What is Bikepacking

/bīkpakiNG/ Verb 1. bicycle + Off-road + Camping + what you make it

BIkepacking, despite the recent surge of popularity, is not a new concept. It is, simply, an off-road bicycle tour: a journey, by bicycle, that occurs primarily on soft-surface roads or trails and includes at least one night away from home. Other than incorporating those three aspects (bicycle, off-road, camping), bikepacking is an open-source activity - yours to adapt and modify to fit your unique goals, desires or opportunities. 

Are you an experienced mountain biker looking for a new way to enjoy adventure cycling? Great! Bikepacking is for you. 

Maybe you've been on many bike tours and are looking for a fresh way to see the world from the saddle. Wonderful! Bikepacking is for you, too. 

Seasoned hiker seeking new ways to enjoy the backcountry? Bikepacking is definitely for you. 

Perhaps you haven't ridden a bike in years but something about bikepacking calls you to, inspires daydreams, makes your heart beat faster. Good enough - bikepacking is absolutely for you. 

One of the most rewarding aspects of bikepacking is that appeals to and is accessible to a wide range of persons. There is no requirement dictating age, income, background, race, religion or required knowledge of bicycles to start your bikepacking journey. That said, a good attitude and willingness to learn will go a long way in assisting your progress. Happily, neither take up any packing space. Read on about How To Go Bikepacking. 👇

What You Need to go Bikepacking

Step 1: BIke

The best bike to start bikepacking with is likely the one that you already have in your garage! Almost any mountain bike or gravel grinder can be adapted into a capable bikepacking rig. As you dig into adventure cycling, you’ll discover that different bikes work best for different routes, terrain, and riding styles. Figure out your prefered bikepacking style over a few trips, then customize your setup.

Mountain bikes come in many different shapes but nearly all of them run wheels with the standard width 2” or wider tire. Wider, high volume tires offer a bunch of benefits for bikepackers: since they can be run at a lower pressure than narrower tires, the ride quality becomes more comfortable, plus the larger contact patch against the earth facilitates floatation better, allowing them to ride easier over soft dirt or rough rocks. Full suspension, hardtail or full rigid frames can all be made to work for bikepacking. Full suspension bikes are great for riding on rugged trails, but rear suspension design limits your ability to use a frame bag and potentially a seatbag, which may rub on the rear wheel when your suspension is compressed. Hardtails (front suspension only) and rigid frames (non suspension) allow for a wider range packing setups - seat bags, frame bags and fork mounted bags can all be easily adapted to work.

Bikepacking bags and their placement on a hardtail mountain bike with 3" wide tires. 

If your riding style or intended route leans more toward gravel or paved roads, a drop bar gravel or adventure touring bike is a great option. Those bikes tend to be a little more lightweight and may offer more options for mounting racks or cages on the frame and fork. 

Whichever bike you choose to ride, make sure it’s in great mechanical shape before you take it out for your first bikepacking trip. Consider upgrading your wheels to a tubeless set up, which will prevent flats better than using a standard tubes. Make sure your brakes are in good working order and that your chain is clean and easily moves around your cassette. Pay extra attention to anywhere your body contacts your bike - a fresh pair of ergo grips or a new saddle will go a long way to making sure you enjoy pedaling throughout your trip. Like any other long ride, make sure you have a tool kit to handle trailside mechanical issues. A tube, patch kit, tire levers, travel pump, multitool, chain breaker and quick link are all good to have on hand, as is a bunch of zip ties and a bit of duct tape - just in case. 

Step 2: Bags

The innovation of bikepacking specific bags have had a huge influence in popularizing this style of cycling. There are a lot of different types of bags out there, but most of them falling into one of the following categories: frame bag (which goes into the triangle of your frame), handlebar bag, seat bag, fork mounted bags and smaller, accessory bags like stem and top tube bags. If you don’t have any of these bags and still want to try bikepacking, a traditional pannier set up will absolutely work, but be mindful of how they may affect your bike’s handling on rough roads and trails. Front racks can also be utilized successfully, but make sure all your gear is safely secured - you don't want anything important bouncing out unnoticed! Backpacks also work, of course, but they can get uncomfortable on long, hot days in the saddle. If you do ride with a backpack, try and keep it as lightweight as possible.

Step 3: Gear

With your bike and bags ready to roll, now it’s time to pack it up with all the gear you’ll need for a comfortable night away from home! Your packing list can be easily organized into three categories: camping, kitchen and personal gear. Camping gear includes your tent or tarp, sleeping pad, sleeping bag or quilt, a headlight and any battery packs and cables to recharge your electronics. Your kitchen gear list should have a camp stove and fuel, pot and cup, a spork, water purification system (as needed) and coffee brewing equipment. Personal gear includes clothing and toiletries. For a two day trip in good weather, you’ll want to pack an on-bike outfit (chamois, over shorts, shirt, socks, bandana, cycling cap, helmet, cycling shoes)  and an at-camp outfit to change into (leggings, sweater, coat, beanie, camp shoes). Adjust your clothing list as needed for cold or rainy weather. Your toiletry bag should have wet wipes, toothbrush and paste, sunscreen, bug spray, soap, camp towel and first aid kit. 

Step 4: Fun

Now that you've got your gear worked out, read on about Where and When to go bikepacking!

A fully rigid mountain bike with bikepacking bags.

A fully rigid mountain bike with bikepacking bags.

Gravel and cross bikes can also be made to work for bikepacking. 

Gravel and cross bikes can also be made to work for bikepacking. 

This mixte set up with panniers has 650b wheels and 42mm tires, making it capable of riding unpaved gravel roads that aren't too rough.

This mixte set up with panniers has 650b wheels and 42mm tires, making it capable of riding unpaved gravel roads that aren't too rough.

Fat bikes also make great bikepacking rigs! 

Fat bikes also make great bikepacking rigs!