July 20, 2020
The Boyscouts’ motto might be “Be prepared” but it applies to mountain bikers as well. After all, we’re venturing deep into the woods on highly complicated, sometimes surprisingly fragile machines. So we need to be prepared to take care of both our bodies, and our bikes. So here’s a comprehensive breakdown of the gear you should bring on mountain bike rides of different lengths, as well as the best ways to carry it. Because being prepared doesn’t have to be complicated.
As you pack for a mountain bike ride, there are a few questions you should ask yourself, these will help you pack for the ride, and better define what bike gear you need.
The number one question is always, how many hours you’ll be spending on the bike. While some folks measure ride length in distance, it makes more sense when packing to think of it in terms of hours spent on the bike. That way it’s easier to prepare for eventualities, even for riders of different speeds. A ten-mile ride takes some folks an hour, and others three, so just talking about ride length in hours simplifies things. Before you pack for your bike ride, do your best to guess at how long of a ride it will be, and then add half an hour or so to give yourself some wiggle room.
Once you’ve figured out how long of a ride you’re going on, think about how remote it will be. On most rides, that means how far from the car you’ll be, but some loops might swing through a town, or near a bike shop, which can be a substitute for a car. Asking yourself this question helps you understand how self-sufficient you need to be. If you’re doing a bunch of small loops that start and end at the parking lot you can afford to leave more gear and food in the car and you won’t need to pack much aside from your bike helmet. But if you’re headed out for a long backcountry traverse, you’ll need to pack more.
Often, our bikes have problems before we hit the trail, and then technical riding just highlights them and makes them feel worse. So it’s important to stay up to date on maintenance and check your bike before every ride. Take a lap around the block and make sure everything is feeling good, and check to see if your bike is making any weird noises, before you even load it on the car. It will always be easier to fix a potential problem in your garage than on the trail.
And the same thing applies to your body. Are you hydrated? Are you about to be hungry? Eating and drinking ahead of time means you’re less likely to bonk on your ride, and you can afford to carry less food and water.
Once you’ve answered those questions, it’s time to think about how you’re going to carry your gear. There are several methods that can be mixed and matched depending on how long of a ride you’re going on. It’s a good idea to lay out everything you need for your ride, and then see how small of a pack it will fit in. There’s no reason to be carrying around a bigger, heavier pack than you need.
In recent years, tool and bike manufacturers have focused on creating gear that is easy to carry on the bike. There are options to stash a multitool in your steerer tube, a water bottle on your frame, and a spare tube strapped to your downtube. We’re big fans of on-bike storage, because it’s much harder to forget something important if it’s strapped to your bike. It’s a good idea to try to have everything you need for a short (around one hour) ride stashed on your bike. That way you can grab it and go.
For many mid-length rides, a hip pack is a great option. It’s smaller than a full hydration pack, but offers plenty of storage for extra food, layers, tools, and parts. They are much less noticeable when riding than a full hydration pack, but can have almost as much capacity as smaller packs.
For longer rides where you need more food, water, tools, and layers, there’s no substitute for a hydration pack. You can fit a few liters of water easily, and pack everything you need for all-day adventures.
If you’re just hitting the trails for a short lap, we recommend you bring:
So there you have it, the first step to being prepared is to examine what exactly you’re trying to do, and how long it will take. From there you can modify your packing list to help you stay ready for any eventuality.