It’s not always easy to figure out what to bring with you on a ride. When my friends and I started riding, we carried everything. I still remember the first mountain bike ride we did on our own without any grownups. We brought extra layers, spare socks, an army-issue sterno stove, MREs, several spare tubes, all kinds of tools, tons of first aid, way more water than we needed, a tarp, and a giant Motorola “Zack Morris” phone to call home if the survival skills we learned in Boy Scouts failed us.
Halfway through that ride, a thunderstorm came upon us and a downpour ensued, so we did what any 12-year-olds would do: the three of us deployed the tarp, took shelter, and prepared a warm meal while we waited for the rain to subside. We had everything we needed to hunker down and sit out the storm. It was a true survival moment.
Though we didn’t actually need any of it. This was in northern New Jersey. We were probably within shouting distance of some Upper Saddle River yuppie’s back yard. Dan’s mom would be waiting with the two tone Ford Aerostar in the parking lot no more than a couple miles from where we were, and we could practically smell the Whoppers cooking at the BK down the street.
I’ve always had a tendency to be overprepared, but it’s come in handy time and time again. Still, my kit has been slightly pared down since that first ride. The MREs have been replaced by gels and blocks, and I no longer carry a shelter for daily rides—though you have to admit that sitting out a storm under cover with a warm meal is pretty dang luxurious.
Seriously though, it’s not always obvious what to bring along with you on rides, and it certainly depends on the circumstances. You want to be prepared for mishaps, but you also don’t want to weigh yourself down with unnecessary stuff—a lesson I’ve learned the hard way. It can be tough to justify bringing certain items, and just as tough justifying not bringing others.
If you truly are prepared, many of the things you carry around with you won’t get used very frequently, or ever, which can over time make you rethink lugging them around everywhere.
For example, after years of not using an innertube one single time to fix a flat (thanks to tire plugs), I started toying with the idea of eliminating the spare tube from my kit. It was bulky, and I had another plan. I added a needle and thread to my kit instead. It takes up zero space and weighs nothing, but can fix the thing that I’d most likely be using a tube for: a slash too big for plugs to seal. It was an easy addition, a huge reduction in bulk, and I actually rode for years with this setup before needing it. You can read all about that scenario here.
I’ve since begun to reconsider the choice of not carrying a tube, mostly because I moved to place with a lot more sharp rocks than my previous spot.
Then, there are the things you just don’t think about needing until something happens out on the trail. Like this one time, someone’s brake caliper came loose and by the time they figured out where the terrible rattle was coming from, one of the caliper bolts was gone. After that incident, I added some varying length caliper bolts to my kit. Of course, since that day I’ve never needed one, but the upside of having them outweighs the cost of carrying them.
My riding kit has changed and evolved over the years based on what’s breaking, what my priorities are, where I’m riding, and what I’m wearing. Yeah, I hate to say it, but this trend where riding with a backpack has become uncool has influenced me. I now wear a hip pack, although that’s also become uncool—now you’re supposed to ride with nothing on your back at all, apparently. Not me, I can only go so far in this race to be the least prepared.
I can fit most of what I need for most rides in my bum bag. Right now, I use the Bontrager Rapid Pack Hydro without the hydration bladder. It fits everything I’ll be talking about in this kit, with room left over for more food, a jacket, and some other bits and bobs.
Overall, the kit I carry now goes a long way while taking up very little space. Everything in this kit I bring with me on every single ride no matter what, with the exception of the water filter. That only gets thrown in if the ride will be more than a few hours or if I can only carry one bottle.
My absolute favorite everyday carry multi tool is the Fix-it-Sticks. I have several pairs of these things that I keep all over the place. One set even lives in my travel toiletries bag. I don’t use any of Fix-it-Stick’s kits, instead I crafted my own bit holder by cutting a long rubber bit holder in half and wire-tying the two halves together. I did this because I like carrying more bits than what any of their kits will hold. With this setup, I can carry 20 bits total, in an extremely compact footprint. I don’t use a case for the tool because that would add bulk, plus the Rapid Pack has a perfectly-sized pocket for the sticks and bits. The tool is infinitely customizable, so you can carry just the bits that you need for your bike. Fix-it-Sticks even makes some cool bike-specific bit add-ons, like a tire lever and chain breaker.
I’d probably have their chain breaker if I didn’t already have this old Pedro’s one from who knows how long ago. Amazingly, they actually still make it. It came with a little 5mm/flathead tool, but I already have those tools covered so I stripped it down. I like this chain breaker because it’s small but tough, and it has spoke wrenches built in. I’ve never ever needed them, but now that I’ve said that I probably will.
The Knipex Pliers Wrench is one of the best, most useful tools in the world, and that’s not an exaggeration. When I found out they make one in a tiny 125mm length, I immediately clicked the buy button. The tool is flat and easy to carry, and replaces an entire set of wrenches all the way up to 23mm. The mini Pliers Wrench has become an essential part of my tool kit and I break it out for all kinds of things. The other day I used it to bend a brake lever blade, and a half hour later to pull cactus needles out of my arm.
Right now I’m also carrying a standalone 12mm socket to adjust the high speed compression on my EXT Storia shock. I don’t have to, because the Pliers Wrench will do the job, but I do anyway for some reason. I also have one of Fox’s little tools for the DHX2 and Float X2 because they’re on a bunch of the bikes I test. It’s also redundant since I already carry 6mm and 3mm hex bits, but it’s easy to carry and simpler to use than pulling out the Fix-it-Sticks for a couple damper clicks.
Flat Repair, Etc
I don’t normally carry a tire pump because the ones that are small enough to fit into my bum bag take forever to pump a tire. To be honest, I still carry CO2 even when I have a full size pack because they’re just way too convenient. I’ve hand pumped enough tires in my lifetime, and I’ll be happy if I never need to again. And for anyone thinking about bringing up the environmental impact of CO2 cartridges or whatever, just go ahead and take a minute to think about your carbon footprint. I’m sick and tired of carbon-bike-riding, meat-eating, overland van-drivers snubbing their noses saying, “well I don’t use CO2 because it’s wasteful.” Ok, go get another to 16-ounce pour-over to-go from Verve Coffee and another side of bacon, Taylor.
Anyway, I carry three of the 25g ones to make sure I have plenty of air. Combined, they still take up less room than any hand pump worth a damn.
The pump I do carry is a shock pump. It’s this tiny one that a tool company called Birzman used to make. It has no gauge and is so small that it’ll actually comfortably fit in the side pocket of my shorts. Unfortunately they don’t make it anymore, and nobody else seems to realize that you really don’t need a gauge on a trail shock pump. But, the Lezyne digital shock drive, is what I’ll probably go with if the Birzman ever gives up. Wrapped around the shock pump is some Gorilla tape, and I also carry a patch kit just in case, because there’s really no reason not to.
One of the most important things in my pack are the tire plugs. Right now, I have a couple sets: my trusted Genuine Innovations kit, which also carries the aforementioned sewing kit, and a Dynaplug one because they just sent it to me and I’m keen to see what all the hype is about. I also carry a spare tubeless valve because I’ve seen whole valves break in half, Presta and Schrader valve cores (the Schrader is for suspension), this cool vintage Schrader core tool that’s built into an old steel valve cap (the Knipex tool does Presta cores), and a Presta adapter. Always carry one of those. I carry one specifically so that I can convert my tiny shock pump to a super emergency tire pump just in case all my CO2s get depleted. The polar bears might not survive my extreme wastefulness, but at least I have a backup plan for getting air into my tire.
The Nuts & Bolts
I have a tiny little stuff sack that keeps the smattering of hardware and small bits that I carry in my pack. I won’t go over every single thing here, but will cover some highlights.
I carry a spare set of SPD cleats and bolts. I suppose I could just carry one cleat since I’ve never actually seen someone lose both. But, like I said, I like being over-prepared. If I use one and forget to re-supply my kit after the ride, I’ve already got another one ready to go.
Rotor bolts aren’t too terribly important because it’s not the end of the world if you are missing a couple. I ran three instead of six for years, which was stupid, but did prove to me that going without one for a ride is fine. You can actually treat them as spare bolts that are already on your bike—I’ve definitely robbed rotor bolts to use elsewhere, like to re-attach a water bottle cage for instance.
There’s a b-tension bolt in my kit, because I’ve seen those disappear. SRAM derailleurs use a plastic insert for the b-tension screw that can also come out. I don’t seem to have one of those in my kit right now because I must have used it. I’ll have to get another. SRAM sells derailleur bolt kits that are an easy addition to a kit. Sure, you can probably still ride with a missing tension or limit screw, but having one to put in will just fix the problem then and there so you can continue shredding instead of needing to limp through the rest of the ride. The power one tiny bolt can have over your ride is crazy. Don’t let a stupid M3 fastener dictate your day!
I carry multiple quick links because I ride different bikes, and because I like helping other people out, too. I still carry a 10-speed link for such occasions. The 9-speed one actually went on a stranger’s bike a couple years ago and I never replenished it.
For brake stuff, I carry a cotter pin instead of a pad retention bolt because it’ll fit in any brake. I added a barb, olive and compression nut to the kit for a bikepacking trip I went on a few years ago, and just left it in because they’re tiny and could really come in handy. But, I don’t carry brake fluid on the regular (just when bikepacking) so I suppose the circumstances would have to be just right for these things to save the day. I have heard of people using other liquids for brake fluid in a pinch, but I’ve never experimented with that.
I usually have a smattering of brake pads in my kit as well, but I seem to have misplaced that bag. I usually have SRAM, Shimano, and Magura pads because I regularly ride bikes with those brands. My new bike has TRPs, so I’ll have to add a set of those to the kit too—it’s always evolving.
I carry a shifter cable, a housing ferrule, and cable tips with me as well. I’ve definitely needed to use a shift cable in the past, but it’s become very rare these days. I don’t carry any means to cut a cable or housing, and don’t see a huge reason to. On bikepacking trips, I’ve been known to carry cable cutters and a spare length of housing, but even then it’s probably overkill. Just run Shimano cables and housing on your bike, perform regular maintenance, and you won’t need to worry about it failing in the field.
Derailleur hangers used to be a must-have item, but I haven’t seen one break in a very long time. Still, it’s not a bad idea to have one. I don’t have one in this kit, but most of the bikes I ride now use a SRAM UDH, so I should probably throw one of those in. As I write this, I’m traveling in Central America, and I do have a spare UDH in my bike case. Perhaps I’ll throw it in the bum bag for Justin. You know, Justin Case.
Chain lube, water treatment tabs, AXS battery, cash, and a gel shot. These things are always in my bag. The gel is usually expired because I just have it for a last ditch bit of energy in. I generally eat real food on rides, but I keep a caffeine-infused gel for the times I just need that extra push to get home. The water tabs are still sealed in the packet, but have been ground into powder over time. Faster acting I suppose. I keep them around just in case the water I’m filtering is extra dirty (or I’ve forgotten the filter altogether).
I also carry a knife on rides because my Benchmade Mini Crooked River comes with me everywhere I go no matter what—on and off the bike.
Finally, there’s the MSR Trail Shot filter. I really like the packability, speed, and convenience of this filter but it’s still too bulky to carry all the time. It gets added just in certain situations. Like, I’m riding my e-bike with the range extender battery in the bottle cage, so I can only carry one bottle—and there’s a water source on the ride I’m doing. Hopefully somewhere close to the middle. In places where there are streams everywhere, this is a great way to make one bottle last forever.
Oh, and one thing I should mention that I keep in my duffel bag (yes, I have a riding go-bag) is a headlight. There are many very packable high-lumen lights out there now. The one I like right now is the Light and Motion Vis 360 Pro Plus because it goes on any helmet, any helmet-less head, is bright enough with a great beam pattern, and has a rear blinkey light build right into the unit for when you find yourself riding the road home in the dark.
At this moment in time, I have zero first-aid supplies in my kit. I used to be very diligent about this and had a nicely-equipped little first aid unit, but it got ditched when I went from carrying a backpack to a bum bag. It’s something I need to get back on top of, because carrying at least a few key items could be literally be lifesaving. I can do some things with the Gorilla tape, make a tourniquet in several ways, make splints out of things that are my kit or in the woods, but I’m missing key items, like antihistamines, pain killers, hemostatic agent an EpiPen, and super glue.
Again, this kit is basically the stuff I always have with me. It’s the minimum. Things get added for different types of rides, varying weather conditions, or even different terrain, but nothing gets removed, even if it’s just an hour-long ride close to home. I’d rather spend 20-minutes on the side of the trail fixing something than 20-minutes walking my bike. If I’m doing a long ride in the desert with unknown water sources, I might swap everything to a backpack with a 3-liter bladder. If I’m in the alpine, I’ll almost always have a jacket because the weather can change fast up there.
Bikes can bring us deeper into the wilderness faster than we sometimes realize. It might only have taken you 40 minutes to ride to where you are, but that could be 2 hours of walking. Carrying the things you need, and equipping yourself with the knowhow to make repairs on the trail could not only be the difference between a hiccup and a ride ruiner, it can save you from getting yourself into dangerous situations like being caught out in the dark.
Here’s a list of everything that’s in these photos:
- MSR Trail Shot water filter
- Schwalbe Aerothan tube
- Tire plugs – needle and thread
- CO2 and filler
- Patch Kit
- AXS Battery
- Chain tool
- Mini Knipex Pliers Wrench
- Fix-it-Sticks and accompanying ¼” hex bits
- 1.5mm Allen key
- Birzman mini shock pump
- Gorrilla tape
- Chain lube
- 12mm socket for EXT shock adj – pliers wrench works for this too
- Energy gel
- Water purifying tablets
- Benchmade Mini Crooked River knife
- Shift cable
- Presta adaptor
- Valve cores, presta and schrader
- Schrader valve core remover
- Zip Ties
- Housing ferrules
- Cable tips
- Barb, olive, compression nut
- Pedal cleats and bolts
- Brake adaptor bolts of different lengths.
- Cotter pin
- Rotor bolts
- SRAM Matchmaker bolt
- Various M2, M3, M4,M 5, M6 bolts
- Shimano brake bleed port bolt
- Dropper post cable barrel
- Quick Links – 10, 11, 12s
- Misc washers