Learning by doing - Multi day bikepacking

I think everyone learns things in different ways.    For me, I learn by doing.   This trip to California really helped me learn a lot about bikepacking and multi day events.    Before I dig into lessons learned, let me show my intitial set up.    I rode a new Salsa Fargo set up with the following equipment.  

Front Dry Bag strapped to handlebar

- Exped Airmat sleeping pad

- 20 year old North Face Bivy

- 20 year old North Face 45 degree down sleeping bag

- Knickers for camp and/or colder riding

Revelate Design Seat Bag

- Clothes inside a Pacific Outdoor Drybag for camp/evenings consisting of:  Wool base layer, Primaloft vest, wool cap, wool socks, and gloves

- Misc stuff because we also had work to do at end of trip - Battery chargers for phone/camera, extra memory cards

- Rain Jacket

- Any extra food I could fit


Revelate Designs Custom Fargo Framebag

- Tool Kit consisting of extra chain masterlink, zip ties, chain tool, Multi tool, tire lever, tire boot, patch kit, extra derailleur hanger, and leatherman

- Small safety kit of antibiotic ointment, Chamois Butt'r, Lipbalm/sunblock, bandaids, etc

- Two 29er tubes

- Esbit stove with fuel 6 fuel tabs - 2 per day for hot water

- Pump

- Food - Salted nut mix with some extra cashews mixed in, beef jerkey, chocolate, Emergen C, Nuun tabs, & Ibuprofen

- 2 liter water bladder

 Revelate Design Small Gas Tank

- All the food I could stuff into it - Clif bars, Jerkey, Clif Shots, whatever! 


Osprey 22 back pack (Not Shown)

- Wallet

- Phone

- Two small point & shoot cameras with extra batteries

- Extra dry bags

- Titanium cup

- Mini Tripod

- Cap

- Arm Warmers/Knee warmers if not wearing them

- Food if needed

While I did complete the ride and managed to use everything I brought, I really learned something valuable that I only could learn by doing a multi day trip.   I learned through suffering up repeated climbs and 10+ hour days that weight matters.   Sounds obvious right?    But my kit really wasn't that different than the many sub 24 hour overnites I had done.   What was different?   You don't pay for your mistakes on overnights.   You pay for  your mistakes repeatedly on multi day rides.    This is where you learn to make do with less.   Multi day rides also emphasis those things you overlooked, overpacked or don't have the right stuff.   You simply don't get that learning on over nighters.  

The other thing that is missing in my kit, and it was a big mistake, is that I didn't really prepare properly as I did not have a way to treat water, thus making me dependent on others or finding safe drinkable water.   This was a big mistake and I won't make that one again.    On day two it took us 10 hours to pedal 50 miles, I was severely dehydrated after a few of our "scheduled" water stops didn't happen due to the fact that the small winery and the inner city youth camp were no longer open or in business.    I suffered dearly and with a bit of luck, we found a home with an outside water tap at the top of one of the countless climbs.   It was like an oasis and it saved me on this day.   

Another big lesson I learned on this trip is that food (and water) are essential and if you are not 100% sure of the next available source, you need to take advantage of what you find.   One day we rode up to a self serve apple stand.   We spent $5 and got a bag of apples.    Again, take advantage of the food sources you find.    

Next time, I do a multi day self supported tour such as this, I assure you that I will not be carrying a back pack unless it is very small and only holds my point & shoot camera and little bit of food or water.   I will also not carry an extra camera and all the extra stuff I carried for the business trip portion of our journey.   I'll ship that ahead next time.    The freedom gained by no back pack is obvious and over the course of 3 days and 300 miles, the cumulative effect is immense.     Lesson learned.  

So....If you are an experienced overnight or S240 bikepacker, I encourage you all to do a longer trip. It's the only way you pay for your mistakes or shine light on your gear shortcomings.   If my encouragement isn't enough, maybe a few more pictures will help get you motivated to do a longer trip.     

I hope just a little bit that by sharing our gear, the experience and the images that we push you just a little bit to get out there, to learn and to go further or lighter than you've gone before.   Who knows what you might learn.    

This post filed under topics: Bikepacking Fargo

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Jason Boucher

Jason Boucher

Growing up as a Minnesota farm boy, I developed an appreciation and love for land and open space. This appreciation has fostered two passions, cycling and photography. Both of these passions provide freedom, encourage me to explore and foster creativity. More importantly though, my journey with a bike and a camera reminds me that the world is big and I am small.


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captain bob | October 28th, 2010

Just what I needed to read before going to bed.  Sweet dreaming for me.  What an adventure you guys had.  Very neat.  Thanks for the write up.

Errin | October 29th, 2010

Great advice Gnat, and pics of course. I love the one of the guys praying to you.

So much to learn. I think one of the greatest things about Salsa is the willingness to share and encourage riders to go out on these adventures.  Next up are Salsa Tours where you can fly in, jump on a bike with a custom frame bag and do multi-day in some amazing location.  Moab, Sierras or the Great Divide to start. How ‘bout it?

Outsider/Yeti | October 29th, 2010

Very good points. A big difference between single overnighters and multiday trips is indeed the need for food in the latter case. A day of hard riding and insufficient nutrition is felt in the legs the following day.

Since I got the Fargo I’ve really come to appreciate riding without a backpack. The back does not suffer and it really gives a feeling of more freedom.

I’m not sure that the weight matters that much, the caveat being that I don’t have any big climbs where I live. A typical minimal bikepacking setup with a frame bag, handlebar bag and seat pack generally means having gear that packs small, which in turn also almost always means that it does not weigh much. Having a couple of pounds too much weight still only means one or two percent of the total rider plus gear weight, which should not matter much.

These write-ups are really nice, please continue doing them.

Hollis | October 29th, 2010

Gnat I was wondering if you could comment on the frame bags and how much wear they cause to a frame - for many of us this is a big concern as our stable of bikes is far more limited than, say, yours. Do the Revelate Designs (or any) bags beat the hell out of the frame and/or are any design and/or construction measures taken to address what I see as a potential huge issue with frame bags?

P.S. That Pacifico in the third pic from the bottom looks like the best thing you guys packed all trip!

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Fargonaut | October 29th, 2010

Great write up. I am very interested in starting to bikepack and this type of article is really motivating. I too am interested in the wear and tear of frame bags on the paint. I’m not ready to trash my Fun-Guy Green just yet. I will also be making all of my own frame/seat/bar bags so any feed back on bag design would be great as well.

Wonderful photos- Thanks again!

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dman | October 29th, 2010

@Hollis - I have wondered the same thing, thinking the bag moving around on the frame would wear down paint.  I have a small Revelate ‘Tangle’ bag - one of their non-custom frame bags.  If it’s any indication of the rest of their stuff - I don’t think it’s something to worry about.  The tangle bag straps on SOLID - it does not move at all that I can see.  And since I wont have the bag on the bike all that much, I really don’t think it’ll be a problem.  If you left the bags on, simply adding some clear tape at the contact points would protect the finish of the bike.


Gnat | October 29th, 2010

Thanks for the comments and kind words. This was a rewarding and meaningful trip for me. 

Regarding the frame bags and paint wear, I will certainly share my experience but since this is highly subjective, I also hope others chime in with comments here and share their experiences as well. 

I have used my frame bag on my Fargo for over 2 years with minimal wear on the paint.  Why or how is this possible?  That is the beauty of custom frame bag makers such as Revelate and Carousel.  They fit the bags perfectly and they fit fairly tight with lots of strapping points.  The bags just simply do not move. 

Now…That said, of course over time the paint or clearcoat wears under the straps, especially when riding in muddy conditions.  However, in the almost 2 years I had the bag on my Fun Guy Green Fargo, I never wore through the thick powdercoated paint.  I can see where the straps go in the clearcoat, but it still looks great.  I’d post a picture but my Fun Guy Green Fargo is covered completely in mud right now. 

Hope this helps.  Thanks again.

Ps.  Yes that Pacifico tasted very, very good after a 10 hour 5o mile suffer fest!

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Rico | October 29th, 2010

Great write up, and informative, to boot.  Gnat, you gots chuztpah, no denying that. 

Many of us (incl. me) have had to learn the ‘hard way’ to carry h2o purification gear.  Drinking out of a mud puddle can alter your perspective….

Hollis | October 29th, 2010

Jill Homer wrote about frame bags recently over at Adventure Cycling’s blog: http://bit.ly/9oPVfo

Cross-pollinating might shed some light on this topic for aspiring adventure cyclists.

Would love to hear from Revelate and Carousel on the subject as far as what each company has learned / recommends, tips, suggestions etc.

Daniel | October 29th, 2010

A friend and multi trail thru-hiker (Appalachian Trail, PCT, CDT all multiple times end to end)  had this to say on the topic: “If you’re camping pack heavy, if you’re hiking pack light”. Which exactly mirrors the the lesson mentioned here.

If you’re gonna be moving every day, you want to go as light as your experience and safety level allows. If you’re riding into some lovely spot and hanging there for several days, bring stuff to be comfortable while you’re there.

Jerry | October 29th, 2010

you forgot bungee cords.  hook one end to Meiser’s saddle and the other to your frame. let him tow you up the big climbs. if he complains that his bike feels sluggish, you tell him to shut up and keep pedaling.

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Jim C | October 30th, 2010

Been traveling on business for serveral days, so just now getting a chance to comment.  Thanks for sharing comments and pic’s about your great adventure.  But more than that, thanks for being part of such a great company that encourages people to experience adventure… and that provides the best bikes in the world on which to do it.  You have lit a fire within.  Now I just need to figure out what my next great adventure is going to be.  One thing is for sure… It will be aboard a Salsa.  Keep up the good work!!!

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Thirsty Sailor | October 30th, 2010

Just realized the usefulness of having 5 water bottle mounts if you’re traveling with a frame bag! Can I get a witness: three is the new five!

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justanoldhobo | October 30th, 2010

The frame bag is limiting on carrying water bottles but as Gnat states you can slip a bladder into it and keep the weight off your back.  When using a bottle cage under the down tube a covering should be used on the bottle to avoid any little microbes waiting patiently in a puddle or hovering in some dried smagma on the ground. Nothing ruins a trip like a vengeful bacterial attack.
Thanks for the bike packing advice and the great story on the ride. I guess the 50 mile 10 hour day was all up hill through soft bumpy pastures.

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JayP | November 1st, 2010

Fun to learn, is’nt it!
I find it interesting that a lot of people suggest or preach no pack. I feel there are trips where a pack is beneficial. Single-track, adventure type touring IMO requires a pack. I like a bike that is nimble to ride, not swaying due to the load. I also like a rig that is lighter to carry and push when that time comes. When packing we talk about weight distribution and I feel as a fit person we should be able to handle some pounds on the back, 10 anyway. Through my experinces the only time I would not carry a pack is when doing a traditional road tour. A pack will also allow you some more volume. I have found packing tight works great in the garage but when your on the trail you always need some more room, weather it’s for extra food/water or just to allow for your sloppy packing after a rainy bivy night out. I also like having certain things with me at all times espically when I pull into a town and hop off my steed to refuel.
Anyway, looked like good times…..

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Eric / Rev | November 5th, 2010

Just wanted to chime in on the frame wear concern. On all custom bags that I make the tubes are padded to keep hard things from dinging the frame and making noise. As far as paint wear there are huge differences in the paint jobs that builders put on their bikes. I’ve heard of one customer with a custom frame having paint issues after one ride, where as Gnat’s Fargo’s have fared much better. If you love your paint job doing a little protection would go a long way with clear tape.

For those who love bottles a good setup for water is using a bladder at the bottom part of the bag (if possible) and having a water bottle right at the zipper - you can get to the bottle just as easy as using cages and you have plenty of reserve to top it off with the bladder.
Hope that helps.

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