5 Things to Remember When Bikepacking

By Carolyne Whelen,

Bikepacking is a blend of bicycle touring and backpacking, keeping all one’s needs on the bicycle and riding on trails to experience the quietude and solace of nature for days at a time. Just like backpacking, some bikepacking trips are one-night out and back excursions, while others can be weeks or months of exploration. Bikepacking is a great compromise between wanting to get some fresh air and test one’s body to physically cover a large amount of terrain, while simultaneously clearing one’s head, and the realistic constructs of work, school, and other responsibilities that make time of the essence. While I have been on many bikepacking style tours, carrying all my belongings with me to ride down the west coast, across New Mexico, or just day trips to a beloved campsite, I had never been on a long-distance offroad bikepacking trip. Next fall, two other female cyclist friends and I will be riding our bikes down the Continental Divide, and have begun training and preparing for the adventure.

Appropriately, at Adventure Fest this year, my bike shop shared a tent with Swift Industries. They are a bikepacking-centered bag and apparel company based out of Seattle, Washington. After a gear-grinding mixed-surface ride along the Adventure Fest route, I enjoyed a well-deserved cold beer and got ready for some schooling. Jason from Swift Industries has a degree in Outdoor Education and brought his skills to our tent with a lesson from Swift Get Lost Academy. It was an insightful seminar on bikepacking and what to bring on a bicycle-powered camping trip. A few things we learned are:

  1. Regardless of how trendy front panniers are (the ones that attach to a rack over your front wheel), it is really the design of your bicycle that determines what is a better option for you. Your bike may love front panniers, or it may handle much better with the weight distributed on the back, such as a traditional rear rack and pannier set.
  2. If you are doing a lot of off-road riding, a frame bag and seat bag might be a better option, so your stuff doesn’t rattle around.
  3. If you are taking things you don’t want to get wet, such as anything stuffed with down, electronics, or even much needed camp clothes, it’s a good idea to double bag them in dry bags, so as to not risk any water getting in and ruining your good time.
  4. Speaking of down: while the ethics of that material is a whole other conversation (a good article on it can be read here), there’s no arguing its merits from a sustainability and economic standpoint. While synthetic fibers break down after a couple years, particularly when not properly stored, down can last over 30 years. The sleeping bag Jason brought with him, in fact, used to be his mother’s, back in the 70s.
  5. Packing bags is relatively the same, whether you’re talking backpack, panniers, or frame bags and randonneuring bags. The heaviest stuff should be stored centrally and close to the bike, just like it would be a backpack.

Also, of course, while it isn’t bikepacking specific, the surest way to get yourself out the door and ready to Get Lost is by setting yourself up for success. Once you’ve figured out the best setup for your riding interests and bicycle style, keep those essentials packed in the bags and ready to go. If all you need to grab is some coffee, snacks, and a pair of clean clothes, you’ll be a lot more likely to head into the wilderness the next time you find yourself with an evening that has a sky as clear as your calendar.

carolynewheelerABOUT: Carolyne Whelan is an adventurer and freelance writer who usually hangs her hat in a camper. When she isn’t working as a bike mechanic in Pittsburgh, PA, she can be hard to locate without a compass but is most easily found at her blogs Lifting Weights at Midnight and Roadside Fires Burning. Her poetry can be found at carolynewhelan.com.