Stuff happens while out mountain biking – a mechanical, an injury, a change in the weather – that can dampen our enjoyment of a ride, or even stop it dead in its tracks. Such occurrences have to be dealt with decisively and with the right pieces of kit. Taking the basic spares, repairs, and first aid items in one’s riding backpack is a start, but the backpack contents for a mountain bike guide or instructor can be somewhat more interesting… and numerous.
Rather than list common items that you will find on an archetype ‘well-prepared’ mountain biker (think: multitool, spare inner tube, a hand pump, perhaps even a whistle or a ‘space blanket’), I would like to pick out certain items from my ‘working backpack’ and talk a bit more about their significance in my line of work.
- Pack cover
Riding as a client-facing occupation – sometimes on consecutive days – means being presentable and tidy, regardless of the climate. Backpacks are notoriously hard to keep presentable when there are subject to geysers of wet sand, mud, and rainwater from constant rainy weather and soggy trails. Enter the pack cover: it keeps the pack more or less dry and greatly reduces the frequency of that tremendous hassle of taking EVERYTHING out of the backpack, doing a big wash, and then putting everything in again after waiting for it to dry out.
- Sport/energy gels
I take a half-dozen or so gel sachets along in my pack. This is a safeguard for the off-chance that someone on the ride pushes beyond their limits, enters a state of glycogen (blood sugar) depletion, and gets too fatigued to continue riding. Feed them a ‘gel’, allow them to regain their energy and composure, before encouraging them to carry on. This can save ride from being cut short or stranded due to someone ‘hitting the wall’.
- Bar end-caps/plugs
Everyone knows a rider like this: someone who rides MTBs without bar end-caps, the ends of their handlebars a gaping hole, ready to take a high-speed core sample of dirt… or worse, flesh. Have they not seen the gory pictures on the Internet of handlebars impaling limbs as a result of crashes? When a client rocks up with the ends of their bar exposed, I chuck these on – no questions asked – and after the ride, direct them to the nearest local bike shop to get some of their own.
- Tubeless repair kit
Specifically: tire plugs, a lighter, and spare tubeless sealant. Most holes in tubeless tires that do not self-seal are cuts that can be plugged. The plugs are purpose-made (small diameter) for bicycle tires and can be cut to fit. If plugs are not available, stuff the cut with a piece of rubber band or rubber glove (cannibalized from a first aid kit) – depending on the size and shape. Use the lighter to melt your plug or rubber off-cut into the tire casing, further sealing the cut. Finish the job by adding spare sealant and re-inflating
- Spare shifter cable
This is an often-overlooked spare part, but it is the one that makes the difference between having one’s entire gear range at their disposal, or being a reluctant singlespeeder/walker; and the difference between riding with a dropper seatpost up or down at will, or being stuck with one seat height the entire ride. A broken cable is no fun, so I keep one spare in the pack at all times, and take along a second one for longer epics rides.
- SOG multitool
The most versatile tool for a wide range of ‘hack jobs’ on the trail, including the aforementioned tubeless tire or shifter cable fix-ups. This particular military-grade, all-black SOG multi-tool comes with pliers, a wire cutter, a double-sided file, various screwdriver heads, an awl, and of course – a bottle opener. It’s a bit heavy, but has proven itself invaluable for effecting repairs and keeping the rides going numerous times.
- Folding saw
Folding saws are inexpensive and well worth their weight, especially when working during the wet season in the tropics. A dead tree-branch or wayward vine – dislodged by strong winds or rains – blocking a trail is easily dispatched, thereby maintaining the workplace’s ride-ability and earning brownie points as far as trail stewardship is concerned. I keep the blade clean (some plant saps can be sticky!) and covered with a light coating of oil or lube.
- ACE splint
I personally hope I never have to use this first-aid item, ever. The ACE splint, purchased at MEC in Vancouver, Canada, is essentially a sheet of pliable aluminum wrapped in a layer of thin foam and folded flat when stored in the backpack. It is used to splint fractures to the limbs or to the neck. Much better than seconding a tree branch or bike pump – this one allows injuries to be stabilized quickly and safely due to the ease at which it can be moulded.
- Thin cord
I learned this trick from a fellow instructor trainee in Whistler this past summer. A thin cord (about 2mm diameter and about a metre long) can be used to open chain connector links / master links (also known as ‘Missing links’ or ‘Powerlinks’) quickly and safely. Can also be used in a pinch to splice broken or damaged parts of a frame or other components together.
- iPad Mini
The best tool for instructing MTB skills in the Information Age. Housed in a water/dust/shockproof casing loaded with slow-motion video analysis apps (such as Coach’s Eye, the most frequently used); and of course, a screen that is bigger than the typical smartphone’s. Because who does not want to see instant replays of themselves riding their mountain bike? Immediate feedback and subsequent on-the-spot adjustments of riding technique makes lesson-time more engaging. Upon request, I sometimes provide post-ride analyses and side-by-side comparisons that I can send via email, social media, or messenger services for riders to digest further.
What are your thoughts on this ‘Top-10’ list? I would love to hear from you, so please leave a comment below.