Author: Adam Bratton
Read Time: 6 mins
There’s a lot of chatter on cycling specific webpages, bike shop banter, trailhead discussions and wandering daydreams about bikepacking but what exactly is it? Wikipedia has a few entries, but the tried-and-true Merriam Webster Dictionary hasn’t even recognized this term in its lexicon yet. We’ll peel back the layers on this bikepacking thing and share tips on how you can get started but know that this sport is simply another amazing way to get outside and move from point A to point B in a new way.
Before we dive into the specifics, it’s important to understand that there are multiple ways to refer to this style of bike travel. General consensus in the adventure cycling world involves two main buckets … paved and unpaved.
The term “Bikepacking” skews towards navigating unpaved surfaces like singletrack trails, gravel roads and good ol fashion dirt. “Bike Touring” on the other hand leans towards paved roads, and smooth surfaces. It’s also not uncommon to find a mixture of paved and unpaved surfaces throughout a route. There are plenty of additional resources that focus solely on each style (Bikepacking.com and Adventure Cycling Association are two of the leaders in their respective areas). For simplicity’s sake, I’ll use the term “bikepacking” in this journal.
I personally like the beautifully minimal way that professional adventure photographer and videographer Evan Green states “(it) is the intersection between cycling and backpacking”. That is exactly right! Whatever you call it, it inevitably boils down to packing gear, hoping on a bike, and completing a multi-day adventure. There’s something empowering about covering distance with everything you need for the experience in tow.
I’ve been falling in love with multi-day bike trips of all shapes, sizes, and surfaces for nearly a decade. The variability is what makes bikepacking so attractive to so many people. In the same way that the approach and gear list is different for a single night of car camping with the family vs a five-day backpacking trip along the remoteness of the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail, bikepacking can be consumed in endless formats that fit your specific comfort and ability levels.
It can be as simple as tossing some gear into a backpack and pedaling to a local campsite. My first true bikepacking trip in 2015 involved a simple backpack stuffed with a hammock, a change of clothes, some snacks, and a spare tube as I biked from Key Largo to Key West and back with two other, also newbies, Brian Mister (Right) and Eric Osterhus (Center).
Bikepacking can also involve multi-day solo ventures where you are fully self-supported in the backcountry with little more than your gear, thoughts, and jaw dropping scenery. This is what HPM friend Samuel Martin did along the Tour Divide in 2021. The point is, like many other things, you can, and should, make the experience your own.
By now you have the general concept of this bikepacking thing. If you’re interested in dipping your toe into this sport, let’s start digging into the nuts and bolts of it. Below are a few quick questions to help guide your thought process about what type of experience you are look for.
Once you’ve answered some of the questions above, you’ll need to start thinking about pre-trip logistics and dialing in your gear. I’ve included a few example scenarios and included basic gear lists as a jumping off point for your own bikepacking adventures. In any and all situations, pre-trip research is critical to better understand what to expect (or not expect) along the planned route and if there are other specifics to consider. Things like access to water, restrooms, resupply stops, medical care, mid-trip bail out spots, route closures/detours or mandatory water crossings, and more are all important in the planning process. Also, as with any outdoor adventure, weather is a dynamic and ever-changing variable. Check weather and adapt accordingly with your gear and plan.
Trip Itinerary #1: 2 days covering 40 total miles on paved roads with easy access to resupplies and an overnight at the local campground
Trip Itinerary #2: 3 days covering 100+ miles of remote singletrack trail, chunky service roads, and short sections of paved streets with limited resupply options and tent camping at the end of each night. (This is a specific example of multiple bikepacking trips on section of the upper Palmetto Trail in South Carolina)
Trip Itinerary #3: 4 days covering 300+ miles of a mixture of singletrack, gravel, service roads and deep sand with overnights at pre-determined hotels (This is a specific example from a previous Journal Entry entitled “Bikepacking the Huracan 300 Route”)
Trip Itinerary #4: 9 days covering 800+ miles of a variety of roads of unknown surfaces quality in a foreign country with very little knowledge of understanding what to expect and how to communicate. (This is a specific example from a bikepacking trip across Cuba featured in Whitewater’s film “Explore. Chapter Three”)
I’ve covered a lot in this journal to help get you started or at least peak your interest in bikepacking, but I also know that it can be a bit overwhelming. At the end of the day, and just like anything else, it’s important to start small and build your way up at your own pace.
With the support of our friends at Recover, Human Powered Movement just recently announced a yearlong series of educational session called “Recreation 101” that aims to give you the tools, information, and knowledge to get you active in more ways.
Our first clinic on Thursday, Jan 26 will focus on the basics of Bikepacking as well. Consider this session as training wheels to support you on your bikepacking ... adventure cycling ... bike touring … or whatever you want to call it journey.
Journal - What is Bikepacking and How Do I Get Started?
Human Powered Journal
Writings and musings of an active lifestyle
Adam Bratton is the Founder and Head Enabler at Human Powered Movement.
Guest Contributors are more compelling in written word and life in general.