2017 Bikepacking Awards: Gear of The Year
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In part two of our 2017 Bikepacking Awards triptych, we recognize gear that’s made a lasting impression in categories, including ‘Best New Component’, ‘Best Tools’, and ‘Top 5 Bikepacking Bikes’, plus thoughts on the bikes that capture our interest most for 2018..
Following part one of this year’s Bikepacking Awards – our collection of Best Bikepacking Videos, Photography and Art of 2017 – part two splits a hotly contested collection of gear into nine categories. Read on to find out what we consider to be the best products relevant to bikepacking… from great outdoor apparel and interesting innovations, to the bikes that have impressed us the most (and a few we’d love to try). In the interests of looking forwards, we’ve also included our top 5 bikes that we either haven’t had a chance to ride thoroughly this year, or have been announced but aren’t yet available.
Although some of the gear that’s made the cut has yet to earn an in-depth review on the site, it’s all equipment we’ve had first-hand experience using and feel confident in recommending. And note that although the emphasis is on 2017 products, these awards are drawn from all the gear we’ve tried and tested this year, irrespective of when a particular item came out. After all, the ‘latest and greatest’ isn’t always the best, irrespective of what the marketing hype may tell us. In our minds, bikepacking is as much about gear that stands the test of time as out-of-the-box performance, so we’ve tried to strike a useful balance.
Bikepacking Gear of The Year
Porcelain Rocket 52hz
Back in May, Porcelain Rocket introduced the first waterproof, seam-welded, roll-top frame pack. Since our initial review, we’ve gotten plenty of use with it, including time in the Republic of Georgia and a mixed weather, multi-month trip in Peru and Ecuador. Suffice to say, it is just as impressive after months of use as it was when we first got ahold of it. With a unique closure, excellent build quality, and attention to fit and sizing, the 52hz gets the top spot in our bikepacking gear of the year. Read our review.
As mentioned in our big ‘Gear That Lasts’ roundup, the Revelate Egress is one our all time favorite handlebar accessories amongst. With a completely waterproof build, easy access closure, and a padded insert, it’s the perfect vessel for a phone, maps, snacks, or anything that requires protection yet also needs to remain very accessible, like a mirrorless camera and a spare lens. Read the full review.
Revelate Designs MagTank
Inspired by Vikings — or so says one source — the Revelate Mag-Tank forgoes a zipper and provides bag access via a smartly contoured top flap held in place by a brilliant magnetic buckle. We tested a prototype over 1000+ miles of rough and tumble terrain in Kyrgyzstan, and have put even more miles on the final version released early this year… nothing but accolades. Read the full review.
RoadRunner Bags Jumbo Jammer
The Jumbo Jammer is unconventional in the world of bikepacking bags in that it’s top loading, which serves to make access especially easy. Although heavier than many modern bags, it’s extremely well made, nigh on 100 per cent waterproof (we’d trust it with our cameras), and mounts to the handlebars very securely thanks to a nifty strap system. Full expanded, capacity is enormous at 29L. Learn more here.
Top 5 Bikepacking Bikes
Salsa Timberjack Ti
This is the bike a lot of folks have been waiting for — a modern replacement to the beloved Ti El Mariachi. The Timberjack Ti features a well-designed trail geometry in a nicely constructed titanium package. Frame highlights include internal cable routing and alternator dropouts that can accomodate 27.5+ on up to 29+. Stay tuned for an upcoming Rider and Rig featuring Logan’s build.
Surly Karate Monkey
As one of the first 29ers on the market, the Karate Monkey has built quite the following over the years. For 2017 they revamped it to include a new frameset with a reworked trail geometry, Gnot-Boost spacing, and thru-axles. It also has room for 27.5+ tires, and all the brazeons you can shake a stick at… making it a bikepacking bike that is equally at home on the trails. Check out Michael Dammers’s Rider and Rig.
Kona Sutra LTD
While the Kona Sutra LTD we are testing is in fact the 2018 model, it’s been available for a few months now, and it’s impressed us enough to make a top five spot. The Sutra LTD is without a doubt a drop-bar bike built for off-road adventure. In addition to its ability to clear 29×2.1” tires, and a smorgasbord of bottle and rack mounts, its almost unmatched in the mainstream bike market for its mountain-bike like character. Read the press release here and stay tuned for a detailed review.
Pivot Mach 429 Trail
The perfect full-suspension bikepacking bike? Perhaps. After demoing 8 or 9 other options, we found that the Pivot Mach 429 Trail has all the features one might look for in a trail bike that doubles as a bikepacking rig — a bomber DW-Link suspension design, bottle mounts on the undercarriage, 27.5+ tires, and adequate frame bag space. Stay tuned for the full review.
We’ve ridden the Prospector throughout its evolution, from prototype to pre-production to production… and it’s just got more and more refined, with an attention to detail that borders on the obsessive. If you’re after a versatile, suspension-corrected and build-for-purpose expedition bike – designed around a Rohloff Speedhub but equally home without – it’s hard to think of anything as capable as the Prospector. Read the initial launch article.
Best New Component
SRAM Eagle GX Drivetrain
We have been using the Eagle X01 drivetrain for well over a year now, with hardly a con other than its price tag. SRAM put an end to that gripe back in June with Eagle GX… the trickle down gruppo attainable for less than $500. Although we don’t have a long-term review as our trip was cut short. With a full-pinned steel cassette and 500% gear range, it impressed us enough to make it component of the year. Read the press release here and stay tuned for a long-term review down the road.
Niner BOOST RDO Fork
There aren’t too many carbon forks available that fit 29+ tires and have bottle mounts. And even fewer that are interchangeable with BOOST 110mm thru-axle suspension forks — being able to swap the two might be an enticing prospect for some bikepackers whose trail hardtail doubles as their bikepacking race rig, or dirt-touring bike. The Niner RDO fork has been around for some time, but the 2017 builds on the platform with modern specs in an equally as solid and lightweight package. Stay tuned for a detailed review…
Jones H-Bar Loop SG
Jones Loop H-bars have become something of a staple in the bikepacking world, thanks to their comfort and general utility. But the $120 pricetag always kept some folks away. This year, Jeff introduced the SG model; the same great design for $40 less, thanks to the use of straight-gauge aluminum instead of custom-butted tubing. For bikes with low stacks/short headtubes – or just anyone who prefering a more upright riding position – the brand new SG 2.5 version, with 2.5in of rise compared to the standard half an inch, is just the ticket.
WTB Ranger Plus Tough
Given the steep pricing that beleaguers the Plus tire world… it’s great to see such a high quality, great riding tire come in at such a competitive price point. The Ranger Toughs roll well, corner nicely and the side walls are just as it says on the can… a big improvement for bikepacking over their lighter weight predecessors. Rangers are also available in a wide variety of sizes; 26+, 27.5, and 29+, with 3in and 2.8in widths on offer too. Whilst we’ve found they wear faster than some more expensive tires, we can’t fault them for their price.
Game Changer of 2017
Adding to their adventure travel bike lineup, Trek unveiled a bikepacking-specific model earlier this year that brought a few new tricks to the table. The 2018 Trek 1120 has two proprietary aluminum rack systems that are completely different from anything else out there. The 1120’s geometrically designed rear rack has an included harness system that holds two large dry bags; offering a way of carrying extra cargo that’s less bulky and more flush-fitting than panniers, independent of its dropper post. Even more interesting, the front rack can cradle a large drybag or multiple cylindrical items, keeping cargo away from brake levers and cables, often the bane of softbag bikepacking setups. Check out the press release and stay tuned for a detailed review.
Wide Trail Tires (29 x 2.6)
Designed to maximize cornering stability on a wide rim, wide trail tires have just enough volume to enjoy a some of that extra floatation, traction, and lower tire pressures favored by plus-tire connoisseurs, without all the associated weight. Since touring and trail riding on a couple of wide trail tires this year — more specifically, 29×2.6” in width — we can see why it’s a tire size that’s quickly gaining popularity. We still like the all terrain prowess of fully fledged mid fat bikes… but there’s a strong argument for less weight and better sidewall performance for many styles of riding, bikepacking included. Is it the hallowed sweet spot? It could well be… if only there were more bikes built around them.
Dropper-specific Seat Packs
For those who’ve tried it, bikepacking with a dropper post is completely revolutionary, especially when the ride involves short weekend trips, singletrack trails, and steep, technical descents. Since the advent of the Rockgeist Gondola, Porcelain Rocket’s Albert, and the Black Dragon by Bedrock (shown above) — among a few others — more and more riders are figuring it out. Stay tuned for our guide to posts and bags, over a year in the works.
WTB Koda Saddle
The ‘women’s specific’ label can seem a little arbitrary sometimes… especially if it’s just in reference to a pink colorway on an otherwise genderless product. There are plenty of reasons why a saddle may or may not fit an individual, but these aren’t just dictated by gender. If you’re a guy who’s sought comfort in a women’s-specific saddle, you’ll understand what’s behind the new WTB Koda, a saddle that’s ‘female-focused without being women’s-specific’. As with all saddles, whether you like it or not is down to personal choice. But we hope products like it usher in more inclusive mindsets in the bike industry. Read the press release.
Best in Tools
Dynaplug Micro Pro Tool
While the Dynaplug might not be new for 2017, it was new to us, and extremely impressive. From our review, “The size of a Mini-Bic lighter, the Dynaplug Micro Pro is the best tire repair accessory we’ve had the misfortune to try.” Read the full review.
Mineral Designs Mini Bar
The Mini Bar, one of three tools offered by the two-man shop, Mineral Designs, is a compact, welded steel mini tool with removable bits. It’s simple, feels good in hand, and is easy to use. It’s a favorite mini tool and went along on our trip to Georgia this past summer. Stay tuned for a review.
Crankbrothers Klic HV Pump
Crankbrothers reinvented the mini pump with the Klic HV. In doing so they created a nearly flawless pump with a stowable magnetic hose and comfortable folding handle in a lightweight, small, and usable package. After a year of use it seems to be quite durable as well. Read the full review
All In Multitool
Inspired by tricks and hacks from old bike touring veterans, the All In Multitool stashes in the crankset tube and stays in place with a powerful magnet. While it’s not cheap, and its lacking a few of necessary functions found in a folding multi, it’s a beautifully designed, handy bit driver that is super easy to access and use. Read the full review.
Accessory of the Year
wolf Tooth B-RAD System
Convert a pair of bottle bosses into a three-pack for an Anything Cage, move a cage up or down, add an accessory strap, etc. Wolf Tooth opened up the options with their new B-RAD (Bottle Relocation and Accessory Device). Great for people who like partial frame bags and want to run two water bottles. Read our first impressions here and see a news release of the newest attachments here.
Rat King T-Rack
The T-Rack is a minimal, lightweight rear rack that can clear large tires (up to 29×3.5″) while also adding two sets of ‘3-pack’ triple bottle mounts to the lower rear of a dirt-touring rig, offering a great way of carrying an extra 4 liters of water for desert bikepacking on long distance journeys. There are two versions on offer… a more minimal saddlebag support and a version designed for micro-panniers. At 350-380g, they’re light enough to warrant the extra weight they can support, and as we’ve experienced, hardy enough to survive multi-month, dirt road touring. Learn more on the press release here.
If you’re never been convinced by dynamo lighting – especially for technical, nightime bikepacking, the Sinewave Beacon might just be the unit to change your mind. It pumps out a healthy 750 lumens of light, which can be bolstered with a cache battery (charged during the day via the USB outlet), thus avoiding any disconverting flickering. What’s more, it also be flipped to a high and low mode to illuminate your campsite. Burn time is great too; a 3000mAh battery lasts about 2.5 hours on high and 12 hours on low. And that’s just while stopped – even at low speed the dynamo is contributing power, which will quickly cut down how much you’re using the battery and extend the total burn time. Made in the US, build quality has been excellent too. Stay tuned for a review.
Okay, so this is a larger ‘accessory’ than most… The new Xtracycle Leap is effectively a bolt-on frame extension, transforming your rigid or hardtail Plus bike into a fully fledged, all terrain pickup truck… aka family bikepacking rig. Aside from car-free living, ours has seen use on local desert dirt road trips, hauling a tent, gear, water, food, not to mention human cargo… as well as the little one’s bike for those times he wants to ride. If you’ve been eyeing up a Surly Big Fat Dummy and already have a donor bike to hand, this is a fantastic family investment.
Camping Gear of the Year
Vargo BOT 700
We all love gear that serves multiple purposes. The Vargo BOT does just that, doubling as a bottle or storage capsule, and an ultralight camp cookpot. The new Vargo BOT 700 serves the same purposes and with a built-in handle, it also works perfectly as a camp mug as well. The original BOT we tested has seen a lot of fires and stoves, yet it’s still as good as new. We expect the same from this one as its built from the same material and to the same spec.
vargo Dig Dig Tool
A twofer for Vargo! Weighing in at 36 grams, the 8” Dig Dig tool is a nicely designed latrine shovel that doubles as a tent stake or digging out a fire pit. Vargo nailed the design with folded edges on the handle side for comfort, and a seemingly invincible titanium construction. What more can we say.
Good To-Go Breakfasts
Just as you thought oatmeal was boring, Good To-go breathed new life into two breakfast staples this year. The Oatmeal is some of the best we’ve tried, adding creative ingredients such as gluten-free rolled oats, quinoa flakes, and dried currants make up the meat of the dish, while hemp hearts, raw sunflower seeds, pumkin seeds, banana flakes, coconut, and chia seeds, which all add to its performance value. The Granola is excellent as well. Read the full review.
The Trailshot pocket-sized water filter was designed for quick and active adventures. So it was no surprise that the MSR TrailShot is also ideal for weekend and overnight backcountry bikepacking trips. Given its size, weight, and price, the TrailShot works well on jaunts where there are plenty of water sources to dip into. Read the full review.
Outdoor Apparel of The Year
Patagonia Micro Puff Jacket
Patagonia claims that the Micro Puff Hoody is the best warmth to weight ratio jacket they’ve ever constructed. The proprietary PlumaFill insulation may not loft quite as well as down, but, unlike its animal derived competition, this synthetic material stays lofted and warm when wet… plus it breathes well. And to top it off, the Micro Puff compresses almost as well as many down jacket we’ve tested, weighs next to nothing, and does it all without stressing or harming any animals. Stay tuned for our review.
Five Ten Freerider EPS High
With winter setting in, it seems only fitting to recognize the toastiness of these Primaloft insulated, high top Freeriders; a cold weather take on Five Ten’s classic shoe. Ours have travelled across Peru and Ecuador, shrugging off snow and rainfall in their way. Note that the compound used is the softer, tackier Stealth S1 variety, so they’re not as hardwearing as the Guide Tennies, which we featured in our Gear That Lasts roundup.
Search and State Field Shorts
With a substantial waxed canvas fabric that gets better as it gets dirty and worn, Search and State’s Field Shorts are classic, rugged, and refined. They are sewn in New York City, with nice details like pocket and interior trim made from upcycled scraps and cobra fasteners on the front pockets so that there’s no chance of losing a phone while pedaling. They shrug off moisture and are breathable. SAS gets the fit just right: close without feeling restrictive. Right now sold out in most sizes but coming back next Spring.
Most Interesting Bikes for 2018
The new CHUMBA Terlingua, a steel-frame, drop-bar gravel bike with either 700c or 650b ‘road plus’ tires looks promising, especially given its $1450 pricetag for a made in the USA tubeset. Check out the press release and watch for a review down the road. Learn more here.
Why Cycles Wayward 29+
With an elegantly formed, grade 9 titanium frame, plenty of mounts, 29×2.8” tires, and on paper, a solid seeming trail geometry, the Wayward 29” looks like our kind of bikepacking hardtail. We hope to review one later this spring. For now, learn more here.
The Blackborrow isn’t a conventional bikepacking bike… at least in the way that we generally aspire to carry less rather than more… But it’s certainly a bike that encourages us to dream of going big! If ultra remote backcountry expeditions, multi-sport adventures, and trail maintenance pique your interests, then this reinvented midtail, complete with a Sram GX drivetrain and 27.5x4in tires, opens up some intriguing possibilities. First ride impressions here.
Bombtrack Hook EXT-C
As a brand-new model for 2018 the Hook EXT-C builds on the success of the original HOOK, but in a full carbon fiber format. The bike was designed to allow for larger tires and a shorter rear end for more agile handling. For carrying duties, the EXT-C includes bottle mounts under the downtube as well as a set of triple-mounts on each fork blade. Learn more here.
Ibis Ripley LS
There are many full-squish bikes that can be taken bikepacking, but only a handful that seem really good for the job. With two bottle mounts, decent space for a frame bag, and 29×2.6” tires (one of the few bikes that fits them), the new Ibis Ripley LS definitely looks like a great choice. Read the press release here.