Editor’s Dozen: Lucas’ Favorite Gear of 2021
Reflecting back on the year of riding around Europe, from the Baltic Sea down to the Dolomites, Lucas rounds up 12 noteworthy pieces of gear and experiences that added to his life in 2021, whether on or off the bike. From handmade bags to affordable accessories and time-tested apparel, find his annual Editor’s Dozen here…
Additional photos by Joshua Meissner (@joshm.de)
In part because of COVID-19 complicating everything and partly to work on reducing my carbon footprint, I decided to only travel to places I could reach by train—or from my front door—for my bikepacking trips in 2021. The result was getting to see and understand a lot more of Germany and its neighbors, which helped me feel closer to my host country, even if the vistas weren’t always as grand. Plus, hitting pause on air travel and staying closer to home also allowed me to spend time riding with a cast of characters whose schedules don’t allow them to get away for too long or who aren’t quite ready to take on an extended trip far from home, which was a valuable experience unto itself.
While it was far from my best year on the bike from the perspective of miles traveled, I like to think I made some big steps toward figuring out the style of riding I most enjoy and exactly what it is I want to get out of bikepacking. The following list of 12 products (and other things) represents a snapshot of that ongoing evolution.
Helmut Werewolf 10L Saddle Bag
350 grams / Made in France / €175 at HelmutEquipment.com
Top-opening saddle/handlebar bags are all the rage these days, and for good reason. Relative to handlebar rolls, they’re super easy to pack, straightforward to access, and typically offer a handful of compartments and pockets that help with organization. I tested a number of these bags throughout the year for our related Gear Index, and Helmut’s Werewolf was my clear favorite.
The Werewolf is handmade in France and features 10L of internal storage, a large external front pocket and two smaller side pockets, reflective accents, a loop for attaching a light, and webbing on top for lashing on a jacket or other lightweight piece of gear. I grew to love mine on a weeklong trip to France in August, where it proved to be the perfect size to hold everything I needed without encouraging me to overpack. It’s been living on my Fairlight Faran 2.0 since I first installed it, where I think it’s a natural fit (more on that bike soon).
Alpkit Kloke Ultralight Bivy Bag
285 grams / Made in China / €199 at Alpkit.com
Whenever possible, I prefer sleeping out under the stars instead of inside a tent, but I’ve grown increasingly wary of waking up soaking wet with dew in the morning and getting caught in overnight rain, so I made 2021 my year of the bivy bag. I picked up an Alpkit Kloke in the spring and used it on many nights out, including a weeklong trip on the Veneto Trail in Italy, where it proved to be more than worth its minimal weight.
At 285 grams (10 oz), the Alpkit Kloke is quite a light shelter that packs down to almost nothing and offers a roomy fit that doesn’t feel the least bit cramped for me (at 6’3″) and my sleep system. I stayed cozy and dry every night that I slept in it and never had any issues with condensation build-up inside. All in all, the Kloke made for an entirely positive introduction to bivvying, and I’m looking forward to giving it a go with my winter sleep kit on some fast and light overnighters in the chilly months to come.
Rapha Randonnee Shorts
Made in Turkey / $125 at Rapha.com
Rapha’s Randonnee Shorts have been my go-to shorts since I was living in Melbourne in 2018. In fact, they’re the only shorts I wear while riding, and it’s about time I gave them some recognition here. I was first turned on to them by my friends and cycling idols Jesse Carlson (@jessecarlsson) and Sarah Hammond (@sarah___hammond), who’d pedaled many thousands of kilometers around the Australian Outback and beyond in theirs and had good things to say.
The slim-fitting Randonnee shorts are super comfortable, just the right length when rolled once at the bottom, look great on and off the bike, offer a subtle dash of hi-vis trim, have four useful pockets, and have held up to years of constant use with only a bit of fading (actually, they faded considerably the first time I wore them, then nothing since then). Note that the sizing is a bit odd on these, and I had to go down two full sizes (32 to 30) to get the right fit.
Pelago Merino Wool Beanie
Made in EU / €49 at PelagoBicycles.com
After years of searching, I finally found the perfect merino cap in Pelago’s Traditional Beanie, and I never leave home without mine in my handlebar bag in the cooler months. It’s super soft, made in the EU from 100% mulesing-free merino wool, and is just the right thickness to be plenty warm for even the coldest temperatures in my corner of Northern Europe without being too bulky.
The Pelago Traditional Beanie is offered in four colors (though this red is no longer available, unfortunately). In addition to their full range of bikes, the Finland-based brand also has wool sweaters, scarves, and neck gaiters in a range of complementary colors. I was actually living in my Pelago wool sweater most of this winter until I accidentally shrunk it, but a friend’s four-year-old daughter is now enjoying wearing it as a long sleeve dress!
Time Away with Friends
More than any other year, I’ve been learning to slow down and appreciate the gift of time outside with friends in 2021. And although I was lucky to get away for a couple of trips to the Alps and Dolomites this summer, some of my most memorable moments were on backyard overnighters and day trips around my home in Berlin.
A couple of key ingredients to getting the most out of short getaways were mixing other activities into our rides—brewing coffee, swimming in lakes and rivers, and forest bathing come to mind—and keeping my phone turned off or stowed away as much as possible. Although I probably spent fewer nights outside in 2021 than during any of the last handful of years, working on savoring time away, even on day rides, added meaningfully to my experience of these past 12 months.
Snow Peak Titanium Spork
16 grams / Made in Japan / $9.95 at SnowPeak.com
By now, I’ve owned my Snow Peak titanium spork longer than any other piece of outdoor gear, and I’ve enjoyed countless meals with it over the last decade plus. To me, it’s one of those rare pieces that hasn’t left even a smidge of room for improvement—it’s the perfect travel utensil. And I don’t only use it while bikepacking; I often keep it in my backpack to help reduce plastic waste when I get the sudden urge to have a take-away meal or an impromptu picnic with friends.
So, why recognize my Ti spork as one of my Editor’s Dozen picks in 2021? I misplaced it for a month or so this summer, and its absence left a far greater than spork-sized void in my kit. I had to track down disposable cutlery or wait until my friends had finished eating and borrow their utensil on a few trips, and I complained so much about missing my Snow Peak spork that once I’d found it, a friend ended up buying me a lanyard for it so I could wear it around my neck and never misplace it again—only half-joking, I assume.
Allygn Grill Rack
370 grams / Made in Taiwan / €200 at Fern-Fahrraeder.de
Allygn is a relatively new Berlin-based brand that’s the brainchild of Flo Haeussler of Fern Bicycles (@fern_bicycles), who happens to be one of my favorite frame builders working today. I’m a big fan of his singularly beautiful bikes, and I admire the obsessive attention to detail he puts into everything he does, so I’m hardly surprised by the thoughtfulness of the products starting to come from his new component company, the latest of which is the Grill Rack.
Compared to other readymade options on the market, the Allyn Grill Rack is quite spendy, to be sure, but it’s half the price of a handmade rack and offers still all of the small touches that make it an invaluable addition to almost any bikepacking rig—the clean dynamo cable routing, integrated light mount, and hidden fender mount come to mind. Mine was easy to install, and Allygn offers two different lengths of stays to suit your fork configuration.
GSI Halulite Tea Kettle
199 grams / Made in China / $29 at REI
As someone who takes making coffee at least a little too seriously, I’ve been appreciating bringing the GSI Halulite kettle along on trips in place of a more traditional pot. Although it’s not quite as user-friendly for cooking in, it’s infinitely better for brewing pour-over coffee, and something about it brings a smile to my face every time I use it.
At just 200 grams (7oz), the Halulite is—as the name implies—lightweight and has a relatively small footprint, especially since my gas canister and small stove nest easily inside with room to spare. And at under $30, it’s an affordable way to add a bit of pizzaz to your cooking kit, too. I’ll say that my experiences with GSI’s products have been somewhat hit or miss, but the Halulite kettle is certainly a standout in their lineup.
Hungry Big Lunch V2.69 Hip Pack
Made in Australia / $210 AUD at Huuungry.com
Handbuilt bikepacking bag maker Harry of Hungry (@h_ngry) in Wollongong, Australia, is constantly incorporating user feedback to improve his products in a transparent way, and that’s exactly what he did to create the latest version—V2.69, to be exact—of the Big Lunch hip pack. I’ve worn a couple of versions of it now (around my waist and attached to my handlebars), and each new iteration has improved on the previous one.
Features of the Big Lunch include a one-handed Fidlock opening, a water-resistant zippered external pocket, a cushy padded backside, an internal compartment with a floating liner that’ll hold around five liters of miscellaneous stuff (I typically use mine for a camera, wallet, keys phone, etc.), and it can be mounted to your handlebars using the included Voile straps and NOBOUNCEY™ headtube strap. The HOT WINGS™ tuck away into a hidden compartment when not in use for a clean look. The Big Lunch is made to order in an impressive array of custom colors via Hungry’s webshop (linked below), and there are also a handful of packs available in the US via the Crust Bikes online mega mall.
Parts Bin Builds and Retro Rigs
I’ve always enjoyed geeking out over well-loved daily drivers, especially those that are built up with an eclectic mix of parts and accessories that reflect their owner’s personality, and the ongoing bikes and parts shortages of 2020-21 have required people to get more creative than ever before when building up new rigs. While frustrating on the one hand, it’s also led to a beautiful resurgence in folks dusting off and breathing new life into retro rigs and cobbling together unexpected mixes of parts that add up to something far more interesting than anything that can be bought off the shelf.
Sharing some of these quirky builds and the stories behind them as Readers’ Rigs has been a weekly joy this year, and I also appreciate that the renewed interest in parts bin builds and vintage bikes has gotten people thinking about what they really need and whether or not they can make do without the latest and greatest.
Foam Seat Pads
Using a little seating pad wasn’t on my radar until one day when I happened upon one on the side of a trail near Berlin, but it quickly became an indispensable part of my bikepacking gear list. Sitting on one adds a generous dose of comfort during mid-ride breaks, and it also helps offer some insulation when sitting on the ground. Seat pads can also double as a doormat outside of your tent, a bit of extra padding for your camera in a handlebar bag, and a range of other uses.
Short of hauling out a camp chair, it doesn’t get much better than a foam seat pad, especially insulated ones, and I can’t recommend them enough for anyone who values coziness but still isn’t ready to enter the full-on glampacking stage of life. The one pictured here is a Chipper Reclaimed Closed-Cell Foam Seat Pad from NEMO and costs around $20, but you can find them for less than half that with a little searching.
Mission Workshop Speedwell Backpack
1290 grams / Made in USA / $285 at Mission Workshop
If you’ve read any of my reviews here on the site in the past few years, you’ll know I’m a big fan of backpacks, and I typically wear one whenever I’m out and about on my bike in the city. As such, I’ve tried out a ton of them over the years, and I’ve refined my list of essential features in the process. The latest backpack to tick all of my boxes is the Mission Workshop Speedwell, the California-based brand’s newest pack.
The Speedwell features the same ultra-comfortable floating harness system from the Acre Hauser (which I’ve been wearing for close to a decade now) but expands the storage capacity to 20L, includes a laptop sleeve that’ll fit up to a 16″ MacBook, and has two external bottle holders and a couple of pockets. The Speedwell also features a magnetic Fidlock closure and an internal hydration compartment. At $285, it’s an investment, but I was able to pick this one up with a 20% off coupon earlier this winter, which brought it down to a more justifiable price tag, especially when considering its top-notch US-made construction and lifetime warranty.
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