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An Introduction to Bikepacking image
August 09, 2022
An Introduction to Bikepacking
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Bikepacking Combines Cycling, Backpacking & Camping into One Incredible Trip

If you love the outdoors and riding your bike, then why not consider bikepacking? As the name suggests, bikepacking involves cycling on any terrain with the benefits of being self-supported, allowing a rider to travel for multiple days. When you carry your essential outdoor gear on a bike, you have the mobility and flexibility to explore local trails overnight from your front doorstep or spend weeks (or maybe even months) on backroads anywhere in the world.


Getting Started


The author (pictured right) bikepacking the Great Divide.


If you go out and price up all the fancy, custom, ultralight gear, the sticker shock might put the brakes on the whole idea before your first pedal stroke. So many bikepackers, including myself, start out using older, patina-encrusted bikes dug from under paint cans and lawn care equipment at the back of our garages. By adding a few additional (often homemade) items, it’s a “try before you buy” approach. More expensive equipment can be tacked onto your rig as you learn what works for you and the type of trips you like to do.

I would recommend that your first overnighter trip be fairly short. Try spending one or two nights within easy reach of facilities. This will allow you to test your gear and provide peace of mind that if you have forgotten something, shops or support are in easy reach.


Gear & Equipment


An older mountain bike is a cost-effective way to get on the trails.


So, what do you need for your first trip? Start with the bike. If you already have one, particularly a trail or mountain bike, it might be be the best option for your first trip. If you don’t have a suitable bike, talk to your local bike shop or contact one of the many cycling/bikepacking groups. There are many low-cost bikes and rental options. You may be able to borrow one or buy a used one relatively cheaply at your local bike shop or on the internet.

Next, take a look at what you want to carry. Bikepacking gear is similar to backpacking equipment—the emphasis is on safety and weight without sacrificing too much comfort. The lighter your gear, the more you will enjoy the ride. After many years of bikepacking, I’m still exploring what works for me 100% of the time, but the “must haves” always start with my sleep system. To be a happy camper, you need to be comfortable and able to get some regenerative z’s each night. A sleeping bag and a tent are likely the heaviest and bulkiest items you have to carry.

Again, if you already have camping gear, start with that. Make sure your sleeping bag or quilt is appropriate for the season and conditions of your trip, and if you do need to buy a tent, go as light as your budget will allow. If you want to go really light and save money, consider a hammock.


A hammock is a great alternative to tent camping.


When you’re preparing for your first trip, lay out your essentials a few weeks beforehand: clothing, weather protection, medical kit, tool kit, food and cooking equipment.  Then look at it again (and again) and really think about what you need.


Packing Your Bike


Share the fun by traveling with friends.


You have your essentials; now it’s time to get them onto your bike. There are multiple ways to strap your gear to your bike. Panniers, seat packs and handlebar-mounted bags are available through your local bike shop and online. It’s really your choice based on the bike you have and how much gear you want to carry. As bikepacking is now a mainstream activity, there are plenty of options and price points to meet your budget. Backpacks also work, but they can be uncomfortable on long rides and make you a bit top-heavy. Distribute your gear on the bike so that it is fairly balanced.


Find Bikepacking Resources


Bikepacking is a great way to explore out-of-the-way places, whether it’s across the country or in your own backyard.


If you strive to spend time outdoors, self-supported, without carrying weight on your back, then bikepacking may be for you. But before you go, do some research. Talk to your local bike shop. These folks are connected to everything related to cycling, including local bikeshare programs. Remember, advice costs you nothing. Find out if there is a local bikepacking group on Meetup. Websites like the  Adventure Cycling Association and the Bikepacking Collective have in-depth articles on routes and advice for adventurers new to bikepacking.

A last few words of advice. Like any outdoor activity, check the conditions you are going into and pack accordingly. And find a friend for your first trip–why should you have all the fun?