Planning Next Year’s Adventures? Why not Bikepacking?
Every winter around this time, the itch for adventure starts. The days have gotten really short. The trails are muddy or buried in snow. Motivation to ride is high, but the wherewithal to do so is harder to find. This is the time of year when we start dreaming about the adventures we’re going to take over the next year.
If you’re thinking about trying something new this year, why not consider bikepacking? Whether you’re a seasoned veteran mountain biker, or a first timer to the trails, there’s a route out there for you. Bikepacking presents a new way to explore, whether it be the trails in your own backyard, or an adventure farther afield.
So what is Bikepacking?
“Bikepacking is the synthesis of mountain biking and minimalist camping; it evokes the freedom of multi-day backcountry hiking, with the range and thrill of riding a mountain bike.” -bikepacking.com
Bikepacking involves loading up lightweight camping gear onto a mountain or adventure bike and setting off on an overnight or multi-day trip through the wilderness. It allows for more time to be taken on familiar trails, for new areas to be explored on routes inaccessible to most vehicles, and provides an extra level of adventure to an already engaging off-road bike ride. With the huge amount of green space, and unprecedented access to wilderness that most of us enjoy, Bikepacking presents a whole new way to make the most of our freedom in the great outdoors.
Our friends at WTB are a group of avid adventurers, and many of their products work exceptionally well for Bikepacking adventures. WTB provide all the products needed for you to get out on an overnight bikepacking trip. Between the Trail Boss 3.0 and Ranger 2.8/3.0, they make the perfect bikepacking tire, with many sizes even available with TCS Tough casings for those trips when you decide to REALLY get out there. The Volt, Pure and Rocket promise a happy bum throughout long days in the saddle, and PadLoc grips prevent a pinched ulnar nerve from causing numb hands when the day’s riding ends up being a few hours longer than planned. WTB recently published a blog preparing riders for their first Bikepacking trip, which we’ve summarized here!
Bikepacking has gained incredible momentum over the last few years, and for good reason. Riders are gaining an incessant drive to travel further, to more remote locations, one pedal rotation at a time. Each of us love the quick one-hour rides that fill the available time slots in our lives, but there’s something about truly getting away from everything with only a few buddies, and our bikes, that appeals to the adventurous side of many riders.
That being said, we can’t simply hop on our bikes, hope for the best and expect to return home safely for Sunday dinner. The pedaling aspect of bikepacking is often the easiest part of endeavor. There’s a considerable amount of research, planning and preparation that goes into a successful bikepacking trip. While such trips can evolve into weeks, or even months for the dedicated explorer, we’ll begin by covering the needs of an overnight trip.
Minimizing Gear Weight
You don’t have to be a weight weenie to use ultralight gear while bikepacking. The idea behind bikepacking revolves around experiencing overnight adventures on a mountain bike while still having the ability to shred trails during the day’s ride. It’s important to keep the gear weight to a minimum in order to preserve every bit of bike nimbleness possible. While companies have done a great job of creating solutions to storing gear on a bicycle frame without racks, it’s still weight on the bike that isn’t typically in those areas. Additional gear weight creates a riding experience that differs from how your daily trail bike feels, and it can take some time to get used to it. It’s important to note that how you pack is all based upon preference. For instance, while the handlebar bag is a very efficient way to carry when the majority of the route is on dirt roads, it is certainly the piece of bikepacking gear that makes the bike lose it’s nimbleness the quickest. Therefore, many folks prefer using a 15-25 liter backpack on shorter trips to keep the front end of the bike light and snappy. It’s in your best interest to load your bike up with gear and test it out on a familiar loop before embarking into the unknown. While each person will have their personal preferences and available resources, the following are great ways to keep gear down to a minimal weight.
- Titanium: Leave your steel cookware and stove at home. Titanium will lighten your load, yet is still extremely durable.
- Down insulation: Sleeping bags and jackets insulated using down feathers have a much higher warm-to-weight ratio than synthetic insulation.
- Dehydrated food: Companies like Backpacker’s Pantry and Mountain House make ultralight dehydrated dinner and dessert packages that are far more delicious than anything we’ve cooked from scratch in the backcountry.
- Lose the luxuries: You should limit your gear compared to what you would bring to a picnic table campground with the family.
- Water is the heaviest necessity: Always carry all the water you’ll need for the duration of a trip unless you’ve confirmed refill locations along the way, especially in the desert. When water is accessible en route, using a water filter is much lighter than packing extra water.
How to Load the Bike
As important as it is to have lightweight gear, it’s important to pack it onto the bike in the most appropriate areas. Bikepacking specific saddle, frame and handlebar packs are the most efficient ways of utilizing a bike’s entire gear holding capability. Not only do they enable the transport of large amounts of gear, but they also allow you to distribute the weight where it will be the least noticeable.
The rear saddle pack should hold all of your mid-weight gear items. Usually, such items will consist of your clothes, toiletries, sleeping pad and food. With it being one of the highest storage locations on the bike, it’s crucial to keep weight to a minimum.
You’ll notice additional weight the most up on the handlebars, which is why it’s important to load only your lightest gear into the handlebar pack. Depending on your pack, it may have a zippered storage pocket on the front. We utilize the pocket to hold items we may need on the fly, such as a map, GPS device or camera.
Now, What Should I Bring!?
Ah yes, that’s why you’re here. We’ve compiled some photos of what we suggest you bring for an overnight trip. Start there, with a single overnight trip, and then build upon the duration of your trips from there. For longer trips, the only items needed in increased quantities are usually food, water, clothing and some tools. Below is what we suggest for the bare minimum. This is in addition to the riding clothes you start with, including either a flat pedal/shoe combination or clipless setup that includes a sturdy Vibram sole for those inevitable moments when you’re walking your bike.
- Rain shell: ALWAYS bring a rain shell! We understand you checked the weather forecast and it predicts blue skies. Bring a rain shell anyways.
- Thermal bottoms: This will increase your level of warm and comfort at camp each night. We typically get to camp, strip off our adult diaper (chamois), throw on our thermal bottoms and then wear our riding shorts over them.
- Buff or beanie: Something to keep your head (primarily ears) warm.
- Wool socks: At some point, you’ll inevitable slip off a rock while hopping across a stream. Your socks will get soaked and you’ll be bummed if you don’t have an extra pair on deck.
- Puffy jacket: Companies are now making ultralight puffy jackets with down insulation, providing maximum warmth at a minimal weight.
- Bivies (top left) are certainly the most simplistic way to go, due to it being nothing more than a waterproof and bug-proof sack to place your sleeping bag and pad in.
- Hammocks (top right) are in the middle of the range when it comes to weight and packability. Due to the lack of poles, they can be stuffed into a seat pack really easily.
- Tents (bottom) provide a familiar comfort to many, which often makes it a great choice for an introduction to bikepacking. They provide a great sense of “home” at the end of a long day and often allow people to feel the most comfortable out in the middle of nowhere.
ODDS AND ENDS
- Hand pump
- Tire levers
- Tire sealant: Small bottle, but sometimes that’s all you need to seal up a tire. Always be sure to start with an adequate amount of fresh sealant in your tires as well.
- Spare tube: If you’re part of a group with mixed wheel sizes, remember that a 27.5″ tube will fit both 27.5″ and 29″ tires.
- Tool kit: Make sure that you have a tool for EVERY bolt on your bike.
- Bug spray
- Headlamp: Whatever works for you. It’s simply for walking around camp.
- Lighter: Fire provides hot food and keeps you warm in emergencies. The lighter is among the most important pieces of gear. If you’re traveling in a wet region, waterproof matches are also a good addition, but they still don’t replace a lighter.
- Bike light: Get a self-contained one. External battery packs are a pain. We use one with a handlebar mount and have it attached the whole time…night and day.
- Water filter: We’ve yet to find something more simplistic than a Steripen. Some question its effectiveness. We’ve used it in some really suspect places without a problem. This is purely preference though. There are both chemical and mechanical methods to purifying water. That’s a completely different, and lengthy, discussion though. We’ll get into that in a later post.
- Water reservoir: Platypus makes reservoirs that are very pliable and conform to the shape of any packing method. Even if you choose to wear a hydration pack, we suggest you keep the reservoir in your frame bag. Keep the weight low!
- NOT PICTURED BUT IMPORTANT….Toilet paper: Nature calls, even when you’re in nature. Bring more than you think you need. We wrap it around our hand until we think we have enough, then we wrap it around our hand ten more times. That should be enough.
Emergency Gear and First Aid
We left first aid out of the gear list. Did you notice that? It’s lack of presence in the list doesn’t make it unimportant. It’s a crucial aspect of any bikepacking pack list, but the specifics of it depend on what you, and those with you, feel comfortable with.
Companies, Spot being our personal favorite, offer GPS devices that can be set up to leave a breadcrumb trail of where you’ve been. It also has a check-in function to inform friends and family you’re ok, while an S.O.S. function will immediately inform all necessary agencies of a distress call and your precise location. We suggest using a GPS unit, but never depend solely on batteries for your navigational needs. Waterproof maps and a compass (along with the knowledge of how to use it) should always be a part of your gear list.
We hope you enjoyed this article, and that it serves as a source of inspiration for your future adventures. If you want to read the entire article, you can find it here.
Additional resources: Bikepacking.com is invaluable for planning your trip
Bikepacker.com is an another well written site to check.
And don’t forget to check out The Radavist on Instagram for inspiration!
Products that we recommend.
Endura MT500 jacket
LTP part number: 451505-03
Topeak Prep 25 tool roll
LTP part number: 346273-01
WTB Trailboss tires
LTP part number: 163138-16
Salsa Hardtail Frame Bag
LTP part number: 252691-01