Bikepacking is the ideal cyclist’s holiday! Packing everything you need for an overnight stay onto your bike and exploring the countryside brings a feeling of excitement and adventure. The reality is there are many different ways to go bikepacking, most of which we’ll cover in this ultimate bikepacking guide!
Bikepacking: The Ultimate Guide
- Bikepacking encourages a sense of adventure and exploration
- Pack all your overnight essentials onto your bike
- Ensure you pack everything you need like tent, clothes and toiletries
- Check out our bikepacking checklist
- How should you pack your bike
- Where can I go on a bikepacking adventure?
- Top tips for bikepacking
What is bikepacking?
Bikepacking is the idea of packing everything you need for one or more overnight stays into bags strapped to the bike, and then armed with a route, supplies, friends and a willingness and freedom to explore, going where no other mode of transport can take you.
Bikepacking encapsulates the feelings of adventure; taking to well away from any civilisation all by the power of two wheels.
It can be easy to think you need to spend a small fortune on all the equipment you need to start bikepacking, but that’s not the case.
Using your MTB or gravel bike you can easily homebrew a lot of luggage solutions along with there being a vast array of companies dedicated nowadays to making better and more budget friendly solutions.
What you need depends on the adventure you’re planning. What you need to carry for one overnight stop is very different to a three-week trip around Europe. And it’s different if you’re racing or touring.
So, you need to first decide what sort of riding and adventure you want to embark on and then choose the kit and equipment to match.
What do I need for bikepacking?
What you take on your bikepacking adventure ultimately depends on how long you plan to be away for. If you are setting off for the first time bikepacking; going for an overnight stay could be the best introduction.
Going for longer you may need to play about with your bags and packing arrangements.
In this bikepacking guide we will take you through the essentials you’ll be required to have:
The fact is true; any bike is a bikepacking bike and that is one of the best parts of bikepacking. You don’t need to fork out a fortune on a top end hardtail MTB or gravel bike in order to enjoy the thrills.
Planning your route will help you determine the type of bike you require.
A hardtail mountain bike is the ideal bike for more off-road and rougher terrain whilst a gravel bike will give you the benefit of both fast rolling on tarmac and deal well enough with the off-road terrain.
Hardtail Mountain Bikes
For our own adventure, Matt chose the Cube Analog hardtail MTB – an excellent choice for bikepacking.
Well suited to the rougher terrain, hardtail mountain bikes have a wide tyre clearance allowing you to have plenty of grip and increased comfort. Their sturdy frames also allow for fast rolling across flatter roads and trails.
Lauren picked the Kona Rove gravel bike – another super choice for bikepacking. A bike that shares a lot of similar features that make a hardtail mountain bike great for an adventure.
With slightly less tyre clearance then the hardtail, it still has enough to enjoy a more comfortable ride even on rougher conditions.
A gravel bike features a frame geometry similar to a road bike, making a gravel bike ideal for a route with a bit more tarmac.
As with any ride, pick your bike of choice and ensure you bring the correct spares:
- Puncture repair kit
- Pump and/or CO2 cannisters
- Tyre lever
- Chain tool/quick link
- Inner tubes
The further you plan to ride the further into the wilderness you may end up which might mean a phone signal is non-existent and no chance of nipping into a bike shop, so bring the correct equipment for if the worst happens.
The bags come in a vast range of sizes and to suit different bike designs and frame sizes. It’s easy to be tempted by the biggest bag size but the bigger the bag, the easier it is to carry a lot of stuff and a classic beginners mistake is to take way too much kit.
It’s a fine balancing act and experience alone is the best way to get your setup right for you.
The size and number of bags you choose depend on the kit you carry.
For an overnight stop, the essential kit includes at the very minimum sleeping gear, cooking equipment, spare clothing and food and water. What you carry depends on your overnight arrangements, whether you want to wild camp, bivvy or use a tent, head to a campsite or stay inside a hostel or bunkhouse.
Bags for Mountain Bikes
The Aeroe Spider Rear Rack is a durable, versatile and convenient storage solution for your hardtail mountain bike. Capable of taking a max load of 16kg the rack fits quickly and easily to the seat stay allowing you to carry all your bikepacking essentials.
Bags for Gravel Bike
Topeak provide a range of bikepacking bags that allow you to turn any bike into an ultimate adventure machine. From saddle to frame bags to top tube and handlebar bags you can easily deck your bike out with a range of bags that allow you to carry a range of equipment.
Bikepacking: Camping Equipment
When it comes to finding a place to lay your head down for the night there are a number of options.
If you don’t want to carry around your camping equipment you can book into a B&B, guesthouse, hostel or even a hotel.
If you want the true outdoor experience, then camping will bring you that joy. Booking a campsite will give you the security of having a place for the night, if you want the rogue experience then camping in the wild is for you.
The best setup is one that is light, durable and packable. If you’re camping, you’ll need the following at least:
When packing this on your bike you’ll want to ensure it’s the least easily accessible place as you won’t need it until the day of riding is over (unless you want/need a midday nap).
Putting the bulkier items such as the sleeping bag on the handlebar or at the rear of the bike will also help with steering and traction.
Bikepacking: Cycling Clothing
Depending on where in the world you plan to go on your bikepacking adventure may determine the clothing you need to bring.
In the UK however the unpredictable condition of the weather means you need to pack for all eventualities. Unless you’re 100% certain of no rain then we suggest packing a waterproof and a thermal jacket.
Bringing your basic cycling kit is a given and ensuring that you have a clean pair the next day will make for a much more comfortable experience. An extra layer is always a great option especially if you are riding in the early morning or late evening when the temperatures are lower than the midday heat.
Also don’t forget to pack clothes for after your ride; just like Lauren’s Föhn clothing. Bring a pair of casual, warm clothing that you can get changed into after the ride.
If you do plan a multi-day ride; try and map out locations where you can wash your clothes meaning you don’t need to pack for every day. This is where booking a B&B on one of the nights is a perfect idea for recharging, washing and cleaning.
Bikepacking: Other Essentials
If you do plan to camp in the wild, you better not forget your cooking equipment. Even if you plan to eat in a restaurant every night or opting for something cold, bringing a camping stove will allow for easy meal prep for things like pasta, porridge and even a hot drink like tea or coffee. The best stoves are compact and packable but can come at a cost.
Even if your plan is to stay at a B&B or wild camp you mustn’t forget your toiletries. Never underestimate your basic hygiene on a bikepacking trip.
Many supermarkets offer travel size toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant and even sunscreen which means you can pack light and save space.
Going away means you’ll want to ensure all your electronics are kept charged. Brining a portable battery pack will allow you to charge everything including your bike computer, lights, phone and even camera.
Going bikepacking can seem overwhelming with the amount of equipment you need to bring with you – but it doesn’t have to be!
Check out this handy bikepacking checklist to ensure you don’t forget anything!
|Spare Cycling Kit
|Puncture Repair kit
|Pump or CO2 inflator
|Front & Rear lights
|Mug, spork, foldable plate
|Spare Inner Tubes
|Contact lenses (if required)
|First Aid Kit
|Phone Charger (& battery pack)
How to pack for bikepacking?
It’s important to try to keep the weight low and central when you pack your bags for bikepacking.
Heavy equipment mounted high on the bike or disproportionately over the rear wheel will severely affect your balance which is crucial when travelling off-road.
Depending on the bags you have, often the largest one will be your saddle bag, so try to evenly distribute heavier items throughout the bike.
Pack things in order as to when you may need them. Keep your sleeping equipment out of reach as this will be the last thing you need on the day but ensure things like tools and waterproof jackets are close to hand in case of an emergency.
There is nothing worse than spending the night trying to sleep in a cold, wet bag, so be sure that items like a down jacket, extra clothing, and sleeping kit, especially a sleeping bag, are stored somewhere waterproof.
What Matt and Lauren’s setup looked liked:
Where to go bikepacking?
The beauty of bikepacking is you can sleep anywhere. Almost. The rules about wild camping vary all around the world so it’s worth checking with the spot you intend to camp before pitching up.
Here in the UK, it’s legal to wild camp in Scotland following the rules, but in England, Wales and Northern Ireland there aren’t many places you can legally wild camp.
In all other situations, it’s best to get permission from the landowner before pitching up, but if you can’t then wait until dusk and camp well away from public paths to minimise the chance of being seen.
And it goes without saying that you should leave no evidence of your stay, so clean up all your rubbish and mess afterwards.
The UK is crisscrossed with a vast network of public rights of ways. Which include:
- Bridleways – these are also footpaths so used by walkers and horse riders
- Restricted Byway – open to all non-motorised vehicles
- BOAT (Byway open to all traffic) – unsurfaced roads open to motorised traffic usually of the 4X4 variety
- Freedom to roam – Some areas provide access to roam without paths only if the landowner permits it, like moorland, mountains, heaths and downs, or if a bridleway or byway crosses it
Bridleways and byways are the most common paths sought out by UK gravel cyclists and mixed with country lanes to create compelling off-road focused routes.
Top Tips for bikepacking
1/ Be ruthless with your packing
One of the biggest mistakes is either being over or underprepared. It’s always better to be over-prepared but equally the additional weight of all that unused gear can make it slow going and ruin your enjoyment of riding a bike.
Being under-prepared can be downright dangerous though, so it is a tricky balance. Experience is the best solution here so be conservative when you first start out and tailor your equipment as you gain experience with each successive bikepacking adventure.
2/ Bring friends along
There’s safety in numbers so it’s smart to ensure you tag along with a few friends on your first bikepacking adventure. Not only is it safer but it can also be more fun as well, though we admit there’s sometimes a tranquillity to riding solo.
If you are going to ride solo then make sure someone at home knows the intentions of your route just in case the worst happens.
3/ Bring a first aid kit
To avoid such eventualities, we would recommend carrying a first aid kit, survival blanket and safety whistle. It might sound overkill but it’s better to plan for the worst and not need to use it.
It’s also worth carrying a fully charged phone and ensuring you have the number of the local emergency services.
4/ Go for a test ride
If you’re embarking on your first ever bikepacking adventure, whether that be a one night or multiple days, ensure you test out the setup. You can judge to see if the bike is set up right and you brought too much with you and see if the overall set up is perfect for you.
5/ Plan your route
Planning your route is one of the most important things you need to do before going bikepacking. Not only for your safety and enjoyment but to also ensure you aren’t trespassing on someone’s land and that the route is actually rideable!