For those unfamiliar with California’s neighboring archipelagos, there’s a small island 22 miles off the southern coast called Santa Catalina. Legally part of Los Angeles County, yet geographically and societally a world away, Catalina is home to herds of bison, fox, deer, and more. There are two towns on the island—the populous and tourist-friendly Avalon, with palm-lined beaches and rows of seaside shops, and Two Palms, the more remote outpost crawling with backpackers and nomads. In the early summer, my partner and I took a three-day bikepacking trip to the island, hoping to explore the wild interior, and test both our physical aptitude, as well as the capabilities of our bikepacking gear.
A quick interlude on bikepacking: It’s been described in the last five years as niche, new, underground, etc., but with the pandemic-influenced bike boom, it’s moved toward the mainstream. For the uninitiated, the eponymous sport is a mix between standard backpacking and…riding a bike.
Where things get complicated is the kit. Determining what bike, gear, storage, water, food, and shelter to bring are just the basics. Additional factors to consider include whether or not to roll tubeless, what tools and kits to pack, and where the bikes themselves can be ridden.
We planned our inaugural bikepacking trip with a couple key factors in mind: It needed to be close enough to home in case anything bad happened, but far enough away that we could feel a sense of adventure and newness. We choose an island for that very reason—the idea being that as we moved into the interior, we could feel a sense of aloneness and humbleness that only nature can provide, but also be close enough to civilization in case we crashed both our bikes and got completely lost.
The best advice I can give for planning your first bikepacking trip, is to prepare for unanticipated challenges. These can take the form of a malfunctioning bike, missed turns, mis-packed bags, or sore muscles, but the possibilities here are endless.
The second piece of advice I’d like to give is to stay open to possibility, and if you can keep this perspective in the moment, see challenges as opportunities to learn. Find beauty in the struggle.
With all that in mind, Catalina was the natural choice for our adventure. Whether or not you choose the same locale, here’s the gear you’ll want to bring along.
The Best Bikepacking Gear for Multi-Day Adventures
1. Ortlieb Panniers and On-Bike Packs
Ortlieb makes packs that are sturdy yet flexible, engineered to provide ample storage on a small vessel; they’re handsomely made without being flashy. On our trip, we used pretty much the entire selection, including the Seat-Pack Saddle Bag ($175), Frame Pack ($150), Accessory Pack Handlebar Bag ($80), Cockpit Pack ($65), and Handlebar Pack ($160). My partner’s favorite was the ample Seat-Pack Saddle Bag, while I had a soft spot for the easy-to-access Accessory Pack that draped over the handlebars. By the end of the trip, we had our packing down to a science.
2. Cairn Cycles E-Adventure 1.0 650b Gravel Bike
Based in the UK, Cairn builds bikes that are supremely comfortable, with just enough power to carry you through long days in the saddle. The FAZUA system has a bit of a learning curve and takes some getting used to, but once you’ve got the system figured out, it’s smooth sailing. The bikes themselves come equipped with 650b Hunt Adventure Sport rims on a Hunt E-Gravel hub and the gravel-specific GRX groupset from Shimano—all of which we appreciated on the sweeping downhill fire roads that made up majority of our ride.
Finding a bike has been no joke over the last 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 off by a quarter of an inch for most of our ride, rendering my bike without power. It was a poignant reminder to always give bikes (and all gear) a detailed inspection before heading out into the wild. I didn’t get to enjoy my bike for most of the ride, but I sure built a lot of character.
[$4,115.46; cairncycles.com]Get it
3. Hyperlite 3400 Southwest Pack
The Hyperlite Southwest 3400 pack is constructed with traditional backpacking and thru-hiking in mind, but as we found, is perfect for bikepacking. Weighing in at just over two pounds, the Southwest is ultralight, yet boasts plenty of storage. The internal volume is 40L, which was more than enough for a three-day trip. The pack features comfortable straps that fit a wider shoulder and don’t chafe, even after riding all day. Worth every penny, this is a pack made for the long haul.
[$320; hyperlitemountaingear.com]Get it
4. Evoc Explorer Pro 26L
While my partner rode with the Ultralight Hyperlite that features a roomy interior but no internal organization, I took along the Evoc Explorer Pro 26L, a heavier bag comparatively, but with excellent internal and external organization. I’m the type of person that likes to have a separate pocket for all my gear, and this pack lived up to my organizational standards. Made for technical bike tours, the Explorer Pro features a large back ventilation system, as well as a main, tool, and bottom compartment, a separate wash pouch, and integrated rain cover, plus it’s compatible with up to 3L hydration systems.
[$200; evocusa.com]Get it
5. Chaco Z Chromatic Sandals
Chaco Footwear’s sandals aren’t traditionally used for bikepacking, but with grippy tread on the outsole, a lighter weight compared to a standard boot or shoe, and the ability to go in and out of water with ease (read: fast drying times), Chaco is my new favorite bikepacking shoe. To combat cooler temps, throw on a wool sock for antibacterial, temperature-regulating warmth.
[$95; chacos.com]Get it
6. Hyperlite Ultamid 4 Ultralight Pyramid Tent
The theme of gear being “lightweight” has been a strong undercurrent in this story, and for good reason. Even when the bike is electric, bikepacking can be quite difficult. You’re carrying an entire campsite on your back. Traditionally, one of the heaviest items in a bikepacking kit is the tent, but it doesn’t have to be. Hyperlite’s Ultamid 4 Ultralight Tent is shockingly lightweight at 1.44 pounds, easy to set up, and compact when stowed away. We chose the Ultamid 4 so we could protect ourselves and bikes within the shelter. One surprising perk: Thanks to the translucent nature of the tent, we could see the stars and moon from our sleeping bags. This is ideal for trips when you’re counting grams and cutting weight.
[$890; hyperlitemountaingear.com]Get it
7. MSR Reactor 1.7 Stove System
MSR knows how to make a quality stove, and for those looking for a dependable, packable, and efficient option, start the search here. I chose the 1.7 LTR for its economic performance, and ability to nest within itself (making packing a breeze). Bonus: It always starts on the first try. MSR’s stoves have their roots in exploring the backcountry, but we love them for the beach, the Sierras, and everything in between.
[$249.96; msrgear.com]Get it
8. Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite Sleeping Pad
When car camping, we typically roll with two MondoKings, but there was no way we could afford that kind of luxury on two wheels. In the spirit of minimalism, we went with the NeoAir UberLite Sleeping Pad. Therm-a-Rest claims it’s “the absolute lightest insulated air pad ever built” and we couldn’t agree more. Inflating was a breeze, and 2.5 inches of cushion had us sleeping like logs. The pads pack down to a miniscule 6 inches long, and come with a pump sack, stuff sack, and repair kit. Don’t sleep on the opportunity to try one of these.
[$199.95; thermarest.com]Get it
9. Patagonia Provisions Green Lentil Soup
One of the trickiest aspects of packing for a multi-day bikepacking trip is deciding what to eat. My partner and I had our dry snacks picked out, but when it came to dinners, we wanted something easy, delicious, and most importantly, nutritious. Enter: Patagonia Provisions. We took both their Red Bean Chili and Green Lentil Soup, and after comparing, decided the Soup was our favorite. The servings ended up being slightly bigger compared to the chili, and the lentils kept us full and satisfied after a day of hard riding. The cherry on top? The ingredients are certified organic, and the meal cooks in under 10 minutes.
[$7; patagoniaprovisions.com]Get it
10. Goal Zero Crush Light Chroma
Crush it and stow it. Like your favorite beer can, this little lamp crushes down flat, making it easy to stow at a moment’s notice. Turn camp into a party with six color options, and strap it to the outside of your backpack during the day to charge it, via its small but mighty built-in solar panel. Looking for a full charge? USB takes 2.5 hours, and the built-in solar panel takes approximately twenty, depending on conditions. Run time ranges between three hours on high power, and 35 on low.
[$24.95; goalzero.com]Get it
11. Nalgene Sustain Wide Mouth Water Bottle
Insulated water bottles are convenient for keeping water cold, but are heavy and bulky. Cut down on weight with a plastic bottle, preferably made from recycled elements like Nalgene’s Sustain option. The Sustain comes in 11 colors, and its price point is significantly more approachable than its insulated counterparts.
[$14.99; nalgene.com]Get it
12. Snow Peak Titanium Spork
Multi-use, packable, and only 16 grams, Snow Peak’s Spork is a godsend for culinary versatility. Pack a couple of these and your favorite knife, and you’re good to go.
[$9.95; snowpeak.com]Get it
13. Biolite 330 Headlamp
Biolite’s 330 Headlamps 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 insects won’t be as attracted to it (and you’ll save your eyesight).
14. Topo Designs Tech Shirt
This is the only shirt you need to pack for a multi-day trip. It’s lightweight, durable, and fast drying. Snaps make dressing and undressing a cinch, 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]Get it
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