Review: Backcountry Research Minimalist Mountain Gear

When I ride, I prefer to carry only the essentials with me: a tube, CO2 cartridges or a pump, and a multitool. I only break out the hydration pack for rides that are going to hit the 4- or 5-hour mark.

But sometimes it’s necessary to carry a little more gear with you, especially when riding on unfamiliar terrain as I was during the Trans-Sylvania Epic. I showed up to the race planning to jam my jersey pockets with gear, but Rich “Dicky” Dillen had a better idea.

Backcountry Research gear from left to right:  Tube Tarp, Race Strap, and Tulbag
Backcountry Research gear from left to right: Tube Tarp, Race Strap, and Tulbag

He set me up with a Tube Tarp, Race Strap, and Tulbag from Backcountry Research (thanks Dicky!). Backcountry Research has been around since 2008, but as they rely only on word of mouth for advertising, there’s a chance you haven’t heard of them.

Tube Tarp

Like all their products, the concept behind the Tube Tarp is simple. It’s a tarp that protects your tube from dirt, debris, and from getting worn down by your saddle rails. The Tube Tarp is basically a Neoprene strap with a Velcro closure.

Tube Tarp
Tube Tarp

Fold up your tube, wrap the Tube Tarp around it. That’s it. Easy. Until I got the Tube Tarp from Dicky, I would just put my tube in a Ziploc bag and tape it to my bike when racing. Not the most elegant solution, but effective.

At only $7, the Tube Tarp is reasonably priced and is bound to last a lifetime.

Race Strap

The idea behind the Race Strap is to allow you to keep a tube, CO2, and either a multitool or tire lever mounted securely to your bike, but also keep it easy to access. Many people, including myself, tape tubes to our seatposts or frames, but that’s not ideal when you get a flat in a race situation. It’s not exactly aesthetically pleasing, either.

The Race Strap all mounted up
The Race Strap all mounted up

The Race Strap is made from heavy-duty nylon webbing with two elastic shock cords and a Velcro closure. Put your tube and CO2 in the shock cords, feed the strap through the rails of your saddle, cinch it down tight, and you’re good to go! The strap is strong enough to pull on hard. Once mounted to the rails, my bundle didn’t budge one bit. Here’s a video from Dicky that illustrates how to load the Race Strap:

A really cool benefit of the Race Strap is that since it mounts to the rails of your saddle, you can use it with a dropper post. This is a huge advantage over most traditional saddle bags.

The Race Strap costs $13 and comes in a bajillion colors, so you’re sure to find something that matches your bike, or your personality (I chose the Digital Camo Dark).


As the name implies, the Tulbag, is, uh, a bag for your tools or other small bits you need to carry with you. Like the other products from Backcountry Research, it’s the details that make it stand out.

The Tulbag is made of waterproof Terrain X-Pac fabric with a Griptech back. The fabric has a similar feel to sailcloth, while the Griptech back is textured and rubbery. Hell, it even uses a waterproof zipper! A Mega Zipper Pull makes it easy to open, even when you’re wearing gloves. See, it’s the little things.

For the Trans-Sylvania Epic I used the Tulbag to carry the following:

  • CO2 cracker
  • Patch kit (good ones, not those useless glueless patches)
  • Spare Shimano cleat and hardware
  • Two chainring bolts
  • A few zip ties
  • Chain links
  • Valve core removal tool
  • 2 mini chain lube packets
  • Mustard packet (in case of cramps)
Here's what I carried with me
A little bit of gear that can solve a whole lot of problems
Everything packed away
Everything packed away

All of that fit in the Tulbag with a little wiggle room. I opted to carry my multitool separately in my jersey pocket, just for ease of access. It also wouldn’t have fit in there with everything else I was carrying. In a non-race situation, I would leave some of the above at home and put my multitool in the Tulbag.

The Tulbag costs $12 and is available in seven colors.

Final Verdict

The products all worked exactly as they should. The Tube Tarp kept my tube clean, the Race Strap held everything in place even after a week of riding nothing but rocks, and the Tulbag helped keep my jersey pockets organized. At just $32 for all three products, they’re competitive with quality mass-produced saddle bags.

Everything is dead-simple and built to withstand the rigors of mountain biking. These are well-thought-out and well-made products, designed and built in Bozeman, Montana. If you’re looking to go as light as possible while still carrying the tools needed to get you out of the woods, give Backcountry Research a try.

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