of bags detach and attach again as you’ll be doing this every morning and evening. So it needs to be simple, quick and reliable.
Often forgotten but very essential: lights.
Definitely not to be overlooked for any bike trip, even if you don’t plan to ride at night. You never know what might happen and you’ll need lights for a gloomy rainy day or to be seen in a tunnel en route just as much as for night riding.
Theres loads of choice for bike lights, with differing brightnesses (lumens) and methods of recharging. At least one red rear light and a head torch should be a minimum, with the option to add a front light on the handlebars. They can be charged by dynamo or external cable, again it’s up to you! Choose at least 800 lumens to see effectively at night.
An added extra: a GPS computer for navigating.
The easiest way to navigate on a bike trip is a GPS computer. Loaded with your route and often giving you directions to follow, it allows you to find new places as well as giving you all the stats for your ride. So many arguments for, we know you don’t need convincing that they do a lot more than get you from A to B! Theres also lots of navigation apps for smartphones like komoot that work really well.
A final piece of advice:
before you set off on your big trip, whatever it may be, test out all your kit for real so that you make any packing/loading mistakes beforehand. Head out for a day or two and use everything so that you can adjust what you take and where you pack it accordingly.
There isn’t really an ultimate or definitive packing list. We’ve given you the basis, but it really depends on how far you are planning to go, where, and when, and how many comforts you’d like along the way… Over to you for your next adventure!
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