The Bikepacking Handbook: Minimalism on Two Wheels

Unsure how to start bikepacking? Find freedom in simplicity with this handbook. Learn to choose gear wisely, plan routes, and embrace the bikepacking lifestyle.

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Bikepacker fixing wheels with clouds in the background

I first discovered bikepacking on the misty trails of Oregon.

I learned how to travel light, embrace nature, and find adventure during my journey. Bikepacking turned simple rides into thrilling explorations. It taught me self-reliance, endurance, and the joy of discovery.

In this guide, you’ll unlock the secrets to a successful bikepacking trip.

Bikepacking vs Bicycle Touring: Understanding the Basics

While bikepacking and bicycle touring involve traveling long distances on a bike, they cater to different adventures.

Bicycle touring, a concept from Thomas Stevens’s world tour on his penny-farthing in 1884, typically involves paved roads and heavier loads. It’s like going on a road trip with your bike.

On the flip side, there’s bikepacking.

This is the newer, wild child of biking adventures. Think less about the smooth tarmac and more about the thrill of off-road trails. It’s about immersing yourself in the wilderness, zigzagging through dirt paths, and embracing the freedom of a lighter load.

A typical bikepacking escapade?

It’s an eclectic mix of singletrack, gravel, and a bit of pavement here and there. It’s not just about covering distance; it’s about the diversity of the journey and the agility of your ride.

Woman bikepacking taking a photo

Similarities and Differences Between the Two

Despite their distinct styles, bikepacking and bicycle touring share a common love for cycling and adventure.

Whether you’re gearing up for a bikepacking expedition or a bicycle tour, a few things are non-negotiable: a decent level of fitness, a well-thought-out plan, and, of course, a reliable bike that’s up for the challenge.

But here’s where the paths diverge.

If you’re leaning towards bicycle touring, picture yourself with those larger panniers, cruising predominantly on roads. It’s a style that calls for a bit more gear, maybe a bit more comfort. 

Now, switch gears to bikepacking. Imagine yourself embracing the essence of minimalism, your bike light and agile, ready to tackle those off-road trails and unexpected paths.

The choice between bikepacking and bicycle touring boils down to what stirs your soul. What kind of adventure are you craving? What’s your style?

Choosing What’s Best for You

When deciding between bikepacking and bicycle touring, consider your interests, fitness level, and the kind of experience you want.

If you love the idea of hitting off-road trails, sleeping under the stars, and carrying only the absolute essentials, bikepacking might be your calling.

On the other hand, if you prefer the comfort of established campsites, riding on paved roads, and carrying more gear, bicycle touring might be a better fit.

My advice? Talk to those who’ve been there and done that. Dive into online forums, absorb those reviews, and weigh up your budget. But here’s the kicker: there’s no right or wrong in this choice.

Both bikepacking and bicycle touring offer unique adventures and rewards. The important thing is to choose what brings you the most joy and suits your exploration style.

Selecting the Ideal Bike for Bikepacking

Getting started with bikepacking doesn’t require a high-end specialist bike.

The charm of bikepacking lies in its versatility. The most important aspect is finding your bike comfortable for long rides.

If you’re considering purchasing a new bike specifically for bikepacking, start with what you already have and gradually upgrade as you gain more experience.

Types of Bikes Suitable for Bikepacking

Different types of bikes are suitable for different terrains.

For instance, a specialist road bike might not be the best choice for rougher tracks on a bikepacking route.

Gravel bikes, as the name suggests, are well-equipped for gravel terrains, roads, and dirt tracks. This makes them a popular choice for standard bikepacking routes. They can handle a variety of surfaces, making your ride smoother and more manageable.

Mountain bikes are an excellent option for more challenging and unruly off-road routes or singletrack trails. Their robust build and suspension systems are designed to withstand the toughest terrains.

Red gravel bike with leaves on the ground

Comfort and Gearing: Key Factors to Consider

One thing bikepacking lends itself to is the long hours spent in the saddle.

Thus, comfort is a critical aspect to consider. Ensure your bike fits you well and is comfortable for long periods. If you’ve recently bought a new bike, taking it out for a few spins before embarking on your bikepacking adventure is recommended. This will help you adjust to the bike and make any necessary modifications for enhanced comfort.

Gearing is another crucial factor.

The right gear can make a significant difference in your bikepacking experience. Whether climbing steep hills or cruising on a flat surface, having the appropriate gears can save you considerable effort and make your journey more enjoyable.

Gear Essentials for Your Bikepacking Adventure

Bikepacking demands smart packing due to the limited space in bikepacking bags. It’s essential to pack light and only carry the essentials.

Bike bags such as handlebar bags, frame bags, and bike frame packs are designed to maximize storage space on your bike. They provide convenient and accessible storage for all your essentials, from cold food to your sleeping bag and pad.

Another important aspect is to have the tools and materials to fix a flat tire. Bikepacking often involves off-road routes and rough terrains, increasing the likelihood of a flat tire. Having the necessary tools can save you a lot of trouble.

Lastly, consider the type of bike you’re using.

Touring bikes often have more storage options, making them a good choice if you carry more gear. However, whatever your bikepacking setup, remember the golden rule – pack as light as possible!

Handlebar bag rolled up

Importance of Quality Bikepacking Bags

The quality of your bikepacking gear can make or break your adventure.

One of the most significant developments in bikepacking gear is the emergence of bike-specific soft bags. These replace the traditional racks and panniers, offering a lighter, less cumbersome alternative.

Soft bags can be fitted snugly onto gravel bikes, maximizing your bike’s carrying capacity without significantly altering its weight or handling.

A set of soft bags typically includes a frame pack and a seat pack, with optional stem and accessory bags.

A seat pack is a great place to start – it provides ample packing space for essentials like your sleeping gear. For enhanced stability, consider placing something firm within the bag, such as your rolled-up clothes.

A roll bag can also be a good investment, providing additional room for cooking equipment. As you venture further into bikepacking, consider adding a frame pack to your gear for even more packing space.

Remember, these bags are your lifeline during your trip. They carry all your essentials, so they must fit your bike perfectly. If your bike doesn’t have rack mounting points, don’t worry. Many bikepacking bags can be mounted without the need for rack points.

Loaded bikepacking bike on a hilly landscape

Must-Have Tools and Repair Kits

You must be prepared for common bike issues as you ride the trails.

Bikepacking can be unpredictable, and flat tires are one of the most common obstacles. Having the right tools on hand will keep your journey running smoothly.

A tire lever, for instance, is an essential tool for changing tires and tubes. Having a set of these in your bikepacking gear will save you a lot of hassle when you’re in the middle of nowhere with a flat tire.

Another important consideration is a basic repair kit. This should include a multi-tool for adjustments and minor repairs, a patch kit for punctured tubes, and a spare chain link for chain breaks.

The goal is to have enough tools to fix common problems without adding too much weight to your pack.

Recommendations for Durable Camping Equipment

If you’re transitioning from backpacking to bikepacking, you’ll find a lot of overlap in gear requirements.

Your current backpacking gear may serve you well on your bikepacking adventures. However, certain pieces of equipment are instrumental when bikepacking. For instance, nothing beats the comfort of a reliable, lightweight sleeping bag and tent after a long day of cycling.

And let’s not forget about footwear. While cycling shoes are a must for the ride, you’ll want a pair of flip-flops or lightweight sandals for when you’re off the bike and around the campsite. 

Not only do they give your feet a break from your cycling shoes, but they also keep your feet clean and protected!

How to Effectively Pack for Bikepacking

How you pack your bikepacking gear can significantly impact your experience on the trail.

It’s not just about what you pack but also how you pack it. With the right approach, you can maximize your packing space, stabilize your load, and minimize the weight of your gear. A well-packed bike not only feels lighter but also handles better.

Start by distributing your load across your soft bags, seat packs, and frame packs.

Your heaviest items should go in your frame pack, as it’s closest to your center of gravity. Lighter items like sleeping gear and clothing can be placed in your seat pack or roll bag. Cooking equipment and food can be stored in accessory bags, while stem bags are perfect for snacks and items you want to keep within easy reach.

Remember, the goal is to balance your load for optimal handling.

Organizing Your Bikepacking Bags

When organizing your bikepacking gear, a systematic approach can make your life much easier on the trail.

A well-organized bag or harness maximizes packing space and ensures you can quickly find what you need when you need it. This is especially important when you’re off the beaten path and must set up camp or fix a mechanical issue quickly.

One tactic is to group similar items. For example, all your tools and repair kits could go in one bag, while your sleeping gear and clothing go in another.

Another tip is to pack items you’ll need frequently or urgently, such as snacks or a rain jacket, in easy-to-reach places like a handlebar roll.

With a little planning and organization, you can streamline your packing process and enhance your bikepacking experience.

Prioritizing Essential Items for Your Trip

It’s not just about packing light but ensuring you have everything you need for a safe and enjoyable journey.

Sure, you’ll face the challenge of fitting everything into your bikepacking bags, but it’s more about carrying the weight smartly. Think of it as a race against unnecessary load. What are the things you absolutely can’t do without? Your list may vary based on the bikepacking routes you’ll traverse, but there are some universal essentials.

A good rule of thumb is to start with your survival needs.

This includes a high-quality first aid kit, warm clothes, a reliable rain jacket, and essential tools and repair kits. You also need to pack durable camping and backpacking gear. Remember your food and water supplies!

The goal is to pack light AND pack right.

Planning Your First Bikepacking Route

Planning your first bikepacking route can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be.

Bikepacking and bike touring is about embracing the freedom of the open road or trail and experiencing the joy of riding your bike. And the beauty of it is that bikepacking routes are endless.

Whether you prefer to ride a mountain bike on singletrack, enjoy the comfort of paved bike paths, or want to challenge yourself on rugged terrain, there’s a route out there for you.

Your route should match your capabilities and your gear for a bikepacking adventure. Consider your average daily mileage and how comfortable you are carrying the weight of your gear over that distance.

And remember, there’s no right or wrong way to bikepack. If you’re out on your bike, it’s a good day!

Key Considerations for Route Selection

When selecting your bikepacking route, there are several key considerations to remember.

First, think about the terrain. Do you want to be riding on singletrack, gravel, or paved roads? Each terrain requires different skills and equipment, so choose a route matching your comfort level and gear.

Second, consider where you’ll be sleeping and where you can resupply with water and food. Planning your stops ahead of time is essential to ensure you have enough necessary supplies.

But most importantly, remember that your bikepacking route should reflect your personal goals and interests. Whether you want to challenge yourself with a technical singletrack or prefer a leisurely ride along scenic paved roads, there’s no wrong choice.

Use maps and routes available online to help you find the perfect route for your bikepacking adventure.

Understanding the Importance of Trip Duration

Another key aspect of bikepacking that should not be overlooked is the duration of your trip. The length of your journey can significantly impact your choice of route, gear, and supplies. 

For first-time bikepackers, a shorter trip – say, a two-day, one-night adventure over the weekend – can be a great way to get a feel for the bikepacking experience without overwhelming yourself.

As you gain confidence and experience, you can build up to longer, more challenging routes.

It’s not a race – it’s about enjoying the journey, appreciating the scenery, and relishing the freedom of the open road. So, take your time, set a comfortable pace, and enjoy your bikepacking adventure.

Online Resources for Route Planning

Now that you’ve got a handle on the key considerations for planning your bikepacking journey, it’s time to put it together and plan your route.

Here are a few tools to get you started:

Start exploring, and before you know it, you’ll have a bikepacking route that’s just right for your adventure.

The Future of Your Bikepacking Journey

The rewards of bikepacking are manifold.

Apart from the physical benefits, it offers a unique opportunity to connect with nature, explore new places, and challenge yourself. Each journey is not just about the destination but also about personal growth and adventure along the way.

From learning to pack effectively to mastering route planning, every bikepacking trip adds to your repertoire of skills. And with each successful trip, the reward is a sense of accomplishment, unforgettable memories, and the anticipation of the next adventure.

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