What’s in Your Pack? Essential Items for a Mountain Bike Ride

Shred Sisters Course in Canmore

If you’re just learning the ups and downs of mountain biking, you might be more concerned with the ground beneath your tires rather than what’s riding on your back. But taking the time to pack some essential items could mean the difference between a carefree afternoon, and the ride from hell.

Here are some tips on what to bring on a mountain bike ride whether you’re heading out for an hour or a full day epic adventure.

Where Do I Start?

To fill a pack, you need to own a pack. Buy a backpack that is comfortable to wear and is an appropriate size for the type of riding you’re going to be doing. If you’re mostly riding on city trails, don’t get something the size of a small child. Alternatively, don’t buy a pack that only has room to carry a water bottle if you’re planning on riding in the backcountry.

I ride with an Osprey Raven 14L pack which has tons of pockets, fits all my gear, has a hydration bladder and, most importantly, I forget I’m wearing it most of the time. There are lots of packs out there so go to your local bike shop, try some on, and find which one is best for you.

The Non-Negotiables

These are items you should have with you every time you hop on your trusty steed. They will dramatically increase your safety factor, which is directly related to your fun factor. It’s basic science.

  • Helmet: No complaining about how you don’t look cool or any of that crap. If you fall off your bike, it could save your life.
  • Gloves: How do you feel about picking thorns out of your hands after falling in the bushes? Not great? Wear gloves.
  • Glasses: Cruising on your mountain bike is super fun, but getting a tree branch in the eye is not.
  • Good Shoes: Grippy bike shoes work the best. They help you stick to your pedals giving you more control on your bike. If you don’t have bike-specific shoes, wear something with a thick rubber sole that is comfortable to ride in. If you plan on riding clipless (which actually means you’re clipped into the bike), switch to those as soon as possible so you can get used to them.

Ok, Ok, But What Goes in My Pack?

So just what the heck goes in that pretty new backpack of yours?

  • Water: You’re not a camel, bring yourself something to drink. Do yourself a favour and invest in a pack with a hydration bladder. It’s faster and easier while you’re out on the trail.
  • Snacks: Riding makes you hungry. Bring some food to help ease the munchies and avoid the dreaded “bonk”. Granola bars, hard-boiled eggs, protein bars, trail mix, and energy gels are all great choices.
  • Bicycle Pump: This is essential if you’re fixing a flat tire or need to pump up the volume a bit. There are lots of varieties so get something that is easy to use and fits the type of tire valve you have.
  • Spare Tube: If you flat on the trail, an extra one of these will make your life much easier. Check the size that’s already in your tire and get an extra. Leave it in your pack so you have it when you need it.
  • Tire Levers: Once again, these are incredibly useful if you’re changing a flat. Are you noticing a trend yet for the most likely issue to happen on the trail? Tire levers are cheap and will save you from having a meltdown if you can’t get your tire back on the rim. Be sure to get the wider ones which work better on mountain bike tires.
  • Multi-Tool: Investing in a good multi-tool will help you make minor adjustments on the trail. In addition, some tires do not have a quick-release lever and need to be removed using a multi-tool. It can also be helpful if you have a bent or broken link in your chain, so get one with a chain breaker.
  • Master Links or Quick-Release Links: These are extra links for your chain if it breaks or gets bent. They’re cheap and small so get a couple and tuck them away in a pouch in your pack. I would also suggest learning how to use them and the chain breaker on your multi-tool.
  • Duct Tape: Duct tape is the universal problem solver. Wrap a few pieces around your tire pump and you’re good to go.
  • Trail Map: Is there a trail map available for the area you’re going to? Bring it along just in case. Downloading the Trailforks App is a good idea too. You can download the trails of the area beforehand and use GPS to show your location on the trail.
  • Cell Phone: For emergencies and that inevitable bike selfie.
  • Car/House Keys: You will only forget these once. Possibly twice.
  • Money/Identification: A little bit of cash means you can stop for an ice cream on the way home.
  • Extras: Anything that might make your ride a bit more enjoyable or safer if you’re out for extended periods of time. These include:
  • First Aid Kit: You can pick up a small one pretty much anywhere.
  • Headlamp: This is a good idea if you’re in an unfamiliar area and you might get caught out after dark. Night riding is fun but not if you can’t see where you’re going.
  • Rain Jacket: Heading out into questionable weather? Might be a good idea to bring something along to help protect you from the elements.
  • Sunscreen: If you’re delicate like me, you burn incredibly easily. Slather some on before you go or bring it with you.
  • Bear Spray/Air Horn/Bear Bangers: Making noise on the trail is the best animal deterrent, but having one of these along as a back up is also a good idea if you’re heading into the forest.


Most of these items can stay in your pack at all times so they’re there when you need them. Of course you can adjust things as needed depending on the type of riding you’re doing. It might seem like a lot of stuff, but you’ll be kicking yourself if you need something and don’t have it.

Think I missed something? Leave a comment, I would love to hear what you have to say!

Happy Riding!


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