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Bikepacking For Beginners

Updated on February 7, 2016

Typical Bikepackers Use Bags That Fit Into The Frame


Bikepacking or backpacking by bike is a fun choice, a self-supported camping trip using a bike as transportation, making it easier to reach the remote areas that would be all inaccessible to a backpacker. It differs from a traditional bike tour, in that a typical touring bike is a more sturdy road bike, with fairly skinny, smooth tires and drop or curly hand bands, generally made for pavements. For bike packing, you want to be able to travel on unpaved surfaces, gravel or swampy roads, through the mud-filled puddles. For this, a bike with wide tires with some tread is required. The rider position should be such, so as to keep you stable over the rough terrain. While the traditional bike tourists use racks with front and rear panniers that have room for everything, typical bike packers use bags without racks that fit into a frame, strapped to the handlebars, and under the seat. This configuration keeps the weight low and narrow to better balance on uneven surfaces.

Essentials For Ultralight Bikepacking

For the best on-trail performance, stuff and compress your gear as tightly as possible, into your bike bags. Keep the lighter items, such as sleeping bag and shelter in your handle bag, where they would not diminish handling. Heavy items like food go in your frame bag. Stoves are best in a backpack where they would not get jostled. Jackets or any clothes you want handy, go in your seat bag which is easiest to access.

  • Pack smartly with fewer clothes. Since there is a great possibility that you will be wearing the same unwashed clothes all through the ride, carry less clothing which include a pair or two of basic clothes, along with a waterproof rain jacket and rain pants, a pair of biking gloves, waterproof socks, sunglasses, cold weather gloves, bandanas to cover the ears in windy weather, and probably a hat. Opt for wool - it doesn't get that stinky. Dry your shoes and socks around the fire on days you cross creeks, and keep the second pair of dry socks exclusively for sleeping. For camping purposes, a tent, groundsheet, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, and head torches are essential prerequisites. Investing in a couple of items, such as silk sleeping bag liners, instead of the bulky cotton ones, can help you shave off some weight. A toiletry bag with toothbrush, shampoo etc, first-aid kit, iPod, netbook, video camera, cell phone, pen, notepad, passports, and wallets are other necessary items in your list.
  • Gear carrying options. Bikepackers carry the same gear as backpackers, plus spare bike tools and tubes. Here you don't have to carry a lot of weight on your back, instead most of it should be placed as low as possible on your bike. A typical gear setup includes a daypack, a handlebar bag for tent, clothes etc, water bottle cages to keep the water weight low and centered. Bikepacking enthusiasts who ride on a single track skip panniers as, their width makes them susceptible to damage on narrow trails. They also leave behind the rear rack to save weight and reduce the chances of mechanical failure.
  • Bike tools and accessories. In addition to the backpacking gear, the bike packers should carry some basic bike items such as a pedal wrench, a spare inner tube, compression straps, duct tape, helmet, and tube or tire repair kit. For extended trips, chain pins or power links, spare cables and even a light lock for in-town resupply stops need to be added to the list.
  • No extra food. Instant oatmeal, tea and small containers of powdered milk, along with nuts that have the highest calorie to weight ratio of any trail food, are a few options. Along with keeping you light, carrying less food is a great reason to visit a lot of local bakeries.
  • Things like a camping chair, a folding bowl to help with doing laundry and dishes, are worth carrying for longer excursions, but can be avoided on shorter trips.

Bikepacking Guidelines

  • First timers can plan trips nearby State Parks or Regional Parks, on Forest Reserve Roads, and Rails-to-Trails Corridors.
  • Use light weight gear to make biking easier and more fun.
  • Position weight low and closer to your center of gravity to improve handling.
  • Do not over do distances. Instead, take some time to enjoy the outdoors.
  • Look for a bike capable of handling the terrain you choose.
  • Enhance flat tire protection by using tire liners and sealants. To support the added weight, add a bit more air to both your tires and the air-sprung suspensions.
  • When riding in the dark, use a high output bike light mounted on your helmet or handlebars to complement your headlamp for the camp site.
  • Padded bike shorts, socks, and gloves make any ride more comfortable, maximize paddling efficiency, and allow normal walking.
  • Pack a small tarp to protect your bike in foul weather.
  • As a rule of thumb, bike packers cover three times more distance than they would, if backpacking the same route on foot. Be sure to limit your speed especially on downhills. Allow longer stopping distances. Long rides can result in hand fatigue, but multiple grip positions on your handlebars can help.

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