Bikepacking 101

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Simply put, bikepacking is the synthesis of mountain biking and minimalist camping; it evokes the freedom of multi-day backcountry hiking, with the range and thrill of riding a mountain bike. It’s about forging places less travelled, both near and afar, via singletrack trails, gravel, and abandoned dirt roads, carrying only essential gear. Ride, eat, sleep, repeat, enjoy!

A common misconception is that bikepacking requires a small fortune to fully appreciate; the perfect bike, custom bags, and all the latest ultralight camping gear. While investing in quality gear is never a bad idea, it’s certainly not a necessity to get you up and running. Start by using what you own and picking a short overnight route near home (30-60 miles). Discover what you really need through experience.

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Your 1st Bikepacking Bike

Bikepacking Bags and Packs

The best bike to use is the one you already have. If you already ride a mountain bike that works for you on the trail, chances are it will make a very capable bikepacking steed, with few modifications. After all, bikepacking doesn’t rely on a frame having eyelets for racks and panniers, as with other styles of bike touring. Alternatively, scour the classifieds for a second hand, modern cross country hardtail, as these are affordable, fun to ride and offer maximum frame space for carrying gear.

Here are a few other aspects to consider when choosing and setting up your bikepacking rig.


Bikepacking lends itself to long hours in the saddle, day after day. For this reason, consider running your handlebar height higher than normal. Ensure your contact points are all taken care off. Ergon grips can help relieve stress on the wrists and hands, as can handlebars with more sweep than you usually ride with - we like Jones’ Bend-H bar. And make sure your saddle is a comfy one!

The Right Gearing

Depending on the terrain, adding weight to your bike may require a larger gear range than riding it unladen. Run a double with a large cassette at the back, or gear your Rohloff towards its lowest recommended ratios. Those running single chainring (1x) drivetrains may find a Wolfstooth large 42 tooth cog makes all the difference to enjoying a climb or struggling up it. Your knees will thank you for it later!

Water Storage

Longer desert routes may require extra capacity for carrying water. To save your back from doing all the heavy lifting, fit water bottle cages to the fork and downtube using electrical tape or hose clamps. Or swap your fork out for one with Anything Cage mounts attached - Salsa and Surly offer a range of affordable options suited to bikepacking, with different lengths and offsets.

Bikepacking Bags & Packs

Bikepacking Bags and Packs, Surly Straggler

The most significant gear innovation that has helped popularise bikepacking is the commercial availability of bike-specific soft bags. Replacing traditional racks and panniers, these consist of a framebag, a handlebar bag or harness, a seat pack and peripheral bags. Light, rattle free and tailored to modern mountain bikes, they’ll optimize your bike’s carrying capacity without adding significantly to its weight, or affecting the way it handles. Most are made by small-scale cottage industries; some are custom made on a piece by piece basis, and others are available pre-designed to fit certain frame brands and sizes. Consider investing in a seat pack and roll bag first, then a framebag when you’ve settled on a bike you’re happy with. Alternatively, look at our Hobo Kit for ideas on how to get by with what you already have. Or if you have access to a sewing machine, make your own!

Core Bags

A handlebar roll bag is ideal for light and bulky items, like a sleeping bag and spare clothes. It’s shaped to work around brake and gear shifters. A seat pack provides a streamlined way of carrying gear without the need for a rear rack. A framebag will help stabilise the load, and make use of all that unused space in your frame - pack it with the heaviest items you have, like tools and food. Bear in mind that soft bags require thoughtful packing to help them maintain their shape - practise makes perfect!

Accessories & Peripherals

There is an assortment of bags to keep snacks or gear handy. As the name suggests, a ‘gas tank’ is a small stash bag that fastens to the headtube and downtube. A ‘jerry can’ is similar, but fits in the corner of the seatpost and top tube. A ‘bartender’ bag resembles a drink holder and lashes to handlebars, perfect for a camera or even a waterbottle. Anything Cages boost your rig’s capacity further still. Attaching to the legs of your fork, these oversized cages are ideal for light but bulky items.

The Hobo Kit

A comfortable daypack, teamed with dry bags lashed to your handlebars and a rear rack (if your frame allows), makes a good barebones approach. Check out our bikepacking hacks for pointers. Steer clear of traditional panniers if you can; they’re cumbersome out on the trail, and will impact the way your bike handles. Remember, bikepacking is about having fun on the trail, and not being overloaded with gear.

Essential Gear

Just like other outdoor sports, there’s a direct correlation between the cost of gear and how much it weighs. A lightweight setup is certainly the goal to aspire to. The lighter the load, the more you’ll enjoy the ride. A lighter rig is also easier to handle on technical singletrack, and carry across sections of trail that may prove unrideable. Ultimately, a considered packlist will help ensure your mountain bike feels like a mountain bike - and not like a truck!

All this said, there’s no need to go out and buy everything at once. Start with what you own, and then prioritize what you really need.

Bikepacking Tent
Bikepacking Tarp
Bikepacking Hammock

We recommend investing first in a lightweight, modern shelter, as older models are often bulky and heavy. Big Agnes offer a range of featherweight options, as do Tarptent, with their minimal singleskin designs. If you really want to save weight - and cash - consider a simple tarp, and even a bivy bag or hammock when conditions allow.

Sleeping Gear

A quality down sleeping bag or quilt will also make a significant difference to both the weight and packability of your setup. Save the fancy lightweight air mattress for last; foam sleeping pads are bulky but light, cheap and hardwearing. They’re particularly well suited to desert touring.

Kitchen & Food

There are various compact stoves on the market to suit all price points. We’re fans of those that burn denatured alcohol, like the Clickstand/Trangia combination, or even a homemade Coke Can Cookers. Simple aluminum pots are cheap and light. We prefer designs that are wide enough that allow ‘proper’ cooking, like frying vegetables. Need some inspiration in the camp kitchen? Here’s some ideas of what to pack:

Other Essentials

Aside from food, shelter, and water, there are a few more essentials that should make your packlist on a multi-day trip. A good tool and repair kit is requisite for addressing any mechanical issues that may arise. And don’t leave home without a wilderness first aid kit. Bikepacking involves riding through remote and rugged terrain that can be hard to reach by emergency services. Be prepared, and don’t take unnecessary risks. Always have a cell phone with you, and carry a spare battery when possible. Consider carrying a Spot Tracker, especially if travelling alone.