Travel Advice

Why do I need a 20 Litre Backpack?

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Why do I need a 20 litre Backpack?

Ross Bell asks our co-founder Euan to explain “Why do I need a 20 litre Backpack” when mountain biking in a wilderness area.

Preparing for your mountain bike tour

One of the most popular questions that lands in our inbox is just why on earth we ask riders coming on our trips to bring a 20 litre backpack. The response from most riders being “Why do I need a 20 litre backpack? I usually only ride with an inner tube, pump and a bottle of water!” 

Well, who better to explain than our co-founder, Euan, who has many years of experience guiding tours in Scotland, such as our coast-to-coast, Highland Odyssey, and Cairngorms Adventure . Euan also creates all of our international adventures, in partnership with our local guide teams, so he knows what he needs to pack for a big day on the bike, in all conditions.

Seems rather obvious but the majority of our tours take place in mountainous regions, often remote, and where the weather is unpredictable and at times unforgiving. This means both our guides and riders need to be prepared for all eventualities.

“it was the middle of July and on top of the plateau it started to snow!”

As Euan recalls, this really can mean taking on some really unexpected weather conditions.

“One day last year, the second day of the coast-to-coast, it was the middle of July and on top of the plateau it started to snow! It wasn’t forecast to be that cold or for it to come down like that, so it was certainly a day that I was glad to have packed my down jacket. A few people had decided to pack light that day and got rather cold…”

The absolute essential bits of kit to have in your pack for any day of big-mountain riding in Scotland

What goes in the 20 litre backpack?


  1. Waterproof Jacket – Essential for any of our trips
  2. Mid Layer – Again, essential for all our trips. You never know what conditions or situations may unfold.
  3. Down Jacket – Perhaps aimed at the higher mountain tours and colder countries like Nepal, Scotland and the Yukon, Canada. You’ll be surprised how often the down jacket will be dug out the bag.
  4. Buff / Neck Scarf – Key for when weather turns, particularly useful in Scotland!
  5. Eyewear – For both good and bad conditions!
  6. Spare Socks and Gloves – Now these are not essential but will make long days in the saddle that little bit more comfortable.

Food + Water:

  1. 2-3 Litre Bladder – as opposed to a bottle. We recommend this for a couple of reasons; first off we pass through farm land regularly, meaning clean water can be hard to come by, plus our riding days last between three and ten hours so a bottle just won’t cut it.
  2. Food! – And lots of it, aim to finish your day with a surplus. We recommend taking ‘real’ food instead of gels; things that are high in calories and have a long burn time.

Tools + Spares:

  1. Multitools – Make sure any specific bolt sizes on your bike are catered for.
  2. Spares – Any parts that are specific to your bike such as; chain links, brake pads, mech hangers. More often than not access to bike shops is few and far between.
  3. Pump – Our guides will carry pumps but for personal adjustment throughout the day it’s best to have your own.
  4. Inner tubes – At least two tubes per day, even if running tubeless! The terrain you’ll pass through is unforgiving and rips in tyre carcasses are not uncommon. 
  5. Tyre levers – For those times when your tyre does tear, burp or suffer a snakebite.
  6. Zip Ties – Quite possibly one of the best inventions of all time! The humble old cable tie can cover a multitude of different repairs and bodges.

Below: Getting ready to roll. An EVOC sports protection pack is the perfect companion for a day on the trails.

The team are never short of anecdotes and examples of where each of these essentials comes in most useful and one of Euan’s stories from the previous season shows how all the bits of the perfectly packed bag can fit together;

“I remember last year I used three of the items on the list for one repair. We had a derailleur strike that resulted in a bike needing to be single-speeded, so we shortened the chain with the multi-tool, and cable-tied the tyre lever to the frame to stop the chain running down the cassette. Hey presto, keeping you moving with a very select amount of kit!”

“we shortened the chain with the multi-tool and cable tied the tyre lever to the frame”

These, of course, are our recommendations stemming from years of running mountain bike tours, experiencing a multitude of varying situations. It’s best to be prepared and, as we say here in Scotland, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad kit choices!”

Found this useful? Why not read up on these posts too! “How to travel with your bike“, “Top 10 kit items for a bike tour” and “What to pack for a mountain bike adventure“.

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