Also called “bikepacking,” off-road bike touring combines mountain biking with backpacking for the ultimate travel adventure. Riders travel exclusively via bicycle while carrying their necessary gear. Truly an exhilarating way to travel, bikepacking typically entails at least one overnight stay, and up to as many as possible.
While touring off road, riders are removed—both literally and figuratively—from the stress of everyday life, enabling them to focus on their natural surroundings and any obstacles they might encounter on the trail at present.
A growing movement in the world of mountain biking, bikepacking requires a bit of preparation before one decides to hit the dirt for a while. Some things to consider are what items to bring, how you will transport your gear, what type of bike you should ride, and what route you will take. What follows is a list of crucial items to bring on your bikepacking trip.
What Should You Bring?
You’re headed out into the woods for a while and will be completely dependent on what you take along with you on your bike. While you might be tempted to bring it all, I strongly advise that you don’t. Sure, some items are necessary to ensure you have a safe trip, but there are other items that are best left behind. Here’s a list of the bikepacking essentials:
Food. Consider the length of your trip and how close to civilization you’ll be. This should determine the amount of food you carry. For longer distance touring, you won’t be able to carry all of your food and should plan on stopping in a town or at a store every day or so to resupply. When purchasing and packing, keep in mind you will likely be carrying extra weight (and possibly biking longer than normal distances). This translates to a larger than normal appetite. You’ll also need to bring along any other items to prepare and eat your food (i.e., camping stove, bowl, spoon, water, etc.)
Water. Once again, the length of your trip will determine how much water you’ll need to bring with you, as will your proximity to water sources (be sure to pack a water filter or iodine tablets if you’ll be drinking from rivers, etc.). If you’re not wearing a pack on your back already, a hydration pack works well on bikepacking trips as it can double as storage space. Longer distance touring will likely require daily stops at water sources or stores to resupply on this essential item.
Shelter. Decide if you will be carrying a tent, biking to a lean-to or staying in a hotel/hostel. Whatever your plans, make sure you get to some sort of shelter each night, even if you set it up yourself. If you’re sleeping outside, take into consideration the temperature and whether or not a sleeping bag is a wise investment.
Tools. Inevitably, something is bound to go wrong with your bike, even if it’s just a flat tire. Make sure you have the proper tools necessary to make adjustments, fix a flat, etc. Consider bringing with you a multi tool, a set of allen keys, a patch kit, tube, mini pump and a chain tool. On longer trips, it wouldn’t hurt to take an extra cable to replace the shifter or brake cable, a spare spoke, a tire boot (to fix a sidewall tear), a spare cleat and cleat bolt, and a quick link.
Layers.Temperatures can vary dramatically on a bikepacking trip, even over a short period of time. Bring layers that you can easily throw on and take off as your body's temperature fluctuates. Rain gear shouldn't be overlooked, either.
Light. Sometimes your "planned" route will not go exactly as planned (trust me), and you will end up riding into the dark. Proper lighting and reflective gear is key if you want to see the trail or be seen by others. (Review: Princeton Tec EOS Bike Light)
Cell phone. Bringing along a cell phone isn’t a bad idea these days. You can keep it turned off until you need it in the event of an emergency, if you so choose. If you’d prefer to have your smartphone assist you during your trip, there are a variety of apps that can help you plan your route, fix your bike and more.
Once you’ve acquired your essential bikepacking items, you need to figure out how to transport them. Learn the advantages to using frame bags, panniers and trailers--plus, how to choose a touring bike and plan a route in this article.