The saying that life is about the journey, not the destination couldn’t be truer than in bikepacking. Bikepacking and bike touring are all about taking your bike and riding and spending the night away from home! For me it brings back memories of riding my bike as a kid. That feeling of absolute freedom is amazing! There’s no wrong way to bikepack. As long as you are out on your bike, it is a good day!
Route options are endless! You can bikepack on snow, gravel, mountain bike terrain called singletrack, bike paths, and even on the road. If you can ride your bike on it, you can bikepack on it. You can leave from your house, if you want, to ride to where you are spending the night.
It is important, however, to match your route with your bike and your capabilities. If, for example, you have never ridden a mountain bike, and you have a road bike with very narrow tires, you might not want to do a singletrack adventure.
One area where bikepacking differs from most other human-powered adventures is that you can cover a lot more ground in a day. This means that frequent resupplies are possible, along with the possibility of eating in restaurants. There is nothing better after a day of hard riding than a nice warm meal and a cold beer!
One of my friends and I were bikepacking and we were racing a hailstorm. Because we were bikepacking, and not backpacking, we made the decision to race it to a bar where we could take shelter for a few hours, avoiding the need to hastily set up a tent.
Average daily mileage when bikepacking can range from 20 miles up to 100 or more miles, depending on level of expertise, terrain, and the surface you are riding on. If the route is hilly then it will take more time. Same with sand, gravel or super rocky terrain, or single track; it will take more time than riding on a road. Personally, I enjoy a good mix of all surfaces in my bikepacking adventures.
What’s the Best Bikepacking Bike?
When looking at a bike, there are two ways to determine the purpose of the bike: look at the style of handlebars and the type of tires.
There are two main types of handlebars; you have drop bars which are curly bars and similar to what you see in the Tour de France (think road bikes), and flat bars (think mountain bike). From there, with the curly bars, you can have extremely narrow tires (specialized for road riding called road bikes), or wider tires that can handle a variety of terrain but designed for gravel (these bikes are called gravel bikes).
Flat bars typically indicate ‘mountain bike.’ Within this category, there’s a huge range of options. For example, ‘Fat bikes’ have tires up to 5 inches wide making them capable of riding on snow and sand.
Mountain bikes can also have a front suspension fork and a rear suspension shock. Suspension can go up to 8 inches (which is used for downhill racing); however, for bikepacking, a max of 5.5 inches in front suspension is the recommendation.
That all being said …. I’ll keep this simple, run what ya brung! The best bike is the bike you currently have as long as it is mechanically sound! So, dust off the bike that you have in the garage (or in my case, my bed) and get on out there.
My parting words on bike choice … Just make sure the route you are planning is appropriate for your bike! As I touched on before, I wouldn’t run a road bike on a mountain bike trail, but it can be appropriate to ride a mountain bike on a road route.
A lot of lightweight and ultralight backpacking gear also doubles as perfect bikepacking gear. At an absolute minimum, you need shelter, insulation, a bike repair kit, first aid kit, and food, lots and lots of food. A way to cook food is nice, and warm clothes, including a rain jacket, can also be good additions to a bikepacking gear kit. I personally use the MSR Pocketrocket Deluxe and a Toaks 750mL pot. And my luxury item is a pair of camp shoes.
You can either use bags or racks to carry gear on your bike. There are many different types and styles of racks. I’m a big fan of the universal fit racks because that allows you to fit them to any bike you might have. For some suggestions of racks and bags, check out the previous article I wrote for GGG on Cool Bikepacking Brands to Check Out!
The kicker when packing your gear for a bikepacking adventure is that you need to make things very modular. In backpacking, you have mostly open space formed by the main body of a pack for your gear; whereas on a bike your largest storage space might only be 13L to 14L. This can create some issues, and also necessitates a generally ultralight, low-volume camping kit.
The good news is that weight matters less on a bike than on your back. Weight does, of course, still matter a lot, but less than backpacking because you are not directly carrying the weight.
A final gear consideration when bikepacking, is that you won’t have trekking poles, so if your shelter setup requires trekking poles, you’ll need to bring separate tent poles.
I absolutely love bikes and love riding them. I love the simplicity of having everything you need on a bike and being able to take off and go. I love just the single-mindedness of just turning pedals. Life slows down from a car’s pace but you’re still able to cover more mileage and see more than hiking or backpacking.
If you’re feeling inspired, and want to learn more … bikepacking.com has some fantastic resources and route ideas! RidewithGPS also has some really good route options as well. Additionally, if you are in the midwest, check out thenxrth.com!
Pictures courtesy of Aaron Roeckler! And many thanks to his better half Kim for letting me borrow him for a few days!
My name is Ryan Steger and I’ve worked in the bike industry for 8ish years, and I’ve rode pretty much every type of bike out there. I graduated with my degree in Kinesiology from UW Madison in 2020 and I’m looking forward to sharing my love of bikes and all things outdoors! I’m pursuing a nursing degree, which is my journey currently.