Experts’ top gravel and bikepacking gear
Cycling off the beaten path
The bicycle can be a two-wheeled freedom machine perfect for escaping into the wide-open spaces and fresh air of the wild, which is exactly what’s needed to remain safe and sane right now.
With this in mind, ExpertVoice combed through our experts’ recommendations and researched what’s popular on the market to highlight two of cycling’s fastest growing trends: gravel riding and bikepacking.
Explore this guide to find experts’ top products and a few tips for anyone looking to pedal off the beaten path.
For cyclists who love exploring everything from smooth asphalt to jarring stretches of gravel and dirt-lined forest service roads, the gravel or all-road bike represents the ultimate in versatility.
These bikes generally feature gravel-specific drop bars that allow them to work well both on- and off-road, wider tires to run at lower pressures and smooth out bumps, taller head tubes with slacker angles than racier bikes for added comfort and composure when things get rough, plenty of rack mounts for carrying all of your gear on adventure rides, along with powerful disc brakes for reliable stopping power in the wet, gritty conditions usually faced by gravel riders.
Bikepacking is simply loading up your bike with all of the gear and supplies you’ll need for a touring adventure as short as a few days or as long as a few months.
Dedicated bikepacking rigs are usually stout and resemble a hardtail mountain bike or gravel bike — with wider tires suited for off-road riding, specially designed drop bars that optimize comfort for the long haul, even more rack and fender mounts for carrying heavy loads, along with wide gear ranges that give you the ability to pedal for days without getting tired. Some manufacturers are even outfitting their bikepacking rigs with short-travel suspension forks and dropper seat posts for a smoother, drama-free ride when the terrain is strewn with bumpy rocks and roots.
Support local bike shops
There are numerous benefits to purchasing your next bike from your local shop, including getting the sizing and fit dialed, upgrading components to customize the ride to your particular needs and having a supportive team to help you answer questions and fix things as they inevitably break. Now more than ever, local bike shops need your business. That’s why we’ve highlighted where to locate your local dealer for our top bike models intended for gravel riding and bikepacking.
Leading gravel machines
Ibis Hakka MX$$$
The Ibis Hakka MX represents the Swiss Army® knife of high-end gravel bikes with its lightweight carbon frame that balances the needs of stiffness and compliance over rough terrain, back roads and smooth tarmac alike. The ability to run either 700c or 650b (27.5) wheels maximizes versatility for both on- and off-road pursuits, as it clears up to 700 x 40c or 27.5 x 2.1-inch tires ideal for floating over rough patches of gravel, sand and dirt. Fender eyelets on the fork and a removable rear fender mount come in handy in wet, nasty conditions.
Niner RLT 9 Steel$$ - $$$
Standing for the “Road Less Traveled,” the Niner RLT 9 Steel is a purpose-built gravel machine that pairs a Reynolds 853 steel frame with Niner’s RDO Carbon Fork for the ultimate combination of smooth, supple tracking over the rough stuff with robust durability for years of heavy-duty use. Numerous rack, fender and cargo mounts give you an easy way to haul heavy loads and protect yourself from water, dirt and grime in nasty weather.
As its name implies, the Kona Rove is destined for exploring back roads, grinding down gravel paths and climbing up dirt roads winding into the mountains. It’s one of the more affordable gravel bikes on the market, especially considering it’s backed by Kona’s lifetime warranty. The 6061-aluminum frame maximizes strength for extensive use both on- and off-road, with a smart parts spec comprised of a Shimano Claris drivetrain, Hayes mechanical disc brakes and WTB Riddler Comp 700 x 37c tires.
Picks for bikepacking adventures
Bombtrack Hook ADV$$$
As one of the most unique bikes on the market for off-road exploration and bikepacking, the Bombtrack Hook ADV combines a retro-inspired steel mountain bike frame with cutting-edge gravel components like drop bars, a 40-millimeter MRP Baxter fork, KS dropper seatpost and 11-speed SRAM Rival groupset. Essential rack and fender mounts come in handy for those long-distance journeys. Bombtrack even makes its own top tube, frame and saddle bags that seamlessly integrate with this bike to harmoniously carry all of your gear.
Salsa is known for thinking outside of the box when it comes to designing its bikes. Its latest Fargo takes this divergent spirit to heart with its 29er mountain bike frame combined with its off-road drop bars and 2.2-inch tires meant to cover lots of ground on bikepacking trips and epics like the Tour Divide. The Fargo’s triple-butted chromoly steel frame soaks up bumps and unruly terrain when you’re traversing along stretches of singletrack, while the three-pack fork mounts and rack-friendly design allow you to load this workhorse up with all of your gear.
Designed exclusively for bikepacking, the Trek 1120 is a dream ride for anyone looking to explore rough terrain with all of their gear in tow. The 1120 takes inspiration from Trek’s Stache line of 29er hardtail mountain bikes, complete with an Alpha Platinum Aluminum frame and Stranglehold dropouts that convert it from geared to single-speed use, depending on your intended riding environment. Trek even makes its own 1120-specific front and rear rack system (sold separately), complete with matching paint for the ultimate in bikepacking brilliance.
Accessories for cycling off the beaten path
Check out the following cycling accessories, which are highly recommended by our experts for exploring trails, gravel paths and back roads.
Up To 50% Off + Free Shipping over $100
I have put 100 miles on these pedals over the last week and I can say these are amazing. This is my first set of clip less pedals and clipping in took some getting used to. I was also weary of how easy it was to get out of the pedals but after riding around the block a few times I picked it up quickly. Overall a great product. The pedals and cleats were both easy to install and Crank Brothers have great youtube videos if you are uncertain of how to adjust anything. They care about their customers just as much as their product!
Why experts love it: Incredibly easy to get in and out of, Crank Brothers Candy 2 Pedals are great for both seasoned cyclists and newcomers to using clipless pedals. The ribbed alloy platform provides sure-footed placement for re-engaging on the road and trail while its signature four-sided entry sheds mud and grit when you’re gravel grinding and bikepacking in adverse conditions.
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I have used Sweet Protection whitewater lids for the past eight years so when it was time to upgrade the MTB helmet it was an easy choice. The fit out of the box was great and the helmet feels very secure with the adjustable strap in the back. The helmet vents very well even on hotter days. I would definitely buy again.
Why experts love it: The lightweight, airy-cool feel of the Trailblazer MIPS lends itself to longer trail and gravel rides in hot weather, courtesy of its 4-piece variable shell construction. An adjustable visor can be moved to provide more protection or placed upwards for greater visibility. There’s a new Occigrip turn-dial fit system for a customizable fit, plus the MIPS liner provides excellent protection by reducing rotational forces that lead to concussions during a crash.
50% Off MSRP
Excellent fit and function
I purchased the Pol White w/ Prizm Road model for endurance racing, and have been using them for years. I can barely feel it when I wear it, it stays secured to my face, I have excellent clarity with the PRIZM lenses and wide field of view (especially with the frameless lower half), and small holes at the top of the frame provide good ventilation to avoid condensation on the inner lens. These are my first semi-frameless lenses and I recommend these if you need max visibility of the road ahead of you. Highly recommended!
Why experts love it: Updated with a taller lens for a wider field of view, the Oakley Radar EV Path Sunglasses are a favorite of experts pushing themselves at high speeds and riding long distances on the road. The PRIZM lens maximizes optical clarity and contrast for specific environments, including asphalt roads encountered while cycling. Engineered ventilation prevents the lens from fogging when you’re grinding up a long climb or pushing yourself in hot weather.
Lightweight bikepacking essentials
Designed to be as lightweight as possible, these bikepacking essentials offer a comfortable and convenient way to sleep under the stars and haul your gear — all without adding excess bulk on your long-distance bike journey.
Up to 55% off MSRP
This tent is great! not only works fantastic for bike-packing, but it think it could replace its non bike-packing counterpart. The extra storage is welcome and the short poles make it more manageable for backpacks too.My only gripe with this tent, is the need to have the big agnes footprint to be able to go with the ultra light set up. There are ways around it, but why make the customer go through it.
Why experts love it: Tipping the scales at a paltry 3.5 pounds and designed with shorter poles to reduce bulk while strapped to your handlebars, pannier or saddlebag, the Copper Spur HV UL2 Bikepack is optimized for the needs of bikepackers. This thing packs down beautifully to a mere 6 x 12-inches with its included compressions sack — alleviating the bulk inherent to hauling a regular tent on your bike.
Up to 55% off MSRP
Why experts love it: Another Big Agnes favorite of bikepackers (we’re seeing a trend here), the Pluton 40° is absurdly lightweight at only 8 ounces in its regular size. For perspective, that’s a couple of energy bars or less than that IPA you’ll be drinking after your ride. Its 850-fill down insulation maximizes loft and compressibility, meaning you’ll stay warm when temperatures dip into the 40s overnight and it won’t occupy much space in your pack (4 x 5 inches, to be exact).
40% off MSRP
Why experts love it: Perfect for all of those small, important extras on bikepacking trips and long-distance gravel rides, the Accessory Pack 3.5L easily carries your smartphone, snacks, rain jacket and repair tools. It’s designed to complement Ortlieb’s Handlebar-Pack but also works as a smaller standalone pack with its pre-mounted Velcro straps that secure it to your handlebars. As you’d expect from a pack of this pedigree, its fully waterproof construction keeps all of your valuables safe in nasty weather.
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