BikePacking for Beginners - 12 Tips on How to Get Started

March 23, 2018

BikePacking for Beginners - 12 Tips on How to Get Started

By Peter Ebro, GripGrab

Bikepacking is trending all over the world and is becoming more and more accessible for everybody who likes riding bikes, being outdoors, and going on adventures.  

Bikepacking can easily seem unmanageable in terms of planning and the equipment you need. But try to keep it simple and start small and scale up later, when you feel more experienced and confident. Don’t let equipment be a limitation. The most important thing is to get outdoors and start exploring the adventures that are waiting for you!  

With that in mind, here are 12 tips on how to easily get started.

1. Start With the Bike You Have

Start with the bike that you already have; it's better than nothing and is enough to get you started.

But the quality of your bike should be paramount to you, especially if you dream of multi-day bikepacking trips. You don’t need a 5,000 € bike, but you’ll need a proper quality bike so you don’t end up suffering from breakdowns and emergency pit stops because the bike can’t handle the stresses of riding off-road. 

2. Aim for a Gravel Bike – a True Adventure Vehicle 

A gravel bike is an obvious choice for bikepacking – a true adventure vehicle. It’s light and fast on the asphalt, where a mountain bike can be a bit heavy and clumsy, and capable of going over easier technical single tracks that are not manageable on a road bike. And furthermore, the geometry of the gravel bike is typically so relaxed that you can sit on it comfortably for many hours.

Read more about the characteristics of a gravel bike here: This is a Gravel Bike

3. Start in Pleasant Weather 

No matter how hardcore you are, the weather always plays a major role in whether a bikepacking trip turns out to be a memorable trip or a matter of just surviving until the campsite.

So, when planning your first bikepacking trip, try to plan it for a time of year when the weather is sunny, dry, and warm. If that’s not an option for you, then be ready to dress up and challenge the elements – it will definitely be a trip worth bragging about to your colleagues Monday morning by the coffee machine. Go make it epic!   

4. Prioritize a Good Night's Sleep 

Don’t be cheap when choosing a sleeping bag; keep in mind how important a good night’s sleep is for your well-being. The same applies when you choose a sleeping mat.  

If you intend to stay out overnight, you’ll need a good sleeping bag that's suitable for the temperatures you're facing. You can get sleeping bags in many qualities and price ranges.  

The sleeping bag and mat can take up a lot of space, so keep the equipment’s size and weight in mind when choosing. But be aware that the smaller it gets the more expensive it gets as well.

5. Camp in Accordance With Your Urge for Nature

A tent can easily be a huge thing to carry with you on a bikepacking trip. Especially if you don’t have one of those high-tech minimalistic ones that can fit into a back pocket. But are you planning to overnight outside in the colder seasons, a good tent is preferable.

Ridley X-Trail Bike Packing Bike

A workaround, that is cheaper as well, is to use a bivvy bag over your sleeping bag. A bivvy bag protects your sleeping bag from wind and rain so you can sleep right under the open sky when the weather allows it or in a shelter, well shielded from wind and rain. 

 Another option is to plan your route so you can stay overnight in a shelter, cabin, or hostel, depending on the size of your wallet and your desire for comfort or time in nature.

6. Start Local 

Start small when planning your first bikepacking trip. Don’t be too overconfident. Be a little conservative and plan the trip with less distance and elevation than you know you are capable of doing – especially if you are planning a winter trip. You can always challenge yourself with more difficult routes after you've mastered all of the other aspects of bikepacking. 

Adventures are not only in the most exotic places on earth, they are hiding just outside your door. So, start by planning a trip where you treat yourself to the local attractions and then scale up when you feel ready, experienced, and confident.

7. Start With a One-Nighter

A multi-day trip can be tempting when planning your first trip. But it's advisable to start with a one-nighter that doesn't require the same level of experience and equipment. It's easier to plan and overcome and the chances for success are far greater.

8. Ride With a GPS 

Remove the uncertainty and fear of getting lost by riding with a GPS that can guide you based on a predefined route so you don't have to use your brain capacity looking at the maps instead of enjoying the scenery you're passing. 

There are a lot of different route planners online. Strava, Ride With GPS, and GPSies are three very common planners that allow you to search for popular routes where you want to go. This makes it a lot easier for you to hit the interesting routes rather than the boring ones on the high roads. With the majority of these online route-planning tools, you can export the GPS file and upload it to your GPS.

9. Freeze-Dried Foods Can be Delicious 

Food can easily be a major weight burden if you choose to bring canned food. But there are many cunning alternatives in delicious freeze-dried food, where you just have to add hot water to have a tasty meal. This, of course, demands a gas burner and some pots. So, aim for light and small pots that won't take up too much space in your bags or simply bring food that doesn't need to be heated. 

If you don't believe in your cooking skills or simply want some luxury, you are of course free to plan a route that passes a restaurant.

Water is essential, no matter how hot it is, so you can stay hydrated and have water for making food. That's why you have to plan your route so it will pass water sources or plan to camp at sites with water hoses where you can fill your bidons.

10. Pack Light and Only the Essentials 

Lightweight gear is definitely preferable for bikepacking. But light is also equal to expensive. To cut weight, get rid of the items you don't need.

A simple goal for your setup should be to aim for using every single thing you carry without feeling like you're missing anything.

11. Put Your Gear On The Bike 

Until a few years ago you could choose between a backpack or panniers if you needed to carry a lot with you on your bike. But with the growth in bikepacking, new and more streamlined bags have been introduced. These new designs allow for much better weight distribution, making it more comfortable and easier to ride on uneven surfaces.  

Ridley X-Trail Bike Packing Bike

There are many different brands on the market with an overall similar look. The typical bikepacking setup is with a frame bag mounted under the top tube at around 5-15L, a bigger bag behind the saddle at around 20L, and a bag mounted on the handlebars between the brake levers at around 10-15L. Further smaller bags can be added, and equipment can be strapped to the outside of the bags if needed. 

The full setup with modern frame bags is preferable, but again, keep it simple and don't limit yourself just because you don't have high-end gear. Use what you have to start out with an upgrade as you gain experience. But if are you heading out for longer distances, try to avoid bringing a heavy backpack, because you'll have a bad weight distribution on the bike and you'll easily suffer from a hurting back.

12. Dress Properly  

When dressing for a bikepacking trip you need to pay close attention to the season and the weather forecast. Dressing wrong will mean a miserable ride – especially in the colder seasons of the year.  

You are going to be out for many hours, so pack as versatile clothing as possible. Dress in layers so you can take off a layer, or add a layer, as you warm up and the weather changes.

A merino wool base layer is often a favourite among bikepackers because of its many good properties in terms of sweat transportation and ability to warm even when moist. Merino wool is furthermore antibacterial, which means that it won't smell even if you wear it for a few days without washing it.

A solid, breathable and waterproof jacket is extremely important so you will be able to overcome the worst rainy rides you can imagine while still being comfortable. If you end up wet and cold, you'll either work your way through the cold, pause the trip and jump into your sleeping bag, or simply abort the trip and take a taxi home. A good jacket can make the difference between a rough day and a cancelled trip.

With these 12 tips in mind, you should be ready to head out for your first adventure on your bike. But be careful, it's easy to get hooked on the bikepacking trend and end up spending all your holidays exploring new places on your bike.  

Enjoy! 


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