Bicycle Sport Bikepacking Basics: What is bikepacking?
Bikepacking is basically backpacking by bike. If you like the idea of going somewhere by bike – and maybe staying for a while – then bikepacking will be right in your wheelhouse. Bikepacking is a fun, and pretty inexpensive way, for friends, families, or like-minded folks who dig bikes and the outdoors, to roll both experiences into one trip. And if you’ve got a bike and a spirit for adventure, you’re halfway there! Here’s our Bicycle Sport bikepacking primer to get you going:
For starters, you don’t need to be an Eagle Scout to have a successful bikepacking trip, but being prepared is still sage advice here. Yes, there are tour companies that can plan your route, pitch your tent, make you dinner reservations, and do your laundry, etc. And that’s all good and fine if that’s the experience you’re after. But our definition of bikepacking will center around a self-contained, self-supported trip, regardless of how long or far.
Plan for a bikepacking trip as you would any new adventure. Time, experience, and budget are all factors. A short list of considerations should also include:
- How far are you willing to travel?
- How “rustic” an experience are you wiling to take on?
- How off-the-grid are you willing to go?
You don’t have to travel around the world, cross country, or even out of the county to have a great bikepacking experience. Many state or national parks are very nearby and are accessible by bike. Checking your bike on the train can be the start of a multi-modal bikepacking trip, opening up all sorts of possibilities. Parks and trail systems that allow bikes can put you farther and faster into the backcountry than you could get on foot.
Regardless of where your bikepacking trip begins or ends, you’ll need the following:
- A well-tuned, comfortable bike ready to take on the distance and terrain you choose to travel.
- Lighter weight bags and gear to make the load lighter and easier to carry. (Don’t overpack!)
- Food, snacks, water or a water source and purification, if necessary.
- Lights and spare batteries.
- Weather appropriate clothing for on and off the bike.
- Tent and sleeping bag or sleep system.
- Map and/or cue sheet.
- Simple first aid kit.
- Fire starting gear (Matches, lighter, etc.)
- Basic bike repair knowledge and the tools and supplies to make repairs.
Choose Your Weapon
There is no one perfect bikepacking setup. Yes, some bikes have better bikepacking DNA than others, but depending on the route, distance, terrain, weather, etc., most any bike can be tweaked in such a way to get you where you’re going. You wouldn’t choose your carbon TT race rocket if you’re planning a week-long, off-road bikepacking route, but you get the idea. If you’ve got options to match your bike to the trip, factor in the following:
- What kind of surface will you be riding?
- Are there rack and fender mounts on the bike? If so, how will you use them?
- Are there enough water bottle mounts and cages?
- Would different tires, tread pattern, etc., enhance the ability and comfort of the bike?
- Can grips, tape or other “touch points” be improved?
- Ask the Bicycle Sport crew about other options to maximize comfort while minimizing maintenance issues on the trip.
Gear to Go
If you’ve ever camped or been backpacking, then you have the basic know-how for what to pack. Bikepacking requires the addition of some essentials like tubes, tires, and tools, but also comes with the extra space to carry them. There a lots of options out there, from backpacks and daypacks, to frame bags, racks and cages. Do what you can to get most of the gear on the bike and off your back. Keep the weight low and balanced to prevent the bike from being hard to handle when loaded.
Ways to get your gear there include:
- Backpack/hydration pack or daypack: Go as light as possible here. Good source for toting water when a full frame bag is used.
- Frame bags: Fill all or some of the frame triangle. Good choice for occasionally accessed items like snacks and rain gear.
- Dry bags: Lashed to the handlebars, a good call for tent, sleeping pad, extra clothes. On a rear rack or under seat for heavier gear.
- Handlebar bag: For light, easily-accessed items like camera, rain gear, maps and snacks.
- Water bottle cages: Can double as gear mounting space when using a hydration pack.
- Seat bags: Large or small; good space for lesser-used items like tools and clothing and tent.
- Panniers: Wider and larger. A good choice for long-distance, and best for heavy items like water, food, etc.
- Bike trailers: Great for hauling kids, heavy items, etc., but expect much slower travel, long stopping distances, etc., and granny gears.
Bikepacking means you’ll be carrying your own weight and the weight of your gear on the bike. That means your bike will handle a little differently than you’re used to. You’ll also travel more slowly and your bike will have slower reaction time. To play it safe:
- “Practice” riding with your bike loaded up before your trip.
- Remember to check your speed on downhills.
- Allow for longer distances when stopping and cornering.
- Anticipate the need to shift into a lower gear to take the stress off your drivetrain.
- Know how to perform some basic field maintenance and carry the supplies and tools to do so.
Experienced backpackers, manuals and the interwebs are all excellent resources for bike choice, setup and gear selection, but ultimately it’s your call as to what you find most comfortable and efficient. And like any experience, the more you participate, the more you’ll discover what works best for you.
More resources we like include:
Want to know more about bikepacking? (Of course, you do!) Then pop into Bicycle Sport and let’s talk about planning an adventure today!
Upcoming Bikepacking Events:
Thursday, October 15: Bicycle Sport Bikepacking How-To
Saturday, October 24: Bikepacking Trip to Anne Springs Close Greenway. Call or see store for details!