Kurt Refsnider’s 2011 Tour Divide Setup

Over the past few years, I’ve received quite a few inquiries about what I carry during bikepacking races. Obviously, my kit is different for every bikepacking trip and every multi-day race.

During my aborted Arizona Trail 300 ride this past spring, I carried less than I do on most single-day backcountry rides in the mountains above Boulder. I didn’t plan on sleeping and the weather was hot, so all I really needed was food, water, a bunch of spare tubes, and batteries for my lights. Two years prior in the same event, I had several pairs of gloves, waterproof booties, a down jacket, and suffered like a dog in a wintery storm atop Mount Lemmon.

The Tour Divide is an entirely different beast. It lasts far too long to be able to look at the weather forecast and pack accordingly. And trail conditions are likely to vary as wildly as the weather. On the other hand, while the days in the saddle are long, riders sleep virtually every night, there are ample resupply options, and the majority of the route isn’t particularly remote (at least by Western standards). Recovery at night is immensely important, and when racers are only sleeping for a scant few hours, sleeping soundly for that entire time should be one’s goal. I carry a few extra ounces to make sure that’s the case (dry clothes and a cushy sleeping pad). I also carry a few additional ounces to make sure that both my gear and my body can stay dry and warm in the foulest of weather. This has helped me win races in the past. Thus, I try to strike a respectable balance between ultra light and well prepared.

Kurt riding across the Centennial Valley in Montana...

To appease your curiosity, here’s the lowdown on my gear choices and bike setup. I know some characters might chastise me for sharing my “secrets,” but in ultras, well-chosen gear falls far short of creating fast riders, it does allow for more enjoyable experiences, and that’s what the majority of bikepackers are seeking, no? But keep in mind that just because this selection of equipment works for me, it may not for you.

Front end setup...

On the handlebars, I used a homemade roll-top bag (with camera pocket on the non-rolling end) strapped in an old, minimalist Epic Designs (pre-Revelate Designs name change) harness. This bag contained my sleeping kit, which included a Marmot Atom 40-degree sleeping bag, a Montbell UL bivy, a Thermarest NEOAir short pad, sleeping shorts, shirt, socks, and a bug headnet. I never open this bag during the day, and the sleeping bag and clothing were all stuffed in an Outdoor Research drybag inside the roll-top bag. Wrapped around all this was an old Epic Designs pocket where I carried food. For the first few days, I also carried some kid's snowshoes for the long, snowy slogs. It turned out that the snow was firm enough that snowshoes were unnecessary.

On the frame, I used a homemade frame bag and two bags on the toptube (a Revelate Designs Gas Tank) and a smaller homemade bag on toptube adjacent to the seatpost. The gas tank held bear spray for the northernmost part of the course (I’ve had enough close encounters with polar bears to realize the negligence of not carrying spray), as well as some food. The other smaller bag held items that I wanted to be accessible quickly—chain lube, sunscreen, lip balm, headlight batteries, multi-tool, etc.

In the frame bag, I stashed quite a bit of gear. For water, I carried a 4L MSR DromLite bladder with hose. I only filled this up completely a few times, but in New Mexico when I was drinking close to two gallons a day in the heat, I was glad to have this capacity. My repair and first aid kits, as well as a few spare spokes, lived in here, as well as my route cues and notes, cash, passport, cell phone (this dinosaur served as my alarm clock) and charger, toilet paper, and a very light cable and lock. The last item simply keeps honest folks honest since there are a few towns along the route with some rather suspect characters hanging around the gas stations and fast food restaurants. A couple spare 29″ tubes were tucked in the very bottom of the bag. I’ve learned from experience that carrying 26″ tubes as spares, especially ultra light 26″ tubes, is a recipe for trouble, so I carry the ultra light 29″ tubes and have never had a problem. I also stashed my Pearl Izumi arm warmers and wind vest in the front of the frame bag for quick access when temperature modulation was required.

Kurt and Ethan Passant press pause to dry gear along the route...

A bit of elaboration is needed for a few of these items. My first aid kit is very minimalist, containing only a few items to deal with blisters, minor scrapes, and some road rash. In Divide racing, one is never more than a day from help, and in most cases, far less. On more remote trips, a few more items should be added. My first aid kit also includes forceps (great for extracting thorns from tires), and a few waterproof matches. I also always carry a roll of athletic tape—there’s no substitute for this when your Achilles tendons start to scream!

My repair kit contains all the items I can think of to get me out of nearly any situation in which my bike (or other gear) suffers some sort of mechanical failure. This kit is tailored to the particular bike I’m riding, as well as biased toward problems I’ve encountered in the past. A small multi-tool and a few individual hex keys cover all bolts and adjustments on the bike (both in terms of head type and access to the head). I carry small Leatherman pliers that can facilitate a number of other tasks. A plethora of patches, boots, plugs, a Presta valve adapter, a spare valve stem, stout floss and a strong needle, and usually a bit of extra tire sealant cover the flat tire side of things. I also pack spare cleats, quick links for the chain, brake pads, a spare derailleur pulley, and an assortment of bolts. Zip ties, Gorilla tape, and a few safety pins facilitate makeshift repairs for other damaged parts.

Revelate Designs prototype ‘Lemming’...

My seat bag was a prototype Revelate Designs cuben fiber bag called, continuing with Eric’s rodent naming scheme, a Lemming. This bag carried the remainder of my clothing—a long-sleeve Salsa jersey, Pearl Izumi knee warmers, a Montbell Thermawrap vest, Gore Bike Wear rain gear (the only rain gear I’ve ever had that keeps me truly dry—GoreTex Paclite is a great laminate). For chilly weather, I had a thin wind-resistant hat and fleece gloves. I also carried some homemade, compact cuben fiber mitts and oversocks that are truly waterproof. They saw no use this year, but in the two previous editions of the Tour Divide, I would have been quite happy to have them.

As far as the bike goes, I rode a custom El Mariachi Ti frame. It was essentially an 18″ frame with a longer seat tube and higher toptube, equating to decreased standover clearance but increased room in the main triangle for a frame bag. I also opted for PressFit30 bottom bracket compatibility, standard 1-1/8″ steerer compatibility, and cable routing to get the housing out of the way as much as possible. The result was a phenomenal Divide racing frame. On the front end, I mounted a White Brothers Rock Solid rigid fork with an aluminum steerer and carbon legs. While it’s not the lightest rigid fork out there, the fore-aft flex in the round carbon legs absorbs washboard vibrations better than any other fork I’ve ridden. Should I ever race the Divide again, you’ll see me on this same fork.

In the cockpit, I used ESI Chunky grips wrapped with Salsa’s Gel Cork handlebar tape, Cane Creek Ergo bar ends, and some ‘Frankenstein’ aerobars cobbled together from the best parts of three different sets of aerobars with the ends wrapped in more Salsa tape. These cushy hand positions gave me many options and prevented any hand, wrist, and arm discomfort. Also mounted on my Pro Moto Carbon flat bars was a Garmin ETrex Vista HCX GPS unit and a VDO cyclometer. I only used the GPS for navigating at night and to double check that I was on course if I was ever unsure. The primary reason for carrying the GPS was that I have had far too many cyclometer failures to entirely trust it. However, the VDO unit worked flawlessly. Cues were held in a waterproof pouch atop the aerobar extensions, and my SPOT device was housed in a homemade pouch nestled between the extensions and beneath the cues.

Wasted in the San Juans…

I ran a set of Stan’s Arch rims laced to DT Swiss 240s hubs with WTB Nano tires and a generous dose of Stan’s sealant inside. The wheels, built by Mike Curiak at Lacemine29, have been bombproof for XC riding, but the new made-in-China Nano tires left much to be desired. Many riders had trouble with them this year—the sidewalls will not remain reliably sealed when run tubeless (NOTE: they are NOT designed to be run tubeless), so at least once a day, I would have to swirl the sealant around the sidewalls and add ~10 psi to the rear tire. The front was more reliable, but the tread was completely shot by the end of the race. The tread on the rear was pretty far gone by the time I replaced it with a trusty Michelin Dry2 mailed to me in Rawlins.

The other components on my bike were dominated by SRAM parts. I still run a 9-speed drivetrain, so I used an XG-999 cassette, X0 rear derailleur and shifters and brakes, an XTR front derailleur, and a PF30 bottom bracket with an X0 carbon triple crankset (I don’t think these cranksets are available to consumers, which really is a shame since it’s a great crank). Race Face rings were bolted to the spider. A discontinued Specialized saddle and XT pedals are my preference for the other contact points. An ever-reliable Cane Creek 110 headset kept my fork attached and bars turning smoothly. The lack of rain and mud this year helped minimize wear and tear on parts, but aside from the slow leaks in the Nanos, I didn’t have a single problem with any of my gear.

A few odds and ends that didn’t get mentioned above include my lights (a bright 4-LED blinky and a Fenix LD20, both mounted on my helmet), ClO¬2 tablets for treating water, a water bottle mounted on the underside of my downtube, ample chain lube, a trusty frame pump, extra ziplock bags, and assorted personal items. I also bought some cushier socks in Steamboat Springs to alleviate some soreness in my feet, as well as a second pair of shorts to provide some chafed areas a chance to heal by moving seams to another location. This helped tremendously, but by the end of a long day in brand new shorts, the foreign chamois created other discomforts and I was happy to return to my old shorts.

That’s about it. I’m sure I left off a few items, but these were the important things in my opinion. Feel free to ask away with any questions you might have. I hope this information is of help to any of you planning your own escapes and adventures.

Hello Antelope Wells…I’ve missed you…

This post filed under topics: Bikepacking El Mariachi Kurt Refsnider Reveal The Path Ride The Divide Sponsored Riders Tour Divide Ultra Racing

Share this post:

Kurt Refsnider

Kurt Refsnider

After growing up in Minnesota, I’ve been lured away by the rugged charm of the mountainous west. I relish every opportunity I find to spend a day (or days) on the bike, linking together unknown trails and forgotten routes through deserted country, enjoying the simplicity and unpredictability. When driven to race, I am growing ever fonder of pushing the limits of endurance and sanity. www.krefs.blogspot.com


Errin | August 24th, 2011

Awesome post Kurt. I’m constantly rethinking my packing and gear choices. This both confirmed some thoughs I had and made me rethink others. I’m really stoked that you make your own bags as well. I’m doing that as well.  I love the idea of the camera pocket on the bottom of the dry bag. I’m going to make a custom harness for my Fargo to run in between the Woodchippers, as dropbars have their own packing issues. I think I’ll try and incorporate something like your camera bag in my bag design.

Thanks for sharing. It’s much appreciated to us aspiring to complete such an endeavor.

No avatar image

cmherron | August 24th, 2011

Kurt - Really great write-up, there are a number of great tips in your advice and experience.  One of my favorite parts of this article is where you said “I know some characters might chastise me for sharing my ?secrets,? but in ultras, well-chosen gear falls far short of creating fast riders, it does allow for more enjoyable experiences, and that?s what the majority of bikepackers are seeking, no?”  An enjoyable experience is (should) always be the goal no matter if you are out for a cruiser ride with the family, training on the trails, or racing.  The wisdom that you have shared here will certainly help others have a more enjoyable time and when I get to that point in my life where I am able to take multiple-day rides, you will have helped me too.  Cheers!
Chris, Fort Collins

No avatar image

gnh | August 24th, 2011

I have an El Mar Ti in size small (which has only one water bottle cage mount) and am interested in how you attached the extra water bottle cage onto the down tube and what kind of cage you used.

kurt | August 26th, 2011

GNH, I had an extra pair of water bottle mounts included on the underside of the down tube when my frame was made. We should be seeing this on more Salsa frames, but that doesn’t help you right now. Hose clamps (like what’s used to clamp the ends of radiator hoses in cars) work well for adding cages to frames, fork legs, seatposts, etc. The Salsa Nickless cages include slots for hose clamps, although the two “halves” of the cage tend to bow out a bit after time when they’re mounted upside down. Put a zip tie between those two halves to prevent them from spreading and the cage will maintain a firm hold on your bottle even on rough terrain.

No avatar image

John | August 26th, 2011

Thanks for the inside scoop!
I have some questions re your flashlight.
Is it bright enough for single track night riding (slower to moderate speeds)?
How did you mount it to your helmet?  Is a mount available?  If so, where can I get one?
Thanks for the info

kurt | August 26th, 2011

John, it all depends on how much light you need riding at night. I tend to use a rather dim light compared to some of my friends that need blazingly bright lights for night riding in multi-day races. I’m not sure the best way to answer your question. For comparison, I’ve raced on the Arizona and Colorado Trails, which are filled with techy singletrack, using a Princeton Tec Apex on my helmet and no other light. This year I opted to add the LD20 to my bars for the AZT300, and I was amazed at how much light the two combined provided, and usually, I only had the Apex switched on. For the Divide two years ago, I used only the relatively dim PT EOS II, which is definitely not quite enough for singletrack riding at night. For me, the LD20 alone would be fine for singletrack at night. It’d probably be fine for you, too, if you’ve been eating your carrots.

As for a helmet mount, nothing is made for this purpose, so you’ll have to fabricate your own. I’ve modified a few different mounts for this, all of which have ended up working adequately. TwoFish makes a generic flashlight mount that works well on the bars, but it’s not ideal for on the helmet.

No avatar image

Ryan | September 15th, 2011

Congrats Kurt on the win even though it was not the offical route, you were still hauling some serious ass. I’ve debating doing the route rigid or squisy and I’m now sold on the white brothers fork. Also salsa I understand Jefe is not one of your riders per say but seriously there is alot of singlespeeders out there, that would like a little detail into his gear and experience. So yeah, please try to get Jefe on here for alittle guest blog or what not.

No avatar image

Ryan | September 15th, 2011

sorry for the typos

No avatar image

Ed | November 16th, 2011

Congratulations Kurt on a great result!
Thanks very much for posting this information. I have recently heard of the sport and plan to get more involved over the next couple of years. Your article is quite insightful and provides some answers and ideas as to what it takes to make it all work. Much appreciated.

No avatar image

Jefe Branham | November 19th, 2011

Funny to find this. I haven’t posted my set up for the divide. But there are no secrets!
A brief view is Salsa El Chi in a medium, blue. Ti Black Sheep fork, Xt discs, old 960 xtr crank, 33x19 gearing. Ti Cycles custom 20* bars, Ergon gx1 w bar tape over, and Ritchey bar ends with tape over, profile t2 aeros with custom bar ends and tape. Ti Black Sheep seatpost, wtb rocket V saddle, Maxxis Cross mark UST rear, Geax Saguaro TNT front, no tube Flow rims, yes flows, King RR hub, BB and headset, Hope Pro 2 front.
Home made bags all around, homemade one piece bivie/sleeping bag, super thin pad, like 60g
wool jersey, specialized glove and shorts, arm warmer, knicker-ed amphip tights, rainsheild jacket, extra socks, patagonia houdini with no hood, light and cold! also warm gloves, headband
also ran ld20, but 2 one helmet, one bars. Garmin Vista HCX GPS, also 60csx as back up, also maps, chopped, and cue sheets
Not much first aid, good bit of hygene, tons of handy wipes, keep those fingers and bumms clean!
Spot, yep old one.
Think that is about it, I was tolerably cold the first week, then good. Would just refine the bags a bit, and go lighter with the bike and some gear, bring a touch more insulation. Jefe
Ask more at bikepacking.net!

No avatar image

Brian | January 9th, 2012

Kudos to all you XC nuts.  I am HOPING to join the ranks myself, with the Colorado Trail race in late July…however I have a few ?s. 
Food?  any recommendations?
Is there any spots to restock along the CT?
Pack a stove? Or just roll with Gu’s and bars?
Sleeping bag choice? Had even thought about packing my hammock & fly instead of a tent/bizy. Might even try out my homemade Tyvek tent.

Any thoughts? And thanks again for all your info in this blog.  Good stuff!

No avatar image

cmherron | January 9th, 2012

In addition to previous posts here in Salsa’s blog there are a number of forums and blogs that talk about this sort of thing.  Also, check out the newest issue of mountain flyer, they have a nice little rundown of bikepacking.
That being said, I always appreciate and respect the opinions of Salsa folk on this matter.  I too would like to hear some more insight from the great riders of Salsa!  (I know, I know there’s already a bunch of this information in previous posts.  I just can’t get enough!)

kurt | January 9th, 2012

Brian, a lot of this stuff you’re really going to have to experiment with and figure out on your own. There are PLENTY of places to resupply along the CTR route, although they become a rather sparse in the last 200ish miles. See all the past discussions on Bikepacking.net for a good rundown of those options.

I wouldn’t bring a stove, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend just eating gels and bars. Real food is essential for most people in these races. Bars get old really fast, and gels don’t give you any more than a quick sugar rush. Your sleeping bag choice will depend on (1) your sleeping strategy, (2) your bivy/tent/pad choice, and (3) what other clothes you bring. I don’t sleep much, I carry a very thin bivy and pad, and usually have an extra jacket, so a 40 deg bag is all I need. But sub-freezing temps at night are not uncommon during the summer along the CT, so that might not be a warm enough bag for everyone.

But I must stress more than anything else, get out there on at least a few 2-4 day bikepacking trips with a LOT of climbing before starting the CTR. Make sure you’re confident in your gear, have everything you need, and know how to repair anything that breaks or self-destructs (that includes your bike, your other gear, AND your body!). The CTR is a demanding and potentially dangerous enough course that it shouldn’t be anyone’s first bikepacking experience. Get at least a few trips under your belt in the spring if you haven’t already.

Essie Terry | February 2nd, 2012

I was really entertain reading your story. Congratulations! I can say, you really enjoy what you’re doing. I love to join this kind of racing but never had a chance. I hope someday I’ll have my race too so that I can also share a post about it. :D

Haiku Hammock Swings | February 10th, 2012

Ya, I admire what you do. It is an amazing thing to be able to experience. You seem to have it down pretty good.

Stretch Marks | February 20th, 2012

Now that’s how a bike has to look when it used properly :D I have my own outside full of rust already, really hope to use it this year too but i’m afraid it will be very hard to get it on once more.

rosacea treatment | March 30th, 2012

I have to take my bike again from my basement, it’s springtime now and everyone should use their bikes again!

paid invoices | April 21st, 2012

Wow! Sounds like you have a brilliant setup indeed. I’m so pleased and enjoyed this write up though. Thanks for published!

No avatar image

Ryan | May 23rd, 2012

Do you change into sleeping clothes? And did you wear the same pair of cycling knicks/jersey during the whole race?

No avatar image

kurt | May 23rd, 2012

Ryan, I did carry some sleeping clothes - light shorts and a long-sleeved shirt. This is crucial in my opinion just in case it’s been a rainy day and my riding clothes are damp or sweaty. As far as shorts and jersey, I bought a second pair of shorts part way through, but they weren’t too comfortable, so I really just wore the same shorts (and jersey) for the full race. They got washed once…ugh!

No avatar image

Ryan (aussie ryan) | May 23rd, 2012

Thanks Kurt, would you haev considered Merino wool jerseys/kicks if Salsa had them (less smell, self regulating), or in scheme of 4,300kms it doesnt really matter? Also, how did you keep yourself “clean” so as not to risk an infection?

No avatar image

kurt | May 23rd, 2012

Nah, Merino might be better for smell, but it’s the salt and abrasive dirt build-up that are the real problems. I don’t think material would help appreciably for either of those. As far as cleaning, a quick washing every day helps, not sleeping in a dirty chamois helps, and not wearing a pack helps.

reflective essay example | July 22nd, 2012

Super cool post my friend! Congratulations for your brilliant job. Your post is really helpful to me. Hope so in near future you give me such kind of adventure. Thanks.

No avatar image

pablito | July 23rd, 2012

Thanks for the post. So no pack for you? Riding a full suspension, so don’t think I have a choice. Sounds like your saying it can be a problem to wear a pack? As far as food, you don’t do any cooking with a stove? Just ready-to-eat bars and stuff?

No avatar image

kurt | July 23rd, 2012

Pablito, nope, no pack. It’s far more comfortable for a ride of that length. Your hands, feet, and but will all appreciate a tiny pack or no pack at all. And no need for full suspension out there…a hardtail or fully rigid treats most people just fine on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Gas stations and stores along the way have a huge array of food that can be eaten without cooking, which saves both time and weight. For touring, I’d probably bring a stove for some warm meals and something hot to drink in the mornings, but for racing, I can easily live without that.

No avatar image

pablito | July 23rd, 2012

Pretty sure I won’t be able to change the bike set up. But its a really light (23lbs) 29’er with not much travel. Does Relevate still do anything custom?

On your bivy, did i read that you made your own? If I’m not so handy, what have you seen commercially that you might recommend?

No avatar image

kurt | July 23rd, 2012

Revelate no longer does custom frame bags, but there are a number of other small outfits that do, so you shouldn’t have any trouble getting one. The bivies I generally use are an OR Micronight if conditions are likely to be rainy or the Montbell UL bivy if it shouldn’t be too stormy. The latter isn’t truly waterproof, but it’ll get you by in the rain if you’re not planning to sleep to long and can find some bushes or trees to sleep under.

Check out the forums on bikepacking.net for some great discussion of both frame bag and bivy options.

No avatar image

brian | July 24th, 2012

We are riding the CT next week with a ultralight hammock & a rainfly that doubles as a bivy.  I made in the garage with silnylon purchased from Quest Outfitters.  The hammock was made with walmart nylon/poly fabric I bought on clearance.  I follow http://www.hammockforums.net regularly and studied up, then created my own ultra light travel kit.  I even managed to make a fleece sleep sack.  All 3 weight in at 2.3 pounds total.

vertical blinds | September 13th, 2012

Thanks for the inside scoop bro! Your story is really inspirational as well. I can’t wait to get started on my endeavors.

No avatar image

Christian Schuler | October 29th, 2012

Hi Kurt
I just like to now when the start for next year is. I am in Contact with Tracy a woman ho finished the Divide this year. And she said to me some Veterans told here the start will by next year at the 14. of June is that right, because i will book the flight bretty soon.
Thanks Chris from Switzerland

No avatar image

kurt | October 29th, 2012

Hi Chris -

I don’t know what the start date for 2013 will be. Watch the TD website for news on that front, or contact Matthew Lee. As the guy at the helm of this loosely-organized event, he’s the one that makes the decisions.


Clarisonic Outlet | November 21st, 2012

Now many people know this topic. Very attractive. So I came to a published personal opinion, only a person point of view. Again, I recommend you use this station.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.