Bikepacking has certainly become popular of late with many people finding the benefits of the variety of adventures that can be achieved with this mode of travel. Bikes with the addition of panniers, or the use of an off-road trailer have been used for many years but do not always fit well for the type of adventures we would like to achieve. Lighter and more streamlined packs would be our preferred option. Having suffered many miles of travel with a rucksack on our back, ready to ditch the bike on route and head by foot to a remote mountain top, we were very happy to receive a message from Ortlieb that they may have the perfect solution to make the whole journey more comfortable.
Bikepacking is a new concept for us with the Ortlieb packs being the first we have used. We have used this set up for over a year now and always for back country forest and high mountain trails, throughout Scotland. This review is probably best suited for anyone with a similar approach in mind.
So, what we must point out first is just how knowledgeable and helpful the guys from Ortlieb are in choosing which set up would be best suited to our needs. The obvious first question being, “what bike do you intend to use?” We only used the bikepacking bags with a hardtail mountain bike with 27+ tyres.
This is our preferred option to suit a wide range of adventures throughout Scotland. After this we discussed the best options in terms of bags with a balance between weight, capacity, and functionality. The guys at Ortlieb again offered a wealth of knowledge and came up with items below.
The total set up came in with a volume of 38.5L and a total weight of 1250 grams. If we compare this to a backpack of a similar volume this falls into the size and weight that we would commonly use for multi-day wild camping. The idea is to have the ability to leave the bike at certain locations, with a base camp often being set up before a steep hill climb. The overall capacity of the Ortlieb packs was more than enough for our needs, whilst we also carried a lightweight rucksack for times when we needed to travel by foot.
One of the initial concerns we had with these lighter bags was the long-lasting durability. No one wants to be worried about gear breaking whilst on a long route. Would bikepacking give us the same reassurance as our old panniers and trailer, or would we be worrying that elements of the packs would need special care and attention? The instant reassuring feature of the Ortlieb bags are the qualities of the fabrics and strappings used. Sturdy PU laminated rip stop nylon fabric, large straps and buckles, and heavy stitching make the bags not only fully waterproof but near indestructible. The use of these bags has been in tough unforgiving environments including being bashed against rock, deep bogs, mud trails, rivers crossings, and in varying temperatures. There is no doubt they can handle everything we threw at them and then some more. Even after a ride is over the bags can be washed down with the rest of the bike, cleaned and aired out ready for the next adventure.
After extended use we found some rubbing on the areas of the bike where the packs had been attached. If you like your paint work to be kept in tip top condition it would be advised to add a layer of lacquer or tape in these high contact areas.
Where to place gear inside is just as important for bikepacking as it is prepping a rucksack for a big trek. Weight distribution and generally having an organised pack makes for an efficient and comfortable ride. The two areas you want to pay special attention to are the seat and handlebar packs. The general idea is to balance the weight evenly between the two which helps with the stability of the bike. They are also two areas in which you would preferably store kit that needs to be accessed less frequently throughout the ride. Ortlieb have obviously made considerations for this with both packs having a similar capacity and weight. Both packs are also very adjustable in terms of volume, with each pack packing down tightly when travelling ultralight. This made the packs suit a number of different trips, with us being able to bring along more luxurious food for a first night’s camp in Glen Affric before reducing everything down for the remaining days.
The larger tubular shape of the handlebar pack made perfect space for a tent, bivvy bag, tarp, stove, and other items that you would need less access to, while still paying attention to an even weight distribution. The two roll up closures do make for an easier opening and closing, with us placing our cooking equipment at one end just in case we fancied boiling water or making a hot snack throughout the day. The length is generous without extending past the handlebars, and we even manged to fit a pair of walking poles in this area. Great for pitching a tarp or a lightweight tent in which poles are not needed. If placing less items in the handlebar pack It’s good practice to even out loss of space to keep the weight distribution central.
The seat pack we found to be an area in which you store items that only need limited access throughout the ride. The large rear pack compresses tightly to keep stability with the aid of an air release valve. To use the valve you simply pull it out (this does take a bit of force), roll and secure the buckled opening removing any excess air from inside, before pushing the valve back in place. The seat buckles attach to long straps from the seat post which keeps this pack firmly in place. Trust us, there is nothing worse that setting off without the seat pack being securely strapped in place as it bashes against your rear tyre, so get it correct once without needing access again until the day is finished. The shape of the seat pack is also a consideration as it tapers from narrow to a wide opening. Spare clothing, wash kit, leading back to larger items such as a sleeping bag or tarp, make a for a good fit, filling up any gaps.
The top tube frame pack is where you need to store heavier items. It has a large waterproof zipper that can be quite stiff to open but closes securely with an included loop attachment to keep the zipper from accidentally coming undone. Being a photographer, this was the perfect place to store a camera tripod and bike maintenance, including tools, spare inner tubes, and pump. If you need to make a quick fix on route the top tube pack can also be accessed whilst the bike is upside down.
When discussing options with Ortlieb we chose the top tube pack as it allowed space for a water bottle placed underneath. Due to the shape of our frame it was not possible to place both the pack and bottle without buying a smaller bottle or placing a separate attachment. We didn’t go for either option. Instead we preferred to carry a bottle in the accessory pack or store water in the bladder of our backpack. Both are easier to access and we rarely needed to carry water with plenty of sources to replenish on route.
Probably our favourite addition was the accessory pack. At 3L in volume this clever little pack stashed away many key items including a lightweight jacket, gloves, mobile phone, head torch, and first aid kit, sunglasses, along with a load of snacks to provide an energy boost. The opening could be made easier as the metal buckle can be hard to open and close whilst on the move. A piece of Velcro would make it much easier to access especially when wearing gloves.
Ortlieb, as mentioned earlier, have created packs with a truly robust nature which also lends itself to how the bike behaves with the packs attached and fully laden. The strapping secures the packs tightly to the frame and although a bit of movement is unavoidable, they feel secure. Very little sideways movement is noticeable except on steep hill climbs, although expect a bit of bounce on rougher terrain from the front packs. When first riding it does take a few mins to adjust to the added weight but after this you quickly become used to the slight changes in braking, hill climbs and descent, and accept that for sections of a route you may need to hop off and push your way through.
This was our first foray into the world of bikepacking and we were instantly hooked from the offset. The change of approach towards an adventure offered up exciting prospects with us climbing a few old favoured routes including Braeriach in a way we had not done before. It also changed our approach to the items we took with us. We are big fans of the trusty tarp and with a bike used as the support you can knock up a lightweight shelter in no time at all. One day you can be on top of a mountain the next day at the coast enjoying a swim. The Ortlieb packs never failed to match up against the changing conditions.
It’s hard for us to compare the Ortlieb bikepacking set to any other as these are the first and only packs we have used. What we can say is that they cover all the areas we could wish of a pack of this type. Robust, waterproof, easy to attach, with a large enough volume for multi-day activities, whilst still being light and streamlined for wilderness adventures in which panniers don’t quite fit in. Ortlieb have obviously paid special attention to how the weight is distributed in the two main larger packs of the handlebar and seat, with the added addition of the top tube and accessory packs making for a well rounded system that is easy to attach and become familiar with. It only takes a short amount of time to get a feel for how the bike changes with this added weight. The secure strapping provides little movement apart from on steep hill climbs and particularly rough terrain. Anyone can master this mode of travel with little prior experience. The thick PU laminated rip stop nylon fabric can handle anything that you come across and we could see these Ortlieb packs lasting many miles/years of abuse. Even cleaning down is easy with a quick spray of a hose or a wipe down with a cloth, left in a suitable place to dry before storing. Bikepacking has opened us up to a new variety of adventures with a special mention to the guys at Ortlieb for their expert advice in finding a system that works for us. Minor areas in which we could see improvements is the buckle on the accessory pack being tricky to open and close whilst on the move, and we may change the top tube bag for one the triangle packs that Ortlieb also produce to add a bit of extra space in this area. But overall, we are very happy with the set up and are already planning our next bikepacking adventure.
Trek Scotland is a small family business based in the picturesque village of Tomintoul in the North East region of the Cairngorms National Park. They provide bespoke Mountain Guiding for Single Day Walks and Lightweight Multiday Trekking experiences, including wild camping, in the stunning Cairngorms wilderness and surrounding areas. Whether in the high mountains or lower valleys, their Multiday Treks are equipped with high quality, lightweight camping and trekking gear. They only work with small groups and, whatever your ability, pride themselves on designing your outdoor experience completely to your needs and with professional guidance and expertise. Adventure is waiting...