blackburn outpost bagWhen I began bikepacking, I ordered a set of custom bags for my Lenzsport Leviathan, a bike that lives on with a buddy to this day.  Can’t keep a good bike down.  There may have been more than a few custom bag makers then, but as far as I know he was one of only two options in that cottage industry.  I still have those bags and while some features have evolved, materials improved, etc, they are still very capable and were well worth the significant cost.

Now we have more custom bikepacking bag makers than I can count on one, if not both hands.  Bikepacking is awesome, and choice is good.  But not all bags have to be custom, for instance a seat pack is a seat pack is a seat pack, outside of size perhaps.  A handlebar bag is the same, pretty much, and even something like a Revelate Tangle Bag is pretty generic.  The only really custom stuff relates to frame bags that fill the main triangle or something that works with a unique braze-on placement.

So that means that if a mainstream manufacturer wants to make some bags, then that is pretty doable. Enter Blackburn Design, stage right, and the Ranger program et al.  They have a whole gig dedicated to Getting Out There, which I think is awesome, celebrating the adventure aspect of cycling.  And while they are no strangers to rugged racks for pannier type touring (and the panniers and trunk bags to go with that? now they are venturing in to the more soft bag (no racks) bikepacking realm.

Outpost is the name of a line of bags, three at this point, consisting of a seat pack, a bar bag, and a top tube bag AKA Fuel Cell or Gas Tank.  Lets see what we have got here.

OUTPOST BAGS

Some may define an “outpost” as a lone dot of civilization on the horizon, or a ramshackle shelter on an icy cliff or perhaps a ragged hut on a distant shore. We designed the OUTPOST bag collection with these places in mind, confident that they will get our riders there and beyond . . . maybe to someplace bikes don’t usually go.

Let’s begin with the…

Outpost Seat Pack

From the Blackburn website:

A great alternative to panniers or a backpack. Ideal for overnight trips, but also works well for commuting or long day trips.

-Extra large capacity seat pack
-Removable and weather resistant stuff bag
-Adjusts easily to larger or smaller volume cargo
-Mounts quickly on almost any bike
-Also works with many standard dry bags
-70D Nylon, 4mm Ripstop with water resistant treatment and backing
-Volume: 10.5 Liters
-Weight: 516 Grams
-MSRP $99.99

outpost seat bag cutThe Seat Pack is based around a removable dry bag in that the ‘cradle’ (my word, not Blackburns) remains attached to the bike and the bag slips out when you need to access it for packing or unpacking.  If you just what to get into it for something, it does not HAVE to be removed for the cradle.  This is a nice approach and allows you to use the dry bag of choice or such what, although the one supplied by Blackburn looks ready to use.  It is a roll top closure (no velcro to snag clothing), is tapered to fit the cradle (no aftermarket dry bag will be), and is coated for water resistance.  My arm fits in fingers to shoulder, so it is pretty long.

The cradle looks well made with heavy straps and buckles, sewn in loops for attaching things on the outside, and reinforced materials where things will rub, like at the seatpost contact point.

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Attaching it to the saddle rails and post is easy enough, and I even got it to fit fairly well on a Thudbuster ST and it worked fine with a dropper post.  One thing that has happened as a point of evolution in this type of bag is a frame of some kind that limits or prevents ‘tail swing’.  Tail swing is when this longish, loaded seat pack sways from side to side under riding movements…the tail wagging the dog a bit.  My custom seat pack was the same way, so what I always did was keep only lightish objects in there, mostly clothing, and that was manageable.  But the newer packs are using hard frames that attach to the seat rails or post or both and keep the loaded pack from swaying like a small roll cage.  Heavier, but I bet it’s effective. I expect this seat pack will have some tail swing.

Another thing to watch is interference with the bag at the back of the thighs.  The Blackburn saddle pack tapers pretty well and although when stuffed with some towels and a puffy jacket it did have some small contact when pedaling, it was pretty minimal.

For the MSRP, it is nice I think, and costs about what most cradle-type bags like this do but Blackburn includes the dry bag at that cost rather than make it an add on item as is more common.

Outpost Handlebar Roll

Versatile handlebar harness and stuff bag with great features. Perfect for overnight rides and can easily carry sleeping bags, tents, clothing, etc.

-Works with included stuff bag, but can also accommodate standard dry bags
-Quick release mount fits on most handlebars (25.4mm and 31.8mm diameters)
-Red compression webbing also works as a shoulder strap off the bike
-Tie downs for lashing additional gear to the bag
-8lb/3.5kg load capacity
-Volume: 10 liters
-Weight: 604 grams
-Not recommended for carbon handlebars
-MSRP $74.99

blackburn outpost bagThis is a new type of bar bag set-up than the one I had custom made ages ago.  Mine is a long stuff bag basically, open at both ends, with roll top closures and it straps around the bars doing its best to get out of the way of the control cables, brake lines, etc.  This Blackburn Outpost bar bag system is different, and instead is another cradle approach, basically holding a dry bag, in this case not a specially shaped one. Any suitable dry bag would do, although the one Blackburn supplies looks fine.  It is wide though, that included bag, and would require a lot of ‘end rolling’ to fit in between drop bars.

The cradle itself is a stout, stiffened, curved panel covered in fabric with straps and loops a plenty.  It feels heavy, weighing 498g/1lb all by itself and 695g/1.5lbs with the bag included in there.  But when you compare it to others like it, that weight is typical. The cradle with the straps and bag is a nice set-up…almost, and here is where I begin to look askance at it.

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I have seen this before.  What was custom and hand made becomes production line stuff and in the process, we start to see plastic widgets instead of basic straps, buckles, and velcro.  And this concerns the attachment method Blackburn used for the cradle.  It is a bit wonky, using plastic clamps that attach to the handlebars and interface with a center locking piece of plastic that connects the clamps together and that also fits into a plastic ‘receiver’ that is bolted to the bag-cradle piece.  None of it inspires me.

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First of all, the bar clamps require a pretty straight section or they do not line up with the connector piece so forget about using it with bars like this Answer 20-20 bar pictured below.  Also it is not recommended for carbon bars at all, per Blackburn.  The way the connector is held to the bag cradle is iffy, secured by a small tongue of plastic.  Then there is the big ‘zip tie’ that helps keep the bag from rotating down, held in place by more tiny plastic tabs.  So what is my problem with plastic stuff?  Well if plastic parts (Topeak for instance) just attach a typical small seat bag with tubes and tire levers in it and the plastic mount fails and is lost somewhere in the hills, it can be inconvenient. If this bag attachment fails somewhere on the Colorado Trail miles from nowhere, then it would be much more than inconvenient.

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If you are asking people to go adventuring and take risks, give me stuff that is tougher and could be repaired by some upholstery shop along the way if it fails.  I appreciate the desire to ‘stand off’ the bag from the bars, but rubber blocks and big nylon webbing/straps seems like a better deal.  Yes there is that red compression/support strap they include, but still…and yes, I do understand that I say all this without one single mile of actual use on the product, but past experience and common sense are holding court here.

If you look at these pics below, if we eliminated the plastic clamps and just brought the bag closer to the bar, it does not interfere all that much, even at the levers, etc. This does not solve the bags tendency to rotate down however.  In fact, if we just forget about trying to hold the bag clocked out at the 3:00 position and let it pre-sag and rotate down while using the plastic clamps and without that supporting zip tie, then strap it with the red compression straps…that might be the ticket but the images and instructions do not call that out.

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Outpost Top Tube

Easy access to your essential riding gear. A high-end top tube bag that works great for the expedition cyclist, but also serves the needs of a long weekend ride or event.

-Spacious interior with adjustable organizer
-Exterior mesh pocket for phone or camera
-Zippered I.D. and cash pocket
-Top tube straps adjust to mount quickly on almost any bike
-70D Nylon, 4mm Ripstop with water resistant treatment and backing
-MSRP not announced yet

blackburn outpost bagI like this type of bag, even if I am not bikepacking.  They are handy for long self supported rides and keep things at hand, like snacks, phones, etc.  I see a lot of them on road bikes during organized charity rides, etc.

The Outpost Top Tube bag is pretty good size, about 9″ long x 3″ wide x 4″ tall, but tapered in height and width.  It has a mesh pocket on top, a zipped pocket on one side and another small pocket on the other side.  Large velcro straps secure the bag around the top tube and stem/steerer.  The main compartment is one main pouch with an internal stiffener/separator that can be removed.

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Ok…so first of all, this will not fit a lot of bikes out there if you want to use all the straps  The top tube strap is not long enough to wrap around bike with a deep area at the TT/DT/HT area like many carbon or alu bikes.  A steel or small tubed bike?  Sure.  Yes, you could add to the velcro strap length I suppose or the front loop can be moved back closer to the rear most velcro strap (there are three loops under the bag).  However even then it would interfere with many frame bags as that is where they wrap around the top tube as well.  I would guess that the front TT strap is not even needed, what with the stem/steerer strap and rear TT strap.

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The top mesh panel is too small to accept my iPhone 5 with its small case and it only goes in halfway due to the tapered shape of the bag. The two side panels would be good for money of CC/ID cards in the zipped side and maybe Gu or Chapstick in the other.  I do wish the main compartment had a vertical separator/divider or internal pouches.  It is where I would keep my phone but I would like it protected from other stuff in there.

The zipper for the main compartment is one of those water resistant ones which is nice and seals up behind itself.  It also makes it about impossible to zip it open or closed with one hand, so doing that while riding is a good trick.  A trade off I guess.

I planned on getting out on these earlier this year on a Fat Bike desert adventure but a very hot spring and early summer changed that.  However, the bar bag would not have worked with the bend on the Answer 20-20 bars and they are carbon soooo…strike 2. So I plan on getting out on a different bike for an adventure or two and will report back with how that goes.

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Note: The Blackburn products shown here were sent for test/review at no charge to Twenty Nine Inches. We are not being paid nor bribed for this review and we will strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.