2019 Bikepacking Gear of The Year
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The second installment of our 2019 Bikepacking Awards recognizes the gear that’s impressed us this year. Find our top picks in a dozen categories, including Best New Component, Best Tools, and Top Five Bikepacking Bikes. Plus, some thoughts on the bikes that are already on our radar for 2020…
Our 2019 Gear of the Year roundup breaks down a collection of gear into 12 categories that feature a variety of hotly contested nominees. Read on to find out what we (and our Bikepacking Collective) consider to be the best products relevant to bikepacking, from outdoor apparel and interesting innovations, to the bikes that have impressed us the most—plus a few we’d love to try. In the interest of looking forward, we’ve also included the top five bikes that we didn’t have a chance to properly test 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 2019 products, these awards are drawn from all the gear we’ve tried and tested this year, regardless of when a particular item came out. After all, the latest and greatest isn’t always the best, despite what 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 always strive for balance.
Bikepacking Gear of The Year
While we normally have a single winner in this category, it was too close to call this time, so we have a tie for the top spot…
Bags x Bird Teardrop
Several of us have been using the BXB Teardrop, and a couple of us have been fighting over who gets to use it (Logan and Virginia). In a nutshell, the BXB Teardrop is a flip-top handlebar bag shaped and designed to work with flared gravel-style drop bars. It’s well crafted, super stable, durable, and one of the most pleasant handlebar bags to use on the market. Stay tuned for a more detailed review.
Sharing the top spot with the Teardrop, the more MTB-relevant Revelate Pronghorn has probably seen the most use out of any new bag we’ve tested this year. The Pronghorn features and incredibly simple and lightweight design that manages to be quite stable, despite its minimal construction. Read our initial review here.
Other top picks
Porcelain Rocket Mr. Fusion (new version)
Had the Mr. Fusion not already won several awards in the past, the redesigned model would surely have taken the top spot. The new Mr. F gets a curved rack, slightly remodeled holster, and a new waterproof material for the removable roll-top bag, making a great product even greater. Read our first look review here.
Wayward Riders Louise
For just $54 USD, there’s a lot to like about the New Zealand-made Wayward Riders dropper post compatible seat bag. This minimal harness has a lightweight design that’s simple to install, extremely stable, and allows you to use almost any dry bag on the market. Find all the details in our full review here.
The Aeropack is a new take on a racktop bag, albeit with integrated stays and a nifty fast release system. We loved the attention to detail, the sheer amount of options, and the ease of access. If you’re seeking more capacity than a seatpack – without the weight of a rack and panniers – this could be the silver bullet! Read our review here.
Five Six Bikepacking Bikes
This category was one of the most contentious this year, and we couldn’t quite agree on which bike would be eliminated to narrow it down to five. So, here are our top six bikepacking bikes for 2019.
Santa Cruz Carbon Chameleon
The new Santa Cruz Carbon Chameleon probably saw as many, if not more, miles than any bike we reviewed this year. It was simply very good at doubling as a trail bike and a bikepacking rig, so it came along for countless unloaded singletrack rides, as well as many bikepacking trips in the Southwest, through Arizona, New Mexico, and beyond. Read the full review here.
Salsa Cutthroat V2
With our Rigs of the Tour Divide post packed with Cutthroats, we were surprised Salsa released a redesigned version of this near-perfect bike. We were also surprised by how good the redesign was, including a revamped fork, Boost spacing, and a few other tweaks, as well as a custom fit bolt on frame bag. Check out our review here.
Ibis Ripley V4
The fourth-generation Ripley got a ground-up redesign this year that included clearance for 29 x 2.6″ tires, a more progressive geometry, and improved suspension. Even after trying five other new short travel 29ers this year, Logan liked the Ripley enough to buy one. And that pretty much sums up why it made the list. Read the full Ibis Ripley review here.
Jones Plus SWB
“While many do-it-all bikes end up feeling lacklustre – the classic jack-of-all-trades-but-master-of-none – the SWB is never less than engaging to ride.” As stated in Cass’s review, the Jones SWB has all the Jones magic – comfort and technical capability – in a more affordable package. Fully rigid, all steel, and ripe for eventual upgrades, this is a bike that should last a lifetime. Read his review here.
Bombtrack Hook EXT
Featuring quality Colombus tubing, a high-end carbon fork, and a collection of sensible, hardwearing components, the latest Bombtrack Hook EXT impressed Cass during his summer of bikepacking UK and European routes. With a compliant frame and fork, all the mounts you could hope for, and excellent tire clearance, it’s certainly worthy of this list. Read the full review here.
Salsa Journeyman 650B
It’s hard to find a dirt-drop bike under $1,500 with the capability and pedigree of the Salsa Journeyman. Its relaxed geometry and excellent price will likely attract new riders dabbling in gravel road rambling. It’s also a great option for mountain bikers looking to diversify their quiver. Read our review (with photos from the Prairie Breaks bikepacking route) here.
New this year, we decided to ask our Bikepacking Collective members what they thought about 2019’s crop of bikes. We sent the Collective a list of our top nominees, and based on over 400 votes, here are the top mountain bike and drop-bar/gravel bikes, as voted by you.
Top Mountain Bike: Tumbleweed Prospector (v2)
Perhaps the main reason the Prospector didn’t make the list above is that we’ve already given it an award in the past, based on Cass’s experience with the pre-production model. This year, Tumbleweed made a few tweaks, including a Boost fork, so we decided to test it for a full review. As such, we pitted it against 15 other bikes in our Collective Choice poll, where it understandably rose to the top.
Top Drop-Bar Bike: Salsa Cutthroat V2
As mentioned above, it was hard to imagine the Salsa Cutthroat could become even better than it already was. But it did. And our Bikepacking Collective members agreed. All in all, the Cutthroat got more votes than any of the 15 bikes listed, making it the top-ranked bike overall, and the winner of the Collective Choice award in the drop-bar/gravel category.
Best New Component
Shimano XT/SLX group
When we first tried the 12-speed XTR group that was specced on the demo Ibis Ripley, it was clear that Shimano had something special on their hands. The drivetrain not only ups the range of SRAM’s Eagle by 10%, it shifts with an unflappable crispness that’s hard to beat. And the four-piston brakes are smooth, powerful, and reliable. All we could hope was that the same qualities would trickle down when they released the more wallet-friendly XT and SLX groups. After trying the XT group over the last couple of weeks, it’s clear that it lives up to the standard of its higher-end sibling. Stay tuned for our full review and comparison.
Other Top Picks
Industry Nine Hydra
When Industry Nine first released Hydra, we thought there was no need for a hub that’s faster than Torch. However, the Asheville-based company packed a lot of other engineering goodness into this hub, and after riding it for the past seven months, there’s no doubt that it’s well worth the upgrade. Its improved bearing life and durability are reason enough, and the near immediate engagement is pretty sweet, too. Hydra also comes on the legendary (and relatively affordable) Enduro S wheelset. Full review soon.
White industries M30 Cranks
The White Industries M30 crankset is nothing new, but it’s new to us, and we’ve given it nearly a year of use and abuse now. Not only are these cranks beautifully machined, the M30s are stiff, strong, easy to install, and are available in a nice array of options. They’ve quickly become a prized component and seem like they’ll last a lifetime.
Crust-Nitto Shaka Handlebar
Crust Bikes and Ultraromance pretty much started the ultra-wide drop-bar trend that’s quickly gaining momentum. The Towel Rack was first, and more recently Crust collaborated with Nitto on the slightly more reasonably wide Shaka Bar (53cm). As Ultraromance put it, “Narrow (sub 56 at the drops) drop bars will only be a memory for riders like us in a few years.” After riding these bars, we think he might be right.
Top Five Upgrades of 2019
Formerly known as “Top Five Frills,” this category was modified to represent another class of Component of The Year: those on the top shelf. Certainly not conceived to promote overspending or general excess, the Top Five Upgrades highlights higher-dollar components that are well-designed and could be a worthwhile investment if you have the extra coin.
SRAM AXS “Mullet”
Not too long ago, if you’d told us we’d have an electronic, wireless drivetrain in our awards post, we’d have laughed at you. However, SRAM’s AXS is very impressive. And, the mullet configuration allows you to run 12-speed Eagle on a drop-bar bike. Three of use have spent quite a bit of time on it and we all agree that it deserves recognition here. Stay tuned for a detailed review.
Rockshox Pike Ultimate
The Rockshox Pike its undoubtedly one of the better forks for trail bikepacking bikes. The new Charger 2.1 damper offers a notable performance boost, making it Logan’s favorite suspension fork on the market. Both the Select+ and Ultimate models get the new damper, and the Ultimate is available with both the fully tunable RC2 and the RCT3 with a 3-position compression adjust (open/pedal/firm).
Curve Dirt Hoops
In search for wide, gravel-bike-friendly wheels, we came across Curve’s new Dirt Hoops. While there are plenty of good carbon wheels available, not all come in a variety of standards with the right specs. Dirt Hoops come with 25mm or 30mm internal width rims and 12 or 15mm thru-axle DT 350 hubs in either Boost or non-Boost widths. That ticks a lot of boxes, and they’re all built with 28 straight-pull spokes. Better yet, they aren’t marketed to MTB or “Gravel”… just dirt!
Enve G-Series Handlebars
These are some seriously nice handlebars, and are one of the only gravel bars out there that come in a 48cm width (60cm at the drops). The G-Series bars are also super comfortable with a well-designed ergonomic shape, the perfect amount of flare, and the chatter absorption and compliance of carbon.
BikeYoke Dropper Post
We’ve been impressed with the BikeYoke dropper posts we’ve tried this year. The Revive features a reset/bleed button to keep it operating smoothly, and both it and the more affordable Divine come in massive 185mm lengths. These posts are known for their simplicity and reliability, and now the we’ve tried them, we can agree.
Best Tools & Gadgets
Wahoo ELEMNT Roam
Wahoo’s latest navigational gadget, the ELEMNT Roam is without a doubt one of the nicest bar-mounted GPS devices we’ve used. ROAM features a nice, clear, and readable 2.7” color display, easy to use buttons, and has a great battery life (15-20 hours based on our testing). The menus are also fully customizable via the app, which is a nice touch. Other new features that make it different from the original ELEMNT include an ambient light sensor that automatically turns the screen backlight on or off and adjusts the brightness of the screen. It also includes a nice out-front mount. Read more of Logan’s thoughts over on his Editor’s Dozen.
Other Top Picks
Wolf Tooth EnCase
With the new EnCase system, Wolf Tooth did a great job at providing a lot of functionality in two very well designed and small packages that never leave your bike. The precision machining is excellent and both tools seem to be perfectly executed. Read the review here.
Voile Nano Straps
Our favorite accessory straps got smaller! Voile’s Nano Straps are a smaller version of the classics and come in 6, 9, 12, and 16″ lengths. They work great for everything from a secure handlebar bag/top tube strap, to compressing a layer, to bundling up a bike-fishing kit.
Patagonia Provisions Bamboo Utensil Set
While many of us love our titanium sporks, sometimes it’s nice to have a fork and a spoon. Patagonia Provisions’ “To-Go” utensils are made from sustainable bamboo and the holder is constructed from recycled PET plastic. And the whole set weighs just 44 grams (15 for the fork and spoon).
Accessory of the Year
Porcelain Rocket Big Dumpling
Porcelain Rocket’s waterproof Big Dumpling has been our most widely used hip pack in our roundup from earlier this year. With its generous size and a quick roll-top opening, it’s perfect for camera carrying duties. And the fact that it offers trustworthy protection from the elements made it a favorite piece for both Miles and Logan.
Other Top Picks
Rogue Panda Bismarck Bottle Bucket
Rogue Panda’s Bismarck is handmade in Flagstaff, AZ, and designed to securely hold a water bottle on the bars. Both Logan and Virginia rarely leave the house without one of these mounted. It’s especially great for day rides and offers some additional storage in three pockets, two mesh sleeves, and a cinchable Dyneema pouch. Read the full review here.
Widefoot CargoMount Cage
Recently added to our Index of Cargo Cages, the Widefoot CargoMount is a three-bolt, Anything-style cage. We put quite a few miles on ours this summer and really like them. The CargoMount is an elegant little cage that’s lighter and smaller than many of the other options on the market, and it works very well. Read more about it over at Logan’s Editor’s Dozen from earlier this year.
Oveja Royale Hip Pack
While we tried a ton of great hip packs this year, the Oveja Negra Royale was another one that rose to the top of our list of favorites. Like Oveja’s other Salida-made bags, the Royale is colorful and well-designed. It features a quick to open roll-top closure and a comfortable waist belt. Read more abut it in our handmade Hip Pack Index.
Camping Gear of the Year
Big Agnes Bikepack Tents
Big Agnes tents are a longstanding favorite among our team, so we were more than elated to see them come out with a series of tents designed specifically for bikepacking. With a clever shortened pole set, a rugged bag designed to be mounted to racks or handlebars, and four excellent one- and two-person designs, there was no arguing that the Big Agnes Bikepack series deserves the best in the Camping Gear category. Read the full review here.
Other Top Picks
Tarptent Aeon Li
The Tarptent Aeon Li (“lithium”) is a one-pound, one-pole, one-person, one-wall, half-pyramid shelter that’s extraordinarily light yet still fairly spacious. We tested one one for over a year and it was quite impressive. Read the review here.
Best in Bikepacking Food
Outdoor Provisions Energy Bars
In this day and age, there’s no good reason that food designed to be enjoyed in the outdoors should come in packaging that will be tossed into a landfill, taking hundreds of years to break down. This is an issue companies are finally addressing. Manchester-based Outdoor Provisions launched this year with a line of energy bars that are not only healthy and delicious, but also packed in biodegradable wrapping. Read Cass’s initial impressions here. We wish this new business all the best and hope bigger companies will follow its lead.
Other Top Picks
Speaking of Provisions, we had the opportunity to try Patagonia Provisions’ full line of backcountry meals and snacks this year. Using sustainably sourced ingredients with packaging that’s slightly more minimal than typical dehydrated meals, they’ve whipped up some very delicious and healthy food. Stay tuned for a full review.
Holy Moly Granoly Bars
We’ve said it before: there can’t be too many energy bar recipes on the site! Franzi and Mario’s recent Holy Moly Granoly Bars post looked especially appealing, with oats, nut butter, pumpkin seeds, and cranberries among the ingredients. And, being homemade, packaging is greatly reduced, too.
Heather’s Choice Packaroons
We loved Heather’s Choice Packaroons. It’s hard to beat coconut for quality, energy-rich fat. And these are a good take on the classic macaroon with some interesting flavors. Some of our favorites include the original Sweet Coconut, Lemon Lavender, and Mint Chocolate. Check out the review here.
Outdoor Apparel of The Year
Patagonia Short-Sleeved Merino Bike Jersey
All of our editors prefer merino above all other jersey materials, so we were excited to see Patagonia re-releasea the Merino T. This time, it’s specifically designed for mountain biking. It features longer sleeves and a longer back hem to provide a nice contour for on-the-bike posture. And with a 65% merino / 35% recycled polyester blend, it offers the benefits of merino (such as odor resistance) with a little more durability. To top it off, considering that only about 9% of plastic thrown into recycling bins actually gets recycled, it’s good to see Patagonia continue to use recycled plastic in their blends. The jersey is available in men’s or women’s at Patagonia.com.
Other Top Picks
PEdALED Jary All-Road Shorts
With a lightweight and durable construction, comfortable fit, breathable panels, and nice, useable pockets, the new PEdALED Jary shorts quickly became a favorite. They are especially good during the warmer months due to their lightweight materials and venting system. Read our first ride report here.
7mesh Rain Jacket
7mesh’s Guardian Jacket is one of the better expedition-style bike jackets we’ve seen. Constructed from Gore-Tex Actice 3L with a well made over the helmet hood, elasticated cuffs, and a drop back hem, it’s clearly designed around cycling. And at 249g, it’s still quite lightweight for a jacket best suited as a rain/weather shell for shoulder-season trips.
Most Interesting Bikes for 2020
We always have 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. Other times, we can only admire and evaluate them from afar. Of the many bikes that will be on the market in 2020, the five below have most piqued our interest. And they’ve all only just been announced, or only recently become available. All feature something interesting, different, especially well thought through, or are just worthy of debate!
2020 Marin Pine Mountain 2
Now based around 29 x 2.6″ tires, the new 2020 Marin Pine Mountain 2 got a slacker front end, and the most mounts we’ve ever seen on a steel hardtail before. The build looks pretty nice, too. Marin specced it with Shimano’s new SLX 12-speed drivetrain, Shimano four-piston hydraulic brakes, and a dropper post. See our press release here.
We’ve had our eye on Knolly’s Cache since it was released. Knolly designed the Cache’s geometry for a ride experience similar to their mountain bikes. A longer front centre and shorter stem mean the Cache Steel is designed to be predictable in technical terrain but stable and comfortable enough to handle long, all-day rides. Read our release here.
Kona Unit X
The 2020 Kona Unit X got a major overhaul with BOOST thru-axles, 29 x 2.6″ tires, improved geometry, and a 12-speed drivetrain, making it more appealing for singletrack rides and dirt-road tours alike. And, for $1,400, it remains one of the more affordable, well-appointed options on the market. Read our press release for details.
Rodeo Labs Flannimal 5.0
Now in its fifth iteration, the Flaanimal is what Rodeo Labs describes as “a multi-use steel adventure frameset designed and built around the themes of versatility and adaptability.” The new Rodeo Labs Flaanimal 5.0 got more tire clearance and a Spork 3.0. We hope to test one in 2020. Find out more here.
The new 2020 Trek Supercaliber offers 60mm of full suspension while still maintaining a full-frame triangle, making it an interesting option for bikepacking ultras. We’re expecting to see one or two of these in an upcoming Rigs of the Tour Divide, especially given its light weight. Learn more here.
Instead of having an “Editor’s Picks” category this year, we’ll be posting several editors’ year-end roundups. Stay tuned for those. And be sure to click here to see part 1 of our awards, Film, Photography, Writing, and Art, and stay tuned for part three of our 2019 Bikepacking Awards.