4 Tips on Bikepacking for Beginners
The first step on your way to a stress–free bikepacking trip is planning. Luckily, the beauty of bikepacking is in its focus on the necessities. What you really need to know is where you’ll go, where you’ll sleep and what you’ll eat and drink.
For your first trip, consider starting with an overnight loop close to home. Sticking to roads and trails that you’re already familiar with will give you the confidence you need so you can relax and enjoy the views rather than stressing about staying on route or finding your way back. It also simplifies the logistics. Have a friend drop you off and pick you up at the trailhead or leave from your house and loop back.
Tools & GPS
There are lots of ways to plan a route. The first is to follow a route you’re already familiar with, no maps or gps needed. If you’re completely at a loss, check out pre-planned routes on bikepacking.com or trailforks.com for inspiration and guidance. Once you have your route, you can use your phone as a GPS with apps like Gaia.
Things to Consider
While you’re planning your route, you’ll want to keep in mind your food and water plan. Will you be carrying all of your water for the trip, or will you be filtering along the way? Will you be riding through a town where you could resupply water and food, or are you going to be on backroads and trails the entire time? Make note of what stops you’ll want to hit along the way.
Use What You Have
One of the biggest barriers to bikepacking is gear, but you don’t have to buy everything all at once. Before you invest in all the gear, it’s good to get an idea of what you want and need after taking a couple trips. Use what you have and consider investing in a few smaller items to start: Voile straps, bottle cages, or a top tube bag.
What you need: a bike, somewhere to pack your food and water and a way to carry your sleep kit—that’s all!
Mountain bike, gravel bike, your dad’s 20-year-old road bike…make it work! Just make sure that your bike can handle the route you choose. A technical single track route could be pretty painful on a road bike.
Food and water storage:
An old hiking pack, small stuff sacks strapped to your frame, bottle cages, fanny pack, basket with a dry bag strapped to it—get creative!
Lay your sleeping bag on top of your deflated sleeping pad and roll them up together, then attach them to your handlebars with a couple of Voile straps. Be sure that your burrito won’t drag on the tire. We used a couple extra voile straps under our burrito (below) to create a “shelf” for the sleep system to rest on. If you think you might encounter rain or water, stuff your sleep burrito into a garbage bag.
The lighter you pack, the easier and more enjoyable your trip. The best way to pack light is to bring less stuff. Yes, there are certain items you might choose to bring for your safety and comfort, but there might be things that you can eliminate and save space and weight. Besides carrying the absolute necessities, there are a couple ways to drop weight.
For a quick overnighter, consider skipping the stove entirely and just pack trail snacks and a frozen burrito for dinner (let it thaw in your pack all day). By doing so, you save the weight and bulk of the stove, gas and utensils.
Are you confident that it will be a clear night? Spare the tent altogether and cowboy camp with just your sleeping bag and pad.
Traveling with a partner? Split sharable gear to distribute weight. You could carry the tent and your partner could carry the poles. One person can carry the stove and the other carry the gas or utensils.
This one probably doesn’t need to be mentioned, but leave out any unnecessary extra clothing. Pack the essential warm layers and leave the additional chamois, socks, shirt, whatever. You’re going on a short trip, enjoy being a dirtbag for a night and then revel in your shower when you get home.
Don’t forget to test it! After you have everything packed and strapped, take your bike for a quick ride to make sure it’s comfortable. You’ll want to consider weight distribution and body position. Ensure that your legs don’t rub against anything and your bike handles as expected.
Eat Food & Drink Water
We’ll keep this one short. Pack enough food and eat as much as you can. You’ll want to eat plenty of calories to keep your energy up and enough water to stay hydrated. If you’re not sure how much to pack, 4000 calories/day is a good starting point.
Don’t worry too much about planning breakfast and lunch—you’ll want to eat frequently all day long to keep your energy stable, so bring a good variety of snacks (make sure some are salty to avoid hyponatremia). Counting calories will help ensure you don’t bring too much or too little, but it doesn’t need to be exact.
Get Out There
Planning can be overwhelming, but the foundation of bikepacking is simplicity. Try not to over engineer it. Pack what you need, leave what you don’t and figure out the rest as you go.
Follow us on Instagram & Facebook for more tips and tricks!
More Blog Posts
Guest Blog — Elizabeth Sampey: Doctor of Physical Therapy, Adventure Coach, and Pro Bikepacker As the days get longer, many of us are eager to get our wheels rolling for a season of bikepacking. The beauty of bikepacking is that you can just spontaneously throw your...
The first section of my Arizona Trail By Any Means adventure: Backpacking passages 18 and 19 through the Superstition Wilderness.
5 reasons why I love to ditch the tent on my trips in the desert southwest.