Disclaimer: This page is subject to change and at the moment primarily serves as a place to dump some gear musing until I get them posted and organised into neat little categories. Until then, you could head somewhere else, or read on.
Now to the core of the matter: Packing the bike. And since I never seem to get it right, this section is under continuous development.
There is no right or wrong here, though some ways are arguably wiser than others. A lot of the bikepacking configurations below are a potpourri of good ideas and tips I have stumbled upon on blogs or forums around the web. As for the not so good ideas, I guess I’m entirely to blame for them myself. One of them is to stubbornly lug a full frame DSLR with me on rides. Insisting on having it at hand all the time makes packing a challenge now and then. Two kilos of electronics and delicate optics isn’t the most obvious thing to put on the handlebar. By doing so, I’m already approaching the limit as to how much weight it is recommendable to have high up on the front end of the bike before its handling gets sluggish. But I digress. The reason I mention the DSLR is that if you don’t carry a camera, or just sport a miniature camera, like the awesome little Panasonic GM1 or GM5, you are in a completely different situation and might as well utilise that space up front for something else.
The first winter fatbike attempt
To be honest, winter is pushing it. It was more like spring. The temperature was hovering around zero degrees Celsius and the snow was at times barely capable of carrying me and my gear along. The steed, by the way, a Surly Pugsley in loaded yellow, took me ages to build to my liking. So long that the good people at the shop where I bought the frame and the wheels from began to offer their help (which I, in true Norwegian daft spirit, stubbornly declined). I had realised too late that the 1 x 9 setup I was aiming for with a 30–32T chainring and a 12–36 casette would be too hard to pedal uphill on singletrack with a loaded bike. I hate to admit, on the steepest hills, even unloaded.
A blogpost a year earlier by wilderness superstar Roman Dial helped me in the right direction and out went the e*thirteen crankset from The Hive and in came a Middleburn Trials crankset. Instead of Romans minuscule 16T chainring in front, I opted for the 22T version, combined with a Paul Thumbie to shift the rear derailleur.
Now, this could easily come through as a spinning machine. I have later read a clever guy on a bike forum writing that such a gearing, with a 12–34 cassette in the back (which is the casette I ended up with), would top out at approximately 27 km/h. And he was absolutely right. At that speed, you hardly gain any speed from trying to spin the pedals faster. Does that bother me? Not at all. The rig was built for wilderness travel. The gearing seldom slows the bike down on paved road, it’s simply the heft of the bike and the fat rubber that makes it hard to get up to speed. A little coasting downhill saves the legs for that uphill in front anyways. At least, that’s what I’m trying to convince myself.
But let’s move on to the important bit: How to pack the bike. The first iteration of the bike was with a front OMM Sherpa rack purposely built for the Pugsley. In the front. I had been through a lot of different options, including the lightweight Salsa Minimalist rack, but after reading Vik’s praisals for the OMM racks, I went with them. As for the handlebar bag, I have been a dedicated Ortlieb fan for years. They simply make indestructible, functional gear without any extraneous bells and whistles, so their Ultimate 6 Classic felt like the way to go.
I barely managed to sneak a roll consisting of a foam sleeping pad, an Integral Designs eVent Bugaboo Bivy, a full length Thermarest NeoAir (I know, sissy, but I’m a side sleeper and my hips thank me when I let them rest on a soft bed), and a Mountain Equipment Helium 400 down sleeping bag under the handlebar bag. Putting the roll underneath the camera bag supposedly dampened the bags vertical movements.
The Viscacha saddlebag from Revelate Designs and their Co-branded framebag for Surly are really nice pieces of kit and carried clothes (light down jacket, sleeping socks, rain gear, wooly hat and then some), a bike repair kit as well as food, a small 900 ml pan, a beer can alcohol stove and food. And, lo and behold, on top of that, I sported a 12 litre Osprey Talon pack on my back with a lightweight Manfrotto tripod, a flash and a small softbox (I know, I know). The little Gas Tank from Revelate Designs up in the front carried a bag of gorp.
In other words, if one leaves the excessive camera gear at home, it is easily possible to go on a weekend winter bikepacking trip without a backpack. Instead of the OMM rack, you could go for a Revelate Designs Sweetroll or Harness with additional pocket or the MCA Handlebar System from Porcelain Rocket.
Bikerafting combines my two favourite pastimes: Paddling and cycling. The trouble is, how do you get the packraft, paddle and PFD with you on the bike? Joe and I went for two different approaches on our four day, three night crossing of Hardangervidda (read the full story on Sidetracked). He sported a Revelate Designs Harness on the handlebars to carry his Alpackaraft Denali Llama …
… whereas I took the OMM Sherpa front rack and fitted it over the rear wheel (after more fiddling and tinkering than I care to admit, as I didn’t want to use the supplied extra long quick release wheel lock), enabling me to carry my packraft and PFD. Both of us had a 22 litre Osprey Talon backpack with a four piece paddle in addition to whatever wouldn’t fit in our frame bags or Joe’s Viscacha saddlebag (you can read Joe’s gear musings from the trip here). I cinched a Helsport Ringstind 1 tent between the Ortlieb handlebar bag and the stem. There are lighter options out there, but the weather on the vast Hardangervidda mountain plateau can change rapidly on you and sometimes throw a good punch.
Looking at the top picture, one might think I have a soft spot for yellow, but it’s merely a lucky coincidence. Almost. I’m sure the reindeers would have enjoyed the little accidental colour coordination if they had seen it, though.
EDIT 29. April 2016: I have tried a ton of different bikepacking configurations since this write up. If the stars align and all that, I might just get some more gear musing on the way one day.
If you happen to live in Norway or just don’t know where to get your bikepacking stuff, I’d recommend you to head over to BCsport.no. They are stocking a fair amount of Revelate Design stuff and carry a bunch of cool bikes. BCsport.no was the first shop to stock Surly bikes in Norway and have introduced fatbiking to a lot of people. I have no affiliation with the shop other than having made some really nice deals with them.
Norwegian based bikeshop.no also has a load of good stuff for bikepacking (and anything bike related). And again, I have no affiliation with the shop other than knowing one of the guys working there and having shopped there myself a number of times.