So racing is starting up again, and you’re trying to pack for a bike trip for the first time in 2 years… and suddenly, you’ve completely forgotten how to organize your gear bag. Here, we’re talking about how we pack for most of our cycling and running trips, and what bag system we use. It’s a moving target, for sure, but it doesn’t have to be super pricey!
Think through use cases
We’re trying to cut down on how much gear we have, so most of our stuff should do double duty. That means our bags will likely need to work for flights, van trips, running, cycling, and for both of us to use interchangeably. This also means thinking about what other bags you might be using with this bag… for instance, a lot of people assume roller bags/duffels are ideal, but if you’re already going to be dragging a bike bag on wheels behind you, a second rolling suitcase will be hard to manage, but a backpack will be fairly easy. Flip side, if you use a backpack as your carryon on flights and you’re a runner, a suitcase with a roller might be ideal. And of course, if you’re flying a lot and prefer not to have a checked bag, make sure a structured bag matches carry on requirements if that’s important for you. (PSA: Helmets always should be in carryons or in hardshell bike cases, never in a soft checked bag!!)
Get a BIG Bag
We like starting with a bag that doesn’t have much to it: A cheap, sturdy canvas bag is great. This one is similar to what we have and it’s under $30! We aren’t looking for pockets, or for a super streamlined size. We want more interior space so it’s not getting overstuffed, and so we can fit everything we need for a week or a month (or 5 months) away into it. The thing you want to avoid is a crammed bag that explodes when you unzip it, especially if you’re living out of that bag!
Why do we hate pockets?
We’ve had gear bags over the years that were designed for specific sports and had a billion little pockets and spaces for certain gear and we ended up really not liking them. The reason is three-fold:
- Pockets for specific sports (i.e a triathlon-focused suitcase) mean that if you try to use it for something else (i.e cyclocross), you’ll end up with weird unused spots.
- You can’t cram the bag as full (which can be an issue as you’re trying to get home from an event where you got some new gear)
- Pockets actually make it harder to organize if you’re unpacking. We often stay places for a week or two, so that means when we get there, we like to take stuff out of our bags and organize it on shelves/drawers or even just neatly on the floor. Doing this when your bag is the thing organizing your stuff = mess everywhere.
Prefer Some Structure / Need Easier Carrying?
There is a middle ground. If you want something a bit more pocket-heavy and frankly, nice looking (especially if you fly a lot and you know the bag will be putting up with a lot of slamming around in cargo holds) or you need something with backpack straps for easier carrying (again, key for airports), I really like the Osprey Transporter bag (the biggest one they offer). I’ve had mine for a couple years and found it has a shocking amount of space, it’s actually pretty comfortable as a backpack, and it doesn’t have a ton of pockets that take up more space / make organizing weirdly difficult.
Go Mesh for Inside
We like to use satchels inside the bag itself to organize our stuff. For instance, I’ll have mesh bags holding:
- socks / underwear / sports bras
- casual pants
- casual shirts
- running tights/shorts
- running tops
- outerwear (gloves/hat/jacket/vest)
- accessories (glasses, heart rate straps, etc.)
I love this because I can pull these bags out and spread my stuff out, while still keeping it contained. It’s great for camps where you don’t want your bag constantly exploding into the room, but you also don’t feel like perfectly arranging it every time you dig for something.
Mesh bags are pretty inexpensive, and I like getting a set with different sizes so you can use them exactly according to your needs. You don’t need to get precious about color, though if that helps you organize them better (i.e red is running tops, green is casual tops, and so on), go for it.
I also like to use one of these bags that has straps as a bag for something, so that if I need a random backpack during a trip, I can just empty it and use it. Or I’ll bring this bag empty and use it as a laundry bag or a backpack.
Bonus tip: Travel day bag
For driving trips/multi-day travel situations to get to a destination, I like to have a satchel that just has the clothes and toiletries I need for that trip, rather than lugging my entire duffel into a hotel with me. We did this on the way to and from my last race, and it was super helpful for speedy hotel ins-and-outs, which are key for us with a dog, his crate, and usually a cooler of food that needs to come in as well. The less you have to haul in, the better!
Before you go, check out our book, Becoming A Consummate Athlete, right here: