In the cycling world, no category is more original than bikepacking. It is as old and traditional as it can get on two wheels, with modern touring elements and tech added. Bikepacking is all about adventure.
Originally it was something different but today, it’s become synonymous with a person on a bike, exploring the wilderness and going on long-distance trips without support.
Bikepacking was just a normal way of life before cars and paved roads when people needed to go from one place to another with their belongings secured on their trusty two wheeled companions. But what is bikepacking today? And how is it any different than touring?
To understand this, let’s take a deeper dive into this trackless category of cycling.
What is Bikepacking?
Simply put, bikepacking is a long trip with all your essentials packed up and strapped to your frame, where you discover unmarked roads, hard to reach places or you decide to spend a night camping in the wilderness.
Bikepacking is taking a break from our busy lives and immersing ourselves into nature with self-reliance. This includes traveling on rugged paths, with dirt, gravel and anything that is not remotely close to paved roads.
The second feature of bikepacking is the ‘backpack’. Since the objective is a bit of self-sufficiency, things you pack for your trip need to be strapped to your bike frame. There are special bags that cater to this function and the use of racks is discouraged.
Most riders travel on terrain that has very little pavement, and for this reason the most common bikes used are gravel bikes and mountain bikes.
They offer more trust and can handle any rugged obstacle you encounter. However, bikepacking is a very broad term and depending on your preference (style and duration of trip) you could bring any type of bike.
Bikepacking vs Bike Touring
Bike touring, or cycle touring, involves riding your bike through different areas that are accessible by road with an occasional rush through dirt.
Bike touring is usually done on pre-determined tracks so, you don’t have to create your own path. The routes for bike touring are commonly run through towns, cities or some sort of place where you can easily find repair shops, markets or medical necessities.
Touring bikes are predominantly used for bike touring which enables the rider to strap many bags and showcase a longer wheelbase that improves comfort and rideability.
In contrast, bikepacking is all about riding through singletrack trails with a small kit and limited supplies attached to any place on your bike.
With touring, you have the luxury of using pannier bags attached to a rack, but with bikepacking, since the routes run through dirt forest roads, even packing the bare minimum can be challenging.
What to Carry?
What you should take on a bikepacking trip depends on where you’re going. Bikepacking gives you the freedom to pick your own path or choose from a set of routes already available online.
Recently, bikepacking has become a lot trendier and you can find events and organized groups for bikepacking. Although this provides a bit of reliance on others, you still need to pack the essentials, and if you plan to explore remote places, we recommend being as self-sufficient as possible.
Your bike depends on the terrain and the length of your trip. You can take just about any bike for bikepacking as long as it can handle your planned route.
Mountain bikes like the SAVADECK 2.0 are common because they offer a strong frame with plenty of space for bags and the front forks can deal with uneven surfaces. Since you’ll be traveling out to remote areas, I would like to add a few more essentials under this bike category.
- Repair kit
- Air pump
- Chain tool
- Puncture repair kit
- Bike lock
These things are necessary for an overnight stay but if you intend to travel further and longer adding any spare components like a derailleur would be good to include.
To carry all your electronics, food and accessories, you’ll need bags designed to hold all these things. While any old rucksack will be able to do this, storing them haphazardly on your bike can change the weight distribution and make cross-country travel challenging.
Bikepacking bags are the solution to your bikepacking trip. They can be strapped to the frame and the available space around the seatpost or inside the triangular section of the frame. Fork mounted bags offer additional storage for longer retreats.
Bikepacking bags are the best option because you don’t need racks and they do not widen the bicycle like panniers hanging on the side of your bike.
You can strap these to any bicycle and just get going!
Bikepackers do not live lavishly. At least that is the case with food during these trips. Bikepacking food consists of easy to make dry foods, granola, pasta and some other snack of choice. Warm meals require stoves, and small compact ones can be costly.
You can opt for metal pots, some fuel and stormproof matches or get some MREs. Whatever you choose, don’t forget to bring a tiny water filter or purification tablets as you’ll be running out of water quite a bit.
So you’ve sorted out your bike and bags, but you will need somewhere to sleep. There are all sorts of surprises out there and a bivvy bag is fine for most trips. They’re lightweight, take up less space and get the job done. However, long nights and bad weather conditions suggest taking a light waterproof tent.
Finding a sheltered place is always the goal of bikepacking wanderers, but you need to camp with environmental considerations. The Leave No Trace movement of bikepackers is becoming popular and allows people to camp on sites that are otherwise no trespass zones.
You’ll be on your own for at least a night and having basic hygiene is necessary to avoid any irritation. High SPF sunscreen and insect repellent will make your journey easier and some moisturizer and cream can help repair any skin damage. A small toothbrush and toothpaste can help with fresh breath and keep bacteria away after snacks.
Carry some cleaning wipes to remove dirt and bacteria whenever you get time and detergent to wash your clothes when you get done with riding through the day.
The last thing you need to pack when heading out on your trip is a little encouragement. Bikepacking can be challenging for first timers and the challenges of weather and elements alone can be daunting. Always remember that you have packed for your trip cautiously and have everything you need in your bags.
Appreciate the nature around you and take pride in the fact that you are traveling on “the road less traveled”.
Enjoy your bikepacking trip as much as possible and encourage others to join you next time you plan a trip.