Planning for your first bikepacking trip

January 26, 2015

Prepare for your first bikepacking trip with these tips on the basics of off-road touring.

Planning for your first bikepacking trip

A marriage of mountain biking and backpacking, bikepacking allows you to travel under your own power while exploring off-road places and wild terrain.

The bike

Use any bike on which you can mount racks or bags, but ideally, you want a rigid 29er mountain bike.

  • Alternately, consider a fat bike capable of rolling through rough terrain. Originally designed for snowy trails and desert sand, these bikes feature oversized tires (9.3 centimetres or larger, with rims wider than 44 millimetres), some suspension at moderate speeds and simple mechanics.
  • Be aware that they cost and weigh more than a hardtail mountain bike.

The setup

Your bikepacking gear setup might include a handlebar bag or front stuff sack strapped to the handlebars with compression straps, which can be packed with light items such as your full sleep system.

  • Keep maps, snacks, phone, wallet, tools and small essentials in a "gas tank" or top-tube-mounted bag, and mount an additional water bottle cage under the downtube.
  • Pack heavier items such as food, extra batteries, a hydration bladder or bike tools in a frame bag.
  • Stow light but bulky items like extra clothes and bike tubes in a seat bag.
  • Bike tools and parts, first aid supplies, personal care items and rain gear can be stowed in a CamelBak-like hydration backpack.
  • Experiment to see what setup works most comfortably and efficiently for weight distribution, comfort and safety.

The gear

Besides backpacking essentials, you should carry:

  • Two spare tubes
  • Abike-specific multi-tool with chainbreaker
  • A chainring nut and bolt
  • Extra chain links
  • Tire levers
  • Gear cable
  • Brake cable
  • Brake pads
  • One spare spoke of each length
  • Electrical tape
  • Bike pump
  • Lube
  • A rag
  • If you're using SPD-compatible mountain bike shoes, bring a spare cleat and bolts.

The riding

Train for your multi-day bikepacking trips, upping your mileage each week then tapering before the trip so your muscles are recharged.

  • On the trip, pace yourself, setting goals while riding, much as you would when backpacking.
  • With the added weight of your gear on the bike, you'll want to watch your downhill speed, allow for longer stopping distances and more room for cornering.
  • Adjust the air in your tires to support the added weight, and be sure to replenish calories and hydrate sufficiently.

The trip planning

For your first bikepacking trips, consider a regional park or nearby national forest.

  • Aim for a camping spot that is a rideable distance from home or bike shuttle.
  • The distance ratio of bikepacking miles to backpacking miles is about 3 to 1.
  • You should cover three times more distance on bike than on foot, but that will vary according to route and individual.

Wherever bikepacking takes you, aim to be as self-sufficient as possible, travelling as lightly as possible while still staying safe. Know your plan and your equipment well before venturing out.

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