When I first discovered bicycle touring and bikepacking, I immediately knew that it was something that I wanted to try. The idea of exploring the countryside under my own power fascinated me. After researching bikepacking bags and panniers and racks, I was kind of turned off by the price. This guide explains how to put together a bikepacking or bicycle touring setup on a budget of around $100.
A basic bikepacking or bicycle setup costs around $500. If you go for high-end bikepacking bags made by fancy cottage manufacturers or premium racks and panniers, you’re looking at spending well over $1000 for luggage alone. That doesn’t even factor in the price of the bike. That’s a lot of money to spend on something if you don’t even know if you’ll enjoy it or not. After some research and trial and error, I was able to put together a functional and budget-friendly bikepacking setup for a fraction of the price.
A budget bikepacking setup is a great way to get out there and start riding. You don’t need to spring for fancy top-of-the-line gear when you’re just getting started. There is nothing wrong with strapping some camping gear to your handlebars and throwing some clothes in a backpack and riding away. When you’re ready to take a longer trip across a continent or through a remote region, then you can upgrade to more expensive equipment.
Bikepacking Bags Vs Panniers and Racks for a Low Budget Setup?
You can put together either a bikepacking or bicycle touring setup on a budget.
Bikepacking bags offer better performance off-road. If your tour will take you through lots of technical singletrack and you plan to push the bike often, you’ll be better off with a bikepacking setup. The drawback to bikepacking bags is that they can’t accommodate as much gear as panniers.
If you plan to spend most of your time riding on paved roads, gravel and dirt roads, and on easy singletrack trails, you may be better off with a traditional bicycle touring setup with racks and panniers. The biggest benefit of panniers is that they can carry more gear.
If you’re undecided as to which luggage setup is best for you, check out my bikepacking bags vs panniers pros and cons list.
If you already own panniers and racks or a set of bikepaking bags, the cheapest option is to stick with what you’ve got instead of buying new gear. For those who are starting from scratch and on a tight budget, I recommend a bikepacking setup for the following reasons.
- You can reuse some gear you probably already have at home- This saves money.
- A bikepacking setup is compatible with any bike- No braze ons or rack attachments required. Frame material doesn’t matter.
- This setup is cheaper- The gear you will need to purchase is not bicycle-specific with a couple of exceptions.
If you prefer a panniers and racks bicycle touring setup, skip to the second half of this guide here.
Another third luggage option is a cargo trailer. Check out my panniers vs trailer pros and cons list for more info.
Bags for a Budget Bikepacking Setup
The goal of a bikepacking setup is to attach your gear directly to the frame of the bike. This helps with stability and handling. There are three main bikepacking bags: A handlebar roll, seat bag, and frame bag. Below, I’ll describe how to create each on a budget using straps, dry bags, and other DIY methods. I’ll also suggest what types of gear you should pack in each bag to help you pack efficiently.
Budget Handlebar Bag and Straps
A handlebar bag is basically a dry bag that attaches to your handlebars with a series of straps. A purpose-made handlebar bag from a major bikepacking company usually costs around $100-$120 depending on features and quality. You can achieve the same thing for just a few dollars with a dry bag and some simple straps.
Cylindrical items like a dry bag full of clothes, sleeping bag stuff sack, or tent can easily strap to the front of your handelbars. This works best with flat bars. Drop bars work too but they do limit the length of what you can carry because the drops get in the way.
How to Attach Gear to your Handlebars
- Start with your tent, sleeping bag, a dry bag, or compression sack- You’ll want to make sure the bag you use is waterproof so your gear doesn’t get wet in the rain. You’ll also need to make sure the bag isn’t too big for your handlebars. 8-20 liter bags work well on most bikes. For example, this Sea to Summit eVENT Compression Dry Sack or this Sea to Summit Lightweight Dry Sack would be perfect. The compression sack will be better for carrying soft items like clothes or your sleeping bag. The dry sack will be better for anything else.
- Use two straps to attach the bag to the handlebars- Wrap the straps around your dry bag and handlebars and tighten them to secure your gear. You should place one strap near each side of the dry bag. Most bikepackers prefer Voile Straps. They are sturdy, stretchy, and easy to use. The 25″ or 32″ models work well for attaching gear to your handlebars. Another option is to buy some cheap 1″ straps like these from Magarrow. You can cut them to your desired length. If you’re on an extremely tight budget, you could also get away with rope or any other kind of strap you have around the house.
- Attach additional gear- If you have space, you can strap more gear to your handlebars. For example, you could slide your tent or tent poles between the straps and the dry bag. You could tuck your rain jacket under the straps. You could attach your cooking pot by running the strap through the handle. Another option is to clip or tie a small accessory bag to the straps. This could expand your luggage capacity by 2-5 liters. A toiletry bag or fanny pack would work well for this.
Depending on the straps you use and your bike’s geometry, you should be able to carry around 15-20 pounds of gear on your handlebars without compromising the handling.
It takes a bit of trial and error to get your handlebar bag set up just right. You’ll want to make sure the straps don’t interfere with your brake and shifter cables. Try to position your cables in a way that they aren’t affected by the weight of the bag. You’ll also want to make sure the bag doesn’t get in the way of your levers, shifters, or grips. It also helps to balance the dry bag so it doesn’t try to tilt and slide out from under the straps. You may find it helpful to tie the straps together near the front of the bike so they don’t separate and drop the bag.
A few examples of items you might carry on your handlebars include:
- Your tent
- Your sleeping pad
- A jacket
- Extra clothes
- Your rain suit
- Your sleeping bag
Tip: You can also use this simple strap system to attach your camping gear to the handlebars. Instead of a dry bag, bundle your sleeping bag, tent, and sleep mat into a roll and use the straps to attach them to the handlebars. This takes care of storing the bulkiest part of your touring setup.
Handlebar Bag Compatibility Issues
The one drawback to mounting a dry bag to your handlebars is the fact that it may not work with cantilever brakes. The reason is that the brake cable connects directly from the stem to the brake caliper and must be kept under tension in order to function. Your dry bag needs to rest against the bike’s headtube and would interfere with the cable.
There are some workarounds for this problem. You could convert your bike to v-brakes. This way, the cable wouldn’t interfere. You may be able to install a handlebar extender to hold your bag away from the cable. like This one from Gub KBROTECH might work. Of course, both of these solutions cost money.
Budget Bikepacking Seat Bag
Bikepacking seat packs are small dry bags that attach to the saddle and seat post without a rack. They usually accommodate 10-17 liters of gear and cost around $150 from a major bikepacking bag manufacturer. You can achieve basically the same thing with a dry sack and a couple of straps.
To make seat bag from a dry sack:
- Start with a small dry sack- An 8-10 liter model works best for most bikes. Again, I like the Sea to Summit Dry Sack.
- Fill the dry sack with lightweight gear- This is a great place to store your ultralight sleeping bag or some clothing.
- Roll the top closure three times– This ensures that the bag stays waterproof.
- Clip the buckle around the seatpost- You can temporarily rest the pack on the rear tire while you do this.
- Run a strap through the rails of your seat and around the dry sack- The strap should secure around the middle of the bag.
- Tighten the strap- The dry sack should sit securely against the rails of the saddle and the seat post. The opening will be pointing down at an angle.
This DIY dry sack seat bag works well for storing lightweight gear like some clothes or a sleeping bag. One common problem you may encounter is that the dry sack can start to sway back and forth as you pedal if it’s too heavy or too large. If this happens, it can help to use a second strap. You can also remove some gear to lighten the bag.
Dry Sack or Backpack on a Rear Rack
Personally, I’m not a fan of bikepacking style seat packs. They look cool but they don’t accommodate much gear. Instead, I prefer to use a rear rack with a bag strapped on top. Most racks can handle a 30-40 liter bag. You can attach the bag with adjustable straps or bungee cords. This is kind of a hybrid bikepacking/ bicycle touring luggage option.
This setup offers a number of benefits. First, it can accommodate much more gear than a bikepacking style seat pack. Most bike racks can handle 20-50 lbs. A 40 liter bag has over twice the capacity of a seat pack. You can also strap smaller items on top of the bag. This setup is also more aerodynamic than panniers because there are no large bags sticking out to the sides causing drag.
The main disadvantage is that the rack adds weight. It also adds cost. You’ll have to buy a rack if you don’t have one. The bag can also feel a bit unstable on rough terrain. To help stabilize the bag, try to pack something flat and hard on the side of the sack that rests against the rack.
The ideal rack depends on the attachment points your bike has. Racks are fairly universal but you’ll want to check before buying just in case. If your bike has braze-ons for a rear rack, I recommend the Ibera Bike Rack from Amazon. It’s sturdy and reasonably priced.
If your bike has no rear rack braze-ons, you can most likely use something like this West Biking 110lb Almost Universal Adjustable Bike Cargo Rack. These racks are designed to attach to your seat post and frame without the need for dedicated attachment points.
The Rack Bag
Find a bag to attach to the top of the rack. I recommend a bag with a volume of 25-30 liters. Chances are you already have something around your house that you can use. Any kind of bag works including duffel bags, dry bags, backpacks, etc. There is really no need to go out and buy a specialty bag. . If you need more space, you can get away with 40+ liter bags. If you don’t have a suitable bag, a large dry sack would work well.
I usually use my old backpack that I used in high school. To me, a backpack is the most convenient option. It gives you an easy way to carry gear while you’re off the bike. Sometimes I put my valuables in the backpack while grocery shopping and carry it into the store with me. That way I don’t have to worry as much about theft.
This is also a nice option if you like to hike. You can easily strap a small hiking backpack onto the rack, lock the bike up somewhere safe, and go for a hike. I have strapped my 55 liter hiking pack onto my rear rack and rode to a trailhead for a hike. It wasn’t the most stable setup but it worked.
Attaching the Bag to the Rack
Use straps or bungee cords to attach the bag to the rack. You can make any straps work. You could also use the same type of Voile Straps that you use for the handlebar bag. Make sure all straps are tucked away from the wheel so they don’t get caught and cause damage. Also, make sure your rack doesn’t have any sharp welds that could cut your straps.
The biggest problem I have found with this setup is the difficulty of accessing gear. Every time you want to get something from the bag you have to undo the straps. It’s a bit of a hassle. To solve this problem, I try to only pack gear that I’ll need only in the morning and evening in the rear rack bag or gear that I won’t need often.
Some items to carry in your rear rack bag include:
- Cooking gear
- Extra water
- First aid gear
- Shoes, boots, or sandals
- Tools and spares
- Anything you don’t need during the day or don’t need often
Tip: Cover your rack bag with a high visibility rain cover. This HiVisible Reflective Backpack Cover would work well. This greatly increases visibility in traffic, which improves safety. Another option is to wrap your rack bag in a tarp or your tent footprint to keep it dry. I use a cheap blue tarp. I use the same tarp as my groundsheet under my tent.
Wear a Backpack
Most experienced bikepackers and bicycle tourists will tell you not to wear a backpack. There are a couple of reasons for this. Your back will get sweaty. The weight of the backpack also puts extra weight on your shoulders, wrists, and bottom. It gets uncomfortable.
Having said this, if you’re on a tight budget a backpack isn’t a bad option. Chances are, you already own one so you won’t be spending any extra money. A backpack is also easy to pack. It doesn’t require any straps or DIY. Just fill it with the extra gear that you can’t fit in your other bags and pedal away.
If you decide to wear a backpack, try to keep it as light and compact as possible. A 20 liter day pack would work well.
Budget Bikepacking Bags
In the past, if you wanted purpose-made bikepacking bags, you had to buy expensive bags from a name-brand manufacturer like Revelate, Apidura, Ortlieb, Blackburn, etc. The three basic bags, a handlebar bag, seat bag, and frame bag could easily cost over $500.
Luckily, this is no longer the case. Since bikepacking has gone mainstream over the past few years, a number of companies have introduced budget-friendly bikepacking bags. Now, you can buy a set of budget bikepacking bags for around $150.
These lower-end bags often cost less than a third of the price of name-brand bags. You can buy these entry-level bikepacking bags on Amazon, eBay, and Ali Express. A couple of the biggest names in affordable bikepacking gear include RockBros and Moosetreks. You’ll find plenty of bags from no-name brands as well.
Of course, there are some drawbacks to using budget bikepacking bags. First, the fit isn’t quite as good. For example, the frame bag may be slightly too small or large because it won’t be custom-made. If a bag doesn’t fit right, it could rub against a tire or pedal. The finish may be a bit lower-end as well. Straps may not hold as tight as you’d like. You may have to adjust the bag more often. The waterproofing may not be 100% reliable. Of course, you can run into these issues with higher-end bikepacking bags as well.
Budget Bikepacking Frame Bag
If you want to create a complete bikepacking setup, the frame bag is the one piece of specialty bikepacking gear that you’ll have to buy. Between the handlebars and the rear rack, you should be able to haul around 30 liters of gear. If that’s not enough, consider adding a frame bag. Most frame bags accommodate between 8 and 15 liters of gear depending on the size of your bike’s frame.
I bought the Moosetreks Full Frame Bag on Amazon. For a low-cost bag, it’s held up incredibly well so far. The quality is excellent. The fit is great too. This bag fits like it was custom-made for my bike. I have no complaints. Check out my full review here. A mountain bike version with a slightly different design is also available.
If you’re handy with a sewing machine, you can also save a lot of money by sewing your own frame bag. Check out this excellent guide from Mtbr.com for step-by-step instructions.
Some items that you may want to carry in your frame bag include:
- Tools that you need to access often like your multi-tool and patch kit, for example.
- Tent poles and stakes
- Extra spokes
- A small laptop, tablet, or e-reader
- Fragile foods like fruits and veggies
- Extra water
- Your camera
- Chargers for electronics
- Any small, fragile, or heavy items
I recommend you splurge on a frame bag if you have space in your budget. It’s a great place to store heavy gear, fragile gear, and things that you need to access often. Plus, they look pretty cool. The only drawback is the fact that the frame bag occupies the space where water bottle cages traditionally go. This isn’t that big of an issue because you can easily store water bottles or a water bladder in the frame bag. Below, I’ll also outline a few more ways to carry extra water.
Budget Bikepacking Seat Bag
A budget seat bag offers an excellent alternative to a dry bag strapped under your seat. A purpose-built seat bag will offer better stability. It won’t wag back and forth quite as bad as you pedal. It will be easier to access. You don’t have to remove it to get to your gear. It will also offer much more storage space. A large seat bag can hold around 14 liters of gear.
I like the Rockbros Bikepacking Seat Bag. It offers a large capacity and waterproof design. There is a net on top for attaching additional gear. The build quality is good for the price. One drawback is that it can sag if you pack it too full. If your frame is small, the bag could rub on your tire.
Budget Handlebar Bag
Most riders don’t need a purpose-built bikepacking handlebar bag. Strapping a dry sack to the handlebars works almost as well and costs much less. That said, there are some benefits to buying a handlebar bag.
A budget handlebar bag may offer better stability than a dry sack. It won’t bounce around quite as much. It will give you better access to your gear as well. Most models feature an opening at each end. The bag may be easier to attach and detach as well.
If you decide to buy a purpose-made handlebar bag, I recommend these Rockbros Waterproof Handlebar Bikepacking Bags. This set features two bags. The main bag offers up to 15 liters of storage space. There are openings at both ends of the bags, giving you easy access to your gear. There is also a net on the front for attaching extra gear to the outside of the bag. The second bag attaches to the top. It offers up to 6 liters of storage space. It easily attaches and detaches. You can use both bags at once or one at a time.
Budget-Friendly Ways to Carry More Gear on your Bike
The above three bags will give you 40-50 liters of space to store your gear. Your exact capacity will depend on your bike’s frame size and the exact bags you choose. Remember, you can also attach extra gear outside of your handlebar and seat bags. This works well for buky gear like a rain jacket, sandals, or a cooking pot. If you pack light, this should be enough for any length of trip.
If you still have more stuff that won’t fit or you are traveling in a remote region where you need to carry a lot of food and water, here are some options to carry more gear:
Fork Cages or Water Bottle Cages
These are an excellent, low-cost option for carrying bulky items or extra water. Fork cages are small, metal frames that mount directly to the side of your fork and include straps for attaching dry bags or bottles. You can easily mount a 5-8 liter dry bag or 2-liter water bottle to each side. You could also use the cages to attach your tent or sleeping bag to the fork. They also work well for carrying a fuel canister. You can use one cage or two.
I bought the Blackburn Outpost Cage from Amazon and am really happy with it so far. The cage is made from durable 6mm aluminum alloy. It can accommodate up to 8.8lbs (4kg) of gear.
You could also simply mount a water bottle cage if you just need to carry spare water. These are much cheaper but can’t haul as much weight. You can buy water bottle cages for just a few dollars.
How to Mount Fork or Water Bottle Cages to a Bike Fork Without Braze-Ons
One problem with mounting gear on the fork is that most bikes don’t have the proper braze-ons. Luckily there is an easy DIY solution. For this project, you need hose clamps, an old bike tube, and electrical tape. To mount fork or water bottle cages:
- Step 1: Cut an old bike tube to size– It should cover the entire area on the cage that comes in contact with the fork. I recommend using at least 2 layers. The bike tube acts as a cushion to protect the fork, cage, and hose clamp from fatigue. It’s best not to have metal on metal contact.
- Step 2: Attach the cage to the fork with electrical tape– To do this, simply wrap the tape around the fork and part of the cage that comes into contact with it. Don’t forget to put the pieces of bike tube that you cut in step 1 between the fork and the cage. For a short tour or light load, electrical tape alone is probably enough to keep the cage in place. You can also just carry extra in case it starts to come loose.
- Step 3: Install the hose clamps– 2 or 3 hose clamps work best. 3 inch diameter hose clamps usually work best but the size depends on the diameter of your fork. Install one on the top and one on the bottom and one in the middle of your cage has space.
This mounting method is very secure. There are a couple of drawbacks. First, it’s a hassle to remove the cages if you don’t need them. They aren’t permanently attached but you won’t want to remove and replace them regularly. It is also recommended to mount cages on carbon fiber forks as the extra weight can weaken them over time.
I use my fork-mounted cages to haul extra food and water if I’m going through a region where I won’t have access to services for a number of days.
Tip: For even more carrying capacity, you can mount water bottle cages to the seatstays or your rear rack using the same method. Large water bottle cages can easily carry 1 liter of water on each side. I have seen some cyclists carry spare folding tires or tubes in water bottle cages as well. Before you mount the cages, you’ll want to make sure your heels won’t hit them while you pedal.
Top Tube Bag
Top tube bags mount onto the top tube just behind the stem. They attach with simple hook and loop straps. Most models open with a zipper on the top or side. This makes them easy to access, even while you’re riding. These small bags generally hold around 1 liter of gear. A top tube bag is a great place to store your phone, wallet, spare battery, camera, snacks, small tools, and anything you need to access often.
I like the Rockbros Bike Top Tube Bag. It is made from durable and water-resistant material with stiff sidewalls that give the bag shape. The top zipper makes the bag easy to open and close. The interior is surprisingly roomy as well.
These handy little bags hang from your handlebar and stem. They attach with hook and loop straps. You can attach one to each side of the handlebars. Each bag has around 1 liter of volume. Feed bags offer a convenient place to store water bottles or snacks. This allows you to easily eat and drink as you ride. Most models have a drawstring on top that you can cinch closed if it begins to rain.
I bought the Moosetreks Bike Handlebar Stem Bags on Amazon. These bags are large enough to hold standard 32 liter Nalgene bottles. They feature outer mesh pockets that work great for holding energy bars. My favorite feature is the fact that the bags are insulated to keep your drink cool.
To save a bit more money, many riders have had success converting climbing chalk bags into bicycle feed bags. Chalk bags cost less than purpose-built bikepacking feed bags and are just as durable. For some pictures and ideas of how to convert the bag, check out this informative thread on bikepacking.net. It’s basically just a matter of sewing or tying some straps onto the chalk bag to attach it to the handlebars. A simple sewing kit is all you’ll need. Some chalk bags already have the necessary straps and can attach to your handlebars and stem without any modification. For example, this Rock Climbing Chalk Bag would work well.
Drawbacks to a Budget Bikepacking Setup
Admittedly, this budget bikepacking setup isn’t perfect. DIY bikepacking bags aren’t as reliable or convenient as purpose-built bags. Low-end purpose-built bikepacking bags don’t perform quite as well as higher-end models that cost twice as much. A few of the main weaknesses of budget bikepacking setups include:
- The straps can loosen over time- You may have to tighten the straps on your handlebar bag or seat pack every day or so. You’ll have to tighten them more often if you’re riding over rough surfaces. You can run into this same issue with higher-end bags as well. Usually, this is just a minor annoyance.
- Budget bikepacking bags may not be waterproof- Even if your bags are marketed as waterproof, you’ll still want to be careful. It’s best to pack sensitive electronics in a waterproof plastic bag or dry bag to be safe. Of course, you won’t have to worry about this if you’re using a dry bag for a handlebar bag or seat pack.
- You may have to use a rear rack- Some bikepackers would say that you aren’t a purist if you’re using a rack. The rack also adds a considerable amount of weight. To me, the benefits of having a rear rack outweigh the drawbacks. You can haul a massive amount of gear and use a bag that you already own. The rack is also a great place to attach additional water or spare parts like a spare tire or spare tubes. Bike racks are pretty cheap as well. You can buy a basic aluminum one for less than $20.
- Budget bikeapacking bags may not be as durable- The budget bags that I have bought have held up well so far. That said, I wouldn’t trust them to hold up to an around-the-world expedition. Budget bikepacking bags work best for weekend warriors and short tours. When you buy a bag from a mainstream bikepacking company, you know it’s built to last. That comes at a cost though.
- Packing takes more time when you use DIY bags- DIY bikepacking bags can be more difficult to access than purpose-made models. FOr example, a dry sack handlebar bag only has one opening. Most purpose-made bikepacking handlebar bags have two openings. A dry sack seat bag has the opening facing downward. You have to remove the bag to open it. Finding the optimal place to store each piece of gear is also a challenge. After you have your system sorted out, packing gets easier.
- DIY bikepacking bags have less gear capacity- A dry bag handlebar bag and seat bag will only accommodate around 25-30 liters of gear. If you need to haul more, you’ll have to strap additional gear outside of the bags and onto your frame or buy purpose-built bikepacking bags.
Budget Bikepacking Setups Vs Name Brand Bags
There are a few situations where you may be better off buying name-brand bikepacking bags instead of putting together a budget setup. If you’re already an experienced bicycle tourist and you’re just getting into bikepacking or if you’re planning a long trip through a remote region, you might as well buy name-brand bags. You know you’ll be using them extensively anyway. It’s nice to have the peace of mind that you’re using quality equipment that you can depend on. If money isn’t a concern, you’re also better off buying higher-end bikepacking bags. They will be easier to use and more convenient to use. You won’t have to deal with some of the hassles that come with DIY or lower-end gear.
If, on the other hand, you’re just getting into bikepacking and you’re not sure whether or not you’ll like it or what kind of trips you’ll take, budget and DIY gear is a perfectly suitable option. You’ll save a significant chunk of money while learning what works for you and what doesn’t.
Another option is to start with a DIY or budget setup then upgrade one bag at a time. You don’t have to go out and buy all of your bikepacking bags at once. Prioritize new bags as you need them.
For example, maybe you find that you need space for more gear. Adding a frame bag to your budget setup gives you lots of extra space to carry heavy items like tools. Maybe you find that your dry bag seat pack is too inconvenient. You could upgrade to a proper bikepacking seat pack. A feed bag or top tube bag is a nice addition for carrying small items that you want to access often as well as snacks. Most riders can save the handlebar bag for last because the DIY dry bag and straps method works so well.
Another Option: Buy Used Bikepacking Bags
Buying used is a great way to save money on bikepacking bags. Sometimes people buy high-end bags, use them for a single tour, then sell them cheap. Some riders buy bikepacking bags with big plans then end up letting them collect dust in the garage. If you shop around, you can score quality, gently used bikepacking bags at a major discount over retail. As bikepacking continues to increase in popularity, more and more used gear is entering the market.
The best place to look for used bikepacking gear is probably eBay. You can set up alerts for items you want and score a great deal in an auction. Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace are good options if you want to buy locally. If you live in the U.S, REI garage sales are also worth checking out. If you live in an area where bikepacking is popular, you might try shopping for used gear at your local bike shop. Some bike shops accept used gear in trade-ins and some sell floor models.
How to Pack your Budget Bikepacking Setup
Packing a bikepacking setup takes a bit of trial and error. Even if you have purpose-built bags, space is limited. Most bikepacking setups have around 40-50 liters of volume. The bags also have odd shapes. This adds to the difficulty. For example, it can be challenging to efficiently pack a cylindrical handlebar bag or a triangular frame bag. Packing is like putting together a puzzle. Your goal is to pack everything in a way that utilizes the space that you have as efficiently as possible.
A Few Packing Tips:
- Pack bulky items first- Examples include your sleeping bag, tent, sleep pad, and clothes. These items take up the most space. Getting them out of the way first allows you to easily pack smaller items around them.
- Pack heavy items as low and near the center of the frame as possible- This helps you keep the center of gravity low and near the frame. Your frame bag is perfect for heavy gear. Examples of heavy items include water and tools.
- Pack fragile items last- You can use your clothing and sleeping bag for padding for your laptop, camera, lenses, soft foods, etc.
- Use trial and error- Try putting your sleeping bag in both your handlebar roll and seat bag to see where it fits best. Try packing your tent poles separately from the tent to save space. Maybe the poles fit in your frame bag so you can stuff the tent in your handlebar roll. If you move your stuff around enough, you’ll find the optimal way to pack your gear. Once you have your system sorted out, packing your bike with a bikepacking setup is pretty quick and easy.
- Take into consideration how often you’ll need to access different items- You don’t want to pack your multi-tool in the bottom of your rear rack bag where it is difficult to access. You don’t need to pack your spare cables in the top of your frame bag because you’ll rarely need them. I recommend you pack the gear that you know you’ll need first and leave gear that you’re on the fence about until last. That way, you know you have space for all must-bring items. You can leave unnecessary items at home if you run out of space while packing your bike.
- Make sure no straps or buckles are hanging down where they could get caught in your wheels or drivetrain- This is a serious safety issue. If a strap that is too long gets caught in your wheel, you could end up flying over the handlebars. Securely tie all of your long straps with clips or rubber bands. You can also cut them down if they’re too long.
- Experiment and be resourceful- Feel free to experiment with different methods of attaching gear to your bike. Every budget bikepacking setup is different. I’ve seen all kinds of unique setups. For example, some people strap their tent to the top tube. I’ve never tried this but it’s a good idea that works for some. You might find a creative way to pack that works well for you. Share your creative bikepacking setup in the comments to inspire others!
Budget Bicycle Touring Setup
If you prefer panniers and racks over bikepacking bags, this setup is also possible on a budget. The main benefit to using panniers is that you can carry a greater volume of gear. They are easier to pack as well due to their rectangular shape and large top opening. This is ideal for longer trips or if you like to carry luxury items like a laptop, chair, or pillow.
With panniers, you can also carry cheaper camping equipment that is bulkier. This is possible because you have more space. This saves money as well. The tradeoff is that panniers and racks don’t perform as well when riding off-road.
Most budget bicycle tourists use rear panniers only instead of a full set. This is much more affordable because you only have to buy one rack and one set of panniers.
In order to mount racks and panniers, your bike’s frame will have to be compatible. You’ll want to make sure your frame has the proper braze-ons for mounting a rack. If it doesn’t, you may be able to use a rack that clamps onto the frame. Some frames, like many carbon fiber frames, are not compatible with racks and panniers.
To put together a budget bicycle touring setup, you have two options: You can buy a budget set panniers or you can make your own panniers with a bit of DIY.
1. Buy low cost or used racks and panniers
High-end paniers and racks are expensive. A premium set of front and rear panniers from a name brand manufacturer like Ortleib or Arkel will cost around $350-$400. Premium steel front and rear racks from Tubus will cost around $150-$200. All in, you’re looking at spending $500-$600 for a premium bicycle touring luggage setup.
Luckily, budget options are available. Entry-level racks and panniers are pretty affordable. If you keep an eye out for sales or buy used, you can put together a basic bicycle touring setup for around $100-$150. This includes a rear rack and a set of rear panniers. This setup will give you 30-40 liters of storage space. If you need front panniers as well, you can double that price.
Entry-level racks and panniers are available for around half the cost of premium models. You can find entry-level bicycle touring gear on Amazon, eBay, and Ali Express. A couple of the biggest brands in affordable panniers include Axium, Ibera, and Crosso. You can find budget panniers from no-name brands as well.
There are a few drawbacks to using budget panniers. The main one being that the mounting system may not be quite as robust or durable as what you would find on higher-end models. This makes it easier for the bags to bounce off while riding rough roads. The clips that hold the panniers on the racks may be more likely to break as well. It’s a good idea to carry a spare just in case. Low-end paniers also may not be waterproof. You’ll want to store your water-sensitive gear in plastic bags or dry sacks to be safe. The fit and finish might not be quite as good either. Of course, you can run into all of these issues with higher-end panniers as well.
If you keep an eye on eBay and Craigslist, you can also come by some good deals on lightly used premium racks and panniers. Oftentimes people buy a nice bicycle touring setup with plans for a big trip but never get around to it. They end up selling it off cheaply. Situations like this offer a great opportunity to score quality gear on a budget.
Another way to save money with a bicycle touring setup is to only use rear panniers instead of a full set. This saves money because you won’t have to buy a front rack or panniers. For shorter tours, rear panniers offer plenty of space.
Panniers are large rectangular bags that attach to the sides of racks. Most models can accommodate 15-20 liters of gear per pannier. You can buy a decent set of rear panniers for $30-$90 depending on the size and quality. Panniers work great for carrying any type of bicycle touring gear including clothing, tools, food, electronics, etc.
My friend bought these Ibera PakRak Clip-on Panniers for his first tour and he is really happy with the quality and durability so far. I checked them out and was surprised with the build quality for the price. They are sold in a pair, offer 30 liters of space, and include a rain cover.
A rack is a metal frame that mounts to braze-ons on your bike’s frame. Most attach to the seat stays and near the rear dropouts. A budget rear rack costs around $20-$40 depending on the material it’s made of and the weight capacity. Most racks are capable of carrying 20-50 lbs of gear.
Budget racks are generally made of aluminum. Steel models are generally a bit more expensive. I prefer steel racks because they don’t fatigue and break as easily as aluminum. Steel racks can also be welded back together if they fail. For these reasons, they tend to last longer and cost less in the long run.
I like this Ventura Economical Bolt-On Bicycle Rack. It’s made of steel, affordable, and has a 40lb carrying capacity. It also fits both 26″ and 700c bikes.
How to Increase Your Budget Bicycle Touring Luggage Capacity
If you need more space, one easy option is to mount a dry bag or backpack on top of the rear rack. You can easily expand your carrying capacity by 20-30 liters this way. You can easily attach your bag with some straps or bungees. The top of the rear rack is also a great place to haul a bulky piece of gear like your tent, sleeping bag, or sleeping pad.
Yet another budget option is to add some budget bikepacking bags, as outlined above. For example, you could strap a dry bag or your tent to the handlebars. You could also use a frame bag. Instead of mounting front panniers, you could use fork cages and dry bags. Any of these options could expand your capacity by 10-20 liters depending on the type of bags you use.
If you need space for even more gear, you could add a front rack and panniers. This will increase the cost of your setup significantly because you’ll have to buy a front rack and front panniers. Budget options are available.
2. Make your own DIY Bucket panniers
Bucket panniers are homemade panniers made from plastic buckets. They are durable, sturdy, and offer a large carrying capacity. Best of all, they cost very little to make.
Building bucket panniers is a fairly involved DIY project but I have seen some excellent results. If you’re handy, you can build a set of bucket panniers that are more spacious and durable than store-bought for just a few dollars worth of supplies and a couple of hours of your time. This is probably the cheapest way to get into bicycle touring.
The best material for homemade panniers is a pair of simple plastic utility buckets. You’ll also need some tools and hardware. In addition, you’ll need a rack to mount them to.
How to Make DIY Bucket Panniers
All you need for this DIY bucket pannier project is two rectangular 4-gallon buckets with lids and a few various clips, straps, nuts, bolts, hooks, and washers. You can buy all of the materials you need from a hardware store. You can probably find the buckets for free if you ask around. Kitty litter buckets work well. In addition, you’ll need some tools including a drill, screwdriver, pliers, wrench, and a utility knife. You will also need a sturdy rear rack to mount the panniers to.
I have not yet tried this project myself but hope to in the near future. Instead of writing the process out myself, I’ll link a couple of detailed step-by-step guides below.
Bucket panniers look pretty cool and cost next to nothing to make. They are also incredibly sturdy. 4-gallon buckets are made of thick plastic that can really take a beating. If you do happen to lay your bike down and crack one, you can buy a new bucket for a couple of dollars. You could build a new pannier within a couple of hours.
There are 3 drawbacks to bucket panniers:
- You can’t collapse bucket panniers down or roll them up- This makes flying with your bike a bit more difficult. The rigid bucket panniers will take up a lot of space in your luggage. They may not fit in a bike box.
- The square-shaped buckets stick out and create drag- Bucket panniers make your bike much less aerodynamic. This costs you speed and efficiency. You’ll burn more energy and cover less ground.
- They look kind of funny– Generally, bicycle tourists are pretty cool and understand frugality. That said, some cyclists may make fun of your creation. To non-cyclists, bucket panniers could make you look like a homeless person. Some people care about this type of thing and others don’t.
How to Save Money with Budget Camping Gear
Most people who are getting into bicycle touring or bikepacking already own some camping gear. If you already have a tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad, you’re best off using the gear that you already own. You don’t need any specialty camping gear.
If you don’t have any camping gear, you’ll have to buy some. Bicycle tourists and bikepackers use the same camping gear as hikers. You’ll need some kind of shelter (a tent, hammock, or bivy sack), insulation (a sleeping bag or quilt), and a sleeping pad. To help you decide, check out my camping gear guides. If you shop around, you should be able to put together a basic set of campaign gear for around $100-$200.
One benefit of using panniers instead of bikepacking bags is that they allow you to get away with cheaper camping gear. This is possible because panniers are more voluminous than bikepacking bags. This allows you to use cheap but bulky gear rather than having to buy expensive ultralight gear.
Many bikepacking setups don’t offer enough storage space for bulky camping gear. To make everything fit, you may have to buy an ultralight sleeping bag or tent. Ultralight gear is expensive. Whether or not this is necessary depends on your setup.
Cheap camping gear will keep you just as warm and dry as higher-cost gear. It is also just as durable. The only difference is that it is heavier and takes up more space. Past a certain price point, the only thing you are paying for is lighter-weight materials when you buy high-end camping gear.
For example, you can buy a basic 20-degree sleeping bag for $40. The drawback is that the bag may weigh 6 pounds and take up 20 liters of space. You can buy an ultralight 20 degree down sleeping bag that weighs under 2 pounds. The only problem is that the lighter bag costs $300. Both bags last just as long and keep you just as warm. If you have more space in your luggage, you can save money by buying the cheaper bag and just deal with the extra weight. Tents work the same way. Lighter tents are much more expensive.
My budget Bikepacking and bicycle touring camping setup consists of:
- Tent- ALPS Mountaineering Lynx 1-Person Tent. Read my full review here.
- Sleeping Bag- Kelty Cosmic 20. Read my full review here.
- Sleeping pad- Klymit Static V Sleeping Pad. Read my full review here.
A Note About Buying a Touring Bike on a Budget
One crucial piece of gear that this article doesn’t cover the bike.
For info on building a budget touring bike, check out my guide: How to Convert an Old Mountain Bike into a Touring Bike. With a few basic bicycle tools and an afternoon of work, you can put together a capable touring bike for under $200.
You’ll also need to put together a tool kit to make basic repairs and perfomr maintenance during your tour. For help, check out my Ideal Bikepacking or Bicycle Touring Tool Kit.
Final Thoughts on Building a Low Budget Bikepacking or Bicycle Touring Setup
These low-budget setups are a great way to get into bicycle travel without having to spend hundreds of dollars on fancy luggage. If you shop around a bit and make some of your own gear, you could put together a capable touring setup for less than $100. Bicycle touring and bikepacking doesn’t have to be expensive.
In my opinion, being resourceful, creative, and thrifty is part of the fun of bicycle touring and bikepacking. Dreaming up and testing out new ways to haul gear on your bike is pretty entertaining. It’s also a great conversation starter when you meet fellow bicycle travelers on the road.
With some basic mechanical skills, you could easily ride your budget setup across your country or even across a continent. For an around-the-world tour or an expedition through a remote region, a budget setup may not be ideal. In this case, you may want to consider buying some premium bags. For the average bicycle tourist or bikepacker, high-end gear isn’t necessary. Whatever style of bicycle travel you do, I hope this guide has given you some useful ideas.
Have you ever toured on a budget bikepacking or bicycle touring setup? Share your experience and tips in the comments below!
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