Packlist: A light three-day trip in the desert

On the 100 mile (160 km) White Rim Trail, in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park the only water refill option comes  in the form of Green River murk at about Mile 75. We hiked down off the ‘Island in the Sky’ to the Rim at Gooseberry at Mile 26, to stash one gallon (3.8L) of water each before our departure on bikes, and I started the trail with my full 4.3L – all on the bike. Determined to offset the weight of water, and inspired by Joe Cruz‘s ultra-minimalism that I witnessed on the Kokopelli Trail only a week prior, I was able to abandon my front bar harness and dry bag. Unwilling to go as hungry as Joe and Joel on the Kokopelli, this was achieved mostly on account of going without a tent, and bringing a minimum of clothing.

I surprised myself with the possibility of riding a three-day route with only a Porcelain Rocket Mr Fusion seat pack, a prototype roll-top Porcelain Rocket frame bag, a Timbuk2 Goody Box on the top tube, an old Taiga hip pack to keep my camera gear accessible, and – for the first day only – a 3L stuff sack held to my handlebar with Voile straps (use #15834). While this doesn’t compare to the minimalism employed by competitive bikepacking racers, I was sufficiently pleased that I jotted down my complete pack list, including three calorific days of food, and packing strategy. What follows is that list, and a few short thoughts about my decisions about each item.

An easy three-day load on my Surly Krampus – Logan Watts photos.


My water was transported in a 1.5L soda bottle in a Topeak XL cage, which I’ve attached to my bike by drilling holes in the frame and installing rivnuts (goodbye warranty), and backed up with a Voile strap. More rivnuts on the fork allow me to carry 1L Zefal Magnum bottle on each fork leg, in the ever reliable Profile Design Kages. Finally, one of Randi Jo‘s Bartender bags allow me to add another 0.8L bottle at the handlebar/stem. Where less water capacity is needed, it makes a great snack/lens bag.

Seat Pack

A Procelain Rocket Mr Fusion seatpack holds up to 14L of gear, plus my folded Tyvek ground sheet, and my spare tube taped to the bottom of the stabilizing frame.

A Porcelain Rocket Mr Fusion seat pack holds up to 14L of gear, plus my folded Tyvek ground sheet, and my spare tube taped to the bottom of the stabilizing frame. Pay no attention to the ugly, failed seam-sealing attempt.

Seatpack insert bag (top right) and all its content exploded onto my Tyvek ground sheet.

Seat pack insert bag (top right) and all its content exploded onto my Tyvek ground sheet.

Z-packs 20 degree down sleeping bag – a 500g hoodless bag/quilt hybrid, packed in the stuff sack that my sleeping pad came in. Money very well-spent. Minimalist design perfection.

Therm-a-rest NeoAir Xtherm sleeping pad – I have the winter-weight version because I use it for ski touring too.

Westcomb Cayoosh Hoody down jacket – ultralight warmth, and it has proven very durable. Made in Vancouver with Canadian down.

Westcomb Crest Hoody wind jacket – or is a softshell? Pertex Equilibrium is an amazing material, and the fit is flawless on this jacket. Made in Vancouver! Design perfection.

MEC T2 long johns – work horse poly bottoms for sleeping in. Merino wool is great, but doesn’t last. I own several ass-less merino tights.

Wool socks – merino/poly blend from Costco. I wear different socks to sleep in because my feet would otherwise ruin my sleeping bag.

Cocoon inflatable pillow – a new luxury item that marks my premature descent into old-manhood. Self-respect may prevent me from carrying this 70g item on subsequent trips.

Clif Bars (4) – just to make sure my seat pack was really full.

Toilet Paper/hand sanitizer – Panthea snuck the hand sanitizer into my bag before the trip. Germs are lighter than hand sanitizer. Choose wisely.

Bits of 2mm cord – about 15m in total, it turns out, so that I could turn my Tyvek ground sheet into a tarp in a rare desert storm.

Tyvek ground sheet – a piece of Tyvek to sleep on. I could also wrap myself in it, since it’s a breathable fabric, as a makeshift bivy sack. Or, by wrapping the corners around a small rock, and tying the bits of cord around those, I could set it up as a tarp shelter. This lives between the modular, removable seat pack and its harness.

Frame Bag

A whole lot of frame bag space thanks to an XL frame and the expandability of this zipperless, roll-top Porcelain Rocket frame bag.

A whole lot of frame bag space thanks to an XL frame and the expansibility of this zipperless, roll-top Porcelain Rocket frame bag.

Tool kit – includes 6oz Orange Seal tubeless sealant with injection hose, small bottle of chain lube, spare Rohloff cable, Portland Designs axle nut wrench/tire lever tool, patch kit with patches, glue and tire boot, curved upholstery needles and dental floss for repairing tire sidewalls, T20 torx wrench for Rohloff, various zip-ties, about 8 spare bolts of various sizes, extra chain links and quick-links. Should also include some spare brake pads, but I forgot.

Cooking system – Jetboil Zip 0.8L pot stuffed with: Trangia Alcohol stove , home-made pot stand, flint, GSI pot scraper so that I can scrape my pot clean rather than try to wash without water. An old film canister containing salt and whatever residual film chemicals. The pot stand fits neatly inside the pot, and the smaller bits fit inside a camera lens pouch inside that.

My alcohol stove cooking set-up. The nesting pot stand was meticulously home-made from a piece of aluminum flashing.

My alcohol stove cooking set-up. The nesting pot stand was meticulously home-made from a piece of aluminum flashing. The Jetboil cosy must be removed when the stove is burning, but is still great for keeping food hot while I eat.

8 oz bottle of cooking alcohol – next time I’ll probably just carry my Jetboil and a 100g canister.

Titanium Spork – brings joy to my heart, for reasons unclear.

Leatherman Wave II – it’s my knife, and pot grabber. A lighter one would be adequate.

Fozzils folding plate – a total gimmick if you call it a plate, a great cutting board that can fold to hold your choppings.

Food for three days (still in the frame bag)

Complete frame bag contents on day 1, minus the avocado I ate for lunch.

Complete frame bag contents on day 1, minus the avocado I ate for lunch.

Breakfast – package Wasa crackers for breakfast with 500g jar of peanut butter. Some ground coffee, brewed a la cowboy, and a bit of Nestle powdered milk.

Lunch – 10 organic 8″ tortillas, 1 lb cheese, a log (400g?) of dry salami, 3 avocados (2 of which spent day 1 on my handlebar). I finished the trip with half the tortillas, cheese, and salami. My appetite is inconsistent.

Snacks – two 85g bags of potato sticks (a super-food covering all three backcountry food groups: carbs, fat, and salt), 1/2 lb of chili dried mango, 1 package of Trader Joe’s dried, flattened bananas (“banana jerky”). 100g chocolate bar, two fancy little packages of chocolate-almond-hazelnut butter. Don’t forget I also had a total of 7 Clif Bars between my seat pack and my 3L stuff sack up front.

Dinner – 150g box of couscous with some flavour package, 130g Idahoan ‘Loaded Baked’ flavoured instant potato mash, 6 oz extra virgin olive oil. Much of the 1lb of cheddar and salami log gets added to these savoury gruel meals. Only boiling water is needed to cook both these meals. Two cans of Red Betty’s IPA (retrieved from the water cache at Gooseberry).

Top Tube Bag

Multi-tool with chain breaker – mine is an ultra-cheap thing by Filzer. 

Zebralight headlamp – uses 1 AA battery, goes from super-dim to super-bright and has no plastic parts or hinges to break – made indestructibly of machined aluminum and rubber. Design perfection.

Sunglasses hard case – which sometimes contains my sunglasses.

Aquatabs – a strip of 10 chlorine tablets, doses work to purify 1L of water, which makes the the Zefal Magnum bottles especially convenient. Tablets cannot be spilled like drops.

Burt’s Bees lip balm

3L Stuff Sack

All this stuff got moved into the frame bag on day 2, once I’d eaten through some food.

A temporary handlebar bag gave me a bit of extra carrying capacity on day 1.

A temporary handlebar bag gave me a bit of extra carrying capacity on day 1. Interestingly, this is about the same amount of space provided by a Salsa Anything Cage and Bag.


Stuff sack and its contents.

Toiletries in a small stuff sack – travel toothbrush, small tube of tooth paste, floss (cheap substitute for dental insurance), Dr Bronner’s soap (not useful on a 3-day trip with no water, but forgot to remove it from my bag)

Spare camera battery

Lighter –to burn toilet paper (should be kept with my TP though)

SPOT emergency satellite SOS device – also allows me to let my people know I’m alive and OK.

Nuun electrolyte drink tablets – more importantly, these ones contain 40mg of caffeine each, and make the water fizzy and delicious.

Two of my three avocados

3 Clif Bars – one already consumed in photo.

Woollen toque – or just a hat if you’re not Canadian. Good protection for avocados, a lighter substitute for a sleeping bag with a hood.

Hip Pack (#fannypacking)

Having destroyed a camera lens by riding with my camera in my bar harness pocket, I think the hip pack is the best option for easy camera access and protection. It makes a good pillow too.


#fannypacking. Camera body and 20mm lens not shown (in use).

Panasonic Lumix GF1 micro 4/3 camera – an oldie but a goody in terms of user interface and SLR-like button layout. Much better micro 4/3 bodies now exist, but it’s scary spending money on camera gear rather than affording more time to travel. I want a Panasonic GX7.

Panasonic 20mm F1.7 pancake lens – affordable, compact magic. My only decent lens.

Panasonic 14-45mm F3.5-5.6 – R.I.P. Scratched in Pritchett Canyon, Utah. It was the best kit lens for M4/3 for a long time, but still contained no magic. Zoom lenses seem to play to my weakness (composition), so I’ll probably replace it will a 12mm prime, and the pure-magic Olympus 75mm F1.8 if, one day, finances allow. (For those who think in 35mm format, double these lens lengths for full-frame equivalents.)

UltraPod I micro tripod – 57g compact folding tripod for night time photography and staged vanity selfies.

MEC wind vest – windbreaker in the front, mesh in the back. Key to riding comfort in certain temperatures, and otherwise useful camera padding.



Car keys

Nexus 5 smartphone – the battery last long enough for it to function as my e-reader on shorter trips. OverDrive is a great e-reader app that links to your public library collection for free book borrowing. The screen is so sharp on this phone that I can happily read on it for hours .


On Me (what I wear)

Dressed for business. Photo by Joel Caldwell.

Dressed for business. Photo by Joel Caldwell.

LG Edge helmet – light, no exposed foam on exterior (for durability), breathable, on sale.

MEC Shelter sunglasses – $32, fit my very large nose, polycarbonate lenses, not polarized so I can see my camera screen and GPS. (Note on cheap sunglasses: polycarbonate and glass inherently block all UV. Other, often noticeably thinner materials might depend on a UV-proof coating which will wear off over time. With the UV protection worn off, these become more dangerous than going without sunglasses as they allow your pupils to dilate an let in more harmful UV. Cheap is OK, but play wisely.)

Mountain Hardwear  polyester flannel shirt – dries quickly, a bit of stretch, looks Canadian-fancy so that people assume the smell is coming from the guy next to you during post-ride burrito feasts.

MEC Trojan fingerless riding gloves –  I like free finger tips for photography, and minimal padding. To me, gloves are mostly for sun protection. These get that done cheaply, without annoying velcro closures.

MEC Cordura riding shorts – don’t look racer-like, built like a suit-case, are a suit-case, probably not BPA-free, sadly discontinued many years ago.

A loose 5mm Allen wrench – kept in my pocket for easy seat height adjustments. A quick-release seat collar would probably be more elegant.

Lycra underwear – MEC’s cheapest chamois shorts, with the chamois pad cut out. Do you really want a foam pad absorbing three days of ass sweat? Athletic compression shorts work better. Lycra is nice because it is low-friction and holds things in place. Ever heard of testicular torsion?

Wigwam poly liner socks – these last for ever, don’t ride down, and aren’t too warm. I hike them all the way up for slightly less sunburned legs.

Scarpa Dharma Pro approach shoes – The best bikepacking shoes of all time? Probably. Sadly discontinued, these combined a stiff, re-soleable front half of sticky-dot rubber – the best for flat pedal grip – with a durable lugged heal for hike-a-bike traction. I treated the leather uppers with SnoSeal, and protected vulnerable seams with Seam Grip early on, which surely helped them last these past two years of hard use on and off the bike. I’m finally seeking suitable replacements. Nothing available today seems to tick all the right boxes – suggestions welcome.


Lezyne Micro Floor Pump HV – The best option I’ve found for moving lots of air, which is key for inflating large volume (fat or 29+) tires. Its aluminum construction has proven very reliable. Mine lives in on the fork, strapped into the mount that came with it, which is stacked below one of the fork bottle cages.

Surly 29+ tube – strapped to the stabilizing frame of my seat pack with 1/2 a roll of electrical tape. A regular 29er tube would work in a pinch, but I’ve struggled to set the tire bead with undersized tubes before.

Garmin GPSMAP 62s – when I carry it, my GPS is mounted to my stem. Such a powerful GPS is not needed for bikepacking, but I need it for forestry work. The micro SD card expandable memory is great for loading many detailed topographic maps.

16 thoughts on “Packlist: A light three-day trip in the desert

  1. Great post, Skyler! Thanks for taking the time to put this together. I’m doing ‘The Other Side of Nowhere’ in a couple weeks and you’ve given me a few more ideas on how to trim down my kit just a little bit more.


  2. I really appreciate this detailed gear list Skyler; I just moved my own pump to the front fork as shown in this post. Also, I can’t help but be in awe of your food selection on this trip. You eat real food. I think I may try to get more creative with my food selection on future bikepacking trips and move away from the mixed nuts, dried fruit, and jerky combo. Thanks for the ideas.

  3. Pingback: Foodpacking (Vol. 2): Bikepacking Food Packlists - Pedaling Nowhere

  4. Pingback: Removable Rear Stowage: Short-term Review of the Blackburn Outpost Seatpack | Off Route

  5. Great reading, Skyler.

    I find myself switching from panniers to bikepacking setup for my next trip, and I am in doubt about whether to keep my new camera (Olympus EM5 MKII 12-40mm) in a fanny pack -like I have always done- or put it in the large pocket from Revelate attached to the Sweetroll.

    I have always been happy with my camera in my fanny back, but my main concern about using the pocket is about the possible ‘jumping’ of the camera inside it. Any suggestions about that?

    Thanks in advance!

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