Mountain biking can be lots of fun but only if you can easily and comfortably pack the items you’ll need during your ride. Mountain bike backpacks are popular because they can hold your stuff and they’re also comfortable to wear. They can make the difference between a great bike ride and a frustrating experience.
Some bikers choose backpack alternatives such as panniers, handlebar pouches, basic rucksacks, and so on, but sometimes nothing but a backpack will work to carry essential gear. Some riders carry a hydration reservoir and not much else, while others might bring a sleeping bag, change of clothing or even a tent.
There are several things to bear in mind when choosing the best cycling backpack, to make sure you pick the best one for your needs. These are some of the main factors to consider:
- Size and capacity
- Breathability and comfort
- Compartments and expansion options
- Anchor points
- Adjustable straps
- Water-resistant or waterproof properties
- Suspended back mesh pane
Table of Contents
First Figure Out Which Size You Need
Let’s start with size since this is the most important factor. You can choose from a small, medium or large backpack, depending on your needs, and consider which features you want to have.
Choosing something too big might mean less comfort wearing it or pressure on the back tyre. Choosing something too small might mean you have to leave some items you wanted to bring back at home.
A lightweight pack with a 20-litre capacity is a popular choice for short trips when you want to bring water, a phone and wallet and a few other basic supplies. However, it’s worth taking your time to compare various types, styles and sizes of backpacks to make sure you choose the best one for your requirements.
Let’s say you mainly ride cross-country or take short trips, or even commute to and from work. That means you’ll want the lightest, smallest size pack, which can comfortably hold plenty of water. A 10 to 15 litre maximum pack should be good for any of these.
If you’re going to hike though, you might prefer something between 10 and 30 litres, because you might want to bring tools, a windproof/waterproof jacket, water and snacks, and so on. For a camping trip, take a look at 30+ litre backpacks. These are also a good choice for photographers who want to protect their expensive lenses. You can include a tent and sleeping bag in there too.
The fit of a larger backpack is very important, since it’s going to be heavier. Pick something with a hip belt and sternum strap at the minimum. A built-in spine protector and internal frame are also worth having in a big pack.
Choose something with at least a 70-litre capacity if you’re planning a multi-day trip, or a pack with around 45-litres for an all-day trip. If the pack is for a daily commute or short trips, 30 litres should be sufficient.
A larger option might be better if you want to bring a change of shoes or clothes, or a laptop with you.
And if you need to change into a crease-free shirt when you get wherever you’re going, remember a roomy main compartment won’t crush your clothing so much. Also, if you have a laptop in there, you will want a padded inner liner to protect it.
If you’re still not sure which size suits your needs, consider a mountain bike backpack with expansion in the form of zippers. Another option is one with compression straps that can be loosened.
Still not sure how many litres to go for? This might help:
- 10 to 30 litres: day hikes, commuting, short trips
- 30 to 50 litres: overnight (1 or 2 nights)
- 45 to 55 litres: overnight (3 nights)
- Over 55 litres: overnight (4 nights or more)
Some people are minimalists while others are more traditional, so if you know you will be staying overnight and you need help choosing a 30, 40 or 50 litre pack, which sounds more like you?
- Minimalist backpackers prefer to carry as little as possible, opting for the most compact and lightest equipment and only carrying essentials. They won’t take a change of clothing or anything they can do without. Every gram matters!
- Traditional backpackers (about 90% of us) prefer a larger pack so they can take more with them. Remember in the winter months you’ll need a bigger pack to bring a warmer sleeping bag, better tent and extra clothing. If you’re travelling with children, you will probably have to carry some of their water, food and other gear too.
Tips for Choosing the Best Pack
The size of a mountain bike backpack is very important. The price will also matter if you’re on a budget. In addition, consider the quality, comfort, material, and breathability.
Look for a minimum of two anchor points (lower abdomen and chest) to keep it in place even if you’re on a bumpy trail. Some have external straps so you can keep elbow pads, helmets or kneepads for example secured to the back of the pack instead of inside it.
Mountain Bike Backpack Features
There are various features you might want to have. Some of them, like padded sleeves or mesh-back panels might reduce the overall capacity of the pack or make it harder to fit bigger items. Some come in one size while others have a sliding harness system for a more precise fit.
A suspended mesh back panel is an important feature since this will hold the pack away from your back instead of pressing against it and making you sweaty and uncomfortable.
Some packs have a top handle so you can secure the straps out the way and carry it like a suitcase when you’re off the bike. Some have a dirty laundry pocket or maybe elasticated side pockets. Others might have zippered pockets to keep your passport and documents safe.
Other options such as a removable tool roll, earphone holes, integrated signalling whistle, mobile phone pouch or backlight clip are features some bike enthusiasts might be looking for.
Water Resistant and Waterproof Packs
A water-resistant mountain bike backpack can keep your stuff dry in a light drizzle. You can also get rain covers for water-resistant packs which will keep your things dry even in a heavy downpour.
A fully waterproof pack typically has coated zippers, welded liners and synthetic fabrics to ensure no water can get inside. You will want to seriously consider this if you will be carrying expensive items like an iPad or camera lens.
If you do have a lot of rain and you have the choice of a waterproof bag or a rain cover, go for the waterproof option. This is because a rain cover can be a pain to keep pulling off and putting back on if the rain is sporadic.
Some mountain bikers use a rain cover with a waterproof backpack, the reason being to keep out humidity. A foldable waterproof layer will ensure the pack stays bone dry whatever the weather or humidity level.
Mountain Bike Backpacks vs Cyclist Backpacks
You might be wondering how different mountain bike backpacks are from normal cyclist packs. First of all, they have superior harness systems. When riding your bike off-road you will have to move your body to keep your centre of gravity and balance, so a comfortable backpack which stays in place is a must-have.
A good mountain bike backpack will huge your body and off adjustable harnesses including waist, chest and shoulder straps for maximum comfort.
If you are only planning short trips, you will want a simple cyclist backpack with one roomy main compartment. Top-loading tends to be easier for taking things out and putting them back in.
An enthusiastic mountain biker will find a hydration pack more convenient than carrying water bottles. Simple access in the form of hydration cords or shoulder straps for water are always handy so you can hydrate on the go.
Storage Options for Mountain Bike Backpacks
Different packs come with different storage possibilities, so it’s important to consider the type of trips you will be taking on the bike and what you want to bring along. Options include a hydration system, back protection and a map compartment, for example.
Essential features would be a rain cover (unless the pack is waterproof) and a helmet holder. Being able to store your helmet somewhere accessible away from the inner compartment is handy since this frees up room.
Some mountain bike hydration backpacks have clamp-type helmet holders while others have a separate compartment. You might not even need to consider this if the helmet is going to be on your head the whole time!
How Much Water Storage Do You Need?
Full-sized mountain bike backpacks typically hold a 3-liter bladder but even some of the biggest ones only hold 2½ litres. If you’re going for a 1 or 2 hour ride, you won’t need as much liquid as if you were going on a day-long (or overnight) hike, for example.
Water reservoirs vary in size, so think about how much you typically drink during a bike trip. This can change of course, depending on the trip duration, the weather and how strenuous the ride is. You can always pack an extra bottle of water or hydration drink inside the pack.
Some backpacks come with separate reservoirs that you can add. It’s important to make sure you choose a good quality reservoir rather than just settle for the cheapest you can find. Think about it – if you’re riding your bike miles away from civilisation the last thing you want is a leaking or burst water reservoir!
Benefits of an Integrated Backplate in Mountain Bike Backpacks
Choosing a mountain biking backpack with an integrated backpack might be a good idea. This backplate might be built into the pack or purchased separately. A backplate keeps the bag sturdy and helps with the comfort.
Not having a backplate might mean a lumpy pack if it’s not full or if there are pointy things in there moving around and digging into your back. The fewer layers you are wearing, the more you will feel items in the pack if you don’t have a backplate.
How to Ensure a Great Fit
The whole point of a mountain bike backpack is to offer you a comfortable, reliable way of bringing your stuff with you when you’re riding the bike.
This means it’s crucial to make sure the backpack fits comfortably. A pack that swings from side to side will be annoying and it might also negatively affect your balance when taking sharp corners.
Multiple adjustable straps are always great since they can tailor the exact fit. You will want to spread the weight of the pack over your back, using a hip strap to keep the weight off your back. Generously padded shoulder straps also enhance comfort.
Mountain Bike Backpacks: In Conclusion
Road bikes, mountain bikes and e-bikes are becoming ever more popular. People love to ride bikes for fun and enjoyment as well as for exercise. Cyclist-friendly infrastructure, such as dedicated bike lanes, make cycling safer and easier. No wonder mountain bike backpacks are so much in demand right now.
A cyclist will want to invest in a sturdy helmet and maybe some Lycra shorts and a windproof jacket. A great cycling backpack is also important so you can bring your essential items with you on every trip.
You will be able to bring along everything you need, from a laptop and office essentials to a complete change of clothes and sandwiches if you’re riding to work. For a longer trip you will be able to bring a sleeping bag and lightweight tent, as well as plenty of water and snacks for hydration and energy.
Mountain bike backpacks are made from element-withstanding fabrics to keep the pack off your back while you ride and minimize uncomfortable back sweat. Now you know some of the features to look out for, you can confidently pick the best mountain bike backpack for your needs!