Always Ready: What To Pack On Different Types Of Mountain Bike Rides

One of the many great things about mountain biking is often the ability to go farther into nature quicker than you can on foot. A mountain bike can take you on some amazing adventures into the wilderness. As with any outdoor pursuit that takes place in the backcountry, it is always important to be prepared for emergencies, mechanical or otherwise. While having the bare essentials will enable you to be prepared to tackle simple mechanical issues, it would be wise to pay closer attention to the kit you carry on your rides, and think about how you can refine your mountain bike ride kit in order to be prepared for the most common emergency situations that you may encounter.

What you should carry depends on how/where/with whom you ride

It is important to note that this isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list of all the items you should carry on all the rides. What we advise is to plan your gear load out based on the type of your ride (e.g. are you going on a one-hour after work loop vs two day epic backcountry mega ride), your level of experience (are you a beginner yet comfortable with the basics or a mechanical wizard who can do complex trailside repairs?), the type of terrain you ride e.g. (e.g. in the mountains there are sudden weather changes. Take an additional clothing layer regardless of ride distance!), and whether you are going to be riding solo or in a group.

Another thing to remember is that there is no point in carrying everything you think you’ll need if you do not have the knowledge necessary to effectively put your gear to good use. Make sure you acquaint yourself with the features of all the items you carry and look up user manuals or video guides, if necessary, on how to use them on the trail.

Better have it and not need it, than need it and not have it…

 Below we make three suggested ride kits based on the type of planned ride:

1.The one-hour lunch/after work ride:

Those of us with busy schedules often have to squeeze in rides whenever we are afforded a slice of free time amidst obligations of work and family, that might be lunch hour on a weekday (if your work situation allows easy access to your bike and trails to ride) or the quick pre-dinner trail spin. For this type of ride, for which the assumption is that given the time constraints your riding location would be close enough to civilization anyway, I find that the critical items are:

  • One water bottle
  • One spare tube
  • Tire levers
  • Tubeless plug repair kit
  • Pump or a CO2 cartridge
  • Chain master link
  • Small multi-tool with chain breaker
  • Any necessary small personal items (phone, wallet, keys, etc.)

On these quick trail rides I keep it simple and light with the bare essentials. I don’t need a pack to carry the items above as all can go into jersey pockets and/or on the bike. I’ve gotten into the habit of keeping most of this kit in a small saddle or top tube bag to make sure can make the best use of the time available to ride without worrying about forgetting anything I ened. I just fill up the bottle, grab the bike and helmet and go.

2.The weekend group ride:

I have a closely knit group of ride buddies with whom I spend my weekend riding time on our favorite local trails. Being one of the more experienced riders in the group, I always carry a few more things to make sure I can assist the less experienced riders in our group should they not be prepared (with either tools or skills, or both!). My weekend ride kit looks something like this:

  • Two spare tubes
  • Tubeless plug kit + tire levers
  • High-volume pump (no point in wasting CO2 cartridges if you’re not pressed for time)
  • Some energy gels or snack bars
  • Two chain master-links
  • Multi-tool with chain breaker
  • Zip ties
  • Wallet, keys, etc.
  • …and it all fits in a medium size hydration pack

3.The epic backcountry long-distance ride:

These types of rides add distance and a little bit more risk of mechanical issues or injury, and it is critical to be properly equipped. On these rides, I carry everything listed under “The weekend group ride” above plus:

  • Additional nutrition in portions suitable for the actual ride distance/time planned
  • Packable waterproof shell jacket
  • Spare derailleur hanger
  • Mini first aid kit
  • A small roll of duct tape
  • Mini-pliers
  • A small bottle of chain lube
  • Suspension/shock pump
  • Spare brake pads
  • Spare SPD cleat bolts
  • Spare tubeless valves
  • Sunscreen
  • Small folding knife

For those rides, you’re going to need a bigger pack with a higher capacity hydration bladder. I recommend 16-liter packs or higher. Brands like EVOC, Ergon and Camelbak offer a wide selection of mountain bike packs among which you will certainly find something with the features that you need.

Another item which I’ve recently added to my long/remote ride gear arsenal is the personal satellite communicator. I personally use a Garmin inReach Mini (but there are many options on the market from brands like Spot and Zoleo, and some people also use various Personal Locator Beacons), and having the ability to communicate with family and friends in case of emergency has been very reassuring on rides that take place on remote backcountry trails.

Final words

Mountain biking is a sport with a big fun factor, but it also comes with a risk factor that should be acknowledged and prepared for. Planning your ride kit according to the type of ride you will be doing helps mitigate some of that risk and enables you to be equipped for emergencies that you or your ride buddies may encounter. The suggested kit lists we offered in this article are a good starting point.