If you pay attention to what’s going on in the outdoors, you’ve probably heard of bikepacking—and you might be wondering about it. If you haven’t heard of it, you might be a bit perplexed by the term. Whether you’ve heard of it or not, you probably want to know more about it!
So here’s your primer: the basics of bikepacking, in five easy steps.
1. It’s Like Backpacking on a Bike
As you might expect from the name, bikepacking is just like backpacking; but instead of walking, you bike. You get the isolation of backcountry hiking, the thrill and locomotive power of riding a mountain bike, and a oneness with nature that only camping can provide. What more could you ask for?
Just like backpacking, you carry everything with you: food, water, a tent, a camp stove, sleeping gear, extra clothes and tools, and anything else you’d need to camp. The amount of gear you bring with you depends on where you’ll be going, how long you’ll be out, and what kind of camping you’re comfortable with—just like backpacking.
2. You Can Go as Far as You Want
You might think this sounds like something an extremely fit cross-country rider might take on, but you can take on any stretch of singletrack or gravel you want. A single-day jaunt of 30 miles, a multi-day ride into the triple digits, or a trans-Rockies trip are all viable. It’s all up to you and how adventurous you feel.
And you don’t need to ride technical ascents and descents, either: you can construct a perfectly respectable and enjoyable bikepacking trip on fire roads or even on regular roads. No matter where you want to go, there’s a way to get there by bike!
3. You’ll Need Some Gear
Pretty much any mountain bike can serve as a bikepacking steed; hardtail, full suspension, fat-tire or plus-sized, aluminum, steel, carbon . . . anything. But you’ll want to make sure that yours can meet your needs while you’re out on the trail. Have something like the Cannondale Trail 1? That’ll work. Is the Diamondback Release 2 more your style? That’s no problem. Just about any bike can be rigged up as a great bikepacker.
That usually means having a number of bags that can attach to your bike in various places; on the handlebars, within the main frame triangle, under your saddle, and so on. You’ll need room for a lot of stuff, especially if you’re going more than a single night.
You can get by without spending a ton of money on gear, especially for short trips, but you’ll probably have to invest in at least a few bags and some camping gear that doesn’t take up much room. A combination of something like Revelate’s Sweetroll and Tangle bags will give you plenty of storage. Which brings us to the next point . . .
4. You’ll Need to Pack Light
You don’t need the latest in ultra-light gear, but keep in mind that the combined weight of you and your bike is going to determine how hard it is to climb hills and how difficult it is to handle descents. You’re going to regret packing a full-size camp stove, a carton of eggs, a huge tent, and a bunch of extra food when you’re faced with a 1,000-foot climb.
Again, you don’t need to spend a huge chunk of money, but by being smart about what you bring and what you leave at home, you can save yourself a lot of weight, which will make a huge difference over the course of your trip. Just keep that in mind when you’re packing. Choose smaller options when you have them; like the MSR Pocket Rocket stove instead of the Coleman Triton. A small tent like REI’s Passage 2 is a good idea, too.
5. It’s Easy to Get Started
Bikepacking might sound intimidating, but you can get started very easily if you have some camping gear and a bike. Make a campground reservation somewhere 20 or 25 miles from your house, pack up your bike, and go! Even if it’s a paved path or a road ride, it’ll be a great introduction to bikepacking.
From there, you can decide if you want to go farther away or on a longer trip. It’s just a matter of good planning; make sure you know where you’re going and how to get there. Make sure you have all the things you need (there are some good packing lists at bikepacking.com). Take what you need to be comfortable and safe, and go for it!
Will You Be Bikepacking?
As it gets more and more popular, bikepacking is attracting a lot more people, both newcomers and cycling veterans. The appeal of spending hours in the wilderness on your bike, sleeping under the stars, and powering yourself over a long journey is irresistible to a lot of people, and there’s nothing to stop you from getting started. So what are you waiting for? Or do you need something more surfy to get around? If so a carver skateboard might be just what you need.
Have you been bikepacking, or would you like to give it a shot? Share your thoughts, tips, and stories in the comments below!