Planning A Bikepacking Route – Where To Next?

When life gets a little busy, we often get a call from adventure. When this happens to Bikepackers, the first thing we think about is where I should go. It can be as simple as jumping on a plane, train, or boat with your bike, and when you arrive at your destination just brisking the roads, you go on. 

I have never been this person! The more you can plan at home, the better experience you will have on the trip. This guide wants to tell you a bit about how we plan our routes and some tips and tricks that will help you.

Sources Of Inspiration

I have always been amazed by the world and how much it varies depending on where you are. The thing I love most about the bicycle is unlike my other forms of transport, it can pretty much venture anywhere on this planet depending on its setup. 

Inspiration can come from anything. It could be a picture on Instagram you might have seen and just fell in love with. It could be a Youtube vlog or even a book you might have read. If you find inspiration incredible, the vital thing to do is to act before you lose that drive. 

That’s not how everyone finds their inspiration though! Many of us have always dreamt of going places since childhood and love cycling, so why not combine the two! 

Whatever inspires you, it’s essential to act on it before the flame dies in your mind and get out there and have some fun. Whatever drives you will inspire you.

Related article – Bikepacking vs Touring: What’s The Difference?

Planning A Bikepacking Route

Before I have even thought about planning a route, there are considerations I make to ensure the trip is going to be enjoyable. Here are some things to take into account before your mind runs away with you. Otherwise, you will end up planning the world expedition!

Is It Safe?

I have read many books on adventure cycling, and I sometimes sit back and say, “Why would you do that?”

Stories of people cycling in war zones and going to places where there’s no resupply and overly adventurous are not safe, and adventures like this are not worth risking your life over.

I will never forget reading about a friend of mine adventuring in a country where most tourists wouldn’t go. A few times a day, he was chased by children throwing rocks at him, and his bike shoes were stolen from his hotel room one night. This doesn’t sound like a pleasant trip in my books, and I’d recommend avoiding these situations!

Is It My Style Of Cycling?

Although a pretty obvious question to ask, I see a lot of people make this mistake.

I love all disciplines of cycling, but I do find myself adventuring on my road bike more than I do my mountain bike. This is because I like more populated areas. Stick to what you love!

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Is It Going To Be Too Far?

This is a mistake I have made before. I have made a route for a week and within a couple days, ended up being really behind schedule. Take stock of your fitness level and be realistic with your daily totals. Less is more, enjoy the scenic ride at a more leisurely pace!

I found on so many trips myself rushing to airports to get my flight home and having to find transport as I’ve overestimated mileage that I was able to do. It’s not a competition!

How Do I Find The Best Cycle Route?

There are many tools on the market to help you plan a route, and some are much better than others. I haven’t personally used all of them as there are so many, but here I will talk about the tools I use then mention others that will also do a fantastic job. 

When doing my planning, I use two applications Komoot and Strava. They are excellent tools when used in conjunction with each other and make life easy for route planning. 

How To Plan A Bikepacking Route With Komoot

When you have the application loaded or are on the website, you want to think about the small details. Firstly, terrain and bicycle, make sure that you have the right style of riding selected. Also, I’d recommend putting in your fitness level, as this will help Komoot calculate the best route for you.

Komoot - Terrain and Bike Type

The Starting Point

Now I think about where I want to start. This will be different for everyone, and depending on if you’re flying to your start, taking a train, or even leaving your front door! This is where you want your first marker. I have marked here my starting point near Cambridge in the UK.

Komoot - Starting Destination

Destinations

We now have to think about where we’re going. It could be a simple A to B route, or there might be certain places you want to visit. I plan my points by where I intend to get by the end of the day like this. 

One consideration to make when doing this is to make sure you will be passing through towns and places where you can get food and water.

Komoot - Route planning

Elevation

I see many people get it wrong here because they plan a route and don’t look at the elevation they need to cover. This can make or break a trip for me. I love a good climb, but I don’t want to be on hills all day struggling to cover mileage.

When you have some roads on the map, the elevation grid will appear below and will give you an idea of the climbing profile you will have and if it will be manageable. Always be very realistic on this front and try not to say, “It will be ok.” Pictured below, I can see it’s mainly rolling hills, and the height never passes 150m. The total elevation is 1900m, and a route like this is perfect for a long-distance trip. This can also be referred to as elevation profile.

Komoot - Elevation map
Komoot - Total elevation for a bikepacking route

The Roads

After I have done this, I feel it’s good to run through the route, look at it a little closer, and start making some modifications. As these routes are computer generated, they can make your life quite hard work as it’s not always straightforward. Navigating through towns and groups of roads can be challenging when you need to keep turning. 

On Komoot, you can drag the line with the cursor and make it simpler by literally keeping yourself on a single road providing it is safe to do so!

Komoot - Alternative map view

The Terrain 

Now you have modified your route and you’re pretty happy with the elevation, it’s time to check that you’re going to be on the suitable terrain for the bike you’re riding. 

It’s really easy when modifying routes to end up on some single track, and that’s unpleasant when you’re in a rush. So we go on the terrain checker to find out what surfaces we are on. This is on the sidebar on Komoot. 

Looking at what I have here, I’m pretty happy with this. If I was unhappy, I could hover the cursor over the terrain type, and it will show you on the map where to adjust.

Komoot - Terrain type summary

Strava Heatmaps

Now here’s a fantastic thing that very few people do, and I can highly recommend it. Strava, if you plot a route on their website, have a section called Heatmaps. 

They take all your data when you record, and they have made a giant heatmap where the darker red, the more the road has been used by cyclists. If you are unsure that a highway will be ok or safe, check it on heatmaps, and then you will know if other cyclists use it.

This is an excellent habit to have when cycling in unknown places, and it’s great to find new roads around where you live.

Other Applications

You can use many applications to navigate, such as MapMyRide, Google Maps, Ride with GPS, and even Strava. It’s really just a matter of personal preference. They will all give you similar data and are very similar in how the computer plans the route for you. 

The reason I use Komoot is I find it very user-friendly and straightforward to plan. You might find others more friendly, and I recommend trying a few applications before picking one to use for your bikepacking adventure!

Now What?

Now you have your route, you can either export it as a GPS file and send it to your Cycle computer, or you can use your phone and the Komoot application to navigate. 

When exporting to the GPS computer, make sure you have it in two formats, GPS and GPX, so you can have a backup file in case you need it. I also have an application with the route on my phone if I need a backup if my cycling computer breaks!

Now it’s ready, set, go!

Related article – Best Budget Bike Computer: Reviews and Complete Buying Guide

Frequently Asked Questions

Do You Need A GPS Computer To Navigate?

Not entirely, you could use even something as simple as a map with the route drawn on! 

Most people, when they first start, just use a bike phone mount on the handlebars. As much as I love this idea, it does come with some drawbacks, such as phones not being waterproof and handlebar mounts are not the safest fit for your bike. Don’t even start me on the reflection of the sun on your screen, haha!

The biggest issue I found using my phone was that the battery would drain so fast, and tracking your mileage data made it even worse. I constantly had a power bank plumbed in, and it just made life so difficult. 

A cheap alternative would be to use a bike speedometer that has some basic GPS functions.

How Can I Take My Bike To Another Country?

It took me a long time to get used to researching other countries before I went to them. On numerous trips across Europe, I found myself getting told off by people for what I thought was no reason. Well, turns out I was in the wrong. 

Cycling laws are very different depending on what country you’re in. For example, in the Netherlands, if there is a cycle path, you must use it, and in France, no riding with headphones. Take into account any laws when planning a route.

Is Bikepacking Safe?

I can’t stress enough about any kind of route planning. Make sure you’re putting safety before everything else. Being on a dual carriageway on a bike in some countries is completely legal, but it’s not very comfortable, and it’s not always very safe. 

I have done my fair share of route planning while racing and while touring and found that if you can shave a few miles off here and there, sometimes you can find yourself in a lot of trouble. The exciting stuff when cycling is always on the minor B roads, never the A roads. 

A Final Note

When route planning, really think about what the reason for the trip is. Where are you going and why? Make sure you get to all the points you need to go to and have the time to not rush.

All the preparation you’re doing will pay off on the trip, and it will make traveling much less stressful. Remember the laws in other places and research the cultures you are planning to go into.

Last but not least, have fun and enjoy the ride!

Hi, I'm Harry, the owner of this site! A 30-something MAMIL - a middle-aged man in lycra. An avid cyclist who is looking to maintain a baseline level of fitness to be able to enjoy the great outdoors on weekend rides with his mates!

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