Introduction to bikepacking series – getting started

by Andy Amick on August 7, 2011

in Bikepacking, Tips

This is the first of four posts in the “Introduction to bikepacking” series.  This post is intended as a very basic introduction to the world of bikepacking.  Maybe you read an article about bikepacking, or your nutty friend keeps talking about the Tour Divide race so you want to discover bikepacking for yourself.

What is bikepacking?

In it’s simplest form, bikepacking is the combination of mountain biking, backpacking, and camping.  All gear is carried on the bike or in a small backpack.  The focus is a lightweight setup so that you can still travel at a reasonable pace.

You may be wondering how bikepacking is different from traditional bike touring which has been around for ages.  First, bikepacking is done on a mountain bike and off-road trails.  Second, bikepacking (my version anyway) does not involve panniers, racks, or large trunk bags.  Instead it focuses on bags attached directly to the bike which saves weight and makes it much easier to ride off-road.

F3 Designs has a good description on their website. has another simple description and a ton of other information on bikepacking.

What about bikepacking for the weekend warrior or busy parent?

From what I have just described, bikepacking is another hobby that requires a lot of new equipment and finding time to go on overnight trips.  If you’re like me and have a family, a M-F job, grass to cut, kid’s sports to watch, and a honey-do list that’s never empty, then this whole idea of bikepacking is just another crazy pipe dream.

Easy does it – don’t give up on bikepacking so fast.  There is a way to try out bikepacking and it’s backyard bikepacking!!

Are you really suggesting backyard bikepacking?

A simple backyard bikepacking setup.

It may be a little goofy, but backyard bikepacking is the try before you buy approach to bikepacking.  It’s the simplest and cheapest way to see if you want to take bikepacking farther.  If you are a backpacker or camper of any kind, you probably have everything you need to try backyard bikepacking.

This is exactly how I started on my bikepacking adventures.  The idea is to use the items you already have for camping and cycling.  Also, camping in the backyard let’s you try out bikepacking on any day without having to plan how you will escape for a night of camping by yourself.  Time it correctly, and you can camp, have breakfast, go for a short ride, and be back in the house in time to get ready for work or spend the day with the family.

What you need to get started

For this first foray into bikepacking, you don’t need to buy a full set of frame bags or a lightweight sleeping bag.  Just use what you have.

You will want to carry some weight on the bike, but not invest in a full system.  This allows you to get a feel for a loaded bike to see if you enjoy riding with the extra weight.  I suggest using a handlebar bag with your sleeping bag as the test weight.  If your current sleeping is too bulky, then pack your sleeping pad or a kid’s sleeping bag on the bike.

You can get a compression sack and two straps to attach it to the bike for under $20 which is a very cheap way to test out a new hobby.

Steps for backyard bikepacking

1. Setup “camp”.  Pack the sleeping bag in your handlebar bag and place all other items in your tent.

2. Eat an early dinner with the family.  Hint – stay away from the 7 alarm Thai food because it doesn’t mix well with an after dinner bike ride.

3. Go for a ride just before sunset.  Ride from your “camp” to the nearest trails for a quick spin.  Aim for a ride of 1-2 hours.  If you have lights for night riding, make the ride even longer.  If you don’t have trails close to your house, then just ride on the roads around home.  The focus is on riding before you camp so don’t worry about doing a cheesy road ride around home.

4. Return to “camp” and retire for the night.

5. Wake up, have a no-cook breakfast, and repack the sleeping bag on the bike.

6. Go for a quick morning ride to simulate the real bikepacking experience where you will need to ride out of camp each  morning.  Make the ride long enough to get the feeling of riding first thing in the morning.

7.  Your bikepacking adventure is complete.  Get a shower and clean up before going to work or hanging out with the family.

A few tips and hints

Clothing – Include any clothing that you need for sleeping or the ride in the morning if it will be cool.  I suggest arm warmers, leg warmers, and a light cycling jacket.  You can include a fresh pair of bike shorts and jersey for the morning ride, but I typically sleep in my bike clothing and wear it for the morning ride.  Sure, it’s a wee bit stinky, but it’s only for one night.

Food – Focus on breakfast food that doesn’t require cooking (energy bars, nuts, dried fruit, or a bag of your favorite cereal).  You may also want a snack after your sunset ride.

Coffee – This may be the most important item after the sleeping bag!  If you are like me and have to have coffee in the morning, there are a few options.  You can setup your camp stove outside your tent or even in the garage for coffee in the morning.  Or if you want to cheat a little bit, set the timer on your coffee maker in the kitchen and sneak in for a cup before your morning ride.

Up Next

The next post in this series will go through how to pack your gear without racks and how to minimize your total kit size.


About Andy Amick
A little bit nutty in general, a lotta bit nutty about bikes. Each of his boys received a bike helmet for their first birthday and the three of them have been biking together ever since.

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