Over more than a decade of riding, I’ve broken practically anything and everything on my mountain bike at least once — spokes, seatposts, shocks, chains, and more. I even broke my collarbone after one embarrassing crash on a local trail. Through trial and error — mostly error — I’ve learned what to bring with me on a ride to survive mishaps both big and small. These are the items that I keep in my pack for shorter rides – say under 30 miles – and on a route where we’ll cross multiple trailheads. For longer or more backcountry rides, I have a larger pack filled with even more gear. (If there’s interest, I may do a follow-up piece on it.)
I’ve owned multiple hydration packs, but the CamelBak Lobo ($100) has been my go-to for the last several years. The 3-liter bladder fits snugly in its slot, while the remaining two zippered pockets have plenty of space to stash all of the gear on this list, with room to spare.
I run tubeless tires with few complaints, but if there’s a way to get a flat on the trail, you know I’ll find it. I’ve got a 29er tube in my pack right now, but I’ll probably switch to a more versatile 27.5 tube after I use it. I can either stretch the tube a bit to slip onto my larger hoops or pass it on to a less-prepared riding buddy who’s riding smaller wheels. Tire levers typically come in packs of two or three, but I only need one for most jobs, so I stash the remainder with my other bikes. The pump is a Topeak Mini Morph ($35), which is lightweight and fills a tube before I get noodle arms. Spring an extra $5-$10 and get the Mini Morph G with a built-in pressure gauge.
The Crank Brothers m17 multitool ($28) has all the features you’ll probably ever need on the trail: a chainbreaker, four different spoke wrenches, multiple hex and open wrenches, standard and Philips-head screwdrivers, and a T-25 Torx driver. It’s sturdy, easy to use, and fits perfectly in my hand. Normally I keep both a 10- ($17) and an 11-speed quick link ($8) in my bag, but I had to steal my 11-speed link a couple of months ago for a different bike and haven’t gotten around to replacing it yet. By writing this, I’m practically ensuring I break a chain on my next mountain-bike ride.
I try to keep a few different gel packs in my bag at all times. Clif Shots ($1 each) have just enough calories and caffeine to get me through most rides when I’m running a little low on energy. As an added bonus, if I accidentally slash my tire’s sidewall, the empty wrapper makes a pretty good barrier. I’ll occasionally pack a homemade bar or rice cake, but only if I know I’ll eat it on that particular ride. The last thing you want to do is forget about it and find a mold colony growing in your pack a week or two later.
I bought 100 of these bags through Amazon ($9) although it’s pretty easy to find single bags in shops or elsewhere online. I had a great aLoksak from Skratch Labs ($2) that held up under daily abuse for years until it finally got too shredded to continue using. I always keep $5-$20 in cash and a few business cards in the bag, as well as spare batteries if I’m using an action cam that day. If I’m riding a trail with several stream crossings, I’ll stash my iPhone in there as well. The bags aren’t advertised as water-resistant, but after some testing in my bathroom sink, I found they were more than acceptable for short dunks underwater. (That said, I wouldn’t stick my phone in one of these bags and go swimming.)
As often as I crash, a good first-aid kit is an absolute must. The .7 from Adventure Medical Kits ($30) stuffs bandages, painkillers, antiseptic wipes, tweezers, latex gloves, and more into an almost impossibly compact package. Add in a small baggie or container of antihistamine tablets for run-ins with bees or poison ivy, and you’re all set.
The common zip tie is the versatile, yet sadly unsung all-star in my pack. They occupy next-to-no room in my pack, but have a wide variety of uses. Over the years, I’ve used zip ties to hold a bottle cage, bike light, and even a disc-brake mount in place after a bolt rattled out. I keep about 10 zip ties of varying lengths and thicknesses in my bag at all times.
I wrote about the Gore Rescue WS jacket earlier this year, and since then, it’s found a permanent place in my pack. At 4 ounces and the size of a whiffle ball when rolled up, it’s the ideal jacket for stashing in your bag and forgetting it—at least until the dark clouds start rolling in.