What Is Bikepacking And How To Get Started

An Introduction to Bikepacking and Off-Road Bicycle Touring

Bikepacking is an exciting outdoor activity that combines the thrill of bike touring with the adventure of backpacking. It enables riders to explore remote and rugged terrain, reaching places that would otherwise be inaccessible by traditional means.

Whether you are a seasoned cyclist or a novice adventurer, bikepacking offers a unique way to experience the beauty of the world.

bikepacking tends to be a lightweight set up for shorter adventures

Understanding The Difference

What is Bikepacking?

If you’re new to the concept of bikepacking, you might be wondering what exactly it entails. Bikepacking is essentially a combination of backpacking and mountain biking.

Instead of carrying your camping gear on your back, you attach it to your bike, allowing you to cover greater distances and explore more diverse landscapes.

Imagine embarking on a multi-day adventure, traversing rugged terrains, and immersing yourself in the beauty of nature.

Bikepacking offers a unique way to experience the great outdoors, giving you the freedom to explore remote areas that may be inaccessible by other means of transportation.

Unlike traditional bicycle touring, bikepacking often takes riders off-road, onto gravel paths, singletrack trails, and even rugged mountain routes. It requires a sense of adventure and a willingness to embrace the unexpected.

With bikepacking, you can venture off the beaten path and discover hidden gems that are off-limits to conventional travellers.

bikepackers tend not to use traditional luggage such as racks and panniers

The History and Evolution of Bikepacking

The roots of bikepacking can be traced back to the late 19th century when adventurous cyclists began strapping their gear onto their bikes and heading off into the wilderness.

These early pioneers sought the thrill of exploration and the freedom that comes with self-sufficiency. Their journeys paved the way for the bikepacking community we know today.

In recent years, bikepacking has experienced a surge in popularity, with riders across the globe seeking out new and exciting routes.

The rise of social media and online communities has fostered a sense of camaraderie among bikepackers, inspiring others to embark on their own two-wheeled adventures.

Innovations in gear and technology have played a significant role in the evolution of bikepacking. Lightweight and durable bikepacking tents and bags have made it easier to carry gear efficiently. In contrast, advancements in navigation tools such as GPS devices and smartphone apps have made route planning more accessible than ever before.

With the right equipment and knowledge, bikepacking has become more accessible to a wider range of cyclists, from beginners to seasoned adventurers.

Furthermore, the bikepacking community has developed its own set of best practices and techniques. From packing strategies to bike maintenance tips, bikepackers share their knowledge and experiences, creating a supportive network that encourages newcomers to join the ranks.

As bikepacking continues to evolve, it remains a testament to the human spirit of exploration and the desire to connect with the natural world. Whether you’re a seasoned cyclist or someone looking for a new way to experience the outdoors, bikepacking offers an exhilarating and immersive adventure like no other.

bikepacking in the forest; making a minor repair of the disc brake

Essential Gear for Bikepacking

Bikepacking tends to lend itself to more remote places. That means you need to be fully self-sufficient with fuel, kit and route planning.

With that in mind, before you embark on your bikepacking journey, it’s important to have the right gear to ensure a successful and enjoyable experience. From choosing the right bike to packing your essentials, here are some tips to help you get started.

Choosing the Right Bike

Selecting the right bike is crucial for a successful bikepacking adventure. While any bike can technically be used for bikepacking, there are specific features that make certain bikes better suited for off-road terrain.

One important factor to consider is tire width. Wider tires provide better traction and stability on rough trails, allowing you to navigate through various terrains with ease. Additionally, bikes with suspension systems can absorb shocks and bumps, making your ride more comfortable and reducing fatigue.

Another consideration is the frame material. Aluminium frames are lightweight and durable, making them a popular choice for bikepacking. Steel frames, on the other hand, offer excellent shock absorption, can be repaired anywhere in the world and are ideal for long-distance rides. Ultimately, the choice of frame material depends on your personal preferences and budget.

Lastly, it’s essential to ensure that the bike fits you properly and that you are comfortable spending long hours in the saddle. I use a Brooks B17 – it’s amazing.

A bike that is too small or too big can cause discomfort and increase the risk of injuries. Consider getting a professional bike fit to ensure the perfect fit for your body.

bikepacking luggage straps to the handlebars for maximum utility

Bikepacking Bags and Packing Tips

One of the key differences between bikepacking and traditional touring is the use of specialized bikepacking bags. These bags are designed to fit snugly on the frame, handlebars, and seatpost of your bike, allowing you to distribute your gear evenly and maintain optimal balance.

When packing your bikepacking kit, it’s important to prioritize the essentials. Stick to lightweight and compact items to minimize the weight on your bike. Consider investing in ultralight camping gear, such as a lightweight tent, sleeping bag, and cooking equipment.

Organizing your gear is also crucial for a smooth bikepacking experience. Use dry bags or compression sacks to keep your clothes and other items dry and compact. It’s also a good idea to pack your gear in a logical order, with frequently used items easily accessible.

Before embarking on a long journey, always test your setup. Take a short overnight trip or a weekend getaway to ensure that your bikepacking bags are secure and that your gear is properly packed. This will help you identify any issues and make necessary adjustments before heading out on a longer adventure.

bikepacking luggage tends to be compact with rugged velcroe straps

Navigating Tools: Maps, Compass, and GPS

While modern technology has made navigation easier than ever, it’s always important to carry backup tools. GPS devices and smartphone apps are incredibly helpful, providing detailed maps and turn-by-turn directions. However, they can fail or run out of battery, leaving you stranded in unfamiliar territory.

Packing a compass and a paper map ensures that you can find your way even in the most challenging circumstances. Learning basic map reading and compass navigation skills can be a valuable asset, allowing you to navigate without relying solely on electronic devices.

In addition to a compass and a paper map, consider bringing a portable charger or a power bank to keep your electronic devices charged. This will ensure that you have access to GPS navigation when needed, without worrying about running out of battery.

Remember, bikepacking is all about adventure and exploration. Take the time to plan your trip, pack your gear thoughtfully, and be prepared for any situation. With the right gear and a spirit of adventure, you’ll create unforgettable memories on your bikepacking journey.

what is the right amount of cycle touring kit

Planning Your Bikepacking Adventure

Embarking on a bikepacking adventure is an exhilarating experience that allows you to explore the great outdoors while pushing your physical and mental limits. However, proper planning is essential to ensure a successful and safe journey.

Here are some additional details to consider when planning your bikepacking adventure:

Selecting Your Route

When it comes to selecting your bikepacking route, the options are seemingly endless. Take the time to research and explore the various possibilities available to you. Look for established bikepacking routes in your area, as these often offer well-maintained trails and a community of fellow adventurers.

However, don’t limit yourself to just the popular routes. Consider venturing off the beaten path and exploring lesser-known trails that offer unique experiences. These hidden gems may lead you to stunning landscapes, secluded campsites, or encounters with local wildlife.

As you evaluate different routes, take into account factors such as distance, elevation gain, and the availability of amenities along the way.

Are you looking for a challenging multi-day expedition or a shorter, more leisurely trip? Do you prefer to camp in remote areas or stay at established campsites with facilities?

These considerations will help you tailor your route to your preferences and abilities.

It’s also important to thoroughly assess the difficulty level of your chosen route and ensure that it aligns with your fitness and experience level. Some routes may require technical skills or extensive climbing, while others may be more suitable for beginners. Be honest with yourself about your capabilities and choose a route that will challenge you without overwhelming you.

a fully loaded bikepacking rig

Training and Preparing for the Journey

Bikepacking demands a certain level of physical fitness and mental endurance. To prepare yourself for the challenges that lie ahead, it’s crucial to design a training program that encompasses both cycling and strength training exercises.
Gradually increase your mileage to build up your endurance, allowing your body to adapt to long hours in the saddle.

Consider incorporating interval training and hill repeats to improve your speed and climbing abilities. Additionally, don’t forget to work on your core and upper body strength, as these muscles play a vital role in bike handling and stability.

Practicing carrying weight on your bike is also essential to simulate the conditions of a real bikepacking trip. Load up your bike with the gear and supplies you plan to take on your adventure, and go for test rides to get a feel for the added weight and how it affects your balance and handling.

Furthermore, mental preparation is just as important as physical training. Bikepacking often involves long hours of solitude and self-reliance, so it’s essential to cultivate mental resilience and embrace the solitude. Consider incorporating mindfulness or meditation practices into your daily routine to help you stay focused and present during your journey.

Safety Measures and Emergency Preparedness

Your safety should always be a top priority when embarking on a bikepacking adventure. Before setting off, take the time to familiarize yourself with basic first aid procedures and pack a well-stocked first aid kit. This kit should include essentials such as bandages, antiseptic ointment, pain relievers, and any necessary prescription medications.

In addition to a first aid kit, it’s crucial to have a reliable communication device in case of emergencies. Consider carrying a satellite phone, a personal locator beacon (PLB), or a two-way radio to ensure you can reach out for help if needed, especially in areas with limited cell phone coverage.

Always inform someone you trust of your itinerary and expected return time. Provide them with detailed information about your route, campsites, and any alternative options you may have planned. This way, if you encounter any unexpected challenges or delays, someone will be aware of your situation and can initiate a search or rescue if necessary.

Lastly, check the weather conditions before you start your journey and monitor them throughout your trip. Be prepared for sudden changes in weather, and pack appropriate clothing and gear to stay safe and comfortable. Remember, it’s better to be overprepared than underprepared when it comes to safety in the wilderness.

bikepacking affords access to rugged off road terrain

Top Destinations Around the World

Best Bikepacking Routes in North America

North America offers a diverse range of bikepacking routes, from the stunning coastal vistas of the Pacific Northwest to the rugged mountains of the Rocky Mountain region. Popular routes include the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, the Oregon Outback, and the Arizona Trail.

Exploring Europe on Two Wheels

Europe boasts a vast network of bike trails that traverse pristine countryside and picturesque villages. The EuroVelo network offers a range of well-maintained routes, including the popular North Sea Cycle Route and the Camino de Santiago. Explore our adventures around Charity Bike Ride around Europe to see if it’s for you.

a bike adventure in asia

Unforgettable Bikepacking Adventures in Asia

Asia presents endless opportunities for bikepacking enthusiasts. From exploring the idyllic rice terraces of Vietnam to conquering the challenging peaks of the Himalayas, there is something for every rider. I pursued The Hippie Trail by Bike – a transcontinental bicycle adventure of my own design.

The Annapurna Circuit in Nepal is epic. Friends just did this loop on full-suss MTBs. It’s a thing. I preferred to hike the route.

The Mae Hong Son Loop in Thailand is equally incredible. Bikepacking adventures await all over the world.

A Bootstrappers Guide To Bikepacking

Bikepacking is a bootstrapping cyclist’s answer to outdoor adventure. Forget the expensive kit, far-flung places and detailed planning. Just wing it and see if you like it.

Strap on your gear, hop on your bike and go!  Bikepacking will introduce you to new places, challenge your limits, and create memories that will last a lifetime.