2018 Bikepacking Awards: Gear of the Year
In celebration of another great year for the bikepacking community, we’re happy to announce our 2018 Bikepacking Awards. Part one of three recognizes gear that’s made a lasting impression in categories including Best New Component, Best Tools, and Top Five Bikepacking Bikes. Plus, some thoughts on the bikes that have captured our interest for 2019…
In an effort to recognize all that’s been accomplished in the bikepacking community, here is the first of three presentations honoring the people, teams, brands, and products we think have had the biggest impact in 2018. Part one 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 interest of looking forward, we’ve also included our top five 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 about recommending. And note that although the emphasis is on 2018 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, regardless 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
Revelate Vole and Terrapin
Relevate Designs gave their seat packs a major overhaul this year. The first to be updated was the new Terrapin System 8L, which was redesigned with independent saddle rail straps, auto-locking active cam buckles, and a plastic skid plate. Following suit, the all-new Vole, a dropper-specific seat pack, received the same engineering advances well. These changes result in sleeker, sturdier, and more stable seat packs that—like other Revelate bags—can take all the abuse you can dish out. Bravo to Eric, Dusty, Holly, and team! You can find the full review of the Vole here, Cass’ first look at the Terrapin System 8L here, and stay tuned for coverage of the new Revelate Terrapin system 14L.
Other Top Picks
Porcelain Rocket Mr. Fusion XL (v4)
The Mr. Fusion has long been one of our favorite seat packs. It’s waterproof, bombproof, and a joy to use. Last year, Scott and team quietly reengineered the strap/harness system and introduced Mini and XL versions. Logan gave the XL a thorough thrashing in Armenia this past summer, and found it to be even better than the original, which received near perfect marks in this 5,000-mile review.
Made in New Mexico, USA, the Tribulus Endover is a front rolltop bag that blends the essence of a classic saddlebag with modern bikepacking materials and sensibilities. The result is a front bag that offers minimal weight and maximum functionality. If you like the idea of a top-loading design, but also aspire to a rack free, ultralight setup, it’s a great option. There are lots of color options, too! Read the full review here.
Rockgeist FiberFlight Frame bags
While Dyneema and Cuben Fiber are nothing new in the bikepacking bag world, Asheville-Based Rockgeist—with two textiles engineers in house—has done an amazing job spelling out these options to its custom frame bag customers. We’ve tested several of these bags on various bikes and have been thoroughly impressed with the build quality and materials. Read TJ’s review here.
Top Five Bikepacking Bikes
Why Cycles Wayward
We were quite excited about the titanium 29+ Wayward when it came out last year. Carbondale, Colorado-based Why Cycles nailed a great looking design that makes an excellent choice for bikepacking and trail riding alike. TJ Kearns took the Wayward out for review and liked its versatility, ride quality, and the unmistakable attention to detail that went into its production. Stay tuned for the full review soon.
The Blackborow “midtail” is an unusual bike. When it was first released, Salsa was curious to see what people would do with such a load-carrying fatbike, as were we. The answer is a whole lot, as it turns out. Check out our two Rider and Rig features, showcasing just a couple of creative ways Blackborows can be used: Brett Davis’ here and Ben Weaver’s here. Although we’ve only had limited hands-on experience with the Blackborrow, it’s a surprisingly fun bike to ride, and it’s lighter than you’d think, too.
All-City Gorilla Monsoon
Not only is All-City’s Gorilla Monsoon quite the eye candy, it’s also well-conceived, perfectly suited for variety of terrain, and a blast to ride. With a nice blend of classic styling and a modern build features, such as thru-axles, short-ish chainstays, and beefy tires, the Gorilla Monsoon is certainly unique. Read our full review.
Back at the end of 2017, before fully testing the 1120, we gave the 1120 the Game Changer Award for its creative take on the iconic 29+ platform for bikepacking. With a unique rack and harness system, tons of mounts, and a nice ride personality to match, we decided that the 1120 deserved of a Bike of The Year award. See the full review here.
Surly Bridge Club
Surly has long been an innovator when it comes to bikes made for multi-day exploration, whether they run a full-fat or 29+ wheel format. It may not be pushing the envelope in terms of tire size, but we’ve been very impressed by the versatile Bridge Club, intended for both dirt and all-road touring. It fits 26+, 27.5 x 2.8″, or 700c x 45mm tires, giving the BC quite the range, wherever you intend to ride. It’s easy to get dollar signs in the eyes when planning a dream bikepacking setup, so it’s great to see a sensibly specced bike at an inclusive $1,200. Stay tuned for a full review.
Best New Component
Selle Anatomica Series 2 Saddles
The original Selle Anatomica Titanico saddle has long been a favorite among bike tourists and bikepackers for its unmatched comfort. However, they had an issue with durability, specifically the leather stretching too fast and the rails bending from heavier riders. The company has continually improved it, and this year released the Series 2 frame, a modular design with a cast aluminum support and chromoly rails. The new frame is stronger, ~100 grams lighter, and rider serviceable, meaning it’s possible to swap out the skin for a new one. In addition, they’re working on a rubber compound skin option. After Logan put almost 3,000 miles on this one, it’s still going very strong. Stay tuned for a full, long-term review.
Other Top Picks
OneUp Composite Pedals
Plastic pedals for bikepacking!? Indeed. Not only has this pair survived over 2,000 miles of bikepacking and trail riding in Armenia, Colorado, and New Mexico, they’re still in great working order. OneUp nailed the size of these pedals. They aren’t too wide, and they’re not too small, either. That, paired with their impeccable grip, makes them both Logan and Virginia’s favorite pedal for bike travel. Stay tuned for a full review.
WTB ByWay 650b Tires
We never would have guessed there would be a road-ish tire on a dirt-focused website. However, the ByWay is something special. It’s absolutely fantastic on gravel, both in grip and durability. Joe took this tire on the Irreverent Road Ride in Vermont, D2R2, and through Japan. We also rode them on the new 650B Warbird along the Appalachian Gravel Growler. It’s that impressive. If you’re used to riding all-road bikes with 38mm tires, the 47mm Byways will be a revelation and (a source of big grins).
SQ Labs 30X16° Bars
The 30X 16˚ is a really comfortable, high-performance handlebar with a shape that will likely suit those who favor the control that comes with a trail handlebar, but want to alleviate some of the pressure on their wrists. These bars feature a 16˚ backsweep, a 780mm width and are available in a 15mm, 30mm, or 45mm rise to suit your needs. There’s both a less costly aluminium version and higher end carbon one (235g), which should help take some of the sting out of a rigid setup. More details can be found in our Low Down on alt handlebars.
Top Five Frills of 2018
New for 2018, but certainly not conceived to promote overspending or general excess, the Top Five Frills highlights a few big investments that we think could be worthwhile for some. In short, we saw quite a few products released in 2018 that have a hefty price tag, but also make good investments for long term use if you have the extra coin.
PEdAL ED Mido boots
Made in Italy by Diemme, an Italian shoe company of high repute, the Mido is a purpose-made boot for expedition cycling, that’s extremely comortable straight out of the box. With a $305 price tag, the Midos certainly don’t come cheap. But, after spending a European summer bikepacking the Alps and beyond — and still wearing them on a daily basis — we decided that it’s a price worth paying for an extremely durable riding boot that only gets better with age. See our review here.
Oddity Razorbar Ti
Made to order in Fort Collins, CO, the Oddity Razorbar can be specced with the width, rise, and backsweep of your choice. We went for a 45mm rise with 20° of backsweep for supreme comfort. The $350 Ti model, pictured above, isn’t just a thing of beauty. Ours has seen action across South America, so we can definitely vouch for its durability as well. Too much to spend? There’s a chromoly version too for $150 that boasts crowbar-like strength. Check out our Low Down on alt bars for details.
Kitsbow Icon V2 Shirt
We wouldn’t recommend a shirt that costs $220 unless it’s good. Really good. Cass wore the wool Icon every day for almost nine straight weeks in Ecuador and Peru in 2017, and even more in 2018. The latest Icon (V2) has number of new updates, including increased cuff opening, improved patch coverage, better shoulder vents articulation, added reflectivity, and new colors. And it’s now available in a women’s version as well (as shown here).
Bedrock Hermosa UL Panniers
We’ve tucked our prized Hermosa UL panniers in this category of our awards post because yes, $300 is an awful lot of cash for a set of small panniers. But price aside, we love everything about them. They’re light, fit securely, quiet in use, and the sizing is just right for gear overflow (without overpacking). After months of hard use, they’re still in perfect condition. We’ve mounted ours both up front and on a rear rack.
Cane Creek eeWings
A $1,000 crankset… what!? Released back in April, Cane Creek claimed their 400 gram eeWings titanium crankset was the lightest and stiffest on the market. When they offered to let us borrow one, we couldn’t resist. After a few hundred miles with it, we can definitely back their claims in the lightweight department. It’s also a thing of beauty, and we are betting that it will last a lifetime. Stay tuned for a review and read the initial press release here.
Best in Tools
OneUp EDC Pump and Multi-tool
We tested a lot of tools this year, and OneUp’s EDC was certainly the sleeper that we wouldn’t have expected in the 2018 Bikepacking Awards. We expected tiny, useless tools, and plasticky equipment prone to failure. However, in the end, the EDC pump works remarkably well, and the entire system is superbly built and cleverly designed. It’s easy to toss in the bag and trust that you’ll have everything you’ll need, which is especially true since OneUp added the tire plug tool integration and chainlink pliers. The EDC Tool and Pump is an excellent solution for day rides and bikepacking alike. Check out our full review here.
Other Top Picks
The Silca T-Ratchet is one of the most versatile, precise, and complete bit driver tools we’ve seen. Silca spared no expense when it came to designing this tool set. From its waxed canvas carrying case, complete with magnetic closure buttons, to an extremely well-made ratcheting handle that can be reconfigured with high-power magnets, the T-Ratchet is of exceedingly high quality, to say the least. Check it out in our Bit-Driver Tool Low Down.
Wolf Tooth Master Link Combo Pliers
With a repair arsenal that includes quick-link pliers, storage for two spare link pairs, a valve core tool, pliers for random locknuts, and a tire lever tool—all rolled into a tiny, 38g package—Wolf Tooth’s Master Link Combo Pliers is one of the neatest little gadgets we’ve used. And it’s made in the USA, to boot. Read our full review.
With a $70 price tag, many will shy away from the precision titanium Spurcycle Tool in favor of something with a few more functions. But, all in all, it’s an impressive little tool that’s incredibly lightweight and small, a joy to use, and well-made in the USA. It’s also one that’s been in our pockets over the last year more than any other tool. Check it out in our Bit-Driver Tool Low Down.
Accessory of the Year
King Cage/Wolf Tooth Morse Cage
Simplicity is a beautiful thing. Wolf Tooth Components partnered with Durango, Colorado-based King Cage to create the Morse Cage, an elegantly crafted bottle cage that has several mounting options in lieu of the standard two hole design. This simple pattern allows it to slide up or down to work with other gear. For example, on the seat tube or down tube, it can be moved downward ever so slightly in order to better accommodate a half frame pack. We’ve been using the super light titanium version for several months now and can attest to its durability. It’s an instant classic. Read the press release here.
Other Top Picks
Durango, Colorado-based Bedrock Bags has perfected the downtube accessory bag. The Sinbad Stash Sack is a sweet little roll-top accessory bag that can store tools, spares, fluids, or other miscellaneous items while out mountain biking or bikepacking. As shown in this writeup, the Sinbad carried our second spare tube, a tire lever, a 4oz container of Orange Seal tire sealant, and a large bottle of chain lube.
Porcelain Rocket Nigel
Released back in March, Nigel is a waterproof, roll-top, standalone handlebar bag designed to carry a camera, phone, gloves, snacks, and other goodies out on all-day gravel rides. Nigel’s reinforced, easy-to-use roll top and simple bungee closure system makes it a breeze to open and close with one hand, even while riding. This makes it nearly the perfect bike camera bag. Read our review here.
Hobo Pieces Restuvus
Chad Roddy launched Hobo Pieces this year with the Restuvus, a CNC aluminum clamp mount designed to allow larger saddlebags to install on non-traditional saddles; ie, those without bag loops. Yes, there are much cheaper options on the market, but we think the Restuvus is worth the money, as the quality is top notch and the shape makes fitting and removing saddlebags a bit easier. Plus, there are several fun color options. Cass put his through the grinder in South America and gave it solid marks. Check it out on our Saddlebag Low Down.
Camping Gear of the Year
Big Agnes Copper Spur UL3 and Fly Creek UL3 HV
When bikepacking as a couple (or a small family), two-person tents can feel a little cramped, especially when there’s smelly gear involved. Logan and Cass independently tried Big Agnes’ latest revisions of their ultralight three-person tents this past year, the Fly Creek HV UL3 and the Copper Spur HV UL3. And both were equally impressed. Cass took the Copper Spur on a family trip along the Baja Divide and Logan and Virginia brought the Fly Creek along on their month-long bikepack through Georgia and Armenia. It’s hard to match Big Agnes’ three-person tents for their light weight, internal volume, and detailing, including the option of a useful LED strip. Read Cass’ review of the Copper Spur here.
Other Top Picks
Western Mountaineering NanoLite and AstraLite Quilts
New for 2018, Western Mountaineering’s highly anticipated NanoLite (38°F) and AstraLite (26°F) Quilts take the highest quality materials and their popular 850+ fill down to satisfy all of your ultralight needs. The adjustable elastic loops are compatible with any sleeping pad out there, the insulated draft yolk keeps the warmth in, and they are made right here in USA. Stay tuned for a full review.
MSR Carbon Reflex 1 Tent
The MSR Carbon Reflex 1 is one of the lightest fully featured solo tents available. Weighing in at just 790g (27.86 oz.) while still offering a zippered side entrance, rain fly, and several other features not often found on ultralight shelters, Miles was quite impressed at how well the Carbon Reflex 1 held up on the Oregon Timber Trail this summer. Check out the full review here.
Firepot Meals (with Compostable Pouch option)
First and foremost, Firepot’s offerings taste like complete, real meals, not contrived camping food where calorie counting dictates the ingredients. And the taste is really, really good! Gluten-free and vegan options mean no one is left hungry. Best of all? They’re now available in compostable pouches, as pictured above. Read our review here.
Outdoor Apparel of The Year
Kitsbow Haskell Shorts (V2)
Although they don’t come cheap, the Haskell V2 are without a doubt some of the best and most durable shorts we’ve used to date. The Haskell is constructed out of a heavy duty woven nylon with the perfect level of stretch and gusseting to keep you moving freely. They’re also tailored just right; not too long and not too short. Version 2 updates include reflective taping for visibility, six pockets, and a really nice webbing button and zipper system. They’re comfortable but not tight, and after almost 3,000 miles, they are showing zero signs of wear and only look better than they did when new. Stay tuned for a full review.
Other Top Picks
Bedrock Cairn sandals
Okay, so a recommendation for bikepacking in sandals might not have been what you were expecting from this site. But for routes like the increasingly popular Baja Divide, there’s a strong argument for flat pedals and open toes. Bedrock’s US-assembled Cairns are durable, repairable, soakable, and will stop your hot feet from smelling… Cass rode a pair for 800 miles through Mexico and was won over. Read the review, and see his dirt and tanlines, over here.
7mesh: Glidepath Shorts and Callaghan Merino Hoodie
Squamish, British Columbia-based 7mesh has developed a solid collection of mountain bike apparel. Virginia has practically lived in their Glidepath shorts and Callaghan Merino hoodie, both of which she swears by. The Glidepath is light, extremely durable—these have been across Armenia and on countless trail rides–and comfortable. The Callaghan is a breathable merino layer that’s warm and has a cycling-friendly cut.
Civic Antoni Merino T-shirt
What’s a T-shirt doing in the gear of the year, you might ask? The answer is simple: a few of us here have been on an eternal quest to find the perfect merino tee, what we also consider to be an ideal bike jersey. Shirts have come and gone over the years, but this Civic Antoni seems to be one of the better options out there right now. Not only is it comfy and nicely tailored, but after a whole summer and upward of 1,300 miles, it’s holding up extremely well, with no signs of stretching or wear.
Most Interesting Bikes for 2019
We’ve always got our ears to the ground for new bikes designed with the needs of bikepackers in mind. Sometimes, they’re models we can eventually get our hands on, try out, and share feedback on. At other times, we can just admire and evaluate them from afar. Of the many bikes that will be on the market in 2019, those below are the ones that have most piqued our interest; they’ve all only just been announced, or only recently become available. They all feature something interesting, different, especially well thought through, or are just worthy of debate!
Salsa Warbird 650b
Spoiler alert… we’ve already been testing this bike and we love it. Both Joe and Logan took them on the Appalachian Gravel Growler and found them to be the perfect match for a gravel-intensive bikepacking route. Stay tuned for a full review.
Bombtrack Hook ADV
The Hook ADV is an ultra-niche machine that blends the essence of 90s era mountain bikes with all the new features typical on modern day drop-bar gravel rigs. It also has a few interesting bits, such as a Brooks saddle with a dropper post, a T47 bottom bracket, and notably, triple cage mounts on the seat stays. We are really interested in trying one, so stay tuned. Check out the full release here.
UK-based Mason Cycles released their InSearchOf a couple months back. The ISO is designed around a custom formed Dedacciai ‘Zero’ Steel tubing with a Reynolds 853 steel seat tube. InSearchOf fits up to 29 x 2.4″ wheels and tires or 27.5 x 2.8″ rubber. The frame has plenty of mounts, including triple cage mounts on and under the down tube. In addition, it has a Mason Hot Shoe Fork featuring triple cage mounts, internal routing for dynamo light systems, and eyelets for racks and mudguards. We hope to try one soon. Here’s the press release.
Although the Jones Plus SWB (with 27.5+ wheels) has been out for while, the out-of-the-box Jones Plus Complete SWB, with its price tag of $1,800, is a newer addition. Its 4130 chromoly steel frameset may be a little less refined and components may be at the budget end of the scale, but the geometry is classic Jeff Jones, which makes it a very affordable way to try this unique ride. A unicrown fork translates into the possibility of fitting a front rack, as well as making the bike easier to pack than the iconic Jones truss. Read the press release here and stay tuned for a review.
Viral’s new Dérive, a bikepacking specific hardtail, is a derivative of Viral’s flagship all-mountain hardtail. It’s also Viral’s first new model since launching the brand and features a slightly refined geometry, a Pinion gearbox, Gates belt drive, and plenty of mounts. Read the press release here and stay tuned as we hope to review one.
New this year, we’ve decided to give each member of our Editorial Team a chance to highlight one new product they love that wasn’t mentioned elsewhere.
Logan Watts: Cane Creek eeSilk Seatpost
After putting several hundred miles on Cane Creek’s new 295 gram eeSilk seatpost, it’s become one of my pride possessions. The eeSilk’s firm elastomer is barely noticeable at first, but once the bumps commence, it absolutely takes the edge off; a great addition for someone with a back injury. Once I put over 1,000 miles on it, I’ll post a qualified review. In the meantime, you can check out the press release here for more info.
Cass Gilbert: Quad Lock Smartphone Mount
There are all kinds of smartphone mounts at various price points. The Quad Lock comes in at the more costly end of the spectrum, but having used it for many months, I’m convinced that it’s justified, given how easy it is to fit and use, and how secure and durable it’s proved to be. I use mine almost daily – whether for bikepacking, recording local rides, or navigating unfamiliar cities. There are lots of accessories for other activities, too. Read the full review here.
Lucas Winzenburg: Oveja Negra Portero Backpack
As someone who wears a backpack on a daily basis around town and on nearly all of my bikepacking trips, I’m a proudly self-professed backpack geek. And I’m always on the hunt for the perfect bag. Oveja Negra’s new Portero is a functional, damn good looking, no-frills backpack, and I’ve been incredibly pleased with it during the six months I’ve been wearing it. See the full review here.
Miles Arbour: Smith Session MIPS Helmet
A helmet may not be the most exciting pick, but with well over 1,000 miles spent wearing the Smith Session, I’ve been impressed with its effective blend of protection and design. The MIPS Protection System, along with a comforting amount of coverage on the back of the head, let me focus on riding hard, and little else. Plus, the large vents and Matte Gravy color help me look and stay cool all summer long. The price tag isn’t that bad for a fully-featured, MIPS enabled bike helmet, either.
Joe Cruz: Shimano XC5 Shoes
The idea that one needs a special pair of shoes to ride dirt roads is silly. So, if Shimano or anyone else led you to believe that that’s what their XC5s are for, ignore them. Their mandate is much broader: XC5s have been exemplary for the bulk of riding that I do. I’ve worn them for weeks bikepacking in spring, summer, and fall. They’re my road shoes when I think I might be off the bike a bit, they’re my mountain bike shoes when I want the versatility to walk around in a brewery without clacking cleats against the floor. They’ve been durable, they fit my high-volume foot, and they’re excellently priced. Read the review.
Virginia Krabill: Search and State PJ-1
The Search and State PJ-1 is an awesome jacket, all around. While it’s listed as “men’s” on their website, I tried it on and have been wearing it on trips ever since. I’ve found the fit to be perfectly comfortable and beautifully tailored. No more looking like a slouch when bikepacking in distant lands. More importantly, the PJ-1 really performs. The fabric is waterproof, windproof, and quite breathable. Search and State nailed it: form meets function.
Stay tuned for parts two and three of our 2018 Bikepacking Awards.