1. Bike Bags
There are many bike bag variations that you can use on your trip to place the weight of your gear on your bike (instead of on your person, as in a backpack). Letting your bike do the hauling will make the trip more enjoyable. Most bikepackers use at least a handlebar bag or harness, saddle bag, frame bag, and some top tube bags. Depending on the length and pace of your trip, you can add on feed bags that are easy to access while riding. Salsa Anything Cages are great for storage on the fork of your bike, leaving extra space in your main bags. *Note the biggest difference between bikepacking and bike touring is that you usually aren’t using panniers on bikepacking trips to make your bike more lightweight and enable it to handle better through rougher, rockier terrain. This link shows variations of bike bag set ups.
2. Water Filter
When you don’t have access to guaranteed clean water, having a water filter will allow you to hydrate safely. I use the Platypus Gravity Filter water filtration system because it’s light, compact, reliable, and easy to use. Gravity filters are especially useful for bikepacking because they allow you to pump a large volume in less time, an important feature if you are traveling in a group of two or more and need to fill multiple containers. Some other water filtration options are squeeze filter systems, iodine tablets , pump filters , and Steripen UV water purifiers.
4. Shoes and Socks
Comfortable shoes are key to enjoyable riding. I wear Shimano IC3 because, unlike a lot of cycling shoes, you can actually walk in them! I made sure that mine have space to wear thicker socks in order to combat chilly toes in the morning and evenings. Additionally, I always bring another pair of shoes, usually sandals to wear around camp or town. Having an additional pair of shoes is really nice when your bike shoes get muddy or wet.
In terms of socks, I enjoy wearing Merino wool because it helps to regulate body temperature, it is odor resistant, it’s super soft, and it’s even fire resistant! I prefer wearing calf high Smartwool socks because the material helps to provide UPF sun protection while also protecting my ankles from bumps and bruises.
5. Cook Set
Spending from six to twelve hours in the saddle each day can burn some serious calories. Your appetite on bike trips is usually insatiable! Personally, there’s nothing like a warm meal in the evening after a long day of riding. To minimize weight, keep your cook set fairly simple with something along the lines of a MSR Pocket Rocket stove attached to fuel canisters. I have found that unbranded stoves like these work just as well and you can find them in pretty much every outdoor store. Additionally, I bring a camp pot, bamboo fork and spoon, an Opinel No. 9 knife and a Sea to Summit bowl with a base that can double as a cutting board. Note that fuel canisters and stove attachments can pack into pots for easy storage.
There are all sorts of nifty shelter contraptions you can bring on your bike trip starting with the classic tent and moving to products like a bivy, a sleeping bag cover, a tarp, or simply “sleeping out” without any shelter at all. The choice on this one comes down to climate and personal preference. Some people prefer a bivy because it is small and lightweight, still providing privacy and protection from the elements. Certain folks feel claustrophobic in a bivy (check out the link to see one if you haven’t before). I operate off the old saying “Plan for the worst, hope for the best” so I pack a shelter in case of unexpected weather, like a torrential downpour or a desert sand storm. Plus, I love slumber parties with my travel partners so I take my Big Agnes Tiger Wall two person tent that we split into separate components for even(ish) carrying responsibilities.
7. Sleep Gear
This subject is oftentimes a hot topic for cyclists and seasoned tourists. Some have proclaimed that they love sleeping on the barren, rock solid ground of whatever natural environment they are exploring. While others insist on bringing an inflatable sleeping pad which they place on top of foam sleeping pad. The tradeoffs between comfort, weight and space are something each bikepacker will have to decide. I take a middle of the road approach and bring a Nemo Ultralight pad. I am careful to remove any sharp objects from my sleeping area so that I don’t awake to a flat pad. I also bring along a patch kit in case this does happen (as it will). A super compact Nemo Fillo Elite pillow always tags along on my adventures too.
As far as sleeping bags go, knowing yourself and your night time temp and comfort needs is important! I run cold so I bring the Sierra Design Women's Cloud 20 degree bag on every trip. This doesn’t have any zippers which I like because they always give me trouble. It also has a place where your toes can breathe, something I need for comfort and ease of mind. Down-filled bags have the advantages of being super light and compact. A synthetic bag has the advantage of being water resistant when wet. If you decide to sleep without a shelter, you may want to take this into account.
8. Solar Power Supply
While most of the trip is human powered, having a remote power source is crucial for safety, wayfinding and capturing those epic sunrise/sunset pics on the road. I use my Unite to Light Chandler Charger Power Bank to revive my phone, GPS, rechargeable headlamp, bike lights, and Kindle. I can charge as I ride throughout the day by laying the panel out where it can absorb sunlight. Or on the occasion I find myself staying indoors for an evening, I can plug my power bank into a wall charger for an extra boost.
Bikepacking presents more safety precautions than your average vacation and pre-planning is essential. To start, you should have a basic first aid kit bolstered with pain and allergy medication. You also want a good helmet that you can wear comfortably all day. My helmet is the Bontrager Rally WaveCel mountain biking helmet.
Depending on your route, map and navigation materials will vary, but you should never count on your phone having service in remote areas. Instead, use a handheld GPS like the Garmin eTrex 22x or download maps through an app like maps.me. Know your mileage and elevation gain or loss over that distance before you set out so that you’re adequately prepared.
Research safe places to camp prior to your trip. In a pinch, there is an app called iOverlander that shows you different camping options and reviews. Another amazing website / app is Warm Showers. People will offer their homes, properties, yards, barns, etc to cyclists who are in the midst of a trip. Oftentimes Warm Showers hosts are in bigger cities that bikepacking endeavors might not cross, but it is worth a shot.
10. Tools and Bike Accessories
Last but not least, it is essential to arm yourself with tools for the unexpected. Having bike tools and knowing how to use them can save you from getting stranded with mechanical problems. Bring spare tubes (even if your tires are tubeless), a bike pump, a patch kit, plug kit, tire repair glue (shoe glue works), extra fluid (compatible with what is already in your tires if tubeless), spare spokes (size may vary, bring BOTH tires into your local bike shop for measurements), chain breaker, master link, and a multi tool. Once you acquire all of these tools, watch and maybe even download some videos so you know how to use them. Park Tool makes excellent videos that you can watch here.
Bike lights are very important for when you find yourself riding at night and on busy roads. There are many different bike lights to choose from. Dynamo Lights are unique because they are powered by a hub that goes in your front wheel, producing electricity for the light as you pedal. There are also lights that you can charge and simply attach to your handlebars or seat post like the Bontrager Ion Pro bike light set. Or you could use a solar light that doubles as a great camp light like the Luke Light from Unite to Light.
About the Author
Carolina (Lina) is a Program Coordinator for Unite to Light and a bikepacking enthusiast. She started cycling with her dad when she was in high school, completing both the STP ride from Seattle to Portland and the RSVP from Seattle to Vancouver, Canada. After completing her Bachelor’s degree, Lina endeavored on a bike tour along the Pacific Coast of the United States, starting at the most northwestern point of Washington State and ending in Tijuana, Mexico. Lina recently breached the world of bikepacking when she rode the Wyoming and Colorado segments of the Tour Divide route. Going back to complete New Mexico this summer between her season as a whitewater river guide on the Kern River in California, Lina is stoked to get back on the trail and continue expanding her knowledge of bikepacking. P.S. Carolina rides a Surly Bridge Club modified with mountain bike flat bars for her bikepacking adventures. Here and here are a couple online resources to pick a bike that is best for you and your budget.