Naomi Freireich, an endurance mountain biker based in Edinburgh, Scotland is back with the fifth in her series of blog posts written exclusively for Chain Reaction Cycles.
In her latest blog, Naomi heads for a bikepacking adventure – we hope it’ll inspire you to get out and explore new places…
Planning for a bikepacking trip
I’ve long since had the bug to do more bike packing. Ever since I took myself off for a 5-9 adventure one evening after work into the wilds of highland Perthshire, I’ve been gathering kit, testing it out on weekends bivvying up munros and honing my packing techniques.
Planning for these things is part of the fun for me: looking at maps; researching terrain or interesting locations, selecting kit and ensuring all eventualities are covered is where I geek out, and this would be no exception.
Over the weeks running up to my trip, I picked up the few remaining pieces of kit that I would need. I’d always taken cold food previously but fancied a cuppa and a hot meal so invested in a tiny, lightweight stove and pan. And so my kit was complete.
The right kit is key
I’ll bang on to anyone who’ll listen about the need for the right kit, gear you have tested in the conditions you’re entering into, gear that you know works. And when it comes to bikepacking it’s crucial. If you’re heading out into the wilderness, potentially out of mobile reception, you require to be completely self-sufficient. Gear right now is your lifeline, it could make or break your trip. Possibly even you.
When it comes to Scottish conditions, who better to trust than the makers of Goretex themselves. I’ve long been a fan of the GORE Bike Wear range; I’ve used their bib shorts and longs in 24-hour racing since I started two years ago for their reliable comfort and performance, and so know that I have tested it to the extreme. And so I was overjoyed when I was asked to be their ambassador. For that reason the kit that I wear and have reviewed is all by GORE, however, it’s an honest view of quality kit that I stand behind.
For wet weather, I love a pair of Goretex overshorts. They protect the bits that get wettest or muddiest but are lighter weight than a full trouser. I’ve also recently cracked out my Windstopper base layer again. I find the vest perfect for autumn temperatures, with a Windstopper panel over the chest for extra warmth and a highly breathable back. Perfect for minimising sweating and therefore chill when you stop.
For Reynauds sufferers like me, or just people who don’t like cold hands and feet, keeping your extremities warm is paramount. I’ve tried many, many combinations of socks, shoes, over shoes and boots and a whole variety of winter gloves in the search for the best cold weather solution for me. I’ve finally settled on what I think is a fairly infallible set up for proper Scottish winters. I have a pair of Shimano Goretex winter boots which I wear with thin socks and a pair of GORE Windstopper socks over the top. The layers provide the many barriers to the cold that keep in the heat. For my hands I have a thin pair of GORE liner gloves and their thermal Windstopper gloves on top, again the layering working well. Of course, when it’s not so cold the thinner Windstopper gloves are perfect.
As for other kit: go light, go reliable and go with what you know. There’s no point in taking a brand new bit of kit with you if you don’t know how to use it, or don’t know if it works for you. I’ve got a 10-year old sleeping bag that I invested in which is still small enough to pack down into my saddle bag and warm enough for even harsh winter conditions. And that familiarity is comforting for me, out in the dark night, remote and potentially alone. It’s a little piece of home.
What to pack for bikepacking (and how)
Packing is an art in itself. I used my Specialized Epic, a bike I know and trust through racing, but as it’s a full suspension bike it means a full frame bag isn’t an option without looking at custom kit. Instead I have a large saddlebag, with my sleeping gear (bag, mat and bivvy bag) packed into it in individual waterproof stuff sacks. This is a pack I will only open to sleep and so using the rear, slightly fiddlier to mount bag to hold this makes sense. My tool kit is kept in the small frame caddy. The usual: tubes, spare chainlink, hanger, tyre lever and chain breaker. My multi tool fits into my frame so that’s one less thing to pack.
On the front I have a bar bag containing spare clothes, warm insulated jacket and cooking equipment. It’s good to try to balance the weight front and rear and for me this seems about right. I also have a small add on bag that has food for the day, spare socks, gloves and arm warmers and space for maps and my phone. It’s easily accessible so perfect for those things you might want quickly or regularly.
And so, with all my kit packed up, and with warm clothes on, I headed off on new trails for a new adventure. Not racing, or competing for Strava segments. Just riding my bike on a journey, with a likeminded accomplice and a thirst for new experiences. And I wasn’t disappointed. It made me love my bike for what it gives me: the freedom to explore new places and a whole bucketload of memories.
My top three bikepacking tips:
Top three products I always carry