Bikepacking is the perfect way to get away for a few nights into the wild and channel your inner adventurer. And with some simple planning, and a few crafty bike hacks, you can start exploring those wilder places.
First-time bikepacking bike set-up
Preparing your bike for an overnighter is easy and doesn’t need to break the bank.
1. Bike bags and packs
A rucksack is fine for shorter trips, but bike bags make longer rides more comfortable.
For a hardtail, you can buy a universal frame bag to make the most of its carrying potential. If you ride a full-sus, you may need a custom-made bag that won’t interfere with the suspension.
Plenty of companies produce bikepacking bags, but these are a few brands we’d particularly recommend:
Ortlieb’s bikepacking range is fully waterproof and comes with several size options Ortlieb
Blackburn’s Outpost bikepacking bags are another popular choice Blackburn
Altura’s Vortex bikepacking bags are a more affordable option Altura
Apidura’s expedition range is great if you need to pack a lot on your bike Apidura
The racing range is a lot more compact and perfect for ultradistance racing Apidura
Apidura offers two ranges of bikepacking bags: one for ultra-distance racers where the key is minimalism, and one for expeditions where the key is volume.
2. Lash a dry bag
Lashing dry bags to your bike is a simple hack that emulates specialist bar and seat packs. While there are many benefits to getting the right kit, if you’re just starting out or fancy a one-off trip this should see you through without costing the earth.
Drybags are a great way to keep your stuff safe, and make great pillows Ortlieb / Altura
Sea to Summit lashes
Tie drybags and other accessories down with carabiners and straps Sea to Summit
3. Handlebar comfort
You aren’t shredding the gnar here. If you’re planning a long day in the saddle, a more upright position will make things easier, so sling some extra spacers under the stem and raise that handlebar.
There are lots of different shaped handlebars out there Surly / Jeff Jones / Alpkit / Salsa
*Currently out of stock but due back in from April 2019 — you can sign up for stock alerts.
4. Stay safe
Make sure someone knows where you’re heading and when you’ll be back, especially if riding alone. A personal emergency beacon, such as the SPOT Gen3, will allow family and friends to track you via GPS and get help to you if you run into trouble.
Recommended personal locators
If you’re heading out into the sticks, a personal beacon can help your loved ones track you in an emergency Spot / ACR
Water’s heavy, takes up a lot of space and chances are you’ll want more than you can carry. Mini water filters are now super-compact and affordable, and their ability to filter out 99.99 percent of bacteria makes every stream your next watering hole.
Recommended water filters
A portable water filter lets you drink from streams safely Lifestraw / Sawyer / MSR
Ready to ride
Now your bike is all set up and you’re ready to start your bikepacking adventure, here’s all the essential info you need to plan your trip out into the wild.
1. Where to ride
The UK is criss-crossed with ridable bridleways and permissive paths. Pick up an Ordnance Survey map or sign up with OS online and rough-out a route. You can even download its app to your smartphone and use it as a GPS. Make sure you have a way of recharging though.
In the US, National Geographic offers maps for some popular trails and national parks.
Recommended GPS devices
When bikepacking, a hiking/off-road GPS device helps you navigate off the beaten track Garmin / Satmap
2. Sleeping arrangements
Use the smallest sleeping bag you can get away with. A simple foam mat adds enough comfort for short trips and can be trimmed down to make it easier to pack.
Tent, bivvy or bothy? The choice of accommodation is yours and will make a big difference to how much you need to carry.
Sleeping mats come in all forms, from inflatable to self-inflating and foam Alpkit / Thermarest / Klymit
A bivvy bag keeps your sleeping bag dry and lets you camp outside without a tent Alpkit / RAB / Snugpak
*Currently out of stock but due back in from March 2019 — you can sign up for stock alerts.
Try to opt for a lightweight sleeping bag that packs down well Alpkit / Snugpak
3. What to wear bikepacking
The great thing about being miles from civilisation is that no one will know how bad you whiff after a few days in the wild.
Merino wool is naturally antibacterial, so can be worn for days on the trot. Make sure to take some antibacterial chamois cream too. You’ll need suitable layers to put on for your time off the bike. Packing a rain jacket is always advisable too.
A merino wool baselayer will help mask the whiff if you’ve been out of civilsation for a while Endura
4. Cooking equipment
Unless you’re willing to haul a lot of kitchen kit, wild cooking generally consists of boiling water. You can use this to make tea, cook dried noodles, rehydrate dehydrated meals and make porridge.
Head to your local camping store for lots of affordable and compact solutions. Don’t be tempted to make an open fire — they’re messy, damage the ground and can get out of control.
If you’re cooking, there are plenty of very small and packable stoves out there MSR / Optimus / Primus
And don’t forget that all-important and super-trendy titanium mug.
5. Pack light
Do you really need that extra jacket or half a tool kit? One of the most fun elements of bikepacking is making do with the bare minimum. Pack items that can be used for more than one thing. For example, a tyre lever makes quite a good item of cutlery, or a spork can be used as a makeshift tyre lever.
6. Learn from the experience
Look at your set-up and think about how to make it better next time. This could be by making it lighter or changing your riding position. Be ruthless when unpacking — if you didn’t use something, will you really need it next time?