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Off-road cycling camping adventures call for light, packable gear and nifty frame bags: We pick our top 10 essentials for your next bikepacking adventure...

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alpkit-dumo.jpgAlpkit Dumo Sleeping Mat | £49

BEST FOR: A comfortable night’s sleep without being out of breath.

If you have ever suffered from that light headed hyper ventilated feeling when inflating a sleeping mat, you can imagine how excited we were to try out the Alpkit Dumo. 

By dint of a built in foot-long piece of foam that acts as a pump, you simply lean on the end of the mat while closing the valve with the palm of your hand. Release your hand to allow air to be drawn in, and repeat. Okay, this has to be done around a hundred times to get it inflated, but I would choose that over a prolonged dizzy spell any day. It also means you aren’t breathing damp air into your mat every time you inflate and, as we all know, dampness is a Bad Thing.

Once inflated it is around 10cm thick, more than enough to soak up undulations in the ground, and 60cm wide by 192cm long. It all feels luxuriously large once inflated and dropped onto the tent or bothy floor, and we have rarely had a more comfortable sleep outdoors. A  nice touch is the supplied puncture repair kit too, so all in all a superb bit of gear - slightly larger and heavier than the Thermarest alternatives but that little bit tougher, and that built in pump is a neat addition. Also, did we mention it is less than half the price?

+  Supplied puncture repair kit

-  Bulkier than more expensive mats when packed 

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aquapac.jpgAquapac Lightweight Waterproof Backpack 25L | £75

BEST FOR: Keeping gear dry on a bikepacking adventure.

25 litres is about as large a pack as we would like to wear when on a bikepacking trip, even then keeping it for the light but bulky items that won’t lead to sore backs over time. With that in mind we were very interested to take delivery of this waterproof, roll top rucksack from Aquapac.

It breaks a few waterproof bag rules here - and all for the better. For one it isn’t just a single huge compartment as most are, instead being split using a handy waterproof bag inside. Held in place, and removable, by zip we used it to separate our dirty from clean kit, or wet from dry, when on the move and for that it was invaluable.

Let’s face it, you are never going to be able to keep all your kit dry on a trip, and this prevented contamination of our valuable dry kit when packed in together with damp jackets or towels. We also found the external mesh pockets very useful to pack wet gear that could potentially dry through the day, also keeping it out of that precious dry space - another feature rarely seen on waterproof packs.

The semi-rigid back was comfortable and just stiff enough to prevent sharp items poking through and causing discomfort - they say it is removable to use as a seat, but we didn’t make a habit of it - and the harness system was perfectly comfortable even over long rides.

The side clipping waist strap was harder than the usual meet-in-the-middle style, requiring a bit of reaching around to get it clipped, but that was a small complaint about an otherwise excellent pack.

+  Split interior separates wet from dry kit

-  A fiddly waist strap 

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Buff Microfibre and Polar Hat using Polygiene.jpgBuff M&P Hat | £26

BEST FOR: Throwing on your head in camp after a long day on the bike.

Just like an insulating jacket, a warm hat is gold dust once you have stopped in camp for the night - even in relatively warm months you will chill down without it as the evening sets in. Stick it on in camp and keep it on in your sleeping bag for that little boost of heat where necessary.

The Buff M&P is named for the microfibre outer and polar fleece inner, a dual layer construction that feels amazingly soft and luxurious while really boosting the warmth to weight ratio. It is also low on bulk - a real boon for bikepacking where it can stuff into any nook and cranny of luggage - so is perfect for any high impact activities like running or biking too. We have even used it comfortably under helmets on the bike where it copes admirably in especially cold conditions - a testament to its low profile but high insulation. 

In short, this is a seriously lightweight and compact hat for the benefit it brings. Cram it into a pocket and forget it is there until needed. Even after multiple soakings, a quick wring out and it is dry in no time at all. 

A Polygiene treatment of silver ions keeps bacteria from multiplying on sweaty noggins, and we are yet to get this little star smelling anything less than fresh and ready for action. It just goes on and on.

We did find it came up a bit small for the ‘large of head’ amongst us, so if you fall into that category just double check it will fit before you buy. 

+  Fits comfortably under a helmet

-  Tight on larger heads

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Fenix CL25R.jpgFenix CL25R Lantern | £60

BEST FOR: Communal lighting to keep camp sociable.

Generally when bikepacking everything is cut down to the bone for reduced weight and bulk, and in terms of lighting that means a minimalist headtorch. This neat little lantern has been worming its way into our packs for a few trips now, however, and has earned the label of ‘worthwhile luxury’ on our dark winter trips.

Burning for over 2 hours at 350 lumens with warm white LEDs it can comfortably light up a cooking table from above, render a large tent bright enough for everyone to read and perk up a campfire area for trip planning chats. Everything gets a little more ‘communal’ when you are sharing one light source, rather than hunched around in individual head torch glows, so we are using it more and more.

Multiple power levels can also reduce down as far as 0.8 lumens - handy for a dim night light that will burn for 600 hours - and there is even a red steady/flashing option to maintain night vision or act as a warning beacon.

The interchangeable 18650 lithium battery means you can carry spares but, and this is a big bonus, it also has a micro-usb plug in the top to recharge the battery in situ from any USB outlet or external battery. Very neat indeed.

At 180g it isn’t feathery light but when considered as a communal item it doesn’t add much to the mix, especially when considering its compact size - about the same as a mini drinks can.

The IPX6 rating seems to cover it for pretty much any rain or splashing short of full submersion, and it has plenty of hanging options from the loop on top to a hugely powerful magnetic base with tripod thread. Just a fantastic little light with a multitude of uses.

+  Handy USB recharging

-  Heavy, but worth it as a communal item

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63455_softfibre-lite-grey-giant-1.jpgLifeventure  SoftFibre Lite Travel Towel | £17

BEST FOR: Stowing in your bikepacking kit for multiple duties round camp.

The main thing to keep in mind when trying out the Lifeventure Softfibre towel for the first time is that it isn’t a towel. Not in the plush Egyptian cotton, posh hotel room sense anyway. It isn’t thick, it isn’t heavy and it isn’t particularly luxurious. But it does work.

Of course if you are loading up your bike for a trip you wouldn’t thank anyone for a multi-kilogram cotton towel, so equally you have to accept a hit on comfort when handed a fist-sized alternative that stuffs into the corner of your bag. Accept this and you will soon appreciate all that is good about the Lifeventure.

The thin microfleece type material is soft and warm to the touch and it really is amazingly small, packing down the side of just about any bag or rucksack without being noticeable once in there. It also dries incredibly fast - the official figures are that it absorbs 9 times its own weight in water, subsequently drying 8 times faster than a beach towel.

We have thrown ours over branches before packing camp up and found it to be dry by the time we are finished, if the conditions are right, and although not strictly luxurious, it is comfortable to use. A dabbing action works best, rather than the usual towel rub-down, and our XL (130x75cm) test version was easily big enough to handle a fully soaking body.

In the spirit of a good bikepacking item it has also come in handy for a multitude of other tasks, as varied as wrapping clothes in for a pillow, or wrapping round our necks as a cosy camp scarf. 

+  Extremely easy care and fast drying

-  Not exactly luxurious!

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alpkit-katabatic-green.jpgAlpkit Katabatic Jacket | £140

BEST FOR: Throwing on at the end of a sweaty day to keep warm.

Over the years we have come to the conclusion that one of the most flexible, never leave at home, items in our cycle touring bag is our good old insulating jacket. Pull it on at rest stops to reduce heat loss from a sweaty body, at the end of a long day to ward off the evening chill at camp, and even in bed for a bit of extra insulation so you can carry a lighter sleeping bag. 

Down jackets are superb for the weight and pack size but, particularly in the UK, dampness can severely reduce their effectiveness over a trip. Primaloft has no such problem, retaining the bulk of its insulating power even when wet, and Primaloft Gold is the top of the line. This is what packs out the Katabatic jacket. Even after damp and dingy bothies, light showers and a few days of being packed away in less than dry condition it really shone as a reliable ‘warm place’ to look forward to.

We even used it on the bike on a couple of low intensity but bitterly cold days, and the close cut allowed that with no flapping or poor fit problems. The high zip collar comes into its own in these situations too, closing up to seal in the warmth nicely. 

It will pack down into one of the pockets, but we always found it more compressed in a small dry bag where all the air could be expelled - and here at least it wouldn’t get any damper in transit. 

+  Primaloft Gold insulation isn't fazed by damp

-  An adjustable hood would have been a bonus

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MSR_HubbaTour2_DoorOpen_PR.jpgMSR Hubba Tour 2 Tent | £560

BEST FOR: Sharing a bikepacking trip with someone else.

If you were to hand us a blank sheet of paper with the purpose of designing our ideal bikepacking tent, the resulting scribbles and sketches wouldn’t end up being too far from the MSR Hubba Tour series. They have very clearly been designed by someone who actually uses them, and that is a breath of fresh air.

For starters they pitch all in one, with the main compartment poles on the outside. So many lightweight tents pitch inner first, draping an outer over only once the poles are complete and the structure in place. In pouring rain that means it is a race to stop your bathtub groundsheet filling up with puddles before you have even got in. Top marks so far MSR. 

The main selling point to us  however, was that roomy vestibule. Lightweight tents often compromise on comfort and space, so having this roomy porch meant we had room to store kit, cook when the weather was poor and have an area to strip off outer layers before getting into the inner tent.

Half the area is even fitted with a sewn in groundsheet - perfect for sitting on when peeling wet kit off, or storing gear off the wet ground. We would happily cart around a few extra grammes for this really useful extension area.

These two features on their own would sell this tent to us ten times over but when you add the top quality construction, attention to detail and materials you really have a winner. 

At 2.4kg and nearly £600 it isn’t the lightest or the cheapest tent out there, but that price is worth every penny if you are planning years of use, and the weight certainly isn’t a show-stopper - especially when you consider that extra useful space. Having a two man capacity also means you can split the tent down between you, reducing it to a much more manageable weight and bulk. Simply superb.

+  That massive vestibule for gear

-  Very pricey 

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MSR_WindBurner-Red-nostand_PRTN.jpgMSR Windburner | £125

BEST FOR: Brewing up a fast cuppa during breaks in a bikepacking expedition.

The Windburner is a great example of the ‘stove system’ design that has become so popular over the last decade or so. With a burner that clips onto the bottom of the pot and effective wind shielding and heat exchangers built in, the efficiency of these units is far beyond the standard open burner and pot combo. Not only does this heat water faster, but uses less gas for each operation - meaning you have to carry less fuel.

We found the tall pot/narrow base format did limit the amount of ‘real’ cooking we could do, but for brewing up or rehydrating dried meals, this design was hard to beat. Sporting a flat burner ring you can put other pots and pans onto the Windburner, so proper cooking isn’t ruled out, but MSR themselves offer other pots and a frying pan that also have the heat exchanger and clip to mate up perfectly if you wanted to re-visit your wallet.

We used the stove to great effect even in brisk winds and exposed spots where, on a recent blustery winter’s day of 5 degrees C, it managed to boil half a litre of water in a snappy 2 minutes 10 seconds. No attempt was made to shelter the stove, it was just lit where we sat. That was impressive, even among other compact stove systems we have owned.

Lighting is one area it differs from many of its competitors - unlike them it doesn’t sport a piezo ignitor. At first we felt this was a loss, until remembering we generally carry some sort of backup lighter anyway - you only need a piezo to let you down once on a trip to realise they aren’t infallible. It does mean more faff when lighting, putting a match or spark to it before clipping the pot on, but this isn’t a deal breaker and the Windburner performance was so good we would happily overlook many more pertinent shortcomings.

+  The absolute resistance to wind effects

-  A piezo ignitor would be handy

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Thermarest - Questar_front_open.jpgThermarest Questar Sleeping Bag | £225

BEST FOR: Getting a cosy night sleep in damp places. Like the UK.

Better known for their groundbreaking range of inflatable sleeping mats, Thermarest have recently made the obvious progression into sleeping bags. Somewhere around the middle of the range lies this Questar HD - rated down to -6C and comfortable down to 0C it should cover most UK conditions. 

The filling is 650 power Nikwax Hydrophobic Down, meaning it should shrug off dampness and keep insulating even when the conditions are poor - also drying far faster. 

We didn’t get the Questar any worse than ‘bothy damp’ in use, but previous experience with Nikwax down has been very positive so we have no doubt it’s an advantage. Damp proof down or not however, we would like to have seen the compression sack being taped and waterproof. 

There were a few other standout features for us - the first and most important being the ‘constructed’ toe-box (they call it the ‘Toe-Asis’). Cold feet can be a real problem when the temperature drops, and just having this method of creating a warm pocket worked a treat. 

The second was the straps for holding the bag to an inflatable mat. Clipping onto the back of the bag they ensure that side is always kept towards the mat. It’s a great idea when the design of the Questar uses less down on that - normally compressed anyway - side of the bag. It didn’t stop us rolling off the mat but it did hold that side of the bag to the mat so in that sense it was worthwhile. You can easily unclip the bands if you aren’t a fan anyway.

Otherwise the Questar was a superb, warm sleeping bag with plenty of adjusters to seal in the heat. Well worth the cash, and while it is a little bulky for summer use no sleeping bag will cover all eventualities. 

+  The roomy toe-box makes for toasty feet

-  We'd have liked a waterproof stuff sack

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vaude-4.jpgVaude Trailfront / Trailsaddle / Trailframe | £80/£90/£70

BEST FOR: Bikepackers on multi-day missions.

A relative newcomer to the bikepacking market, Vaude have launched with what has proven to be a pretty well thought out one-stop package for the adventurers out there. The complete set - a 12 litre saddle pack, 19 litre bar bag and 8 litre frame pack - add up to a pretty impressive 39 litres of hauling capacity if packed to the gunnels, enough to get anyone through a few nights once stuffed with lightweight and packable kit. 

On the move we did find the frame bag tricky to get gear in and out of without removing, so it was quickly tasked with bits that wouldn’t be needed regularly. For that it worked well, and the rubberised frame straps held everything in place through some pretty rough Scottish terrain. 

The bar bag splits into a holster and dual entry dry bag - fix the holster for the duration of the trip and just clip the bag in and out when needed. We liked this method of fitting, with the system allowing easy dropping out of the bag for fast access during the day, aided by the double sided dry bag that mean we didn’t have to empty it out every time we needed something packed at the far end. 

The saddle pack is a similar ‘bag and holster’ design but while you could use any dry bag you want in the front holder, the rear is a tapered design to fit in the tapered holster perfectly. The design meant we had to hone our packing to make sure there wasn’t wasted space in the narrow end - stuff it with small items like spare base layers to use the bottleneck was our lesson - but it all filled and gripped the post perfectly once we tuned in. Again, leaving the holster on the bike made repacking the next morning a breeze; just pack the bags up and drop them into the holster, clip in and go. 

Materials are light but hardy PVC tarpaulin with welded seams to keep the water out, and we found the bags shrugged off everything we threw at them with ease. A great kit to get you out there. 

+  Easy to fit and remove from your bike

-  Fabrics might not take a lot of abrasion

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