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Tips For Bikepacking

Person with Bicycle with racks and bags for bikepacking

Love cycling? Love camping? Love adventure? Why not mix all those passions together to experience the thrill and chill of bikepacking?!

Bikepacking is part backpacking, part bike-touring, and part camping. Awesome to do with friends, your family, or even solo if you prefer. We’ve gathered a few tips to help get your “wheels turning” as you begin to plan out your first bikepacking trip. Let the journey begin!

The Bike.

There is no perfect bike for bikepacking. There is, however, a perfect bike for YOU and how you want to bikepack. Ask yourself, “What kind of terrain will I be riding on?” to help you understand what kind of bike will be ideal for your adventure.

What kind of terrain will I be riding on?

Best bike types for paved road/gravel road/trail bikepacking trip:

  • Adventure/Gravel Bikes — These bikes are versatile! They can ride smoothly on paved roads but are also designed to go off-road. Adventure/gravel bikes combine the best of road bikes and mountain bikes. They’re light and fast, they can go anywhere and do anything, and they’re FUN to ride whether for racing or for an activity like bikepacking.
Specialized 2021 Diverge Pro Carbon eTap Road Bike
  • Mountain Bikes —Mountain Bikes provide the most stability if you are riding primarily on bumpy, sandy, dirt and singletrack terrain. Choose from:
    • Rigid — A great, lighter-weight (no suspension) mountain bike option if your gravel route is fairly flat and not super technical.
    • Hardtail — This option features front suspension to give you a bit more comfort as you navigate the bumpier gravel terrain. And, with no rear suspension, you’ll still have plenty of space to mount your bags in back.
    • Fat Bike – A Fat Bike will provide you with a lot of cushion over the miles and float for when the trail gets super sandy.
    • Full Suspension — If you plan to ride a lot of singletrack on your bikepacking adventure, full suspension will ensure you’ve got all the fluidity to make your way through technical terrain and stay comfortable. However, the front and rear suspension will limit the space available to mount your bags and make your bike heavier.
Specialized 2021 Epic EVO Pro 29er Full Suspension Mountain Bike

Once you have your bike picked out, it’s time to choose your bag set-up.

The Bags.

There are a variety of bike bags made to utilize every available mounting space on your bike. If you are new to bikepacking below are the three storage units we suggest you start with. As with every bike accessory you attach to your bike, you’ll want to make sure that the bags you intend to mount truly fit your bike, especially when expanded and full of items.

Bikepacking bags
  • Handlebar Bag — Attaches to your front handlebars and works great for carrying lightweight supplies. Ensure your bag is made to fit your handlebar type (flat or drop-bar) and does not touch or rub upon the front tire and/or front suspension (if your bike is equipped with it).
  • Seatbag — Securely fits behind and beneath your saddle, a seat pack is the perfect place to store lightweight items like clothes or even a sleeping bag. The bonus of using a seatbag is that it doesn’t add any bulk horizontally to your bike. This means as you traverse narrow pathways, you can move through them no problem. As with a handlebar bag, you’ll want to expand and fill your seatbag and make sure it doesn’t touch and inhibit your rear wheel.
  • Frame Bag — Attaches within the triangle of space formed by the top tube, seat post, and down tube, a frame bag utilizes an otherwise dead zone of space. And, heavier items can be stored here no problem as the extra weight will enhance the bike’s center of gravity bringing more stability and balance to your ride.

These three bags together will provide a decent amount of storage as well as distribute weight evenly across your bike. But, if you need more packing space you can easily add-on these options.

Bikepacking trailer and bags
  • Front and Rear Panniers — These bags provide a good amount of extra space that’s great for packing larger, odd-shaped items. Plus, their spaciousness can make it easier to organize (and find) your items. But, they also add more horizontal bulk. This can slow you down as you pass through narrow spots on the trail and leave you less aerodynamic which may result in a slower ride.
  • Top-tube Bag — These bags attach on top of your top tube and in front of your seat post. They make for a great place to store small items that you want to be able to access when you’re riding (like a power bar).
  • Hydration Pack— Some bikepackers will wear a hydration pack and most styles feature extra space where you can store a few small items as well. While this can be a great way to carry more water with you on your trip, hydration packs also add weight that can cause physical discomfort on long journeys.
  • Trailer — Trailers provide a tremendous amount of extra packing space which means you can haul a lot more supplies on your adventures. They’re also easy to pack and can be dropped from a bike within seconds if you wish to leave the trailer at camp while you go explore. If you’re up for the added effort of hauling cargo behind your bike, a trailer may be a great add-on to your bikepacking setup.

Once you have your bike setup with the right bags it’s time to start packing!

The Packing.

Packing for your first bikepacking trip can be complicated. What supplies do you need? How will you get them to all fit? Follow these steps to streamline your process.

  • Be Thorough — What are the essentials that you need to bike and camp with ease and safety? Make two lists. Your biking list will include things like bike tools, extra tubes, and a pump (check out our biking essentials list here for ideas). Your camping list will include things like a tent, sleeping bag, camper stove, and food. Once you’ve compiled your lists, gather all the items together into one place.
  • Be Minimalist — Now review your packing supplies. Are there any items you can eliminate? Are there any items that you can swap out for smaller or lighter variations? Remember, bikepacking successfully requires traveling light!
  • Be Smart — Plan for the best . . . and the worst. If you get a flat are you equipped to fix it? If you get stuck in a downpour do you have what you need to stay dry? Did you plan out your meals to adequately refuel after hours on the saddle hauling extra weight? Consider all the things that could go wrong and add any necessary items to your packing pile. It’s better to be over prepared (especially on your first adventure) than not.
  • Be Strategic — Now it’s time to pack! If you are using the three bags we recommended (handlebar bag, seatbag, and frame bag) follow these guidelines for packing them:
    • Handlebar Bag — Lightweight items (clothes, sleeping pad)
    • Seatbag — Lightweight items (sleeping bag, tent)
    • Frame Bag — Heavier items (tools, stove, food)

As you pack, think about the distribution of weight. Make your handlebar and seatbag similar in weight. This will keep you feeling balanced front to back while riding. Placing heavier items in your frame bag will keep your center of gravity weighted low and close to the bike, adding positive stability while biking.

Test-Ride Time

Once you are all packed up, take a test-ride. Ride similar terrain to what your bikepacking route will be like. Double check your bags are mounted efficiently and not rubbing against your wheels, suspension, or even your legs, feet, or other body parts. Also, notice your overall sense of balance and stability. Are you able to ride at a decent speed without the bike pulling to one side of the other? Once you’ve evaluated your test-ride, reorganize your supplies and/or adjust your bags to increase your comfort, safety, and performance.

Let the Adventure Begin!

Swing by your local ERIK’S or order online any extra supplies you may need for a successful bikepacking experience. Then, head out for the time of your life! Who knew biking + camping + adventure = so much FUN!!!!