A guide for beginners and advanced users.
What does bikepacking mean? What do I need for this? How do I choose the right route?
Are you interested in bikepacking or would you like to go on a bikepacking trip soon? We'll tell you everything you need to know to be perfectly prepared for your next bikepacking trip.
Day trip, overnighter or world trip - it's all bikepacking. It allows you to be more connected to nature and explore the world.
Sounds expensive? It's not, you'll be amazed at how little it takes to get started. But what is bikepacking really and what do you need? We'll tell you.
- Bikepacking vs. Bike Touring
- The right bike
- Types of bikepacking (multi-day MTB, race, expedition touring)
- Which bikepacking bags are there?
- The right equipment (sleeping equipment, clothing, hygiene items AND electronics, cooking equipment)
- What goes in which bag?
- Where can you bikepack?
- How do I plan my route?
What is BIKEPACKING?
Basically, bikepacking means nothing more than traveling with a bike and luggage. The difference to traditional cycling tours is that with bikepacking you take as little luggage as possible - the aim is to travel as light and efficiently as possible. The bags are designed to fit any bike without any luggage racks or similar.
The focus of bikepacking is on self-sufficiency and light luggage. Bikepacking adventures often take you far from civilization, often on a gravel bike or MTB, although you can bikepack on any bike.
When bikepacking, equipment is packed in bags that can be attached to any bike without the need for additional mounting eyelets. It has space for everything you need: overnight equipment, food, clothing and spare parts.
Bikepacking vs. Bike Touring
The classic way to experience multi-day adventures by bike used to be touring or cycling trips. This style is still practiced, but bikepacking has become its trendier brother.
On bike tours that predominantly take place on the road, the bike is loaded with panniers that are attached to a luggage rack at the rear of the bike. Sometimes additional bags are added, which are attached to a luggage rack on the fork.
There is a special category of touring bikes designed for bike touring. They are typically made of steel to ensure durability and feature a generous gear to allow uphill riding when fully loaded, as well as mudguard eyelets and lighting (sometimes with dynamo lights).
In contrast, bikepacking uses bags that are attached directly to the bike frame, e.g. B. on a mountain bike or a gravel bike, so that you don't have to rely on the asphalt, but can also go off-road.
As a bikepacker, the focus is on traveling light: instead of a tent, you often only take bivvy bags with you, and non-essential comfort is often foregone.
The right bike for bikepacking
Basically, you can go on a bikepacking tour with any bike. You can also go on an overnighter or a day trip with a city bike. However, if you want to travel around the world, travel in difficult terrain or in very remote places, you need the appropriate equipment and the right bike.
The best bike for your first trip is the one you already own. You can easily adapt the first route (more on this later) to the area of use of your bike. A certain amount of basic equipment must always be with you and the longer or more special the bikepacking trip, the more individually the equipment and replacement material must be chosen. To avoid being surprised on your first bikepacking adventure, you should take the following basic equipment with you:
- Replacement hose
- Hose or tubeless repair kit
- Pump or CO2 cartridge
- Tire iron
- Multi tool with chain tool
- Quick link for chain
On longer trips, you should also take a spare derailleur hanger, spare shift cable and brake pads with you so that you can fix the most common problems in the event of a defect.
Things to consider regarding the bike:
Comfort and groupset choice:
Since you often sit in the saddle for hours when bikepacking, it is particularly important to have a bike that is tailored to your needs and a saddle that fits you individually. Make sure that your bike is set up correctly for you. We recommend testing the bike and luggage thoroughly before you start your trip.
The correct circuit is also important. Ergon grips can help relieve strain on your wrists and hands, as can handlebars with a little more outward bend or thicker handlebar tape.
When it comes to gearing the groupset, it really depends on which route you have planned. For example, if you ride mainly in a flat region, you will be able to cope with a racing bike gear ratio, but if you are traveling off-road with a lot of luggage, pay particular attention to a wide range of gear ratios.
As already described, bikepacking works with any bike. However, the origins of bikepacking involve terrain, remote areas and the freedom to go wherever you want. Use a bike that can do all of this to enjoy maximum freedom.
Ultralight, gravel bike, road bike, race
Bikepacking races, gravel races and ultra cycling events have become increasingly popular in recent years. Original bikepacking increasingly used mountain bikes with enough mounting points. Ultralight bikepacking uses performance-oriented racing bikes, gravel bikes or MTBs to achieve maximum efficiency.
In the races described, distances of more than 300 kilometers are usually covered. These races take place on gravel, on the road or in more technical terrain.
So what makes the perfect bike for ultralight bikepacking and racing? Terrain and surface conditions vary greatly between individual routes, changing the requirements of a bikepacking bike. For example, Badlands is known for long gravel sections that aren't too technical, while the Silk Mountain Race features extreme singletrack.
For events that take place almost exclusively on asphalt roads, any bike is the right one; the fastest way is of course with a racing bike. For events or bikepacking races with more terrain or gravel, a gravel bike with appropriate bikepacking bags is ideal. When choosing, pay attention to the gear range and tire clearance. We recommend at least 40mm wide tires, ideally 45mm, so that you don't have to forego comfort even on more technical terrain. For more technical terrain and single trails, we recommend a hardtail mountain bike. With aerobars, an MTB is not really slower than a gravel bike but offers significantly more comfort, safety and control off-road.
Multi-day mountain biking
Multi-day mountain bike tours are the epitome of bikepacking. Take enough with you to be independent, but still pack light enough to be able to move as freely as possible on single trails.
These tours can be of different lengths - from overnighters, time trials on specified routes to trips lasting several weeks.
Almost all mountain bikes can be converted into suitable bikepacking rigs. However, your choice of bike can influence the type of route you will enjoy most. Almost any rigid bicycle is suitable on unpaved roads and forest roads. Full suspension bikes make more sense on technical single trails like those on the Colorado Trail. In snowy, coastal, or sandy conditions, fat tires may well be a necessity.
Expedition & very long journeys
Traveling abroad by bike has always been an incredibly great way to connect with people and experience cultures unfiltered. This experience is enhanced on routes over little-traveled, unpaved roads and rugged and remote locations that other travelers rarely see. This describes the difference between classic touring and bikepacking particularly well, because in classic touring most bikes are too heavy to travel in difficult terrain, but with a bikepacking-inspired setup this is possible.
Which bikepacking bags are there?
In order to take everything you need for a longer overnight tour, you need luggage that you can carry either on the bike or on your body.
A backpack is sufficient for shorter tours, but is certainly less comfortable than bags that are attached to the bike and the capacity is also limited.
Bikepacking bags are designed to be strapped directly to the bike. Unlike most luggage racks, they do not require special attachment points on the frame, so they can be used with almost any bike.
Many gravel bikes - which are used for bikepacking due to their features, both on the road and in light off-road terrain - have additional attachment points on the fork, on the top tube and on the bottom of the down tube. These mounting points are particularly useful for additional bags or attachment without webbing.
The price range for bikepacking bags is wide and extends from entry-level models to waterproof, robust and highly functional premium models.
If you already have a rack bag for your bike, you can also use these for bikepacking, although they are more effective on the road than on bumpy off-road trails.
Having the right bags for your projects is essential. We will introduce you to a variety of bag shapes, tell you which bags you need for which tours and tell you what is best to pack in which bikepacking bag. Basically, you can use any bag that can be securely attached to the bike. The following types of bags are available:
The following bags are most commonly used when bikepacking:
The right equipment
Whether or which sleeping setup you should take with you on your bikepacking trip depends on where you plan to sleep. Are you planning to stay in hotels, do you want to wild camp or do you have a race planned where you don't plan on sleeping much?
Sometimes it's even essential to wash your gear and recharge after a few days - not to mention a good night's sleep in a real bed!
The optimal bikepacking sleep system is light, durable and compact.
If you want to sleep outdoors, you need the following:
If it's warm enough, you theoretically don't need any of this to spend the night outside, but most people won't want to miss out on at least some comfort. For bikepacking races it is common practice to only take an emergency blanket or no sleeping gear.
Plan your warm clothing when calculating the temperature of your sleep system. Warm trousers in combination with a down jacket can significantly increase the comfort temperature of your sleeping bag. This saves weight and you can use your equipment more versatilely.
As already mentioned, bikepacking is about traveling as light as possible. However, it is extremely important to have the right equipment for the relevant conditions. In our packing lists at the end of this article you will find detailed packing lists for different seasons.
In addition to basic bike riding gear and casual clothing, warm layers and waterproof clothing are important for most bikepacking trips. In our opinion, you should always have a waterproof and an insulating layer with you in case of emergency. Especially if you are traveling in remote areas and cannot rely on outside help, you should always be equipped to spend a night outdoors.
A down jacket and rain jacket should always be with you. You can use them while cycling, in your free time or as additional insulation when sleeping.
Hygiene products and electronics
A basic set of hygiene items is essential - even on a bikepacking trip. A small toothbrush and travel toothpaste free your teeth morning and evening from all the food that got you through the day.
Sunscreen is essential. Spending all day in the sun is harmful to the skin, so apply cream to particularly exposed areas several times a day.
Chamois cream is particularly recommended on rough roads and in summer. It's best to test yourself through the range of seat creams to find the one that's best for you.
It is also essential to keep the seating area dry and clean to avoid skin irritation or sore spots. A new pair of pants every day helps. If you only wear one pair of pants or don't have the opportunity to watch them every day, we recommend cleaning the seating area several times a day with something disinfectant. Once you get off the bike at the end of the day, don't stay in your cycling shorts for a second longer. If possible, clean your pants at least in the seating area - this can save you from a lot of pain.
In addition to hygiene products, a first aid kit is particularly important; this should be part of every bikepacking basic equipment and should be included on every tour. CYCLITE offers a first aid kit - of course ultra-light and practical.. available from April 2023.
At the end of the day, clean the seat cushion with antibacterial wipes and let it dry.
If you plan to cook for yourself or at least want the option, we recommend a compact gas stove. These take up little space, are light and work.
The simplest bikepacking meals require only boiled water: dried noodles, noodles or dehydrated foods, as well as oatmeal, tea and coffee in the morning.
If you are not traveling alone, it is a good idea to share equipment that can be used together, such as cooking equipment.
When buying a gas stove, make sure that you can store everything in one container so that you always have your cooking setup together.
(Product overview here)
What goes in which bag?
We give you a brief overview here. The Cycleverse has written a great article about this. More here.
Packing bikepacking bags correctly is not that easy, as most bags only get their stability from the contents. Proper packing is particularly important when it comes to saddlebags and handlebar rolls.
This brief overview should help you get a basic idea of which items ideally go where. The general rule is to place heavy objects as close to the bike as possible; the lower the center of gravity of all the equipment, the better your bike rides.
Saddlebag (Items that you most likely won't need on the trip)
- Heavy objects first.
- Sleeping bag
- Spare clothing
Frame bag (For items you want to have access to while driving)
- Replacement material (hose, tubeless repair kit)
- tire iron
- Money/credit card
- First aid kit (teaser available from spring)
Top tube bag (For items you access frequently while driving)
Handlebar bag (For larger items that you most likely won't need while driving)
- sleeping pad
- Sleeping bag/bivy bag
Where is a good place to bikepack?
In Europe, especially in Central Europe, there are now countless pre-planned bicycle routes. If you follow one of these you save yourself the planning. Planning a bikepacking route can take a lot of time and easily give you a headache. To find pre-planned routes, we recommend the following page:
Basically, you can ride your bike anywhere, provided it is legal to ride on it, of course. Furthermore, your bike can limit you; for example, if you ride a racing bike, you will mainly move on asphalt paths. With the gravel bike you have significantly more options, but you should always ride carefully - don't underestimate the extra weight of your luggage.
You are most flexible with a mountain bike. However, this travels differently with luggage than without.
In general, the average speed will most likely be lower than when the bike is unladen, so keep that in mind when planning your daily mileage
Leave room for spontaneous decisions. The special thing about bikepacking is the feeling of freedom; we recommend always being open to the unplanned. What do we mean by that? - If you feel like driving longer one day, do it, if you only want to drive half the time the next day, do it.
How to best plan your route
There are now countless route planning tools. We prefer to plan with you komoot. With its many features, komoot is perfectly designed for bikepacking trips. You can plan multi-day tours and get a good idea of the route or area with the help of tips from other drivers.
We recommend starting small and taking a leisurely approach to your first bikepacking trip. Try to gain as much experience as possible and enjoy it.
Double-check your planned route before you set off to make sure it's suitable for your bike and the current weather. Avoid e.g. B. River crossings after heavy rainfall and at high altitudes when there is a risk of storms.
If you are traveling on remote routes, take enough food and drink with you to bridge the time between shops.
Especially if you have planned a longer tour, we strongly recommend that you take one or more test drives to make sure that everything works.
Find out where it is best to store each piece of equipment and try to remember exactly where it is so that you can react immediately in the event of a defect.
If you plan to camp wild, find out in advance whether it is allowed in this area.
Don't take too much with you
The lighter and more efficient your equipment is, the more fun you will have on your bikepacking tour. Nothing is more tedious than having to carry unnecessary weight up a hill.
At the beginning you always take too much with you. Try to limit yourself to the bare essentials. You will not regret it.
The most important thing at the end: bikepacking is about experiences, adventures, memories, new friendships and yourself. Leave the stress and anxiety at home. Enjoy time with good friends or alone, in nature.
Our packing list for different temperature ranges:
Temperature range 0 - max.15 degrees. Spring/Winter this list works for a 2 day trip but also a trip lasting several weeks.
Toiletries and electronics
Temperature range 15-30 degrees. Summer/Spring this list works for a 2 day trip but also a trip lasting several weeks.
Toiletries and electronics
Bernd Grega, Nils Laengner, Rupert Hartley, Luca Jaenichen, NC4000 Matteo Dunchi