Bikepacking is long distance cycling mixed with camping—a perfect way to explore at a pace much faster than walking, but way less rushed than driving. It is suitable for challenging solo trips or families, even those with small children. But before setting off on your first trip, it is important to have a good level of outdoor experience.
Anybody able to ride long distances is fit to start bikepacking, so the best way to prepare is by doing increasingly long one-day trips. However, it isn’t only about the ability to pedal, and any novice cyclist will soon learn that taking up the sport can quite literally be a pain in the backside. A well cushioned saddle, padded shorts and a correctly setup bike can all alleviate soreness, but simply allowing the body to gradually get used to the new position is key.
For a beginner bikepacker, almost any bicycle will do as long as it is well serviced and the trail doesn’t require it to do something it wasn’t designed to do. For example, taking a Dutch bike on a mountain single track is clearly a very bad idea, but the same bike will do very well on a weekend trip on an asphalted road, especially at a slow pace.
Most cycling shops offer servicing, but knowing how to independently maintain and even fix a broken bike is a must before committing to a trail. Learning the essential skills (and getting the right tools) can take some time, and simply knowing how to patch an inner tube might not be enough for longer, or more demanding trips.
If bikepacking becomes a regular activity, buying a specialist bike is a great idea but riding a self-assembled, basic setup definitely won’t spoil the fun.
Get camping ready
In terms of sleeping, bikepacking isn’t much different from backpacking—you still need to carry all the camping gear yourself, so a good compromise between comfort and weight is key. There is no right wrong - whether it’s a simple hammock, tarpaulin or a luxurious tent, the choice between going light during the day or being more cozy at night, is yours.
Clever distribution of luggage across the bicycle can make a world of a difference to the ride and producers offer a wide range of cycling panniers and bags suitable for bikepacking. Breaking the bank is not a prerequisite to adventure - budget bikepacking luggage can easily be made at home with a little bit of smart DIY.
Ready, steady, go!
Perfecting the setup of the bicycle, what to pack (both food-wise and in terms of gear) and how to spread the luggage will likely take a few trips, but learning what works best for you is part of the adventure. For beginners, or anybody wanting a mellow trip, sticking to rail trails is a good choice. Rail tracks have been transformed into multi-purpose trails with smooth surfaces and no motorists, and there's almost 25,000 miles of them across the US. For more technically-demanding trips, check out these beautiful off road trails, or these rails for “adrenaline junkies."
Bikepacking often takes place in stunning, remote areas that would be much harder to access on foot. However, this means that avoiding an emergency while also being prepared for one, is even more important. Knowing the trail and the weather conditions, researching where water and help can be found—as well as carrying an appropriate first-aid kit —are all essential to your safety.
Once your preparations are complete, all that is left is to enjoy the ride! Although keeping to a schedule is a good idea, there is no point in setting a breakneck pace on a bikepacking trip. Its beauty lies in taking in the sights and having fun along the way—speed records can wait for another occasion.