Not everyone wants to ride with a big ‘n’ heavy backpack, so we’ve been testing a variety of different options for the minimalist mountain bikers out there, including waist packs, frame bags and mini-packs. Here Antony takes us through four different frame bags. Over to Antony!
Frame bags have been around since the dawn of mountain biking, when a colourful isosceles triangle of pressed steel multifunction wrenches and loose jangling Allen keys were as essential as bar ends or toe clips. And again, like waist packs, they underwent a period in the wilderness, before long-distance off-road riders started to look for alternatives to racks and panniers, and bikepacking became a buzzword.
The frame bags in our test have all come from the bikepacking world, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t use them for everyday rides too.
Keeping weight lower down, riding completely free of bodily encumbrances (unless your beer belly counts), and being able to strap a specific set of kit to a specific bike are all good reasons to consider frame-based storage. Long-distance riders will also appreciate them – if you need to eat on the move, it’s much easier to reach in front of you than behind.
For these bags, it’s assumed that your bike will be sporting a cage and water bottle too, although some of them also have on-board hydration potential.
Winner – Alpkit Possum
- Price: £60.00 – £70.00
- From: Alpkit
If you’re into bikepacking, and you’re from the UK, you’ll almost certainly have heard of Alpkit. The British brand was one of the first to offer a full set of soft luggage, and it is still a go-to for many aspiring adventurers looking for good value, bombproof kit.
The Possum is one of a range of frame bags made by Alpkit, and it’s the plain vanilla flavour in a range that also includes bags specifically designed for fat bikes, or even full custom options. With the exception of the waterproof, welded seam Rando range, all Alpkit’s bags are made in the UK at their factory near Nottingham, and the Possum is available in loads of different colours, and long, medium and short sizes.
The Possum takes a less-is-more approach, with a slim shape, and a capacity that varies slightly depending on what size you have, but is probably just a couple of litres. There are two compartments – the main one, accessed via a zip on the left-hand side, and a thinner one on the right-hand side for wallet, map or phone. With no other internal organisers, you’ll have to use a tool roll to keep all your bits from jangling, but with frame packs this comes with the territory.
Despite its slender dimensions, the medium Possum held a small tool kit, pump, food and packable jacket. There’s no chance of cramming a water bottle in there, but it shouldn’t be an issue if your frame has bottle mounts, as the pack takes up a relatively small amount of room in your front triangle, and is cleverly tapered to let you retrieve your drinking vessel from under it, even if you don’t have a side-loading bottle cage.
The pack is mostly made from Dimension-Polyant VX21, a high-tech fabric with a diamond-patterned reinforcing grid. The material is tough, waterproof, and has very little stretch, making it perfect for a bag that’ll spend much of its life between your knees.
Attachment to your frame continues the simple, minimalist theme. The bag is supplied with a single roll of Velcro One-Wrap®, which can be cut into short lengths. A loop of daisy chain webbing runs around the perimeter of the bag, giving you multiple possible attachment points, as well as adding a bit more abrasion resistance to the edges that will be in contact with your frame. You get a generous amount of Velcro, which also gives you some spare for when you inevitably lose a piece. The latest incarnation of this hook-and-loop wonder material is much less prone to filling up with fluff or mud, and should keep working quite happily unless you subject it to indescribable filth. Plus if one of the straps should lose all adhesion, it’s easy to replace it.
For a minimalist bit of kit, the Possum still manages to pack in a few clever details. The waterproof zips have large U-shaped pulls that are easy to yank, even with winter gloves on, and neat rubber zip garages. The Alpkit logo on the side of the bag is printed in reflective Scotchlite. There’s a key clip inside the main pocket, and a cable port in the top for a light battery, or charging your GPS unit from a power pack. It might even work for hydration, if you used a soft flask with a drinking tube.
In use the Possum just hangs in there, holding your stuff, until you need it. It’s easy to reach down and grab something out of the side pocket while you’re riding along, making it ideal for non-stop riders who need to keep stuffing the food in. It’s also very weatherproof – about as much so as you can get for a bag with stitched construction. Full immersion is likely to flummox it, but it’ll shrug off most mud and rain.
Some frame bags try to maximise storage at the expense of usability, but the Possum avoids these pitfalls. It holds its shape extremely well and doesn’t bulge out to rub your knees, no matter what you stuff in there. It plays well with a bottle cage, even on a small-ish 26er frame. Its versatile mounting system means you won’t have problems with straps rubbing on cable mounts or the like. It measures bang on its claimed 46cm length.
And it’s made right here in the UK. If you want a minimalist frame pack that will sit on your hardtail or your cross-country bike without bothering you until you need to use it, you couldn’t do much better than this.
We Also Tested…
Blackburn Outpost Frame Bag
- Price: £44.99 – £59.99
- From: ZyroFisher
Available in three sizes, the Outpost aims to be two pieces of luggage in one: unzip the concertina section at the bottom, and the top tube bag expands into a full frame pack. Made from tough black water-resistant nylon, it’s shorter than other bags, and a lot deeper. As a result it doesn’t play well with bottle cages, unless you’re riding a very roomy frame with a side access cage.
The interior is very roomy even before you’ve expanded it, and is compatible with a hydration bladder. Sadly the Outpost doesn’t seem very waterproof, and even a short splashy ride was enough to get the contents wet. The Outpost is a neat idea but let down by its execution, and its tendency to take on water.
Ortlieb Frame-Pack Toptube
- Price: £89.99
- From: Lyon Equipment
Here, Ortlieb has picked a much lighter material than many frame bags, and gone minimalist on the design too, with just a single compartment.
The pack is stable and easy to access, but thin and flexible so needs careful packing. A light load rattles around inside the single unpadded pocket, while filling it to capacity tends to turn it into a knee-bothering sausage.
It’s a neat piece of minimalist luggage, looks great, and comes with the reassurance of a five-year warranty. However, a stiffer construction and some internal pockets would make this bag a lot more usable for everyday rides and we’d gladly accept the small weight penalty.
- Price: £99.99
- From: Back Country
Alaskan brand Revelate Designs was making soft luggage for bikepacking back when it was only a gleam in a marketing man’s eye. The Tangle was the most full featured of all the frame bags on test, with built-in loops to take a full-size pump and hydration bladder compatibility.
It holds a huge amount, but tends to bulge in a knee-troubling fashion unless carefully packed. It’s also at the weighty end of the spectrum, although given that its intended user will probably be carrying enough food and water for a two-week desert crossing, its chunkiness and capacity are understandable. A great pack, but not the perfect one to leave on your bike all year round.
This article was originally featured in Singletrack Magazine. Keen to read more? Then make sure you check out all the stories and reviews in Issue #118 right here!
|Brand:||Alpkit, Blackburn, Ortilieb, Revelate|
|Product:||Possum, Outpost, Frame-Pack, Tangle|
|Price:||£44.99 - £99.99|
|Tested:||by Antony for 2 months|
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