What is bikepacking?
When you take the best parts of mountain biking and the best parts of backpacking and put them together, you get bikepacking. Ride, camp, repeat. That’s the mantra. Unlike classic bike touring, bikepacking is done primarily off-road on trails and mixed terrain.
It’s all about exploring (getting lost), camping (eating really well), and hanging with friends. If you’re intimidated by things like gear choices and routes, worry no more. The great thing about bikepacking is that anyone can have a good time with it.
Check out our guide to bikepacking to learn everything you need to know before your first adventure.
What to ride
You can bikepack with any bike capable of off-road riding, but it’s best to have a setup that allows you to carry your gear on your bike. Bikes designed specifically for bikepacking will be the most capable and comfortable and will make it easy to securely carry your gear.
1120 is the king of this category. A rugged all-terrain frame, 29+ tires for traction on any trail, included rack system, and mountain-ready spec make it the best all-around choice for go-anywhere adventurers.
There are other bikes in our adventure lineup that can make incredible bikepacking bikes, too. 920 has drop-bars like a road bike and unlimited off-road capability, and Full Stache is a full suspension mid-fat bike that can take on the most rugged backcountry terrain.
What to bring
Yeah, you’re gonna need food. You’re also gonna need water—and if you don’t have access to clean water on your route, you’re gonna need a purification system. You should also have a stove unless you want to eat trail mix for your whole ride.
Here’s what you should remember: food is fuel. Carry what you’re comfortable eating. You’re going to be hungrier than normal, so it’s always a good idea to bring more than you think you need.
Pro tip: a hot cup of instant coffee is amazing when you wake up in the woods! If you skip the stove, you’ll wish you had one.
Tent, hammock, bivy—or sleep under the stars. Your shelter setup, which will include your sleeping bag and sleeping pad, is going to be a determining factor in your enjoyment of your trip. There are plenty of ways to save weight, but if you’re considering where you should burn your matches for creature comforts, this is a good place for it.
Shop adventure apparel
The key here is layering. You want to stay cool while you’re riding and warm when you stop. It’s a good idea to have a moisture-wicking baselayer, as well as a waterproof jacket and pants in case there’s a downpour. And nothing’s better than a fresh chamois after a few days in the saddle, so bring some spares!
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it will get you thinking about the crucial gear you’ll want on any adventure.
GPS and maps. You can do one or the other, but it’s advisable to have both. Good ol’ paper maps sure do come in handy when the battery runs out.
Lights on your bike are a must on any ride. But also remember that it gets dark early in the woods. A headlamp in the tent is great for reading when the fire dies down.
First aid kit
If there’s one place to over-pack, this is it. Be prepared for everything from blisters to stomach bugs.
It would be great to bring the whole toolbox, but when you’re riding light you should at least bring a flat kit, inflation, chain tool, multi-tool, and extra chain links.
You know what it stands for, you know what it’s used for. Don’t forget to bring it!
Try as you might, you’ll never start a fire with a bike. A campfire is nice at the end of a long ride, but you should also think of a lighter or matches as safety equipment.
Zip ties and bungees
These are things you’ll always be able to use, whether you need to strap something to your ride or need to make an unconventional repair on the trail.
Notebook and pencil
Document your adventures. It’s great to look back on them and remember where you’ve been!
How to carry your stuff
It’s best to keep your gear on your bike. Wearing a hydration pack or light trail pack is fine, but you’ll fatigue more easily over time if a lot of extra weight is on your body.
There are loads of pack options for carrying cargo, including:
• Front and rear racks with panniers
• Saddle bags
• Frame bags
• Handlebar bags
• Top tube bags
Your cargo setup will depend on the bike you’re riding, and will likely include a combination of different pack options.
And here’s what separates a standard mountain bike from a bike designed for bikepacking: 1120 has an included proprietary front and rear rack system that makes it easy to carry your gear and keep it balanced while you’re riding. It also includes rear bag holsters for the 8L dry bags of your choice.
Pro tip: It’s super important to keep the weight balanced while you’re riding. To hear an expert talk about how to pack for bikepacking, check out Ryan van Duzer’s video on packing for his Baja Divide ride:
Where to go
It’s easy to imagine bikepacking can happen only in remote and exotic locations, but the truth is there’s probably an escape right in your backyard. You don’t have to go far to find adventure! You can check your local state parks and contact the DNR for information on trails and campgrounds.
One of the main things you’ll want to consider as you’re planning your route is your access to water and a way to treat it.
Planning is a huge part of the fun. In fact, this is where your ride really begins. Search location tags on Instagram, look at routes on Bikepacking.com and TrailForks.com, check GoogleMaps and message boards, pull the dusty atlas out of your glovebox. However you do it, have fun poring over the topographies to find interesting areas to investigate.
If you’re just starting out, plan a local one-nighter. You learn something from every trip, and even after a single night in the woods you’re bound to discover something you wish you’d done differently, something you wish you’d brought with you, and something you wish you’d left behind.
Lessons from the trail
Attitude is everything
Be positive. If you start to feel yourself getting grumpy, you’re probably dehydrated or hungry. Pound a water bottle and keep plugging along. Soak in the beauty of the mountains. Remember: you’re on a bike, and that makes everything better.
Plan ahead, but expect the unexpected
Part of the fun of bikepacking is the unknown—you’re riding to experience cool new stuff, after all—but it pays to have a plan. You can have a true adventure while still keeping your bearings. Bikepacking forces you to be self-reliant, and you can really learn a lot about yourself when you’re faced with this kind of challenge. Be ready for that. Go forth! But come home in one piece, too.
Work with what you’ve got
You don’t need all-new stuff to have an adventure. If you’ve got a mountain bike and a sleeping bag buried in your gear closet, you’re well on your way to bikepacking. On the trail, you’ll learn fast what you need and don’t need, and you’ll be happy not carry more than you need.
You don’t have to be a pro
Bikepacking is ridiculously fun no matter how skilled you are, and the more you do it the more fun you’ll have. Learning by doing is exactly what makes this kind of riding so much fun.
It’s your adventure
Most importantly, your bikepacking adventure is whatever you want it to be. Get a bike, plan a route, pack your gear, and hit the trail!
Want to learn more?
Check out these other bikepacking stories.
IFHT Films goes bikepacking
In bikepacking as with all things, a healthy dose of humor goes a long way. Join the guys behind the popular YouTube channel on their first bikepacking adventure.Read on
Riding the Baja Divide
Adventurer Ryan van Duzer set out to traverse the 1700-mile network of rough and sandy roads that make up Mexico’s Baja Divide. Here are his 10 best tips for your voyage!Read on
Read the story of the first Trek Farley fat bike to reach the South Pole, as told by the man who piloted it there—polar adventurer Eric Larsen.Read on