How To Bikepack: Your First Bikepacking Trip

Get Out There!

As Winter approaches, it’s time to fantasize about next summer. In an effort to help you (and me!) with that task, I decided to post about getting your first bikepacking trip under your belt.

I think I talked about going bikepacking for years before I actually did it. Years is too long. Don’t do it like I did. I had done some backpacking and a lot of biking, but didn’t really know how to get started with combining the two. Here’s my advice on how to make your first bikepacking trip happen sooner than later.

  1. Decide to just do it. Cliche? You bet. But you need to just commit to doing it. Don’t worry about having all the perfect gear (you will need a certain minimum, see below). Don’t worry about having the perfect bike. Don’t worry about training (what?!?). No matter what you have, you are going to love certain things about your setup and you’re going to hate certain things about your setup. The key is to just decide to go bikepacking so you can find out what you love and hate in order to dial it in on future trips.

  2. Plan an easy trip. I know you want your bikepacking trip to be epic, but getting to epic happens in stages. This is the first step. Make it easy on yourself by just planning a single overnight. Make the trip long enough to be rewarding, but short enough to not be masochistic. No reason to make yourself hate it. And no reason to get sidetracked buying a bunch of unnecessary gear and doing a bunch of training for your first trip.

    For a mountain bikepacking trip, I’d recommend doing something like 10 to 20 miles one-way, depending on your fitness. If you can do it on trails you’re familiar with, all the better. Similarly, it makes the trip a whole lot easier if you end up camping somewhere familiar, too. You know what to expect when you get there and you’re less likely to get bugged out about being outside at night in some unfamiliar place. Riding familiar trails and camping in a familiar place also make planning a whole lot less cumbersome and less likely to derail your first trip.

  3. Assess your gear. Take a look at what get you have an what gear you may need to meet the minimum requirements for an overnight trip. If you need to buy some necessities, definitely do it. But, even better, borrow the stuff you need from friends. See the lists of gear at the bottom of the page.

  4. Get your bike serviced. Make your first trip as pleasant as possible by starting with a bike that’s not going to break down. You don’t need to go crazy, just take it to a shop and make sure you have a bike that will get you out and back again. The shop staff may even put it up in the stand and tell you that you’re good to go without a tune-up. More specifically, make sure your wear items (tires, chain, brake pads) are in serviceable shape.

    If you feel competent to do this kind of work yourself, definitely make time to do it. I have been guilty of not taking the time to give my bike a thorough once-over before a trip and I’ve paid for it. So, be nice to yourself (and your bike) and get it in good shape.

  5. Go bikepacking. Go on your trip. Have fun! And remember: it’s not a race. Take your time and enjoy being out there. You’re doing this to disconnect a little, get in touch with nature, and have a story to tell. You’re not doing this to be done this (or at least you shouldn’t be). And give yourself some grace. Things may break. You may break. But in the end, you got out there, broke the ice. And now you’ll be ready for more trips!

A Very Important Note About Friends and Bikepacking

If you have a friend or friends that are going to add to your trip and not derail you before or during the trip, bring them. A bikepacking trip with the right people is just amazing. But, the opposite of that is also true. So don’t even begin to plan on going with friends that are likely to flake out or drag you down on the trail. Just go by yourself and feel all the more empowered by doing that first trip solo.

Minimal Stuff To Bring

Here’s a basic list of stuff to bring. For a more comprehensive list of what you’d take on a longer trip, check out the Colorado Trail Thru Bike post.

Must-haves (not in any particular order)

  • Bike

  • Normal riding gear; helmet, gloves, jersey, shorts, etc.

  • Multi-tool or a set of tools that allows you to do basic repair stuff on your bike

  • Two spare tubes

  • Pump or other inflation device

  • Tire lever(s)

  • One chain quick link

  • Duct tape; wrap it around a water bottle, pump, etc.

  • Basic first aid kit; something like this NOLS kit

  • Extra pair of socks

  • Camp shoes; you aren’t going to want to wear your bike shoes around camp

  • Appropriate spare clothing; bring enough warm stuff for whatever environment you’ll be camping in

  • Rain coat or shell

  • Lighter

  • Knife

  • Food; bring plenty and make sure it’s stuff you actually like

  • Water; plan how much you bring based on available water on your route

  • Water filter or purification drops, tabs, etc.

  • Backpack; keep this as small as you can, but since this is your first trip (and you don’t have all the bikepacking gear yet) it may be a bit bigger than is ideal

  • Some kind of roll for the front of your bike; you can make a passable one of these with a stuffsack and some toe or ski straps

  • Sleeping pad

  • Sleeping bag

  • Tent

  • Headlamp

  • Toilet kit; toilet paper, baggies for your used TP, hand sanitizer

  • Phone

  • Cash; small bills are helpful in the backcountry, especially when you want to buy a soda or beer from a fellow camper

Not essential, but almost essential

  • Bike light

  • One spare shifter cable

  • Stove; only optional because you can plan your meals around not having a stove for an overnight

  • Bear bag line; depends where you’re headed

  • Book

  • Camera

  • Beer, whiskey, whathaveyou

  • Friend(s); see above