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Getting Started with Bikepacking: The Beginner’s Guide

Bikepacking is a fun and adventurous way to explore the outdoors on two wheels. If you’re new to bikepacking, this comprehensive guide will teach you everything you need to know to plan and enjoy your first bikepacking trip.

What is Bikepacking?

Bikepacking refers to multi-day cycling trips where you ride on and off-road while camping along the way. It combines aspects of bicycling, backpacking, and bicycle touring. Bikepackers use frame bags, seat packs, handlebar rolls, and other bike-specific soft bags to carry camping gear and supplies on their bikes. The goal is to pack minimal and light so your bike remains agile on both paved and unpaved terrain. Bikepacking routes vary from overnight out-and-backs to weeklong point-to-point journeys in remote wilderness.

Why Go Bikepacking?

Here are some of the appeals of bikepacking:

  • Explore places cars can’t access and get deep off the beaten path
  • Immerse yourself in nature and be self-powered while cycling
  • Enjoy both the physical challenge and simplicity of pedal-powered travel
  • Ride and camp in beautiful remote settings like forests, mountains, and deserts
  • Cover more ground than backpacking to see new areas and sights
  • Feel a sense of adventure taking your bike places vehicles can’t go
  •  Appreciate solitude, simplicity, and self-reliance on trips into the wild

How to Choose Your First Bikepacking Route

When planning your maiden bikepacking voyage, it’s smart to start small and easy. Here are factors to consider for your first route:

Length: 2-4 days is ideal for your first trip. This allows you to get a feel for the activity without overcommitting.
Terrain: Stick to paved roads, gravel, dirt roads, and easy singletrack to start. Avoid extremely technical or steep terrain.
Distance: Target 30-60 miles per day. Shorter days early on are fine as you build endurance.
Navigation: Follow routes or trails that are easy to navigate and well marked.
Resupply: Pick places to stop for food/water. Planning where to refuel makes the mileage more manageable.
Campsites: Choose routes with established campsites or look for legal dispersed camping areas. Stealth camping can come later.
Scenery: Part of the fun is taking in new landscapes and vistas so pick routes that showcase nice scenery.

Ask experienced bikepackers for recommendations on starter routes in your region that fit these criteria. Ride with friends your first time out as well.

What to Pack for Your First Overnighter

Packing light yet having the essential gear is critical for enjoyable bikepacking. Here is what to bring on an overnight or two-night trip:

Camping Gear

  • Ultralight tent
  • Compact sleeping pad
  • Light sleeping bag rated for expected temps
  • Headlamp + extra batteries
  • Camp stove, fuel, pot (for quick meals)

Bike Repair Tools/Spares

  • Bike multi-tool
  • Tire levers
  • Tube + patch kit
  • Chain lube
  • Spare parts like chain links, brake pads

Clothing & Essentials

  • 1-2 cycling jerseys/shirts
  • Cycling shorts + extra padded chamois
  • Rain jacket or windbreaker
  • Warm layer like down jacket or fleece
  • 3-4 pairs cycling socks
  • Comfortable camp shoes
  • Toiletries like toothbrush, biodegradable soap, toilet paper
  • Sunscreen and sunglasses
  • First aid kit
  • Map and/or bike GPS device
  • Cell phone charger

Food & Water

  • 2-3 liters of water capacity
  • Water filtration/treatment if needed
  • High protein snacks like bars, jerky, nuts
  • Carbohydrate powder/drink mix
  • Compact high-calorie freeze-dried camping meals

With an ultralight focus, all this should fit in your bikepacking bags with careful packing. Only bring what you need and make use of things that serve multiple purposes.

How to Pack Your Bikepacking Bags

Bikepacking requires specialized lightweight bags that attach to specific parts of your bike frame. Here are the main types of bikepacking bags and how to use them:

Frame bag: Attaches inside your bike frame triangle to carry heavier items like food, tools, stove, etc. Keeps weight centered on bike.

Handlebar roll: Straps to your handlebars and holds tent, sleeping bag/pad, or other soft/odd-shaped items. Impacts bike handling minimally.

Seat pack: Sits on back of seat post and carries clothing layers, rain gear, etc. Doesn’t obstruct pedaling.

Accessory bags: Small bags attach to the stem, top tube or down tube to organize tools, toiletries, gadgets, etc. Optional but handy.

Saddle bag/trunk: Offers extra storage under seat for food, camping items, or spares. Try to pack lightly enough to avoid needing this.

Make sure to evenly distribute weight between the left, right, front and back of the bike. Your bike should handle predictably loaded.

Training for Your First Bikepacking Trip

It’s wise to train for a few weeks before your maiden bikepacking journey to condition your body for the daily mileage and terrain. Here are some training tips:

  • Do regular rides during the week for base fitness. Try for at least 3 shorter rides.
  • Go for at least one longer ride (2+ hours) on the weekends. Gradually increase the distance.
  • Ride on similar surfaces you’ll encounter on your trip like gravel or dirt roads.
  • Practice using your bikepacking gear on training rides to get used to the extra weight.
  • Climb hills and use low gears for strength/endurance training.
  • Ride consecutive days on weekends to prep muscles for multi-day riding.
  • Stay hydrated and calorie-fueled on rides to get nutrition dialed.
  • Progressively increase your weekends rides to your target daily mileage.
  • Rest adequately between rides so your body can adapt and get stronger.

If you train properly in the month leading up to your first bikepacking trip, you’ll feel confident in your fitness when departure day arrives.

Tips for Your First Bikepacking Overnighter

Here are some additional pointers to make your maiden bikepacking experience a great one:

  • Check over your bike thoroughly and tune/adjust everything pre-trip.
  • Expect that you’ll forget something or need to tweak your gear/packing. It’s a learning process.
  • Study maps ahead of time and bring them as backup for bike GPS.
  • Carry some cash in case you need to buy anything enroute.
  • Keep phone charged in case you need emergency contact. Consider a backup charger.
  • Prepare for weather extremes like intense sun, rain, and temperature swings.
  • Start early each day to allow for unexpected delays or long lunch breaks.
  • Listen to your body and take breaks if you feel overtired or need recovery.
  • Enjoy beautiful scenery, new routes, freedom, and adventure of bikepacking!

Ready to Bikepack!

Bikepacking is an amazing way to explore wild spaces. With some preparation, smart packing, route planning, and training, your first bikepacking overnighter will be memorable. You’ll quickly get hooked on the simplicity and thrill of traveling by bike power. Let the adventure begin!