Bikepacking 101 - what is bikepacking? How to get started?
Bikepacking is a style of multi-day bicycle travel whose biggest difference from "traditional" bicycle touring sits in the way the bike is packed.
We talk about bikepacking when the gear the rider is bringing for his/her bicycle trip is stored in a way that aims to minimize air-resistance and the whole bulk of the loaded rig.
The term bikepacking was probably first used by the American Adventure Cycling Association in 1973, as a synonym of cycle touring.
The birth of modern-days bikepacking though, is much more recent: in the 90s, a technological brake-through in outdoor gear materials and manufacturing techniques has seen the market filled with ultralight and hyper-packable camping gear, this made possible for outdoors-lovers (hikers and bike tourers alike) to store their trip essentials in much smaller spaces, while at the same time reducing the weight load.
In traditional style bicycle touring, the luggage is stored mostly in lateral bags called bike panniers. Those need a rack to be hanged on to (a rear rack, a front one, or both), so they inevitably make the bike-rider system much wider.
Bikepacking style is instead modular, it uses a combination of specific types of bags specially designed not to widen the rig's profile.
By using any possible space within the bike frame, bikepacking bags make the rider able to tackle the narrowest single-tracks without the need to worry about balance and obstacles.
New to bike travel in general? Check our Bicycle Touring 101 to learn everything about traveling by bike. If you want to know more about the differences between these two setup styles, just click here!
Bikepacking Bags Explained
As we've seen, what really defines modern bikepacking is the kind of bags used. Bikepacking uses specific bags, that don't need racks and are designed to be attached to specific spots on the bike - as bikes are all different, bikepacking bags are less universal than touring panniers.
That's a reason why we see a lot of small brands making custom-made bikepacking bags in small factories, and sometimes even in their garage - this is a great thing about bikepacking!
Bikepacking bags are constantly evolving, as for now, we could group them into 7 categories:
- Saddle Packs
- Attached to saddle and seat post [up to 20l]
- Handlebar Packs
- Mounted on the front hand of the handlebars [up to 15l]
- Top Tube Packs
- Locked on top of the top tube, near the stem or the seat post, can mount 2 [up to 5l x 2]
- Frame bags
- Inserted in the diamond of the frame [up to 14l]
- Fork Cages and Bags
- Attached to the front or rear fork eyelets [up to 16l x 2]
- Stem Bags
- On the inner side of the handlebar, often used for water [up to 2l x 2]
- On your shoulders [up to 20l]
Different styles in bikepacking
Although some say bikepacking is a term used for off-road cycle touring, that's not true. Bikepacking is a rig setup that can be used with great advantages both on tar and off-road.
Bikepacking styles are of course not codified, here are our personal categories are: endurance races and long-distance ultracycling, mountain-bike camping, credit-card leisure bikepacking holidays, and Expedition Bikepacking Journey
Endurance races and long-distance ultracycling
These disciplines have seen a great rebirth with the rising of bikepacking - they are self-supported long-distance cycling competitions, usually along a multi-day arch.
Some endurance races are off-road, but many are also on tar - most if not all the riders use compact and essential bikepacking setups to carry their minimal gear.
Many self-supported record attempts can also be ascribed to the category, like the recent Kapp to Cape by J. Deichmann.
Mountain bike camping refers to multi-day leisure trips with a preponderance of dirt-road riding and assumes overnighting in the wild - which means you have to carry camping gear, or at least a lightweight sleeping system.
MTB camping opens infinite new route possibilities for both short and long-distance trail-cycling. It's best done on mountain bikes, fat bikes, plus, and wide-tyre gravel bikes.
Credit-card leisure bikepacking holidays
Imagine bringing you favorite road-bike, with all the necessary gear strapped on it, and riding de French Riviera at you own pace, stopping in cafes and sleeping in cozy accommodation - it's a dream come true!
While before you needed at least a hybrid bike that could accomodate panniers, or a support car, with bikepacking bags you're free to bring your fastest racer on a cycling holiday, everywhere in the world.
Expedition Bikepacking Journey
When we use the term journey, we mean a long bike trip - from 1 month to several years - across many different kinds of terrain and climates. It's just good ol' expedition bike touring with bikepacking bags instead of panniers.
Given the bigger bulk of gear required for such long journeys, bikepacking setups are often not enough, or at least they loose most of their convenience. Creative hybrid setups, with panniers mixed with bikepacking gear can be very instead very successful.
What Bike for Bikepacking?
Well, we've seen bikepacking can be done on many different styles of bikes. Here on cycloscope, with the help of our contributors, we regularly review and compare travel bikes - have a look down here and see if you can find your dream rig.
Essential Bikepacking Gear
What a bikepacker brings on a trip greatly varies according to the length of the journey, the climate, and most importantly the personal preference of the rider.
To make life easier for bikepacking beginners, we compiled a series of articles covering essential and non-essential bikepacking gear.
Where To Go Bikepacking - Our Routes
A bikepacking setup is lighter and slicker than a cycle touring one, it is ideal for off-road use, even the most extreme trail can be tackled with the right gear setup. When you are an experienced bikepacker, the whole world is yours.
During our many years on the road by bike, we collected hundreds of routes and compiled dozens of guides. We also host cycling tracks and itineraries from trustworthy contributors, so if you would like to contribute a bikepacking route on cycloscope.net, just contact us!
Beginner Looking For an Easy Bikepacking Destination?
In search for worldwide inspiration?
The world is big and full of surprises, why not going on a bikepacking trip far away from home and learn new things? Here are a few of our travel guides.