A new Niner SIR 9 decked out with Blackburn’s Outpost bags (photo: Aaron Chamberlain)
Before I dive in on each individual bag, I thought I’d give my overall impressions on Blackburn’s Outpost bags as a whole. First off, the quality on all of the bags is quite good. Granted I only used the bags over the course of a few days, so I can’t really speak to long-term durability, but the materials feel robust, the zippers and buckles are sturdy, and the stitching is solid.
Secondly, since these bags are mass produced, they are intended to cover as wide a range of bicycles as possible. That means there are plenty of attachment point options and adjustability on the bags where that matters most — mainly the frame bag and seat bag — so you can easily use them across multiple bikes.
Finally, the bags provide a good value. An entire Outpost setup would run you about $330, which is a good chunk of money, but it’s less expensive than going the full-custom route. These bags would be a good fit for the casual bikepacker that goes on a few trips each year. However, that’s not to say these bags can’t handle huge trips, as Blackburn’s Ranger Program has certainly proven they’re up to the task of routes like the 2,700-mile Great Divide. Typically riders tackling those types of routes have precise needs that are better served going with custom products.
Top tube bags give you easy access to items you’ll need regularly on your ride. When bikepacking, this could include your phone, cache battery, snacks, money, etc. They’re also super handy for everyday use. I can throw a tube, pump, and tool in it along with my phone and keys, letting me cruise around town without a pack or stuff in my pockets.
The Outpost top tube bag has enough structure to it that it stands up straight on its own, but Blackburn kept the height and length reasonable. It was never in my way when straddling the top tube. On the left side of the bag is a small zippered pocket for safely stashing your ID, credit card, and cash. I like the idea, but it could be even bigger to make it more versatile.
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The opposite side of the bag has a slash pocket that’s slightly larger than the zippered pocket. I found it to be useful for carrying my Chapstick, as it was very easy to access while riding. Don’t place anything too important here, though, since the pocket has no closure. Lastly, the stretchy mesh pocket on top of the bag was a nice touch. I kept a small tube of sunscreen in it during my Colorado trip — seeing that sunscreen every time I looked down was a constant reminder to reapply.
Probably the coolest feature of the Outpost frame bag is that it’s both a half- and full-frame bag. Simply unzip the bottom portion of the bag and you get a good chunk more real estate, expanding from 5.25L to 6.95L. Depending on your preference, use it as a full-frame bag and chuck your hydration bladder in there (which is what I did), or as a half-frame bag and have access to your water bottle cages.
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Mounting is taken care of by several straps, most of which can be repositioned to avoid interference with other bags or components. The drive side has one long zipper along the top of the bag giving you access to the main compartment. Blackburn chose a light gray material for the inside of the bag, providing good contrast so you can see your stuff. Two stretchy mesh pockets on the same side give more options for stashing small items you want kept at the ready.
There’s another zipper on the non-drive side of the bag, which opens up a long, shallow pocket. I kept it full of Stinger waffles for my ride, but it’d also be the perfect place to keep a map. You wouldn’t want to put anything bulky here as it’s bound to rub your leg if you do. Speaking of which, the bag did bulge slightly as my load settled, but Blackburn built it narrow enough to account for that. No calf rubbing here, even with my keg legs.
Blackburn makes the Outpost frame bag in two sizes: medium and large (tested). The medium will fit on bikes with a top tube around 18″ long, and the large fits a 20″ top tube. I rode a size large Niner SIR 9, which could easily take a bigger bag if Blackburn made one. Granted, Niner’s bikes tend to fit a bit bigger than most, though.
The handlebar roll ended up being my favorite bag of the Outpost line, thanks to the mounting system. At first, it was a little tough to figure out how to set up the brackets, but that was mostly due to the fact that I had been hanging out at New Belgium’s brewery for several hours before trying to install it.
The brackets for the harness keep the dry bag up and away from your fork, handlebars, and controls. When you’re riding with a suspension fork, that’s really important. If your bar roll is hanging too low it may contact your front tire when the fork compresses, which is potentially quite dangerous. I had issues with my personal handlebar roll when I rode the Huracan 300 in February, because the harness positioned the dry bag too close. My solution was to put a large block of foam in between the harness and the headtube, which solved the problem, but it also rubbed the shit out of my frame. Blackburn’s design solves this issue. It’s not the most elegant, but it works.
Security seemed to be on Blackburn’s mind when designing this bag as there are a couple additional safety features. For one, there’s a steel cable that runs beneath your stem, between each arm of the bracket. This cable prevents the whole system from sliding down as you ride. Blackburn also includes a long piece of red nylon webbing with metal buckles at either end. Once you have the harness loaded, you clip the webbing to the daisy chain on the harness, wrap it underneath the stem, and clip the other end. It seems to be a pretty failsafe system. With a quick turn of a dial on the bracket, you can easily remove the harness and dry bag when needed.
An 11.5L dry bag is included with the harness. The bag can be opened at either end, with a simple roll down and buckle closure system. There are D-rings next to the buckles in case you want to use it as a bear bag or clip it onto something else to carry. Blackburn added a patch of velcro to the back of the bag and to the harness to keep it from shifting side-to-side. Of course you can use your own dry bag or stuff sack with the harness if you prefer.
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The harness proved to be rock solid over 200 miles of riding, including bombing down washboard gravel at 30+ MPH. Like I said, it’s not the most elegant — or lightest — solution, but it is secure. And you don’t have to move around your controls to avoid interference with the harness/bag — a huge plus in my book.
If the handlebar roll was my favorite, the seat bag was a close second. Like the handlebar roll, you have a harness and a dry bag. The harness attaches to your seatpost with two straps, and another two straps go around the rails of your saddle. You could probably ditch one of the straps for the rails, but I used both for a wiggle-free experience. Two additional straps are found at the top of the harness for securing the dry bag. As long as you pack the bag the same way each time, these are the only straps you need to mess with during your ride. The flap that covers the dry bag has a bit of foam in it to give it structure, along with some daisy chain webbing for mounting a blinky light, or for getting your dangle on.
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With 11L of capacity, the dry bag can store a lot of gear. The bag is tapered to match the harness, so it’s a good idea to pack accordingly. I started with a small down pillow, followed by an air mattress, and finally a sleeping bag. After squeezing out as much air as I could, the load packed down small with plenty of space to spare. A down jacket would have fit easily. Like the dry bag included with the handlebar harness, there’s a D-ring next to the buckle to use it as a bear bag.
Blackburn’s Outpost bags offer versatility and quality in a reasonably-priced package. If you’re looking to get into some serious bikepacking without breaking the bank, give them a look.
Thanks to Blackburn for providing the bags for review.