Don't be so fast to dismiss budget bikepacking gear!

Cycling Adventure Gear on the Cheap

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If you’d asked me just a couple of years ago if I would ever consider heading into the unknown with a $20 handlebar bag from an unknown online chinese company that lists “Exelent waterproof provide safe transparency” as a product feature, you would’ve received a contemptuous ‘pfft’ and a firm “not likely!” from me.

I would have then gone on to extol the virtues of having trust and a sense of reliability in one’s gear.

Now, I wasn’t wrong. When adventuring into the unknown it is incredibly important to have reliable gear that you can trust. Where I was wrong, however, was to so quickly dismiss the budget option.

Having spent a couple of years back in my homeland of New Zealand, and once again facing the harsh realities of living on an island in the middle of nowhere (woe was me, right?), I was forced to rethink my style of outdoor gear acquisition.

I had other financial commitments which kept me from being able to splash out on the brands I knew and trusted, which, with me now being back in New Zealand, had become inexplicably more expensive!

So when I needed an ultralight tent for an upcoming trip, I decided to take a gamble and jumped onto AliExpress – a global retail marketplace based in China. After a few evenings of researching the different options, I settled on an ultralight two man tent from a company called Naturehike.   

At around US$105, this tent was more than 5x cheaper than my previous tent, and listed as being almost a full kilogram lighter. I had done my research, read and watched many reviews online, but still couldn’t shake my skepticism and lack of belief that the tent could actually be any good.    

Fast forward to now, and that $105 tent has seen countless weekend trips into the New Zealand wilderness, including a full month of wild camping down the South Island’s wild West Coast. More recently it has also been having to stand up to scorching heat in deserts in the Middle East.

Now, I find that as alI of my remaining high priced, “quality” gear, reaches the end of its usable life, I am replacing it with equally capable substitutes at fractions of the price.

Do not get me wrong, when you spend more, you (should!) certainly get a better quality, longer lasting, product.

But the high price tag on your fancy piece of kit will not keep shipping companies and airlines from misplacing it. It will not stop your curious cat from clawing it when you leave it out to dry. It will not stop that knife that fell out of its pouch from slowly creating a new opening. And most importantly, it will not stop just dumb bad luck.

It becomes a matter of figuring out what price point works best for you based on your current financial situation, level of bikepacking experience, and how far you see yourself going with backpacking.

When Budget bikepacking options may be the right choice for you

If you’re fortunate enough to be in a situation where money is no object, then you should search the internet for the best quality gear available, buy it, and get out there and enjoy it.

If you’re an experienced bikepacker or cycle adventurer, then you probably already know what works for you and you purchase your gear accordingly.

Then there are the large number of riders, and potential riders, for whom budget options may be well worth considering. Come to think of it, even for the wealthy and super experienced there are times when budget options have their place.

Here a few situations when the budget option may be for you:

Newcomers to bikepacking

Bikepacking has been steadily increasing in popularity over the past decade or so, and every day potential new bikepackers look into embarking on their own long distance cycling adventures.

So often, however, they’re doing this with absolutely no experience, and no idea if bikepacking is actually the right style of adventure for them. The initial investment in obtaining the required gear can quickly put a damper on a newcomer’s dreams of two wheel adventure.

Bikepacking.com has a fantastic Guide to Bikepacking Bags which features a list of six example kits, ranging from the Starter “Hack” Kit ($0-77) to the Dream Kit ($726). Their example Solid Budget Kit, however, comes in at $384-389, which is a hefty lump of cash.  

And then there are all the extras on top of that; tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, cooking system, etc.

Without hacking it, a new bikepacker can have all of the necessary purpose built bags they need for under $100. Also going the budget route for their sleeping, cooking and shelter systems, they should be able to have a full cycling adventure set up for under $300.

Add your current bike and a change of clothes and you’re ready for cheap, boundless, adventure!

The financially challenged

You may already know that you want to bikepack regularly, but you simply don’t have the disposable income available to deck your bike out in the latest and greatest from the very cool Custom Built Bikepacking Bag Co.

If you’re already into outdoor adventure, then there’s a good chance you already have most of the gear required. All you need are a few bags to store your existing outdoor gear.

Or you may be completely new to the outdoors and have to start from scratch.

Jump online and read reviews. Scour this site. Don’t disregard the budget options just because they’re cheap. There’s quality at all price points; you just need to look for it.

Go for broke. Even if you’re broke!

Sharing the experience

For me, bikepacking is an adventure experience that I generally like to endeavour upon alone. But sometimes it’s fun to share the experience with others you care about.

However, the others that you care about aren’t necessarily going to share your level of passion for the art of bikepacking. They know they’ll enjoy it, but to them it would just be a bit of fun every once in a blue moon.

They most likely already own the bike. But, because they don’t fully share your passion, there’s a good chance that they aren’t going to want to shell out for all the gear needed for even the shortest bikepacking trip.

I’ve found that whenever trying to instigate such a shared adventure, the lack of appropriate bikepacking gear inevitably ends up making it logistically more sensible to drive to the destination and go for a day ride or a hike.

This is where budget bikepacking gear can be your savior. Hound your friends to get their own, or bite the bullet and create a little stash of your own to lend to potential travel buddies.

If you’ve got a spare hundy after having a quiet weekend in, it could be a wise investment in future shared bikepacking experiences.

Extending the life of your pricey gear

No matter the price of your gear, eventually it will fail. That’s life.

Regularly subjecting your gear to the elements is going to degrade the materials over time; particularly when it comes to ultralight gear, which simply lacks the durability of heftier outdoor gear.

Budget bikepacking gear can be the answer to extending the life of some of your favorite things. Save the old reliables for the multi-week expeditions and just don the cheap gear for your weekend warrioring.

So you’ve got cash now and you’re a bikepacker for life!

So you’ve kitted your bike out in a set of wallet friendly gear, been on a ton of amazing cycling adventures and reckon it’s about time to upgrade to something a bit fancier and brag-worthy. You should now have an idea of your riding style and what in gear works for you and what doesn’t.

You’ve already got everything you need, so it can simply become a matter of slowly acquiring fancier gear bit by bit. But now you have these pieces of old gear sitting around doing nothing.

This is the perfect opportunity to spread the cycling adventure bug. Keep your extraneous bikepacking gear to lend to friends and family when going on shared journeys, or just gift it to newbie adventurers and bikepackers-to-be.

Create a cycle of recycling cycling stuff to create adventure cyclists!

Conclusion

I know that a lot of what I say here may fly in the face of conventional LBS wisdom.

The ‘buy it for life’ and ‘you get what you pay for’ mantras are definitely sage advice.

But from personal experience I have come to learn that price doesn’t always equate to quality or longevity; sometimes expensive falls apart and cheap keeps going and going.

If you can afford the usually recommended gear, then don’t hesitate; get it and use it. If you’re in a situation where that’s not so simple, just know that there are plenty of good budget options. The most important thing is to not let money be an excuse that keeps you from hitting the roads and trails for multi-day, two wheel adventures.

You should never let the price of entrance keep you from entering a show as good as this.

Let’s make more bikepackers! Please share this article

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