A Bikepacking Gear Guide: The Essentials

What did this photographer/filmmaker pack to bike across Vietnam?

Karam Nwilati and Chris Reffin bike from Hanoi to Ho Chi Min, Vietnam

By Karam Nwilati

See more about this adventure in the “On the Road” series in @ROAM‘s Instagram stories.

Cycling thousands of kilometers is crazy—at least that’s the reaction that we’ve been getting on the road here in Vietnam and from our friends back home. My name is Karam Nwilati, and along with my friend, Chris Reffin, we are bike-packing Vietnam.

Our journey started in Hanoi and will take us all the way to Ho Chi Minh City for a rough total of 1,800 kilometers. We are braving the places few people go on bicycles to explore them at a pace that allows us to interact with locals and take in the small, quaint villages that many motorcyclists pass in a blink of an eye.

I am a photographer and avid filmmaker, but mainly I’m an aspiring storyteller. I wanted to dive into the deep end and push my limits with storytelling. Where better to do that than on a bike trip across the world far from home, in a country with untouched landscapes, some of the kindest people, amazing food, and a rich culture?

Chris is an experience chaser who has always followed his heart throughout his life. He is a joy to be around and has an extremely likeable character, which makes our partnership kind of perfect for this kind of adventure.

So after seven years of not seeing each other, Chris and I decided to meet up in Hanoi, buy two bikes, pack all our stuff on the back, and use our bodies to power a ride through Vietnam’s diverse landscape from mountains to beaches, villages to cities, to meet locals and fellow travelers alike. All this while getting some awesome photos and videos and of course, sharing the story.


When packing for bike packing, you only want to carry the weight that you absolutely need. Pack as light as possible, you’ll thank me later when you’re pushing your bike up a 14-percent gradient hill in the sun. Keep in mind that balance is very important, try to keep the right side equal in weight to the left and distribute the weight as much as possible throughout the bike. If you put too much weight on the back wheel alone, you may encounter problems with the spokes of the wheel. My setup does not have a front rack and front panniers, but it is recommended for best distribution… plus who doesn’t love more space for organization?

I keep my clothes and toiletries in one pannier packed to have the waterproof pants and jacket at the top along with two waterproof rain covers for my camera bag and sleeping bag (when it is attached outside the bike). In the second pannier I keep all things related to camping and sleeping such as hammock, mosquito net, Thermarest, Propane pocket stove, etc.

The heaviest of my equipment is the camera gear. It is distributed in three bags for weight distribution and most convenient access without having to undo any bags, cords, or carabiners. My biggest bag goes on top across the middle of my back rack and is attached to the rack by two bungee cords that make an X. My handlebar bag has everything for quickest access and convenience, Camera with mic (when not on my hip), GoPro, Drone, extra batteries for Camera and GoPro, power bank to charge my phone while riding, and a toolkit for any quick repairs. My mainframe bag contains my largest lens (70-200mm) and wallet for quick access.

It is important to keep extra space for when you need to carry extra food and water when you’re approaching areas with few towns and shops. Having those extra bungee cords and carabiners are essentials for this.

Make sure to follow their journey:
Karam Nwilati @karamintheworld

Here is all the gear that goes onto our bikes, we are just about ready to head out. Photo by Karam Nwilati
Stopping for a little break and some gorgeous Vietnamese mountains alongside the road. Photo by Karam Nwilati


Gear Essentials:
• Bungee cords
• Carabiners
• Waterproof paniers
• Waterproof pants and jacket
• Waterproof bag covers
• First aid kit
• Spare inner-tube
• Flat repair kit + tool kit

All camera gear:
• MacBook Pro + charger for editing and file transfer
• 3 hard drives (2 LaCie 4tb, 1 Samsung 250Gb SSD)
• Bose Noise cancelling headphones
• Sony Alpha 7rii + 4 extra batteries + USB Charger

4 lenses
• Zeiss 24-70 F/4 – all-purpose lens
• Sony 70-200 F/4 – my go to for cinematic compression shots and some portraits without disturbing
• Sony 50mm F/1.8 – Probably my favorite interview, portrait, and low-light lens
• Rokinon 14mm F/2.8 manual focus – time-lapse/hyperlapse and astrophotography
• Rode VideoMic pro – all purpose audio capture
• Rode Link filmmaker kit – for interviews
• Variable ND filters for 24-70 and 70-200
• Intervelometer Peak Design Capture – one of my favorite tools, always on my belt. The best camera is the one you have on you.
• DJI Mavic Pro 2 + controller + 2 extra batteries
• PolarPro ND/PL filters
• GoPro Hero 7 Black + 2 extra batteries
• GoPro ND Filters
• Chest harness, monopod, and floaty stick for GoPro
• Gorillapod tripod
• 2 26800mAh power banks – for recharging all camera batteries (except drone)
• Full frame sensor swabs
• Sensor cleaning air blower.
• LED white light