What You Need to Know About Bikepacking

Though people have been touring by bicycle for as long as bicycles have been around, bikepacking—a portmanteau of the words bicycling and backpacking—is the newest big thing in the adventure cycling community.
Though people have been touring by bicycle for as long as bicycles have been around, bikepacking—a portmanteau of the words bicycling and backpacking—is the newest big thing in the adventure cycling community.

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What Is Bikepacking?

The newest big thing in the adventure cycling community.
The newest big thing in the adventure cycling community.

Though people have been touring by bicycle for as long as bicycles have been around, bikepacking—a portmanteau of the words bicycling and backpacking—is the newest big thing in the adventure cycling community.

Its origins can be traced to the rise in popularity of gravel biking and the development of ultralight camping gear.

The difference between bikepacking and touring is the kind of surface that is travelled on; a bikepacker usually prefers unpaved routes like gravel roads, singletrack, and occasionally snow, whereas a bicycle tourist usually rides on paved trails.

Bike Setup For Bikepacking

The philosophy of bikepacking is to be self-sufficient while travelling light. This is not to say that thrilling adventures cannot be had while sleeping indoors and travelling from hut to hut or town to town; rather, the true bikepacker carries everything they will need on their bike to survive in the great outdoors for one or more nights.

A winter trip over snow or a summer trip where sand is likely will require the use of a fatbike (usually with tyres 4″ or wider). A full-suspension mountain bike may be prefered for singletrack over technical terrain, while a gravel bike or hardtail may be best if the path involves longer distances over smooth gravel roads.

There is no one ideal bike type for bikepacking, but instead of waiting to go on a journey until you have the ideal equipment, start with what you have and pick a suitable route and length of time.

How To Pack Your Bike

While panniers are an option, they may pose problems while riding tighter singletrack paths. The majority of bikepackers select a combination of bags that attach to the bike frame or fork, which includes a handlebar roll, a frame bag (that fits in the triangle), and a seat pack.

The question of whether it is possible to bikepack with a backpack is one that newbies frequently ask. While it might be doable for a short initial trip, seasoned bikepackers advise against it because carrying the weight of your gear on extended trips wears you out.

The best place to store gear is on your bike; place heavier items as low as possible. Planning and packing for a bikepacking trip is similar to packing for a backpack outing in that you will need some sort of shelter unless you have superhuman abilities and know the weather will cooperate and you can sleep on the ground.

Lightweight backpacking tents, simple tarps, bivvies, and hammocks are among the options available. One major factor that I take into account when selecting my sleeping system is the presence or absence of bugs. There is nothing worse than being gnawed to death by ferocious insects; it can completely ruin an evening spent in camp.

You can not go wrong with a quality, lightweight sleeping bag, but many bikepackers use quilts instead of zippers to reduce weight and improve packability; paired with an inflatable or foam sleeping pad to insulate you from the ground, the quilt is as comfortable as a bag, even in colder temperatures. Your sleep system depends on the expected temperatures and your preference for comfort.

You will rarely get the shelter and sleep system down pat on your first trip, so it may make sense to repurpose existing camping gear, borrow, or even rent equipment before investing in new. Your sleep system is influenced by the expected temperatures and your taste for comfort.

Nutrition and Hydration

Nutrition and hydration come next, after you have figured out your shelter and sleeping system. Most people carry a small stove for hot beverages, reheating food, or boiling water for purification; packing prepared foods (like burritos) for short trips helps save weight by doing away with the need for a pot and stove.

The distance between refill locations determines how much water you should carry; depending on the temperature and degree

The distance between refill stations determines how much water you should bring; generally speaking, depending on the temperature and effort level, you should drink 1 to 2 litres per hour of cycling. To calculate how much water to bring, calculate the distance between refill locations and look for nearby water sources.

Drink one to two litres of water for every hour of cycling effort. To figure out how much water to pack, calculate the distance of the ride and locate nearby water sources.

What to Wear On Your Bikepacking Ride

Clothing is personal preference and weather-dependent; is it going to be cold or rainy? When in the mountains, plan for the best, but be ready for anything unexpected. The same rules that apply to other outdoor activities also apply to bikepacking: stay away from cotton and materials that lose insulation when wet; wool and synthetics are great options that can be layered to accommodate changing weather conditions.

Importance Of Layering Your Clothing

Three layers is ideal in cooler weather; start with a soft, wicking, fast-drying layer next to your skin; an insulating garment that traps air and wicks away perspiration should be your middle layer; and finally, an outer layer that protects against the wind (or rain). Waterproof and breathable fabrics are an option, but they may not be sufficient during intense exertion. If you perspire, always remove a layer before you feel clammy.

Bike Accessories

Pack a hat and gloves (we know a lot of heat is lost through the extremities; a thin hat under a cycling helmet makes a cold ride more bearable), wool socks are my choice for cold winter riding; lightweight merino or blend socks can be worn year-round; quality windproof gloves (or mittens or pogies in extreme weather) are also critical.

While packing for warm-season riding is less complicated, travellers should always be ready for unforeseen weather conditions; summer storms in the Alps can bring hail and sharp temperature swings.

Protecting Yourself From The Sun

Good wicking layers next to the skin help with evaporation and regulate body temperature; a light-colored long-sleeve technical top is as cool as a short-sleeve shirt while offering extra protection against UV rays. If the weather is nice, the main concerns are sun protection and preventing overheating.

Bottoms And Padded Shorts

While tops can be mixed and matched from various outdoor gear suppliers, bottoms are a crucial piece of equipment that comes into contact with the saddle and can cause discomfort if not designed for cycling. Most riders prefer padded shorts or liners for long days in the saddle.

Clothing While Camping

A lightweight camp shoe or sandal may also be packed, depending on how comfortable your cycling shoes are. After a long day of riding, it is great to change into dry, comfortable clothes for relaxing around camp and sleeping. I always carry a spare pair of dry wool socks, long johns, and a compressible puffy jacket, which increases comfort once camp temperatures drop.

I usually have a well-stocked first-aid kit with me, though I never hope to use it; there are plenty of good lightweight kits available, but you can fill it with anything you need by buying a small dry bag and topping it out with a trip to the pharmacy.

It is essential to have a first-aid (repair) kit for your bike, which should include a pump, extra tubes, patches for tyre repair, and a decent multi-tool. Although it is not possible to plan for every possible component failure, some people carry spare spokes and chain links in case of emergency situations. Additional components such as zip ties and duct tape round out the kit and are helpful for last-minute trailside repairs.

It is crucial for you and your riding companions to take a first aid course like Wilderness First Responder. It is also a great idea to take a class on bike maintenance and repair. When travelling in remote areas, assistance may not arrive for hours. Being prepared for minor setbacks and feeling confident about your ability to handle them will ease your anxiety when embarking on a new adventure.

Modern cellphones function as a GPS navigator with downloaded maps, a camera for capturing events, and an emergency lifesaver in case mobile connection is accessible. Gadgets, even if redundant, make travel safer and more enjoyable.

The Growth And Evolution of the Sport

Bikepacking is a constantly evolving sport, and even seasoned pros can always learn something new, so online forums and clubs are excellent resources for learning about the sport and benefiting from the collective knowledge of others. Most people love sharing their experiences to get you started or improve your kit.

Reevaluate your list of items to see what you can live without or wish you had brought. Some people like to weigh each item of gear separately and are always searching for a lighter option to reduce the total weight of their pack. Your choices are personal and always evolving, ranging from your bike to your camp gear and clothing.

The best way to learn any sport is to just do it. Some people prefer to go on solo adventures, but newbie bikepackers can learn a lot from more seasoned groups. Lifelong friendships are forged when pushing a fully loaded bikepacking rig up a steep hill too steep to pedal. Looking back, even the most difficult or stressful times seem like fun when you are back in town and sipping adult beverages.


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