I have enjoyed biking almost all my life. I have done road biking when I was younger and a lot of mountain biking and Adventure racing through my thirties. In recent years (I am in my late forties now) I began bikepacking as a way of combining my joy of biking and my joy of going far and camping with minimal gear in beautiful places. For me, bikepacking is human powered transport on a bike for at least one overnighter, where you carry all your needed gear in specially made bags strapped to the frame and other various parts of your bike, making it possible for you to maintain good weight distribution on the bike, thereby not limiting your capability to go off road too much. The ability to do this makes it possible to go places on your bike, where you would normally have to hike instead. For me that is a win win situation. In the following, I aim to share some advice and small things I have learned about bikepacking over the last few years.
The Bike and packs
I will recommend bringing a bike suitable for your purpose and the challenge you are planning. Any old bike can probably do a lot, but if you are aiming to go on an extended tour in off road conditions, make sure the bike is up for it and newly serviced, so it can hold up to a beating. If not, you will be cursing somewhere with a broken chain, gear, brake or worse frame. Bring a bike you can rely on, that is build for what you are aiming to do. Invest in some decent tyres for it, a good saddle and make sure that the drive chain and brakes are working properly. The bike I use is a Ghost Endless Road Rage designed for bike touring.
Even with all that you will need to bring some form of maintenance tools and repair kit. I usually bring the following in a tool roll in my frame bag.
- The tool roll is a nice way to have all your tools in one place. It has compartments and you can roll up a wrench or pump in it as well.
- Multi tool from Lezyne
- Lightweight pump, easy to use and good quality
- A small wrench, can also double as a small hammer
- Two spare tubes or tubeless repair kit with plugs/fluid and valve tool.
- Gorilla og gaffa tape
- A few cable ties
- A rag to wipe oil and grime off
- A utility knife
- Spare links for the chain
- Oil for the chain, important to keep you going in a smooth fashion
The bags that make up the packing part of bikepacking is also important. If you google bikepacking bags you will find a lot of large and small suppliers. It is up to you which you want to support and what your specific needs are. Generally you will need the following bags depending on the amount of gear and the length of your ride.
I use two bags on the rider side, one with kitchen gear and one with camera gear, in the front I have a handlebar front loader carrying a rolled up drybag with all my sleeping gear in it. Strapped on top of that a box shaped bag with rain jacket, gloves, sunglasses, reading glasses, maps, Kindle, first aid kit and other small assorted gear I might need during the day.
Top tube bags
I use a larger pack on the front end of the top tube with phone, wallet, headtorch and so on and a smaller bag between my legs that is my snack pack filled with Sneakers.
I use a large framebag inside the frame, where I carry heavier items like tools, repair kit, food, water, batteries, powerbanks and so on. To the tube underneath the framebag, I can strap a sitpad and my tent pole, if I have the tent with me. I also have a cage; I can mount to the underside of the tube if I need a place to carry more water.
On the back of the seat is a large bag where I usually have all my extra clothes, toiletries and tarp. Get a quality one that don’t swing too much when riding.
I prefer riding without a backpack, so if I need more food, supplies or the tent, I have two Gorilla cages with drybags that I can mount on the forks. Here I can place food, water, tent, clothes or other needed gear, especially for winter rides.
I prefer not riding with a backpack, but if I need it, I have an old version of the Six Moons Design Flight, that is build with a vest harness, so not to interfere too much when biking.
Fanny pack or bum bag
The hip pack has become extremely popular among mountain bikers which makes sense because you usually need a small place to pack keys, snacks and so on. I might bring one on extended rides, but usually I don’t bother with it.
The bags I use are from Oveja Negra (Black Sheep), DOM and Blackburn, but you can find many that are are very good quality all over the world.
Packing your bike
You should know that there are as many ways to pack and organize your bike, as there are people riding them. My way might not be your way it will very much depend on personal preference. Here are a few tips anyway.
When it rains (and it will), you will be happy to have your rain kit within reach and not at the bottom of your front drybag with your sleeping bag.
Train yourself in making camp quickly and putting up your shelter in wind and rain. You don’t want to be standing in a storm and be putting your shelter up for the first time.
I try to make my packing and therefore also unpacking into a system where I think on how and when I will need to use that item. For example, most of my kitchen gear is packed together, so is electronics, clothes, sleeping gear and so on.
If you are going to need your first aid kit, you will most likely be in a hurry, so keep it somewhere easily accessible.
Keep water and heavy gear as close to the frame as possible, to maintain good balance while riding, especially if doing bumpy or difficult trails.
The lighter the bike, the greater the ride
Pack ultralight or at least somewhat light. Only bring the essential stuff and always go for lightweight purpose-built gear whenever possible. The clothes and gear you bring will be dependent on the climate and season. Summer will see you bring minimal clothing, minimal sleep gear and perhaps only a light tent or tarp. In wintertime you will have to beef up your gear accordingly for wet and cold days.
Bikepacking is not a contest in fashion (well maybe for some), so don’t be afraid to wear the same clothes for days at a time. Maintaining hygiene is off course important for your general wellbeing, but with that said I usually wear the same clothes for 3-7 days at a time. If I get to smelly or dirty, I will do a primitive wash and dry them on my body. For that same reason I prefer using merino wool as base layers. It just keeps fresh and comfortable for much longer than synthetics.
But clothing is not the only place you can save some grams on your bikepacking ride. Here is a small list of other places to save weight on gear.
Most food I cook (and cooking is a big word here), I only need boiling water for. I therefor usually carry only a very minimal setup of a 750 ml Ti Pot, a Soto Windmaster gas stove and 100 grams gas cannister placed inside the pot. In summertime I can be spotted using a very simple meth stove from Trail Designs instead that packs into the pot as well. I will also bring a lightweight spoon and the customary bikepacking mug strapped to the bike.
I rarely skimp on sleeping gear. You will need a good night’s sleep to be able to go far the next day. I therefore recommend a good quality down sleeping bag or quilt designed to keep you warm for the environment, you are going to use it in. I own three bags one for summer, one for winter and one in-between. You could use the in-between bag and the summer bag together thereby making a winterbag. Brands I use and recommend are Montbell, As Tucas and Cumulus. Coupled with the bag you will also need a good sleeping mattress to insulate you from the ground. This is just as important as a good sleeping bag. I will also bring an inflatable pillow to make sure I get a good nights sleep.
Some people like to camp at already established camp sites with wooden shelters or Lean-Tos. I will do it but I actually prefer to set my own camp. I usually bring at least a tarp as it is light and quick to pitch. The one I have is from Hyperlite Mountain Gear and is made of Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF) a very light and strong material. For bug infested areas or seasons (or if bikepacking with my son) I own a two person DCF Ultamid tent, which is still light and small enough to pack on the bike if needed.
The less food and water you bring the more weight you save… but that will not get you very far on your bike. Energy in the form of food and hydration in the form of water is crucial for any success on a bike. However, carry too much and you will suffer the weight and the space on your bike. I will plan for morning and dinner meals like freeze-dried food for dinner and muesli for mornings. To supplement that I bring a top tube bag full of snacks like Sneakers and granola bars. For lunch I find a place along the way or live of the snacks. I usually plan to resupply along the way if possible, if not I bring more initial food.
Never ride without water and every time you pass a water source drink your bottle empty and refill it, that way you will stay hydrated on your ride. I usually bring a Befree or Sawyer water filter just in case I cant find a clean source.
Bikepacking is for some a way of escaping the world and getting back to nature and basics without electronics. Not so for me. Oh, I do enjoy getting back to nature, but I will happily bring some electronics with me to assist me and make the ride more enjoyable.
Mobile phone is essential, you might cycle through remote terrain and will possibly need to make an emergency call. Keep in mind that in some areas there are no reception on a mobile phone, in that case I would spring a satellite phone or SPOT device. A mobile phone is also great for checkin in with the family, getting on social media or taking pictures. I can also use if for navigation but more on that later.
Camera equipment is something I like bringing. I like taking pictures and shooting video, so I will bring a GoPro, a lightweight tripod and a compact camera (I have recently upgraded to the Canon G5X Mark II). I know, I am a hypocrite for saying bring lightweight stuff and then I tow all this camera gear, but it is part of my enjoyment when hiking or riding a bike, so that’s that.
I will usually bring a 10.000 mAh power bank from Anker, which provide me with enough power to keep my gear charged for 3-5 days depending on use. If I need more, I will bring two Anker power banks. It also has a small built in light which is surprisingly useful at times. It has two USB ports, so I can recharge two items at once.
Besides a front and back light for the bike. I bring a rechargeable headtorch for those dark situations where you are riding through a wood at night, trying to make camp in the dark or looking for your shoes to go outside to take a p*** during the night (yes, I am old enough to need that at least once during the night).
Helmet, first aid kit and rain clothes
It doesn’t matter if you are going fast or slow, on road or on rocky trails, when you are on a bike you are exposed and a tumble can be dangerous or even deadly if you land on your head. A helmet will can potentially save your life, so wear one.
A first aid kit is just as essential as a helmet. There are many lightweight readymade variations to be bought and most of them will do simply fine depending on your level of knowledge. Bottom line is don’t bring more than you know how to use. If you have zero idea about first aid. I would recommend taking a basic course in first aid. You should know more than, how to phone for the emergency services, as it might help you or some other person in an emergency.
Rain clothes is needed in my area of the world which is Scandinavia. Depending on the weather forecast and the length of the ride I might not bring rain pants, but I will bring a rain jacket unless it is the height of summer. My choice of jacket is The Omm Aether Smock with the super breathable Event fabric. It is made for ultrarunning in the fells of Wales, so it is also a perfect construction for riding bikes in pouring rain while still keeping you warm and somewhat dry and comfortable. The pants I use are from Montane and they are a snug fit and able to be closed at the ankles. On my hands and feet, I will use waterproof gloves and shoe covers from a Danish brand called GribGrab. Besides keeping me from getting wet, rain clothes will also shield me from a cold wind during winter rides.
- Short or longsleeved quality merino shirt (might even bring woolen sleeves with the short shirt)
- Inner bib shorts with chamois from Patagonia
- Shorts og long pants from Norrøna in their flex material (For winter I will use a thick pair of tights with a windproof front).
- Merino socks (Waterproof socks if lots of rain is expected)
- Thin soft-shell jacket from Outdoor Research with a hood, that will block all but the fiercest wind.
- Bandanna from Buff
- Gloves from GribGrab (finger or long depending on season)
- Overshoes from GribGrab (depending on season and weather)
- Northwave Spider Plus shoes with cleats
- Long sleeved merino shirt (in winter a thicker one)
- Merino boxers
- Merino long johns (In winter a pair of warmer synthetics)
- Puffy warm jacket in either down or synthetics depending on season and climate
- Thicker sleeping socks
- Warm woolen Beanie
- Merino liner gloves
- Plastic bags to use over warm socks in wet shoes
- Rain clothes
When you are planning a bike ride for a prolonged period, you will need to navigate at one point either using electronics or compass/paper maps. I will highly recommend that you are proficient in using both. Depending on where I am going, I usually always bring a paper map and a compass for back up. The navigation while riding is typically done from a GPS device such as a Garmin mounted on my handlebar. You can also use your phone running a map application like Komoot or Viewranger. There are lots of good options for you to choose from. The drawback of using an electronic device like a GPS or phone is that you loose the big picture of where you are going, so therefore I like to bring a larger paper map as well. If I were ride in places where a potential failure of my electronics could be deadly, I would for sure bring a paper map in a waterproof cover.
This is probably the most important advice I can give. There will be times during the day where your backside hurts and you feel tired, then all you need is to take a break somewhere and make a coffee. Bikepacking allows you to be close to nature, enjoying the now and in sync with yourself. Always remember that even a bad day on the bike is better than a good day at the office.