“Do you reckon we can ride between these two valleys, or will we have to hike-a-bike most of the way up?” she wondered aloud while pouring over the GPX route files. With the rightful emphasis on riding solo of late, rumblings of fun summer bikepacking trips have grown louder and more focused. So spread the maps and laptops across the living room floor, as the ever important planning phase comes first. Or does it?
Getting kinda-lost in the backcountry with the maximum-minimum amount of gear strapped to your frame is an enjoyable way to spend a few summer days, or weeks, and the better prepared you are the more fun it will be. No matter what gear you cram in those little bags, or how you prepare your bike and body, a shakedown night is always worth the effort. Find a park or campsite nearby, pack all of the gear that you want to bring for your long-awaited adventure on the bike, and roll out for a teaser evening near home. This will allow you to test your camp kit and make sure everything works properly for the coming conditions. You will also get a chance to decide what gear you don’t need, learn what you forgot to pack, and to determine how to better balance the load across your bags for an enjoyable ride. If you can’t make time for this teaser run, at least set everything up in your backyard and sleep there overnight to get a feel for things.
Once you can confidently set up your tent, and understand how your water purifier works, it’s time to plan the trek. It’s best to keep your first bikepacking trip distance fairly low and the route local. That way you can judge how you feel on the fully loaded bike before committing to an epic outing, and you will be able to tap out if your plans are amiss.
Below is a list of packing and prepping considerations for a first trip. While each element of these packing lists could be its own article, the information below is intended to help true first timers get the wheels rolling.
Bike prep and pack list
No matter how dialed you keep your ride, it’s worth checking everything over before you roll out of town. Make sure that the brake pads are fresh and well aligned, the brakes are properly bled, the derailleur hanger is in line, and all of the other little adjustments are accounted for. It’s a good idea to check all of the bearings so you don’t get caught in the woods with a seized bottom bracket or a hub that’s wobbling uncontrollably. Finally, readjust your suspension sag to the fully loaded weight of you and your bike. You’ll definitely need a little additional pressure.
In classic backpacking, or hiking, they say that the most important piece of gear is footware. Similarly, you will want a dependable set of tubeless tires, with traction and puncture protection suitable for the terrain you plan to tackle. With your mechanical business in order, check your tires for any holes or other issues, and make sure there’s fresh sealant inside to save the ride.
With the steed happily shined up, it’s time to pack spare parts and tools. Here’s a list to help you get started.
- Duct tape
- Full lighter and or matches
- Multitool with a chain tool and spoke wrench
- Tire lever and 2-3 tubes, patch kit, tubeless repair tool, pump
- An extra derailleur hanger and shift cable
- A spare set of fresh brake pads (more if it will be wet)
- Extra chain links
- Pocket knife
- Riding headlight (add a tail light if riding in traffic)
Camp and food prep and packing list
Once you’ve tested your gear out and know which sleeping arrangement will work for the coming weather and insect situation, it’s time to cram it all into bags and fit it on your bike. Unless I am out shooting photos with heaps of gear, I don’t wear a backpack on the bike these days–as a rule. I want to wear one even less while bikepacking, when everything already feels heavier and more cumbersome than usual. The pre-funk overnighter should help eliminate a lot of the gear that you don’t absolutely have to bring along, and the rest will hopefully fit on your frame someplace.
If you’re on a full-sus bike that doesn’t leave room for enough frame bags, cram the lightest gear you have into your smallest backpack. Things like a puffy jacket, sleeping bag, and ultralight tent take up a lot of space in frame bags, but won’t weight down a backpack much.
I like to keep the heaviest items in my camp kit as low on the frame as possible. That means that the featherweight gear, like my sleeping bag and pad, go on the handlebars, while the food, water and electronics sit at the bottom of the frame pack on my hardtail. Weight in the seat and handlebar packs affects the way the bike performs more than it does in the center of the bike, and I prefer the ride portion of my bikepacking experience to be as enjoyable as possible.
In the name of lightweight, I also try to bring the most calorie-dense foods I can find. Some protein bars and candy bars can have as many calories as a home-cooked meal, and while they don’t typically contain all of the vitamins you will need, they work well to fuel the legs while not adding much weight. In addition to some fruit and nuts, a container of Nuun or similar electrolytes can help keep your body feeling better throughout the day. While we all have different dietary needs, there is a good chance we can skip a lot of luxury to lighten the load. I have a friend who carries a spice selection and full coffee setup while camping, and we all appreciate the smell of his curry over the fire, but I don’t envy the weight of his bike.
Finally, on the clothing front, remember that ‘cotton is rotten.” If you wear some wool or synthetic clothing that’s designed to dry quickly you can easily wash out enough of the stink and salt every other day, leaving very little to pack. Make sure to bring the chamois or liner shorts that work well for you, and chamois cream if you regularly use it. Nobody wants to deal with a saddle soar several hundred kilometers from home.
Below are lists of camping, clothing, and food supplies to get the bags filled up.
|Camp gear||Food ideas||Clothing|
|Tent or insect netting||Protein bars||1x extra shorts/chamois|
|Sleeping bag or bivy sack and ground pad||Electrolyte tabs||2x extra socks (more if it will be wet)|
|Hand sanitizer||Cookies and/or candy bars||1x wool short|
|Water purifier (Filter/Chemical/UV)||Peanut butter and/or salty nuts||Warm evening hat|
|Headlamp||Fruit||Warm puffy or other jacket|
|Cooking stove and gas (If packing unprepped food)||Instant coffee or tea (Or full Aeropress kit)||Rain gear|
|Pocket knife||Dry biodegradable soap|
|Toilet paper and collection bags (Check these helpful Leave No Trace instructions)|
|Dry biodegradable soap|
Emergency, safety, navigation, and electronics gear
Emergency and safety gear are always the first elements I forget about, and they’re some of the most important. Whether rolling solo or with a team of salty coasters, make sure to tell some of your friends who are staying behind exactly where you are going, share your route files, and let them know when you will check in afterward.
If you have access to a Personal Locator Beacon you will be all set to contact emergency services from the backcountry, should the need arise. Make sure to freshen up on how it works before you leave so you don’t have to add to the panic when it’s time to figure out what sequence of buttons calls what services. Some outdoor gear stores rent these devices, and it may be worth checking before you purchase one.
|Freshly stocked first aid kit||Personal Locator Beacon||GPS computer||Battery to charge electronics (Or solar charger)|
|EpiPen and other emergency meds||Safety vest if it’s hunting season||Maps||Headlamp and bike lights|
|Water purification tablets|
|Cordage and duct tape|
The final piece of gear to consider is whatever you will want to have when you’re not riding, eating, or sleeping. Maybe a paperback novel and slingshot or ukulele will do the trick, or you might prefer to skip rocks and be as present in the forest as possible. It could also be a good time to practice identifying rocks or plants with a guide book. Some folks will pack a drone and play video games by the fire. There is typically a fair bit of relaxing time on bikepacking trips, so it’s worth considering what you want to do with it.
Do you have some additional bikepacking-packing tips? Please share them below.