If you’re into backpacking and mountain biking, you need to check out bikepacking. Like, right now. Go ahead. I’ll wait. In that post, I talk about ways to get yourself into the woods with gear you may already have or can buy cheaply – dry bags, backpack straps, etc. But, let’s say you want to step it up and dive in to bikepacking with a few real, purpose-made bikepacking bags. More than a few companies make them, but only a select few have unique features that make them special. Defiant Pack is unique in that they do not use zippers anywhere on their bags, eliminating a big failure point. They also use a unique fitting process that saves you some time and effort. Bottom line – I can recommend buying bikepacking bags from Defiant Pack.
Who are Defiant Pack?
Defiant Pack took a rather unique path to enter the bikepacking business. A lot of bikepacking bag companies arose organically – someone wanted to go bikepacking and started sewing their own bags, then bags for friends, and then someone suggested they start a business. Defiant, on the other hand, was started by the folks at UpSki Wind Mountaineering. What in the world is wind mountaineering? It’s using a parachute-like kite and harness to ski uphill via wind power. I’m simultaneously impressed and terrified by it.
Did I give you the impression that Defiant had a strange path to its beginning? Sorry – they totally started sewing bike bags for themselves and then their friends. But, the skiing background is visible in Defiant Pack’s product line – they’re the only bikepacking bag maker (that I know of) who list a ski-carry system on their website. You can ride your fat bike to the trailhead with up to 120mm skis securely strapped to your frame. So, that’s cool.
Since 2012, Defiant – Kevin and Geoff, and then Megan and Garrett – have been sewing up bikepacking bags for folks who like riding into the backcountry. They currently make the usual seat, handlebar, feed, top tube, and custom frame bags along with cargo bags for bikes like Surly’s Big Dummy and the Gunslinger ski-carry.
Review: Defiant Pack Bikepacking Bags
Defiant Pack created a custom frame pack for my Stooge bike and sent along a Pearl Pass medium seatbag and McClure handlebar harness for review. The bag bodies are made of VX21 fabric with ballistic fabric reinforcements to high wear areas like the seatpost interface on the seatbag. All of the bags are well-sewn and constructed. Let’s get into each one, below…
Defiant Custom Zipperless Frame Bags
One of the unique qualities of Defiant’s frame bags is their zipperless design. While they’re not the only zipperless bags out there, they are the only ones that utilize a single flap closure that straps over the top tube for easy access even while riding. Why go zipperless in the first place? Zippers are usually the weakest point on a bag, prone to failure before anything else. Imagine being in the middle of a trip and having your zipper explode. You wouldn’t be able to close your bag and the side of the bag would now stick out and interfere with your pedal stroke. Zipperless bags don’t have this potential issue. Worried about the flap preventing a top tube or Jerry Can bag from strapping on? Don’t – Defiant will ask you if you plan on using either and design the flap length accordingly.
Another unique detail about Defiant’s frame bags is the method by which Defiant figures out proper dimensions for the bags. If you think about it, every bike frame has a unique space inside of the main triangle. A Trek will have different geometry than a Specialized, which will have different geometry than a Santa Cruz, and so on. Some companies just make a few standard sizes and suggest the one that will most closely fit your frame based on some measurements. These bags work, but don’t completely fill the frame, leaving useless space. Most custom bag manufacturers ask that you send them a diagram of your frame. This means you have to find paper large enough to draw your main triangle and you also have to be pretty accurate in measuring your tubes and angles and locating cable and water bottle bosses.
Defiant, on the other hand, asks that you send them a photo of your frame with a measuring tape in the picture. They look at the photo and figure out the dimensions and angles of your frame and location of bosses. Because my Stooge has a somewhat unusual dual top tube, I also sent them photos and dimensions of the top tubes. The result was an impressive fit that took almost no effort on my end. I most likely would have screwed up the drawing. Photos, I can take.
So fit is good. What about features? For the most part, the bag is a simple affair. The bag attaches with sturdy, velcro straps. It also screws into the frame’s water bottle bosses. It has a large, main pocket with a buckle in the center for structure. Under the flap, there’s a secondary pocket for small items like maps, phones, or tools. The divider between the two pockets is orange, which helps with visibility. There’s a port at the head tube to run lighting wires or a bladder hose. Otherwise, it’s just a big, empty space to hold things. I filled mine with food and tools. Defiant custom frame bags start at $170.
Pearl Pass Seat Bag
Defiant’s Pearl Pass seat bag comes in three sizes. The one you pick will depend upon your volume requirements and how much distance you have between your rear tire and saddle. The medium I tested is a cavernous bag that swallows at least 11 liters of gear. At nine inches stuffed, it was also almost too big – it rubs on my tire when fully loaded, but I think that’s because my frame has about 1/2″ of vertical flex in it. No worries, though! The small Pearl Pass only extends six inches under your seat, for those with less clearance. And if you’re really pressed for space but need to carry some gear, the XS Pearl Pass is contoured to slip into the smallest spaces.
Each Pearl Pass bag uses a roll top closure to seal out some of the environment. The roll top is held closed with a pair of side-release buckles than also act as lengthwise compression straps. Another strap goes from bottom to top over the end of the bag to secure it even more. (I also used that strap to hold a rear light.) The bag attaches to the seatpost with one (XS and small) or two (medium) burly, velcro straps. Rubberized ballistic nylon adds some friction to keep the bag from moving against the seatpost. A pair of camlock straps hold the bag to the underside of the saddle. These straps also attach to a plastic “skidplate” under the bag. The whole thing adds some serious structure and locks your gear in place. I never felt the bag move while riding with it.
I was able to stuff all of my clothes, my sleeping pad, tent, and stove into the Pearl Pass. I also strapped my camp shoes and helmet to the top of the bag. That’s a lot of gear! It rode well (other than some rub from frame flex). VX21 is waterproof, but the seams are not sealed. Even so, the bag kept my gear dry in a pretty torrential downpour.
When it comes to seat bags, the harness is what really matters. A bag is a bag, but if the harness doesn’t keep it from shifting and swaying as you ride, it becomes a liability. Defiant put together a great harness that holds everything tightly. That’s a winner in my book. Defiant’s Pearl Pass bags list for $130 for XS, $125 for small, and $125 for medium, though you can select special fabrics for a small premium.
McClure Handlebar Harness
Immediately upon looking at Defiant’s McClure handlebar harness, you notice the difference. Where most harness systems use webbing straps with side-release buckles, Defiant designed their system to use giant, bomb-proof Voile straps. Anything you can fit into the harness will stay there thanks to these straps. Plastic buckles can fail; webbing can fray; Voile straps, as far as I know, could be used as heat shielding on the space shuttle. Again, Defiant demonstrates their hatred of failure points and designs a system that will survive the apocalypse.
Space is limited less by the strap length and more by the distance between your handlebars and front tire. My homemade cuben dry bag is about 8″ in diameter and did not come close to the limits of the harness. A pack raft would strap on without issue, including the paddle. I jammed my tent poles and rain gear in under the straps.
The McClure harness attaches at four points with the Voile straps going over the handlebars for backup. Two heavy duty velcro straps wrap around the head tube and another two encapsulate the handlebars. When everything is strapped in, nothing moves. There’s no interference with feed bags and the strapping system is versatile enough that it will work around your cables.
Defiant makes an optional front bag that buckles to a pair of side release buckles at the top of the harness. Again, Defiant uses a roll top closure to prevent failure issues. The front bag is great for small items that might need to be accessed frequently. I chose not to get one and, frankly, I regret it. The McClure harness lists for $50 alone and $125 with the front bag.
Whether it’s their background in wind mountaineering or a natural ability to think outside the box, Defiant Pack is obviously not constrained by standard thinking when it comes to designing bikepacking bags. They work hard to eliminate possible failure points, which is important when you’re on self-supported journeys. They’re also great to work with and responsive to questions as they put your bags together.
Yes, you’ll be dropping $420 on the three main bags. Yes, you can get most of the function of the seat bag and handlebar harness by using a pair of drybags with webbing straps on each (though you can’t really replace a frame bag with a rigged setup). But the benefit of buying from Defiant (or anyone else) is stability and bomb-proof-ness. These bags will last you a long, long time.
Seat bags, handlebar harnesses, feed bags, and top tube bags are standard and usually in stock. Frame bags are all custom made for your frame and Defiant suggests a two-week lead time. Get them all directly from Defiant.
Disclosure – Defiant offered me an ambassadorship as a part of the deal to write up these products. The arrangement did not include any requirements for a positive review. All of the opinions are my own.