The Bikepacker’s Toolkit

When things get FUBAR and you’re SOL, your toolkit is your BFF!

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Your tools are preventative medicine for your bikepacking trip. Like a first aid kit for your better half, a good toolkit is a necessity and can make or break a trip. With my toolkit, there was an evolution over time until it reached its current state.

Behold; the three phases of a toolkit:

Phase 1: Ignorance

In the Ignorance phase, the touring cyclist knows not what it is they do not know. They pack a pump, spare tube, and the almighty, all-powerful multitool. Its mere presence is insurance against all possible repairs… right? Toolkit Weight: 1-2lbs

Phase 2: Fear and Doubt

In the Fear and Doubt phase, the touring cyclist has discovered the extent of their knowledge gap, and the potential consequences of a full mechanical failure on tour. Thoughts of starvation, dehydration, exposure, and worse dance behind our eyelids as we sleep. Every tool imaginable is packed, from the pedal wrench to the cable cutters. Surely, now we’re safe?! Toolkit Weight: 7-10lbs

Phase 3: Acceptance

Let that which you cannot control truly slide. The seasoned touring cyclist knows the ebb and flow of chance is not something one can predict, so the traveling bike shop of Phase 2 shutters its doors. Many common or easily-addressed issues are prepped for, and a few contingencies are included for poorly stocked bike shops along the route, but we can no longer rebuild our bike from the ground up. Just pack and prepare for the bulk of difficulty, and let the worst case scenario be a great future story. Toolkit weight: 3-4lbs

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My toolkit now comes in at 3.25lbs, which includes a spare fatbike tube, pump, and the tool roll I carry it all with. Gone are the major wrenches, the pliers, and the contingency spares.

So, what exactly am I carrying?

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Max’s Toolkit for Extended Bikepacking

My toolkit varies slightly from trip to trip, but this is the core supply of “stuff” that I carry with me when I’m touring. Everyone’s going to have a varying degree of comfort with their tool setup, and some of my choices may not be your own, but there might still be something to learn in both of our kits!

Keep in mind that my touring kit usually includes a non-bike repair kit, with duct tape, sewing kit, spare cords and straps, etc. Those items are super useful for repairing and maintaining soft bikepacking bags. I didn’t include them here, but assume I’ve usually got them on me.

The Tool Roll:

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I’m using a cordura tool roll from Inside Line Equipment. Eric sent me one to test, but I’m not sure if it’ll ever see the light of production, so if you’d like your own, you’ll have to chat with Eric about having one custom-made. ILE also makes a seatbag that holds the basics, but I like this tool roll since it can attach to a seat, or get thrown into a bag. No fuss.

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In this roll, I carry the gear for two of my bikes; the Surly Pugsley Fatbike and the Soma Juice 29er. There’s only a couple of parts that are exclusive to one bike or the other. Tubes, for instance.

Hardware

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My primary wrench setup is the Crank Brothers m19, a smart little multitool with a built-in chainbreaker. You really cannot bikepack without a chainbreaker; it’s essential to be able to convert over to singlespeed if your derailleur gets destroyed. My Pugsley has a rear derailleur and a 10-speed chain, so I’m set.

The cone wrenches match my particular hubs, the Shimano XT mountain hubs. I use these hubs on all three of my bikes, so all my wrenches are applicable across all of my setups.

Also shown here is an 8mm wrench for the dropouts on my Soma Juice. 8mm wrenches also fit M5 nuts, so you can bail a buddy out who needs to tighten a rack down. There’s also a Torx wrench for the rotors on my disc brakes, and for pad adjustment.

Tires and Tubes

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Possibly the most important part of a bikepacker’s toolkit is flat insurance. I carry a Parktool patch kit, and sometimes I carry two or three. Suplementing that, I have a Lezyne Road Drive pump, a pair of Pedro’s indestructible tire levers (I have broken one, once, user error), and a dollar bill.

No, this blatant display of wealth is not for tipping the cab driver. A dollar bill is not made from paper, but rather, cloth, and makes a perfect tire boot. In other words, when you get a tear in your tire, you can sew it up using your sewing kit and place the dollar bill behind the tear to prevent the tube from stretching the cut back open. I’ve used a dollar bill tire boot for a small cut in a pair of Continental Gatorskin’s, and the repair is still going strong 1.5 years later.

Drivetrain

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A lockring tool is the key for removing a cassette. Carrying this little (heavy) piece of metal allows you to swap your cassette or cogs using any adjustable wrench. Most auto repair places, gas stations, and hardware stores have one and almost all of those places are happy to let you borrow a monkeywrench for a minute. With this, I can get my cassette off to remove a busted cog, replace a singlespeed cog halfway through a trip, or break into my hub bearings for some good old fashioned repacking. Now, obviously, you also need a chain whip to get a cassette off, but there are a few youtube videos that show you how to brace the teeth of your cassette using a 2×4 or log, giving you enough leverage to remove the lockring. Go check it out!

The microfiber cloth is good for regreasing a drivetrain. I haven’t actually used this piece yet, and the cleanliness is unsettling.

Finally, I have a 17T cog to swap onto my Juice in the event I wear through my current cog in the middle of a longer trip. I’d carry this if I was attempting a major bikepacking trip, so I threw it in there to get used to having it. It’s not essential, but can be useful if you’re running SS and weighs almost nothing (go WolfTooth!)

Juices and Ointments

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I carry three wet applicants for my bike setup. First, liquid grease. I have Dumonde Tech here, but usually carry Tri-Flow. It doesn’t make a huge difference what lubricant you use, since it’s all going to get filthy, sandy, black, and grimy eventually. Constant eyeballing on your moving parts is the best way to avoid significant wear. If you can feel a bearing grinding around, it’s time to get in there and clean it up.

Kurt over at Bike Grease and Coffee once repacked a seized BB using a pie plate full of gasoline on the side of the road in Argentina, but the worst maintenance I expect to deal with on a tour is the occasional re-up of my lubricants. I’m firmly aboard the bandwagon of preventative maintenance, addressing problems before they bring the tour to a halt.

Second, I’ve got a small bottle of Stan’s Notubes for topping off a tire that somehow lost its sealant. I hope I don’t need to use it.

Finally, I have a small bottle of Loctite Thread Locker 242, which is perfect for bottle cage bolts and chainring bolts that just refuse to behave themselves. It’s also great for racks, and most people use racks when they’re bike touring. I can definitely see helping someone else with this stuff someday, so it stays in my kit.

Bits and Bobs

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This little earbud carrying case holds my  spare bolts and bits that may or may not come in handy over the course of a tour. I try not to overpack this part of my toolkit.

Here’s what I have, from left to right and top to bottom:

  • Kevlar Emergency Spoke
  • Can opener, WWII-style. Gets a ton of use, and still sharp!
  • Small brush. Useful for cleaning out derailleur pivots, chainring bolts, etc
  • Spoke wrench
  • Bent wire, for holding the chain together after removing a quicklink. Like a third hand!
  • Ortlieb pannier mounting hardware. I rarely use Ortliebs, but Kelley does and a lot of other people, too, so I keep these.
  • Disc brake mounting bolts, and stainless M5 bolts for racks/bottle cages
  • One chainring bolt
  • 10-speed and 8-speed quicklinks. I need to add a 9-speed quicklink. No reason not to carry all the sizes, and have one to save a buddy someday.
  • Small length of 8-speed chain for my Juice
  • Two valve nuts and two M5 locking nylon nuts
  • Two Shimano 10-speed chain pins
  • Two brake cable ferrules and one derailleur cable ferrule.
  • Four washers

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I also carry a few zip-ties and a pair of brake pads for an Avid BB7 disc brake, which is what Kelley and I both use.

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Everything (other than the pump, tube, and liquids) fits neatly into that ILE tool roll, and doesn’t weigh enough to really bother me. There are some other things I’d consider for longer trips, like spare cables and more spare brake hardware, but this covers my butt for most stuff.

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Overall, I feel pretty good with my toolkit. There’s a lot of awesome info over at Adventure Journal, where a professional mountain bike guide breaks down his everyday carry. That’s the inspiration for a lot of my tool choices.

Ultimately, the bikepacker’s toolkit is an ever-changing canvas. The ultimate tool, and one that you can never have too much of, is your brain. Practice, mechanical know-how, and common sense go much further than any individual tool. If you want to really juice up your backcountry repairability, you should stop into your local bike shop and find a mechanic who can show you how to maintain your hubs, spokes, bearings, and brakes.

Worst case scenario, there’s always hitchhiking!

Ride Safe and Prosper,

Max

 

9 thoughts on “The Bikepacker’s Toolkit

  1. Always interesting to see what others carry. Never thought of bringing cone spanners, and never needed them – how often do you need yours?

    I have the same (I think?) multitool. On my most recent trip, I weighed it, and found it was much lighter just to bring a few allen keys and the body of the chain breaker. (You can use an allen key as the handle). Also, actual allen keys seem to work a lot better in some places (eg, adjusting seat angle).

    I also carry a bit of wire, safety pins (useful for bike bag webbing straps that won’t stay put), and actual spokes. Too annoying to do a temporary fix job and then have to fix the spoke properly later.

    Also a spare derailleur hanger, and if I’m super paranoid, a spare derailleur. (The conversion to single speed never seems to work for me.)

    Instead of relying on a gas station for the adjustable spanner, I’d be tempted to drill a hole through the lockring tool, and use an allen key as a handle. Never got around to doing it, though I seem to recall seeing one once that had such a hole already.

    1. All great ideas. I jused to carry individual allen wrenches, but when you get to the bigger ones (for pedals and the crank lockring) they get to be really heavy, so I switched back to the multitool. The chainbreaker is icing.

      I should carry actual spokes… I find roadside wheel repair to be intimidating, still. I need to learn to replace spokes myself.

      1. Me too. Very fortunate that every time a spoke has broken, there’s been a mechanic on the trip.

        Also meant to mention I like your approach of carrying spares for *other people*. I carry a range of spokes on most trips for that reason. We’re virtually all on 9 speed though, so not an issue for chain quick links.

        Oh, one more “spare” – about 3m of a thin webbing luggage strap material. So many uses:

        – additional guy line if super windy
        – tow rope for broken drivetrains or broken people (used on at least 3 trips)
        – replacement for broken bungee cords, or additional for temporarily big loads

  2. Current Canadian bills are not paper but neither are they cloth, they are more plastic than anything else. I wonder how they’d do as a tire boot? However, unlike what you have there, the smallest Canadian “paper” denomination is $5, but with the current exchange rate, it’s not much more than $1 USD, LOL.

    1. Used to carry one, now I don’t. I have a Leatherman Micra for gear repair; it has scissors, tiny screwdrivers, and tweezers, all useful. A big, heavy leatherman is overkill, although the saws are quite nice and it could be worth it just for those.

  3. Max,

    Is it bad if I still prefer the ignorance phase?

    Joking. Actually I’m getting ever deeper down the rabbit hole by working with a local mechanic so I at least feel comfortable fixing the most common problems that come up on long days and multi-day trips. It’s always interesting to see what other riders bring along.

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