2020 Bikepacking Gear of the Year
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The first installment of our 2020 Bikepacking Awards recognizes the products that have impressed us the most. Find our top picks in 10 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 2021…
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has completely disrupted travel plans and trips this year, the cycling industry has marched on. That means we were still able to test a lot of great new gear from both big brands and small businesses alike. To kick off our 6th annual Bikepacking Awards, the 2020 Gear of the Year roundup brings together a diverse collection of tried and true products broken into 12 categories. Read on to find out what we consider to be the best products relevant to bikepacking and backcountry riding, from outdoor apparel and components to the bikes that have impressed us the most. In the interest of getting past this pandemic, we’ve also included the top five bikes that we’re looking forward to reviewing next year.
Note that some of these products have yet to earn an in-depth review on the site, but it’s all equipment we’ve had first-hand experience using and feel confident about recommending. And, although the emphasis is on 2020 products, these awards draw from all the gear we’ve tried and tested this year, regardless of when a particular item was released. 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
The Bikepacking Gear of The Year award is dedicated to bags and packs that are made specifically for dirt-road touring and bikepacking. And, the winner is…
Revelate Spinelock Seat Bag (10L)
Revelate released two waterproof Spinelock seat bags back in March. Each features an innovative quick-release saddle rail clamp that completely eliminates the need for seat rail straps. The Spinelock is not only the most unique new bag released this year, it’s also one of the most stable seat packs that we’ve tried. And it’s an extremely well thought out product that’s completely waterproof and underwent a year’s worth of real world ambassador testing and revisions prior to release. For our own testing period, we strapped it to a rigid bike and brought it along on a month-long scouting trip in Colombia, on some of the roughest dirt roads in the Americas. Read the full review here.
Other Top Picks
Ortlieb Fork Pack
Weighing just 264 grams (including the quick-release mounting plate), the new Ortlieb Fork-Pack is different from any other cargo bag or micro-pannier we’ve tried. It features a welded, waterproof, roll-top design, has over four liters of storage, and can be released and attached quickly from it’s own proprietary mounting clip/plate. After using these for several months, we’ve been quite impressed. Watch the first-look review video here and stay tuned for more long-term feedback.
Porcelain Rocket Microwave Panniers
These simple, fully waterproof panniers are the first we’ve seen to use a clever two-piece design with a removable dry bag and holster system. They aren’t new for this year, but several of us have put them to use over the past 12 months and have been very happy with them in both form and function. Read our initial press release here and watch for more coverage. Also, note that since the acquisition, these will be offered by Rockgeist soon.
Dropper posts are almost completely ubiquitous on mountain bikes these days, so we always welcome clever designs for dropper-friendly bags. Jpaks’ latest seat pack, the DropperPak, hit it out of the park with a nice design that’s perfect for those seeking out singletrack, as well as anyone looking for a simple, lightweight option for longer endurance style events or gravel races, whether they require the use of a dropper post or not. Read the full review here.
Five Six Bikepacking Bikes
Despite the fact that we tested a lot of drop-bar bikes in 2020, the majority of the rigs that impressed us the most came in the form of a hardtail or rigid mountain bike. And, once again we were torn on being able to narrow it to five. So, here are our top six Bikepacking Bikes for 2020.
Kona Unit X
It’s no mistake that this bike is listed first…
With a compelling new geometry, 29 x 2.6” tires, and a 1×12 drivetrain, the Kona Unit X ticks a lot of boxes for 1,400 bucks. After an extensive test, it proved to be a bike that can’t be pigeonholed, and one that truly works well for a lot of different applications. If you want to ride the Unit X on a long stretch of backcountry gravel while taking in the scenery, it’s quite comfortable and tracks extremely well. And if you want to get loose on chunky singletrack, it won’t disappoint there either. It might just be one of the best all-purpose bikes out there, especially for the price. Read our review here.
Salsa Timberjack XT
The wrap up on Miles’ review of the Timberjack sums it up, “The Salsa Timberjack XT 29 has been an incredibly fun bike to ride. Its well specced build kit and reasonable price tag set it apart from other aluminum hardtails and add up to an incredibly capable and great riding trail bike.” It’s a lot of bike for the price and is consistently on our list of recommended hardtails.
The MOOTS Baxter isn’t completely new this year. It’s been around since 2016 as the company’s flagship Tour Divide ready drop bar 29er. However, it was updated for 2020 with Boost spacing and some minor tweaks. We hadn’t ridden Moots titanium before this and can now see why it’s coveted for its ride quality and feel. Read the review here.
While we haven’t published a review of the Nordest Sardinha 2.0 yet, Logan insisted that it make it in this list. “This is hands down one of the most versatile and fun rigid mountain bikes I’ve ridden in a long while. It’s fast, stable, confident, and nimble in all the right ways.” Stay tuned for a full review in the coming months.
2020 Ritchey Outback V2
The updated Ritchey Outback impressed us this year. With a Ritchey Logic steel frame and a carbon fork, it’s a lightweight bike that’s smooth riding and incredibly stable. “It’s a gravel bike with true touring blood and just the right amount of modern jazz.” Read the full review here.
Why Cycles Wayward V2
You’ve seen the Why Cycles Wayward in our awards before. It won a spot in the 2018 edition. However, this year they revamped it with an improved geometry, better standover, and a few other tweaks. It doesn’t get much better than this for a backcountry, cross-country, do-all trail bike or a super capable bikepacking rig. Read our thoughts on it here, and see more of Virginia’s Wayward here.
Best New Component
We normally have a single winner for this award, but it was a little too close to call this time, so we have a tie for the top spot for Best New Component…
Rene Herse Fleecer Ridge Tires
The Rene Herse Fleecer Ridge were designed for mixed terrain rides and races such as the Tour Divide. And after two of us have put thousands of miles on the Endurance casing version, we can see why. They’re extraordinarily fast rolling, tough, and they grip well. Not to mention, they last a really long time with little tread wear after 2,000 miles of use. They are also remarkably quiet compared to other tires in their class. Read (and watch) our review here.
Specialized Power Expert with Mimic
The Specialized Power saddle came highly recommended from a professional bike fitter, and after using it on our scouting trips in Colombia, Virginia was sold. It seems perfectly padded, sized, and spaced. And, there are two widths available, as well as this special edition Machines for Freedom version with a cool floral pattern. See more pics of it in action over on her Why Cycles Wayward bike check.
Other Top Picks
Curve Walmer Bars
The Curve Walmer bars aren’t the only ultra-wide drop handlebars in town anymore, but they certainly set the bar on how wide a drop-bar could be. They come in four widths: 460, 500, 550, and 600mm (at the hoods), or 610, 650, 700, 750 (at the drops) and have some interesting and unique angles, making for a super comfy bar. Read TJ’s review and roundup of big bars here.
Shimano Deore 12-speed
We’ve put quite a few miles on the all three of Shimano’s higher-end 12-speed drivetrains (XTR, XT, and SLX) and were surprised when they introduced the new, and much more affordable, Deore group with the same 510% range for under 300 bucks. We’ve now got several hundred miles on our test group and it’s running smoothly and performs very well. Find our initial impressions and weights written up here.
Ergon GA3 Grips
With a soft mini-wing design, a rubber compound that’s proven to be quite durable, and an ergonomic shape for all-day comfort, the Ergon GA3 has quickly become a favorite grip for at least four of us here. Earlier this year, Ergon released new sizing and colors for the GA3. Find our review and thoughts on them here.
Top Five Upgrades of 2020
This category represents components that are rather pricey, but we’d consider top shelf. Certainly not conceived to promote overspending or general excess, the Top Five Upgrades highlights higher-dollar gear that’s well-designed and could be a worthwhile investment if you have the extra dough.
Big Agnes Tiger Wall 3 Carbon
Paying $1,000+ for a tent won’t be for everyone. But if you’re trying to conserve weight and packing space and still want a roomy mobile domicile fit for a couple on a long trip, it might be worthwhile for a 3-person tent that’s just a hair over two pounds. We’ve spent close to 50 nights in this tent and have been quite impressed with its performance, durability, and of course, insanely light weight. Stay tuned for the review. #tentisthenewrent
Industry Nine Enduro S Carbon Wheels
Industry Nine’s Enduro S wheels have long been one of our favorites for bikepacking and trail riding. While they’re not as flashy as the aluminum-spoke system wheels, these straight-pull steel spoke laced wheels are still built in Asheville and offer a whole lot in a more affordable package. The new Carbon versions offer a lighter overall weight with the same great compliance to stiffness factor, and the excellent and blazing fast Hydra freehub (which also won an award last year). Stay tuned for a long-term review.
Onyx Vesper Hub
Speaking of fast hubs, Onyx came out with a lighter weight version of its hub fairly recently. It has the same great sprag clutch that Onyx is known for but is 20% lighter than the previous generation hub. We’ve been running the 409 gram Vesper for well over 2,000 miles now and absolutely love it. It engages extremely quickly and is perfectly silent.
The moto-style Whisky Milhouse riser handlebar offers 825mm of width, a 70mm rise, 16 degrees of backsweep, and an 8° upsweep, making it ultra-wide, super high, and very comfortable. It’s quickly become one of Logan’s favorite handlebars for all those reasons. Read the review here.
Fox Transfer Dropper
With no deliberate literal meaning of this awards category, the revised Fox Tranfer dropper post has been very impressive this year. It’s quite powerful and has hoisted a loaded seat pack on several long trips, with no issues. The new design comes in several length options, and has one of the most easy to use seat post clamps we’ve come across in a while. Stay tuned for a review.
Best Tools & Gadgets
For the Best Tools & Gadgets, there are always a lot of great options. this year’s winner is…
Wolf Tooth 8-Bit Pliers
Wolf Tooth never ceases to amaze with their cleverly designed Pack Tools series. The 8-Bit Pack Pliers is the latest addition and has most of the functions you might need in a multi-tool, including the nicely integrated master link pliers. It’s super light and easy to stash about anywhere for quick trailside adjustments. Find our review here.
Other Top Picks
Surly Whip Lash Straps
While many people have an array of straps to use for various bags and kits, Surly’s relatively new Whip Lash strap shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s not only incredibly lightweight, it also has a sticky rubber outer layer and full velcro backing that keeps the tail of strap in place so there’s none left dangling. Find more over at SurlyBikes.com.
Ride With GPS Heat Maps
Ride With GPS is our favorite route planning tool, both on desktop and mobile. The Oregon-based company often quietly makes adjustments to the suite of features, and the latest addition is a hit. While it may not seem like much, the ability to toggle Heat Maps makes a super useful tool when mapping out routes. Don’t forget: our Bikepacking Collective members receive a 20% discount on RWGPS plans.
Voile Rack Straps
Speaking of straps, Voilé’s burly multi-use straps are indespensible for bikepacking, and they keep adding super-useful variations to their catalog. Last year it was the excellent Nano Strap in several lengths, and this year it’s the Rack Strap, a purpose-made strap that clips onto the rack rails for lashing on rack-top dry bag. We took this strap on a few trips this summer and love the ease of use and simplicity.
Accessory of the Year
This award is specific to accessories that may not fit into the bikepacking bags category, but are made for bikepacking and/or carrying gear.
Tumbleweed T Rack
The Tumbleweed T Rack not only provides a stable, dropper-friendly platform to strap on a dry bag and other gear, it also features a unique set of three-pack mounts on each stay which enable you to carry a little more stuff using Anything-style cages or other such cargo carrying solutions. This is an excellent solution for longer trips or outings that require extra gear to go along for the ride. Read our review here.
Other Top Picks
Revelate ToolCash Wallet
Despite the fact that there are a variety of options out there, Revelate Designs did a great job at taking the humble tool roll to the next level. The ToolCash Wallet offers versatile tools and spares storage in a clever design with three different types of pockets and elegant strap and toggle closures to keep things wrapped up tightly. Find our review here.
Klite Bikepacker Ultra V2
The Klite Bikepacker Ultra V2 caters directly to serious ultra-endurance athletes who want the best and brightest light available. It not only has 1300 lumens of output, it’s also lightweight, waterproof, vibration proof, has a new dual-port USB charger, and the wiring comes custom sized to your bike, completely encased in rubber. After solid year of hassle free preformance, it’s one of the best Dynamo lighting systems we’ve tried. Stay tuned for a review and read the press release here.
High Above Venture Hip Pack
Handmade in Bellingham, Washington, the High Above Venture features a unique Fidlock magnetic closure and might just be the quickest opening hip pack out there. The hype is well earned with this one and it’s proven itself to be a fantastic small, low-profile hip pack that’s great for carrying a few tools, snacks, or even a small camera on day rides or overnighter bikepacking trips. Read our review here.
Camping Gear of the Year
This award goes to camping gear that we’ve tested in 2020 that has proven to be reliable and outstanding in its class.
Zpacks Free Duo Tent
Made in Florida, the Zpacks Free Duo is a dedicated freestanding tent that pitches using two H-shaped tent pole assemblies. With a full Dyneema Composite construction, carbon poles, and a total weight under two pounds, the Free Duo isn’t cheap. However, it packs a lot of space and features into an easy to set up, featherweight design that has performed well in all conditions. Stay tuned for the full long-term review, and in the meantime, learn more at our press release.
Other Top Picks
Helinox Chair Zero
I may have sworn off carrying frivolous earthly possessions on my bike at some point, but there’s no denying the pleasure that comes from having a comfortable camp chair during a bikepacking outing. Helinox’s Chair Zero offers a comfy perch that weighs just over a pound. And since picking one up in the spring, it’s been on every local overnighter and bikefishing trip I’ve taken. Stay tuned for more.
Exped Airmat UL
The Exped AirMat UL, specifically the long and wide version, inflates to a massive platform that’s perfect for restless sleepers yet still packs down small and weighs very little. This summer-weight sleeping pad has held up on multiple trips this summer and has become one of Miles’ personal favourites for chasing a good nights sleep. Read the full review here.
Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 Bikepack
Big Agnes released the Bikepack range of tents nearly two years ago with shorter tent poles and a stuff sack that doubles as a handlebar bag. This year they took it a step further with Bikepack variations of their Tiger Wall two and three person tents, which sit in the middle of their three lines of UL tents. The Tiger Wall is lighter than the Copper Spur, but a little more feature rich than the Fly Creek. And unlike the Fly Creek, the Tiger Wall variations have two side doors and two vestibules. After using it on several trips this summer and fall, we are quite impressed. Stay tuned for the review.
Best in Bikepacking Kitchen
This award category is designated for packable food, recipes, or camp kitchen utensils that have impressed us in 2020.
Fernweh Dehydrated Meals
For those who want convenience without adversely affecting the planet we so love to see from the saddle, Oregon-based Fernweh is a company that has not only fine tuned great-tasting dehydrated food, but is also pushing every aspect of its business in line with being in the great outdoors. From Cass’ review, “I’m really impressed with how much care Fernweh has put into their meals, on every level. The taste is excellent, there’s no skimping on the quality of its locally sourced ingredients, and you can choose between buying in bulk or home-compostable packaging.”
Other Top Picks
Primus Firestick Stove
Although we’ve only just started using the Firestick stove, its design is like nothing we’ve seen before. The spring-loaded pot supports, when folded away, protect the burner head and form a cylinder that is easy to pack and holds up to regular frame bag vibrations while bikepacking. Stay tuned for a full review as we continue to test it out this winter.
Good To-Go Cuban Rice Bowl
Good To-Go makes some of the tastier dehydrated camp meals on the market and their new Cuban Rice Bowl didn’t disappoint. It has a rich texture and a flavor defined by the poblano pepper, sour cream powder, and other seasonings that give it a zesty blend of spiciness and tanginess. In addition, the large plantain pieces provide a nice chew and add a bit of starch texture and flavor into the mix. And of course, it’s also calorie rich and lightweight. Find our review here.
While some of us might love the negligible weight of a titanium spork, we’re declaring 2020-21 the year of the DIY wooden spoon. Cass just published a beginner’s guide to spoon making with lots of great resources, so start practicing and let’s make some spoons!
Outdoor Apparel of The Year
The Outdoor Apparel of The Year award is for clothing and outwear we’ve tested in 2020 that’s exceptional and proven to be durable. We normally have a single winner here as well, but there are two winners in the top spot this year.
Timmermade SUL 1.5
Weighing in at just 228 grams, the New York-made Timmermade SUL 1.5 Down Sweater is priced similarly to factory-made products, yet it has the handmade quality and attention to detail that Timmermade is known for. From Miles’ review earlier this year, “I have yet to find a down jacket that comes close to what it offers, with the majority of popular ‘ultralight’ down jackets weighing and costing more, and seemingly not being as warm either.”
PEdALED Kyoto Merino T-shirt
A good merino wool T-shirt is a crucial piece of bikepacking kit. They keep odor at bay, they’re comfortable, and they do a good job at regulating moisture and temperature. PEdALED’s new Kyoto merino wool T-shirt has quickly become Logan’s favorite. It has an excellent cut that’s not too tight and not too baggy. And, with the minimal patterned Japanese cotton chest pocket, it has a touch of style. “I’ve put about 30 days of riding this one, including a 10-day bikepacking trip where it was the only shirt I brought. No signs of wear yet!” Find more over at PEDdALED.com
Other Top Picks
Specialized Recon 2.0
This quote from the review wrap up sums it up: “The Specialized Recon 2.0 quickly has quickly one of my favorite clipless shoes of all time, even after a whole lot of use and abuse. As mentioned, they’re very comfortable while pedaling and hiking, and they are stiff enough to provide excellent efficiency without feeling like you’re wearing a hard sock. And after 2,000+ miles of tough riding, they look almost flawless, aside from that nice dirt patina.”
Chrome Union and Folsom Shorts
We tried a lot of shorts this year, all the while looking for good fitting, durable, and comfortable options for the long haul. We found two options that fit all those criteria from Chrome Industries. Bot the Union 2.0 and Folsom 2.0 are incredibly comfortable and fit really well. And they both seem completely bombproof. Find reviews over on our summer shorts roundup.
Of the six highly regarded clipless mountain bike shoes we tested in a side-by-side comparison, the Giro Ventana Fastlace were not only the economical option, they offered the most well-rounded performance and comfort both on and off the bike. And they were definitely one of Virginia’s favorites among the group. Find the roundup review here.
Most Interesting Bikes for 2021
We announced over 150 new bikes in 2020… that’s a lot of new rigs. While we can’t test them all, we try to get our hands on some of them for review. Of the many bikes that will be on the market in 2021, the five below have most piqued our interest. All feature something interesting, different, especially well thought through, or are just worthy of debate!
The Hudski Doggler is an interesting flagship bike from a new company based out of Sausalito, California. The Doggler features an alloy frame and carbon fork with clearance for 29 x 2.1″ or 27.5 x 2.6″ tires and three different build kits, each for $2,000. It looks like they paid close attention to a lot of bikepacking-friendly details and an emphasis on fun when they dreamt up all three iterations. We’ve already got one in to test out, so expect a review soon. In the meantime, find details in our press release here.
Fairlight Faran 2.0
Back in August, London-based Fairlight Cycles released version 2.0 of the Faran, their versatile Reynolds steel frame created for bikepacking and all-road riding. The new Fairlight Faran 2.0 has a lot of thoughtful details and bikepacking-friendly features, including clearance for 650B x 58mm or 700c x 45mm tires, internal dynamo routing on frame/fork, provisions for front and rear racks/fenders, and loads of mounts, including three-pack mounts on the fork. We’re building up one as we speak, so stay tuned.
The Revel Ranger is the latest addition to the relatively new Colorado-based bike brand’s lineup. Revel debuted in 2019 with two big-hitting, full-suspension 29er mountain bikes. The new Ranger is designed to be a little lighter and faster than the 130mm travel Rascal—over a pound lighter to be exact—and is built to enjoy the ups as much as the downs. From a bikepacking perspective, the Revel Ranger certainly shows promise with a large frame triangle and an emphasis on pedaling performance. Press release here.
Esker Cycles Japhy
Filling the 29er gap in the Esker lineup, their new Japhy is a 29″ hardtail based around a 120mm travel fork with clearance for 29 x 2.8″ tires and a 4130 Chromoly steel frame. It has many of the same features as the Hayduke, such as the versatile Portage dropout system and loads of braze-ons. It looks like a lot of fun and we look forward to reviewing one. Find the press release here.
The new Breezer Thunder is a fully rigid mountain bike that was designed with versatility and affordability in mind. It’s built up around a Chromoly steel frame and fork, boost hub spacing and thru-axles, external cable routing (as well as internal dropper post routing), and has clearance for tires up to 29 x 2.95”. It also has more mounts than you can shake a stick at, including rack and fenders, standard bottle mounts, triple pack mounts on the fork legs and the seat stays, plus additional bosses on the top tube and under the downtube. Read the press release here.
Stay tuned for more from our 2020 Bikepacking Awards, including honors for the best Photography, Video, and Creative work, as well as the best routes and most influential individuals of the year…