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What to Load in Your Pockets & Packs For Every MTB Ride, From Backyard to Backcountry

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Keeping a couple bags stocked with everything you need for different length rides can save some time and trouble.

Singletracks recently hosted a lively forum thread on whether a hip-pack is sufficient for mountain biking. Based on that discussion, we thought it would be helpful to offer packing tips for various ride lengths.

I once lined up at a race alongside a rider who had the last third of their dreadlocks tucked neatly in the center of three jersey pockets. For those of us with shorter hair commitments, choosing how to fill our pockets and packs depends on the weather, ride length, terrain, personal nutrition needs, and how far we will be from the gelato shop.

I personally find it helpful to keep a variety of ride-bags packed for specific uses, leaving adequate room to squeeze in food and water.

Weekday rip-ready

When it is possible to catch a bus or walk home from a ride in 30-40 minutes, I bring as little gear along as possible. For a spin in the hills behind my home, I wear a small hip-pack that holds my cell phone, wallet, 3-5 zip ties, and occasionally a water bottle if the bike I am on lacks a cage.

All of my flat repair and tool needs, along with some emergency calories, are crammed in a “tool-bottle” on my bike. This setup offers the bare essentials to keep me rolling and wards off the bonk-monster. I tape a quick-link to the backside of one brake lever and lash a tire-puncture plug to my front brake hose. Tubeless tire technology is so good today that I give away more tubes than I inflate. Regardless, it is good to bring one along.

This “tool-bottle” fits a tube, CO2 cartridge/inflater, a small multi-tool, and an energy gel.

Unknown territory

When a loop or out-and-back takes you further than an hour’s hike from the car, you will want to carry supplies to fix nearly anything the rocks could bend. I have found myself lost in the forest on two different occasions, and I was happy to have the right gear to keep warm and safe.

Key additions to the backpack for longer “epic” rides include a fist-sized multi-tool, far more water, and sufficient calories for both the ride and the following morning, just in case. In addition to the items listed above, the hour+ bag gets stuffed with the following uber-lightweight goods.

  • Map of the area
  • Analog compass
  • 5+ zip ties
  • Spare derailleur hanger
  • Hand pump
  • Tubeless tire repair tool
  • A second and possibly third tube, depending on terrain
  • Tube patch kit
  • A small packet of chain lube
  • Lighter/waterproof matches
  • Sharp pocket knife
  • Space blanket
  • Rain jacket or poncho
  • An extra pair of gloves
  • A warm hat
  • Too much food and water. I like to have enough to offer some to everyone I am with or might encounter.

There are heaps of clever places to hide spare parts

Backcountry daze!

The best rides often dive deeper than two hours into the forest, and for these, I grab the lightest kitchen sink available and throw it into my pack. For day-long adventures, I will top off the above lists with the following accoutrements:

  • Extra brake pad set
  • Whistle
  • Water purifier
  • Poncho
  • Electrical tape and tissue for repairs and bandages
  • First aid kit
  • Permanent marker to fix faded trail signs
  • Emergency bivy sack (in place of a space blanket)
  • Occasionally, a good book
  • Definitely a decent camera

Enduro race ready pack

Given the steep and technical nature of many modern enduro races, participants are required to wear knee pads, full face helmets, and a certified back protector. Being covered like linebackers for 3-5 hours of pedaling drives a lot of racers to find methods to carry as little as possible. With ample feed-stations and a chance to wrench on the bike during the mid-race time-check, folks are getting away with packing next to nothing on their person.

Based on my limited enduro race experience, and what I have observed other riders doing, here is a list of what makes it on the bike and rider. Many of these bits are for emergency-use-only and are either taped to the frame or slotted neatly in a hip-pack or protection-vest pocket.

  • Spare derailleur hanger
  • Extra brake pads
  • Minimal multitool
  • Spare tube (taped under the top tube, stem, or above the BB)
  • CO2 canister/inflator (wrapped inside the spare tube)
  • Tubeless tire repair tool taped to a hose or cable housing
  • Energy gels taped to the top tube
  • Water bottle, either on the bike or in the smallest hip-pack or pocket possible

This Hot Laps Gripper from Dakine holds a tube, a tire lever, CO2/inflator, and tubeless tire repair tool.

What’s in your pack?

Ultimately, what we pack to be safe and self-sufficient on rides and in events can vary greatly, and nearly everyone I meet has some cool tricks to store what they need. Please share some of your favorite ride accessories, gear hiding spots, or gear suggestions in the comments below.

Do you have a story of a time when the kitchen sink you packed saved the ride? Tell us about it!

Here is a printable checklist you can copy and adjust as you like.

Backcountry Hour + Backyard Race
Multi tool Multi tool Multi tool Derailleur hanger
Tire repair tool Tire repair tool 3-5 zipties Brake pads
2-3 tubes 2-3 tubes Tire repair tool Minimal multitool
Hand pump Hand pump Spare tube Spare tube
Energy gel Energy gel Hand pump CO2 canister/inflator
Quicklink Quicklink Energy gel Tire repair tool
Map of the area Map of the area Water Energy gels/sugar
Analog Compas Analog Compas Quicklink Water
5+ zip ties 5+ zip ties Quicklink
Derailleur hanger Derailleur hanger
Hand pump Hand pump
Tire repair tool Tire repair tool
Tube patch kit Tube patch kit
Chain lube Chain lube
Lighter/matches Lighter/matches
Sharp pocket knife Sharp pocket knife
Rain jacket Space blanket
Extra gloves Rain jacket
A warm hat Extra gloves
Food & water A warm hat
Brake pads Food & water
Shift cable
Water purifier
Whistle
Electrical tape and tissue
First aid kit
Permanent marker
Bivy sack
A good book
Camera