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One of the first questions new mountain bikers often ask is, “What should I carry in my saddle bag?” That a great question, and the answer is not obvious to those new to the sport. In fact, there are seasoned riders out there who might have a hard time answering this question well. There’s a lot to consider here.
How large of a bag do you need? How much do I pack in the bag? What can I mount or strap to the frame? Can I carry stuff in my jersey or a pocket? Do I really need all this stuff?
When planning for a ride, there may be times where you don’t need to carry as much stuff. If you’re going out for only an hour or so and not planning on doing anything intensive, then you can probably get away with leaving a few things behind—such as some nutrition or electrolytes.
Having said that, there are a few tools and supplies we feel you shouldn’t ever leave home without, no matter how short or low intensity the ride. Check out the list below for what we consider to be the bare minimum to carry on every ride.
In our estimation, the first upgrade you should perform on your bike—before rolling it out of the shop—is converting to a tubeless setup. Not only will you get the advantage of grippier tires due to lower PSI, but you’ll save a ton of money and stress in the long run. Why? Because going tubeless actually prevents flats while you’re out on the trail. A tubeless setup will often keep on rolling when it gets punctures that would ruin a tube.
Having said that, it’s always a good idea to carry a spare tube (or two) whether you’re running tubeless or not. Sealant can’t plug everything, so it’s better to be prepared for when, not if, you have a flat bad enough to need a tube. Though they cost more, check out the Tubolito, which is more durable, lighter, and roll up smaller than traditional tubes.
A stop-gap measure before throwing a tube into a punctured tire that won’t seal up is to have a way to plug the hole. Two great options to consider are the Genuine Innovations Tubeless Tire Kit or the Dynaplug Ultralite Tubeless Tire Repair Kit.
When you do need to peel that tire off of your rims and shove in a tube, you’re going to need a good set of tire levers. Sure, you can do it without levers, but a durable pair sure makes the job easier. We’re a fan of Pedro’s Tire Levers because of their great durability and utility at a low price point. Check with your local bike shop for a pair, or see what they have in stock that’s comparable.
When you get that tube inserted and the tire back on, how are you planning on re-inflating it all? You’re going to need some sort of inflation device. While there are very small hand pumps that can fit into a saddle bag, this is an area where we think you’ll be better served purchasing a pump you can mount to your frame. You’ll save a little space in your bag for other things, and end up with a more capable pump that won’t wear your hands out too quickly.
You should also look into CO2 inflators. They don’t cost a whole lot and do a pretty great job at getting your tires back up to pressure quickly. In fact, if you had to unseat the bead on your tire for some reason but didn’t throw in a tube, the higher pressure from an inflator can often reseat the bead when a hand pump can’t.
Beyond tires, you need to think about how you’re going to make adjustments or tighten things that get loose along the ride. This is why you should have a multi-tool in your pack. A good multi-tool has a wide variety of tools such as a spoke wrench, hex drivers, screwdrivers, open wrenches, and a chain tool in as compact a package as possible. We’re big fans of the multi-tools from Crank Brothers.
You may not want to carry ID in your saddle bag, but we encourage you to carry it somewhere on your person or on your bike—especially if you’re going to be riding alone.
Better yet, consider purchasing a nifty RoadID and wearing it every time you go out, alone or not. You can put you basic identification info on it, as well as an emergency contact number or two, and list any specific medical conditions. Pair it with the RoadID app and lock screen for your phone and you’ll be easier to find, identify, and rescue in case of emergency.
For many bags, the above list of equipment has probably maxed out its carrying capacity. If you have some room left to spare, or have a large bag, here are a few more items to consider adding to your arsenal.
- Cash—It’s always a good idea to carry a $20 bill with you every time you go out for a ride. Not only will you have cash with you in an emergency, but it can also be used to temporarily patch a sidewall tear.
- Basic First Aid Kit—You won’t have room for a whole lot, but grab yourself a Ziplock baggie and throw in some band aids, antiseptics wipes, and maybe some anti itch cream.
- Spare Presta Valve Core and Core Removal Tool—Though it doesn’t happen often, messing up a valve is possible, so it could pay off to be extra prepared with a spare.
- Quick Link—Chain breaks happen, and having a spare quick link in your pack may make the difference between pushing or pedaling home
- Derailleur Hanger—When you shred the gnar, sometimes the gnar shreds back in the worst way. If you snap your derailleur hanger, the only way you’re going to keep on riding is if you’ve got a spare.
- Patches—An absolute last resort, yes, but if you have a day so bad that the tube you threw into your tire gets a puncture of its own, you’ll be glad you have some patches.
- Nutrition—If you’ve got some spare room, why not throw in an extra gel or two, and maybe some electrolyte tabs. Better safe than sorry, we say.
Those are our suggestions for the bare minimum you should carry in your saddle bag, or on your bike somewhere. Have we missed anything? Have we listed too much? Let us know in the comments.
Have fun, ride smart, and keep shredding!