While bikepacking may seem like a big undertaking, it’s pretty simple when you spell it out: packing what you need to camp while riding your bike. That can be anything from wearing a backpack to strapping things to your bike—or a combination of both. Bikepacking is an extremely rewarding activity that you should at least try once. below are some ideas to get you out on your first bikepacking overnighter so you can get a true taste of its awesomeness.
Find an adventure partner
It’s important to find an adventure partner that is on a similar skill level and that shares the same goals. When my buddy Mike and I went on our first bikepacking trip, we were riding at the same level and seeking the same experiences, which made for an awesome time together. Adventure partners will help with ideas and routes, allow you to share gear (which makes for a lighter load), and simply be there with you to chat and create a memorable experience. So if you’re looking to get into bikepacking, it’s certainly a motivator to get one of your pals to join you!
Do you have a bike? Great! You can go bikepacking. The biggest misconception is that you need a certain type of bike. While some bikes may lend themselves better to bikepacking than others, simply having a functioning and reliable bike is the most important thing. Making sure the bike fits you, that it shifts properly, the brakes work, the tires have enough air, and so on, will all lead to a better experience.
Sleeping under the stars
If you’ve ever spent a night out camping, much of the same gear translates to bikepacking. If not, you will want a tent or bivy sack, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and a change of clothes and shoes. Everything I just mentioned can add up in weight, so be conscious of what you want versus what you actually need. Checking the weather before you depart will help you pack for the conditions and save weight. For example, leave your rain fly at home if the forecast is dry. This is going to be the bulk of your gear, but it’s really all you need besides your bike and what’s on your body. A few other things to remember:
Bags and cargo
While bikepacking bags may help distribute the weight of your gear, they are not required as you are getting started. The easiest thing to do is packing a backpack with gear and getting creative with dry bags and ski straps. Front triangle frame space, handlebars, and under the rear of the saddle are great starting points for mounting gear. Generally speaking, frame space supports weight the best, but that space might not be available depending on your bike.
Some smaller bags such as the Salsa EXP Top Tube Bag or stem bags are nice accessories to have even if bikepacking does not work out for you, as they work well for day rides. I like to throw bars and snacks in them for easy accessibility; some of these bags can even fit tools and a tube.
Getting out of a jam
Understanding basic bike repairs such as fixing a flat, breaking a chain, adjusting your stem and headset, tightening your brakes and shifters, and replacing brake pads will help you get out of any trailside jams you may experience. Check with your local shop to see if they are hosting any basic repair workshops and educate yourself before you head out.
Other repair items you may want to learn about are the things associated with your cook kit, camping gear, sleeping pad and bag and any other odds and ends whose malfunction would make for an uncomfortable night under the stars. I tend to pack an extensive repair kit for every nut and bolt, but that’s not entirely necessary. Remember to communicate with other folks you are going with to share tools and repair kits.
Fuel the engine
Eating food after setting up camp is one of the most rewarding feelings. Your job is done for the day and now you get to reward yourself with a meal. For overnighters, I have found myself packing a burrito or BLT for dinner, which allows me to leave the stove at home. The same goes for breakfast—a muffin or something of the sort is usually pretty tasty even if it is smashed after a day of riding. Creativity here goes a long way, and there is no right or wrong way. If you are looking for a hot meal, I really enjoy Good To Go Foods. All you do is add hot water and wait for the food to rehydrate.
Like I mentioned above, I like to carry my snack food in my top tube or stem bags because they are the easiest to access while pedaling or when you jump off the bike for a bit. I usually carry my dinner and breakfast in my frame bag, with overflow in my saddle bag or backpack.
The most common ways to carry water are on your back or in your frame bag. Over the years, I have found that I like to keep heavy items off my back, so I keep my hydration bladder in my frame bag. Soft bladders such as the MSR Dromedary bag or Platypus hydration bags are great for this, as they don’t have a hard backing and can conform to frame bag’s shape.
Are we there yet?
My biggest advice for your first bikepacking trip is to keep the route simple and familiar. Some of the best camping spots I have found were from places I had visited on day rides. You will likely already have a sense of these routes, including their unique challenges and beauties. Another piece of the puzzle is whether to make your route a loop, out-and-back, or point-to-point. Loops and out-and-backs are easier, but sometimes a point-to-point route can be more rewarding.
A few things to consider when mapping a route:
It’s fun, go have fun…
Maybe the most important piece of advice anyone gave me is that bikepacking is fun! It’s a recreational activity that should be pleasurable. Before you plan a trip, make sure you are heading out for the right reasons. I have had a truly fun bikepacking idea morph into a death march as I bit off more climbing than I could chew, which ultimately ruined the experience. Setting proper expectations among you and your group is also very important; communicate and remind folks of this, because in the end it’s just riding a bike and sleeping next to it.
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I’ve always had a bike since I was a kid, riding the dirt jumps in the park behind my house. It was not until 2010 when I finally got on a mountain bike again. Things kinda took off in 2012 when a friend and I took on the Colorado Trail in 10 days. It was an eye-opening experience that lead me to take on the Arizona Trail Race 300 in 2013 – my first bikepacking race. Basically, after that, the rest is history.