Travel Tips

How to Pack Minimally for a Mountain Bike Trip

March 9, 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.


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 ShirtPatagonia’s Cool Trail Bike Hen­ley and Club Ride’s Joe Dirt Short.


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.


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 Jack­etOut­door Research’s Equinox Con­vert­ible Pants and Endura’s Urban Pri­maloft Flip­jack to max­i­mize your options (with­out the added bulk of dupli­cate items).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 PantPatagonia’s Capi­lene Mid­weight Crew and Out­door Research’s Micro­light Vest.