Packing for Your First Bikepacking Trip
15 September, 2016
We provide all the products needed for you to get out on an overnight bikepacking trip, but haven't provide a proper tutorial on how to actually get out there. We apologize. Between the Trail Boss 3.0 and Ranger 2.8/3.0, we make the perfect bikepacking tire for your needs and conditions in which you explore, with many sizes even available with TCS Tough casings for those trips when you decide to REALLY get out there. We make saddles along the lines of the Volt, Pure and Rocket...which all promise a happy bum throughout long days in the saddle. We make PadLoc grips, which prevent a pinched ulnar nerve from causing numb hands when the day's riding ends up being a few hours longer than planned. Luckily, we now provide a guide for you to utilize all these products and plan for your first bikepacking trip. We understand bikepacking can be intimidating...that's one of the many beauties of it...but hopefully this helps you feel a bit more comfortable and confident when heading out on your first overnighter on two wheels. Think about it as simply camping with your bike...that sounds pleasant, right? It mostly is.
Photo credit: Abner Kingman
Bikepacking has gained incredible momentum over the last few years, and for good reason. Riders are gaining an incessant drive to travel further, to more remote locations, one pedal rotation at a time. Each of us love the quick one-hour rides that fill the available time slots in our lives, but there’s something about truly getting away from everything with only a few buddies, and our bikes, that appeals to the adventurous side of many riders.
Cities are becoming over-crowded concrete jungles, the cost of travel is skyrocketing exponentially and we’re constantly bombarded by the ill-fated state of nearly every corner of the world. At times, it’s a bit much. We find ourselves searching for extended trips, enveloped by the outdoors, to escape it all and endlessly explore with our trusty bikes. It enables us to see, hear and experience something our standard trail loops would never expose us too.
Photo credit: Abner Kingman
That being said, we can’t simply hop on our bikes, hope for the best and expect to return home safely for Sunday dinner. The pedaling aspect of bikepacking is often the easiest part of endeavor. There’s a considerable amount of research, planning and preparation that goes into a successful bikepacking trip. While such trips can evolve into weeks, or even months for the dedicated explorer, we’ll begin by covering the needs of an overnight trip.
Minimizing Gear Weight
You don’t have to be a weight weenie to use ultralight gear while bikepacking. The idea behind bikepacking revolves around experiencing overnight adventures on a mountain bike while still having the ability to shred trails during the day’s ride. It’s important to keep the gear weight to a minimum in order to preserve every bit of bike nimbleness possible. While companies have done a great job of creating solutions to storing gear on a bicycle frame without racks, it’s still weight on the bike that isn’t typically in those areas. Additional gear weight creates a riding experience that differs from how your daily trail bike feels, and it can take some time to get used to it. It's important to note that how you pack is all based upon preference. For instance, while the handlebar bag is a very efficient way to carry when the majority of the route is on dirt roads, it is certainly the piece of bikepacking gear that makes the bike lose it's nimbleness the quickest. Therefore, many folks prefer using a 15-25 liter backpack on shorter trips to keep the front end of the bike light and snappy. It’s in your best interest to load your bike up with gear and test it out on a familiar loop before embarking into the unknown. While each person will have their personal preferences and available resources, the following are great ways to keep gear down to a minimal weight.
Photo credit: Abner Kingman
- Titanium: Leave your steel cookware and stove at home. Titanium will lighten your load, yet is still extremely durable. Hefty price tags...worth it.
- Down insulation: Sleeping bags and jackets insulated using down feathers have a much higher warm-to-weight ratio than synthetic insulation. Additionally, down insulated gear will always pack down to a smaller size than an equally warmth-rated synthetic counterpart.
- Dehydrated food: Companies like Backpacker’s Pantry and Mountain House make ultralight dehydrated dinner and dessert packages that are far more delicious than anything we’ve cooked from scratch in the backcountry. Since they only require you heat up water in your pot, it also makes cleanup a breeze.
- Lose the luxuries: You should limit your gear compared to what you would bring to a picnic table campground with the family. Camp pillows can be replaced by rolling up your extra shirt and shorts in a sleeping bag stuff sack. While a tent is roomier and are often more comfortable, utilizing a bivy sack or hammock will significantly reduce pack size and weight.
- Water is the heaviest necessity: Always carry all the water you’ll need for the duration of a trip unless you’ve confirmed refill locations along the way, especially in the desert. Call the local ranger district to check the flow of streams during drier summer months. When water is accessible en route, using a water filter is much lighter than packing extra water.
How to Load the Bike
As important as it is to have lightweight gear, it’s important to pack it onto the bike in the most appropriate areas. Bikepacking specific saddle, frame and handlebar packs are the most efficient ways of utilizing a bike’s entire gear holding capability. Not only do they enable the transport of large amounts of gear, but they also allow you to distribute the weight where it will be the least noticeable. The heaviest items should be placed in the frame pack, which is the lowest and most central storage area on the bike. This will prevent the bike from being overly top-heavy and allows it to retain its agile characteristics. Unfortunately, the frame pack is the narrowest storage area, which may limit the size of items within it, but we’re still able to fit our smaller cookware, first aid kit and a hydration reservoir within it.
The rear saddle pack should hold all of your mid-weight gear items. Usually, such items will consist of your clothes, toiletries, sleeping pad and food. With it being one of the highest storage locations on the bike, it’s crucial to keep weight to a minimum. In order to ensure everything is packed in snug, place larger items – such as a sleeping pad and food – in first, then cram your clothes around them. This will fill in all the air pockets that would exist if you were to fold the clothes separately. Your clothes will indeed reemerge wrinkled, but there’s no beauty contest out in the woods.
Photo credit: Abner Kingman
You’ll notice additional weight the most up on the handlebars, which is why it’s important to load only your lightest gear into the handlebar pack. Though the handlebar pack mounts are usually pretty sturdy, if you overload them you’ll notice the bar momentum will want to continue rotating after you’ve stopped doing so. You can imagine the tumbles such situations can lead to. We typically pack our handlebar pack with our sleeping bag and minimalistic bivy or hammock. Not only are they some of the lightest gear we have, in comparison to their size, but they’re also long and narrow, which matches most appropriately with the length of the handlebar. Depending on your handlebar pack, it may have a zippered storage pocket on the front. We utilize the pocket to hold items we may need on the fly, such as a map, GPS device or camera.
Photo credit: Abner Kingman
Now, What Should I Bring!?
Ah yes, that's why you're here. We've compiled some photos of what we suggest you bring for an overnight trip. Start there, with a single overnight trip, and then build upon the duration of your trips from there. Realistically, the amount of gear brought does not vary much between a single overnight trip in comparison to a weeklong trip. This is because minimalism and simplicity are the key focuses to have in mind when packing for a bikepacking trip of any length. For longer trips, the only items needed in increased quantities are usually food, water, clothing and some tools. Below is what we suggest for the bare minimum. This is in addition to the riding clothes you start with, including either a flat pedal/shoe combination or clipless setup that includes a sturdy Vibram sole for those inevitable moments when you're walking your bike.
- Rain shell: ALWAYS bring a rain shell! We understand you checked the weather forecast and it predicts blue skies. Bring a rain shell anyways. You don't need until you really need it, but it can then be the single piece of gear that keeps you safe and comfortable on a soggy day.
- Thermal bottoms: This will increase your level of warm and comfort at camp each night. We typically get to camp, strip off our adult diaper (chamois), throw on our thermal bottoms and then wear our riding shorts over them. The riding shorts will simply prevent the thermals from getting ripped or dirty while sitting. Wool is best, as it resists smell, keeps you warm when wet, and is lightweight.
- Buff or beanie: Something to keep your head (primarily ears) warm. We prefer a buff, which is essentially a sleeve of wool or cotton material we slide over our head. Those willing to carry a bit of extra weight and volume may chose a beanie.
- Wool socks: At some point, you'll inevitable slip off a rock while hopping across a stream. Your socks will get soaked and you'll be bummed if you don't have an extra pair on deck. Plus, socks get stanky. Fresh socks are always something to look forward to putting on before a long day of pedaling.
- Puffy jacket: Companies are now making ultralight puffy jackets with down insulation, providing maximum warmth at a minimal weight. The RAB jacket in this photo packs down to roughly the size of a grapefruit. Picture it? That's small considering the amount of warmth it provides. Need more warmth? Throw the rain shell over it and you'll be exponentially warmer.
- Bivies (top left) are certainly the most simplistic way to go, due to it being nothing more than a waterproof and bug-proof sack to place your sleeping bag and pad in. They can be a bit claustrophobic for some folks, but if you're able to look past the tight confines, they're a lightweight shelter that can be used anywhere. We've woken up with a foot of snow on our bivies...still dry.
- Hammocks (top right) are in the middle of the range when it comes to weight and packability. Due to the lack of poles, they can be stuffed into a seat pack really easily. Some people find incredible comfort while sleeping in a hammock while others wonder how anybody could ever sleep in one. It's important to do a test night in your yard before heading out with the assumption that a hammock will work for you. We suggest a backpacking hammock (Hennessy and Warbonnet are excellent brands), which will come with a bug screen and rain fly. Remember, there is one prerequisite for hammocks and that is....trees. They're not the ideal choice for desert trips.
- Tents (bottom) provide a familiar comfort to many, which often makes it a great choice for an introduction to bikepacking. They provide a great sense of "home" at the end of a long day and often allow people to feel the most comfortable out in the middle of nowhere. The only downside to a tent is its weight and volume, which is compounded by the rigidity of poles, which often have to be strapped to the handlebars. However, the packability of a tent can quickly become the most realistic if you're getting into bikepacking with a significant other or close friend and can therefore split the packing of the tent between two individuals.
ODDS AND ENDS
- Hand pump: DO NOT bring CO2! You'll be bummed when you get your second flat but already used your CO2 cartridge. Plus, it's heavy. Plus, you're enjoying the outdoors and a hand pump is far more sustainable.
- Tire levers
- Tire sealant: Small bottle, but sometimes that's all you need to seal up a tire. Always be sure to start with an adequate amount of fresh sealant in your tires as well. It's hard to be Orange Seal. We're saying all this on the assumption that you know tubeless is the ONLY way to go while bikepacking. TCS Tubeless, of course.
- Spare tube: If you're part of a group with mixed wheel sizes, remember that a 27.5" tube will fit both 27.5" and 29" tires.
- Tool kit: Make sure that you have a tool for EVERY bolt on your bike. No exceptions. This is one reason why we avoid centerlock rotors on our bikepacking bikes. We couldn't find our chain tool for the photo, but it's important. Heavy bikes loaded with gear equate to snapped chains.
- Bug spray: Some make consider it a luxury. We can't stand mosquitoes. It's a permanent fixture in our bikepacking kit.
- Sunscreen: Traditional tubes of sunscreen work well, but we find the sticks work better for applying on our face. They also don't have the potential to explode in your pack like a tube of sunscreen lotion does.
- Headlamp: Whatever works for you. It's simply for walking around camp.
- Lighter: Fire provides hot food and keeps you warm in emergencies. The lighter is among the most important pieces of gear. If you're traveling in a wet region, waterproof matches are also a good addition, but they still don't replace a lighter.
- Bike light: Get a self-contained one. External battery packs are a pain. We use one with a handlebar mount and have it attached the whole time...night and day.
- Water filter: We've yet to find something more simplistic than a Steripen. Some question its effectiveness. We've used it in some really suspect places without a problem. This is purely preference though. There are both chemical and mechanical methods to purifying water. That's a completely different, and lengthy, discussion though. We'll get into that in a later post.
- Water reservoir: Platypus makes reservoirs that are very pliable and conform to the shape of any packing method. Even if you choose to wear a hydration pack, we suggest you keep the reservoir in your frame bag. Keep the weight low!
- NOT PICTURED BUT IMPORTANT....Toilet paper: Nature calls, even when you're in nature. Bring more than you think you need. We wrap it around our hand until we think we have enough, then we wrap it around our hand ten more times. That should be enough.
Emergency Gear and First Aid
We left first aid out of the gear list. Did you notice that? It's lack of presence in the list doesn't make it unimportant. It's a crucial aspect of any bikepacking pack list, but the specifics of it depend on what you, and those with you, feel comfortable with. Some go light and hope for the best while we've seen others bring the equivalent of a nurse in a bag. Remember...common sense is your most valuable tool when navigating any backcountry experience. Always ride according to your surroundings. Regardless of trip duration, always pack an extra pair of clothes in case your primary pair becomes wet or destroyed. Waterproof matches ensure you don’t pull out a lighter only to find it’s too wet to light when you need it most.
Companies, Spot being our personal favorite, offer GPS devices that can be set up to leave a breadcrumb trail of where you’ve been. It also has a check-in function to inform friends and family you’re ok, while an S.O.S. function will immediately inform all necessary agencies of a distress call and your precise location. We suggest using a GPS unit, but never depend solely on batteries for your navigational needs. Waterproof maps and a compass (along with the knowledge of how to use it) should always be a part of your gear list.
For 1-2 night bikepacking trips, there’s no need to carry an all-inclusive first aid kit, but there are some crucial necessities that you need to have on hand. As we suggest for riders in urban trail systems, all mountain bikers should have a basic training in, and understanding of, basic first aid. When riding in a group, have one person carry the complete first aid kit, while others carry the cookware and food. Our first aid kit consists of the following:
- Ultralight medical kit: Includes necessary items for trauma and bleeding, along with medications for environmental and allergic reactions.
- Lightweight alloy splint: Used to stabilize fractures and strained joints.
- Epinephrine pen: Crucial when traveling with somebody who has a known life-threatening allergy or with a large group where the probability of an unknown allergy is higher.
Photo credit: Abner Kingman
We'll soon create a more extensive pack list for trips of longer duration. We'll also address the needs of different environments and logistical obstacles. The WTB crew will be posting up a few of our personal bikepacking trips in the coming weeks. Stay tuned. See you out there? We sure hope so.