Bikepacking + Bike Touring Guide
Tips To Start Adventuring By Bike
How To Start Bikepacking + Bike Touring
What's it all about?
Bike touring and bikepacking are slightly different variations of the same idea, which is essentially traveling by bike and exploring the great outdoors. There aren’t strict rules, and the two activities often overlap, but there are a few differences worth noting.
What's the difference?
Generally speaking, bike touring is mostly on roads, whether they be paved or dirt. Bike tourists are often riding road or hybrid bikes that are loaded up with more gear, as the terrain is typically less technical. Bikepackers are most often riding mountain bikes or bikes with larger volume tire on dirt roads or trails. They are usually carrying less gear since the terrain can be more demanding.
What do you need to start?
Sometimes the best gear to use is the gear you have. You can grab a twenty year old bike and take it around the world if you choose. If you’re not ready to buy a touring specific bike, the one you’ve got would probably do just fine for starting out. However, if you are considering making it a hobby, you’ll undoubtedly find yourself looking at new bikes down the road.
New touring bikes have lots of features designed with loaded exploration in mind, features you may come to appreciate as you get experience. Touring specific bikes usually have a wide gear range, upright and comfortable positioning, and lots of mounts for racks and accessories.
Classic Touring Bikes
Classic touring bikes typically run 700c wheels and tires that range from skinny road tires to nearly 2 inches wide depending on the model. They can have either drop bars like a road bike or flat bars like a mountain bike, it’s all up to personal preference. They usually have rack and fender mounts for large capacity loads.
Rigid and hardtail mountain bikes are the usual suspects in the bike packing world, but it all depends on the kind of adventure you’re seeking. If you’re reading this guide, you probably aren’t ready for a fat bike/pack raft exploration of the Alaskan coastline, so it might be best to stick to the basics. Whatever you ride, if you’re headed into serious off road territory, you’ll appreciate tires beefy enough to handle the job.
All-Road Touring Bikes
Some people prefer a hybrid of the two styles, opting for drop bar all-road bikes. Sometimes, these will be 650b wheels with tires around 2 inches wide, but not always. Standard 700c gravel/endurance bikes are a great option as well. Drivetrains also vary between road and mountain bike gearing, so depending on what your goals are you're sure to find something that will work for you. There is no wrong way to go as long as you get out there, but certain bikes are better for certain situations.
Tools + Maintenance
When you set off on a bike tour or bike packing trip, self-reliance is key. There are plenty of opportunities to find yourself outside of quick and reliable assistance, so it’s important that you have the appropriate tools and the knowledge to use them.
At a bare minimum, you need a good multitool with allen keys for all your major bolts and both flat and Phillips screwdrivers. You’ll also need decent but compact bike pump, a tire lever or two to fix potential flats, a spare tube, and a small patch kit, or extra sealant and plugs if you’re planning to run tubeless tires.
- Topeak Alien II Multitool
- Bontrager Mini Charger Frame Pump
- Park Took Super Patch Kit
- Genuine Innovations Tubeless Tire Repair Kit
Bags + Racks
Bike Touring Bags and Racks
Unless you’re “credit card touring” where you are paying for meals and accommodation, you’ll need a way to carry your gear.
The typical touring set up is some combination of pannier bags that attach to the sides of a front or rear rack. Bike tourists also make use of a similar style of bag that fits on the handlebars. The benefit of this particular set up is that you can store more gear/food for longer trips, and more easily access the contents of the bags.
With a quick lift of the finger you can pop off a pannier full of all your valuables and head into a restaurant. It’s also much easier to pack, as the order of items doesn’t always make or break the storage system. A downside to this style is that you may lose a bit of mobility once you fully load up, but on tours comprised mainly on roads that’s often not an issue.
For bikepacking trips, riders usually outfit their rides with lighter weight, soft bags that attach by means of straps or velcro. These bags include frame bags that fit inside the front triangle, handlebar bags, and seat bags that attach to the seat and the seat post.
The idea is to keep the weight distributed in a way that allows the bike to feel more nimble, as the terrain on a bikepacking adventure can often be more technical and require more handling skills. A downside to this style is that it sometimes becomes important to pack your gear in an economical way, so loading up and accessing gear may take longer.
- Surly Mountain Frame Bag by Revelate Designs
- Apidura Backcountry Saddle Pack
- Revelate Designs Sweetroll Bag
Navigation + Bike Computers
Bad map and ride information is a real pain for cyclists. Depending on where you’re heading, you may want more than a paper map to help you get there. Bikepackers and bike tourists both utilize GPS devices to plan routes, help with on-the-bike navigation, and to measure their ride and environmental statistics.
It's also helpful to measure distance and time with bike computers so you can get a sense of how fast you are able to travel over certain kinds of terrain and distances. For example, if you know how long it took you to climb X amount of feet over X distance, you can look ahead and estimate how long the next big climb will take. That way, you can plan out when to take breaks so you don't end up on top of a mountain in the dark.
Knowing information like where you are, where you need to go, and how fast you can get there makes the trip smoother so you can focus on the ride and not getting lost.
If you're just starting out, get familiar with all your gear before setting out on a big ride. Pick a short overnighter as your first trip, then move into bigger more challenging rides from there. It's all about having fun outdoors, so don't stress too much and just get out there and try it!
Not sure where to start riding? Check out these pages on some good rides in the area.