The bikepacking craze has spun up in full force over the last couple years, and the industry has stepped up to provide gear to all the crazy riders who think loading their bikes up like pack mules and dragging them up and over steep mountain passes is a fun way to spend the weekend. To be fair, we at Bike sometimes fall into that type-2 fun-loving category of riders. There is something irresistibly appealing about bikepacking; perhaps it awakens the romantic within us, calling us out on grand adventures with nothing but our bikes to take us there and back again. The worse the weather, the steeper the climbs and the more remote the access, the better.
Part of the delight is the careful selection and packing of gear. It starts with bags--unshapely conglomerations of rip-stop Courdura, non-user-friendly mounts and (not) waterproof pockets. Then there’s the packing, and the eventual re-packing after first test rides reveal knee scrapes on an overstuffed frame bag, a seat bag that flops around worse than a fish out of water or a heavy handlebar bag feeling as though a linebacker friend is riding on your bars. To top it off, the handlebar bag will always alert you when you’re near the end of your fork travel with a helpful buzzing sound when the front wheel hits it.
Despite inevitable shortcomings attaching numerous bags to a bike, many companies have stepped up attempting to alleviate as many pitfalls as possible. Some have taken a more custom approach, making each bag to the specification of the customer, but at the cost of producing only low quantities and at higher prices. Others mass-produce bags with a ‘fits-all’ ethos, but of course ‘fits-all’ means it usually fits none.
Blackburn has been making their Outpost bags for bikepacking for a few years now, attempting to bridge the gap in the quality spectrum. Blackburn gear is mass-produced, but the brand refuses to use budget materials and do extensive testing with each products to make sure things work as intended. Nevertheless, the Outpost bags are not in the same realm as the ultra-high-end bags on the market, and sacrifice some of the high-end materials and designs in favor of a lower price point.
However, Blackburn has been developing a line of new bags designed to be no-expenses-spared, top-of-the-line equipment to meet the demands of the most outrageous adventures. Blackburn could have just changed materials used, lightening things up and ensuring features like waterproofing and durability, but instead they focused more-so on functionality, honing in on reducing the common headaches that plague most bikepacking gear.
Outpost Elite Handlebar Roll | $160
Much like the original Outpost handlebar bag, the new Elite version uses a two part system of a dry bag and mount which attaches everything to the bars. But that’s where the similarities end. While the original Outpost mount took about twenty minutes and a bachelor’s degree in engineering to install, the Elite mount is about as easy as attaching a Shimano brake lever. Actually, it’s easier because there’s no tiny button to press to release the clamp. Simply slap the two hinged clamps over the bars, tighten the bolts and you’re set to go.
Things do get a little more complicated when it comes to adjusting the mount, but that’s only during initial set-up. The mount has two curved mounting rails, the purpose of which is to allow users to position their loaded dry bag as far down and close to their fork crown as possible. This helps keep the weight low and the leverage point as close to the steerer tube as possible. The original Outpost bag felt like putting a Shake Weight on your bars, and constantly twisted them side to side when riding. The Elite bag seeks to eliminate that feeling, but still keep a modular, easy-to-detach system that won’t rub on your frame. Some other bags have attachment straps that go directly to the headtube or fork crown to improve handling characteristics, but it comes at a cost. On a particularly muddy trip I had a bag rub completely through my frame paint and into the carbon--no good.
Once the mount is set, attaching the dry bag is a breeze. There is a velcro patch on the rigid mounting plate, which holds a loaded dry bag and frees both hands to install an encompassing strap system that holds the bag securely. A seemingly small feature, the velcro provides an install system easy enough that it probably won’t add to frustrations in the field. Trying to install a complicated bag system when your fingers are rapidly turning to icicles is not fun, no matter how light and superior that bag may claim to be. Plus, when you’re moving on the trail, the velcro keeps the bag from shifting around in its harness.
Blackburn’s new Elite handlebar bag is also fully waterproof with welded seems, and has a built-in shock cord and molle straps for carrying additional items. There’s even a pressure bleed valve so that you can really compress the dry bag and keep things tight.
Outpost Elite Universal Seat Pack | $170
There are a lot of different seat bags out there, but the mounting for each is generally the same. The mounting points are pretty limited: a seat rail and a seat post. That’s all there is to work with. The advantage of this is that it’s usually pretty easy to figure out how to install a seat bag, but the disadvantage is that to carry a heavy load, straps must be used on the seat post itself, which on dropper posts limits the travel significantly. Riding with your seat hoisted works fine for mellow trails, but when things turn steep and nasty it’s a big hinderance. Dropper posts are popular for a reason, right?
Blackburn found a clever, and surprisingly simple, way around this classic dilemma. The Elite seatbag mounts to the bike via an aluminum plate that clamps onto the seat rails, and disregards the seatpost entirely. There’s still a lower strap if you want it, but the full weight of a loaded bag can be handled by the plate mount, which frees up the entire travel of a dropper post. If you’re on a fully suspended rig, tire buzz might be an issue with the bag dropped, but how much probably depends a lot of frame design, travel and wheel size. Plus, the bottom of the detachable dry bag is protected below by harness system, which doubles as protection and a way of increasing stability. The bag slides into the harness, and the two pieces clip together both to complete the waterproof roll-top.
Outpost Elite Frame Bag | $120-$140
Frame bags are tricky, mostly because there’s a lot of different frame styles out there. Mass-produced bags are easy to make, but they don’t always fit every frame. Custom-made bags fit perfectly, but they are expensive and harder to get. Blackburn’s new Elite frame bag will come in four sizes; small, medium/short, medium/tall, and large. The bags’ dimensions change between sizes both in length and height, which should provide enough range to fit most frames whether there’s a shock and linkage to deal with or not.
The Elite frame bag uses the same waterproof construction that the rest of the line uses, including the welded seams and waterproof zipper. The Elite bag is impressibly light, and I wouldn’t hesitate to keep an extra pair of dry socks in it during a heavy rain storm.
New straps are used, which have softer, grippy texture to them. They’re intended to increase grip on the frame, but prevent rubbing and paint damage. They are removable and rearrangeable as well.
The Elite bag has a small zippered opening near the bottom corner, as well as a routing strap along the size so allow a hydration bladder to be used in the bag. Or, if you still use a hydration pack, the lower zipper will just provide another access option in addition to the main zipper. External pockets were enlarged on the new bag, and drain ports were added to them as well. On the backside there is large external zippered pocket that would provide a perfect quick stash stop for a map and any snacks you would miss if they fell out on the trail.
Bikepacking might be more of a type-2-fun-based activity than what we in the insensitive majority call “normal” mountain biking, but it also doesn’t need to be downright miserable. Packing your gear for a trip is part of the fun, but it can be a huge headache with poorly designed bags that cause issues once you’re out in the mountains. The new Blackburn Outpost Elite bags were designed with updated materials to provide better waterproofing and more weight savings than the original Outpost line, but Blackburn also spent a great amount of effort to ensure functional bags that help, not hinder, the adventure.