How to Pack Minimally for a Mountain Bike Trip

minimalist packing, packing tips, adventure travel, minimalist travel, carry-on packing, carry-on travel, mountain bike travel tips
March 8th, 2019

So you're itching for your next mountain bike adventure, but you're dreading the inevitable schlepping of bags and gear across airports, up countless flights of stairs and into hotel rooms.


It doesn’t have to be that way.


Believe me, I used to be a chronic overpacker - throwing everything I could possibly need in a large duffle bag and realizing by the end of the trip that only half the stuff was actually put to use - until I discovered the joys of minimalist packing.


I was recently on a 2-week trip through Northern Thailand and had nothing more than a carry-on bag. I can vouch that nothing is more liberating and satisfying than moving around with but one bag in tow and never having to wait for checked luggage. Granted, I rented a bike (which of course makes things considerably easier), but even if bringing your own bike, you can still reap the many benefits of strategic and conscientious packing. In fact, lugging around a bike bag is all the more reason to minimize additional (and unnecessary) baggage.


Because let’s face it: unless you’re going on a month-long self-organized expedition across various climates, there’s little reason you’ll need anything more than a personal item and a carry-on for a 1-2 week mountain bike trip.


As the common argument for over-packing goes, “but what if I really end up needing that one thing I didn’t pack?” Chances are, you’ll be able to buy or borrow a similar item wherever you go if you really, really need it. If not, you’ll make due without it. Short of finding yourself in grizzly country during mating season without bear spray, you'll be OK.


Follow these simple and effective strategies for minimalist packing before your next adventure, and you’ll avoid feeling like a sherpa trudging up the Himalayas.


1. Pack functional clothes that look good on and off the bike

Your fancy neon shorts and flashy jersey may stand out in pictures, but chances are, you’ll feel silly wearing them at the local pub or mountain-side monastery, and you’ll find little use for them off the trail. Opt for functional, breathable and more subtle options like Kitsbow’s Icon Shirt, Patagonia’s Cool Trail Bike Henley and Club Ride’s Joe Dirt Short.




2. Two-in-one is better than two

If you’re planning on riding mountainous terrain with some gnarly descents, chances are, a full-face helmet is a good idea. But two helmets take up waaay too much valuable real estate. Instead, opt for a helmet with a removable chin guard - like Bell’s Super DH or Giro’s Swithchblade - for two helmets in one. Bonus tip: don’t let all that empty space inside your helmet go to waste! Stuff it with your knee pads, gloves, glasses and goggles.




3. Convertible and reversible items

Multi-use items get a bad rep, but there’s no denying their versatility when traveling. Being able to shed sleeves or pant legs when things heat up, or flip a jacket inside-out when moving from the trails to your hotel, is invaluable. Check out Fox’s Legion Softshell Jacket, Outdoor Research’s Equinox Convertible Pants and Endura’s Urban Primaloft Flipjack to maximize your options (without the added bulk of duplicate items).




4. Use packing cubes and compression bags

Packing cubes and compression bags are a game changer. They’ll keep your dirty shoes and laundry separate from the clean stuff, and you’ll be amazed by how much more you can fit inside your bag thanks to these. I use them to organize rolled-up clothes, electronics, laundry, toiletries, bike tools… pretty much everything. Check out MEC’s Travel Light Packing Cubes and EVOC’s Safe Pouch Waterproof Set for a winning combo.



5. Layer wisely

It goes without saying that the layering system you choose will highly depend on your destination and the time of year in which you’ll be traveling, but if you’re heading to the mountains, you should always expect and plan for some fluctuations in the weather. Nothing beats being prepared, so be sure to check temperature averages and the forecast prior to packing up, and plan accordingly. A set of leg and arm warmers, a buff, a beanie and a good quality shell may be all you’ll need for extra layers, and these items take up a fraction of the real estate required for a bulkier jacket, sweaters and pants. For example, a set of Kitsbow’s Arm and Knee Warmers, a lightweight Merino Buff and an Arc’teryx Beanie take up no more space than a couple pairs of socks and can easily fit into the hip pockets of your hydration pack for easy access.








6. Limit your footwear

Shoes are often the culprit for justifying a massive suitcase, especially if you’re planning on bringing shoes for every possible scenario: your carbon-fibre SPD’s, your all-mountain flats, your hiking boots, a casual pair of kickers and another pair for getting wet. I’ve managed to do just fine bringing no more than 3 pairs of footwear (including flip flops) on my most recent mountain bike trips to Thailand, Jordan and Guatemala. I recommend a versatile riding shoe with a somewhat flexible sole you can wear off the bike without turning heads - like Five Ten’s Hellcat Pro or Giro’s Alpineduro boot for colder climates. Add a pair of highly packable sneaks like Allbirds Wool Runners for strolling around town and pacing through airports and a durable pair of flip flops like MEC’s Revival Recovery. Bonus tip: pack your socks inside your shoes for additional space saving.




7. Go Merino

The benefits of Merino wool when traveling and riding are many, not the least of which are its thermo regulating and quick-drying features. And when laundry machines are few and far between, your fellow riding mates will appreciate wool’s natural odor resistance. I like to pack a few strategic Merino items, like an Icebreaker T-shirt, a base short from Kitsbow and Patagonia wool socks.




8. compact for the win

Travel essentials like a water bottle and a pillow can take up a lot of room in your carry-on, so opt for shrinkable options like a Nomader Collapsible Water Bottle and a Leisure Co Ultralight Inflatable Pillow. Extra points for dual-purpose items, like a MOBOT bottle that doubles as a foam roller to roll out those tender muscles after a ride.




9. Step your camera game up

Let’s face it, unless you’re a professional photographer, there’s probably little need for you to lug around a bulky DSLR camera and multiple lenses. Your phone and a Gopro are infinitely more practical given their small size and ease of access while traveling, making them the preferred tools for capturing your travels on and off the bike. You can enhance pictures taken on your phone with apps and mini-lenses from Moment. Plus, check out GorillaPods for a tiny, mountable tripod for your phone.




10. Get rolling

For chill-time in the evenings, choose a few lightweight and practical items that are wrinkle-free and have some stretch to them so that you can easily roll them up for efficient packing. A few of my favourite go-to’s are Mountain Hardwear’s AP Pant, Patagonia’s Capilene Midweight Crew and Outdoor Research’s Microlight Vest.