This question might be flanked by The Great Outdoors and Bicycles, yet I'll ask.

When I am off for a mountain-biking thing, I usually have a backpack with me which contains clothing, medical kit, basic toolkit for repair, tarp, sleeping bag, food and water, etc.

What would be the ideal method to carry it? Should I haul the pack on back or should I attach it to the carrier that my bicycle has?

Lets consider a 35-Lt backpack and an offroad rough terrain with lots of ups-and-downs.

  • 1
    this is likely a duplicate of Best way to mount a big backpack to rack?
    – user2766
    Feb 16, 2016 at 16:03
  • 1
    @Liam I'd agree if the OP is talking about riding on smooth terrain like a street. That seems to be the use case in that question and what is addressed by the answers. If the OP is talking about trail riding over rough terrain I don't think it is a dup.
    – Erik
    Feb 16, 2016 at 16:19
  • I was once told that my backpack (while worn on my back) made me almost invisible on the road to drivers. Backpacks don't usually have the same high-vis features as panniers - worth bearing in mind if you have a dark backpack and spend any time riding on roads
    – tomfumb
    Feb 16, 2016 at 22:55

6 Answers 6


The easiest way to carry a backpack is on your back. If you're looking for a bag for cycling, then you either need to invest in some pannier bags, or some bikepacks:

enter image description here

I have a 20L Revelate seat bag on my bike and I love it, I still carry a small backpack, but I try to put all the bulky items in my seat bag. Heavy stuff should go inside a frame bag, but those are harder to come by because they need to be custom fit, but if you have a mainstream mountain touring bike like a Salsa or Surly, etc., then you can get one stock that fits your frame.

When riding long distances, you want a little weight in your seat as possible, more weight on your back means more weight on your prostate or other tender bits. I'm still in the process of building a tour divide bike like the one pictured above, after all is said and done I plan on having mostly nothing on my back except a 3L water bladder and some empty space in a backpack that I only plan on using during those long stretches during the tour divide where you're without water and services for several days in a row.

Bikepacks on a full suspension bike: enter image description here

  • 2
    The frame bag is an interesting concept. Does the bulk of that significantly affect your pedaling? For it to have much volume I'd imagine you'd have to pedal bow-legged. Also on that seat bag are there any stiff bits or is it just held up by tension on the nylon? Finally it looks like you need to sacrifice suspension on your bike to make that rig work.
    – Erik
    Feb 16, 2016 at 17:19
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    "weight on your back means more weight on your prostate or other tender bits" That seems anatomically impossible. More weight on your back means more weight on your ass; if there's weight on your tender bits, your saddle needs adjusting, and I don't see how you could get weight on your prostate, which is an internal organ. Feb 17, 2016 at 2:58
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    @DavidRicherby - "Data from clinical studies shows that side effects of bicycle riding in men are most often genital numbness and impotence. Rarer effects can include infertility, blood in the urine, twisting of the spermatic cord, prostatitis, or inflammation of the prostate, and elevated levels of a test used to check for prostate cancer." livestrong.com
    – ShemSeger
    Feb 17, 2016 at 5:00
  • @Erik - I ride a full suspension, I've never had problems with my seat bag, but depending on your frame if you have a full suspension, you may be required to get a smaller frame bag. And no, it doesn't interfere with your pedalling, they don't make them do you can stuff them wide enough.
    – ShemSeger
    Feb 17, 2016 at 5:02
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    @ShemSeger: Do you use this setup for full-mountain stuff? To be honest I'm horrified by the idea of strapping this much weight to my high-tech carbon bike (which you generally pay a lot of money for to be this light)...
    – fgysin
    Feb 17, 2016 at 8:09

In my experience, as a mountain biker of 20-years, you want to seek weight minimization and distribution.

A heavy pack (assuming a non-trivial ride length) is going to cause your lower back to hurt, make you hotter (back can't breathe), and put additional stress on the palms of your hands - all of which become more problematic the longer you ride.

A heavy load on the back of your bike (rack or carrier) will interfere with your front-tires ability to remain in contact with the ground - making climbing and steering more difficult.

A heavy load on the center of your bike and lower down will cause your bike to feel more sluggish - harder to turn and make for a less enjoyable ride.

First and foremost, ask yourself what you can get rid of. Consider carrying patches + 1 - tube instead of 2 tubes. If you know you will have streams in the area, get a good filtration bottle to lighten the H20 load. Can you learn anything about the vegetation that will allow you to eat local plant-life to reduce the food you carry? Do you have high-end clothing that is both light and protective? You weren't really specific so these may be off base. The point is to be really creative on how you can carry less. No matter where you store it, less weight will always feel better as the ride gets longer.

Also, you might consider a bike trailer. There are some really nice ones (example) that minimally interfere with your ride and will do a much better of carrying your gear comfortably than trying to put it all on you or your bike.


  • 1
    Yeah I'd assume you'd be restricted to the same trails you can take with a tandem bike (as far as turns). What worries me more (now that I've thought about it more) is I don't see any vertical articulation in your sample trailer, and I don't recall seeing any trailers with that feature. Admittedly I wasn't looking for it before so I might have missed it. Without vertical articulation I'd think you'd have problems with that big lever arm when going up/down variable off road terrain. A little one foot drop would either break the trailer or prevent your rear tire from landing.
    – Erik
    Feb 16, 2016 at 19:24
  • Sorry, I had accidentally deleted my comment. To your point, yes, the trailers make tight turns harder and certainly you cant get up and down the same obstacles. Generally those that are looking at carrying that much weight I assume are not looking for the technical thrill so much as the long distance trip - but definitely a valid consideration in making the decision.
    – SteveJ
    Feb 16, 2016 at 19:33

In general I'd agree with Liam's answer that you should strap your gear onto the bike using a rack and/or panniers. On smooth terrain I'd take this route every time.

The one time I'd disagree is if you're mountain biking over rough terrain. Adding weight to the bike is going to make your bike less nimble. Also if you're strapping a backpack on a bike rack you're really going to have to crank down those straps otherwise every couple of miles the pack is going to get loose. All that being said I'd seriously consider just wearing the pack on your back if/when you're riding over really rough terrain. It will be uncomfortable but I think it is more practical.

  • 1
    I can't comment on bike handling on really rough terrain, but you need to get some better straps. if they're working loose -- or tie off the slack ends.
    – Chris H
    Feb 16, 2016 at 16:37
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    @ChrisH I'm not worried about the straps coming loose I'm worried about the pack shifting/rolling off the bike rack. Bike racks are typically significantly more narrow than a back pack, so I'm more worried about the pack rolling to one side or the other of the rack.
    – Erik
    Feb 16, 2016 at 16:43
  • Ah. You're strapping it on top. Then I kind of agree, though I'd find a way to strap it down securely -- quite possibly on the side of the rack.
    – Chris H
    Feb 16, 2016 at 16:46
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    @ChrisH You can't put the pack just on one side because the bike would be totally unbalanced. Panniers with the weight balanced on both sides is preferable to a back pack. Still I think you'd have trouble putting a strong rack on a full suspension bike, in my limited experience, panniers aren't really built to handle the bouncing, jostling ride that mountain biking over rough terrain will bring. Finally adding weight to the bike with a pack/panniers always changes the handling of the bike. On a road that isn't that big of a deal. When riding over rough terrain IMO its a much bigger deal.
    – Erik
    Feb 16, 2016 at 17:00
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    @ChrisH I've ridden on roads with text books only in one pannier before without problems too. I believe that rough trail riding would be a different ball game though. When trail riding I need to do more precise maneuvers at low speeds. When I'm riding on the road I'm generally stopped or riding 15+ mph without needing any precise maneuvers. Plus on the road I don't have to contend with rocky outcroppings, big roots, a narrow trail with a nasty foot deep washed out section a tire width to my left, switch backing up a hill with loose rock, etc.
    – Erik
    Feb 16, 2016 at 17:17

Trail running backpack

While I think for touring bike bags are the way to go they are horrible for mountain biking in serious terrain. What I personally do on longer bike tours is to wear a trail running backpack.

These are ultra-light backpacks that sit very high on your back and generally have a sophisticated system of straps to be very secure even while running long distances. In my experience this makes them uniquely suited also for mountain biking, as they will

  • be comfortable and securely fastened to your back, while
  • still not being heavy or bulky, and thus don't restrict your movement.

Many examples for trail running backpacks can be found on Google. The one I personally use for moutain biking is MTR 201 from Mammut:

enter image description here


You want to keep your centre of gravity quite low, so it depends on how heavy the stuff your carrying is. If it's light wear it on your back, if it's heavy put it on the carrier.


Tow it...

While you might want to pick a different trailer than I use, you can tow a lot of stuff behind a bicycle. I usually carry;

  • A gallon of water
  • Cooler with drinks and lunch
  • Life jacket
  • Two oars
  • 10 pound anchor
  • Change of clothes (and towel in drybag)
  • Laptop and MiFi if I am on call
  • Rain Coat
  • Padded seat, with backrest
  • Spare straps and such.
  • Lots of room left over for a tent, and some firewood (though I have only been going on day trips so have not carried these)

Related How to tow a canoe with a bicycle?

enter image description here

  • No way I can tow it. I'll be off the road, some serious ups and downs.
    – WedaPashi
    Feb 17, 2016 at 6:51

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