What’s on Kurt Refsnider’s Bike? How to Pack for Self-Reliance in the Backcountry


What’s on Kurt Refsnider’s Bike? How to Pack for Self-Reliance in the Backcountry

Members of our editorial team have shared multiple looks into “essential ride kits” this year, including one from John and another by Travis. Today, Kurt Refsnider – ultra-endurance bikepacker and backcountry trail adventurer – takes a different approach to detailing what he carries on big rides where his priority is self-reliance regardless of the scenario. Read on below for a trove of helpful information about one of Kurt’s most requested topics!

Many of my favorite rides this past year have been so memorable because they were committing endeavors that took me well away from oft-traveled trails and deep into terrain that was relatively (or completely) unfamiliar to me. I didn’t know if the trails or 4×4 tracks would be reasonably rideable or exceedingly slow, or even if I’d be able to manage how much adventure I bit off. And many of these rides were in remote areas where it was likely I might not encounter anyone else along the way.

On one multi-day trip on dirt roads through central Nevada, I saw just one hunter and one rancher. On a 75-mile singletrack ride in Montana, I saw only a pair of hikers on the trail. And on a recent 15-hour backcountry epic that started just a 30-minute drive from my house in central Arizona, I didn’t encounter a single person.

Self-reliance on rides like these is the name of the game. The mood of the day can change as quickly as the weather in the mountains – a modest crash or a challenging mechanical can suddenly leave one in a legitimately dangerous situation. The same can happen on rides in far less remote areas, even just a few miles from a trailhead or town if riders aren’t reasonably prepared. But what does being “reasonably prepared” look like, especially for backcountry adventures? It’s a combination of planning, gear, and skills. The more remote a ride, the more important these all become.

I get asked about this frequently, so below is a run-down of what I carry on adventurous rides to set myself up to have the best chance of having a memorably great ride rather than a memorably disastrous one – and all this applies to anything from half-day rides on remote backroads to multi-day backcountry singletrack epics. But I’d be remiss to not mention some of the important planning steps and skills that are arguably more important than any gear; other articles here on The Radavist (like this one and this one) will dive further into some of those planning and skills considerations.

Basic Equipment

Here’s what comes along with me on any ride longer than a few hours or in areas completely new to me. Anything I worry about getting wet goes in a small drybag.

  • Navigation: I always carry at least a couple means of mapping and navigation. The Garmin Edge 530, my phone (both with topographic base maps saved for offline use), and paper maps (or at least photos taken of paper maps) are my go-to combination.
  • Extra clothing: Extra layers like rain gear and insulation are always smart to carry. Even a simple mechanical or minor injury in chilly weather can turn serious if you can’t stay warm. A light puffy layer like my Patagonia AlpLight Down Jacket weighs very little and packs down very small.
  • Water treatment: A basic water filter like the Katadyn BeFree and some backup chlorine dioxide tablets come along on any ride I do longer than a few hours.
  • Lights and spare batteries: Rides can easily stretch into the dark hours as soon as something goes awry or a route is simply more challenging than expected. A light and spare battery are usually in my pack, and if I expect to do any night riding, I’ll carry two lights. The Fenix BC26R on my handlebars and HM65R-T are my current favorites.
  • Extra calories: Always pack more than expected!
  • Other safety gear: A Garmin InReach for emergency communication and a SOL Emergency Bivy also live in my pack on rides in more remote areas.
  • Bear country considerations: If I’m traveling in grizzly bear country or areas peripheral to current grizzly range, I’ll always have a canister of bear spray on my fork leg or frame mounted in a Bearclaw holster

Repair Kit Contents

Here’s what’s in my go-to repair kit. It looks like a lot of items, but most of this packs into a tiny seat bag.

  • A multi-tool (with chain breaker) that reaches every bolt on my bike. I like the Wolf Tooth 8-Bit Tool Kit because it’s arguably the most complete and functional option out there.
  • A small multi-tool with a knife, file and pliers (e.g., Leatherman Squirt PS4)
  • Small tire pump
  • Small shock pump
  • Chain lube and small rag
  • 1-2 Tubolito tubes depending on the length of the trip
  • Tire lever
  • Tire plugs
  • Small roll of Gorilla tape
  • 2 thick needles and upholstery thread
  • Spare valve stem/core
  • 10+ glueless patches (Park Super Patches are most reliable in my experience, including on Tubolito tubes)
  • Self-adhesive tire boots
  • 1-2 pairs of spare brake pads
  • 5+ thick zip ties
  • 2-3 quick links
  • Spare derailleur hanger
  • Spare cleat and mounting bolts
  • 2 spare spokes with nipples

Optional repair kit items (recommended for longer trips)

  • A few extra chain links
  • Spare pivot bolts (for suspension frames)
  • Spare brake caliper bolts (these rattle out occasionally)
  • Spare derailleur pulley and shift cable (for long trips)
  • Wolf Tooth Valais Clamp if running a dropper post (no one wants to ever have to ride on a dropper post that won’t stay up)
  • Presta valve adapter (good for re-seating tubeless tires at a gas station)

Minimalist First-aid Kit Contents

  • Several sizes of bandages
  • KT tape and duct tape for blister management or makeshift bandages
  • Ibuprofen or similar
  • Benadryl antihistamine for allergic reactions
  • Forceps
  • Small multitool with knife, scissors, and pliers
  • Small lighter
  • Chlorine dioxide tablets for treating water
  • Antibiotic ointment


  • Ask for advice: Do you know anyone who has ventured out where you’re going? Consider asking around. First-hand knowledge is so very valuable to have. If not, spend a few minutes looking at the Ride With GPS global heat map to see if your planned route sees much travel. If not, take your preparation even more seriously.
  • Bike prep: The easiest way to avoid most mechanicals is through preventative maintenance. Take the time (or visit your trusted mechanic) to carefully inspect your bike, deal with any worn parts, top off tire sealant, re-torque all bolts, etc.
  • Plan out water, resupply, bail options, etc.: Do some homework to know where you can find water and food along the way (much easier in some areas than others) and what bail options there might be to get out to a main road or town should things go south.
  • Pay attention to current conditions and weather forecasts: Less-than-desirable weather conditions can quickly turn a fun day into a very uncomfortable one. The new Bikepacking Roots interactive map includes layers that show current snowpack, recent rainfall, death mud potential (still a bit of an experimental map), and more to help with this planning process.

Valuable skills

  • Ride to minimize risks: The more remote a ride, the more serious even minor injuries or mechanicals become.
  • Wilderness first-aid: Courses in this are time and money very well spent
  • Bike repair skills: The more you know, the better off you’ll be when mechanicals rear their ugly head.
  • Backcountry navigation: Again, the more remote a ride, the more important skills like this become.

Over the years, I’ve been in situations where every single one of those items in my pack has been needed. There’s always more one can carry, but there’s a personal balance one must find between being prepared and perhaps being over-prepared. And there always are situations that no matter one’s skills or gear, an emergency evacuation or slow, tedious self-evacuation may be needed, whether that’s for a seriously broken bone or a catastrophically broken frame. But the more we can do to set ourselves up for dealing with the most likely challenges along the way, the more likely we are to be smiling for most (or all!) of the ride.