Traditional cycle touring saw riders with heavy steel bikes and panniers covering many miles on asphalt. But there were some intrepid travellers who want to get off the road and onto the trails. Thus, Bikepacking was born! The flexibility of a backpacker, on the wheels of your bike.
Trails throw up a different set of challenges in which a regular pannier-rack setup doesn’t work. Singletracks are often narrow enough to snag your bag on a rock or root. This revolutionized bags on a bike. The rack was discarded and bags were secured directly to the frame, leaving no loose bolts to fly off whilst attacking corners.
This new luggage setup was so successful that even cyclists going on a 100% road ride ditched traditional bags!
But at the heart of it, Bikepacking has always been the desire to get astray, to get off the beaten track and explore places which are difficult to access. Which results in riding a lot of dirt, either on MTBs or a gravel bike.
The beauty of this form of travel is that it reduces the limitations of traditional bicycle touring. You do not need a specialized touring bike, and as you get started you do not need any specific product!
The same Mountain Bike which does a phenomenal job of getting you around those trails near your house is good enough to get you through most gnarly terrain on a tour. Your Bikepacking setup comprises of three main bags, a saddlebag, frame bag and handlebar bag. Then there are smaller bags which can be attached on the forks, top tube, down tube and seat stays, depending on the amount of luggage you wish to carry.
Ultra-light is the magical word for Bikepacking. Minimalism is the order of the day, carrying only the bare essentials for your trip, leave all that worldly paraphernalia in the ‘civilised’ world! Essentials which need to be included are spares and tools, tent, sleeping bag, food, portable stove, an extra pair of clothes, water, maps or GPS device and lights.
The difference between a morning trail ride and a Bikepacking tour is your luggage. The added weight will slow you down and force you to ride a bit more cautiously. Average moving speeds vary between 6 to 14 kmph, depending on elevation, singletrack or jeep trails, rider’s experience and amount of luggage. A new rider will be able to ride 5 hours in a day, while an experienced rider can manage up to 8 hours. You need to plan your night halts accordingly.
Bikepacking has gained popularity all over the world, as equipment and bikes, technology has improved making everything lighter and stronger. More and more people are hitting the trails to cover long distances and the next person to do so, could be you!
Pack to Bikepack!
You are ready to go on your first Bikepacking tour and then you wonder. What, how and where to pack! Here’s a quick list to get you started.
What to pack
The essence of Bikepacking is travelling light. The less you carry is directly proportional to your joy when climbing a big mountain! There are essentials, nice-to-haves,and superfluous junk. The list varies on the basis of the length of the tour. An overnight ride will require less thantwo months.
Essentials include basic tools and spares for your bike, two sets of clothes, toiletries, water filter or tablets. Since you are going to be out in the wild, chances are that you will want to camp, for which you need to carry a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, camping stove and provisions for cooking, vessel to cook and a Spork. A good headlight for your bike is useful if you ever find yourself riding after dark, while a head torch is useful for setting up camp and cooking in the dark. Either paper maps or a GPS device are necessary for navigating in the wild. Sunscreen and insect repellant are worth their weight in gold when riding in warmer conditions.
The longer the journey the more luxury wins versus luggage weight. You might want to carry an e-book reader, a foldable stool, bowl, chocolates, wet wipes and the list goes on. But you really want it to be as lihgt as possible.
How to Pack
Pack similar usage items together, so that it is easier to find stuff. Not being able to find the one thing you are looking for when exhausted on the trail isn’t fun!
Before you start packing, make mounds of stuff you are going to carry, camping equipment, cooking equipment, clothes, toiletries, camera and navigation equipment. The grouping will make packing a great deal easier. As any seasoned backpacker would do, roll your clothes tight and ready to be stuffed.
Where to Pack
The handlebar bag should have your tent at the centre, and if there is any space remaining, then you can stuff it with a portable stove and utensils on either side of the tent.
The frame bag should be packed with the heaviest items at the bottom. This keeps the centre of gravity low. Keep the bike spares and tools at the bottom, followed by things you will need during the day’s ride, water, energy bars, a light jacket etc. The seatpost bag again follows the principle of heaviest at the bottom. Firstly, start with stuffing the sleeping bag, followed by clothes and top of it put whatever is left.
With small bags for the top tube and seat tube, you have a lot of flexibility in packing things you would need during the day. A small backpack, though not essential, is useful if you are carrying a camera which needs to be kept shock proof. The backpack can also house your wallet, head torch, documents, pocket knife and other light, but important things.
Once all these bags are securely strapped onto your bike, you are good to go! It helps to check your bags multiple times during the day, to ensure nothing has worked its way loose. Especially on rough terrain.