For many US residents, the summer travel plans have long been suspended by the current health crisis of COVID-19. Leaving a few options for people to travel cross country, new travel trends are on the rise.
The growing trend of bikepacking offers you new and fun ways to explore your local area on a bike with friends and family, while keeping a safe distance.
Compared to the summer of 2019, searchers' interest in local vacation options like “bikepacking” and "staycation" has grown by 50 % and more in the summer 2020.
Now that travel is limited, both "bikepacking" and ‘staycation’ present new ways to spend your summer by staying home or close to home during your summer leisure.
Curious to find out more, about this new phenomenon on bikepacking? In this article we provide you with complete insights to your next bikepacking holiday. And if you are in doubt, which US bikepacking route is right for you, try our quiz!
Bikepacking Guide 2020
Athletes of all ages and ability levels spend a lot of time training, whether it’s full-time or squeezed in with the mountain of other responsibilities that make up life.
Like anyone else, athletes need a holiday now and then! But there are ways to explore new places and recharge your body and mind, without sacrificing your hard-earned conditioning.
One of the newest trends gaining popularity in this space in recent years is bikepacking. If you are like many people, you might not have heard of it yet.
This article will explain everything you need to know about bikepacking. We will cover what distinguishes bikepacking from other kinds of adventure travel, why now is the best time to get into bikepacking, and everything you’ll need (and won’t need) to plan and pack for your first trip!
Most importantly, we just might convince you that bikepacking is the new active adventure you never knew you needed!
What is Bikepacking?
Essentially, bikepacking is a unique mode of bike camping. It specifically combines multi-day mountain biking rides with ultralight camping, or carrying the minimal amount of gear needed to sleep and maintain sustenance.
Bikepacking is an evolution of on-road bike touring, multi-day hiking, and its’ namesake, backpacking. What started as a small movement in cycling is fast becoming a major industry, with manufacturers now building specific bikes and gear dedicated to this market.
Why Now Is the Perfect Time to Go Bikepacking?
If you haven’t considered bikepacking before, there are several reasons why now might be the perfect time to think about it.
First, with the current situation around the world making international travel difficult and even risky, bikepacking is something you can do in your nearby local parks or trails. It will also keep you safe and away from crowded urban areas that may not be the best place to holiday at the moment.
Next, an outdoor adventure like bikepacking is great for your mental health. Getting some fresh air, connecting with nature, and disconnecting from the daily stresses of life is something we could all use right now.
Also, bikepacking is active! Sometimes holidays can make it difficult to keep up your training or fitness regimen. Often the combination of (too much) good food and less activity means a loss of fitness and maybe even a little unwanted weight gain.
On a typical bikepacking trip, you’ll be riding over different terrain for up to several hours a day. And packing light often means foregoing the kinds of rich foods you might get on a cruise ship! This results in returning from your holiday in the same - or even better - condition than you left in.
Speaking of the kind of shape you’ll be in on a bikepacking tour…
How to Get Bikepacking Fit?
Bikepacking requires a unique blend of aerobic fitness, muscular strength, and endurance. On any given day you may encounter any combination of gravel, dirt, or rock surfaces, with various hill-climbs or tricky descents over rough terrain.
While the equipment you take will affect this - and we’ll cover that next - your bikepacking adventure will go a lot smoother if you're physically prepped.
You can check out our articles on cycling cadence for a more energy-efficient ride, interval training workouts for cycling to get used to the fluctuating terrain requirements of mountain biking, and even strength training for endurance athletes such as triathletes, to ensure you are equipped to resist fatigue and injury.
In short, if you want to know how to train for bikepacking, your physical preparation should include a combination of high volume, low to moderate-intensity cardio (preferably cycling), some high-intensity interval training consisting of high resistance / high gear cycling, and some whole-body resistance training.
Bikepacking Gear Essentials
Obviously, the fundamentals for bikepacking are in the name - you’ll need a bike, and bags for packing your camping gear!
This section will explain what makes a good bikepacking bike, how to choose the right bikepacking bags for your needs, and how to pack for bikepacking to achieve the right balance of being sufficiently equipped without weighing yourself down unnecessarily.
1. The Bike
Many bikepacking enthusiasts will tell you that the best bike for bikepacking is the one you already own! Assuming the trip you want to take is made up of terrain that your current bike can handle, bikepacking journeys have been successfully undertaken on all kinds of bikes.
That being said, the factors that affect the choice of bike for this kind of endeavor mostly fall into one of two categories: comfort vs weight.
Features such as hardtail or full suspension, larger or thicker tires, the number of gear chainrings for more flexibility in pedaling difficulty, and even the frame material (such as carbon or titanium) will all have a trade-off between a more comfortable ride and a heavier bike - making that comfortable ride more challenging.
All of these factors will also affect the pricing, so be sure to check out our resources guide at the end of this article to find the best bike for you.
2. The Bags
The storage options used in bikepacking are part of what makes this sport unique from backpacking or road touring. These bags are designed and placed to carry the most amount of essential gear while keeping the center of gravity low, optimizing the weight and stability of the bike.
A commonplace to start with bikepacking bags are handlebar packs, seat packs, and frame packs that fit in the triangular space between the tubes of the bike frame. To evaluate a bag, look at its’ volume (how much it can carry), water resistance (because a wet sleeping bag is not a good time), and sway factor - how much it will move and affect your riding.
The types of storage you’ll need can only be fully answered, however, once you determine what to bring bikepacking in terms of camping.
3. The Camping Gear
Like regular camping, the range of what you can take bikepacking is vast. Again, this is essentially a trade-off between comfort and weight. A tent, tarp, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad are some of the fundamental items to pack; however, some hardcore bikepackers will even forego some of these comforts if the weather and terrain allow.
But what is the best tent for one person bikepacking? Again, this will depend on a balance of a weight that won’t slow you down on the trail, quality materials that will protect you from the elements, and enough space to sleep comfortably and recharge for the next ride.
Likewise, the clothing you choose for riding and camping needs to take into account the elements of your trip such as the length of the trip and the temperature, which we’ll discuss in the planning section.
4. Food, Water and Cooking
The choice of what to eat on bikepacking tours is mainly up to personal preference - anything from extremely light but boring meal replacement packs, to high-tech collapsable pots and stoves to cook up a feast on the trail.
Water storage, refilling, and filtration are somewhat more critical. How many liters for bikepacking trips depends on the distance covered, heat, and whether you’ll have access to safe drinking water along the way.
Bottle cages are the best way to carry water when bikepacking for easy access while riding. Besides, a filter device, or at least purification tablets are always a good idea for emergencies.
Speaking of which…
5. Safety, Repair and Hygiene
Safety is of the utmost importance on a bikepacking trip. The gear you’ll need for this starts with your helmet, a first aid kit, torches and bike lights (and batteries to power them), and navigation and/or communication equipment.
You’ll also eventually run into some issues with your bike. A repair kit with the essentials such as patches, spare tubes, a multi-tool, and other items will get you back up and running after any mishaps.
One of the major tenets of bikepacking is the ‘leave no trace’ rule. This means to enjoy the adventure while leaving minimal impact on the lands which you travel through. So you’ll need the essentials of hygiene, such as soap, sunscreen, lip balm, a trowel, garbage bags, towels, and others, to look after yourself - and the environment.
Planning Your First Bikepacking Adventure
Bikepacking is similar to camping in that you can make it as simple or as complicated as you like. And as with camping, sometimes the best way to find out what you need is to just go!
Your first bikepacking trip should be short, easy, and low-risk. You’ll soon come back with a list of what you needed but didn’t have, and just as important, what you had but didn’t need. You can continue this cycle for your next few adventures until your setup is optimized.
Here’s how to plan that first trip.
It’s More Fun with Friends
A great way to start bikepacking is with an organized event. This takes much of the stress of planning out of the picture and allows you to just go along for the ride.
If you’d like the challenge and reward of planning your trip, consider going with a friend or two for safety and support, at least for your first time.
Solo bikepacking can of course be done; just make sure your planning is thorough and that your loved ones and the appropriate authorities are aware of where and when you should be showing up.
Time and Distance
The gear attached to your bike, and the difficulty of the terrain, will significantly impact the distance you can cover in a day. For your first trip, consider a distance that you might consider ‘too easy’ - you may be surprised.
A common form of bikepacking trip with beginners is the S24O - a sub-24 hour overnight. This usually involves leaving for a ride in the afternoon one day, setting up camp overnight, and riding back the next morning. This type of trip can be a great starting point to give you a feel - and a new passion - for bikepacking.
Location and Weather
For your first trip, you might already know some popular biking trails that you might combine with a nearby camping spot, and if necessary, water sources. This way, you won’t have to worry as much about getting lost or running into trouble.
Where to sleep when bikepacking depends on how comfortable (or wild) you want to be, and what’s available along your route. This could be as simple as finding a flat, dry area on a map (assuming you find out and adhere to the land-use rules), or booking ahead at a hostel or campground.
If you’d like to try somewhere new, there are several great resources for finding established bikepacking routes in your area, which we’ll show you in the final section.
You can also try our quiz to see some of the popular US bikepacking routes, and find the one that matches your needs:
Whatever route you choose, ensure you check the weather forecast and any warnings or announcements from the appropriate local and state authorities. An unforeseen storm or rockslide can quickly turn your relaxing getaway into a dangerous situation.
Finally, while you should plan out your route into a GPS device to guide your way, don’t forget to have a local map and compass as a backup.
Bikepacking Online Resources
We hope this article has been informative and inspiring. We've aimed to comprehensively cover all the basics you’ll need to get started on your bikepacking journey! As we’ve mentioned, however, there a wide range of options with everything from bikes, to bags, to tents, and everything in-between.
Here are some of the best resources we could find on the best bikepacking info, gear, and route creation.
Gear - Bikes, Bags, Camping:
Now get out there and enjoy the adventure of bikepacking this summer!