A Guide to
Backpacks and Hydration Packs
It's important to get the right size of pack. Too small and you won't be able to fit in the essentials, too large means carrying extra weight plus the temptation to stuff it with kit you don't really need.
Capacity is measured in litres. As a rule, packs under 10L are best suited to racing or riders who don’t mind packing light. Those with a capacity of 10-15L are most suitable for all-day trail riding, with enough space for tools, tubes, spare clothing, plus food and other essential kit. Packs at around 20-30L are best suited to longer, multi-day rides.
Most mountain bike packs nowadays tend to come with or be compatible with hydration systems. These use bladders to allow you to comfortably carry up to three litres of water on the trails, which is much more than can be taken with bottles. Some of the best hydration packs on the market now use lumbar bladders that sit across your hips, helping spread the weight of the water and helping to prevent back pain. The Camelbak Charge LR has a 2L lumbar bladder with 8L of storage capacity and regularly tops list of hydration pack reviews.
Some packs, such as EVOC's FR Enduro 16 pack have an integrated back protector, making them ideal for more extreme use, such as Alpine trips or enduro racing.
Panniers & Racks
Racks attach to your bike via a set of threaded bosses on the frame. Not all bikes have these fixtures, but choose a bike with these and you'll have a versatile machine with plenty of practicality. The pannier bags attach to the rails of the rack using simple quick-release clips (the most common is the Rixen Kaul Klikfix) so you can carry them with you off the bike, then quickly attach them when it’s time to ride.
Cycle pannier bags can be fitted onto racks at both the front and rear of the bike, we'd always recommend using just rear panniers for normal loads. If you fancy a longer holiday or expedition, then the use of front panniers as well will nigh-on double your carrying capacity.
Look for panniers which are made from waterproof material, like Ortlieb’s highly regarded Roller range, or a heavy duty cordura pannier combined with waterproof construction, like Altura’s Night Vision panniers.
Saddle & Handlebar Bags
A saddlebag is a small under-saddle mounted bag, and it is the ideal place to keep emergency spares for any ride. For race bikes, opt for a minimal sized bag able to carry a spare inner tube, tyre levers, and a small multitool. You can of course stuff all of these items in your race jersey pocket, but keep them in a pack that’s permanently fixed on your bike and you'll never accidentally forget them. The Topeak Aero Wedge sits neatly under your saddle and is available in three sizes depending on how much you want to carry.
For long road rides or sportives you may want to opt for a larger bag to store a couple of tubes, a C02 air pump, tyre levers, a spare chain link and a multi-tool. Saddlebags are available in a huge range of sizes so you'll easily find just what you’re looking for.
A bar mounted bag like the Altura Dryline bar bag is a favourite amongst cycling tourists, and like many bar bags, it incorporates a map pocket on the top so you can easily check your map. It also gives you quick access to essentials as you’re riding along, be it your phone, camera, wallet or mid-ride snacks.