Personal setups » A Tourist tries to Bikepack, by Nunby nun
I’ve never completely signed up to the ultralight camping manifesto that requires the adherent to remove all the labels from clothes and sleep on bubble wrap, but I do like to save weight by using light weight gear and packing sensibly as long as my comfort isn’t severely compromised. Over the years my gear list has evolved and so have my bags. One constant though has been my Carradice Nelson Longflap saddlebag which has successfully carried my gear over many miles. I admit that I have an emotional connection to this saddlebag because it gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling of those halcyon days of English bicycle touring, but it also works very well and has some excellent features such as the expandable long flap, the side pockets and it’s rugged dependability. It’s made of cotton duck material which is very un-ultralight and this became apparent when I recently weighted all my gear and made the spreadsheet below. The saddlebag, at almost 2lbs, is the heaviest thing I carry. So taking a page out of the “bikepacking” school of baggage I experimented to see if I could replace it with a 20 litre 100D nylon compression sack that weighs 5.4oz. This is made of heavier nylon than most compression sacks, but I think it’s important for it to be waterproof and fairly tough. The compression feature is vital as it stops items moving around and gives the bag structure so that it can be tightly attached to the bike. For a more extreme approach definitely look at this excellent ultralight site http://www2.arnes.si/~ikovse/weight.htm. But now to the numbers, click on the spreadsheet images and then click again to magnify them so they are readable, and if you want to copy it’s available at
The result of all this weighting and typing is that by using compression sacks and updating a couple of items I can immediately reduce the weight of my gear, bags and racks from 22lbs to 18.7lbs. I also looked at my clothes and my choice of Merino wool has a definite weight penalty, but I just like the way it feels and performs so I think I’ll stick with it. So what does this look like on the bike. Well almost the same as using a saddlebag, except that my sleeping pad is now in the rear sack. It’s quite easy to strap the sack onto the saddle and Expedition Bagman using a couple of nylon straps through the saddle loops and the front sack is equally easy to attach by strapping it to the handlebars and looping one of the compression straps around the stem to stop the bag flapping up and down.
It works after a fashion, but there are a lot of straps and I think that having to undo the compression straps every time I wanted to get something out of the bag would get frustrating. The side pockets and large top opening flap of the traditional saddlebag are far more practical for touring, but the transverse width makes them less than ideal for off roading. The compression sack has one advantage over the Brand V handle bar bag as it has an expandable capacity, but there’s no way to access stuff when riding. So while this approach is a good way to reduce weight I think it lacks the functionality of my traditional bags for the road tourist. Carradice also make a 23L capacity Cordura saddlebag that weighs 1.3lbs, but it seems to be out of stock everywhere and I think it should be possible to use 100D waterproof nylon and come up with some ultralight bags (less than a pound) with the useful features of my traditional bags. If someone made something like that I’d buy it tomorrow.
After going through this exercise I’ve revisited the way I pack my saddlebag. By folding my Big Agnes sleeping pad in two, rather than three, before rolling it up (and putting the Nelson Longflap into Tardis mode) it now fits nicely it into my saddlebag. This makes the setup look cleaner, I never like having stuff hanging off the saddlebag if I can help it. So here it is: a traditional three bag set up using some ultralight principles that will allow indefinite, unsupported, civilized, three season touring at a weight of 22lbs. It can be installed on any bike, road, touring, mountain as it requires no eyelets and even if you don’t have saddle loops you can buy simple clamp on ones or use a quick release Bagman. If I can loose a few pounds I’m thinking of trying this setup on my DeRosa Neo Primato. That would be touring on an Italian steel bike with Japanese components and English bicycle bags. Call me crazy, but I just love the idea of all those weird juxtapositions.