42 Bikepacking Tips from the Wilderness (1 of 2): Keep Calm & Carry On

A list of bikepacking tips for multi-day trips in the backcountry…

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The last couple of months were nicely punctuated by three 5+ day bikepacking trips. Two were solo expeditions and all three involved trudging fairly deep into the wilds of the Appalachian Mountains. Mistakes were made along the way, and preparation and packlists evolved. Prepping for this style of trip is different from an overnighter, or a big tour for that matter. It’s about weight, ruggedness, and survival. I assembled this group of bikepacking tips and notes based on repeated practices, pitfalls, and gear adjustments from these outings. It was put together for folks new to bikepacking, or maybe those who have tried a S24O (sub-24-hour-overnight) and are preparing to do a larger and longer trip; but even a crusty veteran may find something useful here. Tips 1-21 are common sense methods and products used to sustain and endure the wilderness…

1. A map, a GPS… and more batteries than you can shake a stick at.

Carrying both a map and GPS is especially important when covering new territory. Matching contours on a GPS track with lines on a map is a great way to stay on course and avoid backtracking. Make sure to carry a couple of sets of spare batteries as well. I got caught with a dead pair on the last 2 days of my latest expedition which made for a few extra miles sniffing out unmarked trails.

Bikepacking Tip - GPS and Map

2. Blaze Orange

Blaze orange is mandatory this time of year, especially in the southeastern US. You never know when you’re waltzing through a hunt and visible from someone’s deer stand. This oversized super-lightweight vest was $4.99 at a local sporting goods store and is large enough to drape over a hydration pack to ensure visibility from behind. It’s also nice to have on the road for traffic visibility.

Bikepacking Tip - Blaze Orange Vest

3. Back-up fire

There’s nothing worse than losing a lighter flint when you are 50 miles from the nearest store (this happened). Luckily I had a spare pack of matches. There is always the rubbing two sticks option, but who wants to do that after a 60 mile day. This handy titanium flint lighter from Vargo makes a good backup; it takes up almost no space and weights a scant 8 grams.

Bikepacking Tip - fire lighter

4. Gear it low

Riding 8 or 10 hours a day over rugged terrain can be rough on the knees and legs. Sometimes maintaining means slowly grinding out the miles. Try lowering the gears to increase spin; this substantially helps endurance when riding a loaded bike on mountainous terrain. On the Krampus I switched the 26/39T cogs to 22/36 and my knees have thanked me ever since.

Bikepacking Tip - Gears

5. Check your tires… and your patches.

Whether riding tubeless or not, carrying extra tubes is a must, as well as a patch kit. Somewhere far from civilization on the VMBT, I had 2 flats, then painfully discovered that the tube of rubber cement in the patch kit had completely dried. I suspect it was from being left in a hot car at some point. Check your patch ket before setting out; it would have saved me a 50 mile exit to find a replacement.

Bikepacking Tip - Tire Patches

6. Keep you and your stuff dry.

No explanation necessary. Wet gear and clothing can be detrimental when temperatures are below 50. Bring a shell.

Bikepacking Tip - Dry bag

7. Zip ties and duct tape

Two things I never leave home without. They can fix almost anything. To avoid taking up extra space, wind a few wraps of Gorilla tape around your pump.

Bikepacking Tip - Pump Zip Ties

8. Back up fuel

Most of the time I use a Trangia spirit burner and store alcohol in small plastic bottles from REI. The Vargo Hexagon doubles as a windscreen and pot stand. But most importantly, when the alcohol runs out, wood is readily available. Read more about the Hexagon.

Vargo Hexagon Stove / Windscreen for Trangia Stove

9. Bear whistle

It’s not really a bear whistle per se, but it could be, and has been used as such. Really the reason to carry a whistle is to call for help in the event of an injury. This item is required for PMBAR, Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure Race, and I started carrying one while bikepacking. I actually blew it full bore when a bear was sniffing at my tent one night… I don’t think it phased him, but I lived to tell about it.

Bikepacking Tip - Bear Whistle

10. 30’ Bear Snag

Nine and a half times out of ten I tie my food up in a bear bag at night. The one time I didn’t I had a bear sniffing around my tent at 4AM (see tip #9). According to most sources, a bear bag should be about 12-15 feet above the ground and six feet away from the trunk of a tree. To do this, it takes about 30 feet of line. I use a small carabiner to simplify attaching and detaching the dry bag. Also, some suggest that the bear snag be about 100′ away from camp, and 300′ in grizzly country.

Bikepacking Tip - Bear Snag

11. Know your water sources

This is especially important on desert routes and ridglines. I recently got caught scrapping for water after I passed up a spring on the VMBT; I thought there would be another close by, but almost didn’t find a source for almost 60 miles. Plan ahead by finding streams and creeks on the map.

bikepacking tip  - water source

12. Fizz

Hammer Endurolytes Fizz tablets come in a small plastic cylinder, 13 per tube, and make a great hydration supplement. Having one before bed and one during the day can help maintain hydration and fend off cramps.

Bikepacking Tip - Fizz

13. Camel up!

This technique involves chugging a solid 1+ liter(s) when you have access, and filling up bottles to save for camp. This technique is great for water conservation and in some situations can help lighten the load if you can speculate the next source.

Bikepacking Tips - Water

14. Freeze dried gourmet

The term ‘dehydrated meal’ doesn’t make one’s mouth water… unless it’s prefaced by ‘Mountain House’. Lightweight meals are a must for big rides out in woods. I have tried several different brands, and Mountain House takes the cake. My favorites are Turkey Tetrazzini, Beef Stew, and Sweet and Sour Pork with Rice. Click the thumbnails below to read more details:

Bikepacking Tip - Mountain House Dehydrated Meals

  • Bikepacking Tip - Mountain House Dehydrated Meals
  • bikepacking-tips-mountain-house-8
  • Bikepacking Tip - Mountain House Dehydrated Meals

15. Backup Water

Cooking dinner, breakfast, and coffee requires a substantial quantity of water (for me about 1.5 liters). And sometimes it’s necessary to prepare for the following day riding in addition to culinary needs. I usually carry a spare foldable bladder to fill before making the last stretch to camp. It’s not always necessary, but sometimes comes in handy. This Platypus 2L bag made it through our Africa trip and is still going strong.

Bikepacking Tip - Platypus Water Bag

16. Oatmeal

Instant oatmeal makes a solid breakfast that surprisingly sticks for a few miles on the trail.

Bikepacking Tip - Food - Oatmeal

17. GORP, ARAP, Etc.

Nuts have the highest calorie-to-gram ratio of any packable food. A bag of Good Ole Raisins and Peanuts is a good choice, or ARAP (Almonds, Raisins and Peanuts).

Bikepacking Tips - Food - Nuts

18. Conserve water

Water is a precious commodity when bikepacking. Conserve water by cooking freeze-dried or dehydrated meals; this requires boiling only 12-20 ounces of water and no cleanup. Oatmeal also cleans up easily and requires very little water.

Vargo Titanium Bot - Bikepacking Cook Pot

19. ProBars

ProBars, at 400 calories per bar, are hard to beat for a big punch in a little package. A few of these stashed in the pack make for good lunches.

Bikepacking Tip - ProBar

20. Something sweet

Sugar is like fuel in the middle of a ride. Dark chocolate is my personal favorite, but Honey Stinger Waffles are also a delicious source of energy, made with organic ingredients.

Bikepacking Tip - Sweets

21. Protein

A dose of protein after a workout is beneficial to helping muscles repair and recover. This 113 gram bag of dry roasted edamame contains almost 60 grams of protein.

Bikepacking Tip - Food, Protein

Stay tuned for part 2… ‘Go Light and Stay Soft.’

  • Bob Jenkins

    Great post.
    Regarding the wood stove, do you find that it takes significantly longer to boil water when burning wood versus using an alcohol fire? Maybe I’m just being impatient..

  • Thanks Bob. It is a little bit slower. But the bigger draw on time and patience is getting the fire going. Both of those factors depend on where you are, how dry it is, and the type of wood at your disposal. All that being said, it is irreplaceable when liquid fuel is not available.

  • Bob Jenkins

    True on all counts. I think the biggest problem I have is breaking the sticks into pieces that fit into the stove while cooking.
    I’m sure you already know this, but if you squish a bunch of dry pine needles around a dry pine cone and hit it with a match…that stove is LIT.

  • Yeah, pinecones are great for that, but there is still some time to get the right coal/flame ratio…

  • A good bear hang should see your food hanging 6-10 feet from the branch as well as 10 feet above the ground ;)

    Lots of good tips though. Using the Hex as a pot stand with an alcohol stove is a great idea!

  • Yeah, that photo is not a good one, at all!

  • nin

    You must do a post regarding that bear encounter…

  • I wish there was enough there to do a full post, but that was pretty much it… other than the fact that I layed there with a knife in one hand and a whistle in the other for a half hour…

  • Isaac

    #17 Macadamia nuts and dates are all kinds of fat and sweet, it’s ridiculous!

  • Nice. We got some fresh roasted macadamias somewhere in Zimbabwe… superb fuel for sure.

  • Bob Jenkins

    Some friends and I did a trip this weekend. I took your advice on the Mountain House Sweet & Sour pork with rice and I could not believe how delicious it tasted! I will definitely be buying this stuff again. Thanks for the advice.

  • Sure thing… most of their meals are good. Biscuits and Gravy make a nice breakfast treat.

  • Score

    Cameling up isn’t always the best idea. Under normal circumstances (almost always), your body can only absorb 8 ounces every 15 minutes- so 1 quart an hour. The rest goes to waste (some people of which is necessary for your kidneys) An extreme excess can lead to over dilution of electrolytes (sodium-essential for hydration) in your body. But mostly you’ll just pee a bunch. Not always easy in bibs! Drink as soon as you stop and before you start moving again. Space it out and you’ll feel better too!

  • Interesting, thanks for the input!

  • Arly

    On my trip up the east coast I had an emergency stash of tortillas and nutella for when I needed carbs and protein, but was no where near a store to stock up. It definitely saved my bacon a few times. Tortillas are a little heavy, but it was worth it.

  • Geekonabike

    It’s not real gourmet, but the small jar of peanut butter fits in a water bottle cage & is very dense protein fat & calories. A plus is you can get it at any convenience store & even some gas stations.

  • Joe Strickland

    Going on my first bike packing overnight trip in the Berkeley hills. Little nervous.

  • Pavel “Zvirze” Zvěřina

    I use mix of peanuts, sunflower seeds, raisins and any other dried fruits of choice packed in the plastic bag in my bar bag to feed in the saddle. It´s cheaper option, than bars and also reduces plastic waste, as I buy all ingredients in large packs.

  • Greg Johnson

    3 years in of experience and this is still a good re-read.

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