Bikepacking Style Touring: Making Do On A Budget

This is one of my favorite pictures from my Bike Around America tour.

Here I have converted my Salsa Fargo to it's first ever Bikepacking setup. Since that time, I have evolved to a more elegant and functional setup, but this photo shows that you can cobble something together and make things work.

I had been towing around a BOB trailer carrying way too much gear for more than half of the trip. I loved the BOB, but it falls into the Luggage Theory. That theory states that you will always end up carrying however much stuff will fit into your luggage. The bigger the bags...the more stuff you carry.

I decided that I needed to lighten things up, so I sold the trailer and converted the bike over to a simple and inexpensive bikepacking setup. A quick stop at REI where I bought a set of compression straps and two dry bags, and I was all set for the conversion. Everything else came from bits of kit that I was already carrying. The goal was to go lighter, and change my setup without spending a ton of money. I think the switchover cost me less than $100 with most of that going towards the two new dry bags. A couple of weeks later I would ditch the rear rack, and just lash one of the dry bags to my seat and seatpost.

Key items:

• Stove, stakes, tarp tucked between rack and seatpost
• Use of camera bags as small ditty bags on handlebars
• Downtube water bottle is holding tools and spare parts
• Vibram Five Finger shoes make excellent touring companions
• Fargo is rigged with 700c x 32mm tires. It is just such a versatile bike. I would later switch back to 29 x 2.0" Schwalbe Supremes which I find to be awesome all-around tires for touring
• Two dry bags hold my gear. One is lashed to the Salsa Woodchipper bars and the other is lashed to my rear rack
• I traveled with a bivy and tarp as my choice of shelter

In the past year, I have further evolved my system and now have a complete set of bikepacking bags. While they do make things cleaner and easier, the point is this: You don't have to spend a ton of money to go light.

You just need a few key items and a desire to carry less gear. Going light helped me to increase my daily mileage and helped me to keep more energy in the tank at the end of the day. Suddenly those end-of-the-day hills that always spring up were no longer as difficult to climb.

I encourage you to give it a shot yourself. You just may find that once you go light, there is no going back.


See more of Glenn's trips, tours, and adventures at his website.


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This post filed under topics: Bikepacking Fargo Glenn Charles Sponsored Riders Touring

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Glenn Charles

Glenn Charles

Glenn Charles spent his first 40 years living what he thought was the American Dream; he now says he’s living life. Traveling by bike and kayak, he finds new ways to explore the world, meet new people and grow as a person. As he travels 50,000+ miles by human power, he hopes to inspire others to reconnect with nature and lead simpler, happier lives.


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Mike | June 26th, 2012

Great ideas for light gear!

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mark | June 26th, 2012

I like your minimalist attitude. It not only helps your biking but also your wilderness skills.I also like that bikecamping gear doesn’t have to clean out the bank.
Couple questions: how did the fargo handle with thinner tires? Other fargo riders have commented that it doesn’t feel so good with thin tires.
I checked out your website. How do you deal with mosquitoes when using a tarp and a bivy?

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Mike | June 26th, 2012

I am riding 700/32 for road commuting with no issues, the bike is rock solid.

Mosquitoes are always a challenge, light weight full length pants and long sleeve shirt plus a head net worked well, but you are going ot get bit.

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Glenn Charles | June 27th, 2012

I have personally found that I just like fatter tires. In that image at the top I thought that those Schwalbe’s would work for me and they just didn’t.  As soon as I could I switched to the 2.0 Marathon Supremes which are my favorite touring tire.  They are big enough to be comfortable; you can ride just about any type of hard dry surface; and they go fast enough for me when fully inflated.  The durability of the Schwalbe tires is also amazing.  I am still running the same set I picked up on the west coast and that was thousands of miles ago.  For the beginning of the trip I used Schwalbe Big Apples which I loved as well.  The roads of Texas eventually tore them up and I had to make a switch.

As for mosquitoes I have a couple of different methods for dealing with them. If it is bug season I have been known to use the Bibler Tripod bivy which has a built in bug netting.  That works well, but it is a warm bivy in my opinion.  My other choice is simply a bug head net.  For whatever reason, when I am on the trail, I have no issues sleeping with the netting on my head.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I have honestly been lucky to not be in too many buggy situations.  My last defense is my hammock setup which has a built in bug netting and eliminates the bivy.  I really like hammock camping, but it is not always possible, thus I find I use the tarp and bivy approach more often than anything else.  I have yet to find a place I can’t string a tarp.  Different approaches for different environments.



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Scott | June 27th, 2012

I would bet that the “issue” with the small tires on the Fargo have to do with the smaller (and lower) tire section ends up reducing the trail that the bike has, and it makes it less stable.  My business partner Jeff put some 32’s on his Fargo, and while it rolled nicely, he felt it ruined the handling.  As the front axle gets closer to the ground, the trail decreases and the bike handles differently.  Big Schwalbes, Serfas Drifters, etc… make the bike handle great on the road!

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Jake | June 30th, 2012

This May, I did a tour of Lake Michigan, and I was extremely pleased with my choice to use a bivy sack.  They are light, easily packable, and make “stealth” camping *much* easier (which does a lot to ease budget woes!).  The way to go for lightweight touring for sure.

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Glenn Charles | July 1st, 2012

Jake, I totally agree.  The use of a bivy really frees up your camping options, especially if you are “stealth” camping.  The vast majority of my travels have now been done solely with a bivy and a tarp.  Add a lightweight bug net and you now have the flexibility to camp in any conditions.

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sorebore | August 26th, 2012

@ Scott…I believe your statement on the effect of trail would only apply if you did not match tires front and rear. The trail angle percentage does not change when lowering the the bike evenly front and rear. I have run every thing from 1 inch tires to 2.50’s on my Specialized Rock Combo for 26 years with no adverse handling issues. I have raced it in crits,single tracked it, and have hit 68mph fully loaded pulling a BoB trailer down mountain passes on 1.5’s.

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