Guest post by Matthew Sklar of Evo
People have been bikepacking in some form or another for just about as long as bikes have existed. It didn’t take long for people to realize that pedaling around with their camping stuff was just as much, or even more fun than walking around with it on their backs. But for a long time, bikepacking, or “bicycle touring” as it was commonly known, was generally done on modified road bikes loaded down with panniers. You were stuck on paved or dirt roads, and generally weren’t riding technical terrain or singletrack trails.
In the last few years however, bikepacking with on mountain bikes has really exploded thanks to a combination of factors including wide range 1x drivetrains and plus tires. More and more people are ditching the hiking boots for bike shoes and loading up a weekend’s worth of gear to head out and explore, but why should you join the herd? Bikepacking is one of the rare sports that combines some of the best aspects of activities you already enjoy into something entirely new and unique, and you should try it.
Thanks to developments in backpacking gear, sleep systems and shelters are smaller and lighter than ever before. Combined with modern mountain bikes, it’s remarkably easy to put together a rig that allows you to travel and camp self supported on real mountain bike trails. Sure, you might not be able to ride the gnarliest downhill trails around on your fully loaded bikepacking rig. But most intermediate to expert singletrack is totally doable on a well loaded bike, and it adds an interesting element of challenge to usually boring trails.
Bikepacking allows you to go further, faster and more comfortably than backpacking, and adds an overnight adventure element to your mountain bike rides.
Starting out, it’s easy to bikepack on your regular mountain bike. You’ll just need a frame bag to carry extra gear, and straps to mount your sleeping bag and sleeping pad on your handlebars. You don’t need a special bike or a bike-specific tent. Unlike backpackers who have to deal with huge, heavy packs, you can distribute your gear over the bike to spread the weight around. Sure, your bike won’t accelerate quite as quickly as usual, but it’s a lot easier to move that weight around attached to two wheels than it is when it’s hanging off your shoulders.
And you don’t need to invest in that much bikepacking specific gear. If you’re used to camping in a hammock, it’s easy to pack that inside a frame bag. If you typically spend the night in a tent, your backpacking tent will work fine even when you’re based off of a bike. Just like any camping trip, the lighter your gear is, the faster you can move, but bikepacking doesn’t have to be about moving fast. Instead, you can take your time, and pick a route that just lets you spend a sunset, and a sunrise somewhere beautiful.
Most backpacking trips start with a drive to the trailhead. No one wants to start walking from their house after all. But if you’re going bikepacking it’s easy to load up and ride from the house. Ten miles of road is just a warmup on the bike, but might take a whole day backpacking. And, you can plan routes that include brief road sections that allow you to resupply at gas stations and grocery stores. It’s easy to spin in a few miles to grab more food and water, and then pedal on out of town and back to the trails.
For mountain bikers, bikepacking allows you to think bigger. Instead of planning rides that take a few hours, or even a full day, you can look at loops of trail on the map and plan rides that string together multiple trail systems over the course of a few days. Having the ability to haul your camping gear on your bike really expands the routes that your imagination can cook up. Long traverses and circumnavigations suddenly become much more reasonable. Instead of planning rides that get you home before dark, you can focus on rides that end at a campsite with water, and set you up for another long day of exploring.
Hiking is popular for a reason. There’s something inherent to the human condition that makes us want to get out and explore under our own power, to sleep somewhere new and be self sufficient. Adding a mountain bike to that equation just opens up new opportunities, and allows you to push yourself on new trails and longer rides. So give bikepacking a shot, just be careful, you might get hooked!