Kit Essentials For Your First Bikepacking Trip
Bikepacking is booming at the moment, with more and more people discovering the thrills on offer from self-supported, off-road adventures on two wheels. Whilst its increasing popularity has led to ever more lightweight and specialised kit coming onto the market, you don’t need to have bikepacking-specific kit from the get-go to give it a try. With that in mind, we've teamed up with British Cycling to compile a list of the essential kit you’ll need to transform your existing bike into a bikepacking-ready machine.
What is Bikepacking?
Simply put, bikepacking is an amalgamation of all-terrain cycling and self-supported backpacking. It evokes the freedom you get from multi-day hiking off the beaten track with the joys and thrills of riding a bike, all whilst carrying some essential kit, and not much more. Whilst it’s true that things like specialised bikepacking bikes and custom bags exist (and are great!), it’s perfectly possible to use some of your existing camping kit to get yourself up and running. With a bit of drive and imagination, as well as the addition of a few essentials, you can optimise pretty much any bike’s carrying capacity and turn it into something suitable for your first overnight bikepacking adventure.
For a good, simple, barebones approach, a small comfortable daypack on your back and some drybags lashed to your handlebars and seat post are all you need. A 5-7 litre dry bag strapped to your seatpost and saddle rails is enough to carry a few extra clothes and some spare tools for quick mechanicals on the trail. Along the handlebars, a long 14-20 litre dry bag will be enough to carry a lightweight tent, sleeping bag and sleeping mat. Then a small 9-20 litre daypack or hyrdration pack on your back is just big enough to carry a small stove, food, maps and some waterproofs in case.
When it comes to bikepacking, you should aim for the lightest set up as possible because the lighter the load, the easier the bike will be to handle. As such, investing in a lightweight, modern shelter is one the best things you can do. This could be a lightweight one or two-person backpacking tent or, if you really want to save weight and conditions allow, a tarp or bivvy bag. Semi-geodesic or tunnel tents designs are ideal but you can find out more about what works best in our Guide To Lightweight Tent Design.
For a decent night’s sleep, you’ll also want to take along a sleeping bag and mat to bed down with after the day’s ride. Choose a bag with a good warmth-to-weight ratio so it keeps you sufficiently warm, but also packs down small enough to fit on your bike. Down insulated sleeping bags are great for this but you need make sure they stay dry to avoid them losing their insulating properties. In this regard, synthetic bags, although usually slightly bulkier, are a safer option as they can handle getting a little bit wet and dry out quickly. Check out our sleeping bag and sleeping mat buying guides for all you need to know.
Being on the bike all day uses up a lot of energy, so being able to refuel yourself for the next day’s riding is vital. Carrying a lightweight stove and fuel will mean you can cook up a simple but tasty meal when making camp for the night. Backpacking stoves tend to be the lightest and most compact models. Canister stoves have a burner that attaches with screw thread gas canisters, and their versatility and small pack size make them ideal for bikepacking. Other types of canister stove feature an all-in-one design where the burner screws onto the top of a gas canister, and the cooking pot screws onto the burner. These all-in-one stove systems are all about efficiency and excel when it comes to boiling water fast - a great choice if you’re looking to heat water for hot drinks and dehydrated food for one.
When it comes to food, personal preference will always take precedent, but lightweight and simple solutions are available. Dehydrated expedition food has come a long way in recent years and having a couple of nutritious meals in your bag to heat up at the end of the day might just be the simplest (and tastiest!) option for your first bikepacking adventure. Take a look at our menu to see what’s on offer.
Another important thing to consider is water. Bikepacking can be thirsty work and because it often involves heading off the beaten track, opportunities to purchase or replenish your water supplies can be limited. Having a couple of bottle cages on your frame big enough to carry 750ml – 1L bottles is recommended, but you can also take a hydration bladder in your daypack to help spread the load and keep you hydrated on the go. It’s likely you’ll need water for cooking too, so if carrying that much liquid starts to feel like too much weight, it’s also worth looking at water filter systems which will allow you to purify water from natural sources you find enroute.
Like with most adventures, bikepacking is about gaining experience by doing. It’s about finding out what works, what doesn’t and making adjustments and investments in the right kit that will make the experience an even better one next time. Different set ups work for different people, so experiment and see what works best for you. Start small, by picking a quick 25-50 mile overnight route near home, taking the key items we’ve listed here, many of which you may already own. Then, once you discover bikepacking is something you want to do more of, you can start to build up your kit list with some extra essentials.
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