Mountain Bike Touring – The MTB Set-Ups for Bikepacking & Cycle Camping
Bike camping and MTB. Pros & cons of Mountain Bike Touring
/ Long distance hardtail conversions / multi day full suspension trips / the best MTB for bikepacking
Ever thought of a MTB camping overnighter? Or a multi-day bikepacking trip on your full-suspension? And what about long distance touring on a mountain bike?
Mountain bikes are a lot of fun, they can go where no other bike can, but somehow they are rarely considered for bike-camping trip, or at least they were. With the rise of bikepacking and the great variety of bike bags available nowadays, MTBs can be great rigs for cycle holidays and even bike touring.
Let’s start by saying that hardtail MTB have been used for touring since the 90s, there’s no novelty in this, a hardtail mountain bike can double as a touring bike with just a few minimal adjustments.
In this article, we’ll go through all the different nuances of touring vs bikepacking on a mountain bike, we’ll see the fundamentals of bike camping and the essential packing list.
The second section will be dedicated to the 3 best MTB for touring, bike camping, and bikepacking and we’ll even find out how to convert an old MTB for touring if you’re on a budget.
In the last part, we’ll answer some common questions about mountain bike touring and camping adventures.
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How we compile our gear guides: during the almost 10 years of cycloscope.net our team personally tested dozens of similar pieces of gear. For what we can't test personally, we involve other people in the cycling community to give their feedback and opinion about gear they have used. Our decade-long experience in bicycle touring enables us to find the key cons and pros of every product we mention.
Mountain Bike Camping [everything you need to know]
If you’re a camping lover, someone who loves getting lost in the wilderness (like us), you’re gonna love mountain bike camping.
On a bike camping trip, you will wake up totally immersed in nature, make your coffee and hit the trail straight away.
MTB camping has its basic rules, which you should never fail to oblige:
Leave the trail better than you find it
leave no trace
bury your shit
camp at safe distance from landslides or flood risk areas
The first three two are more less the same – just don’t be a jerk – for the third one, you might want to learn how to pee and poo outdoors properly – the fourth one is a fundamental safety rule that can save your life.
Mountain Bike Camping Essentials
For a mountain bike camping trip you’ll need to carry a few fundamental things:
Extra Water (unless you already know you’ll camp near a drinkable water source)
First aid kit
So as we have seen, even just the basic gear for a camping overnighter is already quite a lot of stuff.
Although some practice bike-camping by hauling their gear in a cycling backpack, we don’t really recommend doing so.
Sure a MTB hydration pack is a great solution to carry extra water, but the rest of the gear should be weighting on the frame of your bike, not on your shoulder… otherwise, believe me, you’ll ride will be miserable.
Even though MTBs can be used also for long distance touring (as we’ll see soon), the real deal of using a mountain bike for multi-day trips is to get lost in the woods, to really roam free in the nature, the trail is all you need on a MTB, that’s why we love it.
This kind of trail camping trips are for their own innate nature:
Shorter in time span
You’ll be away from civilization. So most likely not for more than a few weeks, although some do stay years.
Circumscribed to a limited area
Covering distance on offroad trails take much longer time than on tarmac
By carrying just the basic essentials (mentioned above) you’ll be riding light and enjoying the nature.
Mountain bike camping touring can nowadays be easily achieved with a bikepacking setup. Let’s have a look at bikepacking bags for MTB
Full-Suspension though are very delicate machines, so don’t trust them on long expeditions.
Long Distance Mountain Bike Touring
For “long distance touring” we mean two or plus months, at least cross country, often across a continent, sometimes around the world.
So, are MTB suited for this kind of bike touring?
The answer is of course yes, with a few warnings. Let’s see what factors you should be taking care of some for successful expedition mountain bike trip.
Characteristics of MTBs for Touring
let go of carbon – use a steel or aluminum frame
strong wheels, with at least 32 spokes (better 36)
relaxed, less aggressive geometry
front suspension fork with travel <20mm
a frame with plenty eyelets and mounting points
Some MTBs will already come with this characteristics, we’ll see some plus bikes that are basically mountain bikes for touring.
But if you already have a mountain bike and want to travel with it you’ll need to do some tweaks.
MTB to touring bike conversion?
Mountain bikes have a long history in bicycle touring. 80s and 90s rigid have been used for decades by budget bike travelers, and refurbishing an old mountain bike is still the way to go if you can’t afford a fancy bike.
If you’re familiar with bikes, you could do this with your toolkit and bike workstand in your garage, but if you don’t have practice with bicycle mechanics, let a pro handle the conversion – just tell them what you want .
Full-Suspension though, with their many moving parts, are sadly prone to failure. They are also quite hard to pack and don’t handle eccessive load – you’ll really have to go minimalistic when bike camping on a full-sus.
Our favourite full suspension MTB for bikepacking Kona Hei Hei
The Kona Hei Hei a superbe alloy full-suspension MTB that has proven itself bikepacking worthy.
It features a durable and light-weight Race Light Aluminium frame, a RockShox suspension fork and hydraulic disc brakes.
Fork travel is 120mm in the front and 100mm rear, just right for bikepacking. The drive train is a Shimano Deore 1×12-Speed group set with a 10-51T cassette.
This bike offers stable all-terrain control, smooth gear shifting, and powerful all-weather disc brake power.
Lightweight and Durable Cross Country Full-Suspension Trail Bike for Bikepacking
This expedition machine has been one of our favorite since it was introduced in 2016.
The new 2021 Beyond by Bombtrack has seen some interesting modifications from the previous models.
A single-speed chainring (30T) and a 12 speed 10-52T is the new drive train of choice, a great set of gears capable of bringing you up the steepest and roughest hills. The carbon fork reduces the weight but still offers triple cage mounts.
Another novelty of the 2021 Beyond is the Jones Loop Bar, although Bombtrack still offers different handlebar options, this will be the standard now. The Jones might seem a little weird, but they offer more hand positions, helping the shoulders and upper body stay relaxed for hours in the saddle.
Designed as a bike packers dream, the Beyond features mounting options for front and rear racks as well as up to five bottle cages.
The Bombtrack Beyond is just what I would use for extreme off-road bikepacking expeditions