For many, there is a special joy in riding a bike that is reminiscent of childhood: the freedom to go and do what you like, the feeling of flying on the road at speeds your legs can’t, and the feeling of limitless exploration. And if there’s one way to amplify these experiences, it might be it.
But if you’ve never loaded your camping gear onto a set of pedal wheels and hit the road, you might have a few questions. Fortunately, we have answers.
What is bikepacking anyway
Think of bike packs as an activity that hovers at the intersection of backpacking and landing: a type of excursion where you spend a night (or several) camping outdoors carrying everything you need on your back or vehicle. The main difference is that your transmission is two aluminum frames instead of your feet or a gas engine. But then, the details are up to you.
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“There is no one way to do this,” explains Marley Blonsky, an athlete and co-founder of All bodies on bikes, a nonprofit organization based in Bentonville, Arkansas, that aims to promote the inclusion of volume in the world of cycling. She encourages “people are busy doing it ‘the right way’, but just go out and have fun.” “There are no rules, no prizes – whatever you want to make of it.”
This means that a bicycle can consist of riding on roads or trails, or camping in developed or off-grid sites in the back country; Trips of two or ten days, or five or 500 miles, or any combination of the above. You can do this alone or with friends and family, and anyone who has the desire can do it. Provided you have the necessary equipment, of course.
start with a bike
What you’ll need will vary from adventure to adventure, but the basics will likely remain the same, and the item at the top of the list is the bike. You don’t need an expensive horse, and Blonsky says that as long as it has two wheels and you can attach a rack and bag to it, you should be fine.
However, if you want to be picky, a bike with a large selection of gears will make it easier to conquer different terrains, while the chunky tires provide stability if you’re going off-road.
For other essentials, Blonsky recommends making packing lists in categories—ask yourself what you’ll need to ride, sleep, eat, and wear.
In addition to the bike, you will need racks and cargo bags that you attach to (such as cans) to hold all of your gear. For safety, bring strobe bike lights for riding in the dark (don’t forget spare batteries or charging cables) and repair kits to handle minor maintenance accidents. At the very least, the kit should include a multitool, a patch kit, a spare tube, electrical tape, a pocket knife, and a hand pump.
It is important to know that you do not have to be an experienced bike mechanic to embark on your cycling adventure. But you should at least know how to change a punctured tire and repair a fallen chain, two of the most common repairs you’ll tackle. Just don’t think you can simply search YouTube for a tutorial video when it’s time to fix things. You may find yourself with a broken bike part and no cellular service when you’re off the beaten path, so be sure to learn before you leave.
If you will be spending most of your nights outdoors, make sure you pack what you need for a relaxing night under the stars. You will need a tent or hammock as well as a pillow and sleeping bag – the smaller the better. Lightweight backpacking gear is often well suited to packing bikes, but some manufacturers also offer bike-specific items such as shorter pole tents that fit better on the bike frame.
fuel your journey
As for what you eat, Blonsky recommends choosing your own adventurous. Meaning, if you’re passing through small towns, you may prefer to stop for a meal, but if you’re far from civilization, you may have to pack all your food for the trip. If you’re going to avoid other humans and want more than sandwiches and energy bars, you’ll likely need a stovetop for cooking. Using that small pot or pan, you can prepare any number of dishes using fresh or dried ingredients.
You may want to prioritize fast food for lunch and snacks. Make or have a sandwich or spread hummus and vegetables on tortillas. For snacks, Blonsky recommends “all you can eat with one hand on the go,” like energy bars, fruit, and small bags of trail mix.
And if you want a dessert at the end of the day, whether it’s a cupcake or a six-pack, bring it! Blonsky especially encourages new riders to pack whatever makes the ride more enjoyable for them.
what to wear
When choosing the clothes to wear, avoid cotton and opt for comfortable, quick-drying and moisture-wicking fabrics that won’t make you uncomfortable or feel heavy and wet after a long day on the bike. Consider the weather forecast when choosing clothing and bring an extra layer in case the temperatures drop or it rains.
Blonsky also recommends a change of clothing just for camp, such as a pair of lightweight shoes and comfortable clothing that isn’t sticky with sweat. There’s nothing better after a long day of riding than to take off your padded bike shorts and salt-coated T-shirt to enjoy a meal around the campfire.
safety and navigation
Planning a trip doesn’t end with a packing list, so don’t forget about safety and navigation tools. Bring a first aid kit that includes any personal medication, as well as a paper map as well as any apps you’ll use on your phone. If you are going to rely on digital gadgets, bring a power bank to make sure you always have access to them.
Avoid accidents by doing a safety check every day before you ride: make sure your wheels are securely attached to your bike, the brakes are in good working order, and nothing needs attention or repair. Finally, always adhere to safe driving practices when sharing the road with motorists.
Or, if you’re already familiar with an area, create your own map by marking bike trails and trails, points of interest, campgrounds, and more on Google Maps. You can also use an app like Ride with GPS It was specifically designed with cyclists in mind. If you don’t know where to start, you can always ask those around you at your local bike shops and establishments – they will likely give you tips and suggestions.
ease in it
Your first bike-packing trip doesn’t have to be a week-long trip or have a lot of miles on wild terrain. Start with a night not far from where you live, and when you feel comfortable and confident, you can then go farther and faster.
“There is no right or wrong way to do this,” Blonsky says. “Find out what works for you and enjoy it.”