follow us:
Shoulders of Giants is closed. Click here for more information
Adventure, Cycle / January 5, 2016

How to Pack for a Bike Ride

Written by: Andrew Winohradsky

Most bike shops or riding buddies can clue you in on the basics that should be in your riding pack: a multi-tool, spare tube, snacks, car keys, phone, and hydration. Seems simple enough, right? Not quite. If you’re planning to carry a pack – which you should if you’re going to be riding any distance from your car, home, or hotel – there are a few less conventional items that you should have that probably won’t be recommended to you from your bike shop. Those items all fall under the category of “learned it the hard way.” Before we get into the contents of your bike pack, though, let’s start with the size of your pack.

Here are three packs from Evoc: 30 liter to 10 liter. On the foreground: the Hip-Pack.

There have been many instances where I have taken off on a ride without a pack. I have, however, had my essentials stuffed in the zipper pockets of my shorts. On these pack-less rides, I’d always assume the weather would be perfect. I would never be any more than a few minutes walk from wherever I needed to be if something did came up mechanically that I couldn’t repair. And from a safety perspective, there were always plenty of people around to help.

Fashion police be damned, this is a great ride for the Hip-Pack. Throwing a bunch of expensive and important stuff into non-zippered pockets is never a good idea. And stuffed cargo pockets (with shredded layers, warm hat, etc.) means that the weight is going to have to go up and down with every pedal stroke, especially on your thighs. A Hip-Pack keeps your valuables secure and carries the weight of the contents on your lower lumbar, which is also the center of mass of your body. This will be the calmest and most efficient place to carry it.

The pack that is the next size up is a 10 liter pack (pictured above). This is my go-to for most mountain bike riding, as well as my first recommendation for fellow riders. There are many packs that are smaller in size (approximately five to six liters), but all they can carry is your water and the very basics. If you plan on really riding, you’re going to need to shed layers, as well as carry extra layers, and have space to put them. With a five to six liter pack, this is already too much stuff to fit in there. That’s why I personally jump up to the 10 liter right away. It’ll house everything you need, while not being too big or bulky.

The final pack is a 30 liter pack (pictured above). A pack of this size is a necessity if you’re carrying a sleeping bag, lugging food and camping gear, a GoPro camera set-up, and more, but it’ll be overkill for the majority of rides.

So, let’s start getting into the contents of your pack:

Light jacket. Most people are aware that a light jacket is a great idea, but I’m going to go a step further and suggest a waterproof one, too. If you can stay dry, you can probably stay at least relatively warm. Look for a decent water-resistant jacket that will pack well. I also carry a moisture wicking hat and some gloves. Staying warm while riding in light rain isn’t very hard to do even if you are a little damp. But when the weather changes and you’re out for an extended period of time, a little extra protection from the elements will come in handy.


Gore-tex rain jacket, a moisture-wicking hat, and a pair of warm gloves.

Spare tube. Most riders know that flat tires are pretty much inevitable, even with today’s much-improved tubeless tire systems. That said, most riders typically carry a spare tube with them and have the knowledge to actually install it to repair the flat. But what happens when you flat your spare and your buddy didn’t bring his? On long rides away from civilization, two spare tubes may not be a bad idea.

Patch kit. Patch kits are small and easy to carry, and can be found in any bike shop. They will come in handy at some point. It’s a pretty simple process to patch a tube and you’ll be glad you have one in your pack when you need it.


Gorilla Tape, a simple patch kit, and a few paper bills… pretty solid tools for on-trail flat repair/tire repair.

Flat repairs on the trail aren’t always about throwing a fresh tube in a flat tire, though. I see a lot of flats these days because of damage to the tire, particularly a slice or hole that is large enough the sealant of the tire (in modern tubeless systems) is unable to seal the puncture. In this case, the pressure of an installed tube (the usual flat repair method), when inflated, will simply force the tube out of the hole and you’ll be walking.

There are numerous methods to potentially salvage your expensive tire when you get home, but out on the trail things can be a bit tougher. Turns out, a paper bill folded over and placed over the hole, on the inside of the tire, will work great for a tire patch. Two will work better. And a roll of Gorilla Tape will work in a pinch for damaged tire beads, holding the make shift bill-patch in place.

Cracked cable housing? Sliced brake line? Broken shoe buckle? Gorilla Tape and zip-ties come in handy for MacGyver-style repairs, too!


Gorilla Tape and zip-ties for fixing just about anything.

Multi-tool. Most riders know that a good multi-tool is a must, but a chain tool is a must. If something goes slightly out of adjustment on your bike, you can usually still nurse it home, covering decent ground albeit a bit slower. But with a broken chain and no way to fix it, you’re going to be pushing on all but the downhills. I’m also blown away by the amount of bamboozled riders that I find on the side of the trail – broken chain and chain tool in hand, but clueless as to how to actually use the thing. Make sure that you have a chain tool in your pack (whether on your multi-tool or not) and you know how to use it. Tip: Just about any bike shop should have plenty of excess lengths of chain lying around that they will gladly donate to you so you can hone your chain repair skills. A good shop will actually show you how it’s done. If not, YouTube it!


Multi-tool containing the all important chain tool.

SRAM Power Link or Shimano Chain Pin. The proper way to fix a chain is either with a SRAM Power Link or a Shimano chain pin. A Power Link should work with both SRAM and Shimano chains, but the pins are designed to work with Shimano chains, so I prefer to use pins on Shimano chains. It may be necessary to remove a potion of the damaged chain (with your chain tool) in order to properly repair with either system. Also, you always want to push a chain pin through the links from the inside to the outside of the bike, as well as have the wider link be “pulling” length for more strength.


Essentials to fixing a broken chain properly: a SRAM Power Link and Shimano chain pins.

A shift cable. A shift cable is small, light, and easy to install. Inevitably, you or one of your riding pals will break a cable, or more likely, fray one to the point the bike will be almost impossible to shift. If you still have a bunch of distance to cover, especially in difficult terrain, getting the bike back to operational with proper shifting, could be really important.


Shift Cable

Spare derailleur hanger. Your derailleur hanger is that piece of metal that your derailleur threads into. It is designed to bend or break before your expensive derailleur does when it is impacted in a fall or by a trailside obstacle. Thus, it’s a fairly malleable and weak piece of your bike. When this happens, your bike won’t shift well, if at all. A broken or severely damaged derailleur hanger on a long ride is bad news. Thus, having a spare in your pack is a good idea. Most bikes have derailleur hangers that are specific to models so make sure you get the right one.


Three different derailleur hangers. There are many different versions of these. Make sure you get the correct one, as a spare, and keep it in your pack.

Spare cleat bolts. If you ride with clip-less pedals, you have cleats on the bottom of your shoes. These cleats are attached with two bolts so that they don’t twist when you re-position your foot to get out of the pedal. If you lose one of those bolts, allowing the cleat to twist relative to your shoe, instead of relative to the pedal (relative to the pedal is the motion necessary so that the cleat will disengage from the pedal), you won’t be able to get out of your pedal and put your foot down. This can be very dangerous. Cleat bolts should be a installed with blue Loc-tite, preventing them from loosening up, but this doesn’t always happen. Again, a small part to carry and an easy remedy to a potentially dangerous predicament.


Spare cleat bolts.

First aid kit. If you intend to have fun outdoors, I highly recommend that you have basic first aid skills and the necessary equipment to implement them.

Visit for more on DirtSmart MTB Skills Coaching and Training and scheduled clinics and camps.

about the author

Andrew Winohradsky

Andrew Winohradsky has been having a blast working and playing on two wheels his entire life. Starting with BMX and motocross as a kid, mountain bikes came into the picture in the early ‘90s.

read more
hit the outdoors

Sign up for the inside scoop on new products, member discounts and inspiration from our giants.