Travelling light, far and wide with a bike. That is the easiest way of describing bikepacking. Directly derived from cycle touring, and the enormous panniers that were mounted on both sides of the bike, bikepacking is an evolution that allows us to travel lighter and more efficiently whilst pedalling with ease… but maybe without as much freedom. Here, we will explain the secrets of bikepacking.
The world in which bikes are being used as a form of transport has been constantly evolving. Different variants of the same style have been continually developed and redesigned. Cycle touring was, years ago, about huge panniers and never ending equipment to be able to survive in any situation. In the last 10 years or so, bikepacking has presented itself as a viable alternative to travelling, whilst on a bike, albeit a lot lighter and easier than before, and far more efficient than carrying those overweight bags full of equipment.
The first thing to take into account with bikepacking is that you travel with bags a lot lighter, and that can be adapted to fit to many different frame styles, without the need of a specifically designed touring bike. You can see people bikepacking with full suspension bikes, hardtails with 27.5” plus wheels, or even with road bikes. Everything goes. You will also see a lot of Gravel bikes, bikes specifically designed for travelling, and classic road bikes, although still very popular in central Europe, they are gradually being overtaken by more modern, much lighter and versatile bikes. In fact, one of the strong points for bikepacking, is that with only a few bags (one below the saddle, and one on the handlebar) a small tent and compact sleeping bag, you can have complete autonomy for 2-3 days. These types of bags can be installed in a matter of minutes due to their incredible adaptability. There is no “universal fitting” but brands are working on making them even easier to fit.
Another key point in bikepacking is the variety of terrains on which you can ride. Asphalt, gravel, trails, tracks… Any type of terrain is apt for bikepacking, always depending on the bike and number of bags you have. This wide range of possibilities has made “Gravel” and 27.5” Plus bikes become extremely popular due to the fact that they allow you to ride on practically any terrain with confidence and security. The type of bike is very important to take into account when purchasing bags, as this will determine how easily it will be to attach them to it. A rigid frame, like on a Gravel or Road bike will have lots of space in the front triangle for an internal style bag, as well as under the seat and in front of the handlebar. In the case of a full suspension mountain bikes, the only real possibilities would be on the handlebar and under the seat, and maybe a small one on the front part of the top tube.
And depending on the number of bags you can carry, you can be self sufficient for longer, but on the other hand you could overload the bike, which could cause problems when pedalling. And this is one of the principal elements of why bikepacking differs to conventional touring. This last one allowing you to have far more autonomy, and the oversized panniers can be used to carry a tent a lot larger and more comfortable, cooking utensils and quite a lot of food. Bikepacking was born as a simpler alternative, in which you travel lighter, which in turn allows you to interact with your surroundings more, when buying food, sightseeing, or even going out for the night.
The biggest handicap for bikepacking is how to travel light, but efficiently. Think about the basics that need to be taken, then what would be needed in circumstances, like rain, cold weather or nightfall. When you are bikepacking, you have to remember that everything you carry needs to allow you to be self sufficient in every scenario. You may not always be able to buy food easily, refill your water bottles or have a roof over your head.
Lastly, probably the most important thing to think about, is the budget for buying a good set of bags. There is a vast selection of different brands and qualities available to buy, including custom made to measure models. It is advisable that you do your research, and look into the various options on the market, think about the type of trip you will be doing, where you will be travelling, will you need them to be waterproof, what size will you need to fit your bike. Do not forget to follow the instructions supplied when attaching them to your handlebar, seat and/or seatpost, as fitting them could compromise the correct functioning of the suspension or simply because some carbon parts cannot be fitted with these types of accessories.
And if you want to find a middle ground, and your frame and forks are fitted with mounting points for pannier racks, these would be a good option if you wish to carry a bit more weight. Bicycles designed for bikepacking have them prepped and ready with all types of fitment points so any type of rack can be mounted, and some specially designed bags that are an exact fit to their frames. If you have always thought that pedalling for days, alone, or in company would be a good adventure, you have no excuse not to do it now.