JPaks Refugi Handlebar Harness Review
Two years in the making, the new JPaks Refugi Handlebar Harness is lightweight, stable, and includes a unique Eye Patch headtube protector to keep your frame looking fresh. We’ve been testing one for a few months to see how it stands up against the competition. Find our review here…
While handlebar rolls and top-loading bags have their place, I generally prefer using a harness and separate dry bag when tackling technical terrain. Besides being able to quickly remove the dry bag, which is great for setting up and taking down camp, I find a harness system tucks the weight nicely against the front of the bike, reduces visual obstruction of the trail ahead, and ends up being more versatile than an all-in-one handlebar roll setup.
Most bag makers have accessory pockets for their harnesses for stashing small items or cameras, and you can usually slip tent poles or packable fishing rods outside of the dry bag. Their design means you can run a variety of dry bags, which are cheap and come in a number of sizes, depending on your needs.
Almost all of Colorado-based JPaks’ bags are purpose built for rough and rowdy routes like the Arizona and Colorado Trails. In 2020, they released their DropperPak, a mid-sized dropper-compatible seat bag designed to work in conjunction with the Wolf Tooth Valais. I tested it out on several bikepacking trips before publishing a review, and it has been my go-to seat bag for singletrack bikepacking ever since. JPaks’ high capacity SnakPaks top tube bags have become a personal favourite of mine as well, proving to be stable and big enough for all kinds of silly rides. They also offer stem bags, an all-in-one handlebar roll, and of course, custom frame bags.
The new JPaks Refugi is their first take on a handlebar harness, meaning it has a separate harness that stays on the bike and a dry bag that clips in and out when needed. Like all of JPaks’ bags, it has been in development for a while now (two years, to be exact) and thoroughly tested on the Arizona Trail, Colorado Trail, and lots of weekend trips to help refine the design. According to Joe at JPaks, the design objective was to make a lightweight, stable, and secure harness to allow modular load carrying possible with varying sizes of roll-end bags. They also set out to minimize water ingress with a single-seam roll-end bag that can be made fully waterproof (for an upcharge).
The Refugi shares a similar mounting system with their Supreme BarritoPak. Both the Refugi and BarritoPak are spaced outward from the handlebar using custom-shaped replaceable foam blocks. The blocks push the harness about 1.5″ away from the bar, providing just enough clearance for your hands, lights, or GPS devices. On either side of the stem, two webbing straps with side-release acrylic buckles loop over the bar, and the tail is then cinched down using an additional ladder lock buckle on top of the foam block. There is a smaller third foam block near the bottom of the harness that is pulled up against the head tube thanks to a small piece of shock cord with a cord lock. To protect the headtube, JPaks includes their Eye Patch with a smooth side-facing the harness to allow it to slide when the bars are turned and a grippy fabric and velcro strap against the bike to hold it in place. We saw Rogue Panda use a similar concept with their Canelo Harness Glide Plate that was released earlier this summer.
The exterior of the harness is made from Dimension Polyant RX30 recycled X-Pac, a high-grip EPDM-coated fabric is used on the inside, and there’s an extra layer of foam across the attachment points to provide some rigidity. While the harness doesn’t use a solid crossbar like Revelate Designs’ Handlebar Harness and Pronghorn, or an exterior bar like the Rockgeist Bar Jam or Rogue Panda Canelo, the system is solid enough when strapped to the bars that it never left me wishing it had something more. Three webbing straps, two 1/2″ and one 3/4″, with side-release buckles hold the dry bag in place and they are finished with acrylic strap keepers to keep things nice and clean. There are also two additional D-rings just above the handlebar attachments that can be used to strap on an accessory pocket or straps to secure a small camp chair or fishing rod.
It’s no surprise to see top-notch workmanship and lots of thoughtful little details incorporated into the design of the Refugi. The foam blocks are held in place with velcro, making them easy to replace. All load-bearing attachment points are reinforced with bar tacks, edges are finished with a fabric trim, and there is a small JPaks patch and “Made in Colorado” label to remind you that it was built by hand in Denver.
To go along with the harness, JPaks is also offering double-ended roll-top bags in multiple sizes. They are cylindrical, made with a single seam, and constructed from your choice of fabric. The standard version is not waterproof, but they say they can make them waterproof from an uncharge. They sent over some of their topo-printed DP V21RS bags (VX21 with a ripstop grid instead of the X-grid), which I’ve been using alongside the harness.
Assuming you’ve taken the time to pack your dry bag tightly, stuffing the contents in well and releasing as much air as possible, the harness ultimately determines how well the system works. I only see two places where issues can arise: the attachment to the bike and the attachment to the bag. A harness that comes loose, either at the bar or at the bag, doesn’t make for a great experience. Given that JPaks’ prides themselves on testing their gear on some of the most demanding terrain around, I had high hopes. I’m pleased to report that the Refugi lived up to my expectations.
The handlebar attachment, although somewhat chunky with the various buckles and large foam blocks, is rock solid. The loops that the webbing straps pass through make it challenging for the system to loosen up over time, which is not always the case with handlebar bags that rely on webbing straps. The attachment points leave just under 1″ on either side of the stem, which helps keep things stable and might leave just enough room for a small light or GPS mount. The three webbing dry bag straps also do a good job at keeping things secure, covering a good portion of whatever bag is strapped in place and sag-free.
The roll-top bags JPaks sent along are narrower than I’m used to. The opening on the large bag is only about 6″ across (the medium is even smaller) when opened up, which made stuffing bulkier items or big sleeping bags a little tricky. The bag fabric is lightweight but has a very durable feel to it. I expect it will hold up to abrasion and lots of use well. However, as someone living in the Pacific Northwest, it’s frustrating not to see a 100% waterproof dry bag as the standard option. I asked Joe about the bags, their sizing, and the fabric, and he told me that JPaks can make whatever size dry bag you want in any fabric they’ve got, including Dyneema, for those looking to shed unnecessary weight and dial in their handlebar setup.
The only issue I ran into was the Eye Patch’s compatibility with certain bikes, specifically those with a long downtube/toptube junction, like the one on Emily’s Ibis Ripley AF. JPaks also warns that the harness doesn’t work with bikes with cables that enter the headtube straight on, like some of Santa Cruz’ full-suspension bikes. In the Ripley’s case, the velcro strap wasn’t long enough, and attaching additional velcro just looked silly, so I decided to just remove the Eye Patch all together. As expected, it worked fine without it, but the raised headtube badge on the Ibis did tear up the foam block a little. I also found that the shock cord securing the harness to the head tube would allow the harness to bounce ever so slightly on really rough terrain, even when cinched down tightly. If I was heading to tackle the Colorado Trail, I’d likely be swapping that out for a solid piece of cord that would still allow the harness to slide on the Eye Patch but would limit any bouncing.
The Refugi weighs in at 295 grams, which is at the top end of other minimal handlebar harnesses we’ve tested. I think this likely has something to do with the chunky handlebar attachment and the materials used. Unlike the Revelate Pronghorn, which is constructed from an un-padded section of VX21 X-Pac, the Refugi is padded with foam for rigidity and also backed with a grippy material to help keep the roll-top bag from moving around. These specs, paired with the three straps, do a great job at keeping things tight and secure. Give its reasonable $125 price point and solid design, I think the extra weight is justified. Check out a quick comparison below.
Handlebar Harnesses Compared
Aside from the customizable roll-top bags, JPaks also offers some options for the harness itself. For an additional $10, you have the option to choose the exterior fabric color and/or accent thread and you can even upgrade the two outer bag buckles to CNC machined Austere Manufacturing cam locking buckles for a totally slip-proof setup. We’ve been using Austere’s buckles to strap down heavy gear since the beginning and they are some of the nicest pieces of hardware out there.
- Stable and wiggle-free
- Made in Colorado
- Lots of thoughtful details, including D-hooks, foam spacers, and mounting system
- Clearance for hands and accessories on the bars
- Solid price point
- The roll-top bags I tested aren’t waterproof as standard, and are a little small
- Some movement in headtube attachment due to shock cord
- Eye patch has some compatibility issues
- On the heavier side
- Material: RX30 X-Pac / EPDM coated fabric
- Weight: 295 grams (harness + eye patch)
- Place of Manufacture: Colorado, USA
- Price: $125 USD
- Manufacturer’s Details: JPaks.com
When an experienced bag maker like JPaks comes out with a new product, you can be fairly sure it’s going to be dialled. The Refugi handlebar harness lives up to the JPaks’ name. The attachment system and foam spacers are solid, easy to install, and most importantly, stay put. The three webbing straps and tapered harness do a good job at keeping your favourite dry bag in place, and while the Eye Patch headtube protector might not work on all bikes, it does what it’s supposed to. I did find the bags JPaks sent along with the harness to be a little small, especially for cold-weather bikepacking as we inch our way closer to winter here in the Pacific Northwest, but that’s not a huge issue because their bags are sold separately and can be customized to your liking. The Refugi is the star of the show and it has proven to be thoughtfully designed and carefully manufactured, perfect for any sub-genre of bikepacking out there.
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