One of the current activities in cycling with a lot of “traction” is bikepacking. I think the earliest forms of bikepacking were practiced by mountain bikers wanting to do overnight trips via single track. They needed to carry their camping gear in a different way than traditional bike tourists. Bike tourists generally carry their gear in bags hung from racks that straddle the front and rear wheels. But the early bikepacking adopters could not ride narrow, tight single track trails with bags hanging off the sides of their bikes. So they developed bags to carry their gear that fit in the gaps of their bike frames and were less likely to snag branches and such along the sides of a trail.
Today, bikepacking has morphed into many things. I think my definition will be that bikepacking is to traditional bike touring what ultralight backpacking is to backpacking. Today, you might see road tourists or gravel road tourist using bikepacking bags as well as single track mountain bikers. It is a simpler, lighter camping setup than the traditional tourist who might “bring the kitchen sink.”
Bikepacking is about shaving off grams and square inches from your camping overhead. So let's look at the spaces on the bike and what we might put into them.
Generally, nothing is placed straddling the front wheel (like the front rack and panniers on a traditional road touring bike) because a mountain bike often has a front shock which moves up and down.
Starting in the front, we have the space traditionally occupied by the handlebar bag stuffed between the sides of dropped road handlebars. But on a mountain bike the handlebars are wide and don't limit the width of a bag. It turns out to be a good place to put the largest of items, which usually is your sleeping bag, pad or tent or maybe all three. Often, a small bag is also attached on the outside to store quick-access items like snacks.
Behind the stem or on the stem or hanging from the inside of the bars are a variety of little bags designed to stuff something small into. Same going back to the seatpost. Behind the seatpost is a long thin seatbag which is often used for clothes.
The center piece of bikepacking storage is the frame bag. The trouble with a frame bag is that the space in the inner triangle of a typical road bike or mountain bike can very greatly in available room and the shape of the bag. Some mountain bikes have rear shocks that protrude into this space. On some bikes the only water bottle cage locations are in this triangle. Some small frames just don't have any available space here at all. So although you can buy most bikepacking bags off-the-shelf many riders get the frame bag, at least, custom made to fit their bike.
One nice thing about the beginning stages of a new thing like bikepacking is that the big boys, i.e. corporations, have not gotten into the game yet. This is a time of innovation when lots of small players are making their bid for success. Unlike more established aspects of bicycling, there are lots of people currently making custom bikepacking bags. It is a wonderful time to get something made by hand, just for you, that is made by a craftsman rather than a big machine in the far east.
I did some research on the web and found a post on the mtbr.com forum for “Bikepacking and Bike Expedition” titled “Bikepacking gear bags - who makes 'em?.” This post turned out to be a permanent list of bikepacking bag makers and their contact information:
I studied the list and went to some makers' websites. I was looking for someone who did custom work and might be open to using fabrics I picked out and would let me suggest some attachment ideas I had.
I chose Rockgeist in North Carolina owned by Greg Hardy. I was lucky. Greg turned out to be responsive to queries, willing to listen to my crazy requests and a consummate craftsman. He produced very high quality bags in a month and was willing to incorporate some of my requests. The cost was no more than production bags. I highly recommend him at www.rockgeist.com.
The first time I looked at a set of bikepacking bags I could not believe anyone could get enough camping gear in the bags for a weekend let alone a longer trip. But when I switched my thinking from “camping” to “ultralight backpacking” I began to see the light. When I was a kid I went backpacking in the Sierra Nevada mountains and in Colorado when ever I could. Even though I went “light” my pack often weighed in at 50 lbs. Nearly a half century later I can't carry that kind of weight on my back anymore. So I found out about ultralight backpacking which allowed me to continue to do something I loved at half the weight.
You do have to be willing to change your thinking about what is necessary and certainly do away with the word convenient. I can't talk about ultralight backpacking techniques anywhere near as well as Mike Clelland of Falcon Guides. I really like his gear tutorials on Youtube.com, like his “Ultralight Tips” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G4O_I22rKp0
One nice thing is he talks about many inexpensive solutions for ultralight touring and they are all applicable to bikepacking. There are also some new very high tech solutions from the typical manufacturers. I use a MSR tent named the carbon reflex which is lighter than a simple tarp with room for three.
Using ultralight backpacking techniques you can indeed design a system for bikepacking that is comfortable and will fit in your bikepacking bags. It will allow you to explore some spectacular, out of the way places on your bike.
Like the Colorado Trail.
Some great resources online are www.bikepacking.com and www.bikepacker.com .