42 Bikepacking Tips from the Wilderness (Part 2): Go Light & Stay Soft

Bikepacking tips from the backcountry, part 2 … biscuits and cheesecake.

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In part 1 (tips 1-21) there are tidbits about how to survive and maintain. The second part is divided in two segments. First, a few ideas on how to save some grams to make your bike ride like… a bike. And the second part outlines a few ways to add that weight back in the name of comfort.

To much weight and bulk can take away from why you’re out there in the first place. Here are a few ideas on how to purge what you don’t need and minimize what you do:

22. Fast Fly or Hammock

Overdoing it on a shelter is one of the easiest ways to fill up your bags and pack on pounds. To shave a little weight, try a hammock or use the ‘fast fly’ variation of your tent. ENO makes solid hammocks and the Big Agnes Fly Creek series are ultralight and have the option for a fast fly setup, which eliminates the tent body and shaves nearly a pound off the trail weight. Of course, now that it’s winter, neither of these options can be recommended, but Spring will be here before we know it.

Bikepacking Tip - hammock

23. Bring a single wool jersey.

On our trip through Africa I used a single Icebreaker Tech T Lite merino wool shirt as my riding jersey. The beauty of wool is that it doesn’t smell, unlike a lot of other performance polyester based jerseys that can actually harbor funk even after a wash. Wool Ts can be rinsed periodically or easily hand-washed. Wool typically wicks moisture well, although during hot and humid days, it has a tendency to saturate with sweat. Icebreaker Tech Ts are very well made, but once they start to develop holes, they are pretty much doomed. I expect one to last about 4 months on a long tour.

Bikepacking Tip - Single Jersey

24. Use a can stove.

I alternate between a can stove and a Trangia. They both work well, but a typical can stove weighs about 10 grams (100 grams more than the Trangia). Here’s how to make one (I recommend the side burner).

Bikepacking Tip - Can Stove

25. Camping 101: Layer with wool.

Layering is the unwritten rule #1 for hiking and backpacking, but wool takes it to another level. A wardrobe of one longsleve wool T (Icebreaker 150 merino) and one shortsleeve T (Icebreaker 150), paired with a heavier lightweight fleece (or puff) and an optional rain jacket makes for a complete 3 1/2 season kit.

Bikepacking Tip - Wool Layers

26. Set limits, bring less.

The bigger bags you have, the more stuff you seem to need; it must be a formal law of physics or biology. Bring fewer smaller bags; and make yourself use less. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did. Try a rackless combo from Revelate Designs, Porcelain Rocket, or Apidura. I recommend the Revelate Harness and pocket up front.

Bikepacking Tip - rackless bags

27. Lightweight Filtration: Sawyer Squeeze Mini

For most longer trips, water purification is a must. To shave a little weight and space, try the Sawyer Squeeze Mini. We used the larger Squeeze in Africa, and it served us well. They since released the Mini. It it the size of two bottles of aspirin, weighs 57 grams, and retails for $25.

Bikepacking Tip - water filter

28. Layered sleeping

Look for sleeping bags with 800 fill down; they are lightweight, highly compressible, and surprisingly warm. Typically these fall in the 30-45 degree rating range, but paired with a wool base layer they can perform in temperatures down into the 20s. I have been using the Big Agnes Pitchpine 45 degree bag for the last two years. With a wool base layer and wool socks I have slept comfortably in temperatures dipping below 25F.

Bikepacking Tip - sleeping bag

29. Invest in titanium.

This is a pretty straightforward tip. Replace your heavier aluminum pots; it requires a chunk of change, but it’s worth it. Titanium is twice as strong as aluminum, so it takes much less material to make a pan. Check out some of the innovative offerings from Vargo. My pure Vargo kitchen (shown below), weighs 319 grams. It’s worth the investment.

Bikepacking Tip - titanium

30. Packable puff

For weight, compression, and insulation properties, down is bar-none. Compressible down jackets have come a long way in the last couple of years; you can find great 800 fill weight jackets in the 8-12 ounce range that compress to the size of a Nalgene bottle. Gin is stoked on her new Big Agnes Sunshine jacket that stuffs into its own chest pocket (review soon).

Bikepacking Tip - Big Agnes Sunshine, compressed Packable Puff Jacket

31. Multifunctional

Look for gear that can be used for multiple tasks. The Vargo Bot doubles as a water bottle. Gin used her Revelate pocket as a carry around purse. My pump doubles a tape roll. You get the idea…


32. Count calories… per gram.

This goes back to the ‘nuts’ tip in the last post. Read labels and try to get foods with high a calorie per gram ratio. It’s easy to suddenly find yourself with 20 pounds of food while preparing. Nuts, jerky, Pro-bars, pasta, etc.

Bikepacking Tip - Light Food

33. Minimal tool kit

This might not be a good tip for everyone, but I try and keep my toolkit fairly lean on smaller trips. A nice multitool with a built in chain tool; a small Leatherman (specifically for the pliers); zip ties; patch kit; tire lever; spare chain links; and a tire boot.

Minimal Bikepacking Tool Kit

Stay Comfortable and Embrace your Soft Side

Before setting out in the woods for a big bikepacking trip, especially if it’s been a while since your last outing, you may convince yourself that you are ready to sleep in the dirt, brush your teeth with tree bark, and bathe with icicles. But most of the time after a few days in the wild, it feels pretty good to treat yourself a little, especially after a 60 mile day. Here are a few things that have kept me going.

34. Hot chocolate (and whiskey)

A flask of whiskey is pretty much a given, and it had to make the list. Try hot chocolate and whiskey around the fire… it’s actually pretty good.

Bikepacking Tip - whiskey

35. Keep the ‘taint working properly.

This stuff is mandatory for long rides. I can honestly say that it has saved my ass many times.

Bikepacking Tip - Body Glide

36. Freeze dried cheesecake

My riding partner, Dustin, brought Dark Chocolate Cheescake for a one night treat on our Appalachian [Beer] Trail trip. It was surprisingly delicious. On my last trip I packed the Creme Brûlée and it was even better! Backpacker’s Pantry definitely has the corner on the deserts.

Bikepacking Tip - dessert

37. Camp shoes

Having a spare set of dry and comfortable shoes is a must; definitely if you ride with SPDs. I usually bring along the soft and easy packing Teva Mush Frios. They are super comfortable, weigh under 200 grams, and smash flat for easy packing.

Bikepacking Tip - Camp Shoes

38. Have a beer in the backcountry.

Most bikepackers will agree on the one thing we collectively crave after a long day pedaling through the woods… a cold beer. Unfortunately carrying a six-pack on a multi day trip is just a little too cumbersome, until now. Read the full review.

Bikepacking Tip - beer

39. A two-legged chair

The Alite Monarch is the perfect camp chair for bikepacking and dirt-road touring. It kind of goes against the ultralight mentality and adds an additional pound, but if you want that extra comfort, strap one to an anything cage or stow it in the frame bag. The Monarch is quite comfortable and extremely durable (although I broke mine by sitting on it while one of the pole connections wasn’t fully engaged).

Bikepacking Tip - chair

40. A little help with the fire

After six or eight hours of riding, it is no fun to sit and shiver while trying to turn damp tinder into flame. Use half of an Esbit tab, or break a chunk off a Zippo Cedar Fire Stater.

Bikepacking Tip - firestarter

41. Tilt your saddle.

This might not be for everyone, but slightly pivoting the saddle downward can help align the spine and relieve pressure for extended rides.

bikepacking tips - saddle

42. X marks the biscuit

If the route permits, set a place on the map where you can pitstop or pop out and visit a store, restaurant, or taproom. Having a nice intermission from the woods is a good way to refuel.

Bikepacking Tip - Biscuit

Have a bikepacking tip to share? Leave a comment below…

  • Joe Newton

    More excellent tips here Logan! Some wee pliers in your toolkit make all kinds of repairs (to camping gear and bike parts) easier and is something not often found in UL backpacking or bike toolkits.
    A big hell yes to the whiskey (I have the same flask) and hot chocolate. I took a swim crossing a river this summer and was really glad of the pick-me-up as I sat in my spare clothes and sleeping bag, rewarming myself.
    I’ve used Body Glide and Hydropel when hiking to good effect. On my bike I like Chamois Butt’r, especially because it’s available in one-shot sachets. You only need to pack what you need.
    Now I just have to find some of that cheesecake, my favourite desert!

  • Chris

    Tons of great ideas, and very nicely illustrated as usual. The metal whiskey flask looks great, but kinda heavy, I assume? I usually go with a half liter plastic bottle for whiskey. Not the most stylish option, but it’s dark anyway… Not a coffee person? I guess the Aeropress is the least messy and practical solution for espresso style coffee, but I am sort of underwhelmed by the taste. A small Bialetti the real McCoy, but not the lightest solution. Filter and Nescafe not my favourites.

    Here in Denmark, Assos ass creme seems to be the main choice. It’s great and a jar lasts forever.

  • Thanks Chris. I am definitely a coffee person (required every morning). I usually carry a simple MSR filter or a couple of packets of Starbucks Via. Not the best for flavour, but they are both light and do the trick.

    The metal flask isn’t too bad for weight. They are made by Stanley.

    I love the name, Assos!! Awesome. Cheers, Logan

  • Chris

    Assos is from Switzerland – not famous for their sense of humor, I’m afraid …

  • These are really great tips, especially since I’m just getting into bikepacking. A couple questions: Do you only use the Sawyer Filter to treat your water? Or do you also use iodine or some other chemical means?

  • Thanks Lukas. Yep, just the Sawyer… it got us through Africa as well.

  • Really good to know. Thanks!

  • Dedicate a soft bottle (platypus or similar) as your whiskey flask. Much lighter and becomes smaller as it empties. Just be ready for it to never taste like anything other than whiskey again. My partner and I label ours the “whiskeypus” so we don’t accidentally fill with water later.

  • Nice… good call.

  • Love the pragmatically necessary and mentally/emotionally necessary juxtaposition of this post Logan. Thanks for sharing. I took your advice on the wool layers and invested in some Smartwool 150 underlayers, which will soon be getting tested on the trail. As far as the luxuries of off-road touring go, I notice coffee doesn’t make your list. I’d substitute the backcountry beer for some good, lightweight coffee accessories personally. Otherwise, I agree 100% with your balance of minimalism and comfort.

  • Wayne

    Re: Camp shoes, why not use the Offroad version of Crocs for both bike and camp use? http://www.crocs.com/crocs–off-road/10011,default,pd.html The back strap is adjustable to keep the shoe on your foot and the toes are closed for more protection. I bought two pairs on sale before Xmas for under $50. See the glowing review about halfway down this ultralight equipment page: http://ultralightcycling.blogspot.ca/p/equipment-reviews_12.html . Heck, even retro-grouch Grant Petersen likes ’em: http://www.rivbike.com/kb_results.asp?ID=45 . I also find that they’re great at low temps (actually ALL temperatures) because of the insulating value of the foam material.

  • Mike

    Great info, great blog, great stories. I can’t get enough. One thing I notice on several blogs, is the getting there,getting home, logistical side of a trip is mostly missing. I’m sure it would kill the vibe of an otherwise great story in some cases. What I most want to know, is how you pack everything to go home, when it’s not the same place you began? Can you share some stories of how you pull that off, especially in some of the more remote destinations. Thanks!

  • Thanks Ben! I thought I replied to this, but just noticed it didn’t go through. Coffee is always included… thanks for the tip on the Helix. I usually go light with an MSR drip filter… it makes rough cowboy coffee though…

  • Thanks Mike! I will keep that in mind for future posts…

  • Mikee Texas

    Plus 1 for the merino base layers, I got hooked first using smartwool socks, eventually tried REI merino hiking socks which have lasted just as good if not better than smartwool. So last year i forked over the big bucks for a long sleeve merino smartwool base top with a zip up neck, I can now officially say this stuff is crazy. Now don’t judge me here (i usually try to bathe 2x a day) i’m a clean person, but I did an experiment with the base layer and wore it for an entire year.
    IT DOES NOT SMELL! I just bought some baby body wash and plan on washing by hand every few months. I’m a believer! I want merino everything. My comperable poly base layers make me smell like a homeless person in one day. No comparison! I can’t wait to get some merino boxer briefs and a t-shirt, i’m gonna ride into the woods and never come back! #savethesheep

  • Thanks Joe. Lol Mikee… never have to shower again! My wool t does develop a curious salt stain from sweat though… sometimes it gets crisp enough to where it could stand up on its own.

  • Matt Hobley

    Some great stuff here. I am a huge (ahem) fan of whisky on the trail and can heartily recommend the Nalgene Hip Flask. (It has a handy measure on the side just in case you are sharing or need to keep an eye on consumption!) Lose the shotglass and cover it ships with and it tips the scales at 60g.

    I do need to pay attention to my kitchen, though, as my Honey Stove/Trangia burner combo could go on a diet.

  • Søren Kjems

    You mention a “heavier lightweight fleece” on number 25. What does this mean? Do you have any specific fleece in mind? And what is a puff?

  • Manley Nelson

    Logan I really appreciated your post. It gave me much needed info.
    I’m sure you already know about Ibex but their wool is much higher quality weaves than Icebreaker and have a lifetime guarantee.
    Do you guys live in WNC?

  • MountainK1ng

    How fast is the Sawyer? Looking at options for an ITT on the Kokopelli. Is there any other one you’d recommend now that it’s been two years?

  • On an timed ITT I’d go with iodine or purification tabs. That said, the Sawyer is a great option, also check out the new MSR: http://www.bikepacking.com/gear/msr-trailshot-review/

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