Bikepacking is a fantastic combination of mountain biking and backpacking. If you are a backpacker looking to spice up your summer adventures, or a mountain biker who wants to spend even more uninterrupted time in the backcountry, you should consider bikepacking.
What Is Bikepacking?
Instead of carrying all your gear in a backpack for a multi-day adventure, most people use a combination of bags and packs on their bikes, called panniers. It’s an excellent activity for solo adventurers, couples, friends, and even families with children!
Bikepacking trips can range anywhere from an overnight stay along a trail close to home to an epic cross-country trail ride. Some people also use touring bikes and stick to paved roads closer to civilization instead of dirt roads and trails.
Most people choose bikepacking trips that cover singletrack trails, gravel and abandoned dirt roads, and mountain biking trails.
What Bikes Are Suitable for Bikepacking?
The best bike is the one you already have. Generally, you can use almost any bike for bikepacking as long as it can handle the terrain you plan to cover. Most mountain bikes make excellent bikepacking bikes with just a few modifications. The key is to minimize maintenance and maximize your riding comfort.
It is crucial to have a comfortable bike because bikepacking usually requires long hours in the saddle. Make sure you have a bike that fits properly and has the right gears for where you plan to visit. You don’t want to head out on a very hilly trek with gears that are too big and hard to peddle, especially with the extra weight of your tent and other equipment.
Invest in a comfortable bike saddle that doesn’t cause irritation or discomfort after several hours on the trails. It will not be pleasant to wake up the next morning with saddle sores or bruises, and you still have a full day (or more) of peddling ahead of you.
Make sure your hands and wrists are also comfortable on the handlebars. Wrist pain, numbness, and tingling in your hands are some of the most common complaints among long-distance cyclists. A multi-position handlebar, Ergon grips, or other after-market bike handle grips can add extra padding and help relieve stress on your wrists and hands.
How To Carry Your Gear When Bikepacking
The key to packing and carrying your gear on your bike is to keep the weight balanced and as lightweight as possible. Make sure your loaded mountain bike still feels like a mountain bike, not a tank. Experiment with different set-ups to find the one that works best for you!
When bikepacking, you should avoid carrying much weight in a backpack because it will impact your center of gravity. Instead, put most of the weight as low on your bike as possible. This will keep your bike comfortable, balanced, and easier to maneuver.
Many beginner bikepackers use a medium size daypack to hold lightweight, bulky, and fragile items. A drybag on a rear rack behind your saddle or panniers should hold the heavier things like food, fuel, stove, and water. A handlebar bag is perfect for light and midweight items like clothing or your tent. Some people add a top tube bag to keep snacks or their bike repair kit handy.
If you plan to ride singletrack trails, make sure your gear is as streamline as possible to avoid getting caught or damaged along narrow trails. Panniers usually aren’t ideal for people who plan to ride singletrack trails on their bikepacking adventures. Instead, opt for bags that attach to the front, back, and inside your bike frame.
How to Make DIY Bags
A 5 to 7-liter dry bag clipped around your seat post and attached to the saddle rails with webbing or Velcro makes a great DIY seat pack. Make sure everything is very tightly rolled to help keep the bag stabilized. You might need to experiment with loading and attaching this DIY seat bag to your bike to find the right method that doesn’t get in the way of your legs when you peddle.
Many people also use a 14 to 20-liter dry bag and webbing or straps to create a DIY handlebar bag. Long, skinny drybags work best for handlebar or cockpit bags.
What Gear Should You Bring Bikepacking?
You will need the same gear as you would bring backpacking, plus extra bike tools, tubes, and repair kits. It is important to keep your load as light as possible. A lighter load is easier to handle, especially on technical trails or when you need to carry your bike and gear across sections of the trail that are not rideable.
The easiest place to save space and weight is in a tent or sleeping shelter. Tarptents, featherweight tents, and other minimalist, single-wall designs are ideal for bikepackers. Some people skip the tent entirely and either use a hammock or all-weather bivvy sack sleep system. If you choose to use a hammock, do a little research ahead of time to make sure there will be enough trees to hang your hammock where you intend to set up camp.
The Right Apparel
It is essential to stay comfortable and safe when riding your bike. A bike helmet is a must-have for all bicycling adventures. Most mountain bikers also prefer to wear cycling shorts with padding built-in to protect them from the bumps and vibrations of the trail. Cycling shorts are also designed to give your legs full range of motion and prevent chafing.
Cycling gloves provide padding and protection to your hands. The padding keeps you comfortable and helps absorb the vibrations from the trail and, if you fall, will prevent painful scratches and “trail rash.”
As in backpacking, quality socks are important to keep your feet dry and healthy during your bikepacking adventures.
Make sure you choose breathable, quick-dry socks. Taller socks protect your ankles from scratches and thorns on the trail, but the right cycling sock is really a matter of personal preference.
Tools and Bike Repair Kit
It is important to bring along the tools and equipment to make basic repairs on your bike in the event of a mechanical mishap. Otherwise, your amazing bikepacking adventure might turn into a miserable hike back to civilization.
It’s important to bring the right repair equipment without adding too much weight to your pack. Here’s a list of the essential, bare-bones list you should bring on a short bikepacking trip (you may want to add a few extra items for longer or more remote trips):
- Multi-tool with a chain breaker: make sure your tool has the right size Allen wrenches to fit your bike
- Leathermanwith pliers
- Compact bike pump
- 15mm wrench if you have an old-school bike with bolts on the hubs that you can’t adjust with an Allen wrench
- Tire patch kit
- Tire levers
- Spare bike tubes
- Tire boots
- Extra sealant (for tubeless tires)
- Curved needle and heavy gauge nylon thread (for repairing a torn sidewall, torn bags, or first-aid)
- Super Glue or Gorilla Glue (you just never know when a few ounces of super glue will save the day)
In addition to the right tools, it’s a good idea to bring a few extra parts in case you break a chain link, or some other part decides to fail:
- Quick Chain Links or Powerlink’s
- Zip ties (like the superglue, zip ties fix a multitude of broken things)
- Gorilla Tape (for an ultralight solution, wrap a few feet of tape around a lighter or the shaft of your bike pump)
- Spare cleat and bolts
- Small cleaning rag
When And Where To Go Bikepacking
Choosing the right bikepacking route is important, but the adventures are limitless. There are countless pre-set bikepacking routes to choose from, or you can forge your own path!
Most people choose either a loop route where they start and finish at the same place or a through-route, which requires a little extra planning for transportation at the end of your adventure.
Wherever you decide to venture, it is essential to bring reliable means of navigation. A paper map and compass are a vital backup to your GPS. GPS bike computers or handheld GPS units are convenient for bikepackers. Many websites offer downloadable GPX files with preplanned bikepacking routes. Or you can use a resource to help you plan your own bikepacking adventure!
For the best introductory bikepacking experiences, choose a time of year with pleasant weather and enough daylight hours to cover the number of miles you plan each day. It is difficult (and can be very dangerous) to ride a loaded mountain bike at dusk or after dark.
Give yourself extra time to get to each campsite for your first few bikepacking adventures. Make sure you don’t feel rushed, and you have plenty of time to stop, enjoy the views, and adjust things on your bike.
How Far Should You Go?
Several factors impact how far you can expect to travel each day on a bikepacking trip. The weight of your gear, the difficulty of the terrain, and how many daylight hours you have are the significant factors. Weather can also significantly impact your trip. People with moderate cycling and backpacking experience can expect to cover between 25 and 75 miles each day on relatively easy terrain. A novice mountain biker can expect to maintain an average speed of 6 to 9 mph on pavement or wide trails and 2 to 5 mph on singletrack and rugged trails.
Now you’re ready to plan your first bikepacking adventure! Don’t forget to start small and have loads of fun!
Have you tried bikepacking? Do you have a favorite destination or pro-tip? Share in the comments!