The Minimalist art movement was founded on basis of “less is more”. I believe the same approach should be followed for planning a bikepacking adventure.
There is so much information out there that it can be an absolute minefield for the novice. Here is my advice on how to plan for a bikepacking trip- 8 important steps, as you plan your first bikepacking adventure.
Certainly, your primary focus should be to make sure you are safe and comfortable on your cycling adventure. Next, you have the bike and have been trolling YouTube and all the bikepacking websites.
Basically, you’re now salivating for an epic cycling adventure.
I personally like to shoot from the hip and wing it. But even I as an adventure-hungry person, do make use of the following basic approach to plan my adventures and cycling escapes.
Preparing for Bikepacking Trip
My checklist below can aid you in getting going on your first cycling adventure:
- Weather/ Season
- How many days
- The Route
- Food/ Water
- Bike setup
- Packing & Gear
Step 1. Weather/ Season:
Ask yourself the following question – What will be the weather?
Are you currently experiencing warmer days or are you planning your biking escape for when it does get warmer after the long winter months?
Weather plays a massive role in planning your cycling adventure. Riding in colder weather will require a bit more gear. But do not let the cold, wet weather put you off from your cycling adventure.
Some misery and suffering will definitely deliver an unforgettable adventure… lol. Like Yvon Chouinard says “True adventure begins when everything goes wrong”.
There are some great products out there to keep you dry and toasty on your bike.
If it is wet and muddy, then you will also have to have a closer look at the type of tires you will be running on your bike. Traction would play a big role in muddy trails.
Luckily nowadays there are a whole bunch of weather prediction sites and weather tracking apps out there to aid you in choosing the best weather window.
Personally, I am a huge fan of www.windy.com but yet again there are so many options like for example www.accuweather.com for weather forecasts. Undoubtedly, these will help you choose the best window for your cycling escape.
Step 2. How many days will you be biking?
Do you have some vacation days from work? Or are you escaping the rat race for a couple of days? Perhaps are you punching out and seeking months out on the open road?
The distance you decide on will play a huge role in what you pack and how much you will need on your cycling trip. Remember to plan wisely as you want to enjoy the trip.
Step 3. Selecting the cycling distance
Do not choose a daily mileage above the distance you have trained for. Each day out on the road will definitely make your legs stronger, and you will get fitter.
There is no need to punish yourself that you end up dead tired in your bunk or tent after a long day out on the road. But saying that,if your plan of attack is to chase a record or FKT (Fastest Known Time) and you really want to push the boundaries, then crank up the mileage and go big.
Your daily distance would dictate how much water and snacks you would need on your bike.
This is again where the seasonal conditions will come into play. That relentless headwind that only pumps in the summer months, or that soul-piercing mountain wind that blows during the cooler months will be the decide of your daily distance.
Step 4. Route planning
What I normally do to plan a route is to either take an old school paper map or print a certain map section from Google earth. Then do the following.
- Mark an A where you would like to start your trip and the look for an end point B on your map (This will be you to start A and end point B)
- Then you draw a straight line between marker A and marker B (Roads are never a straight line remember this.)
- Then start looking for towns or places of interest above and below the line to connect you with you’re A and B route.
- You will end up with a Zig zag snake from marker A to marker B. (Congrats you now have a route!)
- Now add all the mileage along the route that has now been generated between your snaked route. You can use a digital plan measure tool to help calculate the bike route distance.
- Not enough day to cover the miles? You can decrease it or increase it.
- If this sounds to much work and you are not that adventurous at heart just go and have a look on the internet for previous routes and marked routes that is available in your local area. – Again www.bikepacking.com is a great source of information for route options or look at Ride with GPS (https://ridewithgps.com/)
The Route Selection:
So now that you have the route mapped out. You will need to take a closer look at your map and see if the planned route will be remote, or will it be close to civilization?
Will you be within cell phone range? If not, then you might want to have a look into options like a SPOT Tracker or a personal locator beacon. This might sound excessive, but no need to put yourself or your friends at risk coming to look for you in a remote area.
There is nothing worse than being stuck in the middle of nowhere, with no means of sending a message or asking for help.
A big tip from me would be to share your route with your partner, close friends, or family members before you set off.
This can only aid them in the event you do not come home after your planned cycling escape. I know this sounds very dramatic, but life can be full of surprises.
“Tales from previous adventures” – A while back during the previous winter season a fellow friend and budding gravel bike beast went off scouting a bikepacking route for a gravel race.
Before he set off, we had coffee. He mentioned that he was going very light, as he was pushed for time. I looked at the coming weekend’s weather forecast and saw a massive front would be hitting our province that weekend.
Before he left, I said, “please if at any time you run into any issues on route due to weather or mechanical failure just let me know”.
The area which he was heading into is renowned to dish out a bit of abuse. I have even come short in this dry arid area before.
Needless to say, on a very early Sunday morning, I received the dreaded call from him. He was freezing cold and in a bind. It took me 2 ½ hours by car to reach him. Even the most experienced can get into trouble.
I managed to track him down via the Whatsapp tracking option. So please share your route and check your weather window before you set off on your escape.
Step 5. How Much Food and Water to Pack:
Meal planning is my second favorite part of planning my bikepacking trip. This would also be dictated by the type of terrain and your daily distance.
Just remember carrying food and water on the bike adds extra weight. Ultimately, you will want to pay careful consideration to what you will be packing should be considered.
Consider how many calories you will be burning in the saddle especially on those long days out.
How much water do you consume on average? Would you be able to stock up regularly on route or are you planning to be as far as possible away from civilization? Remember each liter of water is a kg of weight on the bike and this counts for food as well.
(Tip – I always stash 700ml of emergency water on the bottom of my frame in a flask. This emergency water will only be used when I am in a bind. I have used my emergency stash many times when I ran out of water. I also recommend packing a Sawyer Mini or LifeStraw to filter out bacteria. Especially important, if you need to drink water from a stream or lake.)
“Tales from previous adventures” – A while back a great friend of mine agreed that we should take on a remote 6-day cycle bike packing trip. For this particular trip, we had to work out our breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner for our cycling adventure.
We calculated how many calories we needed each day on the bike. At the start of the 6 days, our bikes weighed close to 30kg’s.
Comparatively on the last day, we just finished all our snacks, as we rolled into town a bit skinnier and super tired. We both had that happy grin that took weeks to disappear.
The only thing we restocked on the route was our water on a daily basis. Even then, we ran out of water on the longest remote dirt sections. If it were not for a local farmer, then we both would not have made it.
Make sure you know how much you consume and would need on your bike. Practice your consumption before you set off.
Also, you want to ensure you don’t take any perishables food items on your trip. There are some great prepack hacks available online. Or pack freeze-dried items that don’t spoil.
Bikepacking Meal Tip
I normally like to have oats for breakfast with peanut butter. First, I preload a cup of oats in a reusable snack bag. Next, add hot water and you have a warm oats breakfast. Also, it’s a bonus if you don’t have to wash a plate or pot. The bags can be kept, compressed until you are home again to rinse and reuse. Keep that footprint small.)
Step 6. Bike Setup:
This is a topic all on its own. The main thing is to ensure you are happy with your bike setup.
Is your seat post setup for your height/ leg length and reach? Are the riding style comfortable as you will be spending long hours in the saddle? Are you happy with your saddle comfort and positioning?
These questions you can iron out while you train for your bike packing adventure.
Again, I have had saddle sores and blisters. Indeed, there is nothing worse to get onto the saddle each day with a broken up blistered underside. Ensure your seat is comfortable and that you have comfortable supportive cycling pants that your body is used to.
Never but never, wear something you have not trained or prepared with.
Know your bike. In case you need to fix a flat tire or set your gears after a relentless corrugated dirt road. It is not difficult to learn the basic mechanics online before you set-off. You can even download tutorials from YouTube if you feel more inclined with a step-by-step video guide.
There are many articles on this topic to aid you. Or speak to your local cycling store to assist you with your bike setup.
Step 7. Packing:
We said earlier decide how long and when you want to leave. This will dictate how much you will be packing for your trip. If the route is close to civilization, then less food and water would be needed as you can restock at every town or gas station on route.
If you are planning to camp on route. Then you would need a backpacking tent or Bivy (Bivouac sack). Bivy is fine for warm weather, but I personally like to zip up in a tent after a long day out and stretch out, also that odd late-night rainstorm will not bother you.
A sleeping bag would be needed if you are camping but if you plan your route with some luxury accommodation on route then it will be one item less to pack. If it is only a couple of days, then one set of cycling clothes would suffice with one pair of clothes after a shower to relax in at night.
This is not a fashion show. You are out on a cycling escape and will be writing your own adventure. Everything extra packed adds extra weight. Remember the golden rule?
“Less is more.”
To secure your gear there are again loads of options like for example pannier bags for slow touring and then there are frame bags (Look at Apidura or Evoc – but there are many other brands to choose from), top tube bags, snack packs, roll up bags, seat bags…this list is endless.
Each one has its own positive and negative. Decide what you want to achieve with your trip and then decide what you want to pack on your bike.
With so many product options out there, it would take some time to decide on your final foolproof bike setup. After years of cycling, I keep on making changes to my own setup. Be warned some products are uber expensive.
Saying that they will last you a lifetime though and normally come with great product guarantees. I personally made up my own frame bag for my steel frame Gravelbike out of hardy industrial Denim material.
The rest of my bike packing items I needed was made up by a dear friend and his sister’s epic seamstress skills. No need to break the bank if your budget is limited. The internet has loads of how-to guides and templates to make your own bike packing bags tailored for your own needs.
Step 8. Safety:
As much as I see myself as an adventure Maverick, safety is very close to my heart. If you are a son, daughter, friend, father, or mother there are people waiting on your safe return home. So be wise – plan as best you can for your cycling escape.
Certainly, there are loads of forums available that share their knowledge. Learn from others’ mistakes and learn from your own mistakes.
These are some of the basic safety items I always pack on my cycle missions even if it is just a short 4-hour ride out:
- Pack a charged phone. Bring a portable power bank, just in case.
- Have a front and back light when visibility is poor for the bike.
- Wear a helmet always and be visible for motorists.
- Have a basic medical kit with you or cyclist crash kit (Painkillers, bandage, 4 x plasters, 2 x Disinfectant Cleaning swab, Superglue, anti- acid tablets).
- PRO BIKE TOOL Multi-tool Repair Kit Basic tool kit (Cycling Multitool, Mini Bicycle Hand pump or C02 inflator, Patch/ solution kit, Plugs, chain splitter and spare link)
- Water/ snacks
- Pocket knife
(Tip – I pack my medical kit in a small sealable compact case. That can double up as both a water container and cup if needed. The case has a rubber seal which aids in keeping the items intact and dry in all conditions. These cases are indestructible have a look at Pelican or Tork craft)
⃰ Please remember before you leave home on your first cycling escape to share your route or trip with a close friend or family members.
Safe riding and enjoy your bike packing escape. #Getoutthere
Last update on 2021-12-03 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API