Warm weather is on the horizon, and your summer is open for a long-distance adventure. But perhaps you don’t have the resources to spend weeks—or months—on a backpacking trail. How can you cover epic miles, see a new part of the country, and feel insanely accomplished? Enter bikepacking.
Bikepacking is exactly what it sounds like: packing your gear on a bike from one end of a chosen route or trail to the other end. A bikepacking trip can be as short as an overnight, or it can be a full-season expedition across the country. More than likely you’ll fall somewhere in the middle, planning a trip ranging from a few days to a few weeks—between 100-500 miles. Those miles aren’t as daunting as they sound: Fit cyclists who know their gear and have a high level of physical ability can expect to cover between 25-70 miles per day, depending on terrain. This means a 100-mile route can conceivably be done in just a few days. Interested? Here are the basics to keep in mind when planning a bikepacking trip this year.
Know Your Gear
Unlike on a backpacking trip, you don’t want to carry much weight, if any, on your back. Luckily the bike can carry most of the load with panniers (packs mounted over the wheels), handlebar packs, triangular top-tube bags (which fit between your top tube and down tube), and a saddlebag under the seat. A small backpack (like a hydration pack) is fine for your back, but you’ll be much more comfortable with that weight spread out than on your body—and you won’t sweat as much either. But you’ll still need to remember to pack carefully and take just what you need. You will feel that additional weight when it’s time to pedal. Every ounce matters.
For camping, you’ll need a shelter, sleep system, cookset, and water filter. Most of your backpacking gear is fair game—no need to invest in a fancy bikepacking shelter right off the bat. As with all long-distance endeavors, the lighter the better.
Choose your apparel carefully as well. Plan for inclement weather, from extreme heat and humidity to rain or even snow at high elevations. Moisture-managing base layers, a reliable rain set, a technical mid-layer, and insulation are all important. Choose riding clothes you can sweat in day after day without becoming stinky and chafed, and make sure to test riding clothes before committing to them on a bikepacking trip. Comfortable cycling jerseys are a good bet, and a lightweight jacket keeps the wind at bay without adding bulk. Choosing clothing made with 37.5 Technology means you’ll stay drier and more comfortable—no matter what the weather throws at you.
You Don’t Need a Special Bike
If you’re an avid cyclist, you probably already own a bike you can pack. Are you into the mountain bike scene with a sweet full-suspension? Choose a backcountry route on singletrack and forested trails. Love your gravel-oriented hardtail? The best route will be something that spends most of its miles on dirt roads or crushed limestone trails. Bikepacking bikes exist, and they look similar to non-packing models geared toward road, gravel, or mountain terrain. A few key difference include a larger front triangle to fit a pack and extra mounting hardware for water bottles and packs. If you decide to pack your own bike, be sure it’s tuned up and in peak condition—just like yourself—before you depart.
Choose Your Route Carefully
Your first bikepacking trip is not a case where “go big or go home” applies. Commit to a route you know you can finish, and make sure you know bail-out points in case something goes wrong. Stick to a route with easy access to towns, and research the terrain carefully. Established bikepacking routes are found across the country for all difficulty levels, locations, and distances. Plan daily stops and realistic mileage goals ahead of time. If you’re resupplying, carefully map out food to ensure you don’t roll into town with several pounds of extra food, but also that you don’t run out before your next town stop.
Understand Bike Maintenance
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To last week and setting off fully loaded with kit as we rode towards Scoriag peninsula – rain lashing down. We were hoping for sun, but there's something about the wet that adds to the adventure, don't you think? 📷 @mountainbikeworldwide @rossbellphoto Regranned from👉 @cat_sutherland #worldbycycling
Unlike backpacking, you’ll be depending on more than just your own two feet to get you from start to finish. If you’re not very familiar with bicycle maintenance and repair, take a course to learn. Practice changing tubes, patching tires, and fixing dumped chains before you hit the trail. A complete bike maintenance kit should be one of the most accessible parts of your gear setup.
Know Your Limits
Don’t set out on an extended bikepacking trip unless you have the fitness to back it up. This is a demanding, physically challenging way to travel, and you can expect long days in the saddle. There is no shame in pushing your bike up steep sections or walking it down technical downhills. Practicing with a full kit mounted to your bike beforehand is important, but the balance and weight will still take some getting used to. Remember to adjust your tires and suspension to account for the added weight, and keep your gear organized no matter how tired you are at the end of each day. Dismantling your entire pack setup to find the Allen wrench will put a damper on the day.
Still think it sounds like fun? Of course it does. Just start small, know your bike, and do the proper planning ahead of time to ensure that your time on the trail is a fun and memorable experience.
Written by Matcha for 37.5.
Featured image provided by Robert Thomson