Keeping your cycling routine fresh and new takes creativity, especially if you ride on the same road or trail most days. Bikepacking is a great way to spice things up since it combines the adventure of backpacking with the long-distance efficiency of mountain or gravel bikes. Bikepacking is very popular owing partially to the popularity of Enduro, gravel-grinding and even #vanlife.
This popularity means there are more bikes, products and resources to help you enjoy your first foray into bikepacking. But you’ll still want to keep it simple. By using your hydration pack or a backpack and a bigger saddle or frame bag, you can carry a change of clothes, a map, adequate fuel and tools to get through a couple of big days in the saddle. Don’t stress over the perfect gear or bike, just go on an adventure and explore.
Here are three tips to prep you for your first bikepacking adventure:
KNOW YOUR LIMITS
I asked long-distance cycling expert Ryan Correy for tips on getting started. His site includes stories of the mistakes he has made, which are good to read before you make ambitious plans. For example, Ryan went too big for his first bikepacking trip. “My rookie outing was on the 2012 Tour Divide — a 4,418 km self-supported race from Banff [Alberta], to [Antelope Wells], New Mexico. Day 1 ended around 2 a.m., hopelessly lost on private mine property. It made sense to hold up until daybreak.” He suggests you start with a few overnighters, not with the Tour Divide!
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Having appropriate equipment is important as your adventures get more extreme. You can start with what you have or borrow an extra bag, but eventually you will need to consider whether your bike is adequate for your adventures and make sure you have gear that will keep you warm and safe through the variety of situations and conditions you could experience.
Ryan suggests a 29er Hardtail mountain bike as a good all-around bikepacking rig that will be reliable over rough terrain but can also climb and roll relatively quickly. As the load you are carrying gets heavier, you’ll likely want a frame bag in the main triangle of your bike. He mentioned Arkel, Porcelain Rocket and Apidura as companies that make great packs and bags. “Try not to overthink your first purchase,” Ryan warns. “You won’t really have a good grasp on bike/gear needs or capacity limits until you have some experience under your belt.”
JOIN A GROUP
The final consideration for your bikepacking adventure is whether to set out alone or to go with a partner or group. Ryan says many people look to bikepacking as a way to escape and “fend for yourself,” but he suggests first-timers may appreciate group trips to ease into it. “Safety in numbers, just be aware that you will likely find yourself riding with a variety of abilities and temperaments. Patience is a greatly underestimated virtue,” he says.
Bikepacking is a great way to experience nature, spend time alone or with a small group of friends and also test your cycling endurance. With many variations on what bikepacking can be, and what makes for an accessible adventure, bikepacking could be just what your cycling routine needs this summer.