Words by Grace Lambert-Smith
For the last ten years or so, we've seen the rise of bikepacking. More people are using their bikes for adventures big and small, while hotels, B&Bs, hostels and campsites have never been more well-equipped to cater for bikepackers as the surge in numbers continues. We've compiled this guide to enable more of you to dip your toe into the world of bikepacking.
It's becoming increasingly popular to leave the tent at home and stay in the comfort of four hotel walls. This so-called credit card touring makes bikepacking more accessible to those who wish to dabble before committing to a night in the wild. That said, you'll still need to make sure you're relatively self-sufficient and carrying everything you could need for a few days away.
It's easy to think you need to get a new bike for this kind of riding, but experience tells us that you should ride the bike you're most comfortable on. Comfort is the operative word in this entire section: you might be riding for longer than you expect and for multiple days which you're probably not used to. Ensure you've got a fairly easy gear - you'll be carrying more luggage than usual so hills will be harder work.
Of course, the terrain on which you ride will dictate whether this is a road or off-road adventure but you don't need to go out and buy a brand new bike specifically designed for bikepacking. You may wish to have a dedicated bikepacking bike equipped with panniers in the future but for starters, it's not necessary.
A useful adjustment for bikepacking and touring is ?pedals? and shoes: you're more likely to be walking around, so ?MTB shoes? with a ?? will come in handy and if you dabble into gravel biking, they'll be even more worthwhile.
If you'll be away from home for a couple of days, you'd be wise to have a set of ?lights? (and maybe a backup set) on your bike in case you find yourself riding into the night whether planned or otherwise.
If you're travelling to more remote areas, make sure you can carry enough water. These ??1ltr SiS bottles are perfect if you can fit them inside your frame. Alternatively, you may want to consider a ??hydration pack which can double up as a backpack for whenever you explore off the bike.
Tools and Repairs
Take everything you ordinarily would on a normal bike ride e.g. multitool, spare tube, tyre levers and pump but remember you'll be out for longer than your steady weekend spin with friends. A couple of tubes won't go amiss as well as a ??puncture repair kit should the worst happen. If the weather turns sour, your chain will be grateful of some lube?.
A couple of essentials in case you get really stuck are zip ties and gaffer tape - both great for securing things to your bike if something runs loose during your trip.
Kit and Clothing
You'll need to call on your experience cycling in all number of conditions in order to filter out what kit you need to go on a bikepacking adventure. As is the case with most things cycling, you'll learn along the way and make changes based on last time.
Unfortunately, the UK climate isn't as warm as our mainland European neighbours so for most bikepacking trips you'd be wise to take an extra layer or two particularly for when you stop riding for the day. Thermal baselayers?? are great for both on and off the bike, and can double up as pyjamas.
Preparation is key for bikepacking to ensure you pack the right equipment for the days ahead. Check a few weather forecasts and pack accordingly. You can still have a great time in the rain!
You'd be wise to take warm gloves??, a beanie, a packable down jacket and neck buff. If you want to have a nice time in cold weather, you'll want to be warm so pack accordingly.
It's comparatively easier to pack for warm conditions than the less desirable cold and wet weather we're used to but bear in mind you're likely to be sweatier and exposed to the sun for long periods of time. Lightweight moisture wicking fabrics are crucial for drawing sweat away from the skin and keeping you cool. These same garments will be quick to wash and dry meaning you'll feel fresh for the next day. Footwear is much easier when the weather's warm - flip flops are lightweight, easy to pack and great for airing your feet after a long day in the saddle.
Temperatures are likely to drop especially into the evening if you're in the mountains or it's a clear night so don't forget to take a jacket just in case.
Remember your sunglasses, sunscreen and a cap to keep sun exposure to a minimum.
Other Bikepacking Essentials
- Credit card: you never know when you might need to get yourself out of a pickle or shell out for an unexpected repair to your bike mid-adventure.
- External battery pack: if you use a ?GPS? for navigation, the chances are it'll need a power topup at some point in your journey and perhaps before your final destination. You might also need to charge your phone so make sure you pack the correct USB cables with a small battery pack.
- First-aid kit: this needn't be a paramedic-level satchel but a few plasters, paracetamol, aspirin and bandages are useful in case of any unplanned tumbles.
- Wet wipes: repairing on the move sometimes results in mucky hands. A sachet of wet wipes doesn't weigh much and will clean up the mess in no time.
Once you've got your kitlist together, you'll need somewhere to stash it all while you're riding from A to B. While you could install pannier racks on your bike, frame bags are by far the easiest way to get going without altering your setup. ?Ortlieb? and ?Topeak? have a fantastic ?range of bags? that attach to the handlebars, seat-post and top tube of a bike. While the Ortlieb range is waterproof, both brands' bags are lightweight, durable and deceptively spacious.
A ?handlebar roll? can be fiddly to access on the move so it's best to keep less frequented items in this section such as off-bike clothing, sleeping bags etc. A ?seat-pack? is useful for items you're likely to need at some point during your ride like extra layers, a rain jacket or food. A ?frame bag? is a useful place for tools, smaller snacks and other things you might want to get hold of without stopping. Don't overfill the frame bag as it may start to rub on your knees as you ride.
Practice packing your bags in advance and take your loaded bike for a short spin before you venture off on your adventure. The bike will handle differently particularly up and down hills, so it may take some getting used to. Thankfully, there is no right or wrong when it comes to packing bikepacking bags and what works for someone else may not work for you.
Where to go Bikepacking?
The world really is your oyster when it comes to bikepacking but adventure can equally begin right at home. You don't need to go far to have a great time and you needn't book weeks of time off work. We have a few ideas to get you started:
- Visit family or friends: what better way to cement a relationship than by committing to riding your bike to a long-lost friend or family member. You'll have the luxury of a warm bed, shower and a cooked meal at the end of a day's and you'll have followed through on your promise of spending time together.
- Ride to a National Park: the UK has 15 ?National Parks? each with its own unique appeal. Go to one you've never been to before and discover something new.
- Stay in a ?Youth Hostel?: they're cheap and cheerful and are often well-equipped for guests arriving on bikes. A lot of YHAs are in beautiful locations around the country and you might even meet some fellow bike tourers.
Planning a Bikepacking Route
You know better than anyone the mileage you're capable of in a single day but consider also the effect of luggage on your bike slowing you down slightly. If you're planning a trip over a number of days, ensure you've made a note of the more difficult terrain and schedule in an easier day afterwards to recuperate. Work out your estimated timings for each day and double check your arrival time with your accommodation. It's always useful to have an idea of bike shops you may pass en route should you need their expertise mid-adventure.
- Ortlieb YouTube? channel for tips on packing your Ortlieb framebags
- Sustrans? has an extensive National Cycle Network perfect for planning a route
- Booking.com? or ?Airbnb? apps are useful for booking accommodation on the move
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