Planning a bikepacking trip can be a fun and exciting part of the journey. Whether you want to ride a weekend of camping or a month riding hut-to-hut, planning your route and what gear you’ll need is essential.
For those who prefer self-contained trips (where you carry everything on your bike), this is especially true.
Choosing a Route
One of the best things about bikepacking is that you can tailor your experience to your own interests and comfort levels. For a first timer, that might mean choosing a route close to home. For those with more experience, a multi-week or even a month-long journey may be more appealing.
It’s important to choose a route that suits your abilities and that will fit within your timeframe. Narrowing your options is possible using mapping interfaces like TopoFusion or RideWithGPS, but you should also pay attention to things like terrain (road or trail type, elevation gain), land ownership, and whether the routes have reliable cell phone service in case of a breakdown.
For longer trips, consider planning a linear route with a point-to-point finish. This will require a little extra logistical work as you’ll need to figure out how to transport your bike to and from the ends of the route. This can be done by arranging a car shuttle, taking a bus or train or even hitchhiking with a helpful friend.
Researching Your Route
One of the most important steps in bikepacking is researching your route. You want to make sure your chosen route will be suitable for the bike you’re planning on taking and your skill level. You should also take into account how far you’re able to ride each day and how many days you have available for the trip.
Some routes are well-established and have plenty of planning resources, while others are more difficult to pin down. The latter will likely require a lot more time and energy, but the reward is that you’ll get to customize your bikepacking adventure and experience to exactly how you like it.
You’ll also need to decide whether you want to ride a point-to-point or circular route. A point-to-point will have you riding further away from home each day, which can be intimidating for beginners. However, it’s a great way to discover new places that you wouldn’t have otherwise been able to see.
Planning Your Gear
Bikepacking routes can range from rugged singletrack adventures to long-distance gravel road rides. Regardless of the type of route you choose, it’s important to tailor it to your personal cycling ability and trip goals. If this is your first multi-day bikepacking adventure, it’s best to avoid anything too challenging and plan for a moderate amount of daily riding mileage (taking into account elevation gain).
It’s also important to make sure you have reliable cell phone coverage on your route or know how far you will be from civilization so that you can reach help in case of an emergency (like a flat tire or a broken derailleur). You may also want to consider packing a satellite communicator such as the Garmin inReach Mini just in case.
A dedicated GPS unit is a must-have for most bikepacking adventures, but smartphone navigational apps like Strava, Kamoot, and Gaia also work well. You’ll also likely want to bring a lightweight water filter and a few lightweight, compact freeze-dried meals in case your route isn’t passing by any restaurants or convenience stores along the way.
Bikepackers are everywhere, and most of them quietly pedal and camp closer to home than the typical adventurer. They are of all genders, races, ages, fitness and experience levels, body types and personality types. They are exploring wild places, building resilience in their bodies and minds, and having fun.
When you’re ready to start bikepacking on trails or gravel roads, choose a route that fits your skill level and comfort. Don’t go all-in with a two-week bikepacking trip through the Himalayas, for example. A more moderate trek will make the riding more enjoyable and the logistical challenges less intimidating.
If you’re not quite ready to invest in a full bikepacking bag set-up, try using a comfortable daypack and dry bags lashed to your frame, handlebars and seatpost for a bare bones approach. Just make sure your gear is up to par and you have a way to communicate with friends, family or emergency services in case of an issue.