Into The Wild: Backcountry Essentials – Part 1

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So you’ve built up your fitness and basic trail repair skills and are looking to take your riding to the next level. You’ve heard about bikepacking and fancy giving it a go but are wondering what tools you should take with you. You don’t need to be taking off across the Patagonian wilderness or crossing the Sahara by unicycle to find adventure. Frankly, head out of the door and just keep riding. Before too long you will be hopefully be out on an adventure in your own mini wilderness. The further from civilisation you go, the more important being self- sufficient and being able to deal with the unexpected mechanical mishap becomes.

Ready for adventure!

With this in mind, here’s a list of tools that will hopefully keep you rolling. Deciding what to take and what to leave behind is something of an art. Too much and you will be cursing the additional weight you are carrying, too little and a minor mechanical can become a major inconvenience. The more you ride, the more your kit will be refined and honed to perfection. No matter how exhaustive your tool kit, at some point things will go south on you and you’ll be wishing you had brought the angle grinder and TIG welding kit after all! However, by focusing on the most common mechanicals, you can prepare yourself for most eventualities.

You’ll need more than this when the sh*t-eth hit-eth the fan!

1. Pliers

These have multitude of potential uses. Removing a seized bolt, pulling out a broken v brake pin, straightening a bent disc pad spring, tensioning a gear cable or removing a seized in disc brake pad – all can be dealt with  by a small pair of pliers. If they feature a built in cutter, you can also use them to cut a brake or gear cable and fit a cable end. You can either go simple with a regular set of pliers or increase your useful tools quotient by going down the Leatherman Tool route.

Bought in the nineties and still going strong!

The latter then gives you the benefits of a mini saw for cutting kindling, a knife for cutting fabric or food, mini screwdrivers for adjusting gear mechs and opening up shifters and a bottle opener for post-ride beverage consumption. Some bike specific mini tools offer all of these functions but none measure up to a Leatherman style tool for function and ease of use.

2.  Spare spokes and a spoke key

The latter may already be built into your mini tool. However, if you are riding over rough terrain and are in the habit of bending rims, a proper spoke key is considerably easier and more efficient to use.

Forget mini tool spoke keys. Invest in one that works.

Spare spokes are useful for more than just fixing a wheel. If you lose a tent peg or two, spokes can double up in an emergency. Given that some manufacturers happily supply toothpicks masquerading as tent pegs, spokes can actually be better than the originals! Storing them needn’t be an issue. Squirting some expanding foam into your seat post or handlebar gives you a secure medium into which you can push your spokes in without them rattling around.

Cunningly concealed spokes.

Just remember to pack a couple of spare spoke nipples too. A cut down and bent spoke (use your pliers!) can be used in place of a rear mech jockey wheel bolt if you lose one while a nipple can double up as a cable end.

3.  Sugru

This is a wonder material. It moulds into place and sets hard. It works as a brilliant filler for the likes of stem bolts if you want to deter potential thieves should you have to leave your bike locked up but unattended as you do your best to eat your way through your daily calorie allowance at Subway in one sitting while on tour. Just make sure you have a small enough Allen key to remove it if you need to adjust your bolts.


4.  A good pump

It goes without saying that a good pump is an absolute essential on a backcountry trip. CO2 cartridges are a one shot deal, perfect for racers but not for the bikepacker. Features to look out for include a reversible or double chuck that doesn’t leave you looking for lost rubber O-rings and end cap when you dismantle it on the trail, decent volume so you spend less time fixing and more time riding, and a frame mount so you don’t have to carry it on your back.

Exhibit A – a damn good pump!

5. Tubeless sealant

I’m a big fan of tubeless set ups. However, given that your most likely mechanical will be a puncture, consider an inner tube and sealant set up. I’ve had good luck with Fenwick’s and Schwalbe inner tubes with removable cores which makes filling the tubes with sealant a relatively quick and straightforward job.

Put it in your tubes before you ride to avoid mid-ride faff.

Even when the tube has deflated slightly after being punctured by a thorn, snipping off the end of the thorn (it’s those pliers again) and adding of few puffs of air has seen off the puncture goblin.

6.  Zip ties

These are the wonder tool of the bikepacker. They can be used for everything from tensioning a sheared suspension bolt to preventing a lose handlebar grip from rotating to using several to act as emergency seat post saddle clamp bolt (although you will need several to spread the load to not end up with a seat post shaped suppository!)

Little strips of genius.

7.  Toe straps

At some point, you will lose a strap for your bikepacking bags. A couple of toe straps joined together can make for a very effective emergency strap. They can also be used to preload a brake lever if you need to realign a disc brake calliper.

Toe straps circa 1911. Far more effective than cleat bolts when it comes to tightening things up.

I’ve seen them used to hold a cracked rear hub shell together along with some gorilla tape. It wasn’t pretty but it meant the difference between a 3000 foot walk down a mountain and riding.

8.  Mini tool

Before you go, have a good look at your bike. Do you have the right size of Allen keys and selection of tools on your mini tool to adjust every bolt on your bike should you need to? Can the mini tool reach into every awkwardly placed nook and cranny on your frame?

My mini tool of choice.

There is a very fine line between trail tool zen and losing the plot when you realise that your ultralight, titanium and carbon mini tool of awesomeness is unable to adjust your worn down brake pads. I should know. It did not end well for the tool. They fly remarkably far when you really put your mind to it! They can also be hard to find in the dark. Grrrrrrrr!

9.  Chain Tool

If your mini tool doesn’t have one, then a separate one such as that made by Park is a good option. At a pinch, you can use a pair of pliers to butcher a fix if you have both the time and patience to do it. However, this can be a real hit and miss affair.

Chain tool, Torx keys, disc pad waggler (I may have made that up) and disc straightener.

A decent chain tool, a couple of quick links (just make sure that you have the right ones for your chain – 10 speed links don’t play well with a 9 speed chain as I found out for myself on a pissing wet ride in the Lakes. Je suis une fanny!) For all that they weigh a few spare links do no harm.

Having broken a chain several times on one ride, I was certainly glad that I had remembered to pack a few.

10.  Adjustable spanner

It used to be that every tool (well, every Cool Tool) featured an adjustable spanner. The requirement for them has diminished over time but if you ride singlespeed with bolt on hubs, you already know you need one.

If this fails, consider whacking it with a big hammer!

They also do a good job of straightening a warped disc rotor as well as unbending the arm of a rear mech when your confidence exceeds your talents.

Whether you decide to take everything from the list above is entirely up to you. If, like my riding buddy Donald, you have a habit of destroying rear mech hangers and mechs on pretty much every big ride we go on, you may even carry a spare mech with you. Another riding partner has been known to carry a spare tyre with him. Just think about the things that you think you are most likely to encounter, the things that will end your ride, and build your kit accordingly.

Next time around, we will look at a pouch full of some of the smaller essentials that are worth considering carrying with you.


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