Backcountry Series: Take a Load Off

There was a time when road cyclists would tease other riders for having a saddle pack, but over the years it’s become acceptable (and dare we say trendy) to attach all sorts of bikepacking gear to road bikes for everyday rides. Mountain bikers found back and hip packs and added weight to their backs instead – although you might see an occasional inner tube strapped to a frame. We think it’s time for a change. Carrying everything on your back isn’t comfortable, it’s not good for bike handling and it’s not as fun to ride. That’s why we’ve refreshed our Backcountry Series for modern mountain bike geometries.

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Mountain bikes have come a long way since we first released the Backcountry Series. Bikes are longer, lower and slacker, suspension travel has increased, and even entry-level bikes are capable of tacking much rougher terrain than just a few short years ago. We’ve followed these changes with interest, innovating to introduce bolt-on options to make use of additional accessory mounting points, dropper-post compatible saddle packs and even options for e-bikes. Continuous incremental improvement has shaped the Backcountry Series over the years, but with modern mountain bikes looking so different to when we first imagined the range, we decided to revisit the designs and re-create them from scratch, optimising them for the demands of modern mountain biking.

It sounds straightforward, but mountain bikes are much more complex than road bikes; they have fewer straight lines, more moving parts and need to balance and react predictably when the trail gets technical. On a road bike, you can reliably find a frame pack that fits and leave it on your bike for long rides, short rides or commutes – and we wanted to bring that experience to the Backcountry Series, no matter which mountain bike you’re riding.

It’s the kind of design challenge we love solving. Finding ways to take our experience in pragmatic, functional and lightweight packing systems and using them to reimagine off-road bikepacking in a way that enhances the whole mountain biking experience. Helping riders take weight off their backs and attach it to the frame to make the ride easier and more fun even over shorter sessions on technical terrain.

A close up view of Jenny Tough packing her frame pack

A close up view of Jenny Tough unpacking her downtube pack

No matter how short the session, how close to the car park or trail head, we always need to carry something when we’re out on our bike. It may be as little as some snacks, a wallet and extra tools to fix a puncture. These are items that could be carried in a backpack or hip-pack, but by storing them on the bike we free our upper-bodies to focus on the ride and balance more naturally. Our waists are free from straps and our shoulders aren’t restricted by the weight against our back, pushing us down onto the saddle. On roads and gravel tracks, weight high up on your back is an uncomfortable burden, on more technical terrain it throws off your balance and limits your fun. Having a go-to pack permanently attached to your bike gives you far more flexibility on everyday rides:

The Backcountry Downtube Pack has become my go-to storage for on-ride items that would otherwise have to be in my pockets, specifically tools, and also a ‘home’ for an emergency rain jacket as we often get caught out in the rain even after leaving in the sun. The bag has taken items from my pockets, in other words, and placed them in a secure and fuss-free spot on the bike that is still easy to access should I need them.

-Kevin Benkenstein / South African Mountain Biker

Almost all my bikes have a full frame pack mounted on them all the time. I love the convenience of always having room to carry hydration bladders, tools, pump and some spare clothing. I usually never know where my ride might take me or what weather I may encounter. I often don’t even know how far I will go during the day. Having a nice roomy Backcountry Full Frame Pack gives me so many options as what to carry without having to strap anything else to the bike or myself.

-Josh Kato / American Mountain Biker

In the winter, I always take a saddle bag to carry extra layers on day rides. Long descents, punctures, or cafe stops can all cause a pretty quick drop in temperature, and having a warm jacket and thick gloves on hand is essential. A puffy jacket fits perfectly into a Backcountry Saddle Pack, and the expandable space makes it the perfect bag for adjusting to my needs on each ride.

-Jenny Tough / Canadian Mountain Biker, Based in Scotland

Extending the fun and heading into the backcountry for multi-day bikepacking trips is as simple as adding some more packs to this everyday set up to spread the weight around as you carry more. With careful packing, it’s possible to carry everything you need to be self-sufficient on an extended mountain biking trip, in a way that means the riding is still enjoyable.

The Backcountry Handlebar Pack is an ideal place for compact sleeping systems, while a Full Frame Pack can maximise space for both a hydration bladder and bulky, heavier items. A Downtube Pack is an obvious place for the extra tools you’ll only use in an emergency and Top Tube Packs are a logical place for the items you’ll access while riding. If you ride with a dropper post, you’ve made a conscious decision to be able to adjust your riding position and weight to enhance the ride. We wouldn’t want to compromise this, and so our new Saddle Packs are all dropper-compatible, allowing compressible items to be stored beneath the saddle without losing the dropper functionality.

By keeping weight close to the frame, the riding still feels like mountain biking, and by spreading the weight evenly across the bike, the handling remains natural, even on faster technical descents. This is why the capacity is similar between the new handlebar and Saddle Packs, so that a balanced ride can be maintained. Furthermore, the main contact points on the packs have been reinforced, so that the heavy loads won’t be compromised on rougher terrain.

Fun, technical off-road riding is a delicate balance of speed and traction. Riders are constantly searching to perfectly weight each tyre to suit changing surfaces through a combination body position and bike handling. Carrying gear for extended backcountry missions shouldn’t affect the pleasure of tackling a loose steep climb or enjoying a fast descent. Packs need to be ultra-stable and consistent under extreme riding conditions with no movement in mounting or in their contents. They should also be flexible and modular in nature to allow riders to balance their setups based on their carry needs for that trip.

-George Huxford / Apidura

With the need for stable, modular designs in mind, our design team created a set of three different top tube packs that provide alternative positions for adding weight above the top tube, based on both frame design and rider preference. Modern mountain bike frames vary a great deal, particularly those with sloped top tubes, so it is important to have range of options.

Jenny Tough riding off road with her mountain bike covered in Backcountry Series bikepacking bags

The biggest challenge in refreshing the Backcountry Series was actually the massive differences between modern mountain bike frames, particularly those with dual suspension and aggressively sloping top tubes. Geometry varies far less on gravel and road bikes, so the refreshed Backcountry Series needed four different frame pack shapes. These create options for perfectly fitting Full Frame Packs on hardtails, and solutions within the frame for many full-suspension bikes. The smallest Frame Pack is our first-ever reversible pack, allowing it to cover the widest spread of frames possible, and the larger packs have reinforced structures so they don’t need to cover the full frame triangle to retain their shape (meaning you can run a bottle behind them in some hardtails).

Inside the packs, we’ve added anti-rattle straps for internal organisation, meaning that you can keep loose items secure while riding. If you are on a shorter ride and only need to carry a pump and some extra tools, you can strap these items securely so they don’t bump around in an empty pack. Then, as the day heats up and you remove layers, you still have a place to carry your windbreaker without cramming it into a jersey pocket.

Whether you are simply taking an extra layer on a winter ride, or packing for a remote expedition, the Backcountry Series creates options so that you can keep your body free, have a well-organised load and concentrate on the most important thing – enjoying the ride.