Bikepacking has been growing in popularity at a rapid rate over the past few years. The ever-increasing market of affordable bikes and lightweight camping equipment has made bikepacking an accessible way of escaping the rat race for many people. If heading out on a bikepacking expedition is something that you’ve always fancied doing but have never been sure where to start – this post is for you. Here’s everything you need to know about bikepacking.
What is Bikepacking?
Think of bikepacking as the adventurous, off-road version of cycle touring. In its most simple form, bikepacking is just about loading up your bike with some basic equipment and necessities for an overnight adventure and then heading out, off the beaten track for a bike ride.
How big or small that adventure becomes is completely up to you. It could be a gentle ride into a nearby forest, mountainous area or open moorland for an overnight escape from the stresses of work; or it could be a multi-day adventure of a lifetime kind of expedition in which you cross a country or explore somewhere really wild and remote.
There really are no rules when it comes to bikepacking. If you’re on your bike, camping overnight somewhere and it feels like a bit of an adventure, then you’re bikepacking.
What Bike Do You Need for Bikepacking?
The main point of difference between bikepacking and cycle touring is the ability to head off-road and explore further and deeper into the wilderness. To do that, you will need a bike that is designed to be taken off the smooth tarmac and onto rougher gravel roads, forest trails, grass and even sand. It’s important to point out that the adventure is far more important than the bike that you ride, so if you can adapt the bike that you’ve already got to make it fit for bikepacking then that’s a perfect option. However, if you’re planning to buy a new bike for your bikepacking trips then you should spend some time researching exactly what kind of terrain you are planning to ride it on.
For a lot of people, a gravel bike is a perfect bike for bikepacking. It’s fast and light for covering long distances, and the frame geometry makes it a comfortable ride when you’re spending hours in the saddle too. A gravel bike will allow you to get off-road and onto gravel tracks, bridleways, and forest roads too. It will definitely take you to places that no road bike could.
That said, if you are planning to go to really wild places and you’re expecting extremely rough and rocky terrain, then a hardtail mountain bike might be a better option. A mountain bike will handle much more extreme terrain than a gravel bike, but it won’t be anywhere near as quick on the smoother surfaces. It’s up to you to decide whether your type of adventure will require you to go further and faster or shorter and wilder.
What Equipment Do You Need for Bikepacking?
What kind of equipment you need largely comes down to how long you are planning to be away on your expedition, and what kind of weather conditions you are likely to encounter. But there are a few items that are going to be the same for everyone…
- Bikepacking Bags
- Tent or Bivvy
- Sleeping Bag
- Sleeping Mat
- Camping Stove
- First Aid Kit
- Bike Repair Kit
Bikepacking bags are essential. These waterproof bags are going to carry all of your gear for you and keep everything you need safely secured to the bike. There are lots of different bags out there and you should be able to find bags to suit most budgets. Depending on how much gear you are planning to carry will determine how many bags you will need, but as a rough guide, you will need a handlebar bag, a saddlebag and a frame bag at the very least.
A small, one-person tent that is light enough to carry on your bike is a great option if you are planning a bikepacking adventure in which you might experience cold and wet weather, or if you prefer the protection of being zipped up and in your own safe space overnight. Alternatively, you can save a lot of weight by just using a bivvy bag. A bivvy bag is essentially a waterproof bag that your sleeping bag goes inside. You’ll be sleeping under the stars and really connecting with your surroundings overnight, but they’re not quite so much fun in a downpour.
An inflatable sleeping mat can make a world of difference to how good of a nights sleep you get and most people would consider them an essential item. If you’re looking to save space and weight you could go for a half-sized mat which will only give you cushioning on your top half where you need it the most.
Cooking a warm meal at the end of a day of riding is a big part of the bikepacking experience. Equally, brewing your hot coffee in the morning before you set off exploring is pretty important too. To do that you will need some sort of lightweight camping stove. There are hundreds of options on the market to suit all kinds of budget, but most people will tell you that Jetboil systems are amongst the very best choices.
First Aid kits are essential too. One for you and one for your bike. If you’re heading out to some remote places, a well-stocked first aid kit is vital for you in case you pick up and injuries or have any falls. Likewise, you’re not going to find a bike shop in the wilds so you’ll need a few essentials like spare inner tubes and multi-tools.
Where Can You Go Bikepacking?
There are lots of established long-distance cycle routes that you could tackle as a bikepacker; the West Highland Way, the Coast to Coast cycle route, the Hadrians Wall cycle route, and the Great Glen Way just to name a few. But, the fun in bikepacking comes from just picking up a map and making your own adventures. Ordnance Survey’s mapping app will show you all of the public bridleways in Great Britain, as well as the entire National Cycle Network. Half of the fun of bikepacking is making up your own routes and heading out to explore them.